Colorado Teachers, Parents, and Students Deserve Teacher Hiring Practices Based on Mutual Consent

The Denver Post recently reported on a class-action lawsuit by the Colorado Education Association (CEA), challenging provisions in Colorado’s teacher assessment law. CEA cites concerns about provisions in the law that could leave displaced teachers without the guarantee of placement or paid leave. But the state’s previous policy of forced teacher placement is not ideal either, and holds implications leading to undesirable outcomes for educators and the students that they serve.

Passed in 2010, Colorado Senate Bill 10-191 changed the way that principals, educators, and special services providers were evaluated in an effort to support professional growth and accelerate student results. The bill requires annual evaluations based on two equally weighted components: assessment of professional practices and measured student learning over time. Non-probationary status (tenure) is given after three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness, and tenure is revoked after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings.

CEA filed the suit on behalf of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, noting SB 10-191’s impact on the teacher evaluation process and the procedure for reassigning teachers. The bill does not require districts to force place teachers who lose their jobs due to budgeting or enrollment changes. Forced placement, however, does not help teachers to show their full potential or to feel professional fulfillment.

Instructional styles and classroom personalities are unique. This can be demonstrated by asking ten different students which teacher has taught them the most. The responses will not be the same because two equally talented teachers may not elicit the same response from a given student — teaching skills are dependent on audience and setting. Forced placement denies teachers the opportunity to find the best possible fit and can lead to good teachers feeling unappreciated.

Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg told the Denver Post, “Ultimately this is a matter for the courts to decide, but the principal of forced placement for teachers is a bad thing…” It is a bad thing because it denies school principals the autonomy over hiring decisions to find the best possible teachers to meet the needs of their students. In Denver, for example, because of student-based budgeting, money follows the child to the school of his or her choice and principals have autonomy over budgeting decisions. Forced placement presents a significant challenge to both school choice and school autonomy. It doesn’t make sense to offer principals budget autonomy and then constrain those decisions with employment practices that impede their ability to choose their staff. Autonomy and accountability serve the interests of teachers, who are concerned about staffing decisions, and advocates of reform, who are concerned about providing the best education possible to Colorado students.

When principals are not given the power to hire and retain the best teachers there is, understandably, reason for educators to be upset. It is important to find an environment that maximizes a teacher’s personal strengths, and for principals to have the authority to hire and retain those who excel in their school’s unique environment. Similarly, parents and students deserve teachers who meet their needs. It hurts everyone to force teachers and students into mismatched relationships.

In order to guarantee the proper matches, and in order for teachers to be treated with the respect they deserve, principals must be able to hire the best and must also face the consequences of failing to hire the best. Many teachers spend countless hours honing unit and lesson plans, and spend many more hours tailoring those plans to fit the needs of specific students. No such teacher should suffer because staffing is left in the hands of legislators or judges.

Similarly, parents and students deserve schools that are empowered to make staffing choices and are held to account for the outcomes of those choices. Every parent should feel that their child learns from teachers who are chosen for their ability to meet student needs.

Boasberg is right that “the principle of forced placement for teachers is a bad thing.” It is bad for teachers, parents, and students. High-quality teachers deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their talents, not shuffled around due to legislative dictate or judicial decision. Parents and students deserve the best possible educators, not those who are placed by a legislative or judicial decree.