Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter throws support behind controversial bill that ties teacher evaluation to student performance.
Gov. Bill Ritter threw his support Tuesday behind a controversial teacher reform bill that would tie teacher and principal evaluations to student academic growth and change the way teachers get and keep tenure.
The Colorado Education Association continues to fight the proposal — urging teachers to flood the state Capitol in Denver Wednesday and Thursday to protest the bill. The teachers union argues the bill sets up a policy without adequate funding and doesn’t set up a system needed to support that policy.
The public, in a telephone poll paid for by supporters of the bill indicated strong backing for elements of the plan, questioned 600 voters. Sixty-seven percent felt teacher tenure should be based primarily on student achievement.
The controversial bill appears to be gaining momentum as it faces legislative hurdles in the Senate and the House before it would reach Ritter’s desk. But support appears to be growing.
Ritter had reserved comment on the legislation, but said his concerns about the bill have been allayed by a group of proposed amendments, especially one that lengthens the timeline, with the whole evaluation system in place by 2014 instead of 2011.
“This is a bill that really resolves a lot of issues that we have had around how to go about designing an evaluation system and tenure system that is both going to hold principals and educators accountable but at the same time is fair,” Ritter said.
The governor’s stated approval carries much weight for a bill that many believe is essential for Colorado to win $175 million in the second round of the federal Race to the Top education grant competition. Colorado lost in the first round.
In the long term, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, who was a Mapleton high school principal, would cap a decades-long debate over tenure by making fundamental changes in the way teachers are evaluated and allow them to be stripped of their tenure if they fail to meet performance standards heavily weighted by student academic growth data.
The Senate education committee begins discussions on the bill on Wednesday. The committee’s members appear to be nearly unanimous in support of the bill, which would base 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on his or her students’ test scores.
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, a former teacher and union member, was a holdout. “I am still getting a huge amount of pressure to kill it,” she said. “But I think the way the bill is being amended . . . it’s going to be a smaller pill to swallow.”
Johnston and Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, worked with other committee members, including Hudak, to develop amendments that addressed teachers’ concerns, specifically that the timeline was too short. The bill as introduced called for a new evaluation system to be in place by 2011-12.
But under the key amendment, the new evaluation system will be beta-tested in school districts by 2012-13. By 2013-14, an evaluation system will be in place on how teachers earn tenure, and by 2014-15, the system on how teachers lose tenure.
The amendment would allow the state board and the legislature time to review and revise the council’s findings.
“I am amazed these folks are not considering the burden they are putting on the system and basing their hopes on gifts, grants and donations,” said Tony Salazar, the Colorado Education Association’s executive director. “There is nothing that pays for this system or makes sure that it happens. Do we set up a lemonade stand on Colfax Avenue?”