By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO
The Senate Thursday gave preliminary approval to the Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness bill, after more than six hours of debate on a blizzard of amendments.
A focus of the debate was on whether the bill offers sufficient due-process protections to teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations and who would revert to probationary status because of consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations.
Critics of the bill also tried to amend its provisions requiring mutual consent of principals and teachers for placement in schools.
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster and a former teacher and State Board of Education member, led the charge to tone the bill down, but her amendments were repeatedly rebuffed on voice and standing votes by the coalition of Democrats and Republicans who are backing the bill.
On major points, the measure passed little changed from the heavily amended version passed by the Senate Education Committee.
The bill is expected to be up for a final Senate vote Friday. If passed it will move next week to the House, where the due-process debate will be rekindled and some members may be more skeptical than their Senate colleagues. Still, supporters feel they have a reasonable chance of passage in the House.
The bill is a complex one – and it was made more complicated in places by Thursday’s amendments.
Sponsored by a bipartisan team of senators and representatives, the major provisions of the bill would create new teacher and principal evaluation systems and tie evaluations to gaining – and losing – non-probationary status.
The bill is similar to legislation being discussed in other states and is part of a national push for reforms in educator evaluations. Although some observers feel passing the bill could help Colorado’s bid for round two of Race to the Top, that aspect has played little role in legislative debates.
Under amendments added by Senate Education, 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 council was created by a governor’s executive order in January and assigned to develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, study other issues of educator effectiveness and make recommendations to the legislature. SB 10-191 basically retains that role for the council but adds specific policy guidelines for evaluation and tenure and creates larger roles for the state board and the legislature. The council has met twice and already is working on effectiveness definitions.)
The bill would require annual teacher and principal evaluations (more frequently than generally is done now) and tying 50 percent of the evaluations to student academic growth. The state Department of Education would assist school districts in developing a variety of student assessments in addition the annual statewide CSAP tests. (The CSAPS, scheduled to be replaced in a few years, don’t cover all grades or all subjects, requiring additional kinds of tests if all teachers are to be evaluated based partly on 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 didn’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.
A Senate Ed amendment would create an appeal right for non-probationary teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations, although the bill’s sponsors intend that detailed appeal procedures would be left up to district-union contract negotiations. (Appeal rights were the subject of several unsuccessful amendments Thursday.)
The bill also includes external factors that could be considered in evaluations, such as student mobility, the percentage of at-risk students in a school and numbers of special education students. Also defeated Thursday was an amendment that would have made “lack of parental involvement” one of those mitigating evaluation factors.
Once state standards for evaluation are in place, local school districts would be required to “meet or exceed” those standards in their evaluation systems.
The bill estimates about $240,000 in administrative costs for each of the next two years, to be funded by “gifts, grants and donations.”
While the bill has broad support among education reform groups, the state Board of Education, Commissioner Dwight Jones and Gov. Bill Ritter, the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is strongly opposed.
CEA has expressed a strong preference for a different process for changing 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.
The union also has raised concerns about the potential costs of effective and fair new evaluation systems, both for the state and for school districts.
CEA has kept its lines of communication open, however, and was behind some of the unsuccessful amendments proposed on the Senate floor Thursday.
As with several other key education proposals, legislators are racing the clock with SB 10-191, because they must adjourn no later than May 12.
In other coverage:
The Denver Post: Colorado’s Senate on Thursday night passed a controversial teacher reform bill after rejecting a number of amendments that would have eliminated many of the legislation’s core concepts. The bill, which has the support of Gov. Bill Ritter, now is expected to face a tougher challenge in the House.
Associated Press: A proposal to hold teachers and principals accountable for the performance of their students passed its first vote in the state Senate Thursday despite worries that it doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of teachers. A handful of Democrats joined with minority Republicans to reject attempts to give teachers greater ability to challenge bad evaluations and to allow lack of parental involvement to be factored into evaluations. “There is no doubt that change is always hard for adults. There is no doubt that the status quo is even worse for kids,” said Sen. Michael Johnston, a Denver Democrat who has spearheaded the bill.
The Durango Herald: The state Senate approved major changes in the way schools hire and fire teachers Thursday. Teachers unions are opposed to Senate Bill 191, but a coalition of half a dozen Democrats and all 14 Republicans turned away attempts by other Democrats to give teachers more appeal rights. Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, sided with the teachers critical of the bill and against the sponsors on the votes.