Legislature Holds Hearings On A Dozen School Reform Options
Change In The Air
Grace E. Merritt
March 16, 2010
Hundreds showed up for legislative hearings on a dozen major school reform proposals Monday that would significantly change the way public schools operate, from the way teachers are evaluated to parents' ability to shut down failing schools.
Students, advocates and others filled four overflow rooms to listen to 62 people testify on the bills. Several speakers spoke in favor of changing the way charter schools are funded. Currently the state pays $9,300 to charter schools for each student who attends — significantly less than the nearly $14,000 average paid to a traditional public school.
Francheska Calderon, a senior at Amistad-Elm City High School, credited her charter school with changing her from an angry girl worried about how others saw her to a student focused on achievement. She said that 100 percent of her senior class has been accepted to a four-year college.
"Charter schools deserve to be equally funded, not just 75 percent of what traditional public school students are given," Calderon said.
Advocates, such as the ConnCAN education reform group, said the state pays twice for the same charter school student: once to the local school system for a student that the system no longer educates, and once to the charter school.
The proposal calls for school systems to pay for their students who attend charter schools, a formula that would require towns to pay thousands, even millions more to cover charter costs.
Another bill calls for teacher performance evaluations to be tied to how well students perform in school.
The bill calls for building a database that would track students through college. Evaluators would look at how well students performs to determine how effective the teacher is.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said it favors solid, research-based reforms but said that the proposed system focuses too narrowly on test scores and might "scapegoat teachers for society's ills." It would penalize teachers who, for example, have a gift for motivating low-achieving or difficult students, they said.
Another major item was the so-called "Parent Trigger" legislation, which would allow 51 percent or more of parents from a school that has failed to make progress for three consecutive years to petition for intervention. During the hearing, many testified that they felt parents have no say and have had to watch their children attend failing schools, sometimes for generations.
Others, including school administrators and teacher union representatives from New Haven, a leader in school reform, said a collaborative approach that ensured participation from teachers as well as parents is a more effective way to change a school.
Another reform would give state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan the authority to reconstitute a local or regional board of education in a low-achieving school system that has made no progress despite many incentives.
"We've got too many carrots in place and not enough sticks," McQuillan said.
Another would require high school students to earn at least 25 credits to graduate, including a credit in comprehensive health education.
Several speakers testified against the health education piece, concerned about sex education, a matter they said should not be state-mandated and is better off left up to local districts.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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