Conn. Governor Pushes Aggressive Schools Plan
A confluence of circumstances in Connecticut is adding momentum to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's multipronged effort to shake up the state's education system by the end of this legislative session.
Gov. Malloy, a first-term Democrat, proposed in his Feb. 8 State of the State address to revamp the teacher-tenure system and tie continued employment in part to teacher performance. He also would place the state's lowest-performing schools in a "Commissioner's Network" that would manage them at the state level, and wants to ease the way for more charter schools to open.
At the same time, leading state education groups, including ones representing district superintendents and teachers, have signaled their willingness to embrace, in principle, the changes supported by the governor. Each of those groups has put together its own broad plan for changes.
And on Feb. 14, a coalition of education and business groups announced its joint priorities for the legislative session that also include changes to teacher-tenure rules and state intervention in low-performing schools.
"Very often, these reform proposals have been made in a vacuum, and then you try to bring everyone along," said Rae Ann Knopf, the executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a group of business and civic leaders. This year, in contrast, a number of groups had been working on proposals before the governor even made his speech, she said. ("Conn. Superintendents Push New Vision for Schooling," Jan. 11, 2012)
Overall, Gov. Malloy is calling for a $329 million adjustment to the second year of the state's biennial budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The adjustment would bring the second year of the budget to $20.7 billion in total, $2.8 billion of which is for K-12 education.
Of the proposed adjustment, $128 million would be devoted to education initiatives.
The changes being proposed are necessary for a "full-scale economic revival" in the state, the governor told the legislature during his recent address.
The most talked-about element of the governor's proposals has been his call to do away with seniority-based teacher tenure. But Gov. Malloy said he would not join the states "trying to demonize and antagonize their way to better results."
Connecticut teachers currently are awarded tenure after four years of satisfactory service in a district. Teachers generally are rated either as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
Under the proposal, teachers would fall into one of four performance levels: exemplary, proficient, developing, and below standard. The levels would be linked to a new evaluation and support system.
To earn and keep tenure, teachers would have to demonstrate exemplary or proficient practice, and they would have to maintain that standard. Districts would have to give support and professional development to teachers who started to struggle after earning tenure.
Mr. Malloy also proposes financial incentives for teachers with consistently high performance ratings.
To expand charter schools in the state, the budget proposal includes $5.5 million in funding to create capacity for opening new schools, including local charter schools, community schools, and five new state charter schools. The plan would increase the state's contribution for charter schools to $11,000 per student, from $9,400, with an additional $1,000 per student coming from the local districts.
Under the governor's proposal for a Commissioner's Network to manage the lowest-performing schools, the state would be a temporary trustee for those schools and provide them with intensive interventions and supports.
Louisiana has a similar network of schools with the Recovery School District, which oversees schools primarily in New Orleans. Tennessee, as part of its successful proposal for a federal Race to the Top grant, instituted an Achievement School District that eventually will oversee the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state; all are located in Chattanooga, Memphis or Nashville.
And Michigan plans to open an Education Achievement System in the 2012-13 school year, initially managing schools in Detroit and eventually expanding statewide. ("States Creating New Districts to Steer 'Turnarounds'," Dec. 14, 2011.)
Gov. Malloy's budget proposal also includes creating 500 additional preschool slots for children in low-income families.
Observers suggest that many of the governor's proposals could come to fruition because they have broad base of support. Both houses of the legislature are controlled by Democrats, and the business community and self-described reform groups have come together in support.
"It's something you don't usually see from a Democratic governor in a true-blue state," said Patrick Riccards, the executive director of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now.
"I love the direction [the governor] is going. He was bold; he was clear about his intentions," said Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. "I do think there's a legislative will to go forward."
Gwen Samuel, the founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, a parent-advocacy group, said she found Mr. Malloy's speech "refreshing."
"It didn't have a status quo flavor at all, which means we're in for a battle," she said. "We need to prepare ourselves. We know he needs our support."
Eric Excell-Bailey, the communications coordinator for aft Connecticut, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said his organization is happy with the idea of a new evaluation process for teachers because the governor's proposal is based on a system crafted with union input.
His strong concern, however, is about a provision in the governor's plan that teachers who lose their tenure also lose their certification to teach. Teachers who may struggle only in some types of schools, or who may be going through personal difficulties that cause their ratings to drop, should not be at risk of losing their teaching licenses, Mr. Excell-Bailey said.
"We've supportive of a lot of things here," he said, "but we have to do them the right way."
Vol. 31, Issue 21, Page 24