Fresh from the train wreck of Hartford's transitional academy for troubled kids, I wasn't expecting much when I walked into a press conference at the Legislative Office Building last week.
But a few minutes in, I found myself mildly impressed by the educational reform ideas legislators were proposing.
On Thursday, pols from the Black & Puerto Rican Caucus announced to a surprisingly packed meeting room the legislation plan they hope will close Connecticut's record high achievement gap between minority and white students.
I know, I know — we've been here before. Sheff, anyone?
But as I listened to state Rep. Jason Bartlett present 10 fairly common-sense proposals, it seemed everyone was finally on board.
Well, almost everyone.
A day before the press conference, the teachers union put out a press release criticizing one of the key components of the legislation.
The parents' trigger provision, which allows a majority of parents in a failing school to petition for change, is the wrong choice for improving education in Connecticut, it read.
"We agree that parents should be included in the decision making process on how we help schools to succeed. This needs to be done in a way that invites and empowers participation by all vested parties. Unfortunately, a 'parent trigger' limits that involvement to just a signature."
Nothing like a little accountability to scare the bejesus out of those tenured union types.
A better idea, the state's American Federation of Teachers insists are CommPACT Schools where a coalition of students, teachers, parents, teacher unions and you name it take part in the decisions about the schools.
Look, collaboration is fine. But parents don't just need a voice, they need power.
And I just don't see why teachers or schools committed to educating children would have anything to fear in giving the largest stakeholders the power to replace a principal or even close a school that's not doing right by their children.
Do you think Hartford's dysfunctional transitional academy would be allowed to repeatedly neglect its students if parents had that power?
More than reform bills, willing legislators and school administrators, it's going to take parents to drive real reform.
At the press conference, an infectiously enthusiastic Gwen Samuel of the State of Black Connecticut Alliance, called out to parents in the audience.
"This is totally unacceptable and we have the power to change it," she said. "Parents, we have a role to play and we're ready to play our part."
Accountability and creativity are exactly what we need to end the disaster that passes for an education in Connecticut's 185 failing schools.
And this legislation actually offers some good ideas — rewarding teachers who do their jobs, grooming talented teachers into principals, offering online courses — that don't take a lot of money.
Not that money isn't behind this roar to action.
As much as I like these ideas, it's hard not to be a little cynical.
Sure it looks like everyone's getting on board, but they're also doing so because there's big pot of federal Race to the Top money at stake. The state is hoping for $192.7 million.
Isn't it amazing how quickly things become a priority when there's money to be had.
But then, who cares what the motivation is — as long as we finally close our state's disgraceful achievement gap.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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