WEST HARTFORD—The size of the audience at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s second Education Town Hall swelled to nearly 400, which was more than the Charter Oak International Academy auditorium could hold. With so many still clamoring to get into the event, the West Hartford Fire Marshal had to turn many away.
The event was packed with teachers, who were largely unhappy with a handful of the proposals Malloy included as part of his 163-page education reform package.
Scott Minnick, a Glastonbury teacher and a member of the East Hampton Board of Education, told Malloy that education is like a camera tripod trying to balance the academic success of our children.
“We all agree that tripod needs to be fixed,” Minnick said.
“You’re trying to repair this tripod under the assumption that one leg should carry more weight than the other two,” he said.
The tripod consists of teachers and schools, students, and parents.
“I don’t understand how concentrating on the leg of the teachers is going to compensate for the weakness of this socioeconomic problem that exists,” Minnick said as he was interrupted by applause.
“I fundamentally disagree with you that we’re putting more weight on any one of those legs,” Malloy replied.
“You can’t deny that we have 30 underperforming school districts educating 41 percent of our students and employing 37 percent of our teachers. And you can’t deny that in each of those towns, or most of those towns, there are schools that are in fact working pretty well,” Malloy said.
“What we’ve been unwilling to do or unable to do is replicate winning experiences,” Malloy said. “If we don’t rally to the cause of doing a better job then there’ll be no reason for your children to stay here because there will be no jobs for them to pursue.”
“We cannot accept excuses when we are failing 40 to 60 percent of our students,” Malloy said.
Another teacher asked Malloy how counting standardized tests scores toward teacher evaluations will improve and enrich a student’s education.
Under the new evaluation system adopted by a state panel an administrator’s observation counts as 40 percent of the rating. Student performance counts as 45 percent, and parent and student feedback and school performance makes up the rest.
Malloy started by reminding him that the evaluation system he’s referring to was agreed to by both of the state’s teachers unions. Both unions continue to support the evaluation system, but have problems with how it will be tied to tenure, certification and wages in Malloy’s legislation.
Malloy said the evaluation guidelines adopted by the state panel put less of an emphasis on student tests than other states that have looked at this issue.
The teacher felt Malloy didn’t answer his question so he asked again for two very specific ways tying teacher evaluations and salaries will improve student performance.
“It forces people to perform to exemplary levels as opposed to non-exemplary levels,” Malloy said. “Recognizing teachers for their greatness and not requiring them to leave the classroom to get advancement. Number three making teachers happier understanding that every teacher is reaching to be exemplary.”
“I asked for ways it would enrich the students,“ the teacher corrected Malloy.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, whose job it is to handle the crowd at the microphone, jumped in and reminded the group that there was only a half-hour left and many more questions to be asked.
The crowd booed.
“If you just ignore me, you’re not going to get it this way,” Wyman warned.
Malloy jumped in and asked the teacher if he thought students wouldn’t benefit from having exemplary teachers. “Do you honestly believe that won’t bring about higher student achievement?”
“And if you don’t believe that won’t bring forth higher student achievement then what are we having this discussion for? Should we just maintain the status quo?”
The teacher felt Malloy was dodging his question.
“You might not like my answer but I’ve done the best I can,” Malloy said inviting the teacher to send him an email.
Aside from the teachers, West Hartford lawmakers like Education Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Andrew Fleischmann and Sen. Beth Bye were in attendance Tuesday.
Fleischmann said he took notes as teachers spoke and some of the issues in the bill he will be looking at include oversight of administrator’s conducting evaluations. He said daycare and family resource centers and the role they play are other areas he’s going to look at after Tuesday’s town hall meeting.
“There were a lot of good ideas that certainly I’m going to be mulling over,” Fleischmann said.
“I think it’s so important that the governor’s out listening and he’s really hearing where people are,” Bye said.
However, the legislature will also be able to make its mark on the legislation by changing or modifying parts of the bill.
“It’s with us now, so we’re all listening too,” Bye said.
She said the West Hartford delegation met with teachers over the weekend and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor Tuesday to talk about what they want to see in the bill.
Fleischmann very firmly noted that the legislature is a separate and co-equal branch of government.
“Folks elect me to exercise my best judgment,” he said. “So I’m attempting to do that with every section of the bill. This General Assembly is not a rubber stamp.”
Meanwhile, outside the event five Central Connecticut State University teaching students and their professor attempted to bring issues to the public’s attention that they felt was important. The five female students made a statement against standardized tests, while their professor offered to build charter schools on everyone’s property. He seemed to be making a statement about state funding for charter schools, but would not elaborate.
The students, who are just beginning their classroom observations—the step before student teaching—said they’ve seen seventh graders unable to employ basic math skills.
Kristina Tsantiras, one of the students, said the seventh grade class she observes is learning algebra tricks so they can pass the CMT’s, but only a handful of students can actually add, subtract, and multiply.
“It’s not fair teachers are pressed so hard to pass the test,” she said.
She said students are being left behind because of the emphasis on it.