By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO
Senate Bill 10-191, the controversial educator evaluation and tenure bill, was passed 7-1 Friday afternoon by the Senate Education Committee, the first key hurdle for what has become the top education issue of the 2010 legislative session.
The bill passed after the committee approved a lengthy and complex series of amendments, some of which significantly expand the timeline for implementation beyond what was proposed in the bill’s original language.
Under the amendments, the system wouldn’t fully go into effect until 2014-15, after a lengthy process of development by the Governor’s Educator Effectiveness Council, issuance of rules by the State Board of Education, legislative review and two years of development and testing.
The measure goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon and then to the Senate floor later in the week. If passed there, it of course will have to go through the whole committee-and-floor process in the House, where it’s expected to receive an even more skeptical view. The 2010 session has less than two weeks’ worth of working days left before it must adjourn.
Voting yes on the bill were committee chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins; the prime sponsors, Sens. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and the other two committee Republicans, Keith King of Colorado Springs and Mark Scheffel of Parker. Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, a driving force behind some of the amendments, was a yes. Also in support – for the moment – was Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.
The lone no vote was Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, a former teacher and member of the State Board of Education. In emotional remarks as the hearing closed, Hudak said, “I think it is greatly improved from where it started, [but] I cannot in good conscience vote for this bill because it’s funded by hopes … it’s a huge unfunded mandate.”
Through the two sessions of witness testimony Wednesday and Thursday, Hudak made it clear through her questions that she fears the bill is too focused on removing teachers from their jobs. “I find that offensive, as a former teacher,” she said Friday.
“The result of this bill is that people won’t want to be teachers out of fear,” she concluded.
Most of the amendments approved Friday were developed by Johnston, Bacon, Heath and Spence. Hudak proposed several of her own, most of which were rejected.
Bacon, a retired teacher and former school board member, gently took a different tack. “I see a great amount in this of all those helps” that teachers need to improve.
Steadman, a former lobbyist who used to represent human services agencies and school boards, said, “I’ve been going back and forth about which side to come down on,” saying he has a bit more confidence in the bill with its amendments than he did in its initial form.
“I think the full Senate should have a debate on this bill. … For today I’m going to let it go forward … with hesitancy.”
Other members were more positive.
Heath – “This is historic, this is monumental.”
King – The bill is “one of the most significant pieces of legislation I’ve seen.”
Scheffel – “I think you’re hitting a nice balance here.”
Johnston said, “This past week has made me really proud to be a lawmaker.”
Spence, a veteran of both the House and the Senate as well as the Cherry Creek school board, took a realistic view.
“It’s just the first step in the journey through the Senate and the House … it could be a very long journey.”
The measure, sponsored by a bipartisan team of senators and representatives, would create new teacher and principal evaluation systems (tying significant portions of the evaluations to student achievement growth), require consecutive positive evaluations for a teacher to move off probation and require teachers with consecutive weak evaluations to be returned to probation.
The bill is vocally opposed by the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which objects to the timelines in the bill, fears it would roll back due process rights for teachers and is concerned about how evaluations might be used.
Huddled under umbrellas, a few hundred CEA members rallied on the Capitol’s west steps Friday morning, listening to speakers loudly denounce the bill and repeatly proclaim that teachers are the ones who know best what students need.
Those attending the rally were urged to contact legislators, school board members and parents to spread the word about CEA opposition.
SB 10-191 is backed by a coalition of education, reform and civic groups, plus the State Board of Education and education Commissioner Dwight Jones. Gov. Bill Ritter and his three predecessors have endorsed the bill.
Johnston, a former Mapleton district principal and a legislative freshman, has been the driving force behind the bill, having started working on it before the 2010 session started.
Key provisions of the bill include annual teacher and principal evaluations and tying 50 percent of the evaluations to student growth.
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, in addition to seniority.
The committee Friday did pass an amendment that would create an appeal right for unsatisfactory evaluations of non-probationary teachers.
Once state standards for evaluation are in place, local school districts would be required to “meet or exceed” those standards in their evaluation systems.
One controversial issue not addressed in any of Friday’s amendments was the question of mutual principal-teacher consent for hiring. Bacon told the committee he wants that issue dealt with, perhaps during Senate floor amendments, particularly to deal with the potential problems of that policy in small districts.
CEA has expressed a strong preference for a differently sequenced change in the current system. Once definitions of effectiveness are created, then a new evaluation system should be set up and tested. Only after that, the CEA believes, should the decision be made about how to use the evaluation system in probation, school placement and layoff decisions.
In contrast to the packed houses for the Wednesday and Thursday committee meetings at which testimony was taken, Friday’s meeting in the Capitol’s ornate Old Supreme Court Chamber was attended only by lobbyists, interest group representatives, bureaucrats and a few stray reporters.
In other coverage:
The Denver Post: The Senate Education Committee on Friday pushed a controversial bill to change the way teachers are evaluated and how they receive and keep tenure over its first big hurdle. But the 7-1 committee vote is no guarantee that Senate Bill 191, even with the amendments made Friday, will survive to link teacher tenure to student academic achievement. ”There is good and bad here,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who voted for the bill. “It’s a difficult vote. I think the full Senate should have a debate about this bill. There’s a lot more to this bill than anyone has talked about.”
The Pueblo Chieftain: By a vote of 7-1, the Senate Education Committee on Friday passed a bill that would tie teacher tenure to student success. Under SB191, student performance would constitute half of teachers’ and principals’ evaluations. The state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, opposes the bill and argues that it would usurp the due process that governs teacher retention. Hundreds of teachers mounted a protest Friday on the lawn of the State Capitol to express their objections.
The Durango Herald: Colorado senators moved Friday toward a new way to hire and fire public school teachers and principals. The Senate Education Committee voted 7-1 for a bill that would withhold tenure from teachers whose students don’t perform well. The bill, Senate Bill 191, has drawn the ire of teachers’ unions but has the backing of Gov. Bill Ritter and other influential Democrats. “The Senate bill has forced all of us to re-examine our core beliefs. As with any other paradigm shift, it has us wrestling with our best hopes and our worst fears,” said Mike Miles, superintendent of Harrison School District in Colorado Springs.