Colorado’s Teacher Tenure Reforms Are a Good First Step

Published May 13, 2010

The Colorado House of Representatives passed its heavily amended version of Senate Bill 191 on Wednesday. The Senate approved the bill on reconciliation late Wednesday afternoon. The bill, which prevailed despite an 11th-hour filibuster Tuesday night by teachers union-backed Democrats, will change the way Colorado’s teachers are evaluated. Although it is aimed at making Colorado more competitive for $175 million in federal Race to the Top grants, the law would take effect regardless of whether the Rocky Mountain State receives money from the program.

SB 191 now goes to Gov. Bill Ritter (D) for his signature.

The bill by Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) and Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) will require teachers and principals to be evaluated based on student assessments that are to be developed. Student performance on those assessments would count for half of a teacher’s evaluation. School principals would also be evaluated on student progress in learning. The bill includes provisions for binding arbitration for teachers who wish to appeal two consecutive poor evaluations.

The Heartland Institute’s policy studies and other scholarship have been at the forefront of school reform issues throughout the United States for nearly three decades. In your coverage, you may quote from the experts’ comments below or contact them directly for more information.

“Changing how teachers are evaluated should be understood as one of several vital reforms needed to restore public education in Colorado and around the nation. The status quo, which institutionalizes mediocrity and failure, is unacceptable.”

“A new system of professional accountability is an essential reform, but more needs to be done. Colorado’s law includes all sorts of caveats and exceptions that may well dilute these reforms to the point of uselessness.”

“Legislators should reward teachers and principals for innovation and for tackling the challenge of educating Colorado’s low-income and at-risk kids. Even more important, Colorado parents and students shouldn’t be penalized for where they live. Colorado spent more than $8,500 per pupil in 2009, with most of that money never reaching the classroom. Wouldn’t it be better if that money followed the child instead of being filtered through a bureaucracy concerned more with self-preservation than with education?”

Ben Boychuk
Managing Editor, School Reform News
The Heartland Institute
(818) 389-2931
[email protected]

“Senate Bill 191 represents an important, commonsense upgrade to Colorado education policy. If signed into law, the bill is likely to promote modest, incremental improvements in the quality of Colorado’s public schools. Incentives will be realigned to help ensure teachers and principals work together with a greater focus on quality instruction and improved student learning, and the frustrating “Dance of the Lemons” could very well become a thing of the past. If teacher effectiveness is measured seriously and transparently, tenure-like privileges also will lose some luster, as teachers will have to earn those privileges.”

“Even so, the intense and intractable opposition of the Colorado Education Association has exaggerated the significance of the change. Some of the amendments tacked onto the bill have delayed its implementation and limited the bill’s effectiveness. As a result, improvements will be slow and small. CEA’s lofty political clout may be in jeopardy, too. If the union cannot stop a Democrat-led legislature from ending the tenure guarantee and tying evaluations to performance, education reformers may be emboldened to pursue a more aggressive agenda in coming years.”

Ben DeGrow
Education Policy Analyst
The Independence Institute
(303) 279-6536
[email protected]

“The passage of SB 191 by the Colorado House of Representatives is important for two reasons. First, it shows that the power of the National Education Association, through its Colorado affiliate, is formidable but not invincible. Even though Colorado legislators were bombarded with correspondence from teachers union members opposing the bill, the glaring need to overhaul a system that keeps ineffective teachers in the classroom won out, which should be a lesson to legislators in other states with strong teachers unions. It is possible for common sense to defeat special interests.”

“Second, it is critical to point out that whatever is enacted at the state level, implementation takes place at the local level. New amendments to the bill increase input from teachers union members in the hiring process and guarantee an appeals process for demoted teachers. Whether these processes work to ensure the timely removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom depends on the actions of local school officials and teachers. For this reason, it is important to remind policymakers and the public that giving all parents and their children full school choice is crucial in incentivizing public school educators to take their new responsibilities seriously. Only when all children can leave public schools for better alternatives in the private sector will adequate pressure be brought to bear on the public schools to make reforms like SB 191 work well.”

Lance Izumi
Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies
Pacific Research Institute
(916) 448-1926
[email protected]

“Not only does reforming archaic teacher tenure laws benefit students by ensuring the best teachers remain in the classroom, it is yet another illustration that teachers union opposition to reform can be defeated. It’s certainly not the children who benefit when unqualified teachers are afforded lifetime job security. And for that matter, it’s no favor to the teaching profession either. The only people who benefit from inflexible tenure laws are the teachers unions, whereby lifetime job security means legions of lifetime dues-paying members.”

“Colorado’s move to significantly reform education in that state is a move in the right direction and is yet another signal that the status quo will no longer be permitted.”
Lindsey Burke
Policy Analyst
The Heritage Foundation
(202) 608-6081
[email protected]