Tuesday’s primary in Colorado’s 3rd congressional district is a rematch of sorts between two Republicans who want a seat on the State Board of Education.

Anita Stapleton, a nurse from Pueblo and vocal critic of the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, is challenging Joyce Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, who was appointed to the seat last August.

Rankin, who is married to state Rep. Bob Rankin, and Stapleton, a regular at state board meetings, were among eight Republicans a vacancy committee considered to replace board chairwoman Maria Neal, who resigned citing health reasons and board dysfunction.

The winner of the primary will face Pueblo Democrat Christine Pacheco-Kovelesk in November. The state’s sprawling 3rd congressional district includes the entire Western Slope and portions of southern Colorado and is heavily Republican.

The seven-member State Board is currently controlled by a Republicans by one vote. However, given some ideological splits on charters, testing and standards, its unclear what sort of majority might emerge in November. The most watched race is expected to be in Colorado’s 6th congressional district.

Here are the candidates’ emailed responses to questions from Chalkbeat about the issues facing the board and Colorado.

🔗Joyce Rankin

What are the greatest issues facing Colorado schools today and how do you hope to address it as a member of the state board?

Improvement of student outcomes for career and college success. Professional development tools and choices so that teachers learn and grow in their profession.

As a Board Member, I will address the issues by:

  • Encouraging student self-direction toward a successful, challenging, and rigorous for lifelong learning.
  • Identifying and rewarding exceptional teachers.

What role should the State Board of Education serve is shaping state education law and policy?

Monitor legislation and assist legislators.

What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?

Joyce Rankin
Joyce Rankin

Colorado Department of Education should provide support to local school districts.

The advocacy groups can help communicate with stakeholders and help frame and form the vision and priorities for the future of education.

Colorado needs a new education commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?

A candidate should be a strong leader with knowledge of successful research based programs.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

Higher achievement for every student.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system, if so, how?

Colorado should change testing if there are results driven alternatives.

Some 30 schools and eight school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The State Board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low performing schools or turn them over to charters?
Every school and district at the end of the accountability clock is unique. It is the board’s responsibility to ask the hard questions, and then decide if the students are better served by reorganization or closure. The student’s best interests must come first.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? Would you support whatever the panel recommended even if it went against your personal opinion of the Common Core State Standards?

Consideration must be given to any changes the panel recommends. I will be a good listener before any decision is made.

🔗Anita Stapleton

What are the greatest issues facing Colorado schools today and how do you hope to address it as a member of the state board?

Anita Stapleton
Anita Stapleton

The greatest issue facing Colorado schools today is the federal overreach into the classroom through Common Core. Common Core is an agenda package that goes beyond the classroom. It is education reform designed to change American culture through the classroom. It involves intrusive data collection of non-cognitive data in order to obtain the attitudes, values, and beliefs of our children so the government can develop an organized global economy. As a board member, I would push towards instituting the “original Colorado Academic Standards” that Colorado did develop and approved in 2009 prior to imbedding Common Core standards. There is no re-investing or stepping backwards. The work has already been done and it is time to reap the fruits of that labor. I also will work very hard to protect our students’ data until FERPA privacy laws can be reinstated that actually protect data and include parental consent again. The next president needs to nullify or overturn Executive Order 128666 that the current administration implemented that gutted any kind of protection over student, teacher and parent data.

What role should the State Board of Education serve is shaping state education law and policy?

Colorado is one of six states with a unique state constitution that directs local control over education. The State Board has specific duties and authority. It is not to make laws but to implement the laws that legislation passes. However, it is also the authority of the Colorado Department of Education. The represented members are to oversee the CDE, be the checks and balances between bureaucracy and legislation. It is to be a guide and model. The SBE members need to be active in the conversation with legislation regarding policy making. The lobbyist, special interests, CDE and unions all have a voice that persuade our legislators such as seen with the Education Commission of the States. SBE members need to be in this conversation more so that is why true grassroots representation that represents the parents, students, and taxpayers is much needed. The ultimate mission for the SBE is to uphold the state constitution and support local school districts to be autonomous.

What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?

The Colorado Department of Education should have a honest and transparent relationship with local school districts. It is not intended to be the authoritarian or dictator of the districts. It should always hand down factual and transparent information as directed by the SBE and be a positive support system for local districts. Districts need to take the initiative to be independent and want to strive for improvement which some have tried to do but get boxed back into the corner of state control. Colorado has mirrored much what the federal government has done. Top down unfunded mandates with a heavy hand of financial restraints. The CDE should keep a neutral relationship with special interests groups such as the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Association of School Executives, and many others such as The Colorado Education Initiative. Special interests with an agenda that profits off political agendas is not good for Colorado classrooms. It takes the focus off “real education.”

Colorado needs a new education commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?

The next commissioner needs to be highly vetted. I want to know that he/she is NOT invested with special interests that are pushing more federal mandates into Colorado. I want someone who is transparent, a person of integrity, supports fiscal responsibility to include looking at the budget and trimming the top heavy positions at CDE so that monies actually can be funneled back to the classroom. I also am looking for a commissioner that understands the Colorado State Constitution and accepts that the SBE is in authority over the CDE not the other way around. If Colorado expects to be excellent in education then all levels of government (legislative, state, local and bureaucrats) need to work together and start putting real solutions to work. Too much time has been wasted already.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

I do not see ESSA as allowing states to have more autonomy over accountability. I actually see it as more constraints and mandates just under different names. I understand ESSA to drive not only national standards and assessments but a national curriculum and national teacher development program through digital learning and the U.S. Department of Education’s database, “The Learning Registry.” I will work to eliminate teacher accountability from high stakes testing or assessments. Colorado needs to empower teachers to teach real academics, not political propaganda or social agendas. They need to be treated as professionals and given the ability to teach students to be individual thinkers and achievers. There needs to be a balance in traditional education: real math, reading, writing to include cursive and spelling, factual history, and real science. If a teacher inspires and is able to spark students to engage and thirst for education then that is an highly effective teacher. The current psychosocial assessments do not produce any type of real data that any one educator could be measured against. The path Colorado is on is pushing truly great teachers to retire or resign. Parents are pulling their children out for homeschooling. Public school in America is in a crisis. The newly passed ESSA will entrap teachers further into compliance and restrict the profession. This issue needs to have real strategies discussed and it will not be an easy one. However, I do not agree with classroom surveillance on any level. Teachers need to be in their natural environment as do the students.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system, if so, how?

Colorado definitely needs to seek a different course of assessments. PARCC assessments are as previously stated, NOT intended to collect cognitive or academic data on students. It is intended to gather psychosocial data or non-cognitive data. The U.S. Department Of Education report: Expanding Evidence Approaches In A Digital World clearly outlines that summative assessments will be eliminated and assessments that collect the non-academic data that the U.S. Department Of Education is after will be obtained from formative assessments, interim assessments which are imbedded in daily classroom work in digital format. I do not support Smarter Balanced, AIR, STARR, Core MAPS or any other assessments (digital or paper) that are intended to collect the “attitudes, values, or beliefs” of the students. This does not measure student achievement or academics. I also do not support Digital Badging. It is also referenced in this report. The federal government is not to be dictating education. I strongly believe that the PARCC MOU is breeched as per the federal regulations that PARCC is no longer a consortium with 7 or 8 states remaining; it is to have a minimum of 15 states.

Some 30 schools and eight school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The State Board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low performing schools or turn them over to charters?

I do not support the state turning low performing schools to charters. This is due to the fact that special interests are driving the charter school movement. Traditional charter schools are of old day. What we have currently are charters that offer the same Common Core standards and curriculum with a push toward digital learning programs that are no different than traditional public schools. Schools of Innovation are highly influenced by The Bill & Melinda Gates organization, The Colorado Education Initiative, so again special interests drive the classroom. If local districts would challenge themselves to implement real academics (traditional education) then I strongly believe these schools would improve. There needs to be parental engagement and a welcoming environment for this engagement. Teachers need to be allowed to teach and students need to have an environment that energizes them and gives them the desire to be in school. All the money in the world does not produce this. The local board members and state board members need to go spend not just one day in these low performing schools but spend real time talking with the teachers, students and the parents. Find out what drives them in education.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? Would you support whatever the panel recommended even if it went against your personal opinion of the Common Core State Standards?

I support getting out of the Common Core Standards and actually implementing the “ORIGINAL” Colorado Academic Standards that many students, teachers of all different walks, higher ed, parents etc worked so hard to develop. Blow the dust off these standards and let the local districts see what was actually developed. I am committed to finding something better and return to real academics.