Notes from the District…Education Reform Dominates the Discussion

March 12, 2012

Connecticut has the deepest and widest achievement gap in the country. Too many low income students are trapped in failing schools. And there is great pressure on the state to enact far reaching education reforms coming from Washington.

So it should be no surprise that at a recent town hall forum in Westport, education reform dominated the meeting and elicited the most questions. More than 60 people attended and the audience became more animated as the evening progressed. Several teachers and education professionals were emphatic when expressing their concerns with the Governor’s proposed education bill as it is currently written.

Some comments by teachers:

  • I came to Westport to teach because I love this community, but I am very concerned about these proposals. Especially being more closely responsible for test scores. Also the evaluations. What if an administrator just doesn’t like you?
  • A High School teacher said she finds it troubling that student performance will weigh heavily on teacher evaluations because a number of factors outside the classroom can affect a student’s performance.
  • I teach and feel so incredibly vulnerable. An administrator could hire two new teachers for one veteran teacher, and that worries me. Why are administrators given so much power?
  • How will school librarians and school psychologists going to fall into this education reform? There are no test scores to evaluate them.

Changes to teacher certification, tenure and evaluations that are being proposed were mentioned most. A new four-level rating system for teacher evaluations would focus heavily on student growth and development and include:

  • Below Standard
  • Developing
  • Proficient
  • Exemplary

The weights within the new elevation system were negotiated and approved by many stakeholders including the unions:

  • 45% multiple student learning indicator (22% state test scores)
  • 40% observation of performance and practice by fair and well trained supervisor
  • 10% peer or parent survey
  • 5% whole school student learning indicators or student feedback

Certification could be changed to three levels: “initial,” “professional” and “master,” and would be tied to evaluations and compensation. Tenure would be based on evaluations but could be gained in 30 months instead of 40, but no later than 50 months.

One high school teacher remarked, “I think about the tens of thousands I spent on my education, going beyond a master’s. I’d like to be reassured that that would be weighed into how I’m evaluated.”

As the ranking member of the Education Committee and a member of the Higher Education Committee – I would like to see the profession of teaching elevated and compensated well. This field is preparing our next generation and our society for a better future. It should be on par with our most highly paid professions.

With that elevation and compensation, however, will come more risk and less job security. The top private schools and charter schools have a steady stream of Ivy League graduates that are looking to fill their classrooms, knowing that they will be challenged everyday and assuming a heavy burden that does not have guaranteed employment.

For Connecticut’s educational system to succeed and our urban schools to close their deep gap, all stakeholders must endeavor to work together.

As neighboring states rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in Race to the Top grants Connecticut applications continue to be rejected. This funding is tied to the new reforms that are being discussed but yet to be implemented. Neighboring states that have worked to reform their school systems are receiving significant grants. Rhode Island has received $800 per student, New York and Massachusetts over $300 per student and Connecticut only $7 per student.

The vast majority of our teachers are great. They also deserve great unions that will advocate for excellence in educational quality and in the best interest of their students.

There will be many changes to this bill as the many valid concerns of teachers are considered. Administrators will also have a heavy burden to demonstrate that they can observe and evaluate their staff fairly and honestly. I’m hopeful that whatever is finally decided – it will be the kind of reform that will improve the prospects for all children no matter their income level, increase respect for teachers and elevate teaching. After all it is the noblest of all professions.

Please keep in touch with my office and I look forward to hearing from you.