As Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy travels the state promoting his education reform plan, sometimes facing hostile audiences, the facts remain the same: whether one is a Democrat, Republican or Independent, we must all join together in supporting Malloy’s education reform legislation, Senate Bill 24. Passage of this bill is vital to improving the lives of all of our state’s public school children, especially those from low-income families. High quality public education is critical to supplying the skilled workforce we need to expand business in Connecticut

Here are a few of the ways this bold piece of legislation will improve public education in Connecticut.

Focus teacher development and retention on effectiveness rather than seniority and degree attainment. The current tenure system is driven for the most part by years of service and degree attainment. Nothing in statute requires teacher and principal development and retention decisions to be based on the intended results of their efforts – student growth and learning. S.B.24 works to correct that problem by relying on the comprehensive evaluation system recently developed in partnership with the CEA and AFT unions and approved by the State Board of Education, to drive professional learning, and retention, including tenure decisions. Related sections in this bill require the supports and professional development strategies necessary for supporting teachers in being successful with students who have diverse learning needs, particularly those children who live in families with low-incomes. The hope is that all teachers will receive more recognition and support for their hard work and will continue to improve with targeted professional development and training, even those who are rated highly.

Unlike most other professions, a teacher who is still rated as ineffective after a period of coaching support , will be able to challenge a termination decision before an arbitrator. Importantly, the arbitrator can only rule on whether the evaluation process was followed, not on the supervisory assessment itself (and not rehash its conclusions thus second guessing every decision made!). Because current research shows that effective teachers and principals are the key determinants in ensuring student learning progress and overall school performance and success, these modifications of the evaluation, professional development, and tenure system are critical components of any effort to improve Connecticut education.

One component of the sustained disparity between the achievement levels of low-income students and their peers is the number of low performing schools in Connecticut that have gone unchanged for several years. S.B. 24 authorizes using systemic interventions and models that have demonstrated success in Connecticut and other states with similar demographics. This provides the Commissioner of Education not only the authority to intervene, but the tools and resources to affect change in areas such as teacher recruitment development and compensation, curriculum, teaching methods, school schedule, family and community engagement and school culture. These are all necessary areas of attention in turning around lowest performing schools. Additionally, new school models such as public charters and magnet schools will be better supported as necessary options for creating more immediate results in schools where less intensive efforts have been unsuccessful.  Incentives will be provided to encourage the best teachers and administrators to teach in the lowest performing schools and districts.  A conditional funding program for the 30 lowest performing districts will require the district to develop a carefully thought out plan for improving student achievement and address areas ranging from early reading programs to extended learning opportunities, in order to receive additional annual increases in ECS funds.  Further, a competitive funding program will allow any district to seek grants to support innovative approaches to improving student achievement.  Over 100,000 students attend 135 schools in Connecticut that have been in need of improvement for over 5 years.  How long must the students in these schools be denied a high-quality education before we make the necessary changes?

Last, but certainly not least, we must address the early learning needs of the children who live in poverty. Research shows that there are substantial short-term and long-term positive benefits of preschool for all children, but in particular low-income children.  Unfortunately, about 9,000 Connecticut low-income children every year do not have access to Pre-K, which results in starting Kindergarten already behind their peers. S.B. 24 calls for funding more openings for these students in pre-school settings, the development of a quality rating system to help parents know which centers will provide most effectively for their child, and training to improve pre-K teaching.

For the sake of Connecticut’s children and our economy, the time to act is now.  Let’s get S.B. 24 passed.

Steve Simmons was Chair of the bi-partisan Connecticut Commission for Educational Achievement appointed by Governor Rell. He currently Chairs the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.