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Building on Colorado Evaluation Reform Doesn’t Need Billion-Dollar Tax Hike

The final reckoning day for Amendment 66 is almost upon us. Almost past are the hard press of empty promises and the creative reform bait and switch.

What am I talking about? Senate Bill 191′s new (and hopefully improved) system of teacher and principal evaluations is going into place right now. We’re told the tax increase is needed to pay for the new system, though the new school finance legislation makes no guarantee funds will be spent that way and the projected increase comes in at far less than the total tax bill. Then, to top it all off, the unions who are bankrolling the Amendment 66 campaign to the tune of $4 million have promised to sue to end the reforms.

Interesting timing, a story this week in U.S. News and World Report notes that performance-based evaluations like SB 191 are catching on across the country:

So far, 35 states and the District of Columbia Public Schools require that student achievement is strongly considered in teacher evaluations, but only 20 states and the District of Columbia use that information to shape professional development for teachers.

The impetus for the story is a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, “Connecting the Dots: Using Evaluations of Teacher Effectiveness to Inform Policy and Practice.” The focus of the analysis is to show states what policy paths they need to pursue next to link up with performance-based educator evaluations.

When you think about it, the need to “connect” makes sense. NCTQ notes that Colorado is ahead of most of its peers in at least having begun to connect performance-based evaluations with areas like teacher preparation, professional development, tenure, and dismissal. (Though it certainly hasn’t solved all the problems of tenure.)

At the same time, our state hasn’t done anything yet to link educator effectiveness to licensure, public reporting, or compensation. We have every reason to believe the first of those three issues will be tackled — for good or for ill — in the 2014 legislative session. The second point refers to making “aggregate school-level data about teacher performance publicly available to shine a light on how equitably teachers are distributed across and within school districts.” Sounds good to me.

What about the third? If we now can measure educator effectiveness, and tie some employment decisions to those measurements, why isn’t there more talk in Colorado about rewarding great teachers? Look at Douglas County and Harrison, which provide two terrific examples.

After all, performance pay represents a vital tool to attracting more top-notch people into the education profession. A new piece in Education Next observes that the quality of the national teaching workforce has improved a little in recent years, due in part to an economic recession that gave candidates fewer options in other fields. A little, yes, but more is needed to have the needed positive impact on students’ futures.

If we want to see Colorado make progress down this path, we need to focus on raising expectations rather than taxes to buy off a union that plans to kill the reforms anyway.