Colorado lawmakers passed landmark legislation that would make it tougher for public-school teachers to earn tenure and easier for them to lose it.
The bill—one of the most aggressive state efforts to overhaul teacher-tenure rules—went to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk Thursday. He has said he would sign it into law.
Under the legislation, which garnered bipartisan support, teachers would be evaluated every year and students’ academic progress would count for half the instructors’ overall rating. Elementary- and high-school teachers would need three consecutive years of positive evaluations to earn tenure, which guarantees them an appeals process before they can be fired.
Educators rated “ineffective” two years in a row would be stripped of tenure protection and revert to probationary status. They could earn back job protection after three straight years of satisfactory evaluations.
Currently, Colorado teachers can be fired for poor performance, but rarely are, and there is no state-mandated limit on the number of bad evaluations before dismissal. A state committee would craft details of the evaluation system, which would be put into use starting in 2014.
The bill’s passage comes as lawmakers from Maryland to Washington are revamping teacher evaluation and tenure policies to compete for a piece of the $3.4 billion offered by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. That innovation initiative aims to reward states that promote charter schools, tie teacher pay to student performance and impose plans to track student progress.
“This repositions us as a national leader in teacher evaluations and I think it puts us in the front of the race for the federal money,” said Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston, a former school principal and the bill’s sponsor.
Earlier this week, New York state officials and union leaders struck a deal to tie teacher evaluations to student performance for the first time. The system will need legislative approval.
State efforts to revamp teacher-tenure rules have been divisive, and Colorado was no exception. Teachers lined up to vehemently oppose it and it drew tears and cheers from lawmakers debating it in chambers.
The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, opposed the change, in part because it didn’t explicitly define what it means to be “ineffective.” The union also argued that the measure comes as teachers face larger class sizes due to coming budget cuts.
But the bill received a big boost last week when Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed it. At the AFT’s urging, the bill was altered to mandate seniority be taken into account when deciding which “effective” teachers to lay off during budget cuts. The union also negotiated the addition of an appeals process before a tenured teacher is returned to probationary status.