The Colorado General Assembly has passed new legislation which includes pretty significant changes to rules governing tenure for K-12 classroom teachers.┬áThe bill cites difficulty with removing ineffective teachers as a reason for making these changes. The bill states, “Under Colorado law, a school district is required to enter into a contract with a teacher after three consecutive years of adequate service, giving the teacher tenure or nonprobationary status…nonprobationary status has become a right , and it is nearly impossible to take that status away or remove the teacher from his or her job.” Also, while not stated in the bill, it should be noted that competing for federal funds in the second round of the Race to the Top competition was undoubtedly an impetus for this reform as well.

According to current Colorado law, school districts are required to have evaluation systems that meet the following minimum requirements:

  • probationary (non-tenured) teachers receive at least two documented observations, and one evaluation from which a report is written;
  • probationary teachers must have a minimum of three years of continuous service before being considered for tenure; and
  • tenured teachers receive at least one documented observation per year and at least one written evaluation every three years.
With the newly passed legislation, Colorado Senate Bill 10-050, local school districts must modify their evaluation systems to ensure the following:
  • probationary teachers’ one evaluation per year must result in a final cumulative written report;
  • probationary teachers must have a minimum of five years of continuous service before being considered for tenure;
  • non-probationary teachers must be issued five-year contracts to be renewed every five years thereafter, provided the teacher receives a satisfactory final cumulative written evaluation report at the end of the five-year period;
  • local boards of education are required to provide written notice to non-probationary teachers whose contracts will not be renewed, and provide him/her with the reasons for contract non-renewal; and probably most significantly,
  • probationary teachers must show that they have improved student achievement for three consecutive years to earn tenure, and tenured teachers must show improvement in their students’ achievement for two consecutive years to keep their jobs.
I have lots of thoughts on this bill, but I will only share a few here to kick off the conversation:
First, I submit that the Colorado General Assembly, while its motives are commendable, is probably not the appropriate level to address what I believe to be one of the most salient issues with tenure; that is, the fact that administrators across states routinely award tenure to probationary teachers who they know to be ineffective teachers. Too many administrators fail to adequately supervise, support, develop, and evaluate young teachers. Even if you extend the probationary period from three to ten years, if you do not address this critical failure in school leadership, tenure reform efforts are for naught. And for better or for worse, that is not something that state legislatures can fix.
Second, regarding the use of student improvement data as part of teacher evaluation systems, I am all for it; but the devil is in the details. The Colorado General Assembly has wisely not specified what the details of this new evaluation system will be; for those decisions are much better left to professional education leaders. My hope is that we do not see a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring improvements in student learning. We will have to wait and see what the Colorado Department of Education comes up with. I will be watching.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!

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