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A View of Malloy’s Education Proposal From The Classroom

by Natalie Missakian | Feb 28, 2012 6:29am
(10) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Town News, Cheshire, East Hampton, Hartford, Marlborough, Meriden

Lise Gagne photo via Microsoft free clipart

Amy Farrior, a first-grade teacher in Marlborough, was excited at first when she heard Gov. Dannel P. Malloy calling 2012 the year for education reform.  But then she heard the governor’s remarks on tenure, and how he suggests teachers can earn it. “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up,” he said.

Farrior says she was shocked.

“And hurt really,” she said. And judging from the talk in the faculty lunchroom over the last few weeks, Farrior believes many of her colleagues feel the same way.

“It really feels like teachers are the scapegoats right now,” she said. “Of course there are things that need to be changed, but this is not how we envisioned going about it.”

Malloy’s proposal to change how teachers earn and keep tenure is a key and controversial piece of a sweeping education reform bill aimed at closing the worst achievement gap in the country.

But Malloy put teachers on the defensive in announcing the plan earlier this month when he characterized tenure as job security that’s too easy to earn and too difficult to lose. As the details of his proposals trickled down to state classrooms last week, many teachers remained apprehensive.

Robert Willey, an art teacher at East Hampton Middle School and president of the East Hampton Education Association, worries that the debate will only fuel the wave of teacher criticism that has swept the country in recent months.

He said educators who oppose Malloy’s plan aren’t interested in keeping bad teachers in the classroom, they just want to make sure the process for judging and removing teachers is fair.

“Why would teachers, a group that is under great scrutiny, want to protect teachers that make everybody else look bad?” he asked. “That makes no sense. Teachers want good teachers in the classroom.”

Malloy’s plan would require teachers to re-earn their tenure every five years, based on evaluations tied largely to student achievement. Under the proposal, new teachers would get tenure after three years if they earn two “exemplary” evaluations and after five years with three “proficient” or “exemplary” evaluations.

Veteran teachers would need to prove they are “effective” — not merely “competent” — to keep their tenure and schools must provide support and training to those who fall short.

The plan also links a teacher’s certification to new evaluation guidelines adopted by the State Board of Education this month, prompting complaints from the state’s two teacher unions that Malloy was moving too quickly.  The evaluation system was developed with the help of the unions but has yet to be implemented in classrooms.

“We have concerns, obviously, about tying tenure and your license to teach onto a yet unknown evaluation system,” Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, told the legislature’s Education Committee last week.

Not all teachers agree. Megumi Yamamoto, an English teacher at Cheshire High School, said she welcomes the changes, saying they can elevate the status — and public perception — of teaching. She said many of her best students aren’t interested in teaching because it doesn’t carry the prestige of other professions.

“I would really love to see anything that involves making teaching more of a respected profession,” said Yamamoto, who is Cheshire’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. “If that has to be connected to a new system of evaluation or looking again at the role of the unions, I’m very open to it.”

Only six states currently require “evidence of effectiveness” to confer professional licensure for teachers, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. The report gives Connecticut a D+ for its teacher licensing policies, partly because the state fails to consider student performance when renewing a teacher’s certification.

Several teachers interviewed said they expect to be evaluated, but tying it to a teacher’s certification is worrisome because circumstances beyond a teacher’s control can profoundly affect how students perform.

“You have an urban teacher in a building that’s falling down around her ears. You have students in a revolving door and you’re going to be judged on test scores of kids who might not have been in a classroom for more than a month,” said Willey.  “Now we’re saying we’re going to take that teacher’s certification away?”

Melissa Bailey file photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor testifying in front of Education Committee

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor reassured lawmakers last week that teachers would not be banned from teaching based on a single poor evaluation. Those who lose their tenure could keep their license, but would be bumped down to a different certificate level. Under the plan, those teachers would retain their “initial educator certificate” — the same probationary license given to beginning teachers — and would still be eligible to work in other districts.

Maura Graham-Vecellio, a kindergarten teacher in Meriden who’s been teaching for 22 years, said the status of a teacher’s certification is too important to be left in the hands of an administrator.

She said teaching methods are constantly changing and administrators who are judging a teacher’s effectiveness may not be up on the trends. New national and state math standards, for example, call for a non-traditional, hands-on approach.

“An administrator might see a very noisy room where learning is taking place but not in a way that they understand,” she said.

Under the new evaluation system an administrator’s observation counts as 40 percent of the rating. Student performance counts as 45 percent, and parent and student feedback makes up the rest.

Willey remembered an encounter with a co-worker, a sixth-grade reading teacher, who was making copies of student reading materials in the copy room. Willey said he was confused because her stack of paperwork included reading passages spanning second- to sixth-grade levels.

“I said ‘Why all this different material? Don’t you teach sixth-grade kids?” he recalled. She replied that she did, but there was a wide range of abilities in her classroom.

“And they want to have your certification judged by that group of kids?” he asked her. “She looked at me with a very worried look on her face and said, ‘Yeah, it’s scary, isn’t it?’“

“And by the way,” he added. “She’s a hell of a teacher.”

As for Yamamoto, while she supports tenure reform, she said she understands why so many teachers are upset.

“I think that teachers are very defensive about our profession. It’s hard to not be — especially during budget times when everyone has an opinion about how they could do our job better,” she said.

“I understand the defensiveness, but I do think education is changing very quickly,” she added. “We need to embrace that in whatever way we can as long as we remember that the most important thing is what happens to an individual kid in the classroom.”

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(10) Comments

posted by: lkulmann | February 28, 2012  11:10am

I could be wrong about this, but aren’t the teachers getting a little overly anxious about their job security. Yes…you are responsible for educating our kids…I get it. As a parent, I expect it. Somehow the system has you believing that you are PERSONALLY responsible. This is more about management giving you the tools and training you need and expect in order to be successful in your career. THEY are the ones who should be worried about job security. Teachers are a reflection of education system and CT’s is not very pretty. The unions should be fretting about job security and protecting you if management is not doing THEIR job. I just feel like teachers need to delegate the stress they are feeling to management and to the unions. THEY are responsible for your success and job security. Your jobs are protected by laws…Demand better from management and let them fight FOR you. If that first evaluation says something like ‘little johnny can’t even hold a pencil let alone write his name…you are a bad teacher!’ your response should be ‘well I’ve been asking for adaptive pencils for him for months and I havn’t gotten a response from YOU. How can I be successful in my classroom if I don’t have the proper equipment?’ The superviser will say that ‘there is no $$ in the budget for adaptive pencils’. Then you will ask for that to be written on your evaluation for you to sign…DONE! Management is now responsible for your classroom success. THEY need to get more $$$ and buy the damn pencils so you can do your job…

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | February 28, 2012  2:57pm

@Ikulmann. Check this out. It was write by a Teacher. I agree with her all the way.

Exhausted Brooklyn School Teacher Asks, ‘Where Are the Parents?

posted by: Sue | February 28, 2012  7:30pm

Senate Bill 24 would:
1 – Replace state standards with subjective local evaluations by principals encompassing both certification and tenure.
2 –Establish a TBD evaluation ratings scale, and tie salaries to evaluations.
3 – Eliminate the need for a Master’s degree, and eviscerate state university training programs.
4 – Weaken due process.
5 – Minimize the scope of collective bargaining in schools designated as Network (low achieving) Schools.
6 – Eliminate a teacher’s role in professional development decisions.
7 – Eliminate appeal rights of non-tenured beginning teachers.
8 – Allow charter schools the ability to exclude SPED, ELL, low achievement, behavioral problem history, LD, and free/reduced lunch students.
9 – Increases state contribution to charters from $9400 to $11,000 with an additional $1,000 covered by local districts.

posted by: lkulmann | February 28, 2012  9:28pm

@3/5’s…I love, love, love your passion and commitment to these kids:P…BUT my above approach still stands. I’m gonna share a little secret with you…if my mother picked up the phone when I was in grade school, she would probably say she doesn’t speak good English and hand the phone to ME! With that said, some parents are part of the problem. YOUR job is to pass that along to Social Services or a guidance counselor and move on. IMO you are a role model to inspire learning and to get into that kids head. Get them excited about learning.  If its a social issue, its out of your hands. LET ANCILLARY STAFF DEAL WITH IT!!! That’s why they make the big bucks! In my situation, I did really well in the nurse aide class in junior and senior year. I was motivated by a teacher and I learned to like learning. That’s all you can do…forget about the parents…motivate the kid. You’ll probably live longer too:)  if it comes back to you in your evaluation, you addressed the issues that prevent that kid from doing well in the classroom. You turfed it to SS for assistance. THEY need to help you with that kid…its not all on you. Shame on management for doing that to teachers. It’s no wonder they leave the profession out of frustration. I would too.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | February 29, 2012  12:52am

@lkulmann.I support the teachers.All studies have show that parents are the first line of education starting with Potty Training.Again this is Education Proposal noting more then neutralizing teachers unions.In fact this will happen in a few more years.

Published on Sunday, May 29, 2011 by Black Agenda Report

The Corporate Dream: Teachers as Temps

posted by: REC | February 29, 2012  8:39pm

REC

I just read a survey taken by 400 teachers who felt when asked the open ended question, What are the biggest challenges for Connecticut’s public school teachers in general or for your own success as a teacher in Connecticut? As an involved parent, I was surprised to learn second to lack of $$, their biggest challenge support from was parents/home. Unfortunately, school systems are not set up to embrace parent involvement. Parents are weakly informed, kept in the dark, fed untrue data and not welcomed into the schools except when the authorities decide to.  It’s no wonder that teachers do not feel supported by parents because the schools are not engaging parents as part of the solution. Some teachers do, but most do not want you there. Principals dismiss, speak down to you, administration and BOE’s throw road blocks up at every turn. They are all TOO worried about the appearance. When you are upfront with admin. you risk private conversations shared with those not intended to hear it.  Who wants to rock that boat? Very few people I suspect.

posted by: sWamp-ass | February 29, 2012  9:23pm

sWamp-ass

Malloy’s a political hack.  All he is trying to do is to gather the support of incompetent parents who are looking for someone to blame for the monsters that they’ve unleashed on society.  When complaining about the achievement gap in public schools, everyone (especially pandering Democratic politicians like Malloy) is scared to talk about the big elephant in the room, the culture gap at home.  All teachers and schools can do is provide an opportunity for children to learn.  To ask for more is simply to absolve the parentS (yes,there are two) of their fundamental responsibilities as parents.

posted by: Tom Burns | March 1, 2012  2:10am

The Governor’s proposal as is will destroy your kids chance to grow academically—-following the failures in New York, DC, Michigan, Tenessee, Fla, and other states is not what we should do—-the special interest lobbyist’s have overwhelmed our legislators with garbage—-and no answers—none of these people have experience on the ground—they are public policy and government majors who have never worked a REAL day in their lives—but have our legislators ears—because of $$$-not your children’s best interests in mind or mine——-CT residents will not put up with this facade—-special interests will not get enriched at our kids expense—The Governors bill has two decent proposals in it and 100 bad ones——ya see Ct usually gets it right—-this bill is a sham—-I ask that everyone call their legislator and urge them to vote against this bill—-if not prepare for the inevitable (home-schooling and virtual learning)certain answers that will end the American way of life—-but Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein will be happy—Please say no-Tom

posted by: brutus2011 | March 1, 2012  6:03am

brutus2011

Comments here have touched upon the roles of home environment (parents) and overall school environments (administrators) in the whole public education conundrum. This is definitely a turn in the right direction! Teachers are not the problem—just the most convenient scapegoat, or as one op-ed contributor put so endearingly, the low-hanging fruit. (I know it is a term used by consultants, but it sounds bad in this context)

posted by: GoGetter | March 16, 2012  8:55am

The worst thing about Gov. Malloy’s plan isn’t even the content.  It’s the fact that he’s determined to do what he thinks is right without input from teachers.  Teachers have been saying for years that the system is broken and begging for help in getting it fixed, but instead of working together, Gov. Malloy is blaming teachers and completely tearing down the gains they’ve made in both salary and professional growth. 

@Ikulmann, while your ideas might make sense, they simply are not realistic.  Especially in this economy people have no sympathy for teachers who blame ineffectiveness on lack of funding or even the person above them.  The public doesn’t associate test scores with the principal, they associate them with the teacher.  While it might sound easy to push the responsibility off on someone else, it is much more complicated than that.  We are expected to do our jobs with the resources we have.  Period.