Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Remedial Help Are Among Areas Still Needing Improvement
September 17, 2013
A school-reform group is giving the state high marks for adding new leadership to public education, adopting more rigorous academic standards and tying tenure to teacher effectiveness.
But in a report to be released Tuesday morning in New Haven, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform says the state must go further and tie teachers' compensation to their performance evaluation, raise the number of children in pre-kindergarten programs and ensure that more low-achieving students get remedial help.
"This is a 10-year journey, it's not going to happen overnight," said Ramani Ayer, vice chairman of the council and the former CEO and chairman of The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.
The council estimates that about 30 percent of the goals first set out by the former Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement in 2010 have been reached.
"That's great progress for the first year," said Ayer. The reforms have been underway in Connecticut since the spring of 2012 when the state legislature passed a sweeping package of reforms proposed initially by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Of a possible 103 points, the business-backed and nonprofit reform group awarded Connecticut's efforts to date about 32 points.
The council gave a top rating to Malloy and to Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor for leadership and for Pryor's reorganization of the state education agency to include new leaders, including a chief turnaround officer who oversees the improvement of failing schools.
On the other hand, the council criticized the state for its lack of a comprehensive system of tracking student progress. Ayer said the council would like to see the state have a system that links student achievement to teacher performance and teacher preparation programs.
The council gave the state a top rating for linking teacher tenure decisions to a teacher's effectiveness, but the council said the new teacher evaluation should be tied to compensation. The council also said the state must improve teacher preparation programs and offer more opportunities for field work, particularly in high-poverty schools.
In certain cases, the council gave the state a low rating for reforms that are in the works, but haven't taken place yet. For instance, the legislation does require the development of a quality rating system for early childhood education programs, but the report said the system hasn't been implemented yet.
Ayer also noted that the state funded 1,000 slots for school readiness programs in 2013, but that it must fund 6,500 more slots to ensure that every child from low-income families can attend pre-school.
"That pre-kindergarten development is really critical," said Ayer. The council would also like to see the state strengthen programs that involve parents.
The council gave the state a strong grade for its adoption of the more rigorous Common Core State Standards and its allotment of $14.6 million over the next two years to implement those standards.
But the council said the state has to take more steps to intervene early and provide remedial help for students who are academically behind. "In this area, we really are not doing well," said Ayer. "Right now, it is haphazard, district to district. A lot of districts don't intervene and children fall behind."
The council also said the state needs to change certification requirements to encourage talented school and district leaders from out of state to work in Connecticut. In 2012, new legislation allowed the commissioner of education the authority to waive certification requirements for out-of-state superintendents.
But that legislation makes the waiver "merely probationary," the report says, "and it is limited by the caveat that such leaders must still complete a leadership course during a probationary period."
Instead, the council would like to see the commissioner given the authority to waive certification requirements for all experienced out-of-state school and district leaders.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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