Don't let differences block education reforms

While heated political debates can tempt the observer to cynical conclusions, the passions that polarize can only arise when the participants are truly invested in the topic at hand. Such is the case for the education reform discussion in Connecticut, which is generally manifest to the public in the headline-making rhetorical flares of the day.

At the extremes, these assertions might variously suggest that the reform agenda is anti-teacher, or that teachers don't really care about students. Either version in any permutation is far from the truth. Indeed, there are significant areas of agreement on elements of reform.

The Malloy administration's proposal for increased teacher training is a direct response to 85 percent of teachers saying professional development is among the most vital tools to foster student achievement, according to a 2012 Scholastic/Gates Foundation survey.

Here in Connecticut, 71 percent of teachers welcome performance assessments, when given the training resources to improve weaker areas identified in their evaluations. The Science Center is witness to this, observing the enthusiasm with which teachers embrace the opportunity to become more effective in our professional development programs. After all, good science teachers will be the beneficiaries of the state Department of Education's increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math, which is crucial in a state where just 35 percent of eighth graders passed an optional national science exam.

It's appropriate that much of the reform discussion focuses on the achievement gap, but it's important to remember that even our suburban schools do not compete well on a global scale, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Our nation's achievement gap relative to competing economies is just as serious, which is why the governor proposes a much broader education reform.

Among other things, his reform package includes a comprehensive plan to better prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st century, critical to improving Connecticut's fortunes in future federal education funding competitions, such as Race to the Top.

These are the kinds of best-practice models the reform initiative aims to make available to educators and students in all the most challenged schools. Our collective legacy must be to assure that no discrete area of disagreement prevents the most urgent and promising components of reform from being implemented as rapidly as possible.

Matt Fleury of Hartford is president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center.


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