Lawmakers working on teacher licensing legislation finally got some formal – but mixed – advice from a panel that’s been studying the issue since early August.

Sen. Mike Johnston makes a point during LEAD Compact discussion.
Sen. Mike Johnston makes a point during LEAD Compact discussion.

Members of the group, formally known as the LEAD Compact, wrapped up their work this week during two days of meetings in Keystone, with many of the concerns and differences that surfaced at the start last summer still on the table as the snow fell outside the conference room.

The key question that’s divided compact members has been whether teacher ratings given under the new educator evaluation system should be used as factors in license renewal.

The group voted Tuesday on a summary of its discussions (it can’t really be called a “proposal”). The document includes limited us of teacher evaluations, specifically if a teacher chose to move from a professional to a master license. Seeking a master license would be optional, so a teacher could remain at professional status for an entire career.

Members (about two dozen of the 35 members attended the final meeting) signaled their views about sections of the document by raising colored paddles – green for agreement, yellow for basic agreement with questions or suggestions and red for unable to support.

On some of the more sensitive sections a third or more of paddles showed yellow or red.

The green-yellow-red exercise marked the end of a debate that’s been prolonged and that has stalled at times as members of the group struggled to reconcile opposing views about a variety of issues related to teacher preparation, support, professional development and licensing.

It wasn’t intended that the group come up with a concrete proposal for possible legislation. Rather, the panel was designed to be a forum for discussion on licensing after Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, pulled the plug on a licensing bill he’d thought about introducing during the 2013 legislative session.

That draft, which included a link between license renewal and evaluation results, had sparked considerable anxiety in segments of the education community.

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In political terms, it was hoped the compact would reach shared views on at least some teacher preparation and licensing issues, potentially reducing the level of conflict and lobbying should a licensing bill be introduced during the 2014 legislative session. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

The group’s members included a wide variety of people representing mainline education interest groups, reform-oriented organizations, teacher prep programs and higher education, plus teachers, principals, other administrators and legislators. The panel was created by Johnston and Gov. John Hickenlooper, funded by the Donnell-Kay and Rose Community foundations and staffed by facilitators from the Keystone Center.

While some members made it clear they still have concerns, Johnston was upbeat about the process, calling it “a really great testimony to what happens when you bring good people together.” He added that he has “a real sense of accomplishment” about the compact’s work. “We’re in a much different place than we could have imagined” and have much more agreement than might have been expected at the start, he said.

In areas where the group didn’t substantially agree, “That leaves us to solve the problems,” Johnston said, referring to himself and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, his likely cosponsor on any licensing legislative next year.

“We were trying to listen to what we heard from you all over the last several months,” Hamner said.

Use of evaluation in licensing – even in a limited form – is likely to remain a sticking point.

“The message is pretty clear from the field – no connection with Senate Bill 191 whatsoever,” observed compact member Michael Clough, superintendent of the Sheridan schools. (SB 10-191 is the law that created the new annual evaluation standards being rolled out statewide this year.)

Groups like the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Association of School Boards and Colorado Association of School Executives are among those concerned about such a linkage because their members feel the new evaluation system is untested and wasn’t designed to be used for licensing decisions.

“There are plenty of parts of this [document] that I don’t like either,” Johnston said. “We’re at the stage now where it gets passed to Millie and me.”

Details on three proposed licenses

The suggested new system outlined in the compact’s document would include three types of licenses – initial, professional and master. Here are the details:

Initial – A prospective teacher could earn this license by completing a university teacher preparation program, a teacher residency program or an approved alternative prep program. The proposal also would create a fourth pathway, called “alternative 2,” under which a candidate for a “hard to staff” or rural teaching job could get a license with a bachelor’s degree, a background check and passage of a test or other demonstration of content knowledge. Such a license would be good for three years. Some compact members are uncomfortable with the alternative 2 idea.

Professional – A teacher with an initial license could advance to professional by successfully completing three years of professional development as directed by the teacher’s evaluations or by a passing score on the new edTPA test. (See this EdWeek article for more details on that test.)

Master – This new license would be optional. A teacher could earn it by having three years of “highly effective” ratings under the SB 10-191 system or by having three years of “effective ratings” and passing the edTPA test or becoming a nationally board certified teacher. Becoming a master teacher would make a person eligible for various career opportunities such as becoming a mentor teacher.

In no case would evaluations be used for license revocation.

The current state system includes emergency, initial and professional licenses, with different qualifications.

The group also was polled on several less-detailed proposals related to teacher preparation programs, professional development, data gathering and other issues.

Tuesday’s final compact session produced a brief surprise, supplied by former Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster, a compact member who recently resigned her seat to avoid a recall.

Hudak wondered why the group wasn’t discussing the issue of charter school teachers, who don’t necessarily have to be licensed.

“Either you believe licensure is important for quality or you don’t,” she said.

“This is obviously a new issue,” said facilitator Janesse Brewer, looking a bit taken aback.

“I always appreciate the senator raising questions like that,” Hamner said calmly. “I’m not sure if I want to reopen charter school law.”

That ended that discussion.