Malloy: teacher tenure will have to be earned, and re-earned

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is calling on legislators to completely change how the state’s 45,000 teachers earn tenure.

The change — linking tenure to student performance and teacher evaluations — will apply to new teachers and those who already have tenure.

Malloy State of State 1

Gov. Dannel Malloy at his State of the State address

“We’ve been too timid when the situation calls for boldness,” Malloy told a joint session of the General Assembly today. “Now, I’m a Democrat. I’ve been told that I can’t, or shouldn’t, touch teacher tenure. … I do what I say I’m going to do, and do what I think is right for Connecticut, irrespective of the political consequences. So when I say it’s time we reform teacher tenure, I mean it.”

Malloy’s new plan would provide tenure to teachers after two-and-a-half years only if they earn exemplary grades on two teacher evaluations, based largely on student achievement. Teachers can also earn tenure in 4 years with three proficient evaluations.

Teachers who don’t pass these evaluations, and are deemed “ineffective,” will be given a one-year probationary period to improve. This standard will also be applied to those teachers who already have tenure, said Roy Occhiogrosso, a senior adviser to the governor.

“Tenure will have to be earned and re-earned,” Malloy said. “If you want to keep that tenure, you should have to continue to prove your effectiveness in the classroom as your career progresses.”

These changes are a drastic shift from the system that currently exists. Teachers automatically earn tenure at four years by default, and dismissing an incompetent teacher is an uphill battle, Malloy said.

“Today tenure is too easy to get and too hard to take away,” he said.

Mary Loftus Levine

Mary Loftus Levine

But Mary Loftus Levine, leader of the Connecticut Education Association, said there’s a huge misunderstanding surrounding tenure.

“It’s not a job for life, and it’s not just earned by showing up,” the leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said standing outside the chamber of the State House of Representatives. “You are constantly evaluated.”

She said for those who aren’t measuring up, principals counsel them out of the profession.

While that may be the case, said Patrick Riccards from ConnCAN, the New Haven-based school reform group, local school officials have no authority to dismiss or require training for substandard tenured teachers.

“It’s pretty clear that once you have tenure, unless you do something egregious, you will not lose your job,” he said. “The governor hit the nail on the head with this.”

A recent poll asking if teacher’s should gain tenure after four years needs to change, 61 percent responded that it should be abolished. The poll was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research and commissioned by the Yankee Institute.

Others are reserving judgment, including the Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan, who has the power to determine the fate of this initiative.

“I support good teachers. There are proposals from all sides about it. I think it’s time to look at it,” Donovan said, who, as a candidate for Congress, has been endorsed by both of the state’s teachers’ unions. Pressed on whether teachers should have to re-earn their tenure every three to five years, he said he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

If the legislature does approve this overhaul, it will join the 19 other states that allow teachers to be dismissed based on evaluations, according to a recent report by the National Council of Teacher Quality.

There’s really no way of knowing just how many teachers will be flagged as “below standard” since the teacher evaluation system is not up and running yet. The framework for the evaluations was just agreed upon by a group of education officials last month. Those officials include the teachers’ unions, superintendents’ association and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

“We are on board with the framework. Now we have to put the meat on the bones” and see how it works, Loftus Levine said.

Riccards said he suspects up to 15 percent of the state’s teachers will be flagged for needing improvement, and as long as they receive the training they need to improve, then only those who should leave the profession will be shown the door.

Previous attempts to speed up the process for firing or laying off the worst teachers have fallen flat since few school districts in the state have evaluation systems to measure teacher performance. Almost one in five districts use seniority as the lone measure when districts make layoff decisions. An additional 52 percent of the districts use seniority as one of the primary factors.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the education proposals aren’t just about firing bad teachers. Rather, he said, it’s about giving teachers better training and counseling so they can improve, something that is lacking in many districts.

“We will provide them support so they can improve,” he said. The proposed budget adjustments dedicates $3 million to improve training opportunities to bring in national experts from New Leaders for New Schools, Teach Plus, Leading Educators and the National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education to lead these efforts and start a principal and superintendent academy at the University of Connecticut.

Malloy is proposing doing away with the continuing education seminars run mostly by local education groups that are required for teachers to keep their certification.

Phil Apruzzese

Phil Apruzzese, president of CEA: questions remain on Malloy’s plan

In releasing the changes it would like to see to teacher tenure, the CEA recommended cutting down the amount of time it takes to dismiss non-tenured teachers, but kept intact the default tenure for teachers once they’ve taught for four years.

Phil Apruzzese, the president of CEA, said he needs to see the details of Malloy’s call for teachers being re-evaluated before deciding if he can support such a drastic change.

In Bridgeport, Acting Superintendent Paul Vallas said he expects this change to result in better education being provided for students.

“Anything that brings greater accountability to the profession is a positive step,” he said.