Future of Teaching

Advisory panel still struggling with key decision

Nearing the end of its work, the group that is studying possible changes to Colorado’s teacher licensing requirements remains undecided on a key issue – whether or how to connect license renewal to teacher evaluation.

Sen. Mike Johnston (left) makes a point about teacher licensing while Sheridan Superintendent Mike Clough listens.
Sen. Mike Johnston (left) makes a point about teacher licensing while Sheridan Superintendent Mike Clough listens.

The issue dominated the Tuesday meeting of the 35-member LEAD Compact Working Group, which is trying to develop recommendations about possible licensing legislation for the 2014 legislature.

A subcommittee has been studying the issue since the compact’s October meeting and returned with some suggestions – but not firm recommendations. That sparked an afternoon-long discussion that ended with the subcommittee being asked to do more work.

“We’ll see if we can nudge this forward or not,” said Janesse Brewer of the Keystone Center, who helps facilitate the group’s meetings.

The main group meets again Nov. 20 and is supposed to finish its work during a final session Dec. 2-3.

Linking license renewal and evaluation has been the elephant in the room since the group was convened last spring by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

Johnston, who favors using teacher evaluation results for renewal of teacher licenses, considered introducing such a bill late in the 2013 session but didn’t pull the trigger because of a crush of other legislative business and uncertainty about a licensing bill’s prospects. He and the governor created the panel after the session adjourned for the year.

The panel is also discussing related issues such as teacher preparation, induction programs for new teachers and increasing the number of teacher candidates. But the tie between license renewal and evaluation is the big issue.

The evaluation system laid out in Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191 creates an annual teacher rating system of highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective, based half-and-half on professional skills and student academic growth. Being tested statewide this year, the system goes into full effect in the 2014-15 school year.

The nine-member subgroup came up with some possible ways to use evaluation results in license renewal. But, “We do not have consensus on this possible compromise,” said group member Sue Sava, director of the Stanley Teacher Prep Program.

Among other ideas, the group discussed creating a new alternative license, under which candidates would be required only to have a bachelor’s degree, pass a background check and pass a content test or have relevant work or academic content knowledge.

The subcommittee discussed limiting such a new license only to hard-to-staff schools, such as in rural districts, and also delaying use of evaluations in license renewals until 2017, after more data is available about the reliability of the SB 13-213 evaluation system.

And, Sava stressed, “There would be no revocation of licenses based on effectiveness.”

“There are a lot of things in this proposal I would have changed,” said Johnston, who was a member of the subcommittee, which held three telephone meetings. But, he said, “I think it’s a strong proposal.”

Several other members of the subcommittee made similar comments, although none wholeheartedly endorsed the ideas.

Several compact members still are concerned about how and when to use evaluation results in license renewals, and that discussion continued for some time. Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, and others argued that SB 10-191 wasn’t intended to be used for license renewal.

Later in the afternoon, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, floated the idea of tying evaluations only to a new license category – master teacher. (Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee and a key Johnston ally on education issues.) But the group didn’t coalesce around that idea, and that’s when Brewer suggested the subcommittee have another go at the issue.

The group’s work is funded by the Donnell-Kay and Rose Community foundations, and representatives of those two sit in on meetings.

Asked by Brewer to wrap up the day, Donnell-Kay head Tony Lewis said, “I would push hard to think how it [licensing change] affects kids. There are a whole lot of adult issues on the table today.” Commenting on concerns about the validity of evaluation data, Lewis said, “Certainty in data is impossible. … At some point you have to move.”

The group Thursday also heard a presentation by Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project. He argued that different types of teacher preparation – university programs, alternative prep and residency – don’t necessarily produce different results in the quality of new teachers. States should worry less about raising the bar to licensing and more about monitoring the performance of teachers in their first few years of work and removing those who aren’t effective, he said.


Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.

story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

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