HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut's policies to improve the quality of teaching in its public schools are mediocre at best, and particularly fall short in efforts to keep the best teachers and remove those who are ineffective, according to a new nationwide assessment of states' regulations.
The National Council on Teacher Quality's new review, set for release Wednesday, ties Connecticut at No. 25 nationwide with four other states and the District of Columbia in the progress it has made since 2009 to boost effectiveness of its regulations to ensure strong teachers in its classrooms.
With an overall score of C-minus, Connecticut improved only slightly over the D-plus it received in 2009 from the council, a nonprofit research and policy group based in Washington, D.C.
Connecticut education officials and reform advocates said Tuesday many of the weaknesses identified in the new report are the same concerns they have already identified and expect to address in the upcoming legislative session.
The study used 36 criteria ranging from ensuring teachers are prepared in various subjects to retaining good teachers with appropriate pensions and performance pay; providing professional development; removing ineffective teachers with policies that allow dismissal for poor performance; and reforms to ensure tenure does not block those efforts.
The Connecticut Education Association, which represents more than 41,000 teachers in the state, said the review's findings dovetail with priorities it announced in its package of suggested education reforms, including the creation of a professional standards board to oversee educators' certification and standards.
Seventeen other states have those boards, but in Connecticut, they're handled by the state Department of Education. A legislative committee is expected to hold a public hearing next month on the idea of creating such a board, which the teachers' union says would help ensure high-quality teaching and school administrative practices.
"Educators know what good practice is, will advocate for higher, more appropriate standards for their roles, and more effectively align teacher preparation programs with those standards," said CEA's president, Mary Loftus Levine.
Although Connecticut ranks in the middle of the pack in the National Council on Teacher Quality review, the report found it excels in certain areas and has policies the council deemed "best practices" worthy of being followed by other states.
One was teacher preparation in reading instruction. The other involves ensuring people are well-prepared to teach when they enter the profession from other fields through what are called "alternative route to certification" programs.
Connecticut state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, said he's heartened by the acknowledgment in the reading preparation area, especially since state officials have put a major focus on that.
"We do know how to do things right. We are not doing as much as we ought to, as this report shows," said Fleischmann, whose committee is expected to handle several education reform measures during the upcoming legislative session.
"I'm hopeful that as this administration rolls out its broad education reform agenda, we will be seeking to follow a parallel path for the teaching of mathematics and the teaching of science so our teacher preparation programs and our certification exams all are aligned with scientifically demonstrated best practices," Fleischmann said.
Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of the New Haven-based school reform association known as ConnCAN — or Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now — said Tuesday the report shows that the state has a lot of work ahead.
"We have a real opportunity here," he said. "What we see is that we're not doing well by our teachers. We have an obligation to all of our students to put great teachers in their classrooms and in the same regard, we have an obligation to ensure we're supporting the retention and support of great teachers — and I think we're failing in both regards."
The National Council on Teacher Quality's review classified Connecticut as "meeting goals" in some other areas.
They included policies on preparation for teaching middle school and secondary school; having enough providers for aspiring teachers to get certification through the alternative programs; and offering professional development to retain effective teachers.
But its progress lagged in several other areas, including ensuring that teachers' tenure is tied to their skills rather than granted automatically; and using data on students' achievement to assess teacher quality.
The report also says Connecticut only meets a small part of the goal toward policies that ensure tenure is tied to student performance, not automatically granted over a certain time period — in Connecticut's case, after five years of teaching.
Some professional associations and lawmakers
also have called for major changes to the tenure system, saying the current process makes it too expensive and difficult to remove ineffective teachers.
Teacher unions agree the system needs to be changed, but they caution that decisions need to be based on fair, frequent and helpful annual evaluations that provide teachers a chance to improve, and don't depend solely on the opinions of administrators who might not be fully trained in evaluating others.
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