From the Statehouse

Evaluation and tenure bill finally unveiled

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.”

Do your homework

rules and regs

New York adds some flexibility to its free college scholarship rules. Will it be enough for more students to benefit?

PHOTO: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at the University at Albany.

New York is offering more wiggle room in a controversial “Excelsior” scholarship requirement that students stay in-state after graduating, according to new regulations released Thursday afternoon.

Members of the military, for example, will be excused from the rule, as will those who can prove an “extreme hardship.”

Overall, however, the plan’s rules remain strict. Students are required to enroll full-time and to finish their degrees on time to be eligible for the scholarship — significantly limiting the number who will ultimately qualify.

“It’s a high bar for a low-income student,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “It’s going to be the main reason why students lose the scholarship.”

The scholarship covers free college tuition at any state college or university for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. But it comes with a major catch: Students who receive Excelsior funding must live and work in New York state for the same number of years after graduation as they receive the scholarship. If they fail to do so, their scholarships will be converted to loans, which the new regulations specify have 10-year terms and are interest-free.

The new regulations allow for some flexibility:

  • The loan can now be prorated. So if a student benefits from Excelsior for four years but moves out of state two years after graduation, the student would only owe two years of payments.
  • Those who lose the scholarship but remain in a state school, or complete a residency in-state, will have that time count toward paying off their award.
  • Members of the military get a reprieve: They will be counted as living and working in-state, regardless of where the person is stationed or deployed.
  • In cases of “extreme hardship,” students can apply for a waiver of the residency and work requirements. The regulations cite “disability” and “labor market conditions” as some examples of a hardship. A state spokeswoman said other situations that “may require that a student work to help meet the financial needs of their family” would qualify as a hardship, such as a death or the loss of a job by a parent.
  • Students who leave the state for graduate school or a residency can defer repaying their award. They would have to return to New York afterwards to avoid having the scholarship convert to a loan.

Some of law’s other requirements were also softened. The law requires students to enroll full-time and take average of 30 credits a year — even though many SUNY and CUNY students do not graduate on time. The new regulations would allow students to apply credits earned in high school toward the 30-credit completion requirement, and stipulates that students who are disabled do not have to enroll full-time to qualify.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”