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The Challenge of Change

The CEA Advisor will be arriving on your doorstep this week. Check out the issue (in print or online) to learn more about teacher evaluations, legislative victories, money for public education and teacher retirement, the latest on the CEA Sandy Hook Memorial, and much, much more.

coverBelow is CEA President Sheila Cohen, Vice President Jeff Leake, and Executive Director Mark Waxenberg’s column in the May– June CEA Advisor.

Our Perspective – The Challenge of Change

As teachers, we’ve never been required to deal with so much change at once. And, as each initiative comes our way, we can’t help asking ourselves if each is change for change’s sake or meaningful change that will help our students.

When Connecticut’s sweeping reform legislation—Public Act 12-116—was enacted last year, we had high hopes. We also had our work cut out for us as advocates for high-quality public schools. We spent last summer and fall going over the law with a fine-toothed comb, conducting meetings to identify intended and unintended consequences of the legislation, and meeting with top state officials to share our concerns.

CEA was ready when the 2013 legislative session got under way in January. We explained to lawmakers what needed to be fixed in Public Act 12-116. We lobbied early and vigorously to generate critical changes.

Elevating the teaching profession is of paramount importance to us. So, it is with great pride that we report our success in securing a statutory voice for teachers in determining effective teacher evaluation plans. Teacher-informed evaluation plans will guarantee that we are the best teachers we can be. With shared goals, shared ideas, and shared solutions—mutually developed—our schools will be even better.

Additionally, the state now mandates a clear link between evaluation and professional development—an improvement that couldn’t have come too soon.

Join us in celebrating the following changes:

•   Local school districts must now treat professional development and evaluation as one entity with one committee overseeing both, so that priorities and needs related to student outcomes will be fully addressed.

•    The Professional Development and Evaluation Committee must include representatives selected by the local union.

•    The revisions promote a robust dialogue regarding local plans for evaluation and support prior to their adoption and approval.

•    The modifications also make teachers statutory partners in developing evaluation plans and give teachers the professional status they deserve on local committees charged with presenting plans to boards of education.

Nipping a very bad idea in the bud Public Act 12-116 mandated that some teachers would have to take and pass a test for their teaching certificates to remain valid. The notion of having their careers hinge on one test—for obvious reasons—didn’t sit well with many of our colleagues. Thanks to teacher advocacy and common sense, that mandate was deleted from the law books.

The following are key revisions that apply to teachers who hold and work under an Early Childhood N-3 endorsed certificate and elementary certified  teachers who work in grades K-3.

•    These teachers will be required to take a survey on reading instruction—a survey that the state will design to identify the strengths and weaknesses of teachers in reading instruction practices and knowledge.

•    The survey will begin July 1, 2014, and occur every other year. It will be administered at no financial cost to teachers, will protect their anonymity, and will not be included as part of any summative ratings for performance evaluations.

•    The survey results shall be used for the purpose of improving reading instruction by developing student learning objectives and teacher practice goals that will be included in professional development.

More work to do We are making progress to ensure that teachers have a meaningful voice in education policymaking. But there is more work to do against the backdrop of our ultimate goal: making teaching the true profession that it deserves to be.

We are not alone in our efforts, as our colleagues around the country confront the rapid pace of change and the pressure to have each and every school be world-class. More than three dozen states are incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations. A majority of the states reportedly are creating new accountability systems. And 46 states and the District of Columbia are implementing the Common Core State Standards.

We support flexibility and innovation when it comes to teacher evaluation, and it’s good news that this year’s legislative session spelled out a waiver provision for Connecticut to use in approving innovative local teacher evaluation plans.

Change presents opportunities for teachers to be challenged and shine as professionals—and shine they did by collaborating on local evaluation plans. While teacher participation was uneven across the state, when teachers had key roles, their participation paid dividends for quality education.

Teachers have generated many positive ideas as they have worked on local district committees to develop new evaluation plans. Two CEA staffers (see pages 4 and 5) have provided their expertise on the State Department of Education panel reviewing and approving local evaluation plans. Our CEA staff indicate many of these local plans were the product of months of teacher/administrator collaboration that was impressive and important to creating a culture that recognizes teachers as true professionals.

All change is not improvement and certainly doesn’t always move public education forward. That is why CEA advocated for revisions in last year’s reform act. We had much success, but, as teachers, we are not yet full partners in determining the path of education reform. We have come miles but have miles to go before we reach our goal. This year, as we’ve traveled to schools around the state and talked with our colleagues, we’ve seen true transformation. We’ve witnessed how teachers are fully capable of leading. We have every confidence that teachers will continue to lead with ideas that are realistic and ambitious and ensure that every student has the best opportunity to succeed.

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