Prematurely Tying Performance to Teacher Retention Hurts Kids

05/18/2010 01:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Many have asked my thoughts on SB 191 tying teacher retention and pay to the performance of their students on standardized tests. The goal is to improve our children's education. I embrace both that goal and the many paths that lead to it. I won't substitute a slogan for a solution and have voted no on SB 191.

We all have experience with performance based evaluations. A running back who doesn't gain yards gets canned. But sometimes the running back isn't the problem. Sometimes he has a crummy offensive line.

Erroneously booting the back affects few. Erroneously firing teachers for failed funding, faltering administrators or myriad other confounding factors leaves our children to pay the price.

The National Academies is our nation's foremost aggregation of scientific and intellectual talent. When the Challenger space shuttle crashed, we asked the National Academy of Science to investigate. Along with the National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine we go to the National Research Council with our toughest questions. Last week the Council released its long awaited report on evaluating teacher effectiveness. In the Council's words "First, it is difficult to measure teacher effectiveness . . . . Assessments of K-12 student learning . . . . are not yet at the stage where they could be easily used for systematic analysis of teacher effectiveness."

Here in Colorado we are doing the hard work to advance measurement of teacher effectiveness. DPS pioneered with adoption of the ProComp reward for high achieving teachers. The Governor's Council on Teacher Effectiveness is working as I write. Last year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted DPS $10 million to develop a program to evaluate the entire educational team.

I strongly support these efforts and hope and expect them to succeed. When they do, I will support implementing legislation. Until they do, I don't. Premature legislation is no substitute for that hard work. Putting the cart before the horse puts us on no path to progress.