College students who support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform package highlighted the importance of school choice, improved curriculum, and tenure reform at a Capitol rally Thursday.

During a six minute speech, Malloy echoed the students’ cries for more stringent teacher evaluations, creative teacher training programs, and copying successful schools’ curricula. He framed his reform efforts as a willingness to make difficult choices.

“We know what works, in many of the 30 districts that are low performing districts, there are schools even in those districts that are superior and are producing superior results,” Malloy said.

Malloy’s remarks come as his administration is negotiating the details of the proposal with lawmakers behind closed-doors. The state’s two teacher unions have maintained their opposition to his proposal, which they say favors monied interests.

“Unfortunately, Governor Dannel P. Malloy didn’t listen to our teachers when he developed his education proposal,” says a Connecticut Education Association ad that was published Tuesday in the Hartford Courant. “Instead, the governor seems to have taken direction from an odd collection of right-wing foundations, corporate and hedge-fund CEOs, education consultants, and self-interested, for-profit charter school advocates.”

Malloy disagrees that his package goes after public school teachers or unions.

“This package that we put together will move Connecticut from where it is in the back of the pack to where it should be at the front of the classroom,” Malloy said Thursday.

America’s emphasis on quality education, Malloy said, supported its position as a world leader, and now that that emphasis is declining, so too is America’s influence on the world stage.

“What has supported our development, what has supported our leadership in the world was a great public education system that served all of the needs of our population,” Malloy said. “But somehow, in the intervening generations, we have failed to do that and have found that an acceptable excuse must exist for our failures.”

The students who spoke at the rally emphasized the unfairness of allowing thousands of inner-city students to flounder in inadequate public schools while the lucky few are granted the opportunity to attend a magnet school where challenging curriculum and caring teachers will help adequately prepare them for college.

Michael Daley and Taylor Miller, both juniors at the University of Hartford who graduated together from Capitol Preparatory Magnet School in 2009, shared their parallel stories about the educational advantages they gained by moving from inner-city public schools to magnet schools.

“Connecticut holds a special place in my heart. I am asking for a reason to stay because I want to be here, but why would I subject my future family to an education system that neglects to place the very best educators in front of my child?” Daley said.

Daley began elementary school at the age of 5 as a student at Annie Fisher Elementary School in Hartford. He described his time at the school as happy and carefree: he received As and Bs and made many friends.

At the end of fifth grade, Daley qualified for a program that would allow him to attend Granby Memorial Middle School, a school in a more affluent suburb where he would receive a better education.

But he was discouraged when he realized that there was a profound gap between his education and that of his suburban peers.

Daley remembers feeling ashamed when, on the first day of Geography class, he couldn’t name the different continents on a map, or any of the United States’ 50 capitals. He eventually was asked to repeat the sixth grade, and then placed in a special education class.

“It was humiliating, extremely devastating and tremendously discouraging. In Hartford I had thought I was on track to receive a complete and competitive education,” Daley said. “But by the standards set by a wealthy suburb, I was drastically behind in my learning.”

Unlike many students in a similar situation, Daley persevered. After working hard to bring his grades up in middle school, he went on to attend Capitol Prep, where several dedicated teachers helped prepare him to attend college.

“I know the power of great teachers because without them, I wouldn’t be speaking to you know as a junior in college,” Daley said.

Taylor Miller attended Batchelder Elementary School, where she said she was not challenged academically, was given no incentives to succeed, and did not identify with a positive role model.

Her situation drastically improved after she transferred to Hartford Middle Magnet School on Vernon Street, where she said she found caring staff. She eventually felt she could look up to her teachers.

“Those are the teachers that go above the requirements of their profession; those are the teachers who are exceptional,” Miller said.

The strenuous curriculum at Hartford Magnet forced her to develop the presence of mind required to persevere through difficult circumstances and succeed.

“If it wasn’t for that turnaround in my education, I would not be speaking to you here today or be receiving my amazing college education,” Miller said.