GUEST COLUMN FROM FORMER GOVERNORS: We can't afford to let teachers' union stop education reform

By Bill Owens and Bill Ritter Updated: January 30, 2014 at 12:14 pm • Published: January 30, 2014 | 12:00 am 0

Colorado's teachers and education leaders have one of the most important jobs in our state: providing our children with a high-quality education. However, until a few years ago, the education system was flawed: Effective teachers weren't being recruited, rewarded and retained, while ineffective teachers were simply kept in place.

We were proud to be a part of a broad coalition that included grass-roots organizations, business interests and education and civic leaders, which came together to pass the Great Teachers and Leaders Law, or Senate Bill 191. It improved our public schools by changing how teachers are hired, supported, rewarded and replaced.

Now, Colorado's teachers are held to the same standards of performance as those in other respected professions. By putting strict accountability measures in place, giving teachers and educational leaders the power to choose where their skills are most needed and rewarding teachers for excellence in the work place, SB191 has proved to be an effective tool for real education reform.

Today, that common-sense law faces a grave risk. The state's largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, is throwing up legal roadblocks, trying to set the system back after years of progress in ensuring that every child has an excellent teacher in her classroom and a strong leader in her school. We now join together again on behalf of that same coalition to urge Coloradans to stand up for and protect the reforms embodied in SB191.

A large majority of Coloradans support this law. A recent poll showed 91 percent of voters agreed that consistently ineffective teachers should not be guaranteed a job and that change to the tenure system is necessary to ensure we have only our best teachers in the classroom. Furthermore, 71 percent strongly agree that teacher tenure should not be given automatically simply based on years on the job but rather that it should be earned by demonstrating effectiveness, just as in other professions.

Why does the union continue to fight this battle, when the basic tenets of SB191 enjoy overwhelming public support? Their tactics only serve to undermine Colorado's efforts to elevate the teaching profession and protect quality teachers. We short-change children when we do not demand more accountability and better education in classrooms.

We understand the need to monitor the implementation of the law and to make adjustments to ensure its success. The state's current pilot efforts are already doing this. But the appropriate forum for those efforts are in classrooms, in school districts and at the state legislature, not in the courthouse.

As Colorado's parents are well into the school enrollment choice period, we are reminded how fortunate we are that Coloradans can choose where our kids attend school, regardless of where we live. Indeed, one of the most important factors parents consider when seeking the right school for their children is the quality of teaching and leadership staff. Shouldn't we give that same choice to our teachers and school leaders?

A critical component of SB191 ?- and one under attack from the teachers' union - is the idea of "mutual consent"; that is, principals should be able to hire the teachers they believe will best meet the requirements of their schools' students. At a minimum, school leaders should not be forced to hire teachers they do not believe are right for their schools. The teachers' union feels that tenured members have the "right" to be automatically placed in a school, regardless of their effectiveness or the needs of the school. This posture clearly puts the priorities of a few poorly-performing adults above the needs of children.

Here, again, the public overwhelmingly sides with current state law: 94 percent of Coloradans agree that principals should be able to hire the teachers who will best meet the needs of their schools' students and that they should not be forced to hire a teacher who will not meet the needs of their schools and its children. Most Colorado voters strongly agree that the Great Teachers and Leaders Law is working and that here in Colorado, we put children first. Why would we ever go back?

It is our sincere hope that the Union will drop this lawsuit and allow our teachers and principals to return to working collaboratively on implementing this law to improve all Colorado schools.

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Owens, a Republican, and Ritter, a Democrat, are former Colorado governors. Owens served 1999-2007 and Ritter served 2007-2011.

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