This article was updated Thursday with reaction from education Commissioner Dwight Jones and this link to the CEA radio ad against the proposed bill.
The Colorado Education Association is withholding support from the state’s application to win up to $175 million in round two of the national Race to the Top competition.
Tony Salazar, the CEA’s executive director, told the state’s education commissioner in a letter Tuesday that the 40,000-member union was angry over remarks that appeared in the Denver Post on Monday.
In a commentary, Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones expressed support for a bill introduced by state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, that would overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system and tie student achievement to decisions about pay, retention and dismissal.
Jones wrote that he believed passing Johnston’s bill “might boost our chances in the second round” of the Race grant competition.
Jones alluded to the CEA’s letter during a briefing to the State Board of Education Thursday morning.
“We may have our work cut out for us [with] our unions across the state,” Jones said. “I don’t know if that decision [to not participate in R2T] is final. I’ll continue to have discussions.”
The commissioner said he hopes the CEA will see that the R2T bid is more important than its differences with him over the column he wrote supporting Senate Bill 191.
“I was surprised to see how closely you link the legislation to the pending success of Colorado’s Phase 2 Race to the Top application,” Salazar wrote to Jones. “As long as you are tying Colorado’s Race to the Top success to Senator Johnston’s legislation, we are unable to remain partners in the Phase 2 effort.”
The CEA wrote a letter of support for the state’s application in the first round of the Race competition, seeking millions of dollars to jump-start education reform efforts across the state. Colorado was one of 16 finalists in round 1 but only Delaware and Tennessee were named winners.
But even with the statewide union’s support, only 41 percent of local unions agreed to participate in initiatives outlined in the application should Colorado be successful.
Deborah Fallin, CEA spokeswoman, said the statewide group is telling local affiliates “don’t commit” to anything for round 2, which has a June 1 deadline.
Fallin said the CEA might be willing to support the state’s application if it is no longer linked to Johnston’s bill, Senate Bill 191, or if the bill fails to pass into law.
“As long as these two things are linked, we can’t be on it because we are adamantly opposed to Senate Bill 191 and we are not going to participate if that is going to be everybody’s basis for what we’re going to do with Race to the Top,” she said.
“If those two become unlinked, or the bill doesn’t pass, we would certainly be willing to look at that process again. But right now, where things are, we can’t play.”
Salazar, in his letter to Jones, pointed out that teachers believe they have been unfairly scapegoated for the state’s placing 14 out of 16 finalists in the first round of Race to the Top.
Some observers initially criticized Colorado’s application as weak because it featured an appointed Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness to decide how to boost teacher and principal quality. Other states had more concrete plans, such as Tennessee, which passed a law requiring student achievement be used in teacher and principal evaluations.
But Colorado did not lose an inordinate number of points for its council, according to first-round scores. Its application received 47.6 points out of a possible 58 – or 82 percent of points possible – in the category of “Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance,” while the two winning states had scores of 50.4 and 53 in that category.
One of the five reviewers who scored Colorado’s application did note, “This plan relies on future recommendations, not yet specified, being made to the Governor and to the legislature regarding modifications to current state law.”
Colorado lost a higher percentage of points in categories such “Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals,” achieving 17.4 out of 25 points or 70 percent, and “Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals,” with 13.8 out of 21 points or 66 prcent. See a chart comparing the state’s points in every category with those of the winning states.
Still, the fact that fewer than half the state’s unions were willing to participate in Race reforms was cited several times at different points in the application.
“Successful state reform efforts must have the strong support of the local unions,” wrote another reviewer, citing the low participation rate.
Johnston’s bill keeps the Governor’s Council but shortens its timeline and includes provisions such as requiring teachers to have three years of demonstrated results improving student achievement before they receive tenure.
“The CEA stands firm in our support for the Governor’s Council,” Salazar wrote to Jones. “Shortcutting this process with political motivations to strip teachers of their rights does nothing to help build a better education system focused on teaching and learning.”
Salazar also said Jones should focus on “all areas of the state application that need improvement” in the Race second round.
The state’s current teacher evaluation system requires teachers be labeled either satisfactory or unsatisfactory and, in most large districts, nearly 100 percent are labeled satisfactory.
“The evaluation system we have now is, teachers call it a joke,” Fallin said. “We want a new credible, objective evaluation system.”
The CEA is vigorously fighting Johnston’s bill, which was introduced Monday. CEA President Beverly Ingle issued a press release calling it “too much, too fast.” See her comments here.
In the first round of the Race contest, “you stated that you were not willing to throw teachers under the bus,” Salazar said in his letter to Jones. “Your support of the Johnston bill and its linkage to Race to the Top does exactly that!”
Nancy Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-478-4573.