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Superintendents Call For Eliminating Lifetime Tenure For Teachers

Sweeping Set Of Proposals Would Replace It With Renewable Five-Year Contracts; Also Promote Personalized Learning, Flexible School Calendar, More Use Of Technology

Kathleen Megan

November 09, 2011

Connecticut's school superintendents offered a bold set of recommendations Wednesday to transform the state's educational landscape, including eliminating lifetime tenure for teachers, regionalizing school districts, personalizing education and making school calendars more flexible.

Heading into this winter's legislative session, which the governor has promised will focus on education reform, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents issued a report with 134 recommendations. The next step is to shape them into proposed legislation.

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the organization, said that for years schools have provided children with an opportunity for a good education, but now that's no longer enough.

"We have a new mission, and the mission is that every child has to meet rigorous standards in order to be college- and career-ready," Cirasuolo said.

"The school system we have now is not designed to meet that mission," he said.

People have to change the way they think about education, he said. Traditionally, he said, "time is a constant" in education, while "learning is a variable."

"We basically have the children for 13 years and how much those children learn over [those] years varies considerably. We need to flip that," he said. "Every child needs to learn what they need to be able to lead good lives, and the time that's needed has to be the variable."

So, for some students, Cirasuolo said, it's possible a shorter school year and fewer years overall might be necessary to get a high school degree, while for others more time might be necessary.

Perhaps most controversial is the proposed elimination of lifetime tenure for teachers, replacing it with renewable five-year contracts.

Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the state's largest teachers' union, the Connecticut Education Association, said: "We think that would invite all kinds of abuses and capriciousness and a lot of volatility in our schools."

She added the idea was "counterintuitive" to what's needed in urban districts, where teacher turnover is so high. "We are trying to get teachers to stay for five years in some of these more challenging districts. We don't think students and parents are well-served by short-termers."

Cirasuolo said the recommendation was aimed at getting rid of teachers who are "mediocre." He said that it's not hard to get rid of teachers who are incompetent, but "if you are mediocre and stubborn in your mediocrity, there is almost nothing we can do about it. We need to solve that problem."

Cirasuolo said that if someone has "a better way" to deal with mediocre teachers than a five-year contract, "we're open to it."

The group also called for more consolidation of school districts or for regional arrangements to ensure that districts have the capacity to offer students a broad array of learning options.

"No matter where the child goes to school," Cirasuolo said, "they need to have access" to options that match their personal learning style.

"The present division of local school districts into 165 separate entities…" the report said, "is economically inefficient and fosters economic, racial and ethnic isolation."

Shana Kennedy, interim executive director of the Connecticut Council for Educational Reform, said the report "is really encouraging." She said it was especially unusual to see superintendents recommend a strategy — regionalization — that might result in fewer school districts and superintendents.

"It's definitely not the approach we've seen from superintendents in the past — to be so proactive," she said.

The report was two years in the making, Cirasuolo said, "We brought in national thought leaders" to help the core group develop the recommendations.

The superintendents also are recommending preschool for all 3-year-olds, all-day kindergarten, more use of technology, as well as better training, accountability and evaluation systems for superintendents, principals and teachers.

The superintendents support a "graduated system of intervention" for districts that might need help. "You don't wait for it to be a disaster," Cirasuolo said, "before you intervene."

All state-mandated instruction rules would be replaced by mandatory student learning outcomes, the report recommends.

"We hold districts responsible for results but allow them to be flexible in how they reach those results," Cirasuolo said.

Levine said the report was "far-reaching" and overlapped with many of the issues supported by teachers, including the expansion of high-quality early childhood education and "wraparound student services" to ensure that students get needed health and social services.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the report was "a great service to our statewide school reform dialogue."

Pryor especially liked the group's emphasis on "differentiation," whether it means providing personalized approaches to learning for students or varying levels of assistance to school districts.

"Some districts may require a higher level of support and even state involvement," Pryor said. "Some districts may perform at a more optimal level if they are freed from bureaucratic restraints."

Cirasuolo said that evaluations of teachers, administrators and districts would be based on a broader assessment of students' achievement, not just test scores.

The superintendents group also would like to see school districts become "fiscally independent, so they have more control over their budgets," Cirasuolo said.

The report also calls for a different role for local boards of education, limiting boards to decisions on policy, the annual budget and the hiring, supervision and evaluation of the superintendent — "and nothing else."

Cirasuolo said this proposal would free up boards from having to be involved in decisions such as hiring a baseball coach.

Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, saluted the report as "very comprehensive." But, he said, "We do not think it would be helpful to put such a delineation of roles and responsibilities in law since they have to be worked out between individual boards and superintendents."

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann , D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, said, "I think it's an extremely bold proposal that questions most assumptions people make about how school systems need to work."

Cirasuolo said the recommendations grew out of work funded by the H.A. Vance Foundation, the William Graustein Foundation, Dell, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the state Department of Education.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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