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Conn. Governor Promotes Changes to Teacher-Tenure System

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy is just the latest state leader to propose big changes to his state's system for awarding teachers tenure. And he's facing some tough questions along the way.

The governor, a Democrat who is calling for broad changes to Connecticut's education system, testified about his tenure proposal before a legislative committee this week.

Malloy said his goal is not to disparage teachers—a charge levied recently at many governors and lawmakers around the country—but to create a system in which teachers who clearly can't cut it are not allowed to remain in the classroom.

The goal of his proposal is to "transform the current rigid, red tape morass to a fair, performance-based system of evaluation, certification and tenure," Malloy said in his testimony Feb. 21. "Taken together, they will ensure that we have a system in place that justly rewards the many hardworking and dedicated public school teachers, while at the same time giving us the tools to help the few that are falling behind."

Union representatives are wary of Malloy's teacher proposals.

"We run the risk of losing good teachers, of evaluation becoming a 'gotcha' practice, and we establishing a culture of fear, rather than collaboration, in our schools," Phil Apruzzese, president of the Connecticut Education Association, told lawmakers. The union is trying to work with lawmakers to shape any legislation that emerges, according to the organization.

Connecticut this month approved an overhaul of its system for evaluating teachers and principals, which, like models in many states, ties educators' reviews in part to their ability to raise student achievement, as judged by student test scores and other factors.

Malloy says his tenure proposal will complement that evaluation system. Currently, teachers can earn tenure after four years by default, with service that is merely satisfactory, the governor says. He wants to give them the right to tenure after three to five years, but only after they receive a series of "exemplary" evaluations.

He wants to change the probationary period for teacher from 90 days to a year, and allow teachers to be dimissed for ineffectiveness, as defined by the state's new evaluation system, rather than just incomptence, according to a recent draft of his plan.

In a speech earlier this month, Malloy said that debates over tenure and other education proposals have descended into unnecessary polemics.

"I'm a Democrat," he said in a Feb. 8 budget address. "I've been told that I can't, or shouldn't, touch teacher tenure ... I hope you've learned this: I do what I say I'm going to do, and I do what I think is right for Connecticut, irrespective of the political consequences."

Yet Malloy also added: "Connecticut will not join the states trying to demonize and antagonize their way to better results, and we won't get drawn into making a false choice between being pro-reform or pro-teacher. I've said this before and I'll say it again, I am both. I'm pro-teacher, as long as that doesn't mean defending the status quo, and I'm pro-reform, as long as that isn't simply an excuse to bash teachers."

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