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OP-ED | For Teachers: The Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t

by | Sep 26, 2014 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Education, Election 2014, Opinion

Come Nov. 4, there will be a lot people holding their noses in Connecticut. And it won’t be because of the onset of cold and flu season. The two major-party candidates for governor aren’t exactly the most likeable people in the world, but perhaps their enemies in the education establishment are willing to make amends to thwart an even greater nemesis — the other guy.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association, is slated to announce its endorsement late today, Friday, Sept. 26, when the union board will vote on whether it wants to give its nod to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or one of his challengers, Republican Tom Foley or petitioning candidate Joe Visconti. The state’s smaller teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Malloy back in June.

As a large and powerful labor union, the CEA has been keeping careful track of the candidates’ positions on education issues to see whether they comport with the CEA’s agenda. Unfortunately, we can’t see precisely what that agenda is because that page on the CEA’s website is restricted to members only.

But, based on its past legislative victories, I think we have a pretty good idea what the CEA wants to accomplish: more money to hire more workers, resistance to meaningful reform in the way workers are evaluated and better conditions for workers. In other words, pretty much what every labor union tries to deliver for its membership.

CTNewsJunkie File Photo The CEA held a forum with the three candidates Sept. 13 at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford but, like the agenda on the CEA website, the event was a members-only affair. So we are left to wonder what kinds of questions they asked. Fortunately, former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto, a staunch CEA ally who tried and failed over the summer to become a petitioning gubernatorial candidate, has put together a helpful list of suggested questions for Malloy on his blog.

Malloy, whom he brands “the most anti-teacher Democratic governor in the country,” would be subject to a withering set of queries if Pelto had his way. Malloy, you may recall, disparaged the teaching profession in 2012 when, in a budget address to the General Assembly, he foolishly asserted that, “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” Then the governor introduced legislation — later watered down under pressure from the CEA and others — that would have partially tied teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests.

These are sore subjects for educators. Pelto, who insists Malloy proposed to eliminate tenure and end collective bargaining for teachers in failing schools, would have demanded that the governor clarify his position on those subjects.

And I’m sure the union also wants answers to questions about the Common Core, the Race to the Top, and the fairness of the state’s Educational Cost Sharing grant program. And you can bet that Malloy did his level best to kiss and make up to the teachers whose support is crucial to his re-election campaign.

One of the union’s favorite whipping boys, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, is resigning at the end of this year. That was a smart move by Malloy because it removes a lightning rod for criticism. But it also raises the question, foremost on the minds of the CEA bosses who will vote Friday night, of who will replace Pryor.

A controversial commissioner like Pryor who comes from outside the system, or someone who rose through the ranks as a teacher and has been a fixture in Connecticut’s educational establishment? Bet on the latter with an announcement coming in advance of the election. It’s a safer move for a governor who needs to mend fences with educators.

As for Foley, he has done his best to say as little about education as he can get away with. His website is full of bromides about “fixing our underperforming schools,” “providing more support for teachers” and — beyond in-district school choice and an A-F grading system for schools — he offers almost nothing in the way of specifics.

But that hasn’t stopped legislative Democrats from criticizing Foley’s education platform.

“Five bullet points — that’s a postcard. That’s not a plan,” said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee.

My guess is Foley is banking on the likelihood that education will not be first and foremost on voters minds — not with a sluggish economy anyway. And maybe those teachers despise Malloy so much that they’d be willing to go with the devil they don’t know. After all, Foley wants to “support teachers.” Who could possibly object to that?

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: Ed McKeon | September 26, 2014  7:04am

This is my approach.


posted by: art vandelay | September 26, 2014  9:53am

art vandelay

@ Terry Cowgill,

I think you already know the answer to your question.  The CEA will stick with the devil they know.  Too bad the most effected by this decision will be the students not the teachers.  The CEA has NEVER been about students.

posted by: thomas hooker | September 26, 2014  10:05am

The “devil you know”?  That’s Governor Malloy?  The devil on education policy?  One would think that we were talking about another governor, not the one who implemented state-funded pre-K in Connecticut, creating over 2,000 places for children in that program, and setting the state on the path to universal pre-K.  And that while struggling to balance the budget while the state recovers from the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Is this “devil” the governor who, despite facing a $3.7 billion deficit, actually increased state aid to public schools by hundreds of millions of dollars?  The same governor who refused to gut state aid to municipalities, a move which surely would have led to teacher lay-offs?  Is this “devil” the one who dramatically increased funding for the University of Connecticut’s programs in engineering, science and math?

The reality is so different from the perception that one has to wonder at times whether we are even talking about the same state, and the same governor.

posted by: Bluecoat | September 26, 2014  1:28pm

The CEA’s position will always be closely linked to Bob Chanin’s
Anyone remember this from July 2009?
The Same old rhetoric applies today for our CEA:
“Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.”

“And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.”

“This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.” NEA Retiring Lawyer Bob Chanin 2009

posted by: thomas hooker | September 26, 2014  6:10pm

No, Terry, I do not work for Governor Malloy, nor have I ever. 

Regarding your accusation that Governor Malloy will end tenure for teachers, and also collective bargaining, I have never heard that, never seen it reported, never heard the governor hint he would do that.  Further, the governor has been in office nearly four years, and hasn’t done that.  But if you have concerns, since you are a reporter, why not contact the governor’s office and ask him?

I think that ending tenure and eliminating bargaining rights would be far more likely to come from Tom Foley, a man who forced his workforce at one of his companies into a two and a half year strike.  Foley is also the man who has for years been calling for a “Wisconsin moment.”  Wisconsin is the state whose Republican governor did, indeed, end collective bargaining rights for most state unions. 

And Governor Malloy is a Democrat who has supported collective bargaining, not eliminated it.  So it is odd that you would suspect him of doing what Republicans have called for across the nation.

I appreciate your comment that I have spoken ably in the governor’s behalf.  But I’m also right.  Governor Malloy has defended public school teachers, and not a single public school teacher lost his job due to cuts in state aid under Governor Malloy.  In contrast, thousands of teachers were laid off across the nation in states governed by Republican governors.

I think the CEA will endorse Governor Malloy for re-election because they know he’s done a tremendous job for education and teachers in this state.  Have I mentioned the narrowing of the achievement gap under Governor Malloy?  No?

posted by: shinningstars122 | September 26, 2014  8:31pm


The bottom line is that our country gave up on education years ago.

The United States would rather waste trillions in the Middle East than make our public education system the best in the world.

We did get it right that for decades during the majority of the 20th century.

If you think unions and tenure are the reasons we have sunk so low. I recommend this link for you .

posted by: MGKW | September 28, 2014  2:15pm

Bottom Line:

As much as Foley wants to not talk about anything…he is saying vouchers and the $ follow the kid…we all know what that means further defunding of public education. SHHHH! Foley and Greenberg are trying to stay as quiet as possible so as to not have the press ask more questions on their positions…Greenberg is talking about puppyies so he can hide his past on social security and his wild, scary statements about the Mid-East…nuclear bomb Iran…the perfect pitch for the low information voter. If teachers really think Malloy has mistreated them wait until they lose their job under Foley.

posted by: MGKW | September 29, 2014  2:14pm


On another issue the press may not be paying attention to what is going on in the 5th District Congressional race….most pundits are saying Elizabeth Esty is likely to retain the seat. However, internal polls are saying it is a alot closer then believed. You need to do more research on the race, the Mark Greenberg’s record and looney statements of the past…he has gone silent and is trying to attract attention to himself…except that he loves puppie…not sure about his constituents though. Foley is trying to do the same….hoping that is seen as the anti-Malloy and not accountable for his positions….just saying…

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