The state’s teachers unions may have reached agreement on how their members should be graded weeks ago, but on Tuesday, union leaders came to the state Capitol complex to display buyer’s remorse.
Calling it a “leap of faith,” when they signed on to the historic teacher evaluation framework, Phil Apruzzese, head of the state’s largest teachers union, told Education Committee members that he has second thoughts.
“We run the risk of losing good teachers, of evaluation becoming a ‘gotcha’ practice, and of establishing a culture of fear, rather than collaboration in our schools,” he said, describing the evaluation as “based on shaky factors” and “very subjective.”
The evaluations — which would be based largely on student performance, peer reviews and classroom observations — are the cornerstone of an education agenda proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was a late addition to the list of public-hearing witnesses.
“We must build a system around it,” Malloy told the Education Committee of the evaluations. “We should treat that document as important… Otherwise, it has no value.”
Students “deserve to have teachers who are evaluated based on a fair evaluation system that both unions in the state have recognized as fair and voted for in the process,” he said.
But teachers unions are now asking: What’s the rush to tie everything in education to the evaluations before it’s proven that they work? Malloy’s proposed bill would have a teacher’s certification, tenure and potentially pay dependent on these evaluations.
“Evaluation is a complex skill — it required complex data analysis and judgment,” Apruzzese said. He called Malloy’s time line for implementing reforms unrealistic.
“We believe that this bill puts the cart before the horse,” Apruzzese said. “These systems aren’t properly developed yet.”
“The question is, ‘how much of a leap of faith do you take?'” said Sharon Palmer, head of Connecticut’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “You have to remember the framework [for the evaluations] was agreed upon before the language in the bill came out … You don’t want to create an unworkable mess.”
The teachers’ union testimony — and the more than 50 teachers who planned on Tuesday to tell the Education Committee their objections to the proposed changes — appeared to destroy any chance of union support for Malloy’s education package.
“On behalf of the 43,000 members of the Connecticut Education Association, I urge you to reject Senate Bill 24,” Apruzzese testified.
“We shouldn’t be so eager and willing to experiment with basing certification and a teacher’s ability to teach in any district in the state on a system that is not yet designed, that faces challenges in addressing these concerns, that hasn’t been tested and refined and that has no research saying this is sound practice,” he said.
While Malloy spoke briefly about reforming underachieving schools and eliminating the barriers school districts face to focus on educating their students, teacher tenure took center stage.
“My belief that we need to reform teacher tenure is in no way a slight to those good teachers,” Malloy said.
Legislators needed more convincing.
The questions lawmakers asked the governor were prompted by hearing teachers’ many concerns about how Malloy describes the current tenure process.
“Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours,” Malloy said during his State of the State address earlier this month.
Malloy, who is a lawyer, didn’t back off the interpretation of education law that states that a teacher automatically earns tenure after 40 school months. A teacher can only be fired when their performance can be proven to be inefficient or incompetent.
“Legally, legally, the description [I gave] was apt,” he said, while acknowledging some teachers may have a different experience to earn tenure based on local regulations. “It’s amazing how many people will admit that there are teachers in buildings which they believe don’t belong there, but because of this system remain.”
A student’s take
Edwin Rosales, a junior at Norwalk High School, was the first and one of the youngest to testify. He supports the proposed shakeup.
“I can count on one hand the teachers that have motivated me to success. One hand,” he told the committee.
He’s seen firsthand the teachers Malloy speak of that don’t belong in the classroom. He added Malloy’s plan to tie evaluations to a teacher’s ability to continue teaching is a welcome change.
But Apruzzese, an elementary school teacher himself, took the stand to testify against what he called the dangers of tying teacher evaluations to certification.
State Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold, asked if there was anything in the bill the union supports.
“We wholeheartedly support the early childhood piece,” Apruzzese said. “That’s exactly where we need to begin to attack these issues.”
“Is that the only piece?” Mikutel asked.
We are talking with the governor’s office, Apruzzese responded.