Four Colorado governors support change in teacher tenure

By Bill Ritter, Richard Lamm, Roy Romer and Bill Owens

Over the 36 years we have collectively governed this state, the four of us have disagreed over a number of issues. Today we join together to enthusiastically support Senate Bill 191, Sen. Mike Johnston’s proposal to help Colorado develop great teachers and leaders. With one voice, we passionately urge the Legislature to pass this bill.

As governors, we each worked to improve public schools because we know a high-quality education system is the key to Colorado’s economic future. Today’s education is tomorrow’s prosperity.

Colorado is honored to have many great teachers. We are in awe at their dedication and hard work, but the current system does not distinguish between effective and ineffective educators. It does not take the crucial step to link evaluations to actual impact on student growth. At a time when we have the tools to measure performance, this is a mistake.

A recent influential study (“The Teacher Quality Crisis”) found that 43 percent of the variance in student achievement is based on teacher effectiveness, only slightly less than the 49 percent influence of home and family.

We know principal and teacher effectiveness counts — a lot. Any new system should be designed to identify our most effective teachers and principals so we can learn from their success. It must create good feedback for educators so they can improve, and it should identify teachers who are not bolstering student achievement. We believe it honors all of the great teachers and leaders across the state to recognize that we have uneven teacher and principal quality, and we should use the evaluation process to improve performance.

Great teachers and principals set high expectations for students, maintain a rigorous learning environment and actively engage students and their families. They carefully plan each unit based on the standards they want to see their students reach. They use assessments on a daily basis to figure out what students know and what they still need to know, and their students master the material in front of them. Similarly, the new Colorado Growth Model will take into account each student’s starting line.

We seek a system that measures progress and is fair to both teacher and student. Sen. Johnston’s legislation proposes:

✔ The current satisfactory/unsatisfactory evaluation system would shift to a multi-step ranking.

✔ Student achievement would become a substantial part of the evaluations.

✔ Principals would be evaluated on both the effectiveness of their teachers and overall school growth.

✔ New, probationary teachers would need strong evaluations and student growth to receive non-probationary status.

✔ Teachers will need to continue to demonstrate effectiveness to keep their non-probationary status.

✔ High-performing teachers and principals could have access to career ladders that would offer additional pay for additional responsibility through which they could support all educators in improvement.

✔ All hiring would be done by mutual consent, so no teacher is forced into a placement she doesn’t want and no principal or team of teachers are forced to accept a teacher who does not fit their program.

This bill also offers protections to ensure fairness and effectiveness. Evaluations are linked to how much a student has grown, not to their final score, so there is no penalty to teachers and principals who work with struggling students. There is an adequate timeline to ensure the system is developed cooperatively, continually refined and implemented responsibly. There are strong provisions to protect local control by letting districts choose assessments without forcing them to spend scarce resources to build them anew.

Collectively, we have signed hundreds of education-related bills over our time. We all shared the same goal of improving student achievement. There have been some powerful changes in the Colorado public school landscape as a result of previous reforms, and at this time no proposal has greater promise for transforming education in Colorado than Senate Bill 191. That is why we join forces today to call on the legislature to do what’s best for Colorado’s kids and support SB 191.

Bill Ritter has been governor of Colorado since 2007. Richard Lamm was governor from 1975 to 1987. Roy Romer was governor from 1987 to 1999. Bill Owens was governor from 1999 to 2007.


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