Connecticut Education Reformers Brace for 'Winner-Take-All' Battle with Teacher Unions

HARTFORD, Ct. – Since 2010, Connecticut has had the dreary distinction of having the largest student achievement gap in the nation.

Students in Connecticut’s well-to-do school districts significantly outperform students in poor, urban districts, which is a major economic and moral dilemma. But it appears that state lawmakers are finally ready to get serious about addressing the problem.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is promising education reforms that will be “the most far-reaching in our state’s history,” and has targeted six areas for improvement – including increasing the number of charter schools, revising teacher tenure and seniority, and authorizing “intensive interventions” for the lowest-performing districts.

Education reform groups such as the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now and the Connecticut Parents Union are expected to bend lawmakers’ ears about the need to link teacher evaluations to student achievement.

Former teacher and State Rep. Douglas McCrory, a Democrat, put the upcoming education reform fight into perspective.

“This is winner-take-all, folks,” McCrory said in a recent speech. “I don’t think we’re going to have another opportunity like this in the state of Connecticut any time soon. We need to get it done now, or you know what the future looks like.”

Reformers are expecting strong resistance from the state’s teacher unions.

Last year, the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut disgraced itself when it was revealed that the union used subterfuge to water down a 2010 “parent trigger” law, which would have empowered parents to make sweeping changes to failing schools. A union document infamously referred to concerned parents as “the opposition.”

The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s other major teachers union, is taking a softer, gentler approach to undercutting school reforms. The CEA unveiled an expensive TV-ad campaign during last weekend’s NFL playoffs that claims the union favors “bold ideas” such as “more accountability,” “smaller class sizes,” and “even replacing teacher tenure.”

RiShawn Biddle, editor of Dropout Nation, calls the union’s proposals “mild” and says its tenure reform plan would “reduce the time required for firing laggard teachers by 35 days.”

How underwhelming.

For school reformers, Biddle writes, “(the CEA ad) is both a preview of the political battle that will come in the next few months within the nation’s statehouses – and a reminder that they will have to step up their political game to advance reform.”

Let’s hope Connecticut parents and lawmakers are ready to respond, “Game on.”