By Mark Ackerman
DENVER (CBS4) – Where a teacher works plays a significant role in how they are evaluated, according to a CBS4 data analysis.
CBS4 obtained teacher evaluation statistics from seven Front Range school districts and found disparities in the percentages of teachers rated effective and the number of teachers losing tenure.
This year, Colorado’s new Teacher Effectiveness Law, known as Senate Bill 191, took effect. SB 191 makes school districts put teachers in one of four categories: Highly Effective, Effective, Partially Effective or Ineffective.
If a tenured teacher receives Partially Effective or Ineffective ratings two years in a row, then the teacher loses tenure, which provides job security. The evaluations are determined by calculating student growth and professional performance.
Kindergarten teacher Bernardine Sanchez was one of 47 Denver Public Schools teachers slated to lose tenure after she received low evaluations two years in a row.
“It was devastating,” Sanchez said. “I put so much into my work that it was hard to swallow.”
She blamed a feud with her principal at Colfax Elementary for the low evaluations.
“We do have great teachers,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “But is every one of our 5,000 and some teachers great? No.
“It’s extremely important in teaching and other professions that we have a clear bar,” he said. “If 99.9 percent of your teachers are reaching that bar of being effective, I think one would wonder, ‘Are you really setting the bar in the right place.’”
And that’s what happening in Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek and Poudre School Districts – where at least 99 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective.
Boulder Valley, Poudre, and Jefferson County had no teachers lose tenure under SB 191. In Cherry Creek, one teacher lost tenure.
The disparity has Pam Shamburg, Executive Director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, concerned.
“Why does Jeffco have zero (teachers losing tenure) and we have 47?” Shamburg asked, “My answer is there is something wrong with the evaluation system.”
Sen. Mike Johnston sponsored the Teacher Effectiveness Law and said, “I thought this truth would jolt us a bit.”
“The parents in districts that show they have zero ineffective teachers should also have some questions,” Johnston said. “Any parent knows some are great, some are decent and some are improving. So it’s not as if you can hide that by putting out data that says everyone is perfect.”
In a statement, JCSD spokesperson Diana Wilson said, “We try to identify any challenges teachers are having as soon as they arise, and address those challenges as soon as possible. We think this proactive. Early intervention is why we did not have to revoke tenure from any teachers this past year. We address issues long before this comes into play.”
Cherry Creek spokesperson Tustin Amole echoed the sentiments, stating a strong culture of professional development allows the district to correct problems early on.
So what happens to the teachers who were stripped of tenure after two years of less than effective evaluations?
Johnston said SB-191 could take away “state sponsored job protection, but wouldn’t make hiring decisions for local HR departments.” But Johnston said, “If I were a principal, I’d want to know who else was in the applicant pool.”
CBS4 found nine of the 11 teachers who lost tenure in Aurora are returning to the classroom this fall. Ten of the 24 slated to lose tenure in Douglas County are back. Two Dougco teachers appealed their evaluations and had their tenure reinstated.
So did Bernardine Sanchez, the Kindergarten teacher from Colfax Elementary in Denver. Her tenure was reinstated after appeal, but she quit anyway to take a teaching job at Westminster Public Schools.
“I’m a great teacher,” she said. “My students, my parents and my community can back me up.”
Thirty teachers who lost tenure in DPS are back in classrooms this fall.