Tax Hikes In Education Must Be Tied to Adult Reform
By Lisa Thomson
(This Editorial was published in the Hour on February 21, 2011
I didn’t make it to the City’s Finance Budget Meeting last night at Norwalk High. But I’ve been to all the others.
It’s a complicated world out there, as Hartford has a significant impact on Norwalk, ranging from unfunded mandates, and reform legislation requirements, in order to secure Race to the Top Funding, to the long standing inequitable distribution of ECS funding. But, we all know that organizational leadership and management issues, at both central office and the schools has been prevalent in Norwalk for years, long before we found ourselves in this financial mess. If only Norwalk’s issues were as simple as raising our taxes another 2-4% or whatever… Did anyone catch Gov. Malloy’s budget….
While we argue over 2011-12 allocations, we mustn’t forget that there’s a very public fight going on across the US about school reform and how best to hold educators accountable? Over the years, the educational pendulum has swung a little too far to the left, while at the same time, student performance has dropped. This is not just in Norwalk. The deplorable state of our national math and science scores has been the talk of the industrialized world for many years. Now that the public purse is empty, things are coming to a head.
I am all for more investment in education, but only on the condition that structural reform takes place.
Those of us in the private sector, which incidentally has collective bargaining (boy that came out of nowhere) have always had merit-based pay and accountability…write-ups after several warnings or development paths written up for a prescribed amount of time until things improved or we were given our pink slips. The needs of the business, or an economic downturn also dictated our layoffs. Who do you think is making up that 9% unemployment figure? Oh, and management was also NOT part of a collective bargaining group. Insert principals and administration here.
Change needs to start at the top, not just with the teachers. Ineffective principals impact students just as much as teachers do. Their actions impact an entire building and bad moral, trickles down into the classroom. Under the Corda regime, schools were left to manage themselves. Hence, (some) principals became very powerful in their own right, leaving teachers with nothing but union leadership to defend themselves. That being said, it’s still no excuse for collective bargaining groups to not move towards more accountability for everyone. Our new superintendent, Dr. Marks is extremely competent, hardworking, reform minded and focused on the kids. She is NOT from Norwalk and has no ‘agenda’ other than to improve our performance as a district. The problem (as I see it) is that she is bucking up against entrenched gatekeepers, who are intent on maintaining the status quo for themselves, using whatever means necessary to keep things the way they want.
Structurally, education is caught up in a system that CANNOT reward good teachers or principals for their great performance or inspiration to students, any more than it can get rid of the ineffective ones. Meaningful evaluations are not conducted in a way that allows for the right layoffs when times get tough. So, at time when we need real reform, we can’t seem to separate the ineffective employees from the 85-90% that are doing their jobs well! So, the last in first out policy prevails, at all levels of education and the system never changes, mediocrity prevails.
Things are only going to get harder. We’ll be fighting again next year, if our state legislature doesn’t go far enough to pass reform measures and our state will see NO federal dollars from Race to the Top initiative. (But I have some faith in our new governor. J
As a reform minded parent, active in the district for many years now, it’s extremely frustrating to know of the distrust and resistance to improved performance or reform measures by some. How is the average parent or taxpayer expected to beat the drum for education, when very few educators say anything PUBLICLY about the state of education, except via their union spokespeople, who quite frankly, are charged with representing the interests of their membership and NOT necessarily the interests of our children, parents or taxpayers?
Pitting parents against city officials or parents against teachers or teachers against principals or unions against the community is NOT the way for ADULTS to move education forward for our children, city or country. The SYSTEM will remained flawed until the powers that be make changes OR until the majority of EFFECTIVE teachers and principals and support staff close ranks and TOGETHER to bring about the changes they only dare whisper about, in the hallways. Until such time, parents are but pawns in the game of education, forced into the political fray to do the bidding of the school that begs the loudest.
As the daughter of retired school teacher, I IMPLORE the majority of Norwalk educators who ‘GET IT’ to stand up to those individuals with vested interests, regardless of position or title in the educational system. It will take courage and character…but isn’t that what we are trying to teach the kids? Operational changes by staff must be genuine, rigorous and heartfelt in order to win back the confidence and hard earned tax dollars of the private sector. It won’t be easy and improving our educational standards will require a delicate balance organizational management, and a willingness of staff to perhaps change the way that they’ve always done things in the past, in order to secure the appropriate finances. We’ve been talking about REFORM for years…but it’s now taking a financial crisis to bring it all to a head.