Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the country and needs to make real changes to improve the state's education system. With that said, Governor Malloy's proposals -- linking teacher tenure to certification, improving teacher evaluation systems, raising standards for future teachers, increasing the “rigor” in classrooms, increasing seat time, lengthening the school day and year, and turning around schools -- aren't the types of changes that will bring about improvement in our schools. We suggest that any change in education policy ought to proceed from a consideration of how any given change might bring to students a more positive daily learning experience full of opportunities to engage in meaningful, authentic, intellectual work. We believe SB 24, in its current form, won't provide those opportunities. Because we all share the same hopeful and aspirational goals for the future of the children of Connecticut, we sign this petition to propose some alterations to SB 24 as it currently stands in order to provide Connecticut's students with opportunities for success. **Please click on Petition Letter above to read the petition in full.**
What the governor proposes in Senate Bill 24 is a list of popular ideas that have been tried—and have not shown the results he claims. As he seeks to curry favor for his proposal, he has gone so far as to suggest that all teachers do is “show up.” Governor Malloy pins the problems of the education system on the people within it and suggests that linking teacher tenure to certification, improving teacher evaluation systems, raising standards for future teachers, increasing the “rigor” in classrooms, increasing seat time, lengthening the school day and year, and turning around schools will be the right recipe for improving education. We disagree.
The most essential problems in our state’s education system are not the result of the ability, dedication, or intentions of those who work within it, but instead are a function of the way our federal, state, and local education systems are structured. For decades, waves of reformers have sought to tinker with curriculum, teacher evaluation systems, and school governance models, while leaving intact the core tenets of schooling that remain from a fundamentally different era. As a result, our schools today are caught in a misguided race to score highly on standardized tests that are of questionable value and which have narrowed school curricula to the point where little, if any, time is devoted to the “non-core subjects” (i.e. anything except math and language arts), especially in the primary and elementary grades. As currently proposed, SB 24 will merely intensify efforts to score highly on flawed standardized tests, using the same failed models of school from the 19th Century, and will continue to disconnect teachers, parents, and students from important choices about the work that happens in their classrooms.
The only way to achieve transformative change in classrooms is to provide for, structurally support and continuously encourage innovative practice at the classroom, school, and district levels. Placing increased emphasis on student test results is not how the countries whose educational results we hope to emulate (or surpass) have gotten to where they are. Teachers who feel pressure to raise scores will not be inclined to innovate, to share, to collaborate or otherwise step outside of the box they currently find themselves in, and our children will suffer for it. The support and development of teaching and the elevation of the profession are non-negotiable factors in creating schools where students learn because of their school environment, rather than in spite of it.
We agree with the governor that education should be the legislature’s focus this year, and so we hold back from asking legislators to outright reject Senate Bill 24. Instead, we propose that it be seriously altered so that our students are empowered to succeed. While union support and involvement is necessary for a variety of reasons, the mere inclusion of the leaders of the two largest state teachers’ unions in some of the meetings is not sufficient to produce the quality product that we all agree should result from such a sweeping change to our educational system.
We propose that:
• Instead of eliminating local control in low-performing schools and giving absolute power to the chancellor, we believe that the path to transforming our schools must be neighborhood driven and must include and prioritize the input of local educators – actual classroom teachers who see students on a daily basis – as well as parents, students, and community members. Decisions that dictate what happens in classrooms shouldn't be passed down from above; they should be made by the people who are most familiar with the needs and interests of students.
• Instead of merely raising requirements for future teachers, we believe that the way to attract and retain the best teachers is to empower and value them for their experience on the ground and to give them real input into, and responsibility for, the kind of learning that happens in their classrooms.
• Instead of draining public school coffers for the benefit of charter schools, we believe more resources should be concentrated at our neediest schools, offering students both a leg up academically and attention to non-cognitive needs through a robust menu of wraparound services.
• Instead of lowering the professional status of teachers with infantilized daily routines, one-dimensional evaluation systems, and threatened removal of due process rights, we believe that teachers should be empowered to create meaningful, engaging, and authentic work for students and should be governed by fair accountability measures that treat educators as professionals while understanding that not every variable in a child’s education can—and should—be measured and evaluated with precision.
• Instead of focusing all attention on the work that happens during the short school day, we believe we must appropriately resource our communities, thereby closing the opportunity gap among schools and understanding that economic vitality is the engine of systemic school reform.
• Instead of promoting school choice and competition, we believe in a climate of cooperation wherein a system of schools seeks and fosters excellence for all rather than fierce competition for a few to be the best on narrow metrics of success at the expense of the rest.
• Instead of proposing changes that ignore the root causes of why students drop out or are unsuccessful in school, we believe notions of success ought to be broadened to encompass more than simply test scores, and include the ability to think critically, have good character, and to find topics of interest worthy of sustained future study.
Because we all share the same hopeful and aspirational goals for the future of the children of Connecticut, we are joined as co-signatories below: