When will Connecticut’s teachers’ unions come clean with Connecticut’s teachers?

For six weeks now, Connecticut educators have attacked Gov. Dannel Malloy and all those who are trying to bring reform to our classrooms for being anti-teacher. The root of this attack? A new teacher evaluation system that emphasizes student learning – specifically, achievement on state exams.

What we haven’t heard, though, is that such an evaluation framework is not created in S.B. 24, the education reform bill currently pending in the Education Committee. No, the teacher evaluation framework talked about so loudly was actually created – and approved – by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) on January 25 and adopted by the State Board of Education on February 10.

Moreover, the seven-member PEAC – which includes the executive directors of both the American Federation of Teachers–Connecticut (AFT) and the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) – approved the evaluation framework with no objection.  Both unions provided their full support of the evaluation guidelines.

In fact, when the guidelines were approved by the PEAC, the CEA wrote on its blog:

A council working to develop new educator evaluation guidelines reached favorable consensus today on a basic framework that will meet the needs of Connecticut teachers. CEA has been a strong advocate for teachers as a member of the state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) that has been meeting for over a year…CEA’s voice on the council has resulted in a framework which is consistent with the goal of elevating the teaching profession by holding everyone accountable, while producing a new evaluation system that is fair, valid, reliable, and useful.”

And according to the Connecticut Mirror’s January 25 report on the adoption of the PEAC guidelines:

…both the state’s teachers’ unions said Wednesday they are on board with this plan. ‘This is very robust,’ Mary Loftus Levine, head of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said of the plan. ‘This is a pretty good plan,’ agreed Sharon Palmer, leader of the state’s American Federation of Teachers chapter. “Yes, student improvement and growth is playing a huge role, but it’s factoring it in in a fair way.”

Yes, in January both teachers unions were on board with the evaluation framework they helped develop. Yet today, neither is willing to admit it to their members. When teachers shout down Malloy at town hall meetings for saying the AFT and CEA spent almost two years developing the very evaluation frameworks he is enacting, the unions stay silent. When Malloy is called a “liar” for saying the unions approved the evaluation plan, neither state union steps in to correct the record. 

Let there be no mistake. If S.B. 24 is killed and 2012 is no longer the Year for Education Reform, the new teacher evaluation plan is still law.  It has already been enacted by the State Board of Education, just as the PEAC – including AFT and CEA – requested.  Teachers will still be evaluated. They will be evaluated every year.  And nearly half of that evaluation will be based on student performance, as it should be given that the goal of an education system is to educate students. 

For more than a month now, we have been chasing after red herrings, as accusation after accusation regarding evaluation has been hurled. Talking points from the CEA itself have targeted how unfair the evaluation framework is, ignoring that they were one of its architects and was involved in developing it every step of the way.  Teachers have been misled into action, as leaders have preyed on teachers’ understandable fears and used “unfair” evaluations as a common enemy.

There is much in S.B. 24 that demands debate and discussion. Without question, the voices of Connecticut’s educators should be heard during such a debate. But that discussion should be well informed and based on fact. We should be debating how best to turn around our lowest performing schools. We should be detailing how best to get every child reading by the end of third grade.  And we certainly should be highlighting how to ensure all educators have the supports and professional development they need to do what we are asking of them in the classroom.

But we do real damage to the system and to a shared commitment to our students when we choose to ignore the facts or refuse to acknowledge responsibility just to score a political point.

The record is clear. The state – under the leadership of a small council that included both the AFT and the CEA – developed a new evaluation framework for all teachers. That framework emphasizes student performance above all else.  And that framework was adopted by the PEAC without objection.

The AFT and CEA have an obligation to represent their members and their interests with true zealousness. We should expect no less. But how can the unions negotiate in good faith on any topic when they refuse to acknowledge such negotiations to their membership, as we are now seeing on their agreement on teacher evaluation?  And if they won’t be honest with the tens of thousands of hard-working teachers on an issue like evaluation, what else will they deny or obfuscate?

Patrick Riccards is the CEO of ConnCAN, a statewide education reform advocacy organization.