Who Is In Charge

Evaluation and tenure bill finally unveiled

The effort to change Colorado educator evaluation and the teacher tenure system was launched formally Monday with introduction of Senate Bill 10-191, the long-awaiting educator effectiveness proposal.

Sponsors of Senate Bill 10-191
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, explaining Senate Bill 10-191 on April 12. With him are his cosponsors (from left) Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock; Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillion, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial.

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan set of House and Senate members, is expected to be the focus of the most significant education policy debate of the 2010 legislative session.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, has been working on the bill for six months, seeking to develop support among a wide range of education groups.

Key provisions of the bill include annual teacher and principal evaluations, with teacher evaluations to be based 50 percent on student growth and principal evaluations based two-thirds on student growth and the demonstrated effectiveness of a principal’s teachers.

The bill also would require that tenure be earned after three consecutive years of effectiveness as determined by evaluations. Tenured teachers could be returned to probation if they don’t have good evaluations for two years. The bill also would require the mutual consent for placement of teachers in specific schools and establishes procedures for handling teachers who aren’t placed. It also specifies that evaluations can be considered when layoffs are made.

Many of the details of the new system would be left to the Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness, whose work is just getting underway, and to the State Board of Education. A key part of that work would be developing a definition of educator effectiveness on which to base a new evaluations system. (The state board is expected to discuss the bill during its meetings later this week. The effectiveness council will hold its second meeting on April 21.)

The council also would be charged with proposed a career ladder system for teachers and making recommendations for getting top teachers and principals to serve in low-achieving schools.

Once state standards for evaluation are in place, local school districts would be required to “meet or exceed” those standards in their evaluation systems.

Johnston acknowledged Monday that he hasn’t reached agreement with the Colorado Education Association on parts of the bill, especially the sections that would change the tenure process and require mutual principal-teacher consent for placement of teachers in schools.

“We’ve had a lot of concerns” expressed about the bill, Johnston said, adding that there are “misperceptions” about such issues as the proposal’s effects on teachers at low-performing schools.

Senate President Shaffer, D-Boulder, said, “It would be an overstatement to say there is consensus” on the bill. Asked where he stood on the bill, Shaffer described himself as “the moderator” in discussions about the proposal, said he’s working to achieve a form of the bill that can pass the Senate. “It’s something we’d like to tout as part of our application for round two” of the Race to the Top competition.

(Gov. Bill Ritter, asked Tuesday about SB 10-191, sounded much like Shaffer, saying he was “working” with both Johnston and the CEA about the bill and said the measure has the benefit of “prioritizing this conversation” aboout educator effectiveness.)

Bev Ingle, president of the CEA, said Monday the union is opposed to the bill as introduced. Her objections focused on the shorter time line SB 10-191 would impose on the council. “Sen. Johnston’s bill, which deals with educator effectiveness, evaluation, and due process is too much, too fast. [The] bill interferes with current collaborative efforts.”

Ingle continued, “The council should be allowed to do its work as charged by the governor and to make recommendations to the governor and legislature about policy changes and laws needed to achieve these goals. Senator Johnston’s bill hinders the work of the council and potentially sets it up for failure.”

Under its current charge, the council has until the end of this year to develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness but doesn’t have to make detailed further recommendations until September 2011. SB 10-191 would compress the council’s work into the rest of this year and give the state board until next March to issue regulations.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, also expressed some concerns about the bill’s timetable and a one-size-fits-all approach that might be hard for small districts. But, Urschel also found much to like in the bill, including the tying of good evaluations to getting and keeping tenure.

“The most exciting thing is that we are finally in this state going to have a good, deep discussion about teaching as professional practice,” Urschel said. CASB doesn’t yet have a position on the bill, Urschel said, but she hopes the association eventually will be able to support it.

Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said, “I think many of the ideas in the bill are going to be welcomed by our members” but that other issues may need some work. “It’s a little bit early in the process for us to commit.” Caughey said he also has some concerns about how a new evaluation system would be supported financially. “As always, it’s the details.”

Johnston has plenty of backing from a variety of education advocacy groups, including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, BizCares, the Urban League, Padres Unidos, Metropolitan Organization for People, A+ Denver and Colorado Concern, among others.

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said, “We know that in Colorado there are many great teachers and principals effectively educating our kids.  This bill will support successful educators in our schools – ensuring that Colorado schools have the ability to recruit, develop and retain the most effective teachers and principals.

“The Colorado Children’s Campaign is firmly committed to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed, and this is why we support Senate Bill 191. …  Educator effectiveness is an economic issue, it is an equality issue, but at its core, it is a children’s issue.”

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones

In contract to Shaffer’s “moderator” role, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, is a cosponsor of the proposal. And education Commissioner Dwight Jones wrote a guest column in Monday’s Denver Post supporting the bill.

The bill has 18 sponsors, nine from each party. Johnston and the three Republican members of the eight-member Senate Education Committee are sponsors, but no other committee Democrat is on the bill. SB 10-191 is expected to have its first hearing in Senate Ed next week. Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, is Johnston’s co-prime sponsor in the Senate.

Four members of the 13-member House Education Committee are sponsors, including prime sponsors Reps. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. No House Ed Democrats are on the bill except Scanlan, but Republican Reps. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs and Ken Summers of Lakewood are sponsors.

Johnston said despite that fact that the session is in its final month, it was “the right time” to introduce the bill. It wasn’t ready earlier in the session, he said. And introducing it now fits it with planned changes in the CSAP testing system, with R2T and with what’s happing in other states.

But Johnston said, “This is the right bill regardless of the Race to the Top.”

Do your homework

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools


Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.