“Let’s be honest with ourselves, and let’s speak bluntly: many parts of our system of public education are broken.”
– Gov. Malloy introduces the topic of education in his State of the State Address
The 2012 Legislative Session is now underway. For those of us who insist time and again that the only way to bring lasting changes to Connecticut is to introduce a portfolio of reforms that link issues of policy, funding and action to the needs and experiences of the students (rather than the adults) – our time is now.
In the past few weeks, Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor have unfolded a bold and impressive proposal for education reform that is highly aligned with the recommendations put forth by the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, CCER’s precursor organization, in its 2010 Report. From intensive school turnaround strategies to forward-thinking models of educator preparation, certification, evaluation, compensation, retention, and professional development – we believe the Governor is on the right track. What follows is a discussion of a few of the areas of alignment between CCER’s recommendations and Governor Malloy’s education proposals:
In our report, we recognized that too many low-achieving schools had been failing their students for too long, and we called for bold turnaround strategies as part of a framework for intervention. Amongst our many recommendations on turnaround schools, we called for the creation of a new Turnaround Office that would report to the Commissioner and have authority over staffing and contracting decisions in our lowest-achieving schools.
On February 6th, the Governor proposed the creation of a “Commissioner’s Network” designed to improve chronically low-performing schools, and funded by $24.8 million to transform up to twenty-five schools over the next two years. Under the Governor’s proposal, the Commissioner’s Network will make staffing decisions based upon “mutual consent”. (Essentially, this would give schools in the Commissioner’s Network authority over staffing and contractual agreements by requiring teachers to opt-in to new contracts that differ from those entered into between the district and union.)
Early Childhood Education
Our 2010 report called for a multi-year phase-in process to provide sufficient funding for all low-income three and four year olds to attend a high-quality preschool program.
Governor Malloy has proposed investing $12 million into Early Childhood Education, one third of which would be dedicated to providing opportunities to 500 preschool children. This is a great start, and we hope it will be the beginning of a phase-in process so that eventually alllow-income preschoolers will have funding for high-quality educational opportunities.
Attracting, Preparing and Retaining Excellent Teachers
In our report, we called for increasing the quality and diversity of teacher preparation programs and the restructuring of programs so that teacher candidates were required to demonstrate high levels of content knowledge and have more in-classroom field experiences in order to graduate with a teaching degree. Moreover, we said that the accreditation of teacher preparation programs should be revoked if the program failed to produce effective teachers. We also called for revising certification provisions to permit reciprocity with other states for qualified school leaders and teachers.
On February 7th, Governor Malloy proposed providing financial incentives to attract and retain our brightest students into the profession and low-achieving schools, as well increasing the minimum GPA for prospective teachers from a B- average to a B+. The Governor also proposed the creation of an Education Preparation Advisory Council that will measure the quality of teacher prep programs based on the effectiveness of their graduates and feedback from districts, and award accreditation accordingly. He also proposed removing barriers to teacher reciprocity to increase districts ability to hire teachers from other states.
Relate Teacher Tenure to Effectiveness
Our report also called for the revision of dismissal procedures for tenured teachers so that teachers who are evaluated as ineffective and do not demonstrate sufficient improvement, can be dismissed in a timely manner and in a process that emphasizes the needs of students over all other factors.
In his State of the State address, Governor Malloy announced that “this is the year to reform teacher tenure”, and outlined a proposal for tenure reformby which tenure will be earned and re-earned based upon a minimum standard of proficiency. Under his proposal, tenured teachers can be dismissed if their evaluations indicate that they are ineffective, and the time frame for dismissal proceedings will be significantly shortened.
So What Else Would CCER Like to See in 2012?
The devil is in the details, so a lot of what happens next is going to depend on the precise legislative language that has been proposed. But there are a few additional pieces of legislation we would like to see this year, as articulated in our 2012 Legislative Priorities:
We think that every student in grades 1-12, who is academically behind in reading and math, should have access to school intervention programs staffed by effective teachers, such as summer school, in school tutoring, extended learning time, or Saturday academies. We also want high school students to be required to pass an assessment test that is aligned with college and workforce readiness, in order to graduate.
Fostering Great School Leaders
We think that principals need to be held accountable by an evaluation system that is largely based upon student academic growth and performance. It is a principal’s responsibility to ensure that the students in his or her school are learning and meeting academic benchmarks and goals. We think that principals compensation and retention should be based upon their evaluations.
Likewise, superintendents are responsible for the learning of the students in their districts. We think that they should be required to establish annual goals for student academic growth in their districts. These goals should be publically reported and available to boards of education as a potential measure of effectiveness.
Today, Connecticut is abuzz with exciting proposals! But now the real work of turning proposals into reality – through legislation and successful implementation – begins. Tonight at 8:30pm on CPTV, you can watch the premiere of our three-part documentary series exploring solutions to closing the achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.