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CEA Offers School Reform Proposals

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By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A union representing more than 41,000 Connecticut teachers is asking lawmakers to require districts to evaluate all teachers each year, but to ensure the reviews encompass far more than the standardized test scores of those teachers’ students.

The Connecticut Education Association’s recommendations, released Tuesday, also call on legislators to streamline the 120-day process set out in state law for dismissal hearings, revamp how the state helps pay for local schools and offer incentives for all districts to offer full-day kindergarten.

The CEA’s proposals are the latest in a growing number of reports from professional associations, education reform groups and others in advance of the next General Assembly session, which starts Feb. 8.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and legislative leaders have said education reform will be the major focus, and that they want ideas from all corners of Connecticut on how to improve its schools and close the achievement gap between wealthy and poor students.

Pryor, who has been on the job for three months, attended the CEA’s unveiling of its report Tuesday and said afterward that he’s found “an enormous potential for common ground” on reform ideas between his department and the union.

“I think it’s really a great day when such a credible plan is presented with so many great ideas in it,” Pryor said of the CEA report. He said he disagreed with a few of the ideas, but would not say which ones.

The CEA’s report comes a few weeks after a group representing Connecticut school superintendents unveiled its own recommendations, including an idea of eliminating teacher tenure and replacing it with renewable five-year contracts.

The CEA report does not propose or support eliminating tenure– which teachers receive after four years– but wants all teachers evaluated every year in procedures that are fair; offer chances to improve; and recognize skills that aren’t necessarily reflected in students’ test scores.

Mary Loftus Levine, the CEA’s executive director, said that includes letting teachers’ peers have a say in how they perform and judging them on factors such as how they manage their classrooms, if they seek professional development, whether they take leadership roles in their schools and other indicators.

The American Federation of Teachers, another union that includes thousands of teachers among its 28,000 Connecticut members, also has been advocating for an overhaul of the evaluation system.

It represents teachers in some of Connecticut’s largest cities, including New Haven, where the union and administrators set up an evaluation procedure that includes peer input, factors beyond test scores and other factors to judge teachers’ effectiveness.

The AFT members were not among the teachers helping craft the CEA union’s ideas, but according to AFT Connecticut spokesman Eric Bailey, “Pretty much everything they put in their report are things we see eye to eye on.”

The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN, said Tuesday that it found “several components worth celebrating” in the CEA report, but believes student test performance should be the primary indicator to help determine teachers’ effectiveness.

“Ultimately, the success of our state, our schools, our teachers, and our kids is based on performance and student outcomes. We must not lose sight of that as we build a truly effective teacher evaluation model,” said Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of the New Haven-based school reform association.

The CEA is also asking lawmakers to consider incentives to encourage all Connecticut school districts to establish all-day kindergarten, and to push for universal preschool _ an idea that Malloy has also championed even since before he became governor.

“We know the achievement gap exists when students walk through the door on the first day of school,” Loftus Levine said.

As for costs, the CEA has not calculated how much the state or districts would have to allocate to provide those kindergarten and preschool slots: “I think we need to work collaboratively on that, but quite frankly, I think we can’t afford not to,” she said.

Some other CEA proposals include:

_ Developing tutoring opportunities and extending students’ time in school if necessary to ensure they are all proficient readers by the end of third grade.

_ Encouraging employers to provide leave time for their workers to attend school-day activities. The CEA says 12 other states already do that, and that students are more likely to succeed when their parents are deeply involved in their schools– regardless of the family’s income.

_ Establishing a board separate from the state Department of Education to set professional standards for state teachers, and create or support programs to identify, recruit and retain good teachers.

_ Use lessons learned from charter and magnet schools, from “turnaround” schools that have been revamped under state law and apply them to local public schools.

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Online: http://www.cea.org/viewfromclassroom

     (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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