Colorado Toughens Teacher Tenure Rules

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 13, 2010 | Go to article overview

Colorado Toughens Teacher Tenure Rules


Byline: Colleen Slevin Associated Press

DENVER -- Colorado is changing the rules for how teachers earn and keep the sweeping job protections known as tenure, linking student performance to job security despite outcry from teacher unions that have steadfastly defended the system for decades.

Many education reform advocates consider tenure to be one of the biggest obstacles to improving America's schools because it makes removing mediocre or even incompetent teachers difficult.

Colorado's legislature changed tenure rules despite opposition from the state's largest teacher's union, a longtime ally of majority Democrats. Gov. Bill Ritter, also a Democrat, signed the bill into law last month.

It requires teachers to be evaluated annually, with at least half of their rating based on whether their students progressed during the school year. Beginning teachers will have to show they've boosted student achievement for three straight years to earn tenure.

Teachers could lose tenure if their students don't show progress for two consecutive years. Under the old system, teachers simply had to work for three years to gain tenure, the typical wait around the country.

After the bill survived a filibuster attempt and passed a key House vote, Democratic Rep. Nancy Todd, a 25-year teacher who opposed the measure, broke into tears.

"I don't question your motives," an emotional Todd said to the bill's proponents. "But I do want you to hear my heart because my heart is speaking for over 40,000 teachers in the state of Colorado who have been given the message that it is all up to them."

While other states have tried to modify tenure, Colorado's law was the boldest education reform in recent memory, according to Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which promotes changing the way teachers are recruited and retained, including holding tenured teachers accountable with annual reviews.

Walsh thinks Colorado is now at the head of the pack in the second round of the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition, a $4.35 billion pot of stimulus money designed to prod just such changes.

"If I was a betting woman, I would absolutely put Colorado in first place," she said.

Teachers won't be at risk of losing tenure until 2015 because lawmakers slowed down the process under political pressure from the teachers union. Teachers can appeal dismissal all the way to the state Supreme Court, and school districts have the burden of proving why they should be terminated.

Every state but Wisconsin has some form of tenure. The protections were intended to protect teachers from being fired because of their politics, religion or other arbitrary reasons. But Patrick McGuinn, a political science professor at Drew University who has studied tenure, said they have evolved into virtual employment guarantees. …

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