“This bill is essentially a hostile takeover of Network Schools—it’s incredibly anti-democratic,” CEA Director of Policy, Research, and Reform Donald Williams told legislators yesterday, saying that CEA strongly opposes Senate Bill 5551.
While debate on a CEA proposed bill to undo the link between SBAC and teachers’ evaluations received the lion’s share of testimony at an Education Committee hearing, other issues important to the future of education in Connecticut—many of which focused on the rights of students, parents, teachers, and community members—were also discussed.
Williams said that SB 5551 would subvert elected boards of education, remove transparency, curtail responsiveness to the community, repeal collective bargaining, and create a czar—who may be a charter school vendor—to oversee Network Schools. “It is a top-down model that is designed to benefit those who want corporate control over our schools. It eliminates meaningful partnerships with parents, teachers, and administrators,” he said.
“Essentially we have a proposed bill that would undermine democracy in Connecticut’s urban areas and likely further privatize our public school system,” said Jacob Werblow, an assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University and Harber Fellow of Education at Wesleyan University.
The bill would eliminate the role of school governance councils, which the legislature created to give parents and teachers in low-performing schools a greater voice. “I have served on a school governance council in New Britain,” Werblow said. “I can tell you that it is a valuable structure that provides parents in working-class communities a real opportunity to have a say in their child’s education.”
Problems with SBAC and Inappropriate Penalties for Schools
Speaking on House Bill 5555, CEA Research and Policy Development Specialist Ray Rossomando urged legislators to ensure that the voices of parents, educators, and voters are heard on important policy matters.
HB 5555 would prohibit mastery test participation rates from affecting a school or district’s state rating and would prohibit certain funds from being withheld from districts based on those participation rates.
“The state Department of Education has exceeded its authority on a number of fronts to impose punitive measures on school districts for participation rates that do not reach the 95% threshold sought by the No Child Left Behind act,” Rossomando told legislators. “Districts risk losing $21.5 million of federal education funding at the hands of the SDE, all without any consideration by the Connecticut General Assembly. This is unconscionable.”
Rossomando said that legislators need to carefully consider both the problematic consequences being unilaterally threatened by the state Department of Education and why so many parents opted their children out of the SBAC exam last year—leading to low participation rates at some schools. “Clearly, the reason that so many people across the country are rejecting SBAC testing is the SBAC test itself and the invalid ways that it is being used,” he said.
Referencing the many problems with SBAC, Williams asked the Education Committee to amend HB 5550 to require that the current Mastery Examination Committee—which the legislature created last year—pursue a request for proposals process for a different mastery examination for grades 3 through 8.
“The majority of states have abandoned the SBAC test and PARCC tests, and substituted other mastery exams. Connecticut wisely abandoned SBAC for high school students. We should not forget our elementary and middle school students,” Williams said.
Improving Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention
Research shows that having teachers that look like them and share their experiences is important to students’ academic success. Speaking on SB 379, CEA Educational Issues Specialist Michele O’Neill said that CEA strongly supports initiatives to increase the recruitment and retention of minority teachers. She also urged legislators to go further to better engage more communities in order to better recruit and retain minority educators.
“Members of CEA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee have recommended that we need to reach out to potential teachers of color before college,” O’Neill said. “Creating programs in our high schools that engage students of color who are interested in teaching is essential to creating pathways to careers in education.”
O’Neill also asked that the membership of the existing Minority Teacher Recruitment Task Force and the new Minority Teacher Recruitment Policy Oversight Council include teachers of color from both CEA and AFT-Connecticut so that the insights and experiences of these teachers are reflected in the groups’ work.
- Testimony of CEA Director of Policy, Research, and Reform Donald Williams
- Testimony of Jacob Werblow, assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University
- Testimony of CEA Research and Policy Development Specialist Ray Rossomando
- Testimony of CEA Education Issues Specialist Michele O’Neill