Connecticut’s achievement gap is the worst in the nation—low income students perform 35 percent worse than non-low income students on standardized testing. The governor and many teachers are at odds with how to fix this problem.
In February, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy released his plan for reforming education called SB-24. The bill drastically changes the public education system in the state including teachers’ salaries, evaluations and school funding in an attempt to close the achievement gap.
Beth Larkins-Strathy, associate dean of the Quinnipiac School of Education, said she worries about the bill proposing that all incoming education majors would be required to have a minimum GPA of B+, or a 3.3. The current average GPA of student entering the School of Education five-year program is 3.3.
“If we move to the 3.3 as the required cut-off, we would lose so many great students who would make wonderful teachers,” Larkins-Strathy said. “I feel a 3.0 is reasonable, considering our candidates must pass extremely rigorous tests before they can be certified in Connecticut.”
Last year 101 out of 106 education graduates passed their certification tests and were eligible to be certified in Connecticut, she said.
Hamden Public Schools has an even larger achievement gap than the state average: 38.2 percent, according to 2011 state testing data. Hamden history teacher Arnold Aranci said the changes won’t help students and it will hurt teachers.
“From what I have read in the bill, it will ruin our school systems,” Aranci said. “It will drive good teachers out, keep talented young people from going into that honorable profession and it will not raise scores.”
Another part of the new bill called for a portion of teachers’ salaries to be determined by students’ test scores to try to motivate teachers to work hard and teach their students to perform well on the tests.
“Who would choose a career where your pay will be tied to test scores of kids whose motivation and attitude toward school—and therefore their test scores—are a major function of the parental support they get and therefore, to a great degree, beyond your control,” Aranci said.
The tenure system for teachers would be totally changed and a three-category system would be put into place that would determine a teacher’s salary. Teachers would be put in the three different levels based on constant administrator evaluations and student test scores.
Quinnipiac associate professor of education Susan Clarke is no stranger to public school tenure policy. She previously taught in a public high school for 17 years and was a faculty representative to the Massachusetts Teachers Union.
“I certainly would like the public to understand more about what teachers have to deal with in terms of collective bargaining, administrators, politicians’ opinions that are not informed by classroom experience,” Clarke said. “Essentially the purpose of tenure is to protect academic freedom and teacher professional integrity. This notion gets lost in our present culture of test driven, quantitative frenzy.”
Some parts of the bill were restructured late last week in response to some of the teachers’ concerns. The new bill still tries to help the achievement gap problem, but it does not address teachers’ tenure like the previous bill did. Aranci says he now supports the bill as it is, but warns that it can change before the final legislation is approved. He is not alone; teachers and their unions seem to be accepting the new bill and are not outraged with the changes any longer.
“One very positive part of this altered plan is providing access to early childhood programs for 1,000 rather than 500 socially or economically disadvantaged children,” Larkins-Strathy said.
She said Quinnipiac education students understand how important standardized testing assessments are being observed and they are good candidates for teaching jobs in Connecticut, even if education is reformed.
“They have learned to differentiate and accommodate many different types of learners and have designed copious lesson plans and performance assessments connected to state and federal standards,” Larkins-Strathy said. “No matter what the mandates at the state level, our education students are prepared to meet them.”