Just a quick note of apology to loyal Eduflack readers. I realize that posts have been a little light in recent weeks. As I have been fighting the fight for school improvement in my day job, I’ve finally had to realize there are only so many hours in the day. Unfortunately, that has meant that Eduflack (and by extension, @Eduflack on Twitter) has suffered some.
Can real reforms, particularly those targeted at fundamental issues such as educator evaluation, be done in partnership with teachers, or must they be done in spite of teachers? This has been a question asked over and over in recent years, usual with a poor answer that gets us back to the same question.
Yet reformers like myself face a conundrum. Teachers’ unions are here to stay, and the only way to achieve systematic improvement is with their buy-in. Moreover, the United States critically needs to attract talented young people into teaching. And that’s less likely when we’re whacking teachers’ unions in ways that leave many teachers feeling insulted and demoralized.
The breakthrough experiment in New Haven offers a glimpse of an education future that is less rancorous. It’s a tribute to the savvy of Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and as shrewd a union leader as any I’ve seen. She realized that the unions were alienating their allies, and she is trying to change the narrative.
It is quite clear that student assessments are quickly becoming the driving force in public education. In state after state, we are now using student assessment to drive funding, teacher evaluation, and institutional direction. While many may squabble on what types of assessments to take and how to apply them, there is no denying that student assessment is now ruling the day.
Does tenure reform denigrate the teaching profession? Earlier this week, Eduflack spotlighted teacher tenure proposals offered up in Connecticut. The significance of this is that Connecticut is a true-blue state, Dem legislature, Dem governor, with strong teachers unions. So efforts to eliminate “life-long tenure” demand one stand up and take notice.
What does tenure reform look like, particularly in a blue state with strong teachers unions? Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy offered up a glimpse of the future of tenure today as part of his State of the State Address.
But we must do one more thing.I’m a Democrat. I’ve been told that I can’t, or shouldn’t, touch teacher tenure. It’s been said by some that I won’t take on the issue because it will damage my relationship with teachers.If the people in this chamber — and those watching on TV or online, or listening on the radio – if you’ve learned nothing else about me in the past 13 months, I hope you’ve learned this: I do what I say I’m going to do, and I do what I think is right for Connecticut, irrespective of the political consequences.And so when I say it’s time we reform teacher tenure, I mean it.And when I say I’m committed to doing it in the right way, I mean it.Since 2009, 31 states have enacted tenure reform, including our neighboring states of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. It’s time for Connecticut to act.For those watching or listening who don’t know what tenure is, it’s basically job security. Let me explain.Right now, if you’re a teacher and you have tenure, your performance in the classroom has to be rated “incompetent” before a dismissal process can even begin. Even then – even if you’re rated “incompetent” – it can take more than a year to dismiss you.And to earn that tenure – that job security – in today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.The bottom line? Today tenure is too easy to get and too hard to take away.I propose we do it a different way. I propose we hold every teacher to a standard of excellence.Under my proposal, tenure will have to be earned and re-earned. Not earned simply by showing up for work – earned by meeting certain objective performance standards, including student performance, school performance, and parent and peer reviews.And my proposal says, you should not only have to prove your effectiveness once, after just a few years in the classroom. My proposal says that if you want to keep that tenure, you should have to continue to prove your effectiveness in the classroom as your career progresses.I’m trying to be careful in explaining this tenure reform proposal because I know there are those who will deliberately mischaracterize it in order to scare teachers. So let me be very clear: we are not talking about taking away teachers’ rights to a fair process if an objective, data-driven decision is made to remove them from the classroom.I believe deeply in due process.I believe just as deeply that we need to ensure that our children are being taught only by very good teachers.So for those teachers who earn tenure – by proving that they are effective teachers – it’s the job of the local school district to make sure that you have every chance to continue to succeed. That means that if you start to struggle at any point after you’ve earned tenure, the district will provide support and professional development to help get you back on track.And finally, my proposal says that we need to do a better job of recognizing our great teachers. That’s why I’m proposing to allow local school districts, if they so choose, to provide career advancement opportunities and financial incentives as a way of rewarding teachers who consistently receive high performance ratings.Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to have this discussion about tenure and I’m confident we can put in place a system that best serves our students, and their teachers.Now let me be clear: in having that discussion, Connecticut will not join the states trying to demonize and antagonize their way to better results.And we won’t get drawn into making a false choice between being pro-reform or pro-teacher.I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I am both.I’m pro-teacher, as long as that doesn’t mean defending the status quo, and I’m pro-reform, as long as that isn’t simply an excuse to bash teachers.
Game on, Connecticut!
“For too long charter students have been second-class citizens in Connecticut and putting additional dollars is an encouraging step forward but it’s by no means the complete solution,” said Patrick Riccards, CEO of education-reform group ConnCAN.
One has to be living under a rock not to recognize that that education and jobs share a strong bond. As we look for ways to rebuild our economy and create new jobs, it is clear that reforming our K-12 education systems, ensuring all students have access to the knowledge and skills necessary to perform in our future economy, is a non-negotiable.
It’s shameful that we can’t fill open jobs in an economy like this. And it is deplorable that one’s ability to get a strong public education depends, in large part, on race, family income, or zip code. We have no excuse for not preparing our kids, all of our kids, to meet the demands of a 21st century economy. Education is an economic development strategy – the best one that’s out there. We should be redoubling our efforts to ensure that policy makers see economic development and education as two sides of the same coin, and look to them to guide states, localities, and the nation toward meaningful reforms that will prepare all of our kids for college, career, and a productive life.