Some in Eagle County uneasy about teacher tenure law
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – Some local teachers are wary of the state’s new tenure law, which changes the way teachers get and keep tenure in school districts across the state.
Beginning in fall 2013, teachers statewide who receive an “ineffective” rating two years in a row will lose what is commonly called tenure. Evaluations will determine which teachers are effective. Half of a teacher’s evaluations will be based on “student growth,” while half of a principals’ evaluation will be linked to student and teacher growth.
Todd Huck, a science teacher at Berry Creek Middle School, says he is uneasy about tying a teachers’ job security to the yet-to-be-defined notion of student growth. He questions how the state will measure “student growth” in classes that are not subject to standardized testing.
“A majority of our teachers in the school don’t teach subjects that are tested by the state,” he said. “Where are they going to get that academic growth for a [physical education] teacher or an art teacher or a social studies teacher?”
State Rep. Christine Scanlan, who represents Eagle County, said student growth will be based on “multiple measures,” not just Colorado Student Assessment Program scores. A council has formed to iron out the definitions of student growth and effective teaching. The governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness consists of teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, students and business leaders.
For Tanya Caruso, a teacher at Avon Elementary and president of the local teachers’ union, the concern is that principals will have more latitude to fire a teacher without giving a reason – or if teachers are nonprobationary, principals could do things to make it harder for the teacher to prove his or her effectiveness.
“Throughout your career, you’ll have multiple principals,” she said. “Some are great but they come and go. You could be doing great – a new principal comes in and just decides they don’t want you in their building. Now there’s an easier way to find a way to get rid of you.”
Huck said the new system should include safeguards so school officials don’t use the evaluation system to retaliate against a teacher who, say, speaks up against the principal.
Presently, new teachers in the district remain on probation for three years. During that time, district officials can dismiss the teacher for any or no reason, said Jason Glass, Eagle County School District’s human resources director.
After three years, the teacher earns “nonprobationary” status.
Under the new law, teachers must earn an “effective” rating for three years in a row to become “nonprobationary.”
Currently, the Eagle County School District ties a portion of a teachers’ salary to growth in student test scores and teacher evaluations.
While some people are concerned teachers will be more vulnerable to the whims of principals under the new law, Scanlan said it actually provides more protections for effective teachers.
Right now, she said the evaluations used to determine teacher effectiveness at school districts across the state are very subjective. The new system better defines effective teaching, she said.
“If you’re a teacher that is deemed to be doing effective teaching with your kids, you have real hard data to support keeping your position,” Scanlan said.
Glass describes the bill as “much ado about nothing.”
“I don’t think it changes tenure dramatically,” he said.
Although the governors’ council is working to define effective teaching, Glass said he fears that definition will emerge so watered down, school officials will have trouble proving a teacher is ineffective.
“It may be impossible to act on an ineffective teacher under this bill because the definition of ‘ineffective’ is so vague,” he said.
Glass also finds it troubling that the law allows ineffective teachers to remain in front of students for two years before those teachers lose their tenure.
“In what other profession do you have to be ineffective or demonstrate poor performance for two years before anything can happen to you?” he said.
Presently, Glass said the district doesn’t allow ineffective teachers, regardless of their tenure status, to remain in front of students that long. If a teacher is nonprobationary, the district transfers that teacher to a position that involves less contact with kids, he said.
Currently, the district cannot fire a nonprobationary teacher unless the district can prove “cause,” Glass said. Some of those causes – such as “unsatisfactory performance” and “incompetence” – can be hard to prove, he said.
If teachers appeal their dismissal, Glass said the district can get mired in 100 days of legal hearings and spend up to $100,000 to defend the district’s position. And teachers have incentive to appeal because the district must pay their full salary and put them on paid leave the entire length of the process, Glass said.
Thus, firing a tenured teacher is not an option the district uses often, he said.
“You would really only do it for someone who was really bad for kids because it’s so expensive and time consuming, and at the end of it, you’re not guaranteed to prevail,” he said.
Scanlan said the new law will bring clarity to the process of removing ineffective teachers because there will be a statewide system for evaluating them.
“Teaching’s a team sport and when you have someone on the team who isn’t performing in the way they need to be, it creates a huge burden on everyone else,” Scanlan said. “If you have a teacher who is not in the right profession, the time that is lost with those kids is incredibly hard to make up.”
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.