In public discussion about complex issues, there is an unfortunate tendency to reduce the conversation to just one or two of the more controversial aspects. As a result, other components and the integral relationship between all of the components are often ignored. This is precisely what is happening with the statewide conversation about education reform and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's legislative proposals for fixing public education. People are talking only about tenure and certification.
The focus on these two elements of a comprehensive proposal has led to some taking the position that changes to certification and tenure alone will not raise the achievement of all children to acceptable levels. This assertion is accurate, yet it misses the point. Although those proposals may not be sufficient by themselves, they are a crucial component of an overall effort to ensure that all children will learn what they need to know.
Not only has the discussion been reduced from 163 pages of thoughtful, broad-based reforms to two words — tenure and certification — it has further deteriorated due to inaccurate characterizations of what the governor has proposed. Let's be clear about what's being proposed and correct some of the myths that have been propagated.
•This bill will not result in teachers being fired arbitrarily. The new evaluation framework, to which the teachers unions agreed, includes several objective factors for measuring teachers' effectiveness. Even the most ineffective teachers will not lose their jobs unless they have not responded to the appropriate support provided by the systems in which they work. In fact, the framework is built on the imperative to help teachers.
•This bill does not remove teachers' licenses even if they lose tenure. Tenured teachers who do not improve their performance and lose their jobs will not lose their licenses.
•Teachers will not be evaluated solely or even primarily based on the scores that their students achieve on state tests. In fact, these tests will not contribute at all to the evaluation of more than 70 percent of the state's teachers. For the remaining teachers, the state test results will not contribute more than 23 percent of the total evaluation.
•The teaching profession will not be denigrated by a scaling down of the importance of degrees in the certification process. Instead, the profession will be elevated when teachers receive and keep a license to teach based on evidence that they can do the job instead of verification that they have spent time in sometimes irrelevant classes.
•Teachers will be evaluated based on students' academic growth, not absolute performance. This approach will treat all teachers fairly, even those working with disadvantaged students who often start a school year behind their peers.
•It will be impossible to fire effective, higher-paid teachers in order to reduce school system budgets. The new evaluation guidelines require too much objective data that would have to be manipulated to do this.
We, along with other organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement, implore all of those working to improve the state's education system to assess what the governor is really proposing regarding certification and tenure, and then to integrate that assessment with the other key elements of that package.
We're convinced that if this is done, the vast majority of people will reach the same conclusion that we have reached. What has been proposed regarding educator preparation and certification; teacher and principal support and evaluation; the relationship between time and learning, especially in the schools and districts where students struggle the most; school and district accountability; and early childhood education will all benefit the children of Connecticut and need to be enacted this year — as an entire package.
If we do less than that, we will fail all of the children in Connecticut and in the process fail ourselves by compromising our future.
Rae Ann Knopf is executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. Joseph J. Cirasuolo is the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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