Let’s do what we can to keep great teachers in the classroom

How well we educate our youth is a true measure of how well we are, or are not, investing in the future of our state and country. That is why during these difficult economic times, we must not simply cry foul about the things that are wrong with our system, but instead look to what is not working and fix it.

No longer can we afford to wander aimlessly through what has seemed to be the perpetual halls of a failing education system. While there are many factors, both in and outside of the school setting that contribute to this failure, there are many individual success stories that can be found in classrooms throughout our communities, which we can and should celebrate. Bottom line, we must keep a laser focus on improving outcomes for all kids. And right now, that is not where our focus is.

While we look to reform our system, we must first recognize that we all have a stake in the academic achievement of our children. Whether you are a taxpayer, a parent, an educator or an employer, there’s no denying that if you have any interest at all in the future of our state, you have an interest in making sure all kids get the most they possibly can out of their education.

As investors in public education, we also need to consider whether we are making the best use of our investments. Fundamentally, we cannot look to spend more money on education until we have taken an honest look at how we are spending the dollars currently appropriated. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we all know that the answer to this is we’re not making the most of that investment right now. An honest appraisal would undoubtedly lead to implementation of policy and budgetary changes at every level of government. We need to shift the incentive structure in our school system so that all involved can maintain a focus on student outcomes. That, after all, is the purpose of public education.

For example, we must continue to develop a rigorous system by which individual student growth is tied to teacher evaluations. These evaluations should then be tied to a teacher’s ability to earn tenure. And we should come together around a way for lawmakers to fix–not dilute or completely derail–binding arbitration by creating an independent pool of third party arbitrators who can effectively and efficiently resolve disputes while putting students’ needs first.

Gov. Malloy and the General Assembly are on the right path this legislative session. Thanks to the courage of the American Federation of Teachers and organizations like the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), the General Assembly is positioning itself to make the changes necessary to protect effective teachers while removing ineffective ones from the classroom. This is a welcome development, and something that I hope my colleagues on the Education Committee will continue to prioritize this session and in years to come.

While this is progress, we need to do more and fast. With the threat of additional layoffs of potentially effective teachers looming this year, the legislature must act quickly: without legislative intervention, the primary factor that can be taken into account when determining who will be laid off in most school districts is the length of time a teacher has been on the job, with no consideration of his or her effectiveness. This will become less of an issue once we have established a thorough evaluation process for our educators. Once we have this system in place, seniority will presumably equal both experience and effectiveness that our students need.

We all know it makes no sense to let great new teachers go just because they are newer, or to keep potentially less effective teachers in their jobs just because they have been there longer. On the flip side, it is also outrageous to think we would look to eliminate a senior teacher whose performance has been proven effective simply because he or she gets a higher paycheck.

It’s in our interest to do whatever we can to keep more great teachers in the classroom. We can make fair, student-centered changes to these policies, and if we really believe in making the most of our investments, we will.

It is time to realign our policies to ensure they are reflective of our need to keep effective teachers in the classroom while getting rid of the ineffective ones. I urge my colleagues in the General Assembly to join me in taking quick action to protect our students.

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