It took a total of two weeks for the state’s two teacher unions to tell lawmakers what they really think about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education bill. They don’t support parts of it.
“We have concerns, obviously, about tying tenure and your license to teach onto a yet unknown evaluation system,” Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said Tuesday.
Levine, who was the 48th of the 103 speakers to testify on the bill, said the CEA’s legal department has several concerns about what the legislation will do to the current collective bargaining contracts teachers have with their school districts.
The bill supersedes existing teacher collective bargaining law and instead links a teacher’s progression through the steps of their salary schedule to the new evaluation system. Last month the State Department of Education adopted guidelines for the evaluation system, but it has yet to be implemented at the local level.
Levine pointed out that even the Office of Legislative Research analysis points out that there are areas in the bill which are subject to interpretation.
“It is not clear if the new evaluation system and the resulting evaluations will be in place when the bill takes effect on July 1, 2012. Also, it is not clear if the bill can supersede the provisions of existing union contracts when the bill takes effect or if it is meant to apply to new contracts agreed to after the bill’s effective date,” the analysis says.
Under the current system, teacher unions negotiate the contracts that include salary provisions with local boards of education. The contract controls the progression through the salary schedule, but under the legislation the salary schedule will be based solely on a teacher’s evaluation.
AFT Connecticut President Sharon Palmer said that is not what happened in New Haven, where the teachers and school officials negotiated the teacher evaluation system through the collective bargaining process. The school reform model embraced by New Haven ended up becoming a national model.
That contract did allow for some teachers to be terminated based on their students’ performance.
The New Haven Independent reported in September that the new evaluation system pushed 34 teachers out of the school district. Teachers were scored on a scale from 1 (“needs improvement”) to 5 (“exemplary”). Teachers’ scores came from classroom observations and goals they set for their kids, based largely on growth on student test scores.
The legislation eliminates bargaining rights for the low performing districts in the Commissioner’s Network.
For the low-performing districts that are turned over to the Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s control, the state will get to determine how teachers and administrators are chosen and compensated.
The analysis says the bill also “greatly restricts collective bargaining rights” and adds that some of the bill’s provisions on collective bargaining are ambiguous.
Palmer said New Haven proves that collective bargaining “isn’t an impediment in any way.” She said they gave the teachers in the Elm City real professional development, and developed an evaluation system that gives them the help they need to improve. If they don’t improve they’re gone.
Palmer agrees with Levine that tenure shouldn’t be tied to certification because there are teachers who succeed in some districts and fail in others. She said the state shouldn’t be taking away their license to teach just because they don’t do well with kids in one district.
She said some of the teachers let go in New Haven may be successful in other districts.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, asked Pryor why tenure would be tied to certification since in other professions, like the practice of law, no one’s license is taken away when a company or law firm terminates their employment.
“Why should it be so easy for someone to lose their ability to teach?” Fleischmann asked.
“We are proposing that the evaluation system, and indicators of performance, be involved in the continuing certification process,” Pryor said.
He said the state was in good company in recommending that provision because 17 states require “evidence of effectiveness” to confer professional licensure for teachers.
“If you are a professional certificate holder and you slip in your practice and you have a single year of a lower rating than you’re typically accustomed to…that does not mean you lose your certificate,” Pryor said. “If unless you in that particular rating lost your tenure.”
He said a loss in tenure drops you down to a different certificate level.
“At that point have you lost your license to teach? Can you not be hired anywhere in the state? No,” Pryor said.
He said you would still be certified as a teacher and eligible to be hired by another school district.
George Gianakakos, a middle school science teacher from Bridgeport, praised the legislation and urged the committee to pass it.
“The bill is radical. Teachers need to be valued and seen as an investment in this country,” he added.
“I still don’t think the bar for teachers should be lowered to that of those who just show up to work,“ he said. “I think the standards need to be established and they need to be held for all teachers across the state.”
Others, like Cathy Delahanty of the Greenwich Education Association, believe the legislation “tries to do too much, too quickly.”
“It’s unfair to put a license in the hand of a single evaluator,” she told the committee.
Still others who testified at the day long hearing felt the legislation would be unfair to female teachers who may have to take maternity leave and have their classes be taught and their tests be administered by a substitute. Upon their return they would be evaluated on their students’ performance on a test they didn’t administer and lessons they didn’t teach.
The hearing continued past 11 p.m. Tuesday evening. A second hearing on other sections of the bill will start at noon Wednesday.