In order to pass his education reform bill, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told a group of NAACP members in Middletown on Monday that he’s going to need their help.
“There are many great constituencies within the Democratic Party,” Malloy said. “Black men and women are one of those constituencies — another constituency are unions and one of those happens to be the CEA.”
The Connecticut Education Association is the state’s largest teachers union. It has been running television advertisements criticizing the governor’s bill. It is also one of the organizations invited behind closed-doors to negotiate the revised bill that was approved 28-5 last week by the legislature’s Education Committee.
“The CEA has taken a position that what we’re trying to do can’t be done,” Malloy said. “Even though they voted for an evaluation process. Even though their own website says that they would end tenure as we know it. Once they saw what change looked like they moved back.”
This bill pits those two constituencies against each other and forces the state “to decide maybe who we consider more important,” Malloy said, speaking from the pulpit at Middletown’s Shiloh Baptist Church.
“I gotta tell you, I think children are more important than anything,” he added as the crowd applauded.
To illustrate his point he reminded the crowd several times about how 9,333 students competed for 2,677 magnet and charter seats in New Haven.
“Don’t tell me that parents aren’t willing to be involved,” Malloy said, countering arguments he often hears about poverty and families being the main obstacle to achievement.
Jamilah Prince-Stewart, an advocacy associate at the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now and a New Haven resident, said the legislature’s revised bill “guts reform efforts,” when it calls for more studies of the bold proposals the governor put into his bill.
“There are parents who wake up every day knowing they send their child to a failing school,” Prince-Stewart said. “Yet, the new bill tells them they must wait another year before we can even talk about fixing them.”
Prince-Stewart asked what parents and others in the community can do to get the bill headed back in the direction Malloy initially proposed.
Malloy agreed with her that the legislature’s Education Committee gutted the bill.
“We have had at least a generation of study on this issue,” Malloy said. “We refuse to a greater degree than any other state in the nation to replicate that which works.”
A woman asked: “What can we do as Connecticut residents to get the legislature to change it back?”
Malloy’s response drew a smattering of applause: “People who represent urban communities should be shouting from the rooftops that this has to be done. This doesn’t need to be a dividing line. We particularly know we’re failing our children in the urban school setting. Some of the people who voted to gut the bill are from urban school systems, urban communities,” Malloy said, adding that if “they defeat this, they win it for a generation.”
Some, like Hartford Rep. Doug McCrory, agree with Malloy and are working to get the bill to look more like the original.
However, there were at least two members of the NAACP who disagreed that Malloy’s bill is better than the committee bill.
“Maybe those who voted against it, or who voted to gut it, were right?” Michael Jefferson, a criminal defense attorney from New Haven, told Malloy.
Malloy said he doesn’t believe that’s correct because “in private conversations they say the opposite and with other people in the room they negotiate the opposite.”
“Don’t all politicians?” Jefferson asked.
“Not this one,” Malloy replied.
Jefferson and Gary Highsmith, a principal at Hamden High School, were the only two to argue Monday that longstanding research on education seems to be ignored in Malloy’s proposal.
A national study found 83 percent of charter schools are no better than public schools, Jefferson said.
“That’s not Michael Jefferson. That’s not Gary Highsmith. That’s a fact,” Jefferson told Malloy.
Citing another study, Jefferson said merit pay for teachers does not work.
“You can’t ignore that, governor. The bill continues to ignore longstanding research,” Jefferson said.
He went on to cite other studies that showed families mattered more than schools for disadvantaged children’s achievement. Sixty-percent of what makes a child successful in school does not occur in the schoolhouse or the classroom, it occurs in the home, Jefferson told Malloy.
“I hope we can take the focus off blaming and bashing teachers for all that’s wrong with public education in this state and country and simply follow the research,” Jefferson said, drawing applause.
Malloy, a former prosecutor, waited patiently for Jefferson, the defense attorney, to finish. And then he let it rip.
“If you’re intimating I’m bashing teachers, you’re dead wrong,” Malloy said. “Or you’re not being truthful.”
“For you to stand there and say that not implementing an evaluation system the heads of both unions voted for is somehow bashing teachers — were they bashing teachers when they agreed to that?” Malloy countered.
Jefferson asked Malloy if he was referring to the evaluation process approved by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council. Malloy said he was.
Jefferson said that doesn’t mirror what’s in the bill. Malloy countered that it does and a back-and-forth ensued.
“Then why is the CEA up in arms about your evaluations?” Jefferson asked.
“Because they didn’t inform their members of what they had done,” Malloy responded.
The back and forth ended when Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile stepped in and broke it up by reminding the crowd that they were in a church.