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Colorado Governors Present and Past Push Teacher Bill

Colorado is shaping up to follow Florida as the next big battleground over teacher tenure and evaluation.

A couple of key differences to note, however: The Colorado proposal would not abolish tenure for new teachers (as it would have in Florida), the author of the bill is a Democrat, and the Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, is a strong supporter of the measure (remember that Florida's bill was backed by Republicans and GOP Gov. Charlie Crist wavered on the matter until deciding to veto it last week). Oh, and there's that little matter of politics. Gov. Ritter isn't running for a thing, while Gov. Crist is trailing badly in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

But as in Florida, the teachers' unions in Colorado are staunch opponents. Today, as the bill is due to receive its first vote, teachers are planning to rally against it at the state Capitol in Denver.

Gov. Ritter 's position is getting a very public boost from his three predecessors—Bill Owens, Roy Romer, and Dick Lamm—who joined him in writing an op-ed that urges the state Legislature to pass the state Senate measure that would tie teacher evaluations to students' academic growth and make it more difficult to obtain and keep tenure. Owens is the only Republican in the group, and Romer, of course, is the former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and now seems to work as a consultant on education issues.

This afternoon, Alyson Klein (of Politics K-12) and I are going to be sitting down with Gov. Ritter to discuss a wide range of issues. Stay tuned to this space for more insight into his thinking on the teacher bill.

UPDATE: As the Senate education committee in Colorado was voting to pass the teacher bill on a 7 to 1 vote Friday, Gov. Ritter was in Washington with his wife and teenage daughter. He sat down with me and Alyson to talk about ESEA reauthorization, Race to the Top, and the teacher bill.

For the Democratic governor, who is not seeking re-election, his support for the teacher bill has put him at odds with the Colorado Education Association, usually an ally.

"I've had a great relationship with our education association," he said. "I can understand why teachers would bridle at a system that takes away that kind of security. This is the first time we've parted ways, but I think on this one, I'm right."

The governor said he's sympathetic to teacher concerns about the fairness of a new evaluation system linked to student achievement and using that system to decide who gets tenure and who keeps it. Teachers were also worried that a new evaluation system would be rushed through in order to meet deadlines for applying for the federal Race to the Top competition, a complaint that the governor said he thought was legitimate.

Sen. Mike Johnston, the bill's author, shaped the measure so that the adoption of a new evaluation system and when it would start to be used for tenure decisions would be spread out over a few years.

"That helped me to get to the point of supporting it," Gov. Ritter said.

The governor, who gave that money quote to the The New York Times about the Race to the Top judges, didn't back away from his remarks even as his state gears up to compete in the contest's second round.

He said he's still baffled over how Colorado, which was one of 16 finalists in the competition's first round, lost more points for school district buy-in than for not having a law that ties teacher evaluations to student achievement.

"With the districts that had signed on, we were covering 95 percent of our students across the state," he said. "Yet somehow that five percent we didn't cover counted against us more than teacher evaluations."

For round two, it looks very doubtful that Colorado will get the kind of stakeholder support it had for its round one application, especially from the CEA, according to Michele McNeil's latest story. In the end, buy-in might doom the state's chances in round two as well.

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