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Johnston details educator bill (updated)

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is expected to introduce his much-anticipated bill to overhaul educator evaluation, tenure and hiring early next week.

Johnston outlined the bill last Wednesday and took questions from an audience of about 50 at a community meeting sponsored by Padres y Jovenes Unidos, which advocates school reform on behalf of low-income minority students.

Scroll down to bottom to see videos of Johnston’s talk.

Click here to read a draft of Johnston’s bill, which like all drafts is subject to last-minute revisions.

He described four key components of his bill:

  • Create an evaluation system for principals and teachers based partly on multiple measures of student academic growth – at least 50 percent for teachers. For principals, 66 percent would be based on student academic growth and the demonstrated effectiveness of their teachers.
  • Identify the most effective educators, pay them more and share their work so other teachers and principals can learn from them.
  • Ensure teachers earn tenure or due process rights “based on real demonstrated performance and that they keep that privilege based on demonstrated performance.”
  • Implement hiring by mutual consent so that principals hire the teachers they want and that teachers work at schools where they choose to be. Teachers would have “multiple opportunities to earn a position” but would be placed on unpaid leave if they did not.

“Those are the four big ideas. They don’t seem crazy or controversial but they are,” said Johnston, a former teacher and principal who has advised President Obama on education policy.

“And they are because we have for a long time lived in a system where we don’t believe we know what really makes a great teacher or what makes a great principal,” he said. But,”We now have the ability to look at what kind of impact educators are having, and figure out who really is having a great impact and who isn’t.”

Johnston has been talking about the bill since before the 2010 Legislature convened in January. But it was sidelined when Gov. Bill Ritter appointed a Council on Educator Effectiveness as part of the state’s bid for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant competition.

The council, made up of 15 members including three teachers appointed by the statewide teachers’ union, was seen as a more collaborative – some said slower – approach to the issue of improving educator quality.

Monday, Colorado learned it wasn’t among the states winning the first round of the national Race and Ritter said some legislation may help the state’s chances in round two of the competition, which has a June 1 deadline.

“I know there’s been some bills that we’ve held off on until now to see what happens with Race to the Top,” Ritter said. “They may very well be introduced, they may be debated and passed and signed into law by the time the next application is due and that may help us.”

Johnston last week said he believes his bill, if passed, could help the state win Race or other federal dollars. Ritter announced Tuesday that Colorado will apply in the second round of the Race grant competition.

Audience members questioned Johnston about his bill.
Audience members questioned Johnston about his bill.

“I think we have a very good chance of winning round two if we could pass this bill,” Johnston said. One of the states that won, Tennessee, had a bill that “looks almost exactly like this one.”

The bill “clarifies” the Council on Educator Effectiveness, according to a fact sheet prepared by Johnston’s staff, by speeding its deadline to December 2010 and requiring the State Board of Education to make recommendations on any issues the council either does not address or cannot reach consensus on.

Audience members peppered Johnston with questions about which tests would be used to evaluate teachers, how teachers of electives such as art could be judged and potential fiscal impacts of the bill.

One audience member asked how the best teachers would benefit from the plan, prompting a lengthy response. Johnston described four possible steps on a new career ladder that includes differentiated pay:

  • Master teachers would serve as role models. Their names would be posted on the Colorado Department of Education web site and other teachers could sign up to visit their classrooms to observe their work.
  • Mentor teachers would share their work. A new seventh-grade math teacher could search on the CDE site to find the best seventh-grade math teachers in the state and watch videos of them teaching or study their lesson plans.
  • Teacher coaches would spend part of their day teaching and part of their day coaching other teachers, a practice already used in some school districts.
  • Peer evaluators or teachers wanting to become principals or assistant principals would spend part of their time evaluating other teachers, giving them experience evaluating while other teachers get more feedback.

“Those are some of the roles we’re thinking about,” Johnston said. “What we want to do is really call attention to people doing great work so we can learn from them.”

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