Union pushes for power to set teacher standards

The state’s largest teachers union is urging state legislators to remove the authority to set certification and ethical standards for teachers from the State Department of Education and have an autonomous panel led by educators determine those requirements for themselves.

“You’ll find teachers are harder on other teachers than anyone else will ever be because they know the job,” said Mary Loftus Levine, the executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, calling this a top agenda item of hers. “This will elevate the profession.”

The question of how standards should be set is under review now by the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee, which will hold a public hearing in November on the topic and make some final recommendations in December.

“There are many, many educators in the state who would be effected by any kind of change,” Carrie Vibert, director PRI committee staff, told the committee this week when releasing a preliminary report on the issue.

But Nancy Pugliese, who leads the teacher certification division at the SDE, said taking the authority for setting standards from her department is a bad idea. The CEA has thwarted efforts by the department to update the standards for years, she said.

Levine sees it differently: The revised standards “still not done because they’re stuck over at the State Department of Education,” she said.

Currently, a 17-member committee develops recommendations for the SDE and State Board of Education consider on changes to teacher requirements. Four of those committee members are teachers appointed by the CEA. The rest of the panel is made up of business and industry officials, school administrators and parents.

Pugliese said the union is able to exert considerable influence over the process. “We have been trying to advance the standards more than they wanted to go along with,” she said. “A lot of the pushback was from the union.”

Allan Taylor, chairman of the state board of education, said setting standards is vital–it “decides what our schools accomplish,” he said–and agreed that it doesn’t work well. But he said he’s not sure the answer is an independent body of educators.

Phil Apruzzese, president of the 41,000-member CEA, said giving teachers the authority is important.

“We hear regularly from our members that they want a voice in decision-making through a new board because they know firsthand what it takes to deliver excellent teaching and learning, and they want to be accountable for excellence. A new board would give them the opportunity to set high standards and be responsible for achieving them,” he said.

But Robert Rader, the head of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said the SDE must maintain authority over this function.

“It’s critical a third party handles these standards and also the enforcement of it to ensure there is quality in the classroom,” he said.

Pugliese said in states where this shift has occurred, the result has been a decline in standards.

“I know some states that this hasn’t worked out so well for,” she said.