My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Re: SB 191--Teacher Tenure Reform 

It's about time I wade in to this debate. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am a public school teacher in my 19th year who has bought all the proper pay raises (by getting advanced degrees), but I am not a member of the union.

Before I go in to the merits, did you notice who is lined up for this and who is lined up against this? In Sunday's Post, the front page picture of a teacher in support of this and the editorial in support of the reform are both of teachers who work for charter schools, and the "counter", the two teachers who oppose it, are both people who teach in normal public schools. Reform vs. Status Quo, "outsider" vs. "system", independents vs. Big Education. Just wanted to point that out right away.

This bill would effectively eliminate teacher tenure, making the teacher evaluation process 50% administrator review and 50% student growth on standardized tests. After two years of poor student performance (or bad administrative review), the teacher will lose nonprobationary status and be subject to the rules of at-will employment.

On its face, this bill seems to accomplish a thing that has been needed for a long time: remove the safety net. From anecdotal evidence, I can tell you the process for removing a tenured teacher who is bad but who chooses to fight dismissal can take a long LONG time--up to seven years in some cases. And that was just to eliminate one teacher, and the building had a few others that needed that process but "had to wait their turn." A bad teacher has a lot of safeguards in place, and the public perception (not entirely inaccurately) is that the union exists to protect bad teachers' jobs.

But in an odd twist, I tend to side with the opposition to this bill. First of all, the push for this is the same as it ever was--because we're falling behind other countries, and the federal government is giving money to states that are willing to play ball. Unfortunately there is no evidence from those countries that the criteria the federals have set up are the ones that make them SO darned effective. And for that matter, is there any reason to think that by simply following the feds on this one that it will work? Again, we're chasing at phantoms without really looking at what the other countries have learned works! So on top of that, I add the same reason that I dislike Colorado's current sudent assessment: the only people actually being tested are not the same ones for whom the consequences fall. If the students decide that they have no interest in performing well on the test, then oh well for them; but for their teachers and schools the consequences are substantial and meaningful.

Unfortunately the union is in the same public relations position its been in for years: opposition to change. The Post hints with its editorial headline that the union's position is sort of "we know that reform is necessary, but this is the wrong mechanism." Well, great!--exactly what would a good mechanism look like? The union has unfortunately squandered any credibility it may have had on this issue: they've owned the statehouse for six years--where was their proposal!?! For that matter, when was the last time the teachers union came up with a single idea for meaningful reform?

So I do not think the unions' reasoning is very good on this one, but I find myself on the same side of the debate. Find a way to tie any aspect of a students' life to their performance on the same test that you will be using to evaluate teachers, and you can likely count on my support. But as long as teachers are the ones paying for the quirks and sins of the children, meaningful reform--however well-intentioned--will continue to elude us.

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