Bipartisan SB 191 Would Improve Schools, CEA Leaders Line Up to "Kill" the Bill

The Colorado state legislature has been in session for three months now (only one more to go!), and finally we get to the excitement of debating a truly significant education reform bill. With Democratic state senator Michael Johnston at the forefront, the newly introduced Senate Bill 191 (PDF) would overhaul our state’s teacher evaluation and tenure system for the better.

Here’s a strong flavor of what the legislation proposes to do:

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.

From all evidence I’ve seen the bill looks like a reasonable, commonsense way to make sure Colorado teachers are measured based on how they help students learn and that poorly-performing teachers are not protected by the system for years and years. And I very much like the fact that the accountability will be shared by teachers and principals. The formula of jointly investing educators and instructional leaders in the measured success of students promotes true classroom professionalism and excellence.

SB 191 is co-sponsored by 9 Democrats and 9 Republicans in the state legislature. The bill has the backing of the liberal-leaning Denver Post editorial board and the Democrat-appointed Commissioner of Education who notes it should improve Colorado’s chances to win Race to the Top dollars. Also on board are a host of community and advocacy groups like “the Colorado Children’s Campaign, BizCares, the Urban League, Padres Unidos, Metropolitan Organization for People, A+ Denver and Colorado Concern, among others.”

But to nobody’s surprise, SB 191 has one powerful and determined opponent. The Colorado Education Association yesterday exclaimed:

We don’t agree with the Post or the Commissioner and we will do everything we can to kill Sen. Johnston’s bill. Teachers want a fair, credible evaluation system, not the one we have today. That’s why we are committed to working through the Governor’s Council to get a new system.

If SB 191 becomes law, then CEA has less power over the watered-down Blue Ribbon Panel approach to reforming evaluations and tenure — and less opportunity to scare teachers with the bogeyman of bad principals. Let’s hope that lawmakers have the courage to take on this important challenge in the 30 days we have before they’re out of session.