Gocksch, Lerner-Byars and Stango: Schooling a city, a state

Last night the Board of Aldermen approved the new contract for New Haven teachers, representing the end of a well-run process, and a beginning for real school reform in the city.

The contract, which teachers and the Board recently approved by an overwhelming majority, has attracted a great deal of attention on the national stage, and for good reason: the agreement represents a new and better way of approaching school reform. Teachers have agreed to negotiate on tying teacher evaluations to student achievement; the district will have new powers to reconstitute failing schools; and in sharp contrast to previous attempts at reform, the new agreement is based on a spirit of cooperation and common principles shared between teachers and administrators.

Both Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education, have praised the agreement as a model for future school reform projects nationwide. Last week, both Weingarten and representatives from the Department of Education appeared at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School to show their support. The New Haven plan, in many ways, mirrors President Obama’s priorities for education.

While some details of the city’s plan have yet to be worked out, this should not come as a surprise — if all the decisions on how to evaluate teachers and schools had already been made, then the promise to include teachers in the process of reform would have been hollow. And although a healthy dose of skepticism is, well, healthy, there is no denying that we are witnessing an unprecedented opportunity to create real change in the city’s schools.

But if we as a community truly care about the educational opportunities New Haven provides to its young people, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the promise of school change becomes a reality.

This, in the end, is what matters most. For those who are critical of the mayor or fear that the new teacher contract is all talk, now is the time to work to effect positive change. Teachers and administrators are already forming committees to chart the course of reform and determine the methods of teacher and school evaluations: they need to know that New Haven expects nothing less than substantive change.

Now that the contract is officially approved, we must push politicians at the state level to apply for the federal funds New Haven will need in order to make comprehensive reforms a reality. We have a long way to go, but the new teacher contract is a monumental first step. It falls to us to continue the fight.

Michael Gocksch is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Tess Lerner-Byars and Ben Stango are juniors in Jonathan Edwards and Pierson Colleges, respectively. They are members of the Yale College Democrats Lobbying Committee.

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