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Teacher Tenure No Longer Taboo

by | Feb 10, 2012 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Education, Town News, Meriden, Labor

Christine Stuart photo A day after unveiling his sweeping $128 million education reform proposal, including controversial changes to teacher tenure, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden.

It will be the first of many school tours, but the mostly staged event was unlike the unscripted town hall meetings Malloy held last year after his first budget proposal. With the media in tow, Malloy toured several classrooms Thursday and spoke to a handful of teachers before concluding the visit with a press conference.

Asked if he would hold a town hall type event to receive feedback from unionized teachers on his tenure proposal, “I suspect I’m going to hear from their leaders,” Malloy said.

Malloy’s spokesman said the governor will be holding a number of events across the state and will be speaking to everyone involved in education, including parent and teacher organizations.

Meanwhile, AFT Connecticut and the Connecticut Education Association, the two teacher unions, have been meeting with Malloy’s Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor to discuss the proposals, including the one they proposed last month.

Under the current law it takes a minimum of 120 days to dismiss a teacher with tenure. CEA is proposing reducing it to 85 days and limiting the number of arbiters from three to one. Malloy wants teachers to apply and re-apply for tenure every four years. It also ties their certification to their ability to attain tenure.

“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,” Malloy said Wednesday during his speech where he unveiled the teacher tenure proposal.

It was a similar tone evoked last February when he sought $2 billion in concessions from the state’s public employee unions, which came with mixed success. The $2 billion in concessions was reduced to $1.6 billion and did not pass a vote of the membership on the first try.

It’s unclear if the 45,000 state teachers will have a similar reaction to Malloy’s tenure proposal, which is wrapped up in a 163-page bill that also changes the certification process for teachers. But public opinion seems to be on the governor’s side. A Yankee Institute poll of 500 likely voters released earlier this week found that 61 percent of voters support abolishing tenure for public school teachers, while 24 percent want to see tenure remain.

Erin Benham, a literacy teacher at Lincoln Elementary School and president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers, said she’s willing to work with Malloy on the issue of tenure.

“We knew it was going to come up,” Benham said Thursday after Malloy’s visit. “We’re not digging our feet in the sand.”

“There’s this attitude across the country of ‘Teacher unions don’t want to see a change in tenure,’ but that’s just not true,” Eric Bailey, a spokesman for the AFT, said in a statement.

“We’ve been saying for years that we’re willing to make a change to the tenure law, but it needs to be the right way with due process for teachers,“ he added. “We can’t have a system in which you can fire a teacher for any reason.”

It was hard for teachers like Benham to comment more fully on the tenure proposal Thursday because the legislation had only been online for less than a day. However, she said she looks forward to the many conversations that will take place over the next few weeks and months.

Malloy is just as anxious to have those conversations.

“I’m talking about tenure. AFT is talking about tenure. CEA is talking about tenure. The nationals are talking about tenure, 31 states have renovated tenure statutes since 2009. Massachusetts has done it, New York has done, Rhode Island has done it, it’s time for Connecticut to do it,” Malloy said.

He said he thinks teachers agree something needs to be done.

“I’d be willing to bet that if you surveyed teachers in a building you’d probably have 90 percent agree with who the successful teachers in the building are, and who the unsuccessful teachers are,” Malloy said.

And he acknowledged there are far fewer bad teachers, than there are excellent teachers.

“We’re just trying to get to a point where we have better tools and we hold people accountable,” Malloy said.

“It’s an interesting thing the tenure discussion because everyone knows there needs to be changes to tenure,” he said. “Everybody has a proposal. And as I said in one of the paragraphs in my speech I look forward to resolving this issue through the legislative process, which obviously will include discussions.”

Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, a nonprofit education reform group, said that teacher tenure is always a target in these types of reform debates.

“I think we have to address tenure reform because it simply gets that topic off of the agenda,“ Riccards said Wednesday. “We know that there are some teachers in Connecticut that probably shouldn’t teaching anymore. We have to address that.”

Malloy acknowledged that in many instances districts and schools recognize what needs to be done in order to improve student achievement, but in some cases a lack of will and in others a lack of resources contributed to not getting it done.

“We know that there are strategies that work and we know that those strategies aren’t necessarily being replicated system to system or even within the same system, building to building,” Malloy said. “I think this visit and I’m sure others will highlight what is our commitment to getting education right in Connecticut.”

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: AFTCT | February 10, 2012  7:34am

Providing quality education takes everyone working together. This means teachers, parents, administrators, paraprofessionals, school related personnel and more. Working together we can close the achievement gap and improve education for every child in Connecticut. Learn more at ittakesateamct.org

posted by: brutus2011 | February 10, 2012  12:41pm

brutus2011

Ever notice how this also revolves around teachers? The umbrella message is that it is about teachers. There is virtually no mention of policy or its implementation, or lack of support for the classroom, or the inability of building admins to properly manage the school-wide learning environment, or even the lack of innovation by education managers to elevate school and district professional cultures through greater inclusion of teachers in the management process? There is accountability and responsibility on all adults in this process. All I ever hear is about teachers. Teachers are NOT the problem!

posted by: Tom Burns | February 10, 2012  11:35pm

Whoever you are Brutus—you hit the nail on the head everytime—
As the VP of NHFT Local 933—I would propose to do away with tenure altogether and I believe the AFT and CEA would go along with this. All we need is due process, where the arbitrators decision is final—if you can make this happen—then we can do away with tenure—I promise——What say??

posted by: lkulmann | February 11, 2012  9:47am

I think that the responsibility really does fall on the teachers. Let me explain…the way I see it is (as a parent) the teacher is the central contact and the ‘manager’ of what the children are exposed to in the school. Teachers need to be supported and empowered to have the authority to make the decisions regarding the educational environment. The teachers are the ‘go to’ person. Any problems from parents, principals, special services, nursing, social workers, maintenance, dietary and etc… go to the teacher first. The teacher should be respected and given the professional courtesy to do what needs to be done to get the job done. There seems to be a competitive sort of undermining feeling in schools that just prevents teamwork and cohesiveness. It gives off the vibe that the school is disorganized.  Too many chiefs…just sayin…

posted by: lkulmann | February 11, 2012  10:59am

One more comment…its concerning to me that teachers are so willing to throw each other under the bus…is there really any teacher that is incompetent…untrainable incompetent…those are real fighting words. Is there that much incompetentcy or did CT just fail teachers? You guys sound like licenses need to be revoked. In reality, IMO, its just mismanagement…a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of nothing…

posted by: brutus2011 | February 11, 2012  11:50am

brutus2011

Doing away with tenure is the surface of the real issue which is why do we need due process anyway? Because without due process administrators will arbitrarily impose their will on teachers. And that is because they make 2-3 times the salary teachers make. Which brings us to the hierarchy in public education. Or why is it modeled after the industrial revolution factory of manager-worker? What factory worker is required to have a bachelors degree plus education courses plus an advanced degree in 5 years? What work situation allows a manager to shift accountability to his/her subordinates with impunity proportional to their connections to upper managers and local politicians? I could go on and on but you already know this. Why not just cut to the chase and propose that teachers take over? I mean if we are going to do the time, then at least let us do the crime! The way it is now, we are held accountable for a situation that we really do not have control over. This is the most incredibly messed up situation imaginable. The future of our society is subject to the machinations of politics and financial incentives to obfuscate and deny. And those of us who are in the classroom are slowly being relegated to the role of point of purchase assembly line workers with no protection against highly paid managers who make great money, have great pensions, and can harumph in meetings about the varying levels of incompetence of their workers-the teachers. The quote I love the most is: I think so and so should be doing something else. Or maybe how about references to “stakeholders?” Unbelievable. It is kind of like people who have opinions about raising children as a single parent without ever having been one. I guarantee once you have to go it alone, with no support from your ex, then you would be ashamed you ever took the positions you did before. The same should apply to those who think they know about teaching and teachers. Try it for a week and then we’ll talk. Obviously, I need to stop.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | February 11, 2012  2:18pm

Diane Ravitch: Do Politicians know anything about education? Here are some questions we need to ask.
1. Both Republican candidates and President Obama are enamored of charter schools that is schools that are privately managed and deregulated. Are you aware that studies consistently show that charter schools don’t get better results than regular public schools? Are you aware that studies show that, like any deregulated sector, some charter schools get high test scores, many more get low scores, but most are no different from regular public schools? Do you recognize the danger in handing public schools and public monies over to private entities with weak oversight? Didn’t we learn some lessons from the stock collapse of 2008 about the risk of deregulation?

2. Both Republican candidates and President Obama are enamored of merit pay for teachers based on test scores. Are you aware that merit pay has been tried in the schools again and again since the 1920s and it has never worked? Are you aware of the exhaustive study of merit pay in the Nashville schools conducted by the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt, which found that a bonus of $15,000 per teacher for higher test scores made no difference?

3. Are you aware that Milwaukee has had vouchers for low-income students since 1990, and now state scores in Wisconsin show that low-income students in voucher schools get no better test scores than low-income students in the Milwaukee public schools? Are you aware that the federal test the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that—after 21 years of vouchers in Milwaukee—black students in the Milwaukee public schools score on par with black students in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana?

4. Does it concern you that cyber charters and virtual academies make millions for their sponsors yet get terrible results for their students?

5. Are you concerned that charters will skim off the best-performing students and weaken our nation’s public education system?

6. Are you aware that there is a large body of research by testing experts warning that it is wrong to judge teacher quality by student test scores? Are you aware that these measures are considered inaccurate and unstable, that a teacher may be labeled effective one year, then ineffective the next one? Are you aware that these measures may be strongly influenced by the composition of a teacher’s classroom, over which she or he has no control? Do you think there is a long line of excellent teachers waiting to replace those who are in many cases, wrongly fired?

7. Although elected officials like to complain about our standing on international tests, did you know that students in the United States have never done well on those tests? Did you know that when the first international test was given in the mid-1960s, the United States came in 12th out of 12? Did you know that over the past half-century, our students have typically scored no better than average and often in the bottom quartile on international tests? Have you ever wondered how our nation developed the world’s most successful economy when we scored so poorly over the decades on those tests?

8. Did you know that American schools where less than 10% of the students were poor scored above those of Finland, Japan and Korea in the last international assessment? Did you know that American schools where 25% of the students were poor scored the same as the international leaders Finland, Japan and Korea? Did you know that the U.S. is #1 among advanced nations in child poverty? Did you know that more than 20% of our children live in poverty and that this is far greater than in the nations to which we compare ourselves?

9. Did you know that family income is the single most reliable predictor of student test scores? Did you know that every testing program—the SAT, the ACT, the NAEP, state tests and international tests—shows the same tight correlation between family income and test scores? Affluence helps—children in affluent homes have educated parents, more books in the home, more vocabulary spoken around them, better medical care, more access to travel and libraries, more economic security—as compared to students who live in poverty, who are more likely to have poor medical care, poor nutrition, uneducated parents, more instability in their lives. Do you think these things matter?

10. Are you concerned that closing schools in low-income neighborhoods will further weaken fragile communities?

11. Are you worried that annual firings of teachers will cause demoralization and loss of prestige for teachers? Any ideas about who will replace those fired because they taught too many low-scoring students?

12. Why is it that politicians don’t pay attention to research and studies?

13. Do you know of any high-performing nation in the world that got that way by privatizing public schools, closing those with low test scores, and firing teachers?

posted by: Fisherman | February 11, 2012  6:35pm

Typical Malloy.  initally acts as though he’s tough on unions… Then… amazingly, he discovers “Jesus” (Praise the Unions; the’re doing God’s work!).

I’m figuring that the public-at-large gets wise to him somewheres around November 2012.

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