With Connecticut’s gubernatorial election heating up, Republican candidates claim current Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy is playing politics with education.
In late January, the governor recommended delaying the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations until the 2014 015 school year and the Department of Education’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) approved the recommendations. In a statement on Jan. 29, Malloy said he proposed the change in response to criticism from teachers that the state was implementing too many education reforms too quickly, phasing in new evaluations concurrently with new Common Core standards, a nation-wide initiative to standardize learning. Republicans, however, claim the change was intended to shore up support among public school teachers and their unions, which have historically supported Democratic candidates.
“This change is not something that he believes in his heart and soul,” said Republican State Senator Len Fasano. “It’s because he wants to get reelected in November.”
Department of Education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said that prior to the change, districts would have been required to evaluate teachers this year via a rubric that derived 22.5 percent of the score from student performance on standardized tests. Districts will now be free to choose other metrics, such as classroom observations, to evaluate teachers. Donnelly said the delay in implementing the full evaluation systems does not delay the implementation of Common Core, which has already taken root in Connecticut classrooms. In a Jan. 28 letter to PEAC, Malloy said that the delay in implementing reforms would improve teachers’ effectiveness by reducing pressure to obtain good test scores.
Senate minority leader John McKinney, who is one of six Republicans vying to challenge Malloy in the general election, said he believes the Common Core standards have been implemented with too little input from teachers and administrators.
“The governor has been going full steam ahead, forcing Common Core implementation without listening to people who are on the front lines in education,” McKinney said.
McKinney added that he felt it would be “naïve” to ignore the political implications of the governor’s move, and that he feels educators have still not been fully included in the debate about education reform.
New Haven Public Schools superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said the state has generally done a good job assisting districts with the transition to new standards and assessments, though districts had to do significant work on their own to train teachers and develop curricula to match the standards. Harries said New Haven has been a state leader in implementing Malloy’s reforms.
“What we haven’t done in New Haven is sit and wait for the state to do all the work and hand it to us in a binder,” Harries said.
Fasano praised the Common Core’s emphasis on teaching concepts in depth and developing critical thinking skills, but said the state was launching too many changes at the same time. Fasano added that the governor’s State of the State address heightened the sense that Malloy fears unrest among teachers — the governor announced a reduction in the state tax on retired teachers’ pension income.
“Why not firemen?” Fasano said. “Why not prosecutors who work in the state for very little pay? Why not public defenders? He picked teachers because he wants to buy them back.”
Samaia Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Malloy supports pension reform because currently, teachers’ pensions are taxed at a higher rate than social security. Connecticut is one state in which public employees, including teachers, do not qualify for social security.
Senate majority leader Martin Looney dismissed Republican criticism of the governor’s announcement.
“Republicans always say that everything Democrats do is politically motivated, and will never consider this just a matter of good public policy,” Looney said. “That’s standard for how they play the game.”
Connecticut school districts must submit their plans for teacher evaluations to the state by March 30.