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Are performance based pay systems a smart way to raise the caliber of teachers? Or does it simply scapegoat teachers for problems that are beyond their control?
Colorado is currently working to sort out those questions after passing a new teacher law that will focus on student progress when evaluating teachers. Those teachers who fail to raise students' test scores will find themselves at risk of losing their jobs.
Colorado is one of many states that are looking for new ways to improve academic performance, at least in part to increase the chances of receiving a "Race to the Top" grant. The program provides financial incentives for improving performance and effectiveness and Colorado stands to gain as much as $175 million.
Teachers have traditionally been evaluated largely based upon seniority. The tenure system has faced growing criticism over the years, as many schools find it nearly impossible to replace senior educators, even if their job performance is lacking.
Several other states are currently considering similar or related measures, including California, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Connecticut, Washington, Tennessee and Michigan. Colorado's law is especially noteworthy because it was pushed through by Democrats, who typically have been unwilling to oppose teachers unions. The law eventually gained bi-partisan support.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, under Colorado's teacher law, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. on Thursday, even tenured teachers who are found to be "ineffective" for two consecutive years could lose job protections, and possibly their jobs.
In nearly all cases, teachers' unions adamantly oppose such laws, instead believing that the problems with education relate to class size, lack of student programs and other issues outside their control. Instead, they argue that the new laws target teachers for problems that they are not equipped to solve.