Unions Unsettled By Malloy's Call For Tenure Reform

The leaders of the state's teachers unions aren't happy with how Gov.Dannel P. Malloydescribed the current tenure system in his State of the State address Wednesday — "the only thing you have to do is show up for four years" — but they say they are willing to work with him on his proposed reform.

Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, said she thought that Malloy's characterization of tenure "was a bit harsh and incorrect, but I think we can work our way through it."

"We need to see what he's talking about," Palmer said. "We may not be that far apart."

Mary Loftus Levine, president of the Connecticut Education Association, who also differed with the governor on how tenure works at present, said, "I think we have a lot in common, but the devil is in the details."

"I can tell you that tenure is not a job for life," Levine said. "In high-functioning districts, they do exactly what the governor described and what we want is for all districts to take evaluations seriously."

In his speech, Malloy focused largely on education reform, touching on the series of proposals that he has rolled out in the past two weeks, including more opportunity for preschool; plans to transform failing schools; improving teacher preparation; and $50 million more for education cost-sharing.

But the new element in his reform package and the one that he emphasized Wednesday was his proposal for tenure reform.

"Right now, if you're a teacher and you have tenure, your performance in the classroom has to be rated 'incompetent' before a dismissal process can even begin," Malloy said. "Even then — even if you're rated incompetent — it can take more than a year to dismiss you."

"And to earn that tenure — that job security — in today's system, basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years."

Under his proposal, Malloy said, "Tenure will have to be earned and re-earned" — by meeting certain objective performance standards, including student achievement, school performance, and parent and peer reviews.

Paul Vallas, Bridgeport's new acting superintendent and a national leader of education reform, called the reform plan "pragmatic, practical" and "effective."

Vallas, who formerly was the superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District and led the public school systems in Philadelphia and Chicago, said the proposal doesn't go as far as some states that have abolished tenure, but it goes "a heck of a lot further than a lot of states have."

Malloy's tenure proposal would be tied directly to a proposed teacher evaluation system that was recently agreed upon by a group of teacher union leaders, administrators, school board leaders and state officials.

One of the key elements in the proposed tenure system would be that a teacher could be dismissed for "ineffective" performance; now, a teacher must be "incompetent" before he or she is dismissed.

A chart provided by Malloy's office said that under the current system, tenure is awarded "by default" after four years. In the proposed system, tenure would be earned in three to five years, based on successful evaluations.

Malloy said that to maintain tenure, teachers should be required to continue to prove their effectiveness in the classroom as their career progresses.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said that in examining options for Connecticut's tenure system, state officials looked at states where tenure had been abolished, at other states where old-fashioned versions of tenure remain and at the 31 states where tenure has been reformed since 2009.

"We've adopted features from a number of the reforms that have been undertaken in other states, and we've got some homegrown elements," Pryor said.

"There are many teachers who wish for fellow teachers in neighboring classrooms to be working at the high standards that they set for them," Pryor said. "The goal is to create a system that accomplishes that."

Linda Napoletano, an English teacher at Glastonbury High School, said the governor's assessment of how teachers get tenure is "not true. I don't know where he's getting that."

"I can tell you teachers do not get tenure in my district unless they demonstrate ability and dedication," Napoletano said.

She said she doesn't oppose revising the tenure policy, but "'ineffective' is an awfully nebulous term" and she said she fears that it could lead to unjustified dismissals.

Several legislators said that tenure reform might be needed, but they questioned whether Malloy's proposal would fly.

"I think it's an excellent starting place for discussion," said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who is co-chairman of the legislature's education committee. "It builds upon an evaluation process that all stakeholders … agreed to by consensus, so that's a good starting place."

But Fleischmann said that some who supported the evaluation framework might not have intended it to be applied to tenure.

State Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola called teacher tenure reform "a step in the right direction" but said he was skeptical that the legislature would pass it. "I do not think that kind of reform would ever get enacted without a Republican-controlled legislature. It's probably D.O.A. ... I'm just going by applause lines on that one."

State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said that politicians saying they were going to reform the education system was like saying "they're going to end cloudy days."

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