On Thursday night, the Bethel High School auditorium was filled to capacity. Approximately two-thirds of the audience was made up of teachers, many of them angry and confused over details in the 163 page education reform proposal promoted by Governor Dannel Malloy.
Members of the audience were interviewed and most were concerned with how the new education proposal was going to effect their teaching positions. “How can you have qualified teachers if they don't have a Master's Degree,” Ellen Shea, South Street School, Danbury, asked, referring to the proposal's doing away with certain No Child Left Behind standards.
Human Resources Manager for Bethel Public Schools, Viola Rudinas, was not so quick to jump the gun. “I want to have a better understanding of what the proposal is about. There are a lot of rumors.”
Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman reminded the audience that they were there for the children. “That's what we are here for tonight,” she said.
Malloy focused his introduction on the growing level of underachievement in Connecticut's fourth grade. “We have the largest achievement gap in the nation,” he said, noting that many would argue that the lower test scores were due to poverty. "Poverty is ubiquitous throughout the country. But when you compare our demographics to Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, the demographics are close to identical,” he said.
Malloy said that the fourth grade test scores in those states are rising while Ct's scores are going down. He reminded the crowd that the greatest predictor of future prison populations are the children who fail to read at a third grade level in third grade.
Referencing his 163 page proposal, Malloy admitted that the changes would “shake up the status quo.” Judging by the constant heckling of the teachers and other audience members, the audience was already shaken up.
Throughout the discussion, Malloy focused on the failing schools. He asked if the state should concentrate it's support on the 30 low performing schools that are graduating 41 percent of students and employ 37 percent of the state's teachers. “Should we focus on those schools and do everything we can to turn them around?”
Many in the audience interrupted the governor's question and answer period with comments, or applause for those who questioned him. While Malloy explained to the audience that the proposal is not promoting additional testing, less creativity in the classroom, or disrespect for teachers, he did admit that there needed to be changes in teacher assessment in order to bring Ct's testing standards up to the other states. “There are 31 states that have changed their evaluations, and their test scores have gone up. This is not about blaming the teachers,” Malloy said. “There is a need to change tenure and we know it.”
When Mark Reinders, fourth grade teacher in Ridgefield, said that he lives in terror of the implications of the bill, Malloy stated that when 40 to 60 percent of a state's students are failing, it is time to change the system. “Massachusetts used to be behind us, and now they are ahead.”