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Lawmakers torpedo yet another bid to change teacher evaluations

Rep. Jeni Arndt (left) and teacher Russ Brown listened to committee questions during the hearing on Arndt’s bill.
Rep. Jeni Arndt (left) and teacher Russ Brown listened to committee questions during the hearing on Arndt’s bill.

Lawmakers killed a bill Monday that would have allowed school districts to scale back evaluations of teachers who’ve earned an arduous national certification, another blow to efforts to remake Colorado’s educator evaluation system.

The House Education Committee killed the bill 7-4 — a vote that crossed party lines — after a motion to move the bill forward failed. The second vote means the legislation is dead for this legislative session.

The defeat of House Bill 16-1121 in the Democratic-controlled House came just four days after the Education Committee in the Republican-controlled Senate defeated a much more sweeping proposal that would have shaken up how teachers are evaluated.

That legislation would have eliminated the requirement that districts base at least half of a principal or teacher’s annual evaluation on student academic growth, a centerpiece of a landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law.

The House bill’s scope was much narrower, covering teachers who have earned National Board Certification status. Only about 900 of Colorado’s roughly 56,000 teachers have earned that qualification, which involves passing a rigorous program of exams and demonstrations of teaching skills. A private group, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, offers the certification.

The bill would have allowed, but not required, districts to exempt those teachers from required annual evaluations. Teachers instead would have faced evaluations at least every three years.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins. But the idea was the brainchild of Russ Brown, a history and social studies teacher at Poudre High School in Fort Collins.

He told the committee that he hoped creating an exception for board certified teachers who inspire others to seek that credential.

“The key to saving American education is that we must inspire good teachers,” he said.

Brown said the idea came to him three years ago. He said he hasn’t sought certification to avoid the impression that he was seeking a personal advantage.

Arndt acknowledged that “this bill touches on a sensitive topic. It touches on Senate Bill 191,” referring to the 2010 law that created the current evaluation system.

She described the bill as a way to recognize top teachers.

“Quite frankly,” Arndt said, “it’s a pro-teacher bill.”

From the start of three hours of testimony and discussion, committee members of both parties raised many questions. Major themes included whether to tinker with evaluation before the system is fully put into practice, the wisdom of valuing board certification over measurable results from student growth data, and whether the bill would create “inequities” among teachers.

Lobbyists from three education advocacy groups — the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children — testified strongly against the bill. Another major reform group, Democrats for Education Reform, was neutral, Arndt said.

But other witnesses from the Poudre school district — as well as board certified teachers and representatives of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union — urged the committee to pass the bill.

In closing statements before the vote, some committee members clearly were torn.

“I’m really struggling with this one,” said Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.

With the defeat of the House bill, no other pending bills would alter the state system, which requires that principals and teachers be evaluated half on their professional practice and half on student academic growth.

Only two other evaluation-related bills are currently pending at the Capitol:

House Bill 16-1016 – Provides state help to districts to develop additional measures of student growth. It’s scheduled to be heard by House Education on Feb. 29. While there isn’t a partisan or ideological divide over this bill, its current $20 million price tag is a big problem in a tight-budget session.

House Bill 16-1099 – Repeals a provision that requires mutual consent of a teacher and a principal for placement in a school and creates additional protections for teachers who aren’t placed. It’s on House Education’s March 21 calendar. It’s not expected to survive.

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