State’s second-largest teachers union backs Colo. reform bill
The Denver Post
Legislation that has drawn the ire of Colorado’s largest teachers union has been endorsed by a separate, smaller union that has a large influence on national teacher-labor issues.
The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second- largest teachers union, which has 2,500 members in Douglas County, on Wednesday announced its support of Senate Bill 191 – the controversial measure that seeks to tie student academic growth to teacher evaluations and change the way teachers obtain and keep tenure.
The AFT, vocal in labor issues across the country, is led by outspoken president Randi Weingarten, who has become a celebrity in the education world for her views and high-profile media exposure.
Weingarten on Wednesday said AFT threw its support behind Colorado’s legislation after the bill’s sponsors agreed to introduce amendments that “included the voice of teachers.”
“What has happened here is that the bill sponsor worked with us to try to create a better bill,” she said. “They have totally worked, in terms of the amendments, to ensure evaluations are done with teachers, not to teachers.”
Weingarten and AFT’s support shocked the education world, spurring tweets throughout the nation.
“To have her come out and support this is pretty massive,” said Van Schoales, director of Education Reform Now, an advocacy group. “This is the first major union endorsement in Colorado and one of the first in the country.”
The Colorado Education Association has been fighting the bill on several points, specifically on how the legislation would change the way veteran teachers receive and maintain nonprobationary status.
National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel was flown in to Denver to testify against the bill in front of Colorado’s Senate Education Committee.
Under the bill, tenured teachers with two consecutive years of “ineffective” evaluations would be sent back to probationary status, giving them another year to improve or face the possibility of being fired without due process.
CEA spokeswoman Deborah Fallin says she is not surprised AFT supports the bill because that union’s concerns are with only one Colorado district. The CEA has 40,000 members in the state and in nearly every district.
“Teachers in this state, minus those in Douglas County, are concerned about this legislation because it has so many parts that are not developed and not concocted and not funded,” Fallin said. “It is going to have a tremendous affect on the teacher profession in Colorado.”
But Brenda Smith, president of AFT Colorado, said her union’s support is not meant as disrespect to the CEA.
“It’s definitely not a thumb in the eye to the CEA,” she said. “The intent behind this was we truly need to change the way we evaluate teachers for the good of kids.”
The AFT’s endorsement came because of three new amendments: Seniority must remain an advantage when “effective” teachers face layoffs in budget-driven reductions; two teachers must provide input to the principal on hiring decisions involving teachers transferring between schools; and an appeals process must be established when a tenured teacher is returned to probationary status.
“This would establish new parameters for teacher-evaluation systems for every school district,” Smith said. “I’m confident that the proposal will give teachers a comprehensive look at their performance and provide them with the necessary support and skills training they need to be as effective as possible.”
The bill gets its first hearing in the House Education Committee this afternoon.
Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or firstname.lastname@example.org