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Emotions Run High in Colorado's Teacher Tenure Debate

Today is do-or-die day for Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston's legislation that would upend that state's teacher tenure system by making it more difficult to obtain and keep tenure. The measure also would link teacher evaluations to growth in student achievement.

The bill got a critical vote in Colorado's House of Representatives late last night, but not before some drama unfolded, according to this account in The Denver Post.

With the 40,000-member Colorado Education Association steadfastly opposed, some Democratic lawmakers (some of them former teachers) attempted to scuttle the bill through a filibuster. When that didn't work, one Democrat sought an amendment that would ban teachers from being evaluated on the performance of students who miss more than 10 days of school.

Sen. Johnston, a high school principal, was appalled, according to the Post.

Things got worse when Max Tyler, the Democratic lawmaker who sought the amendment, used a tasteless analogy to argue for changing the bill, according to the Post:

Tyler said teachers must handle all types of kids who walk in the door, regardless of their condition coming in. "If you were running a business baking bread and the flour came in to you full of maggots and worms, you would not be able to produce a good product, would you?"


"He just called disadvantaged kids maggots?" Johnston asked in shock. "This is unbelievable."

Tyler said he was trying to point out that a school can't be run like a business because a business can choose its own products while public schools have to accept everyone.

He said using maggot-infested flour was a poor analogy and he regretted saying it.


Colorado lawmakers are set to vote a final time today on the measure, the last day of their state's legislative session. Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat who is not running for re-election, has pledged to sign it.

As we saw in Florida, changing decades-old teacher policies is a gut-wrenching process steeped in politics and raw emotion. Louisiana legislators, with a push from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, are wrestling with similar issues right now too. Both states are banking on changes to teacher laws to bolster their bids in round two of Race to the Top.

UPDATE: Lawmakers in Colorado's House of Representatives gave final approval to the teacher-tenure bill. It moves back over to the state Senate for concurrence, a vote that must happen before the session expires at midnight.

UPDATE II: It's a done deal. Now all the bill needs is Gov. Ritter's signature. Teacher policy reform advocates like Kate Walsh and Daniel Weisberg are hailing the Colorado measure as a model for other states to emulate.

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