(Updated 9:45 p.m.) Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley said behind jobs and the economy, Connecticut’s education system will be his next top priority.
“I hope I become known not only as the jobs governor in Connecticut, but as the education governor.” Foley said outside the Achievement First Hartford Academy Wednesday morning.
As part of his plan Foley said he would be taking a market based approach to education. His philosophy is that money should go to the schools that are performing and resources should be diverted from the schools that are underperforming.
“School choice combined with money following the child will result in funding going to schools that are performing well and away from schools that are failing, an essential ‘market’ element of improving schools statewide,“ Foley’s policy paper on the subject states.
“The problem we have right now is that our money gets directed to too many schools that are failing,” Foley said. “I would get money going to schools that are succeeding.”
The first thing he would do to improve Connecticut’s educational landscape is provide leadership and create a sense of urgency for improving K-12 schools across the state.
“I will appoint more reform minded and policy-focused members to the board of education,” Foley said.
In addition, he would promote excellent teachers and principals by requiring regular assessments of teacher and principal effectiveness to determine how much they are paid and if they are promoted. A move which is certain to anger teachers unions. Foley said he hasn’t had a conversation with the state’s two teachers unions, but welcomes one and understand there would probably be some reluctance to support his plan.
However, “I also believe teachers fundamentally go into teaching because they’re concerned about the interest of our children and making sure our children receive a good education,” Foley said. “If we have a policy that makes sense and we have aspects of that policy that clearly will benefit children, I suspect teachers and their representatives to support this policy.”
When asked about his opponent’s plan to offer universal pre-kindergarten statewide, Foley used the opportunity to criticize former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy’s record.
“Stamford’s neighborhood schools only have about 30 percent of their students at grade level.” Foley said. “So Stamford doesn’t have a very good record.”
Malloy’s campaign vehemently disputed Foley’s numbers by sending over a spreadsheet showing 53 to 67 percent of Stamford’s elementary school students performing at grade level in math in 2009 and 56 to 72 percent performing at grade level in 2010. Reading scores for Stamford were similar and ranged between 48 percent and 70 percent over the same two year period.
In the 2007 and 2008 school year 56.8 percent of fourth grade students in Stamford performed at or above grade level and in 2005 and 2006 it was 58.8 percent of fourth grade students.
Stamford Schools Superintendent Josh Starr said in a phone interview Wednesday that nearly 70 percent of the children in the district are performing at or above grade level. Any statement to contrary “is just a lie,” he said.
Foley also alleged that “Stamford actually has the largest achievement gap of any city in Connecticut.”
Starr said that was just a “bizarre claim” to make. He wondered what comparisons or numbers Foley was using to make that statement. Asked for clarification Foley’s campaign spokeswoman Liz Osborn said he was talking about the difference between 10th grade students who receive free or reduced lunches and the ones that don’t.
Starr said there are thousands of categories within each of the tests and anyone can create a lie about what’s contained within them.
Malloy, who prides himself in being the “chief policy official” in his campaign, said Foley’s entire plan showed a lack of understanding on the issue.
“To put forward an education ‘plan’ and not address the needs of young children, as well as high school graduates and adults seeking access to higher education, demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding that education is a lifelong process,” Malloy said.
Malloy unveiled his educational policy — the centerpiece of which was early childhood education — in June.
During the next seven weeks of the campaign, Foley said he will be unveiling one policy position a week. His campaign talked about education in prior settings, but this is the first policy paper he put out on the issue.