Since announcing 2012 would be the year for education reform Gov. Dannel P. Malloy set his sights on the state’s lowest performing school districts. That’s where he wants to focus the state’s resources.
There are about 30 districts which fall into this category and they educate about 41 percent of the state’s children, Malloy said Monday at a press conference at SAND Elementary School in Hartford.
“This is not just an issue of education it gets to the core of our effort to promote economic development. We must prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow,” Malloy said. “The key to taking on this challenge is to take on the elephant in the room, our state’s low performing schools.”
In order to solve the problem Malloy proposes setting up a Commissioner’s Network where low performing schools would voluntarily participate and allow the state to take over their schools or help them partner with universities or other regional education centers to implement turnaround interventions.
Malloy proposes using nearly $25 million to transform 25 schools over the next two years.
“We will not tolerate, year after year, the same schools being on the bottom of the pile,” Malloy said.
But just how far is he willing to take his ideas about change?
Malloy admitted that the proposal has the potential to change current collective bargaining agreements, but those changes would likely be minor in nature and would come with additional compensation for teachers who may be asked to lengthen the school day.
Malloy argued there’s no teacher that wants to go to a failing school.
“To some extent we need to hold up a mirror and have everyone look in it and say, ‘are you going to tolerate failing schools because of some prior agreement?’” Malloy said.
He said his proposal doesn’t necessarily mean collective bargaining agreements would need to be changed, but he expressed confidence that teachers would support whatever is needed to bring about change.
“We know what works we just lack the will to implement it,” Malloy said.
Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she welcomed Malloy’s proposal Monday and would gladly participate in the program.
“For five years we’ve been asking the state department to intervene. To either partner with us or to look at taking over our crisis schools,” Kishimoto said. “We get the same funding in our crisis school as we get for our highest performing school, and so we can not turn around a school that’s in crisis alone.”
But it’s not only a stick approach.
The package also includes rewards for schools that improve their performance over a three year period. Those schools will receive grant awards and be asked to partner with other low performing schools to share their successes.
Malloy said these steps will help support the state’s effort to qualify for a waiver from federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act. The State Department of Education plans on applying for this waiver on Feb. 21.
The state will also launch a $300,000 pilot program to prepare students to read proficiently by grade three.
The proposal comes hours after Malloy announced Monday that he was increasing funding for charter school students, a proposal that was met with skepticism by some who worry about how local school districts will be able to find the additional $1,000 per pupil to pay for it.
“We find it noteworthy that the governor wants to divert precious local education dollars to promote local district charter schools—an undertaking that cities and towns have not embraced to date under the weight of increased local demands and diminished resources,” Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said Monday.
“As a member of the state ECS Task Force, I express sincere caution at the governor’s proposal to take funding from already strapped neighborhood schools and direct it to new charter schools,” she added.
Asked about how he plans on funding all the proposals he’s put forth and how each would fit into the Education Cost Sharing formula, Malloy said, “stay tuned.”
“It’s a comprehensive package. It’s going to make people uncomfortable. It’s going to point out deficiencies,” Malloy said of his overall education package which he’s been rolling out over the past week.
Malloy will unveil one more piece of his education puzzle at noon Tuesday.