Dannel Malloy has been receiving a drubbing both from Jonathan Pelto and reform resistant teachers ever since he first stepped into his gubernatorial office a little more than three years ago. The welts are beginning to show as Connecticut approaches an election year, and this week, a bedraggled Malloy -- along with other educational reform mourners, including Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor – stepped before the mics at St. Joseph College in West Hartford and rang up a white flag of sorts.
In a letter released to the media shortly before the funeral at which he buried his principal education reform plank,Mr. Malloy announced that the educational initiatives he boldly supported during his first campaign run as governor would be put on hold, pending a study. Studies are usually death knells to government programs. Change, said the governor and his retinue -- Lieutenant Gov. Nancy Wyman, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, and Senate President Donald Williams -- has come too quickly to Connecticut classrooms:
“Since the beginning of the school year, we have heard from teachers and administrators voicing their concerns that too much change is hitting their classrooms at once. This confluence of changes jeopardizes the success of our teachers, and thus our students. We’ve heard their concerns loud and clear, and understand.”
Teacher unions were reeling at the prospect that some few inadequate tenured “educators,” especially in underperforming urban schoolrooms, would be tracked, evaluated and perhaps even dismissed. Some Republicans were restive; libertarians among them were always doubtful that made-in-Washington programs and curriculums could improve the educational product. And then, there was Pelto, tirelessly beaning Mr. Malloy with spitballs from the progressive side of the classroom.
Early into his first term, Mr. Malloy, reaching out to urban victims of poorly performing schools, expressed his disdain for inadequate teachers dressed in tenured armor. “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years,” Mr. Malloy said during his first state of the state address. “Do that, and tenure is yours.” Mr. Malloy’s education reforms were designed to change an unacceptable status quo. In the future, tenure would be held hostage to Malloy’s proposed reforms and tied to student performance as measured by objective criteria.
This early, often touted reform agenda has now, just prior to the campaign season, suffered a reversal. Of course, Mr. Pelto is having none of this. Mr. Malloy, he asserts on “Wait What?” his battering-ram of a blog, is simply running out of the wool he has so successfully pulled over the eyes of union members, misunderstood teachers and progressive Democrats:
“In his effort to ‘win’ over (aka snow) teachers, parents and public school advocates, Malloy’s plan appears to be to push off a couple of elements of his corporate education reform industry agenda until he can make it past November’s election for governor.”
Mr. Pelto believes that Mr. Malloy has spent too many tax dollars in his attempt to destroy public education by yoking together teacher evaluation and student performance to retreat at this juncture. If the link between teacher job security and student scores on measurable tests is the hook, non-performing teachers are not yet off the hook, Mr. Pelto warns. The present temporary hold on Mr. Malloy’s earlier school reform measures, one of the pillars of his 2011 run for governor, is a campaign feint designed to haul back into the Malloy campaign boat progressive stragglers like Mr. Pelto and other proponents of the status quo in public education. Mr. Malloy’s school reform trumpet, now muted for the purpose of a campaign, will blare loudly once again after all the Democratic seats have been secured.
It is true, of course, that Mr. Malloy has not yet been driven from the education reform field; a temporary hold on a program is not yet repeal. And it is always possible that Mr. Malloy was serious when he first vowed to temper tenure by making it in some sense contingent upon teacher performance and student testing. It is not possible to secure this link in the absence of an objective measurement of student performance, which is one of the reasons tenured teachers are repelled by any test that connects effective teaching to student performance.
Decoupling the two, the chief ambition of Mr. Pelto and powerful teacher unions, now has toddled a baby’s step forward. Under bombardment from tenured teachers and Mr. Pelto, Mr. Malloy has announced his intention of forming a “working group” to make changes in the implementation of Common Core State Standards. And Mr. Malloy has asked the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, a group assembled to spur his once bold reforms, to modify the central pillar of his reform effort – the measure that links teacher performance with student test scores.
But this pirouette, Mr. Pelto advises, is itself subject to reversal after Mr. Malloy has been re-elected. Beware the fox.
Mr. Malloy’s amended standards will of course need the approval of U.S. Department of Education. So far, every state that has been granted a waiver by the federal government has promised to have a fully implemented evaluation system linked to student outcomes no later than the 2014-15 school years.
Very likely Mr. Malloy’s proposed reform of an educational package so warmly embraced by Mr. Malloy is little more than a placebo to pacify critics until the elections are over.
Mr. Pelto has not announced his intention to run against Mr. Malloy on the “Wait What? ticket.