Candidates find room for agreement at education forum

MIDDLETOWN–Gubernatorial candidates at an education forum Tuesday agreed on about as many points as they disagreed–starting with a consensus that good schools are vital to the state’s success.

One issue on  which they differed, however, was rewarding teachers on the basis of their students’ performance. Republican nominee Tom Foley and Independent candidate Tom Marsh said merit pay should be an easy choice.

“I think this is one of the keys to improving underperforming schools,” Foley said, calling anyone against merit pay “against progress” and “for the status quo.”

Malloy and Foley chat before ed forum, 9-28-10

Dan Malloy, left, and Tom Foley talk before an education forum Tuesday (Jacqueline Rabe)

Democrat Dan Malloy said he supports measuring performance of how teachers are doing, but stopped short of endorsing merit pay for the grade teachers receive.

“The real question is what role does it play?” he asked. “What we need is multi-faceted measurements that allow us to gauge whether a teacher is doing what they need to in a classroom.”

Marsh said he couldn’t believe there is even a debate whether a teacher should be graded on how their students are doing.

“Why are we even at a point that we would even have to ask that?” he asked, adding that in careers outside of the education world it is much easier for their career to end because of their performance.

The three candidates appeared on stage together for the first time for a forum to discuss education at the Macdonough School in Middletown. All three pledged their support to expanding school choice, including charter and magnet schools.

“We need to have more choice,” Foley said. “”There will never be enough charter schools in the state… We need to open as many additional charter schools as we can.”

Malloy said alternative schools “have shown us a way to close this [achievement] gap” and noted that he helped start two charter schools in Stamford while he was mayor.

The candidates disagreed whether public education is adequately funded by the state.

“I do believe that there is a money question,” Malloy said, adding urban schools are underfunded. His approach would be to make sure as much money as possible makes its way to the classroom and instruction versus for administration.

Foley outlined a different path.

The “problems [are] not related to the money we are spending. …I think if we maintain spending where it is, that will be enough, but we don’t need an increase to improve the schools in Connecticut.”

Foley said he would support funneling money to performing schools, including charters, and stop giving more money to failing schools.

Marsh suggested one way to help school districts struggling budgets is get teachers to agree to pay freezes so other teachers aren’t laid off.

“They have a responsibly to keep our schools well staffed,” he said.

When it comes to the state’s attempt to capture $175 million in federal dollars through Race to the Top, both Malloy and Foley agreed: they like federal money.

“It is forcing us to make the reforms we need to make,” Foley said.

Malloy, said we “embarrassed ourselves” by failing to win the money with the state’s application.

The debate was hosted by ConnCAN, a New Haven-based school reform group and moderated by the Connecticut Mirror’s Robert Frahm and NBC-30’s Tom Monahan.