By Ben Velderman
HARTFORD, Conn. – Ten years ago, Americans were told about a new invention that would fundamentally change the way we live. Luminaries such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs said it would be as important as the PC, and that cities would be designed to accommodate it.
After months of speculation, most Americans were disappointed to discover that the life-changing invention was only a motorized, people-moving cart known as the Segway. A decade later, the Segway’s only significant contribution to American culture was as a running gag in the 2009 movie, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”
The Segway is a first-rate example of media hype, and how it often disappoints.
Which brings us to Connecticut, where Gov. Dannel Malloy has been pushing for education reform that would eliminate the large achievement gap that exists between the state’s white and minority students.
Back in January, Gov. Malloy promised parents and taxpayers “bold education reform” that would be “the most far-reaching in our state’s history.” He 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.
Now, five months after those brash promises, Gov. Malloy is poised to sign the education reform bill that breezed through the General Assembly over the past few days, and falls well short of being “bold” or “far-reaching.”
In a nutshell, Connecticut lawmakers have agreed to attack the achievement gap by throwing millions of more dollars at preschool programs and low-performing districts, in hopes that parents and taxpayers will be bamboozled into equating dollar signs with meaningful reforms.
Apparently nobody in Connecticut has noticed one ugly fact: When you increase funding for public schools, the money is usually spent on raises and more expensive benefits for school employees. That does nothing to enhance academics for students.
The legislation does contain some genuine reforms, but they come tethered to the teacher unions, which will prevent them from having a meaningful impact. It might not be “one step forward, two steps back,” but it’s close.
For example, the state education commissioner will be allowed “to provide intensive supports and interventions” to 25 low-performing schools, reports NorwichBulletin.com. But the commissioner’s proposals must be approved by the local teachers union before taking effect.
Likewise, the bill establishes a process for removing “ineffective” teachers, but the details of a new teacher evaluation system have to be ironed out first, reports FairfieldCitizenOnline.com. That means the unions will have a lot of input on the evaluation criteria, so you can bet the evaluation process will be pretty forgiving.
The CT Mirror offers a nice summary of the other reforms in the legislation.
A lot of lawmakers have weighed in on the education reform bill. Democratic Rep. Andrew Fleischmann praised it as “a giant leap that is long overdue,” while Gov. Malloy claimed the bill sets the table “for real and fundamental reform of our public schools.”
But the most revealing quote comes from Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association.
“We’re really the only state that has stopped this,” Levine said, referring to so-called “attacks” on teacher union powers, according to NorwichBulletin.com. “I don’t know of anybody who has stopped this. It’s amazing, it really is.”
Over the coming months, Malloy and company will try to sell this reform package as a Cadillac, but in reality, taxpayers are only getting a Segway.