State's Largest Teachers Union Calls For Tenure Reform, Universal Preschool, All-Day Kindergarten
Connecticut Education Association Says Teacher Evaluations Should Go Beyond Student Performance
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
January 03, 2012
HARTFORD— The state's largest teachers union staked out its position Tuesday on two issues that are likely to be hotly debated when the legislature convenes next month: teacher evaluations and tenure.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said every teacher should be evaluated every year based on multiple factors — not just students' scores on standardized tests.
In addition, the union also wants to streamline the process for dismissing an under-performing teacher, linking it to annual evaluations and making it less costly.
"Our mission is to make sure schools have the best teachers and the schools have the resources they need to be successful for all students," Levine said.
The union's recommended reforms on tenure and evaluations were discussed last year but went nowhere in a session of tough budget negotiations.
The CEA, which represents more than 43,000 teachers, announced its proposal just days before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's workshop summit on education, planned for Thursday.
Entitled "A View from the Classroom," the proposal ranges from ensuring that children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn to transforming chronically low-performing schools and enhancing parent and community involvement in schools.
But the union's efforts to shape the debate on teacher evaluation and tenure likely will draw the most attention. Late last month, Malloy issued his own principles for education reform, including a call for a "fair system that values skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure."
The union proposes annual teacher evaluations, using "multiple indicators of student academic growth … that go beyond achievement as measured by state scores."
Levine said: "We believe that it shouldn't be all about test scores. We know the public is getting a little tired of the feeding frenzy and the obsession with standardized testing."
In addition to their students' performance, teachers' evaluations also should consider their classroom planning and management, interaction with peers, professional learning and mentoring, Loftus Levine said. "We think everything should count."
If a teacher is under-performing, she said, training and support would be provided.
Then, if a teacher didn't improve after a period of time — not more than a year, Levine said — dismissal proceedings would begin.
The timeline would be reduced from 120 to 85 days or perhaps even less, and only one arbitrator, rather than up to three, would be required.
"We think that this will provide due process," Levine said. "We are not getting rid of due process."
Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of ConnCAN, a non-profit education reform group, praised the union for showing leadership and recognizing that the status quo will not stand.
In the past, he said, it seemed "that teachers' unions would fight to keep any teacher regardless of their effectiveness."
But Riccards said the union seems to de-emphasize test scores too much.
"I definitely agree they should have multiple measures," Riccards said, but "the most effective way to gauge educator effectiveness is on the outcome."
The governor's spokesman, Andrew Doba, said in an e-mail that the CEA's announcement "conveys their clear interest in being an important part of the conversation about how, not if, to fix what's broken in our schools."
State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said he sees much to support in the union's proposal and declined at this point to discuss his areas of disagreement.
The union's education improvement plan doesn't go nearly as far as the proposal the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents made in November, which urged the state to eliminate lifetime tenure for teachers and replace it with renewable five-year contracts.
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the organization, said Tuesday that he hadn't read the CEA proposal closely yet, but it appears to be "a small step in the right direction … I think we need to go further if the goal is to have an effective teacher in front of every child."
Sharon Palmer, who leads the state's chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 10,000 teachers in Connecticut, said the AFT agrees with about "99 percent" of the CEA's agenda.
The CEA also supported universal access to high-quality preschool, upgraded certification for preschool teachers and all-day kindergarten. It also recommended creating requiring schools to provide health and social service supports for students and families who need them, and creating employer incentives to encourage parents' involvement in school-day activities.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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