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Tenure reform finally on educators’ agenda

On Jan. 3, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) released a public education reform plan with tougher guidelines for teacher peer review and assistance, and for a more streamlined dismissal process to replace the current system of tenure. The CEA represents more than 43,000 teachers, making it the state’s largest public employee organization. Connecticut teachers have created and approved these proposed reforms themselves. Could this be the beginning of sweeping, meaningful reform in the state that will make educational opportunities more equal for all students?There are, of course, other factors besides underperforming teachers that affect the ability of students from pre-kindergarten to high school age to learn what they must in order to lead successful lives. But the proposed reforms also include a program creating partnerships between schools and communities, involving students and their parents as well as teachers and community volunteers. Taken as a whole, the CEA’s proposed reforms could have significant impact on school systems that have been struggling with budget cuts and fewer resources over the past years.Mary Loftus Levine, CEA’s executive director, in an interview on WFSB TV 3’s “Face the State” program on Sunday, Jan. 8, said that contrary to the public perception that tenured teachers have jobs for life, there is now in place a hearing process for underperforming teachers. However, it was often too long and drawn out.“It could take up to 120 days for an arbitration to come to a conclusion,” she said. “We want to treat teachers fairly, but keep them accountable.”Streamlining the arbitration process will mean that rather than several arbitrators and lawyers being involved in hearings, with multiple schedules needing to converge, there will now be a single arbitrator overseeing the process. This should save both time and money.Teachers work hard and many are more than competent and caring with their students. Levine said in the “Face the State” interview, “Teachers don’t get into it for a salary. They get into it to make a difference.”For those who do get into the profession to make a difference to young lives, the proposed reforms will only make things better, allowing them to share their knowledge and passion for teaching with their colleagues in a more peer-oriented review process. Yet realistically, some teachers do get into it for the summers off, the benefits and salaries that look pretty good compared with recession-affected private sector jobs. Many of those weed themselves out, leaving the profession after a few years to pursue a career more suited to their skills and talents. Even a few years, however, with underprepared and undermotivated teachers can have a negative impact on the students in their classes. Those students don’t get another chance to be inspired to learn. For those teachers who don’t make students their priority, the CEA reforms will give their administrators and colleagues a better, more efficient path to holding all teachers accountable in a timely way. For more on the proposed reforms, go to www.cea.org.

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