Reform Advocates Criticize Latest Education Bill As A Major Step Back
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
April 26, 2012
Advocates for education reform say the latest version of a reform bill is "a major step back" that appears to strip the education commissioner of the powers needed to turn around low-performing schools — authority that was included in Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's original bill.
"It's almost written as if one is trying to coax out a veto from the governor," said Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of ConnCAN, a New Haven-based advocacy group. "For those who thought the second version is a major step back, this is yet another major step back."
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said the revised bill "really takes away from the authority the commissioner needs to have if we are going to make a difference in these schools."
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, a member of the education committee, defended the latest revision of the bill as a "good middle step" that gives the education commissioner "latitude" to turn around low-achieving schools.
"This narrative that we are tying the commissioner's hands is wrong," Bye said. The changes in the commissioner's authority in the revised bill were made, she said, to "make sure we don't give too much discretion to one person. We're trying to put oversight in place."
She also said the suggestion that lawmakers oppose education reform "is really off base. It's so frustrating because there is a lot of emphasis on reform."
After many hours of negotiations with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administrative staff, legislative leaders prepared a revised bill, and a summary prepared by the Office of Legislative Research has circulated in the Capitol since Wednesday night. Legislators gave the draft to Malloy's staff on Wednesday to review. The bill itself has not been publicly available, and many legislators say they haven't seen it yet.
In an e-mail Thursday, Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser, said the bill is "a work in progress."
He declined to say more, as have others involved in the negotiations.
"Yes, for now, the people in the room have agreed to keep the details of those conversations in the room — because that's really the only way you can negotiate," Occhiogrosso said in the e-mail. "But we continue to take into account the views and concerns of all key stakeholders."
Five legislative leaders and education committee members either declined to discuss the latest revision of the bill or did not respond to a request for comment.
Riccards said he is concerned that the "cone of silence" surrounding negotiations on the bill could lead to a situation similar to last month, when education committee members had little time to review the first revision of Malloy's bill — prepared by committee leaders — before voting on it.
He also said the unavailability of the entire draft must mean that it's a "troubling bill."
Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford and vice chairman of the education committee, called the revised bill "a work in progress. That's the way to explain it to you."
McCrory, a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said: "I can assure you the caucus will be in the decision-making process" as the bill continues to evolve. "I'm going to do everything possible to make sure the children's voices are heard."
He said he's certain that the current version of the education bill will not be the last.
Malloy's original bill proposed limiting the influence of unions and collective bargaining in a network of low-performing schools, to allow for more flexibility in turning them around. But the latest revision preserves the unions' power in schools chosen for the network.
The summary of the bill became available as nearly 2,000 teachers rallied over two days at the Capitol. Critics say the Connecticut Education Association exerted undue influence on lawmakers and that the bill as revised would hamstring any hopes for progress in the state's lowest-performing schools.
Cirasuolo said the bill now requires so much negotiation with the teachers union in a network school that it could effectively block a turnaround strategy.
Advocates also expressed concern about the proposed teacher evaluation pilot program in 10 districts — five using the teacher evaluation framework developed earlier this year and approved by the state Board of Education, and five using a new model to be developed by UConn's Neag School of Education.
Cirasuolo questioned including a teacher evaluation model by Neag. "As far as I know, it doesn't exist," he said.
Riccards said the most positive aspect of the bill is the inclusion of 1,000 new early preschool slots.
The bill also requires public schools to include 20 minutes of physical exercise in each regular school day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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