This winter I laid out my vision to revitalize Connecticut's public schools. With our students' overall performance stagnant and our achievement gap the widest in the nation, I called for reforms potent enough to change the trajectory of education in our state.
In the weeks since, parents, educators, businesspeople, legislators, and even students have engaged in a spirited conversation. I've been encouraged to see that we're close to consensus on our shared goals: to make Connecticut a national model for closing the achievement gap and creating academic excellence for all.
As we move forward and continue the discussion, let's remember our shared objectives. And let's remember there is no single solution when it comes to improving the education of Connecticut's schoolchildren.
That's why I've put on the table a comprehensive set of proposals — to expand early childhood education, enhance vocational technical education, provide more resources to low-income school districts, support and intervene in low-performing schools, remove red tape, expand high-quality school models, and ensure that our classrooms and schools are led by great educators.
This last-mentioned point has generated the most heat, so let's talk about it.
In my state of the state speech I used some words to describe tenure that, taken in isolation, did not do a good job of describing my feelings on the subject. So let me describe my position in a better, broader context.
Our goal must be for every classroom to be led by an effective teacher, and every school by an effective principal. I'm concerned that our current system is a hindrance to this goal. At present, our laws do not tie a teacher's receipt of tenure to a robust measurement of his or her effectiveness. And a tenured teacher cannot be dismissed on the basis of low performance unless proven "incompetent." That's too low a bar.
The vast majority of our teachers are effective, have worked hard from Day 1, and continue to work to excel at what they do. But not every teacher in every district is effective, and every teacher I have talked to has expressed a desire to continue to improve.
I have proposed basing tenure decisions on our consensus evaluation framework agreed to unanimously by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council — including the leadership of both teachers unions. This will establish a fair system, one that uses multiple measures of student learning, observations of teacher practice, and teacher and parent feedback to determine annual ratings. Teachers will be eligible to achieve tenure in as few as three years and as many as five. Once they are tenured, we will expect teachers and administrators to maintain a solid level of practice.
I have proposed investing millions in an improved system of tailored support and mentorship to all teachers, especially when their ratings indicate underperformance. If an educator doesn't improve, and school leaders determine that a separation from service is necessary, then he or she will be entitled to a due-process hearing before an impartial arbiter to make sure the evaluation was applied fairly.
Teachers perform their work under difficult circumstances. If they are struggling, they deserve our support. But we cannot allow classrooms to be led by teachers, and schools to be led by principals, who are not doing their fair share. Allowing this to persist is a disservice to the vast majority of teachers who work their hearts out every day, and it's a breach of our duty to students and their families.
Reforms to tenure have already taken place in our neighboring states. We should take similar steps in Connecticut.
Yet we cannot ask for more from teachers without providing the support they deserve. My proposal requires that the state, superintendents, and principals do their part by training administrators to perform evaluations fairly, providing meaningful professional development, and improving teacher-preparation programs. And we will hold principals accountable for their performance using the same framework.
Some have suggested over the past few weeks that rather than reforming tenure we should be directing more resources to struggling students. That's a false choice; I think we should be doing both.
In addition to proposing to reform tenure, I'm proposing we send $50 million in additional funding to local schools. The vast majority of this money — $39.5 million — would go to the 30 lowest-performing districts, where it's most needed and will do the most good. And we will hold district central offices accountable for getting these resources into the classroom.
Every day Connecticut's teachers do far more than show up. They bring their energy and talents to bear for our state's most precious resource — our children. Teachers often struggle against resource constraints and dysfunctional bureaucracies. The changes I propose lay the groundwork for an elevated teaching profession — and for historic improvements to the education of our children.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote this piece for the Journal Inquirer.