OP-ED | Senate Bill 24: A Punishment Or An Opportunity For CT’s Teachers?
Teachers across the state have been led to believe that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform bill called for an unfair evaluation system — one in which they could be evaluated and arbitrarily dismissed by a single administrator, one which would fuel competition, rather than collaboration, and remove job security. In response to such fears, the Education Committee bowed under pressure and passed substitute language that significantly weakened the bill.
The disheartening irony is that if teachers really understood the governor’s original plan, they would welcome it as a long overdue opportunity to receive the support, financial compensation, and professional recognition that they don’t receive today.
The governor’s original bill addressed teachers’ concerns about being unfairly evaluated by a single administrator by actually making it more difficult for arbitrary dismissals to occur. It relied upon the evaluation framework developed by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which requires a variety of factors to be included in teacher evaluations — including student learning indicators, observations of teacher performance, peer review, and student and parent input. This framework acknowledges the complicated nature of the teaching profession through multi-faceted evaluations that measure both subjective and objective data, so that no arbitrary opinion by one administrator could ever be solely responsible for a negative outcome to a teacher.
If teachers understood what was being proposed in the governor’s original bill, they would also recognize that it promoted excellence amongst educators by seeking to support and motivate teachers’ continued development, and by refraining from setting limits on how many teachers in a school or district may achieve the highest levels of success.
In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 61 percent of all union households agreed that public school teachers who do an outstanding job should be rewarded with additional pay. The governor’s original proposal made this a possibility, first by finding a way to identify outstanding teachers, and then by proposing a salary scale based upon effectiveness. Now, under the Education Committee’s language, the possibility of rewarding exemplary teachers with additional pay has been substantially weakened, to the detriment of teachers.
Further, teachers would have recognized that the Governor’s original bill sought to provide them with the highest caliber of colleagues by replacing an antiquated system of tenure, in which the award is based upon seat-time, with a new system that would require a demonstration of effectiveness in order to obtain and maintain tenure. The Education Committee’s language instead calls for basing tenure upon the number of school months a teacher has worked, rather than whether that teacher has done a good job. Under the Education Committee’s new language, teachers will lose the opportunity to wear tenure as a badge of professional honor, and to be sure of having coworkers who are equally committed to the profession and to their students.
The governor’s education reform bill, in its original form, presented a chance for Connecticut to celebrate its hard-working and effective teachers. It intended to evaluate teachers fairly — rather than simply labeling them either as competent or incompetent, as today’s system does. It sought to acknowledge teachers as individual professionals, so that those who were doing an exemplary job were recognized and rewarded, those who needed extra help to become effective were supported, and those who did not demonstrate effectiveness despite numerous supports were removed from the classroom. In short, the governor’s original education bill presented the opportunity that many teachers have been waiting for: a chance to be treated as professionals, to be rewarded for hard work, and to have coworkers who are equally committed to helping students learn.
Teachers who are dedicated to their crafts, who believe it is their responsibility to help students learn, and who deserve professional recognition and financial compensation for their hard work — these teachers owe it to themselves to tell their elected officials to reinstate these important policies to the education reform bill, which would benefit, not punish, teachers.
Ramani Ayer is vice-chair of the CT Council for Education Reform and retired chairman & CEO of The Hartford Insurance Company