Teacher union leaders, school administrators and state officials harmonized last week over a proposed teacher evaluation system.
But Tuesday when Gov.Dannel P. Malloyannounced plans to reduce red tape and to "empower local school districts" — steps that sounded like less of a leap than overhauling the teacher evaluation system — not everyone was singing in unison.
Malloy, who has asked that the upcoming legislative session focus on education reform, said he was beginning to roll out the specifics of his "comprehensive approach to education, touching on all the principles I laid out a couple of months ago."
"This is going to be big," he said, adding that it's "going to rankle some folks."
It apparently did. Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said in a statement that the union is concerned that the governor's proposals will "actually lower teacher standards at a time when we need to raise standards and accountability for everyone involved in public education."
Malloy, speaking in a conference call from Washington, D.C, outlined steps that he said would allow local school districts greater flexibility to hire and develop teachers' careers and also free districts from excessive data reporting.
Malloy cited a survey of superintendents of school districts in the state that showed that over half — 54 percent — identified state policies as a barrier to effectively recognizing and promoting staff.
Malloy's plan calls for simplifying the certification process; establishing a new "master" educator certificate for the most accomplished teachers; and increasing districts' discretion to hire teachers from other states.
State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said that Connecticut is losing "talented teachers who might have moved in" because they "don't want to tangle with the labyrinthine process" of getting certified to teach here.
Malloy also called for tying the maintenance of a teacher's professional certificate to strong performance rather than to "seat time" in continuing education programs. And instead of generic continuing education programs presented in large auditoriums, he said high-quality programs should be tailored to a teacher's particular needs.
Malloy said the superintendents' survey also showed that many "believe the issue of red tape" consumes "too much time, too much energy and too much money."
He would like to cut the data reporting requirements for local districts by a third.
Many requests for data are duplicative, Malloy said. "It requires a heck of a lot of additional work" for local districts to produce this data, he said.
The teachers' unions focused their criticism on the proposed changes in teacher certification. Levine of the CEA could not be reached for comment, but a CEA staff member, Nancy Andrews, said in an e-mail, "The certification process is complex and we are concerned that over-simplifying it and having different local standards, would weaken the standards for becoming certified and maintaining certification."
Sharon Palmer, president of the the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, said she believes Malloy's proposal is "putting the cart before the horse."
She said the state needs first to develop a "rigorous teacher preparation and evaluation system" before it considers changing certification regulations.
She also raised concerns about Malloy's proposal to link professional certification to performance, rather than seat-time in continuing education programs.
"If you link a license to teach in the entire state, based on an individual's evaluation in an individual district," she said, "I think there are some inherent problems."
Palmer said the union was also displeased by the governor's reliance on a survey of superintendents.
"We are very disappointed that the governor has chosen to base these proposals on the opinions of only the superintendents," Palmer said in a prepared statement, "and not the 50,000 educators who are doing the work of educating children."
Others involved in education reform had high praise for the governor's proposal. Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said he is very pleased that the governor is "moving in the direction of making it easier for school districts to do their jobs, educating children. Getting rid of red tape is one way we can do that at a time of limited resources."
Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of ConnCAN, a non-profit education reform group, said he thinks the governor's proposals will strengthen teaching standards.
Responding to the unions' criticism, Mark Linabury, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said in an e-mail, that Tuesday's proposals are aimed "to raise the quality of our educators and release our teaching professional from bureaucratic red tape" and are "informed by teacher input, which we take seriously."
Palmer said, "We've had a whole lot of very good meetings with the commissioner and I'm really hopeful that we'll get back on track… I think this is like a bump in the road that we hit today."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun