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Educator effectiveness bill becomes law

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, facing camera, hugged Gov. Bill Ritter after Ritter signed S.B. 191 into law. State Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, is left and House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, are right.
State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, facing camera, hugged Gov. Bill Ritter after Ritter signed S.B. 191 into law. State Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, is left and House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, are right.
Hayleigh Colombo

Before Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday signed into law a dramatic overhaul of Colorado’s long-standing teacher evaluation system, he reached out to the many educators who fought to kill it.

Leaders of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, which lobbied against Senate Bill 191 with rallies and radio ads, did not attend the crowded signing ceremony in the west foyer of the Capitol.

“From the time I began running for office, the Colorado Education Association has been supportive of our efforts and a … partner in reform,” Ritter said. “I understand that they considered Senate Bill 191 a bridge too far.

“But I think the teachers and principals who work in our classrooms every day are going to understand we are going to provide them greater tools for success … And over time we’re going to get to the place where we’re working together toward that goal.”

CEA President Beverly Ingle released a statement after the signing that pledged the 40,000-member union is “committed to doing everything we can to make sure the law is implemented correctly.”

“We are pleased that some of the changes we suggested to the bill were included but we still have a number of concerns,” Ingle said. “We will do what’s right for the teachers and the students of Colorado.”

Brenda Smith, president of the smaller union in Colorado, the American Federation of Teachers, testified in support of the bill and was there for Thursday’s signing.

Smith issued a statement saying AFT Colorado “worked in collaboration with the bill’s sponsors to improve the measure so that teacher evaluation systems will be good for kids and fair to teachers.”

“Some so-called reformers want to dictate change from the outside – an approach that almost always fails,” Smith said. “Then you have change agents who say: Let’s work together and figure things out … that’s what happened with this legislation in Colorado.”

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the bill’s primary author, singled out Ritter, state education Commissioner Dwight Jones and Christine Scanlan, the bill’s Democratic House sponsor, for thanks. Scanlan successfully navigated the schism in her party over education reform to secure enough votes to pass the bill while Jones was an early and public advocate.

Johnston said he woke one morning to a phone “exploding” with text messages about Jones’ surprise endorsement of the bill in the Denver Post. That letter prompted the CEA to withhold support of the state’s Race to the Top grant application.

“It would have been very easy for you to stay out of this bill,” Johnston told Jones.

As for Ritter, Johnston said meeting the governor helped convince him to leave his principal’s job for political office.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” the freshman lawmaker said. “It wasn’t until we met that … I think we both believe this really was a noble and honest calling where good people try to get good things done.”

Despite the celebratory air, the hugs and congratulations, several speakers said much of the work lies ahead. Today, members of the Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness, charged with defining teacher and principal effectiveness, will meet for the first time since the bill passed.

And Johnston went straight from the signing ceremony to O’Connell Middle School in Lakewood, where he met with about 25 teachers curious about what the new law means for them. See EdNews’ blog about the meeting.

He said before he left that he sees S.B. 191 as the first step in a two-part process: Part 1 is restoring the public’s confidence in education. Part 2 is asking that public to better support schools through a funding increase expected on the state ballot in 2011.

“The work we are about to begin will enable Colorado to lead in this national movement” of education reform, Jones said. “What is required in this bill is hard work. But this is the right work.”

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