Christine Stuart photo
Teacher’s rally on north steps of Capitol (Christine Stuart photo)

About 1,000 teachers from across the state were bused to the Capitol Tuesday to express their displeasure with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform bill, which was modified in March by the legislature’s Education Committee.

Many were still bitter about Malloy’s opening day remarks about tenure when he said, “in today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”

—More photos

“It wasn’t the best way to open a wide-ranging discussion on education reform,” Jason Poppa, a teacher from Bridgeport, said. “But the remark is typical. Teachers are being vilified nationally.”

Poppa said he’s still not convinced the revised version of the bill is going in the right direction because it continues to rely on number crunching and test taking, instead of critical thinking and group learning.

The Education Committee’s revised version turns tying evaluations to tenure and certification into a year-long study, lowers the number of low performing schools the state can take over, reduces the three-level certification structure to two, and establishes a new “distinguished educator designation” for highly qualified and experienced teachers.

David Olio, an English teacher at South Windsor High School, said opponents like to say teachers want to keep the status quo, but “tying money to a job as a carrot is the status quo of capitalism.”

A teacher for 20 years, Olio said he wants to become a better teacher and build on his craft, but threatening him with losing his job isn’t going to work. He said he would like to see a more robust professional development system established in the legislation.

Annie Irvine, a third grade teacher from East Hartford, said she supports the Education Committee’s version of the bill because it looks at research-based strategies that work. She said she believes her master’s degree in reading education should count toward something, but under Malloy’s bill it wouldn’t improve her certification or salary.

Teachers also expressed concern about the closed-door meetings on the latest draft of the bill, which hasn’t been made public.

Sen. Andrea Stillman of Waterford who co-chairs the Education Committee and is part of those negotiations, said the bill is still a work-in-progress and she’s unable to speak about where it currently stands.

But Stillman did address teachers at the rally to let them know she was listening and thanked them for being teachers.

“Thank you for balancing the needs of the children in your classroom that are extraordinary,” Stillman said. “There are classrooms that are so diverse that I don’t even think the public understands.”

“They don’t,” a few teachers replied as the rest of the crowd cheered the remark.

Lawmakers are looking to the teachers for advice on what works in the classroom, Stillman said.

She told them they have overwhelmed her computer and her “very small staff” with their feedback on the legislation.

Along with Stillman, Senate President Donald Williams and House Speaker Chris Donovan also spoke and thanked the crowd for teaching the state’s children.

“I think it’s so critical that we hear from those that are in the trenches,” Williams said. “We can’t forget in what some have called the ‘Education Session’ in the legislature that we can not fix schools without listening to the people who teach our children.”

But the clock is ticking and it’s unclear how much more listening lawmakers can do before the legislative session adjourns May 9.

Lawmakers remained optimistic they will move forward with a piece of legislation, but it’s unclear if it’s something Malloy will sign into law.

Malloy reminded reporters Monday that he wasn’t the one who called for an end to “tenure as we know it.” He said that was CEA. He said he simply called for evaluations beyond the time someone obtains tenure.

“I want an evaluation system. That’s what I want,” Malloy said.

But the Connecticut Education Association said the governor is twisting its words.

“It is a fact that we agreed to a framework for evaluations, but absolutely nothing like what Governor Malloy has proposed,” Connecticut Education Association President Phil Apruzzese told the crowd Tuesday. “Let’s be clear that lumping teacher evaluation, tenure, and certification won’t won’t help our students.

“Here is another fact: That most of what the governor has proposed attacks teachers and our profession and does little to close the achievement gap,” Apruzzese said.

Malloy has previously said the Education Committee’s bill is “unacceptable” and told municipal officials he would veto it in its current form. But he said he’s willing to continue working with lawmakers on the issue.

“I think what would be best is to have a package that everybody can support,” Malloy said. “So I’ve not given up on that. We’ll continue to have discussions in the hopes that we can get to that.”

Christine Stuart photo
Teacher’s rally on north steps of Capitol (Christine Stuart photo)