Malloy unveils education reform ideas for Conn.
HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut lawmakers will be asked next year to allow more state intervention in troubled school districts, more autonomy for high-achieving schools, changes in teacher evaluation methods to emphasize skill over seniority, more early childhood education services and other possible reforms.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy listed those topics and others as his highest priorities for the 2012 General Assembly session in a letter he sent Tuesday to legislative leaders.
He also sent copies to 44 education groups, state agencies and other organizations for whom Connecticut's education system is the central focus of their work or a major portion -- a move that some saw Tuesday as a clarion call to start preparing now for changes being proposed in the session when it starts in February.
Malloy and legislators have said the 2012 session will focus heavily on education reform, and new Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has been meeting with school leaders, parents and others statewide for their input in recent weeks.
Malloy's priorities in his Tuesday letter echoed several themes that Pryor has mentioned in those visits: the desire to reduce red tape for high-performing districts, the need to get resources to struggling districts, state support to help them improve and the overriding concern: closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students, and between white and minority students.
Pryor said Tuesday that his visits and conversations with professional groups, school leaders and others have been "enormously constructive," and that the reforms may manifest themselves in legislation, state Board of Education policies and changes in how his department operates.
"In all of these cases there's interest in these subjects, and in each of these conversations there seem to be the potential for real proposals to evolve," Pryor said.
Malloy is convening a Jan. 5 workshop on the reform concepts he raised Tuesday, and the legislative session starts Feb. 8.
No cost estimates were released Tuesday on the ideas, which Malloy says he's asked Pryor to push as part of legislative proposals from the state Department of Education.
"Addressing these challenges will require Connecticut to embrace a real sense of urgency and a willingness to deploy bold strategies. ... We should not and will not accept half-measures and repackaged versions of the status quo," Malloy wrote.
He said the reforms will "authorize the intensive interventions and enable the supports" needed to turn around low-performing schools and districts. He did not say whether it would go beyond the current law that allows the state to dismiss and reconstitute troubled school boards.
That law was invoked last summer when the state swept out the elected Bridgeport school board and replaced its members with appointees as part of a state takeover. It has been challenged before the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case this fall but had not issued a ruling as of Tuesday.
Malloy says he also wants more access to high-quality early education programs, even though Connecticut learned last week that it had lost its bid for $50 million in federal Race to the Top grants for that work.
He said that rejection and other factors convinced him that the state has lost its competitive edge and needs to make drastic changes to improve its education system and produce students whose talents keep the state economically competitive.
Evaluation methods for teachers and administrators are expected to be among the topics reviewed as part of a push for what Malloy called "a fair system that values their skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure."
Teachers' unions have said they support the move to update evaluation systems and move ineffective teachers out of the profession, as long as the evaluations are fair and teachers get a chance to improve.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, didn't directly address the tenure question Tuesday, but said its leaders commended Malloy and Pryor for repeatedly reaching out to them in recent months.
"Teachers want to use their experience in the classroom to help the governor enact changes that will improve education for the students of our state, so we look forward to working with the governor and the commissioner on these issues," the group said in a statement.
The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, better known as ConnCAN, has strongly pushed for more seats in charter schools, teacher evaluations that consider students' achievements and other reforms similar to Malloy's concepts. That group praised his stance Tuesday, asking lawmakers to "meet the governor's challenge and come together around this bold agenda."
"This is the kind of leadership we've been talking about, and these are the kinds of policy changes that will catapult our students and our state back to the top," ConnCAN chief executive officer Patrick Riccards said.