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Tenure Reform, Better Teaching Key To Better Schools

Evaluations: New Haven's new performance measures made teachers pick up their game

Hartford Courant Editorial

February 24, 2012

When New Haven instituted a new teacher evaluation system last year, more than 60 teachers were told they needed to improve. They were given help and put on improvement plans.

About half responded to the challenge, but 34, including 18 with tenure, were separated from the system. In addition, according to school officials, many other teachers picked up their game.

New Haven's school reform effort, done in conjunction with the local teachers union, has gotten national attention because it is improving the chances for children to learn. There's no reason not to bring these positive some would say radical improvements to the rest of the state.

Follow New Haven's Lead

A new performance evaluation system for teachers and administrators similar to New Haven's is at the heart of Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's education reform package, which was aired at public hearings last week. Though the rhetoric has at times obscured it, there is a real vision here, of professional, energized schools where teachers help each other improve and children from all backgrounds have the chance to succeed.

The reform bill can spur a much-needed resurgence for the state's public schools, a break from the complacent status quo that is seeing the state slowly slide into the second tier of U.S. school systems. The state must have educated workers; it must be back on top. Support for change has been growing; now is the time to pull the trigger.

The comprehensive package covers everything from early childhood education and changes in the cost-sharing formula to eliminating red tape and repositioning the vocational-technical schools. Many parts of the bill are not controversial. One that is involves basing teacher pay and tenure on performance rather than longevity.

After appearing to support changes in performance evaluation, union leaders balked last week, one saying the union had trouble tying tenure and certification to a new evaluation system that is "as yet unknown." Well, not really.

The Breakdown

The Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, created by the General Assembly in 2010, studied teacher and principal evaluation for more than a year before releasing guidelines on Jan. 25.

The council recommended that half of the evaluation come from such indicators of student learning as Connecticut Mastery Test scores; 40 percent from teacher performance and professional practice; and 5 percent from peer, student and parent feedback.

This was adopted by the state Board of Education and is the framework of the system. Pay and tenure will be tied to performance, as it is in most professions. Professional development will increase, in such areas as classroom observation and peer feedback.

It is hard to see a downside. One of the requirements in the New Haven model is at least three conferences a year between the teacher and his or her instructional manager, usually the principal, said Michele Sherben-Kline, who coordinates the evaluation program. In the past, tenured teachers might have such discussions once every four or five years.

Under the existing system, it is simply too hard to get rid of a bad teacher. In the 2009-2010 school year, out of a total active workforce of 52,300 teachers and administrators, only 53, or 0.1 percent, were terminated (though some resigned rather than face termination).

Perhaps more important, it's hard to get a mediocre teacher to improve. The prospects for both are much brighter with Mr. Malloy's plan, which also rewards exemplary teachers.

The governor's efforts to fix low-performing schools is also essential; 40 percent of the state's youngsters live in the lowest performing districts. The bill gives the state broad powers to intervene in low-performing schools. We can't keep pouring money into schools that don't work. Reforms in Hartford and New Haven speak to possibilities.

While there are still some parts of the bill that need to be clarified, it represents the best chance in decades to improve the state's public schools. The legislature should pass it.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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