NEW HAVEN, CT – “For those of us who have worked to bring the interests and actions of top leaders in business, government, and education to bear on resolving the challenges faced by today’s public school educators: take a look at Connecticut; today is your day. For those of us who insist that the only real way to bring about lasting change in education is through a portfolio of reforms where policy, funding, and action are intentionally linked to drive meaningful change right down to the learning experience of the child, our time has come.

This is the week that the bold recommendations of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) and the foresight and courage of the Malloy administration and many education associations around the state came together for common good. Day by day, Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor have unfolded a legislative and policy proposal, that, in its entirety, reflects at least 22 of the 65 high priority policy recommendations outlined by the Commission on Educational Achievement, the precursor to CCER. From intensive school turnaround strategies that include a Commissioner’s network and strong support for innovative school models – to forward thinking preparation, recruitment, certification, evaluation, advancement and compensation models – the reform proposals on the table clearly support and incentivize teacher and leader development in ways that put the current best thinking in practice to effectively address the needs of students facing the greatest learning challenges. While they reflect a necessary focus on low performing schools, they will also generate a more highly effective teaching workforce across our system, thereby creating a mechanism to reach struggling students in all schools throughout Connecticut.

The last piece in this puzzle is tenure. Without addressing the intractable nature of our current tenure system, all of these efforts are for naught. Even with all good intentions, if tenure trumps the expectation that educators must continue to learn and grow and improve their craft, none of the far reaching policies outlined above will have the intended effect. We must be diligent in pursuing the end of tenure as we know it by requiring that all teachers participate in an ongoing evaluation process such as that designed by PEAC. Their evaluation must be informed to a significant degree by student growth and achievement, and educators who do not grow and progress themselves must be required to seek employment elsewhere.

Of course we know none of this will sustain real change in the education our children receive, if the funding available to support their education is tied up in archaic formulas using outdated metrics that prevent resourcing instruction to appropriately address the learning needs of each child. We must persist in the expectation that the State will work with school districts to create a consistent chart of accounts for schools where the funds used to address student learning needs can be tracked and allocated appropriately. And we must insist that the level and availability of funding for innovative school models does not hamstring forward-thinking education leaders in their efforts to provide the highest quality learning environment for the children of greatest need. Governor Malloy’s latest proposal, supporting increased ECS funding for low performing districts and raising the ECS base funding in response to updated poverty statistics, is an essential step in the right direction.

For the many critics who claim we can’t afford the $128 million total investment these reforms represent, we might ask where the funds will come from to support the social and economic cost of the approximately 9,000 high school dropouts per year these efforts can prevent. At a $518,000 lifetime cost per high school dropout, the bill to the State for each year of high school dropouts is more than $4.6 billion. So for those who insist on looking at this purely as a budgetary issue or business proposition, the return on investment is in our favor. A $4.6 billion return on a $128 million investment, is a sound business proposition in any case.

While it may seem we have accomplished a great deal these last few weeks, we all know the real work has just begun. Too often good proposals die on the floor of the general assembly. And those that do survive are frequently encumbered by red tape to the point that they are never fully implemented. It is up to us to reach out to our constituents and encourage them to support the proposed legislation, to keep the pressure on, and to educate people on the issues so they understand clearly how the outcome might affect them. Most importantly, we must now work together to find ways to make the ‘proposed’ a reality and follow the implementation with the same tenacity that we pursued the reform so we know with confidence, that ultimately, the full benefit has reached the child.”

Rae Ann Knopf
Executive Director
Connecticut Council for Education Reform