Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Could This Be The End Of Education Reform?

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will be retiring, according to a news report, in January, just as the New Year begins. When Mr. Pryor first entered the Malloy administration, he was warmly received by the newly elected governor, who was dissatisfied with the quality of public education in Connecticut’s urban areas. Mr. Malloy made it plain that students in low performing public schools were not dispensable.  Students in Connecticut’s larger cities may have languished in under-performing schools during the administrations of less solicitous governors; but, in Mr. Malloy’s view, such students, whose futures had for years been blasted by inadequate education, were no less precious than the children of more prosperous parents in West Hartford, Avon or New Canaan.

Mr. Malloy was to be an education governor. It did not take Mr. Malloy long to discover that it was nearly impossible to purge bad schools of bad teachers. To redress this socially destructive inequity, he backed a series of pedagogical reforms that tied teacher performance and hiring to educational outcomes, thereby richly earning the contumely of bad teachers and supporters of the pedagogical status quo such as Jonathan Pelto.

For months during the current election season, Mr. Pelto, who ran for governor as an Independent, was the teacher union’s stone in Mr. Malloy’s shoe. Mr. Pelto was particularly harsh on those pedagogical reformers who clustered around Mr. Malloy. Mr. Pryor was his bete noir. Common Core – or, as a critic of the critics of Common Core once called it, “Common Gore” – was Mr. Pelto’s campaign drum; he beat on it incessantly.

Mr. Pelto was able to make common cause with some conservatives, who detested Common Core for quite different reasons. Mr. Pelto objected to Common Core because it provided a standard according to which teachers might be rated, the worst of them to be drummed, one way or another, out of the profession.  The conservative beef against Common Core was that the control of schools and curricula should rest, in conformity to the principle of subsidiarity, with elected school boards in Connecticut’s towns – and NOT with some distant federal agency they would rather see dismantled and thrown on the ash heap of history.

Mr. Malloy, a self-described porcupine, very likely did not take kindly to Pelto’s whips and scorns. Quietly and without exciting notice, he and his subalterns managed to corral the endorsements of Connecticut’s major teacher unions, whose members were bleeding from quills early shot at them by the governor. Late in his reelection campaign, Mr. Malloy apologized for having said in a rare moment of candor during his first “State of the State” address, “Basically the only thing you [teachers] have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” What teachers heard on that occasion was: “We will be the threshing floor; we will separate the wheat from the chaff. In the future, tenure will be a reward for measurable services. It will no longer be a birthright of those who belong to unions.”

Game on.

The question now before the house is: Having softened his position on tenure, having regained the faith and support of teachers unions, having established a “working group” that will make changes in the implementation of Common Core State Standards, once the central pillar of Mr. Malloy’s pedagogical reform effort, and lastly, having bid a fond adieu to Mr. Pryor  -- who had, according to a send-off testimonial, raised Connecticut’s  “standards for educators and students; provided additional supports to districts; implemented a system of accountability for continuous improvement  and made notable progress toward closing achievement gaps" – what is to become of students left behind, the graduates of inferior urban public schools? And, perhaps more importantly, what is to become of the teachers in poor quality urban public schools holding on to their jobs with clenched tenured teeth?

Which Malloy will be governor in his second term: the Malloy who, during his first term, strutted the public stage like a pedagogical Samson, quite willing to pull the educational house down upon his own head, if such was necessary to save urban school children from cripplingly poor public schools; or the Malloy who marches gaily in union picket lines?

The late Bill Buckley – GOD, HOW HE IS MISSED!  -- was asked, after an address in WestConn what President Richard Nixon was really like. He had just finished raking Mr. Nixon over hot coals for having, as Buckley said, “clinked glasses cordially” with Chairman Mao, one of the most prolific mass murderers in modern history. Mr. Buckley smiled that world conquering smile of his and asked in return: “Which one? There are at least four of them, you know.”

On the pedagogical front, there are at least two Malloys – or, possibly, one Malloy with two faces.
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