In February, before the legislative session began, our coalition of six education and business groups came together, for the first time, to present a common position on important educational challenges facing our state.[1] At that time, we jointly called on state leaders to take action on these goals during this legislative session.

On February 8th, Governor Malloy introduced a bold set of reforms in Senate Bill 24. Unfortunately, the modified version of Senate Bill 24 that passed the Education Committee fails to move forward with several of the bold proposals Governor Malloy put forth, and it signals a lack of urgency to fix the fundamental issues that plague Connecticut’s public school system.

The budget that passed the Appropriations Committee last week further weakened the original proposals in S.B. 24. For example, it cut significant funding from essential reforms such as the talent development funds needed to properly implement teacher and administrator evaluations and provide the training needed to help educators improve their practice.

As things now stand, we believe this bill will not bring about the reforms Connecticut’s students need. However, we also believe that this situation can—and must—be improved. Bipartisan leadership and a collective effort of all stakeholders, in partnership with Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor, can help restore the tenets of bold reform to this bill. Towards that end, we present the following analysis of the revised S.B. 24 and compare it to our initial joint statement of legislative goals. We also offer recommendations on a path forward.

Teacher and Principal Evaluation and Support

Where things stand:

The Performance Evaluation Advisory Council that included three of our six organizations, as well as both teacher unions, developed and approved a framework for teacher and principal evaluations. This framework established the parameters for teacher and principal evaluations based on multiple measures from multiple sources including, but not limited to, student achievement growth, peer feedback, and classroom observation. The original version of S.B. 24 offered a set of reforms that would make those evaluations meaningful by connecting results to decisions about professional development and growth, certification, advancement, and tenure. The bill proposed that teachers earn and keep tenure based on satisfactory evaluation results. It would have also helped to limit the cost and time associated with dismissing a chronically ineffective teacher while maintaining that teacher’s right to due process.

Unfortunately, a significant amount of misinformation was generated about these proposals leading up to the Education Committee’s negotiations (see Parts 1 and 2 of our “Myths and Facts” documents). As a result, nearly all of the original proposals to link evaluation results to staffing systems have been removed from the bill in favor of further study. The revised bill also proposes to change the PEAC framework that has already been established and approved by the State Board of Education. The revised bill adds a requirement for union participation in creating educator remediation plans.

Recommendation: We believe that the original tenets of the bill on teacher and principal evaluation must be restored. If we are serious about improving Connecticut’s public schools, then we must start by ensuring that teacher and principal evaluations actually count for something. In the small number of cases where teachers receive consistent low ratings and do not improve, even after receiving appropriate support, state policy must allow for fair and swift dismissal. In addition, evaluation results must be used to shape educator growth and support, and teachers ought to show consistent satisfactory ratings in order to obtain and maintain tenure. Finally, educator remediation plans should be developed collaboratively by educators and their supervisors with no required union involvement and with evaluators making the final decisions on the plans.

Educator Preparation and Certification

Where things stand:

The governor’s original proposal would have created tuition reimbursement for top college graduates to teach in high-needs schools. Unfortunately, that proposal was removed from the revised bill. In addition, the original bill proposed connecting a teacher’s evaluation ratings to how a teacher maintains and advances through three levels of certification (initial, professional, and master). These proposals were modest and would have allowed even a teacher with chronically low ratings to maintain an initial certification for up to eight years, at least. The original bill also proposed a new master teacher certification status to recognize and reward our best teachers. Unfortunately, the revised bill eliminated the master teacher certification status and removed any connection between a teacher’s certification and evaluation ratings.

Recommendation: Fortunately, the State Board of Education acted earlier this year to establish the Educator Preparation Advisory Council that will convene all relevant stakeholders to recommend to the State Board of Education ways to improve educator preparation programs in Connecticut, including holding them accountable for results. In addition to this much needed step, the original proposals to create tuition reimbursements for top college graduates to teach in high-needs schools should be reinstated. We also believe that teachers should have to show consistent satisfactory ratings in order to advance their careers via certification, and that the master teacher certification proposal is worth pursuing.

Relationship Between Time and Learning

Where things stand:

To move from where we are now to where we need to be requires time, careful effort, and support. S.B. 24 included a proposal to support a small number of districts in moving to a system of “personalized learning.” That support has been sacrificed to an effort to align Common Core requirements with those of Higher Education.

Recommendation: While alignment with Higher Education is important, we must implement a system that demonstrates learning has occurred based on measures other than time spent on task, so students don’t graduate without requisite skills in basic subject areas like reading, math, and science. Funding for pilot districts should be restored.

School and District Accountability

Where things stand:

The Education Committee’s proposal would put into state law new definitions of district and school performance that are inconsistent with the state’s ESEA waiver application. The revisions lower the standards by which a school would be identified as needing improvement and support in the proposed School Performance Index. For example, a school could average all of its students performing at Basic and not qualify as a lowest performing school (or category 5 according to the new index). The revised bill also removes proposals that would have provided enhanced flexibility to higher performing schools.

The bill also weakens the proposal to create a state Commissioner’s Network of the lowest performing schools, and the budget passed by the Appropriations Committee removed significant funding from this effort.

Recommendation: With 135 schools being designated as in need of improvement for five years or more, our state needs more effective methods of knowing when and how to intervene to help schools meet the needs of all learners. The original bill created policy that would allow for differentiating the degree to which state level intervention would occur. The original bill also provided incremental funding and methods of accountability to support improvement efforts in the 25 highest-need schools and 30 lowest-performing districts. The revised bill significantly lowers the number of schools requiring the highest level of assistance, shifts funding from supporting rapid school improvement methods to supporting Family Resource Centers, significantly limits the Commissioner’s ability to create mutual consent work agreements in lowest performing schools, and dictates an accountability measure through statute that would be better addressed in state regulations. Additionally, we believe revised provisions may contradict the requirements to obtain a waiver from current ineffective ESEA/NCLB requirements. We also believe flexibility should be restored for higher performing schools and schools that have shown significant gains in improvement for low-income and minority students.

Whether school turnaround efforts are run by the state or by local school boards, we agree that certain conditions are required for those efforts to succeed and to design an educational program that will best meet student needs. These conditions must include significant flexibility in redesigning local contracts that articulate the supports and conditions necessary for ensuring teachers and principals are able to effect the level of student learning needed for them to close gaps in a compressed timeframe. We believe that the original language should be restored. We agree additional clarity is needed with regard to 1) the parameters to be used in defining lowest performing schools and districts; 2) a framework which incorporates local context to be used in identifying the best approach to intervention at school and district levels; and 3) criteria and a timeline for schools to return to local authority. While efforts to increase wraparound services for high-needs students are laudable, they should not come at the expensive of more fundamental reforms to the school structure and environment.

Pre-Kindergarten

Where things stand:

The Education Committee version of Senate Bill 24, and the budget passed by the Appropriations Committee, doubles the number of early childhood seats proposed in the original bill (from 500 to 1000) in our highest-need districts.

Recommendation: This is an encouraging and necessary development, but, by itself, will not be sufficient to close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for all children in our state. It must be coupled with efforts to improve teacher quality in these programs and provide families with clear information about the quality of their prekindergarten programs. It must also be paired with efforts to improve the quality of teachers and school leaders and improve our lowest performing schools in the k-12 system.

Education Contract Negotiations

Where things stand:

Neither the original bill nor the revised version of the bill addressed this important amendment to the binding arbitration statute. In fact, teacher union leaders are now discussing options that would further weaken attempts to streamline due process. The one area where there was potential for this to occur, the Commissioner’s Network, has been stripped of those provisions for even our lowest performing schools.

Recommendation: State lawmakers must resist efforts to further complicate due process laws and should include an amendment to the binding arbitration statute so that students’ learning needs are the primary factors that guides the binding arbitration process.

Conclusion

Our groups have come together because we believe that every student in Connecticut has a right to a high-quality education, regardless of his or her race, ethnicity, wealth or zip code. Unfortunately, every student in Connecticut is not receiving a high quality education, as demonstrated by our state’s largest achievement gaps in the nation and by the gap between what our highest performing students learn and what they need to know to meet international benchmarks for learning.

The primary reason for this unacceptable situation is the fact that the education system in Connecticut is not designed to guarantee that every child will learn what he or she needs to lead full and productive lives. The original version of Senate Bill 24 offered Connecticut an opportunity to take bold, fundamental actions to change the system. We hope state leaders will take the opportunity to bring back those proposals and ensure a brighter future for our students, our communities, and our state.

Appendix A: Joint Legislative Goals, February 2012

Teacher Evaluation and Support

The goal of an evaluation system must be twofold: to develop and support teachers to become highly effective, and to dismiss ineffective teachers at any career level, including those who do not or cannot demonstrate improvement with support. Recently, the state’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) approved a framework for evaluation systems that include four levels of performance and multiple measures of a teacher’s effectiveness, with a clear focus on student learning. We support the teacher evaluation framework as adopted by the PEAC and believe actions to implement a comprehensive statewide system must be undertaken this year. While implementation results should be studied as part of the process, we believe it is a mistake to delay full implementation. The children of CT have already waited too long for significant action to be taken to guarantee that every child will be taught by an effective teacher every year.

In addition, we believe that:

  • Reductions in force, when necessary, should be guided primarily by teacher evaluation results. If dismissals are needed, they should occur within levels of performance beginning first with ineffective teachers and working up from there.
  • Teacher tenure should be earned and kept based on satisfactory evaluation results. At any point, teachers who do not consistently receive at least a proficient rating should be dismissed. We support an expedited due process that is focused on whether the evaluation procedures were followed fairly.
  • Teachers who consistently receive the highest evaluation ratings should be eligible for recognition, including promotions along a career ladder and salary increases.

Principal Evaluation and Support

Principal evaluation systems should mirror the goals for teacher evaluations: to develop and support principals to become highly effective, and to dismiss ineffective principals, including those who do not or cannot demonstrate improvement with support. We believe that principals must be held accountable for their performance and, at the same time, be given the training, autonomy and authority to build the capacity needed to ensure fair, objective, and effective evaluations. We support the principle evaluation framework as adopted by the PEAC.

In addition, we believe that:

  • Growth of student achievement in the building or instructional unit for which the principal is responsible should be the most significant element in principal evaluation.
  • The principal must have high-quality training and support in teacher evaluation.
  • The principal should have significant decision-making authority over who is employed in his/her school or instructional unit so that nobody is assigned to a school or instructional unit over the principal’s objection.

Educator Preparation and Certification

Our current systems to prepare and certify teachers, principals, and superintendents must be improved and become more flexible in order to find the best possible candidates for the jobs. Preparation programs, both traditional and non-traditional, must be more clinically oriented, with both preparation and certification based primarily on demonstrated ability to perform well on the job.

Relationship Between Time and Learning

We should be measuring student learning not by time spent in classrooms, but by mastery of content. The first step in moving toward such a system is to allow local boards of education to award students credit for evidence of work and experiences that demonstrate mastery in relation to the Common Core college and career readiness standards rather than Carnegie Units earned or “seat time” accumulated, regardless of the time required for such mastery. Flexibility in meeting student learning needs must be used both for remediation for students who need additional learning time to master content, as well as for enrichment opportunities for advanced study.

School and District Accountability

We support a system of differentiated accountability for schools and districts that provides varied support and interventions based on where schools and districts fall across a range of student performance levels. We know that many schools and some districts are consistently underperforming. It is imperative that we improve these schools and districts, and provide the students currently enrolled in such schools with high quality education right away.

This goal can be addressed by:

  • Developing a system in which the lowest performing schools and districts receive immediate and intensive support and intervention.
  • Ensuring that any increases in funding to these schools and districts is aimed at increasing student achievement.
  • Recognizing high performing, high-need schools and replicating their success.
  • Supporting innovative models to address the learning needs of every student.

Pre-Kindergarten

All children should have access to programming beginning at age three that is developmentally appropriate and staffed by highly effective teachers, with initial priority given to low-income students. In addition, families need clear information about the quality of their prekindergarten options.

Education Contract Negotiations

We encourage parties involved in education contract negotiations to consider structuring contracts to focus on student learning needs. Currently in education contract negotiations, if the school district and the local teachers union cannot come to agreement, the decision goes to binding arbitration. We believe that the state law on binding arbitration must be amended so that students’ learning needs are the primary factor guiding the binding arbitration process.

[1] See Appendix A for February 2012 joint legislative goals.