Thursday, March 08, 2012

Dannel Rell

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, that thou may’st shake the superflux to them, and show the heavens more just – Lear, from Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

After Governor Dannel Malloy is put through the political grinder by status quo opposition forces that tend to resist his educational reform, he just might begin to feel, perhaps for the first time in his political life, what some Republican governors before him may have felt when faced with an intractable opposition.

Mr. Malloy’s’ educational reforms spring from reasonable premises: Some schools are better than other schools; the surest means of improving deficient schools is to note the important pedagogical differences between the two, discover what works in the better schools and replicate it in the poorer schools. Among things that don’t work as well as they should, particularly in failing urban schools, are some deficient teachers. They should be identified and counseled; if remediation does not improve them, they should be discharged, and administrators should not have to jump the moon to insure their replacement. The surest means of singling out poor teachers is to tie their teaching performance to teaching outcomes.

As promised, Mr. Malloy has taken his premises on the road. On March 5, he displayed his reforms to a Chamber of Commerce gathering in Waterbury and was cordially received by a sizable group. Following his brief presentation, Mr. Malloy asked for questions from the floor: “What? No one wants to yell at me?” Half a dozen questions were asked of the governor, after which he departed, skin intact.

The next day, Mr. Malloy – perhaps the most peripatetic chief executive the state has seen in living memory – traveled to a high-performing school district in West Hartford, there to confront teachers chiefly concerned with those provisions of Mr. Malloy’s reform package that touch upon how educators are evaluated and paid. The 370 seats in the school auditorium Mr. Malloy visited were occupied by teachers from the region. Another 45 heard the proceedings from an overflow room, and more than 100 other teachers had been turned away, according to local officials.

Here was Dannel in the lion’s den; here was Lear on the heath, raked by a fierce storm.

Mr. Malloy did not quote the passage from Shakespeare above, but he did say, more prosaically, “You think about how hard this might be for you to make the changes required here. Think about how hard it would be to live raising a child in a city with a school district that is not meeting that child's needs."

His education package, Mr. Malloy told the teachers, contained reasonable and necessary proposals to reform teacher evaluations and tenure. Tenure is the lock on the closed shop of teacher unions in Connecticut. And here was the governor, surrounded by more than 400 teachers, shamelessly picking at the lock.

Outside the room, teachers were organizing the opposition. And inside the room, Democratic politicians in the audience – including the influential co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Education Committee, Representative Andrew Fleishmann – were nervously fidgeting. Mr. Fleischmann, according to one news report, will lay himself over troubled water and attempt to “bridge a politically uncomfortable gap Malloy has opened with unionized teachers.”

While teacher unions have agreed to accept Mr. Malloy’s “framework” for education reform, no one has yet agreed to link the agreed upon framework to certification, tenure and salary, many union affiliated teachers now say. The framework, the governor and others not afflicted with reformophobia insist, is inoperable without the linkage. There is no point to an educational reform that does not link desired outcomes with certification, tenure and salary. Unless sticks and carrots are associated with desired outcomes, there is no incentive for achieving ANY desirable purpose. In the real world outside of education – and even in classrooms in which good student performance is rewarded with high grades, the pedagogical equivalent of a salary increase – the delinking of rewards and sanctions to measurable performance leads ineluctably to poor performance which, in Connecticut’s dystopian educational environment, occasionally serves as its own reward.

After Mr. Malloy had left the building, Mr. Fleischmann huddled with a couple of hundred teachers in a closed door meeting during which he heard objections to Mr. Malloy’s reforms, a subject of continuing negotiations with Democratic legislators who control the General Assembly, teachers and the Malloy administration.

Mr. Fleischmann pointed out the state legislature is a co-equal branch of government that is expected to refine gubernatorial proposals, a responsibility Democrats in the legislature shucked off on the governor when Mr. Malloy entered into contractual negotiations with unions that refined his first budget. At that time, legislators such as Fleischmann pre-approved a budget that was by no means a final product, choosing instead to let the gubernatorial lamb lay down with union lions and iron out their differences.

This time around, Mr. Fleischmann is more than anxious to exercise his constitutional responsibilities – which may or may not refine out of a final educational reform package such Malloy reforms as do not sit well with status quo pedagogues.
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