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Advancing teacher quality in Colorado

Posted by Apr 15th, 2011.

This post was submitted by Sandi Jacobs. She is vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) a non-partisan, non-profit research and advocacy group committed to increasing the accountability and transparency of the institution that have the greatest impact on teacher quality: states, teacher preparation programs, teacher unions and school districts. Jacobs spoke at the monthly Hot Lunch event on Friday, April 15.

Colorado doesn’t have Race to the Top funding – but it still could be running in the lead when it comes to teacher policy – if the state decides to stay in the race.

Listen to Hot Lunch talk podcast
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Podcast length: 39:55.

Colorado may not have made the final cut in the competition to secure federal funds for Race to the Top.  But in SB10-191, Colorado passed potential national model legislation requiring annual evaluations for every teacher and principal in the state, based at least 50 percent on student growth measures, and including multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, career ladders with pay for the most effective teachers, and tenure decisions based on effectiveness.

Is the state’s cutting edge teacher reform agenda running out of gas?

SB10-191 reflects an important shift in thinking about teacher quality.  Policymaking around improving teacher quality to date has focused almost exclusively on qualifications – teacher credentials, majors, degrees, licensing.  But that is changing.  Accountability for student learning and research confirming the strong impact teachers can have on student achievement are beginning to move the field towards a decidedly performance-based focus on teacher quality.

Given the tremendous impact teachers have on learning – teachers are the single most important school-based determinant of student achievement – the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) believes that no strategy state and districts take on is likely to have a greater impact than one which seeks to maximize teacher performance.

NCTQ’s 2010 State Teacher Policy Yearbook finds that how effective teachers are at fostering growth in student achievement is starting to find its way into developing policies on how teachers should be evaluated, compensated, promoted, granted tenure or dismissed – with a number of promising and important new state laws and regulations on the books (if not yet worked out in practice) focused squarely on teacher effectiveness.

According to our analysis of state policies, Colorado is poised to be a leader in each one of these policy areas.

Colorado is one of 21 states requiring annual evaluations of all teachers and one of just 10 states requiring that growth in student achievement be the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations. When it comes to tenure, Colorado is one of only four states with a policy requiring that evidence of student learning be a decisive criterion in such decisions.

NCTQ argues that accountability for teacher effectiveness goes hand in hand with accountability for the teacher preparation programs that train educators.  So we also follow trends in state policies related to tying accountability for teacher preparation programs to teacher performance and student achievement, where Colorado is one of 14 states articulating requirements for holding teacher preparation programs in their states accountable based on the academic performance of students taught by their graduates.

What are the policy implications of an evaluation system that truly measures teacher effectiveness and acts on the results, both with regard to individual teachers and the institutions that prepare them for the classroom?  The consequences in Colorado and across the nation could be far-reaching and profound; changing not only much of what is now standard practice in the teaching profession, but the success of other important education reforms that ultimately depend on effective teaching.

Colorado is to be commended for its gutsy and forward-thinking “Great Teachers and Leaders” legislation.  But the recommendations just released by Colorado’s Council for Educator Effectiveness, and what the State Board decides to do with those recommendations, are what will likely determine whether Colorado will stay a leader in this race, or if the state’s cutting edge teacher reform agenda is running out of gas.

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One Response to “Advancing teacher quality in Colorado”

  1. Ben DeGrow says:

    Back in February, Sandi and I had an interesting discussion about this very topic. I appreciate NCTQ’s careful and thorough research and thoughtful approach. You can listen to the podcast at http://education.i2i.org/2011/02/upgrading-colorado-teacher-policies/

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