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Republican Gov. Bill Owens touted Colorado's "school report card" program on Friday, explaining that by grading the performance of schools, the state is fueling a competitive spirit among educators to excel in teaching.
Speaking before the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, Owens told a sympathetic audience that the grading of schools, combined with the ability of parents to register their children in any public school throughout the state, is "really, really working" because it pressures educators to perform more effectively.
"That which we measure, we are able to improve," Owens said Friday, recalling his career as a consultant with the accounting firm, Deloitte and Touche. "We don't do it in a punitive fashion; we do it to measure how to better improve education."
The report card, also known as the "accountability report," compares the overall academic performance of public schools around the state with rankings ranging from unsatisfactory to excellent based on scores Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. The report was published last month for the first time on a state-run Web site and also provides information about average class size and funding.
Owens predicted that the site would be useful to parents who want to "pick and choose" between schools.
The Web-based report card received praise from Eugene Kickok, undersecretary of education and a former Heritage fellow, who said that without the leadership from people such as Owens in educational reform, "we couldn't get answers" about school performance.
"With accountability, we empower the people to make decisions," Kickok said. "The goal is to get an educational bottom line and find out how well our kids are doing."
The Bush Administration supports using such Internet-based reports in every state and Kickok predicted they would soon be required once education legislation now being negotiated in Congress is signed into law.
In Colorado, the report card program is meeting with mixed reviews, according to Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, an organization of more than 30,000 teachers. "We are not opposed to accountability, we are opposed to using a single measure in the rating and ranking of schools," she said. "Teaching and learning is extremely complex and to try and reduce it to one test is ludicrous."
Owens' appearance at the Heritage Foundation wrapped up a three-day stay in Washington, where he attended a Republican Governors Association conference and the $1 million GOP fundraising event featuring Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday.
The governor also met with the President Bush's director of homeland security and former Pennsylvania governor, Tom Ridge. While some governors are pressing for needed financial assistance to help out with the demands of heightened security in their states, Owens said he's not the kind of guy to go around with his "hand held out."
"I'd like to see is states get flexibility with security needs," he said.
Earlier on Friday, Owens visited with the non-profit Citizens for a Sound
Economy, a non-profit organization that endorses reducing taxes and regulations.
Asked about the economic stimulus package now being considered in Congress, Owens said he is "not familiar" with the various legislation, but believes the House is headed in the right direction by emphasizing tax cuts.
"Now's the time," he said.
Colorado, as with many parts of the nation, took a hit after the Sept. 11 tax cuts, according to the governor. "Sales tax is slowing."
Despite the revenue slowdown, Owens vowed that he would by no means join other states that are now seeking a uniform sales tax on goods purchased over the Internet.
"If I am the only state governor that doesn't sign the compact, that's fine with me," he said. "It would be a huge benefit. I would become the South Dakota of banking."
The Colorado school report Web site can be found at: http://www.state.co.us/schools/accountability_report.htm
David Phinney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org