The Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) is coming under increasing fire for the way it has been interpreting and implementing legislation designed to step up the production of K-12 teachers capable of making students achieve at levels mandated by the state's K-12 academic standards.
The law -- SB-154, passed in 1999 -- has the near unanimous support of the state's schools of education and their faculties, as well as of the state's school superintendents, K-12 teachers and the Colorado Education Association, the state teachers' union.
All say the law addresses the growing teacher shortage by streamlining the state's teacher prep programs. Where prospective teachers formerly had to earn their B.A. and then take another year of education classes, SB-154 requires schools of education to revamp their programs so that both liberal arts and education courses can be completed in four years.
Not everyone, though, is happy with the way CCHE is implementing the law. Most of the controversy is grounded in the authority the law gives to CCHE to dictate the guidelines of the state's teacher ed programs, review those programs for compliance and grant or withhold certification accordingly.
And some of the controversy stems from CCHE's contract with a conservative think tank, the National Association of Scholars, to evaluate teacher training programs in the state.
Objections have been voiced in some quarters -- C.U./Boulder in particular -- that the Commission has overstepped its authority, failed to follow its own guidelines and has instituted an adversarial review process. Long-simmering tensions came to a boil when, on May 2, CCHE voted to approve only 11 of the 55 academic majors in which elementary ed students can major at C.U./Boulder.
Some of the majors disallowed by the Commission included American studies, astronomy, chemistry, fine arts, geology, business, music, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, classics, religious studies, women's studies, environmental studies, ethnic studies, Asian studies and all foreign languages. Of the 225 students presently enrolled in the Boulder elementary ed program, 90 are majoring in programs CCHE wants eliminated.
The CCHE decision was made even though the State Board of Education has approved the content of all the majors disallowed by CCHE. The May 2 decision prompted C.U. regent and environmental studies professor Bob Sievers to charge the Commission staff with an "anti-teaching, anti-C.U./Boulder, anti-women and anti-minority bias."
"I find it appalling," he said in an interview this week, "that because of CCHE politics and animosity toward C.U./Boulder, a student wanting to teach elementary school either can't go to C.U. if he or she wants to major in physics, psychology or Spanish -- either that, or the student has to choose a different profession."
Tensions between C.U./Boulder and CCHE staff first surfaced in April of last year when the Commission paid $25,000 to the National Association of Scholars to evaluate the teacher education programs at the University of Northern Colorado, C.U./Boulder, Mesa State and Metro State.
The contract raised eyebrows in education circles. NAS is a conservative academic think tank with an avowed mission to combat what it calls the "liberal bias" and "anti-capitalist aspirations of the Left" on college campuses -- by which NAS means the "politically correct" ideals of multicultural education, promotion of diversity and affirmative action.
NAS advisory board members include Jeane Kirkpatrick, Chester Finn (one of the education policy gurus of the conservative movement), and Irving Kristol, who has characterized multiculturalism as "a desperate strategy for coping with the educational deficiencies and associated social pathologies of young blacks."
In the early 1990s, NAS played a lead role at the University of Texas in blocking a course based on civil rights readings in response to a proliferation of campus racial and sexual harassment, and in getting the university's Chicano newspaper unfunded. The organization was also a key player in the passage of California's anti-affirmative action referendum.
The NAS review charged the teacher education programs at C.U./Boulder and Metro State with "proselytizing for progressive causes" like multicultural education and promotion of diversity, gender and racial equality. The report recommended that the teacher preparation program at C.U./Boulder be terminated and that the Metro State program be stopped from admitting new students.
Asked by the Indy why the NAS was selected -- and paid $25,000 -- to conduct this review, CCHE board member Peggy Lamm said, "Frankly, I don't have the slightest idea, and that's the honest truth."
Asked the same question, CCHE policy director Jeanne Adkins said NAS was contracted "because it is a well-respected organization." Asked why an organization with credentials in teacher education wasn't contracted to do reviewing, Adkins replied that "NAS made a proposal to review teacher ed programs in Colorado and we accepted" -- after which Adkins said she saw "no purpose in continuing the conversation" and hung up.
Sievers and others, meanwhile, accuse CCHE staff of violating Commission guidelines. Those guidelines require that each school of education be given a copy of its site review report within 10 days of the review team visit. C.U./Boulder, however, wasn't provided a copy of its site review report until May 1 -- six months after the on-site visit and only one day prior to the day when CCHE would be voting on whether or not to reauthorize the school's teacher ed program.
Complaints have also been lodged that some of site review reports were revised by CCHE staffers, and the authors weren't given a chance to see the altered versions.
Sen. John Evans, R-Parker, who carried SB-154, said in an interview this week, "The primary intent of my bill is to make sure young teachers can teach when they get out of school. The form of the degree itself isn't important. That's a matter of the colleges and universities."
Evans said he plans to convene all the appropriate parties this summer to see if the animosity between CCHE and the teacher ed programs can be ironed out.
Last month, the dean of the C.U./Boulder School of Education, Bill Stanley, submitted his resignation, stating growing friction with CCHE as a chief consideration.
C.U./Boulder has appealed the CCHE approval of only 11 majors. The CCHE board will consider that appeal on June 7.