“Good Evaluations” Op-Ed excerpt by Ramani Ayer
Published by The Hartford Courant, April 15, 2012
By JASON COURTMANCHE
The reason Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not getting teachers’ support for his education reform plan is because the he suffers from a credibility gap.
And just as the achievement gap is tied to the income gap, so the credibility gap is tied to the trust gap. Teachers don’t trust Gov. Malloy because he has largely excluded them and, on occasion, insulted them publicly.
The governor likes to point out that the two unions, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, were involved with the development of the new teacher evaluation formula. That’s true but it’s insufficient. Look at the roster of the board of directors for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform: insurance executives, bank presidents, the president of United Illuminating, and the CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. About the closest we get to an educator is Yale President Richard Levin or Roxanne Coady, who owns RJ Julia Bookstore. Even Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor was never a teacher.
I am certain these are highly competent individuals. They just aren’t qualified to reform education, and the teachers know it even if the governor doesn’t. Their presence as the driving force behind the governor’s education reform agenda is the source of the distrust that leads to the credibility gap.
If the governor is really serious about reforming education, and I think he is, he needs to start listening to teachers.
Jason Courtmanche is the director of the Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut. He was a high school English teacher for 12 years.
By RAMANI AYER
Teachers have been led to believe that Gov. Malloy’s education reform bill called for an unfair evaluation system — one in which they could be evaluated and arbitrarily dismissed by a single administrator; a system that would fuel competition, rather than collaboration, and remove job security. In response to such fears, the General Assembly’s education committee bowed under pressure and passed substitute language that significantly weakened the bill.
The disheartening irony is that if teachers really understood the governor’s original plan, they would welcome it as a long-overdue opportunity to receive the support, financial compensation and professional recognition that they don’t receive today.
The governor’s original bill addressed teachers’ concerns about being unfairly evaluated by a single administrator by making it more difficult for arbitrary dismissals to occur. It relied upon a framework developed by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which requires teacher evaluations to include many factors such as student learning indicators, observations of teacher performance, peer review, and student and parent input.
Now, under the education committee’s language, the possibility of rewarding exemplary teachers with additional pay is substantially weakened, to the detriment of teachers.
Under the education committee’s new language, teachers lose the opportunity to wear tenure as a badge of professional honor, and to be sure of having co-workers who are equally committed to the profession and to their students.
Dedicated teachers, who believe it is their responsibility to help students learn, and who deserve professional recognition and financial compensation for their hard work — these teachers owe it to themselves to tell legislators to reinstate these important policies to the education reform bill, which would benefit, not punish, teachers.
Ramani Ayer is vice-chairman of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.
By MEGUMI YAMAMOTO
The main thing that keeps me from doing my job as well as I can is the distraction of people who aren’t in classrooms every day telling me how to do my job.
If I want to see good teaching, I don’t consult a checklist from the state Department of Education. I walk into the class next door and see what Ann’s kids are talking about. If I want to make my own teaching better, I don’t ask a central office administrator, or someone from the union to observe me, or even a parent. I ask my students. They’re with me every day, they are smart and they are brutally honest.
Being in Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year program introduced me to amazing, dedicated teachers all over the state. Why isn’t anyone asking them how to reform education? Why aren’t the decision makers going into their classrooms to learn about good teaching? The two groups who are the most directly involved — students and teachers — have the least voice in this process.
We are on the threshold of a huge change in education, and I want to move forward with excitement, not out of fear. I propose that those who are really concerned about the future of education gather great teachers and students who are interested in change and let them talk about what works and what doesn’t.
Megumi Yamamoto teaches English at Cheshire High School.
By ISAIAS T. DIAZ
We are attempting to get by in an educational system that is fundamentally dysfunctional. The system has not adapted to the state’s changing demographics, whether racial, cultural or economic. The time to wait around and hope that the system we inherited will suddenly, magically, begin to function for all of our students has come and gone.
Gov. Malloy’s proposed reforms, the reforms I hope legislators will adopt, will go far to help our struggling communities. I hope they will help more students access high-quality early education and strengthen wraparound services for students as recommended by the legislature’s education committee, which is pivotal to establishing a sound foundation for learning. I hope they will allow local communities to create new schools that meet students’ needs — and can deliver high-quality learning experiences no matter what their circumstances.
Imagine a new neighborhood school on the south side of Hartford that focuses on students who are learning English. The governor’s reforms will turn around the most broken of our public schools so that we no longer have to somehow justify sending students to these failing schools year after year. Living in poverty, or being an English language learner, will no longer be an excuse for students not learning. We know that there are great schools in Connecticut that do away with excuses and help all students learn — now, we have to make sure all kids get those opportunities.
Isaias T. Diaz is chairman of the Latino Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
HIRING THE BEST
By RICHARD L. SCHWAB
The majority of the brightest and best students at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut want to teach in high-need schools and focus their clinical experiences and academic work toward that goal. Yet instead of being actively recruited by urban districts, they must wait in the back of the hiring line.
Each April, high-achieving districts come ready to interview and offer contracts. Priority schools attend, but are not able to offer contracts. In high-performing districts, budgets are set early, so leaders can plan. In our most challenging districts, however, budgets get set late and in-district transfers must take place before new teachers are hired. Then, in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, which have agreements with Teach for America, TFA students must be hired first.
So imagine. You’re a fully certified new teacher, holding a boatload of loans because you’ve gone the extra year to be the most qualified. A high-performing district offers a contract in April or May. You want to work in a high-need school, but won’t know until late August if there’s an opening. What would you do? I can tell you what my students who want to work in urban areas do. They go out of state to Boston and New York City, where they are heavily sought after and know they’ll have a job.
We must provide Connecticut’s priority schools with a solid budget in early spring, so they can recruit early. Next, we must employ sound hiring practices with teachers, parents and the principal engaged in the selection. Finally, we must make it a level playing field, where the most qualified candidates get hired first.
Richard L. Schwab is the Raymond Neag Endowed Professor of Educational Leadership and dean emeritus at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.
By BRUCE T. BALLOG
The evidence supporting teacher quality as the reason for differences in student achievement is weak and flawed. The evidence that parents, families and communities are the principle arbiters of student success is overwhelming. This causal connection has been accepted by the Connecticut Department of Education for decades.
In the school year ending in June 2008, East Hartford Middle School experienced 571 violent or threatening acts, and only 38 percent of students achieved at goal on the mastery test. In the same year, the Glastonbury middle school had 15 violent or threatening acts. Not surprisingly, more than 86 percent of students achieved at mastery goal.
Nevertheless, the governor’s plan does not take these differences into account. Instead, it blames East Hartford’s teachers, and takes the position that they should be punished until they perform. Understandably, educators like those in East Hartford, working with some of the state’s poorest children in an already difficult and intimidating environment, are infuriated — they feel abandoned and betrayed.
The governor’s reform effort will fail because it ignores what is known. It doesn’t address the social components of education, it fails to understand that people can’t be bullied into doing their best and it has poisoned the atmosphere. Parents, teachers, advocates and legislators are set against one another. The sides are digging in. They will protect themselves, and their point of view. Something will emerge, and victory will be declared. Yet once more Connecticut’s most desperate children will lose.
Bruce T. Ballog of West Hartford is a social studies teacher at Manchester Adult and Continuing Education.
By MATT FLEURY
The passions that polarize can only arise when the participants are truly invested in the topic at hand. Such is the case for education reform in Connecticut.
There are, however, significant areas of agreement on elements of reform. For example, the Malloy administration’s proposal for increased teacher training reflects the 85 percent of teachers who say professional development is among the most important tools they need to foster student achievement, according to a 2012 Scholastic/Gates Foundation survey. In Connecticut, 71 percent of teachers welcome performance assessments, when given the training to improve. The Science Center sees this in the enthusiasm with which teachers embrace the opportunity to become more effective through our professional development programs.
Much discussion focuses on the achievement gap between urban and suburban students. But even suburban schools do not compete well on a global scale, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Our nation’s achievement gap relative to competing economies is just as serious, which is why the governor proposes a much broader education reform. A comprehensive plan to better prepare our students for challenges of the 21st century is also critical to improving Connecticut’s ability to get federal education funds, such as Race to the Top.
The beneficiaries of success are not just the students, their families and their communities, but the teachers who will carry this achievement as a personal and professional legacy. Our collective legacy must be to assure that no discrete area of disagreement prevents the most urgent and promising components of reform from being implemented as rapidly as possible.
Matt Fleury of Hartford is president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center.
By MICHAEL SHARPE
Last week I was visited by dozens of parents, many of them parents of Milner School students.
As I listened to the group, I was struck by their desire to do more, particularly in terms of giving their children a strong foundation. They did not talk about teacher tenure, evaluations or last in, first out. They talked about their sons and daughters, and how like parents in suburban and rural towns, they have great expectations for their children. The only difference is that they know that our state’s historic and shameful insistence on maintaining the status quo puts their children behind the eight-ball in terms of getting the education they deserve.
Gov. Malloy has proposed legislation that would take steps to address Connecticut’s embarrassing legacy of denying equal access to children of color. At meeting after meeting, he is assailed by those who insist that poor, urban children cannot be expected to achieve at the same levels.
Malloy’s reform bill is not a perfect piece of legislation. However, it is a major step toward addressing the fundamental inequities in our current system, which for too long has dictated a child’s success based on Zip code. As a state, we have an opportunity to stand up for all children and make them a priority.
Our business leaders, criminal justice personnel and health professionals have warned us what will happen if we don’t.
Michael Sharpe of Hartford Resident is CEO of Jumoke Academy and president of the Connecticut Charter School Network.
Link to the article here.