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Letter: Is Connecticut Education Competitive?

WILTON, Conn. — The following letter is from state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, regarding education reform in Connecticut. She also represents parts of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston and Westport.

Connecticut Realtors provide a good barometer of the economy’s health. They know why people move in and move out; the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. National headlines proclaim that our high taxes and bonding downgrades make selling our state more difficult. The one competitive advantage Realtors point to has always been the state’s top ranking in education, until recently.

In an effort to regain our competitive edge, 350 education leaders and reformers attended an education workshop that focused on initiatives to seriously address the widest-in-the-nation achievement gap. Our new education commissioner, an education reformer, set the stage by describing six guiding principles.

• Enhanced early education• Underperforming schools intervention• Expanded access to high-quality school models• Cutting red tape• Teacher evaluation/tenure• Restructuring school finance

Breakout sessions included those on low-performing schools, excellent leaders and teachers and school finance.

Panelists at the forefront of reform proposed:• Increased instructional time, longer school days, longer school year.• Fair funding for all types of schools (including Charters) and money follows the child funding structure• Research based models• Financial incentives for quality teachers• Community involvement, including corporate sponsorship

A successful model of teacher evaluations was highlighted by New Haven School officials.

A major component of their system is an evaluation by the principal, vice principal and others each November, rated on a scale of 1 to 5. One equals poor and 5 is excellent. Those rated a 1 would require peer evaluation, increased support and an improvement plan.

If there is no progress, termination would result, even if they have tenure.

Union leaders stress that process must be one of continual education and performance growth, rather than a “gotcha” by administrators.

Tenure reform proposed by the superintendents was also discussed. Their proposal would be delayed until the fifth year rather than the fourth and renewed every five years. The panel agreed that standardized test scores must serve in some capacity in the evaluation process. They also agreed that multiple indicators of student growth must be utilized. Lack of incentives for excellent teachers was briefly discussed at the close of session.

School finance has been an issue for decades.

Rhode Island presented their recently enacted money-follows-the-student model. Their formula is based on student need, not district need, and resulted in some towns losing funds since there is no hold harmless provision. Data is updated every year, and the state has used existing dollars to transition to the new formula below:

• Core instruction amount of $8,679 per student• Student success factor (free and reduced lunch)• State share ratio (mean average of district’s wealth and at-risk students)

Connecticut factors in wealth but not the number of low-income students.

The 2012 legislative session may also entertain a pilot program involving tuition rates.

One controversial proposal for the state’s regional universities (SCSU, ECSU, WCSU CCSU) would offer in-state tuition in certain instances to out-of-state students. The program’s goal is to incentivize enrollment of more out-of-state students.

In-state tuition hikes are also on people’s minds. Some believe our tuition costs are one of the highest in the nation, and increasing rates as proposed would not be a good idea.

The president cautioned higher education institutions in his state of the union address:

So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

I concur. Getting a secondary education is shown to be the single most important factor in reducing poverty and growing middle income families.

We can all agree that our youth are our best resource and represent the future of our state. Only through literacy can one truly participate in our system of government and contribute to our economy.

The General Assembly and the Administration must set aside their differences and focus on education reform free from the constraints of special interests. Only then can our children reach their full potential and Connecticut can regain its competitive edge.

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