The effort to change Colorado educator evaluation and the teacher tenure system was launched formally Monday with introduction of Senate Bill 10-191, the long-awaiting educator effectiveness proposal.

Sponsors of Senate Bill 10-191
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, explaining Senate Bill 10-191 on April 12. With him are his cosponsors (from left) Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock; Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillion, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial.

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan set of House and Senate members, is expected to be the focus of the most significant education policy debate of the 2010 legislative session.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, has been working on the bill for six months, seeking to develop support among a wide range of education groups.

Key provisions of the bill include annual teacher and principal evaluations, with teacher evaluations to be based 50 percent on student growth and principal evaluations based two-thirds on student growth and the demonstrated effectiveness of a principal’s teachers.

The bill also would require that tenure be earned after three consecutive years of effectiveness as determined by evaluations. Tenured teachers could be returned to probation if they don’t have good evaluations for two years. The bill also would require the mutual consent for placement of teachers in specific schools and establishes procedures for handling teachers who aren’t placed. It also specifies that evaluations can be considered when layoffs are made.

Many of the details of the new system would be left to the Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness, whose work is just getting underway, and to the State Board of Education. A key part of that work would be developing a definition of educator effectiveness on which to base a new evaluations system. (The state board is expected to discuss the bill during its meetings later this week. The effectiveness council will hold its second meeting on April 21.)

The council also would be charged with proposed a career ladder system for teachers and making recommendations for getting top teachers and principals to serve in low-achieving schools.

Once state standards for evaluation are in place, local school districts would be required to “meet or exceed” those standards in their evaluation systems.

Johnston acknowledged Monday that he hasn’t reached agreement with the Colorado Education Association on parts of the bill, especially the sections that would change the tenure process and require mutual principal-teacher consent for placement of teachers in schools.

“We’ve had a lot of concerns” expressed about the bill, Johnston said, adding that there are “misperceptions” about such issues as the proposal’s effects on teachers at low-performing schools.

Senate President Shaffer, D-Boulder, said, “It would be an overstatement to say there is consensus” on the bill. Asked where he stood on the bill, Shaffer described himself as “the moderator” in discussions about the proposal, said he’s working to achieve a form of the bill that can pass the Senate. “It’s something we’d like to tout as part of our application for round two” of the Race to the Top competition.

(Gov. Bill Ritter, asked Tuesday about SB 10-191, sounded much like Shaffer, saying he was “working” with both Johnston and the CEA about the bill and said the measure has the benefit of “prioritizing this conversation” aboout educator effectiveness.)

Bev Ingle, president of the CEA, said Monday the union is opposed to the bill as introduced. Her objections focused on the shorter time line SB 10-191 would impose on the council. “Sen. Johnston’s bill, which deals with educator effectiveness, evaluation, and due process is too much, too fast. [The] bill interferes with current collaborative efforts.”

Ingle continued, “The council should be allowed to do its work as charged by the governor and to make recommendations to the governor and legislature about policy changes and laws needed to achieve these goals. Senator Johnston’s bill hinders the work of the council and potentially sets it up for failure.”

Under its current charge, the council has until the end of this year to develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness but doesn’t have to make detailed further recommendations until September 2011. SB 10-191 would compress the council’s work into the rest of this year and give the state board until next March to issue regulations.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, also expressed some concerns about the bill’s timetable and a one-size-fits-all approach that might be hard for small districts. But, Urschel also found much to like in the bill, including the tying of good evaluations to getting and keeping tenure.

“The most exciting thing is that we are finally in this state going to have a good, deep discussion about teaching as professional practice,” Urschel said. CASB doesn’t yet have a position on the bill, Urschel said, but she hopes the association eventually will be able to support it.

Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said, “I think many of the ideas in the bill are going to be welcomed by our members” but that other issues may need some work. “It’s a little bit early in the process for us to commit.” Caughey said he also has some concerns about how a new evaluation system would be supported financially. “As always, it’s the details.”

Johnston has plenty of backing from a variety of education advocacy groups, including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, BizCares, the Urban League, Padres Unidos, Metropolitan Organization for People, A+ Denver and Colorado Concern, among others.

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said, “We know that in Colorado there are many great teachers and principals effectively educating our kids.  This bill will support successful educators in our schools – ensuring that Colorado schools have the ability to recruit, develop and retain the most effective teachers and principals.

“The Colorado Children’s Campaign is firmly committed to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed, and this is why we support Senate Bill 191. …  Educator effectiveness is an economic issue, it is an equality issue, but at its core, it is a children’s issue.”

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones

In contract to Shaffer’s “moderator” role, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, is a cosponsor of the proposal. And education Commissioner Dwight Jones wrote a guest column in Monday’s Denver Post supporting the bill.

The bill has 18 sponsors, nine from each party. Johnston and the three Republican members of the eight-member Senate Education Committee are sponsors, but no other committee Democrat is on the bill. SB 10-191 is expected to have its first hearing in Senate Ed next week. Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, is Johnston’s co-prime sponsor in the Senate.

Four members of the 13-member House Education Committee are sponsors, including prime sponsors Reps. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. No House Ed Democrats are on the bill except Scanlan, but Republican Reps. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs and Ken Summers of Lakewood are sponsors.

Johnston said despite that fact that the session is in its final month, it was “the right time” to introduce the bill. It wasn’t ready earlier in the session, he said. And introducing it now fits it with planned changes in the CSAP testing system, with R2T and with what’s happing in other states.

But Johnston said, “This is the right bill regardless of the Race to the Top.”

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