Tenure Reform Would Be Another Good Idea for Obama & Colorado to Embrace

President Obama made some remarks about education yesterday, and my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow got a chance to respond in this piece from Face The State:

Ben DeGrow, education policy analyst for the Independence Institute, said he is glad to finally see Obama taking a strong position on education. “Obama the candidate and Obama the President has been all over the place on education reform, and it’s been hard to pin him down,” said DeGrow. “The comments in [Tuesday’s] speech are mostly promising, and we need to hold him to those comments.” [link added]

In the Face the State piece, State Board of Education chairman Bob Schaffer also raised the point that Obama has given no indication of wanting to help stop an effort by Democrats in Congress to take away private tuition scholarships from poor kids in the nation’s capital.

Still, the President’s message yesterday was largely on the right track. Among the less traditionally Democratic education reform ideas Barack Obama embraced are charter schools, accountability, and teacher performance pay. In the latter case, Obama seems to grasp the importance of the current problem with teacher quality:

In his speech, the president issued a call for a new generation of teachers.

“America needs you,” he said. “We need you in our suburbs. We need you in our small towns. We need you in our inner cities. We need you in classrooms all across our country.”

Merit pay is one side of the teacher quality coin. Removing tenure is the other. As the Denver Post‘s Jeremy Meyer reports today, Denver Public Schools and others are doing a poor job of weeding out ineffective instructors:

Last year, four teachers out of 4,500 were officially dismissed because of poor performance — the most in a decade. This school year, no DPS teachers were fired, a figure that even district officials say is bothersome.

“Those numbers are really low,” said Shayne Spalten, DPS director of human resources. “We haven’t had a lot in the past eight years. Across the country, this is an issue.” …

Over the past two years, DPS has dismissed 31 teachers for disciplinary reasons.

“The reality is there is lots of red tape to make it difficult to fire a teacher for poor performance,” said [Sandi] Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “What (districts) have to invest in dismissing teachers can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it becomes not worth it.”

In 1987, the Calhan School District in El Paso County spent $125,000 dismissing an underperforming teacher. [link added]

Calhan’s is not the only instance of a school district in Colorado spending six figures to remove a poorly-performing teacher.

Further, in Jefferson County – the state’s largest school district – the problem was even worse. A few years ago Ben wrote the paper Nullifying the Probationary Period (PDF) to explain how Jeffco teachers in their first three years were receiving nearly the same special job protections as veteran teachers who had secured tenure rights.

Thanks to the Independence Institute bringing the issue to light, the Jeffco School Board in 2007 negotiated away the harmful provision.

But there’s still a lot of teacher tenure reform to be done. That would be one more idea for Obama (and Colorado) to embrace.