By GAIL B. MACDONALD
When union pressure made legislators cave in, protecting poor teachers trumped student needs
Would you go to a physician you knew had made inaccurate diagnoses? Would you take piano lessons from a person who barely knew musical scales? Or patronize a restaurant where you experienced poorly cooked food?
Most people would tolerate none of these. Yet many children across the state have no assurances they will not be forced to tolerate the educational equivalent of such poor professional conduct. Now, unless the legislature reverses the Education Committee's decision to remove a key provision of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's education reform package - a piece that tied a teacher's ability to get and maintain tenure to their effectiveness in the classroom - these children will have to wait at least another year before any system is put in place to protect them.
Teachers and their unions lobbied strenuously to remove this provision and legislators on the committee listened to these appeals at the expense of students' best interests. The reason for the teachers unions' vehement opposition to the tenure provision is mysterious. Teachers' work is both extremely difficult and important and most teachers in this state not only are competent, but also are highly effective at ensuring their students achieve to their utmost potentials. They care deeply about their students and continue their own educations to better serve the children in their classrooms. All of this would mean that they'd continue to earn and maintain tenure without problem.
But there are teachers who are not effective. Maybe they chose the wrong profession. Maybe they are burned out. Maybe they are loving and nurturing, but fail to adequately challenge their students. Children suffer because of this. Unfortunately, the state's current system - the system some are seeking to protect - makes it both costly and time consuming for districts to rectify these situations, unless, as is the case in some districts, there is cooperation between the district's administration and its union local.
The current system in Connecticut allows a teacher to maintain both tenure and employment even if, year after year, their students are bored, unchallenged, unmotivated and performing far below their potentials. While the national No Child Left Behind Act did make a step in the right direction by requiring certified teachers in all classrooms and establishing the means to deem teachers "highly qualified" in their subject area, in Connecticut teachers who are demonstrating lackluster professional performance can remain in the classroom unless they are documented as being "incompetent."
The stakes for education's failures are high and getting higher. If students are not reading with facile comprehension by the time they are about eight years old, their risk of future failure escalates. Students who struggle are more likely to drop out of school and end up in prison. If they are not viewing themselves as learners at an early age, they are more likely to become discipline problems. If they do not achieve to their highest abilities, they will not become productive workers nor aspire to go to college.
If people won't tolerate poor restaurant food when the only risk is a bout of indigestion, why are they tolerating a system that allows poor classroom practices to risk children's entire futures?
Connecticut is fortunate to have a governor who is working to end the deep educational divide in the state. Citizens should ask their legislators to support the governor to benefit our children.
Gail B. MacDonald is chairwoman of the Stonington Board of Education, but wrote this commentary in her capacity as an area director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.