State May Take Over 30 Colorado Schools

Published December 31, 2014

Thirty Colorado schools are entering their fifth consecutive year of low performance, which may result in state intervention such as school closure, conversion to charters, or changes in leadership.

In December the Colorado Department of Education released its 2013-14 ratings for schools and presented them to the state Board of Education. The board unanimously approved the ratings.

Schools in the lowest two rating categories – priority improvement and turnaround – for five consecutive years may face state intervention due to a 2009 law which changed the state’s accountability system for rating districts and schools. The 2013-14 year is the fifth year that the ratings have been issued since the law passed and these 30 failing schools are the first group to face potential restructuring because of consistent low performance. The new ratings go into effect July 1, 2015 for the 2015-16 school year, according to the state education department’s website. However, sanctions wouldn’t be applied to schools until July 1, 2016.

‘No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions’

“As Colorado’s perennially weakest schools approach their day of reckoning, there are few quick fixes and no one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute. “The record of turnarounds and conversions hasn’t been great. More freedom to innovate may help, but some schools will need to go through the painful process of starting from scratch.”

“While some schools face major changes to earn a new lease on life, heavy-handed state control is not a promising long-term solution,” DeGrow added.

Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said the potential takeovers do not necessarily promise improvement. 

“There’s a natural desire to do something about persistently low-performing schools, one that’s grown over time. We’ve seen these efforts before, especially in the NCLB era, if rarely on the proposed scale,” Hess said. “The thing is, there’s little evidence that state takeovers lead to school improvement, or even that anyone really knows how to ‘turn around’ a passel of low-performing schools, but it’s hard to blame state officials for wanting to do something.”

Choice as a Solution

Hess and DeGrow both say more school choice would be a better solution.

“One avenue to help some kids trapped in dire straits would be to make more private tuition scholarships available,” DeGrow said.

“Colorado could provide such new life preservers by adopting a scholarship tax credit program like 14 other states have done. Thousands of high-quality private school seats await students who can access them,” he explained.

“To my mind, the pressing question really ought to be what it would take for dozens of terrific new schools to emerge,” said Hess. “I suspect that’s more a matter of enabling, encouraging, and supporting the growth of new entrants than efforts to use bureaucratic cudgels to compel dramatic change at these schools.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Paradox 56.