Looking back on the first half of 2012

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Thu., Dec. 20, 2012
A rainbow appears over the heads of teachers rallying at the Connecticut State Capitol building the evening of April 25. File photos by Melanie Savage.
A rainbow appears over the heads of teachers rallying at the Connecticut State Capitol building the evening of April 25. File photos by Melanie Savage.

One of the important issues to grip the state (and the nation) in 2012 was education reform. On March 14, Gov. Dannel Malloy made a stop at Windham High School as part of his education reform tour. Tom Drewry, a literacy facilitator at Windham High School, was one of a dozen people chosen to speak at the Windham forum. Drewry read a statement that brought a standing ovation from much of the auditorium.

Drewry began by identifying himself as a Windham High School teacher for over a decade, and a resident of Willimantic for 16 years. “I’m here tonight to condemn this reform agenda as utterly fraudulent and cynical,” he said.

The legislation proposed by the state was designed to address “the profound achievement gap that exists in our state, a bigger gap than exists in any other state in the nation,” said Malloy. The plan was designed to concentrate on improving the performance of the 30 lowest-performing districts representing the largest concentration of students and teachers “where we can have the most impact,” said Malloy.

Included in the legislation was an additional $50 million in Education Cost Sharing funding and 500 additional early-education slots for children statewide. The legislation would increase state support and intervention in low-performing schools, and expand availability of high-quality school models, providing more opportunities to attend different types of schools including magnet, charter and vocational technical schools. The legislation advocated eliminating potentially burdensome regulations and mandates, and an overhaul of the teacher certification and tenure process. Under the new system, teacher tenure would be tied less to seniority and more to “teacher effectiveness,” as measured by standardized testing, among other things.

“In the state with the largest achievement gap, and scores going in the wrong direction… you have to admit that the status quo isn’t working,” said Malloy.

But, said Drewry, “the fundamental issue regarding the achievement gap is that poor children grow up poor.” Drewry said that the legislation failed to effectively overhaul educational financing. “Instead, the districts garrisoned by the wealthy and powerful, for whom this unjust system works just fine, remain shielded from the impact of any real change whatsoever,” he said.  “Poor districts get consultants and professional developers, who earn indecent sums of money for their negligible service, money that should find its way directly to classrooms.”

On April 25, Drewry was just one of an estimated 800 teachers who attended a rally at the State Capitol Building. A similar rally on April 24 drew an estimated 1,000 teachers. The rallies were organized to protest the original version of Malloy’s education reform bill, and to urge legislators to get reform done right.

David Telep, a teacher at Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School in East Haddam, said that he was there to support the Education Committee’s alternate bill and to “stand against Gov. Malloy’s original bill.” Private interests stand to profit hugely from the original proposal, he said. While agreeing that teacher evaluation systems need to be amended, Telep said that standardized tests were not the best way to do it. “I think some of the best stuff that goes on at schools can’t be measured by standardized tests,” he said.

“I’m here for the kids,” said Canterbury elementary teacher Marcia Baker. Baker recognized the need for change in public education. “Society has changed, education has not,” she said. “I’m all for reform.” But Malloy’s bill “is not about the kids,” said Baker.

Joe Donovan, a teacher from Rockville High School, said that he was there to “protect education from the influence of lobbyists concerned more with profits than children.”

Steve Bernard, an elementary teacher from Ellington, said, “I resent that Gov. Malloy and these so-called education reformers view children as a revenue source.”

Both Bernard and Donovan said they view Connecticut as a lynchpin in the national effort to privatize public education. “If it happens here, it really will happen everywhere,” said Bernard.

“Never, ever have I been so proud of all of you,” said Connecticut Education Association President Phil Apruzzese, noting that in 20 years of leadership he has never seen a more definitive, larger stand for “what is right” from teachers. “All of us want great schools,” said Apruzzese, noting that there are many different kinds of reform. “But reform done right means keeping the public in public schools,” said Apruzzese.

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