A Governor’s Call to Education Reform
By Lauren Rosato, President, Norwalk Education Foundation (www.norwalkeducation.org), Co-Founder, RedApples of Norwalk
On Thursday, January 5th, I was one of the lucky 500 who attended Governor Malloy’s Education Workshop 2012: The Year for Education Reform. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor noted that the event registration was filled in just 17 minutes during the slow holiday week. It’s a testament to the heightened interest in our state’s public education system, especially with the onset of the spring legislative session.
The 500 attendees were representative of politicians, union leaders, higher education leaders, K-12 educators, parents, education reform organizations, board of education members, private funders, and many other individuals and groups concerned with the state of public education in Connecticut.
What I heard was revolutionary. It’s not that I’d never heard the message before. It’s just that I’d never heard the message coming so clearly from a Connecticut governor. It was usually from some other state leader who already had a progressive education policy, and understood the serious and immediate need for a highly educated populace, so that his/her state could compete globally. I can’t tell you how many of these conferences I’ve attended over the years, mostly in other states.
So attending this conference was exciting, especially since our state has lagged so far behind and for so long, It’s the reason we didn’t win Race The Top federal funding, twice. It’s the reason we’re an aging, graying state with 1,000 vacant manufacturing jobs and no skilled labor to fill them. It’s also the reason, as Governor Malloy said in his closing remarks, that our state has not been able to grow jobs for the past 20 years and we are now 1 of 3 states to boast the title “Net Job-Loss” state. Couple that with our #1 title of “ Highest Achievement Gap in the Nation”, and you get the picture.
We heard presentations of bold ideas and solutions from both Connecticut and out-of-state folks. There were Connecticut superintendents admitting what they’ve known for a long time, but never voiced so publicly before.
One Superintendent said that as a customer who has jobs, he’s told a bunch of teacher colleges that their product is downright inferior and he just won’t buy it anymore. Why? Because when he goes to college fairs to recruit teachers and asks how many can use a Smartboard, no one raises their hand. Why? Because the teacher colleges don’t have Smartboards, yet his district has one in every classroom. “So why should I hire these teachers, then waste my time and money training them?” he asks. Then the discussion becomes very real and serious about the difference between how teachers are prepared for the job, and what the job actually entails. “Perhaps we need more lab schools,” they say.
In the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) discussion, we heard from the State of Rhode Island on how they completely revamped their education funding distribution. They researched how to more accurately and precisely calculate low- income children, and interestingly, found that some towns with high property values also had very large populations of low-income children, and were not being appropriately funded. Sound familiar, Norwalk?
Rhode Island is phasing in their funding changes over a 10-year period while clearly and transparently communicating every change with every constituent: bold lessons from our neighboring state.
Then there were the skeptics, like the Stamford and New Britain board of education members who said they don’t need outsiders telling them what’s best for their town. They just need adequate funding to do the job right.
In closing, Governor Malloy looked down from his podium to the first row of reserved tables of legislators, and told them he’d be responsible, but they need to make it happen.
It’s a bold message that’s going to require political courage on the part of our elected officials to make bold changes this legislative session. It’s the right thing to do, at the right time, for the long-term survival of our state, but not necessarily what buys votes for the next election.