Perfect evaluations, then tie to tenure

Recall that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn't get his plan to reform Connecticut's broken public education system off to a very good start last year when he remarked in his State of the State speech that all a teacher needs to achieve tenure is to show up for four years.

There's evidence the observation did have the virtue of being basically true, but sometimes truth has its limits, especially when dealing with the powerful and thin skinned teachers' unions and the legislators they control.

The governor was probably fortunate to achieve what he did in the watered down education package that was finally produced by the General Assembly. But he isn't finished trying, Gov. Malloy assured a gathering of superintendents earlier this month. We're glad to hear it.

The gathering launched a pilot program at 15 school districts, including Waterford Public Schools, aimed at evaluating teacher performance. It is a program that state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor admits has a few "kinks" that will have to be worked out.

For starters, the program is vague, to say the least, calling for 45 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based on test scores and "other student indicators," not otherwise defined. The rest will come from conclusions arrived at after classroom observation, parent and peer surveys and "mutually agreed upon goals," apparently not yet mutually agreed upon.

Out of this will come evaluations that will find a teacher's performance exemplary, proficient, developing or below standard, political speak for excellent, good, fair or poor. What happens to teachers found to be performing short of the swell-sounding top three ratings is also among the kinks to be worked out.

Despite these challenges, Gov. Malloy and Mr. Pryor assured the superintendents that education reform is well underway in Connecticut. But it is already behind our neighbors.

Fulfilling a pledge by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end "tenure as we know it," The New York Times reports nearly half of the New York City's teachers reaching the end of their probationary periods were denied tenure this year and 3 percent were fired. That means only 55 percent of eligible teachers earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007.

In New Jersey, the legislature unanimously passed and the governor signed a bill overhauling the nation's oldest tenure law. Gov. Chris Christie credited the cooperation of the state's teachers' unions, which had earlier maligned him in TV ads similar to the ones aired by Connecticut teachers last year.

New Jersey's law could provide something of a model for the school systems involved in the Connecticut pilot program. In a state that all but guaranteed tenure after three years of "showing up," New Jersey teachers will now need four years to earn required ratings of "effective" or "highly effective" in at least two of those years. Those who fail will not receive tenure and those who do not improve will be fired.

Under pressure from the teacher unions, Gov. Malloy's attempts to also directly tie tenure to evaluations failed in the legislature. Under the approved bill, school superintendents are expected to base contract decisions leading to tenure on effectiveness as demonstrated by the teacher's performance evaluations. That leaves plenty of gray area.

Once the Connecticut education commissioner can demonstrate the state has an effective evaluation program, the governor should renew his efforts to - as does New Jersey - tie attainment of tenure to achieving effective evaluation scores.

In other words, education reform is not over.

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