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Details emerge on educator effectiveness bill

The long-awaited educator effectiveness bill, expected to be introduced within a few days, would set new baseline standards for the evaluation and tenure of teachers and principals but leave the details to an appointed commission and the State Board of Education.

Evaluation illustration

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, has been working on the bill since before the 2010 legislative session started. But the measure has been delayed as he’s tailored his proposal to both include the Council for Educator Effectiveness created by Gov. Bill Ritter in January and to attract support from various education interest groups.

Johnston said Tuesday he now intends to introduce the bill next week, or perhaps Friday.

Here’s a look at the proposal’s contents, based on a draft copy reviewed by Education News Colorado:

  • Teacher tenure would be redefined so that new teachers would have to have “three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness” to gain tenure, and a tenured teacher would return to probationary status after two consecutive years of “demonstrated ineffectiveness.”
  • A teacher could be assigned to a specific school only by mutual consent of the teacher and school’s principal. A teacher who didn’t get a job after two hiring cycles would go on unpaid leave without benefits until rehired.
  • Educator evaluations would be based “at least 50 percent” on the academic growth of a teacher’s students, and teachers would be given opportunities to improve their effectiveness through growth plans. There would be “multiple measures” of effectiveness.
  • Principal evaluations would be based at least 65 percent on academic growth of students in a school and on the effectiveness of the school’s teachers.
  • A teacher’s “demonstrated effectiveness” could be used as a factor when districts lay off teachers.
  • The educator effectiveness council would have until Dec. 31 to make recommendations to the state board on the details of teacher evaluations and tenure. (This would move up the deadline set when Ritter created the council.) The council also would develop a system of “career ladders” for educators and a state plan for getting effective educators into underperforming schools.
  • The state board would have a March 31, 2011, deadline for issuing formal rules – even if the council doesn’t meet its deadline.
  • School boards and boards of cooperative education services would be required to “meet or exceed” state board guidelines when creating their performance evaluation systems. (This is standard “local control” language regularly found in major education bills.)

Although bills often gain sponsors by the time they’re formally introduced, the draft bill carries only Johnston, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillion, as prime sponsors.

Teacher tenure and evaluation, although being changed in many states, are touchy issues, particularly with teachers unions like the Colorado Education Association, so it’s hard to gauge the bill’s chances as the legislature goes into its final month.

It’s also unclear how the bill might figure into the state’s application for the second round of Race to the Top. State officials announced Tuesday they will reapply after losing out in the first round. The legislature must adjourn no later than May 12, and the R2T deadline is June 1. So, the bill’s fate will be known before the application is due. Even if the bill were passed, its provisions wouldn’t go into effect until the 2010-11 school year.

And, as always seems to be the case with Colorado education reforms, it’s uncertain how the new evaluation system would be paid for. The primary financial burden would likely fall on school districts, already tightening their belts because of cuts in state aid. Significant parts of Colorado’s original $377 million R2T application would have been used to pay for implementation of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. Costs of implementing that reform currently are being studied by a contract consultant.

Text of draft bill (PDF)

Related: Johnston details bill at community group meeting

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