Education reform: Malloy offers compromise on tenure

State legislators have made it clear they do not support a statewide policy of tying teacher tenure and pay to performance evaluations before the end of the coming school year. But will they support trying it out in 10 districts first?

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is pitching that changes to tenure begin after first piloting the new teacher evalations. Getting a “meaningful” education reform package passed is the governor’s priority for 2012.

The Malloy plan would have 10 districts that volunteer launch these state-developed teacher evaluations for the coming school year. Then, in the 2013-14 school year, begin linking those grades to tenure and salary decisions.

“We’ve actually moved off of the start date when we were at the table… so that we could have it piloted,” said Liz Donohue, Malloy’s director of public policy. “We’ve always told people we’re very flexible [on the rollout] and trying to get the right formula.”

Sen. Toni Harp, the Appropriations Committee co-chairwoman, said she is thinking it over.

“I am willing to consider it,” said Harp, who is involved in the closed-door negotiations. With tless than three weeks in the session, the administration is trying to address legislative concerns.

Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff and point person for negotiations with legislative leaders, said the administration weeks ago decided changes to tenure statewide would have to wait until after the pilot.

“It’s something we’ve been discussing since March,” he said, noting the administration brought it up during negotiations with the state’s teachers unions. “We’re willing to give evaluations a year.”

Meanwhile, Republican minority leaders issued a statement saying that their conversations with the administration make them optimistic that sweeping reforms will be passed.

“Based on the negotiations to date, we believe we are close to a deal very soon,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

“We applaud Gov. Malloy for accepting our input and including our ideas to ensure key reforms are included in the final legislation,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.

The Republicans say that teacher evaluations should not place a teacher’s certification at risk.

It was not immediately clear if the pilot proposal has enough votes for passage, since it delays — not scuttles — a controversial policy. The administration still wants legislators to set a date for these evaluations to be rolled out statewide and tied to tenure and certification decisions. They are asking for that to happen in the 2014-15 school year.

“The governor’s been very consistent in saying that evaluations need to have consequences,” Donohue said.

Malloy’s proposed changes for tenure include requiring that teachers pass their evaluations to keep their tenure. Salary decisions would also be linked to a teacher’s earning high grades on his or her evaluation. In Malloy’s bill, he proposed that those changes take place by July 2013.

“What we’ve done, is we’ve allocated money to fund a pilot so we can get a model and figure out what works before it’s fully implemented,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy.

Teachers’ unions and some legislators have balked at tying such severe consequences to an evaluation system that has not been finalized. The administration, unions and other stakeholders reached an agreement in January on what factors should go into a teacher’s evaluation. This included standardized tests accounting for almost one-quarter the grade, and surveys from parents, principals and other teachers for 15 percent.

However, the final details have still not been finalized.

Mary Loftus Levine, the leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union that has proposed “end[ing] tenure as we know it”, said earlier this week she would not agree to a rollout of an evaluation system that is not complete.

“I am not going to support something that isn’t complete and haven’t seen,” she said.