Connecticut’s 2014 legislative session was lively, with both defensive and offensive victories for those advocating to ensure that all kids in Connecticut receive a great education, regardless of their race or family’s income. When the legislative session began in January, CCER’s top two priorities were (1) to defend the education reforms that had been passed in previous years, and (2) to provide more children from low-income families with preschool opportunities.
As it turns out, these two issues dominated most of session. Both Common Core and the teacher evaluation and support system came under attack at the start of session, and Governor Malloy endorsed early childhood education as a top priority for the legislature in his State of the State address.
Defensive Victories: Common Core and Teacher Evaluations
The beginning and middle of the legislative session were largely taken up with defense of the Common Core State Standards and the teacher evaluation and support system.
One bill referred to the Joint Education Committee, An Act Imposing a Moratorium on the Implementation of the Common Core, sought to delay implementation of the new standards, in spite of the fact that implementation has already been well underway in Connecticut’s schools for years. In response to the bill, the Education Committee called for a public hearing, which was attended by approximately 300 people. On the one hand, the Committee heard the opinions of those whose opposition to Common Core stemmed from a misinformation campaign. On the other, the Committee heard from parents, teachers, business leaders, policymakers, principals, boards of education, and superintendents who described the ways that Common Core would increase rigor and opportunity. Through Common Core, teachers will have the chance to teach concepts in greater depth, helping children to master critical content and become college- and career-ready.
After the 12-hour public hearing, a moratorium on the Common Core became a clear non-starter.
Stakeholders in education reform also effectively defended another bill, An Act Concerning the Implementation of the Revisions to the PEAC Guidelines, which attempted to impede implementation of the new teacher evaluation system and to freeze funding for professional development associated with the evaluation program. Our system of teacher evaluation and support will increase accountability and improve classroom instruction by providing teachers with performance feedback and focused professional development. That will result in improved learning outcomes for kids.
Once again, a strong round of public and written testimony prevented this bill from moving forward.
In both cases, the General Assembly was being asked to delay or halt the implementation of improvements to the education system that were already underway. Make no mistake: this was an attempt to undo the progress we’ve made over the last few years. These were major defensive victories for Connecticut’s children.
Offensive Victories: Early Childhood Education
Children from low-income families often start out at a disadvantage; they are more likely to enter kindergarten significantly behind their higher-income peers. Ensuring that all kids receive the educational preparation they need to succeed in life is the only means by which the state can help to end this cycle of poverty. This means making sure that low-income children have high-quality early education experiences so that they enter school on equal footing with children from wealthier families.
This year, the General Assembly passed legislation establishing an Office of Early Childhood (OEC), which will consolidate the state’s early childhood programming under one roof so that a comprehensive menu of early childhood services can be effectively delivered in Connecticut.
Additionally, our legislators took meaningful steps to increase the types of preschool opportunities available in Connecticut. Governor Malloy took the important step of expanding his School Readiness Program, which funds 1,000 new preschool slots for children from low-income communities. Additionally, legislators proposed and passed new legislation called “Smart Start,” which is a grant program for districts that need funding to expand preschool services.
These are important measures that will help Connecticut to intervene before kindergarten. However, we still need to take additional steps to improve early childhood education: ultimately, we need to provide preschool opportunities to all children from low-income families, and we need a Quality Rating and Improvement System to ensure that early childhood programming is high quality and impactful.