By Eileen FitzGerald

Published by Danbury News-Times, February 14, 2012

The leaders of six state organizations stood together Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to offer what some consider an unprecedented declaration of unity over thorny issues in school reform.

Representatives from the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Connecticut Association of Schools, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Connecticut Council for Education Reform and the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now announced they plan to lead reform with one voice and seek legislation on six key issues.

Their unity was significant to state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, ranking member on the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

“This is so powerful,” Boucher said after the hourlong news conference.

“I think it will be very important they speak with one voice,” she said. “They have to keep this package together. Each part is interrelated.”

The groups want to help shape proposals that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have put on the table as part of a major overhaul of state education policy.

The group agree on changes needed in six areas:

Increasing rigor in preparation and certification of educators.

Overhauling evaluation and supports for teachers and principals, including requiring tenure to be earned rather than automatic.

Measuring student learning by mastery of material, rather than by time in the classroom.

Developing a system that provides varied support and intensive interventions to districts based on the need to address school and district accountability.

Supporting access to high-quality preschool programs for 3-year-olds, especially low-income children.

Amending education contract negotiations, particularly binding arbitration, to ensure that student learning is the primary factors guiding negotiations.

“We think it’s high time to address the fact that not every child in this state receives a high-quality education,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the public school superintendents association, said Tuesday. “Basically, we need to change the system to get to the point where children are receiving what they need.”

The six groups know that great teachers and great school leaders are the fundamental requirements for student success, said RaeAnn Knopf, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.

“We can’t ask students to wait a few years,” she said. “We don’t all agree on everything, but we do agree on these issues.”

The discussion used to be about whether there would be education reform, but now it is about how will the system be reformed, said Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. His group has led a call for reform since 2005 to close the achievement gap between white and minority students and between affluent and poor students, which in Connecticut is the largest in the country.

“Having us up here is a step in the right direction,” Riccards said. “We agree on far more than we disagree. Our group has not been known for playing well with others.”

This is the time for reform, he said, and the state cannot turn away.

Link to the article.

This article was also published in the Connecticut Post and Greenwich Time.