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OP-ED | A Reformer Without Results?

by | Apr 6, 2012 1:18pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Education, Opinion

Two upstart northeastern governors of opposite parties have been called bullies. They’re very competitive and both are fighting uphill battles against the education establishment. Care to guess who I’m talking about?

Fueling the ongoing rivalry between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the notion that Christie has balanced the budget on the backs of government workers and the poor, while requiring little sacrifice from taxpayers. Democrat Malloy, on the other hand, adopted a “shared sacrifice” approach, demanding union concessions and enacting a record tax increase.

Reasonable people can disagree on whose strategy was best, but in the area of education reform, the two are running neck-and-neck in the lack-of-results department. Perhaps prefiguring Malloy’s fate, Christie has called his failure last year to get comprehensive education reform passed in the state legislature his “biggest disappointment.”

Granted, the New Jersey governor has been in office a year longer than his Connecticut counterpart and, unlike Malloy, Republican Christie faces a legislature dominated by the opposing party. But the educational patterns are similar: both states have standardized test scores which, on average, look pretty good, while the poor and those in the inner cities lag well behind.

Both new governors came out swinging against the teachers unions, though Malloy waited 12 months. Setting the tone in his state-of-the-state address earlier this year, Malloy asserted emphatically that, “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”

What a colossal mistake. State teachers union boss Mary Loftus Levine told FOX-CT’s Laurie Perez last month that Malloy’s comment was “a sound byte that caused a media storm.” Wrong. It was a sound byte that caused a severe teacher storm. And like the tornadoes that ravaged north Texas earlier this week, this storm won’t die down until after it’s done some real damage.

Tenure reform is necessary, but to paint the existing system in such disparaging terms needlessly insulted teachers and sowed the seeds of doubt that have haunted Malloy’s reform efforts to this day. In a display of reciprocal disrespect, one teacher in Windham at a town hall meeting on education reform told the governor his plan is “cynical and fraudulent.” And those sentiments were echoed by many other angry teachers during Malloy’s attempts at damage control during his education reform road show.

Look, we all know that Malloy was academically abused when he was a child. In a story the learning disabled governor loves to repeat, some of his elementary school teachers told the young Dannel as late as fourth grade that he was mentally retarded and would amount to nothing. So one can understand how Malloy became jaded and unforgiving of bad teachers. But he shouldn’t have let his resentment get the better of him.

Shockingly, things went even farther downhill from there. Malloy’s education department made a ham-handed attempt to take over the Bridgeport schools, one of 25 districts the department had identified as failing. By a vote of 6-1, the state Supreme Court overturned the decision. The governor then tried a shortcut legislative fix using something called “emergency certification,” prompting liberal defense attorney Norm Pattis to brand Malloy the “goose-stepping governor.” Oh, and former Democratic state representative Jonathan Pelto has been hammering away on a daily basis.

Then there was what Courant blogger Rick Green so aptly called “The Stinker” — a wee bit of special language tucked inside Malloy’s education bill that would have awarded former Hartford schools chief Steve Adamowski a pension for his five years of service to the capital city — even though he was ineligible for one because he’d allowed his Connecticut superintendent’s license to lapse.

Finally, over a weekend late last month at an undisclosed office building in Hartford, legislators, union officials and the governor’s chief of staff met in a marathon session behind closed doors and essentially let organized labor weaken Malloy’s education bill to exclude tenure reform and other unpleasant measures.

The secret meeting was so odious that The Courant felt compelled to write an editorial quoting the late teachers union President Albert Shanker, who famously said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

Malloy has tried with limited success to play good-cop-bad-cop, staunchly defending his executive order allowing state daycare and home healthcare workers to unionize and traveling recently to a hospital in Norwich, where he climbed atop a flat-bed truck and shouted his support for nurses who were locking horns with management over a new labor agreement.

But I’m afraid it’s too little, and perhaps too late. It was a given that Republicans and the business community would sour quickly on Malloy after he proposed and rammed the largest tax increase in state history through the legislature. But when you step on the toes of one of the most powerful Democratic special interests in the state, you leave yourself with little margin for error. If you’re going to pick a fight with the unions, how about pursuing something more meaningful and possible, such as school choice?

Back in the Garden State, Christie’s job approval ratings have steadily climbed over the last year to 54 percent. As memories of the tax increase fades, so, too, has Malloy gained ground to 45 percent, up 10 points from a year ago. But unlike Christie, who still has his base, Malloy has lost the support not only of teachers, but of powerful state employee unions who remain distrustful of him in the wake of the givebacks he extracted from them during last year’s budget crisis. Unfortunately for Malloy, that battle didn’t even win him any friends in the GOP, which cites the no-layoff agreement and insists much of savings from the givebacks will never materialize.

But most importantly, unlike Christie, if things don’t improve, Malloy could face a primary challenge from the left in 2014. You heard it here.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.

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(14) Archived Comments

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  5:36pm

I will never vote for Malloy again and I will work tirelessly for his challenger!  He used us and lied to us!  He cannot be trusted.

A CT teacher

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  6:25pm

Finally, over a weekend late last month at an undisclosed office building in Hartford, legislators, union officials and the governor’s chief of staff met in a marathon session behind closed doors and essentially let organized labor weaken Malloy’s education bill to exclude tenure reform and other unpleasant measures.

The secret meeting was so odious that The Courant felt compelled to write an editorial quoting the late teachers union President Albert Shanker, who famously said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

Definition of odious:

deserving or causing hatred; hateful; detestable.

highly offensive; repugnant; disgusting.

Mr. Cowgill,

Did you know the CEA was invited by the Malloy administration to these meetings? Did you listen to Andrew Fleischmann on WNPR?


Possibly you should do more research prior to writing these articles and prior to using such odious language.

Just a tip for a CT teacher!

I wonder what tune Malloy and the “reformers” would be singing if changes were not made. It would have been fine if the union was present AND they got everything they wanted.

Don’t forget to ignore those alliances and relationships….does that include the relationships between Stefan Pryor/Allan Taylor/ConnCan/Achievement First or just the incompetent teachers and their pesky union?

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  6:52pm

One more point…although Rick Green repeated the information in his column, it was Jon Pelto who read, researched and exposed the Adamoski provision (a special deal for a special alliance/relationship). So please give credit where credit is due.

Great blog, by the way…google it…Wait, What?

posted by: Speak up | April 7, 2012  7:12am

Accuracy should matter in a news article.

It seems as if once a mistruth is spoken and once it is repeated then some keep reporting it due to ignorance or with the hopes that the lie spreading so often will convince the public it is the truth.

Please read in reference to the union attending negotiation meetings:

Teachers Back Quality Reform
Randi Weingarten,
President, American Federation of Teachers
on 2012-04-05

Your editorial {March 30, “Special Guests”] attacking teachers “input on Gov. Malloy’s” education reform bill got several points wrong and ignored the legacy of reforms carried out by the American Federation of Teachers and our Connecticut members. Our record of paradigm-shifting reform in New Haven has been praised by even our harshest critics.

The assertion that teachers unions muscled their way into special access to the legislative process on education reform is simply not true. The governor invited teachers to participate and discuss his proposals. He extended the same invitation to so-called education reform groups, and they also offered their input. These were not secret, closed-door meetings.

Teachers’ consuming commitment is to quality. We are advocates for smaller classes, competitive compensation to attract good teachers, wrap-around services for students and their families, strong curriculum and higher standards. The AFT has long maintained that research-based reforms that improve instruction also advance student learning.

That is what the late Albert Shanker really said. In a mid-1970s speech, he emphasized that he represented teachers. “But generally,” he added, “what’s in the interest of teachers is also in the interest of students.” That truth has not changed.


posted by: Speak up | April 8, 2012  9:29pm

Why didn’t you include in your article that the unions were invited to the meeting. And if you knew that, as you now state, why didn’t you say so?

posted by: Ctkeith | April 9, 2012  9:51am

Could you please provide one link substantiating the quote you attributed to late teachers union President Albert Shanker.I don’t mean a link to a nutty right wing sight that is spreading this LIE but an honest news source thhat was present when it was said or has an audio or video or a copy of the transcript of him saying it.

When a LIE is repeated over and over again it doesn’t become any more true.

posted by: Speak up | April 9, 2012  12:34pm

Evidently your message wasn’t that clear as more than one person has questioned it. I suppose it is clear now. Thank you.

posted by: Ctkeith | April 9, 2012  12:43pm


Could you please either have Mr. Ciowgill provide the link I requested or issue a correction?

I’ll even provide a link that may help him realize his quote is a fabrication if he is interested.


posted by: GoatBoyPHD | April 9, 2012  1:45pm


The truth behind the original Albert Shankar quote is even more damning than the oft-repeated paraphrase CTKeith.


posted by: GoatBoyPHD | April 9, 2012  2:05pm


CTKeith—you might also want to read Shankar’s later life regrets on the slow psce of Union Reform to a quality first and continuous improvement model that was reshaping union thought after the Japaneze kaizen models were sweeping the world.

Shankar was well aware of the threat when unions would be perceived as a new oligarchy that added negative value to discussions on educational quality.

By the time Shankar died he was on a different planet than Ms Palmer or Ms Loftus-Levine and their union model.

Unions failed in America because the top leadership couldn’t evolve. The politics that makes someone a union leader means inferior intellectual talent at the top.

It’s a shame really. CT teachers could be the best in the country but they continue to bow to the lowest common denominator.

In business,  a smart CEO cuts their losses and closes money losing urban stores. It ruins the balance sheet and Profit/Loss statements.

The union should know to step down gracefully in a school where 51% of the parents want them out and where the students are failing to hit any meaningful academic targets. Cut off the diseased 3% so the healthy survive and all that good stuff.

That’s practical politics absent a cost-effective solution coming from the unions.

posted by: Speak up | April 9, 2012  6:58pm

So anyone who questions your article, logic or reasoning must be a union troll?  You are just as degrading as Malloy and no longer worth reading. I gave you the benefit of the doubt earlier.  A mistake and moving on now.

posted by: Linda12 | April 9, 2012  7:08pm

Evidently your article wasn’t very clear to the lowly incompetent teacher union trolls who will soon be replaced by the highly qualified and intelligent TFA candidates. So sorry to have wasted your valuable time.

posted by: Ctkeith | April 9, 2012  7:56pm

So if Randi Weingarten got it wrong then since you depended on her instead of doing your own research you got it wrong too?

You used a Quote in your op-ed that I’m saying was never spoken by the late teachers union President Albert Shanker.All I’m asking is for you to at the very least show me the evidence it was said instead of spreading another right wing talking point that happens to be untrue.If you can,I’ll leave it alone,if you can’t please put up a correction.I don’t think that’s asking to much from anyone given the priveledge of writing for the audience of this site.

posted by: Ctkeith | April 9, 2012  8:14pm

Mr Cowgill,

Here’s a good place to start with your research.


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