(Updated 8:07 p.m.) It’s the year of education reform, but it’s also year in which the state budget is losing revenues leaving little, if any additional funding for big investments in education. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday that he’s going to start tackling the issue by reducing the “burden of red tape” and state mandates faced by school districts across the state.
The proposal he put forth Tuesday, while in Washington D.C., calls for simplifying the teacher certification process and giving local school districts greater flexibility to hire and develop teachers, “a process that is currently impeded by certification mandates.” He also wants to free districts from excessive and redundant data reporting.
Currently the state mandates school districts to fill out 35 forms with sometimes redundant information. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said he will cut that this year by one-third and it can be done without legislative approval.
But the teacher certification changes will need the legislature’s approval.
In a conference call with reporters Malloy said these proposals are just the beginning of the policy changes he plans to roll out on Feb. 8 during his state-of-the-state speech.
The proposals, especially the one on teacher certification, has the potential to ruffle some feathers.
Malloy’s proposal calls for consolidating the number of available teaching certificate at the initial level from three to one; changing the requirements for continuing education; increasing the districts’ discretion to hire teachers from other state by removing barriers to reciprocity; and establishing a new “master” educator certificate. The professional level teaching certificate will remain.
“This proposal puts the cart before the horse,” Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, said Tuesday. “Our focus this year is to improve education for everyone and that should begin with ensuring teacher quality by establishing rigorous teacher preparation, meaningful evaluation and support.”
Palmer argues that the ongoing Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) process, should be allowed to reach its conclusion before certification requirements are changed.
The Connecticut Education Association’s Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine agreed.
“CEA is concerned, however, that many of the proposals outlined in the governor’s news release today, would actually lower teacher standards at a time when we need to raise standards and accountability for everyone involved in public education—teachers, administrators, parents and students,“ Levine said.
“That’s why we support a Professional Standards Board for educators to set and maintain high, appropriate standards within the profession, and be held accountable for excellence, ensuring that our children have the most talented and highly trained teachers in the classroom,” Levine argued.
Malloy said he doesn’t support a Professional Standards Board and he’s made his position on that clear.
“That is not part of my initiative,” Malloy said Tuesday. “By the way that’s not new I’ve said that previously.”
But where there was disagreement, others found agreement.
The changes to teacher certification were praised by ConnCAN, an education reform nonprofit.
“As we saw with the guidelines agreed on by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council last week, this administration is determined to clear away bureaucratic clutter and ensure that the focus of state policies is where it belongs: on student outcomes,” Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, said. “Today’s announcement, particularly the governor’s proposals on teacher certification, represents another step toward this goal.”
In his conversation with reporters Malloy admitted his “comprehensive” education proposal, which he won’t reveal until Feb. 8 is bound to “rankle” some education stakeholders even if parts of it have already.
Palmer said based on the press release announcing the changes seem to be based solely on a survey of school superintendents.
“What’s more, only 15 percent of the respondents to the superintendents’ survey appear to be from school districts with the greatest need,” an AFT press release says.
“We are very disappointed that the Governor has chosen to base these proposals on the opinions of only the superintendents and not the 50,000 educators who are doing the work of educating children,” Palmer said.
The State Department of Education surveyed 157 superintendents earlier this year and discovered about four out of 10 doubted the education system will change despite Malloy’s promises of reform. Two-thirds thought the funding formula was unfair, and about 53 percent said they believe that existing education programs do not adequately prepare new teachers.
“Ten districts commented on the Department’s certification policies. Respondents noted that the certification requirements are too strict and that districts have difficulty certifying out-of-state teachers,” the survey found.
Mark Linabury, an Education Department spokesman, said the survey was a contributing factor, but it wasn’t the only consideration in the release of the proposals.
“Commissioner Pryor’s team has met with each of the teachers’ unions, AFT and CEA, more than ten times over the course of the last several months and has had constructive and collaborative discussions about the range of meaningful reforms necessary to move our state forward,” Linabury said. “In addition, the Commissioner has undertaken a listening tour across the state which has included teachers and union representatives in multiple settings and locations. We look forward to continuing to work with teachers and their representatives to fulfill the governor’s mandate for change.”
Perhaps even more controversial to the general population not involved in the education conversation is how Malloy plans on funding his education reform initiatives.
Malloy said he will be looking to “bend” the Education Cost Sharing formula this year, but he won’t be completely rewriting it because he’s promised to hold municipalities harmless in the second year of the budget.
Malloy said he’s going to concentrate on about 30 districts that need the most improvement and are having the most difficulty. He was unwilling Tuesday to detail how exactly he plans on getting there.