RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When this summer ends, some teachers will face a new reality - those in states where a teacher's job security is now tied to how well their students do in class. Some teacher groups have dropped their longstanding opposition to this idea. Still, many teachers fear that the new evaluation systems are part of an attack on their profession.
NPR's Larry Abramson reports.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Colorado was at the forefront of an effort to reward teachers who boost student achievement and to get rid of those who do not. After a bitter fight in the legislature, the Colorado branch of the American Federation of Teachers helped broker a deal. Brenda Smith, president of AFT Colorado, says her members recognized it was time to stop resisting an idea whose time has come.
Ms. BRENDA SMITH (President, AFT Colorado): The question that I get most often is: How do I become an active member in building this system? I think our teachers see it as a challenge, and I think they're ready for it.
ABRAMSON: But that positive attitude masks deep wounds from the fight over the legislation. The much larger Colorado Education Association fought the new evaluation proposal, and only embraced it when it was clear it would pass. Spokesperson Deborah Fallin says the bill was a desperate gambit to appease Washington so Colorado could qualify for the Race to the Top, an administration program meant to spark education reform.
Ms. DEBORAH FALLIN (Spokesperson, Colorado Education Association): They felt that this was rammed down their throats.
ABRAMSON: Now, it's Colorado law that half of a teacher's performance evaluation be based on student progress. But the details still have to be worked out. The law doesn't take full effect until 2014. That means teachers can still try to water down the new system if they feel a bad process is being forced on them.
Deborah Fallin says districts are in for a surprise, as they try to make this change during the worst budget crisis in decades.
Ms. FALLIN: Districts do not have the money to train principals, to move from evaluating every three years to every year.
ABRAMSON: Wholesale retooling of teacher evaluations has never been tried before on such a huge scale. In a big experiment, there are bound to be mistakes.
Ms. KATE WALSH (National Council on Teacher Quality): Absolutely. This all could go south.
ABRAMSON: Kate Walsh with the National Council on Teacher Quality says even if most districts do a good job of writing new evaluations, some will screw up, leading to painful stories in the media.
Ms. WALSH: So-and-so has been the star teacher every year. Her peers look up to her. She is absolutely the best teacher around, but her evaluation found her to be unsatisfactory.
ABRAMSON: Trepidation is widespread, from Colorado to Illinois to New York, which also passed a law tying teacher evaluations to student progress. Dick Iannuzzi, the president of New York State United Teachers, says his members really are behind the changes, but they also have their guard up as the pressure on teachers grows.
Mr. DICK IANNUZZI (President, New York State United Teachers): There's more than just a bad taste. There's a feeling that our allies have joined the blame game. And if we're going to make real reform, it can't be about blaming.
ABRAMSON: Teachers also warn the hangover from these legislative changes will have consequences in the fall. Deborah Fallin of the Colorado Education Association has this warning for politicians counting on them to get out the vote.
Ms. FALLIN: If it's a lovely Saturday morning in October and I have the choice of staying home and doing what I want to do or going out and walking precincts for somebody, and that person didn't stand up for us on this issue, I just might not go.
ABRAMSON: Teachers groups spent years fighting the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law. They now find the struggle continues under a Democratic administration - a sign, perhaps, that education reform will cause some pain, no matter who's in charge.
Larry Abramson, NPR News.
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