(Updated 3:13 p.m.) Connecticut education advocates, lawmakers, and union leaders presented a united front Thursday, just a few hours after finding out the state did not receive a $192 million federal education grant.
Gathered at a Capitol press conference they expressed their disappointment, but agreed to work together to secure funding in the second round of Race to the Top grants.
Sen. Thomas Gaffey, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said the major education associations in the state have agreed to convene a series of education summits and work together on legislative changes necessary to improve Connecticut’s second round application.
“Connecticut put forth a good application in the first round,” Gaffey said Thursday.
However, there was some criticism of the application by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, which pointed out that fact that the state left 120 spaces on the application blank.
“That was an observation about our application that has been the source of a lot of misperception,” State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said Thursday. “We needed to submit data on how we would be measuring highly effective and effective teachers.” He said the spaces were intentionally left blank because the state “had yet to develop the data system and the tool to report that out.”
The state was told “do not submit data or make it up simply leave those areas of the application free of information and note that these things will be developed overtime,” McQuillan said.
By April 15th the state expects to receive feedback from U.S. Department of Education officials on its round one application.
Alex Johnston, chief executive officer of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said there are already things Connecticut can be working on by looking at the success of states that did receive funding.
He said in Illinois they were able to pass legislation three days before the round one deadline that laid out a specific timetable for all school districts in the state to incorporate student achievement growth into the teacher evaluation process.
John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, was quick to point out that even states which did pass legislation to strengthen their applications didn’t receive funding.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with union representatives, Johnston said the Obama administration has been very clear about how this competition is structured and what areas the state needs to focus on to be successful.
“We’re going to have to come up with some ways to look at our system for looking at student achievement growth and connecting that with teachers and school leaders,“ he said. “The recent contract agreement in New Haven provides a very interesting and promising place to begin that search.“
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said Connecticut has come a long way in reforming education over the past decade, but it’s going to need to do a lot more.
“To win this next round of Race to the Top we’re going to need to do a lot more,” Fleischmann said. “We’re going to need to make sure our data system is implemented and actually tracking how students are doing. We’re going to have to make sure we do things with that data so that school systems, schools, school leaders, and school teachers are doing by their students.”
“Today’s decision is by no means the end of the process for Connecticut – or, for that matter, the many other states that did not make it past this first hurdle in the race,” Gov. M. Jodi Rell said in a press release. “But it is obvious that we will need to do better – and we will.”
The second round application is due in June.