Senate Approves School Reforms With Eye To Federal Funding
Grace E. Merritt and Amanda Falcone
May 01, 2010
The state Senate approved a wide-ranging school reform bill Friday that would require high school students to take more math and science courses and, for the first time, foreign language classes to graduate.
The bill, passed 32-3, also would link teacher evaluations to student performance and lift enrollment limits on charter schools. It's designed to better position the state to compete for millions in federal Race to the Top school reform funding.
Legislators and state education leaders have been working for weeks with teacher groups, charter school advocates, superintendents and others in "grueling" sessions to negotiate the bill, said state Sen. Tom Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the education committee.
The bill is expected to face a bumpy ride in the House, its next stop. The Republican caucus is reviewing the bill, said state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who co-sponsored the bill with Gaffey.
The bill establishes a more rigorous high school curriculum designed to better prepare students for college and to compete in a global economy.
The new standards mean students would have to earn a minimum of 25 credits to graduate, up from 20, including two language credits and one more credit each in math and science.
Students also would have to take end-of-year exams for core courses to ensure that they've learned the material. Seniors would be required to complete a multidisciplinary "capstone project" before graduation — which would spell the end of coasting during the second semester of senior year.
The new requirements wouldn't take effect until the Class of 2018, a concession made to make the bill more palatable to opponents who characterize it as another unfunded mandate in a poor economy.
"We certainly are not going to be in this economic condition … too much longer," Gaffey said.
Besides, he said, the bill is designed to help the state win millions in federal stimulus money from the Race to the Top competition, which officials hope might bring as much as $192 million to Connecticut.
Having failed to win any of the federal money in the first round of the Race to the Top competition, the state is revising its application to try again June 1. The state is hoping the new bill will strengthen the application by demonstrating the state's commitment to school reform.
The bill would also establish a new framework for teacher evaluations that would use indicators of student academic growth in assessing performance. The State Board of Education would work with an advisory board of representatives from teachers unions, school boards and state and local education leaders to develop the evaluations.
"I believe that this is a very reasonable approach to teacher evaluation at the present time," said John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the largest statewide teachers union.
The bill also would:
•Lift caps on student enrollment at high-performing charter schools.
•Create an alternate route to certification for school administrators.
•Allow struggling school districts to convert an existing school or build a new one as an "innovation school" to improve school performance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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