Colorado lawmakers last week passed a change to education law that would require teachers to be judged on the performance of their students and put their jobs on the line if they fail.
The bill was headed to Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, who was planning to sign it into law. Backers think it will boost the state’s chances of winning $175 million in the second round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition under the federal economic-stimulus program.
The final vote came in the state Senate on May 12, the last day of the session, as senators readopted the House version of the bill.
More Democrats, including two former teachers, cast votes for the bill the second time around because of a change made in the House allowing an appeals process for teachers who get bad evaluations and are on the verge of losing tenure.
Lawmakers had argued over whether it’s fair to judge teachers according to student performance, especially when class sizes are growing because of budget cuts and when parents aren’t involved in their children’s education.
Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democrat, said the debate came down to whether people believed that every student, regardless of family income or background, can learn.
“What we’re saying is that it matters that every one of those kids will get across the finish line because they’re our kids,” said Mr. Johnston, a freshman lawmaker who spearheaded the change.
Under the bill, teachers would be evaluated each year, with at least half their rating based on whether their students progressed during the school year.
Depending on their students’ performance, teachers could lose tenure and the right to appeal dismissal that comes with it. Currently, teachers can earn tenure after three years in the classroom.
A council appointed by Gov. Ritter would consider the details of the system and the criteria teachers would be judged by.
The bill put Democrats at odds with one of their traditional supporters, the state’s largest teachers’ union. Many teachers felt betrayed because Mr. Ritter had set up a process to figure out how to tie teacher evaluations to student growth in January as part of the state’s bid for the first round of Race to the Top grants.
After Colorado lost, Mr. Johnston, a former Teach For America teacher and principal, decided to push ahead with a bill that would tie effectiveness to tenure decisions.
Jane Urschel, the associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said that previous attempts to change the evaluation system had failed over the years, but that this was the first time anyone had proposed linking evaluations to tenure decisions.
The bill divided Democrats more sharply in the House, where a core group of teachers-turned-lawmakers fought the proposal.
The Colorado Education Association still opposes the bill, but said it was glad that lawmakers slowed down the changes. Teachers with poor evaluations wouldn’t be at risk of losing tenure protections until 2015.
A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2010 edition of Education Week as Colorado Teacher-Evaluation Bill Enacted