Students Rally for Education Reform in Hartford
A group of University students traveled to Hartford on Tuesday to participate in a rally showing support for Gov. Daniel P. Malloy’s education reform plan. The 163-page plan, which was first proposed earlier this month, was given a public hearing before the state legislature.
Malloy’s plan proposes a variety of measures to reform Connecticut’s public education system—which boasts the widest achievement gap in the country—including stricter teacher evaluations, increased spending on charter schools, and increased spending on districts with lower achievement.
When Malloy addressed students and parents outside the capitol, he stressed the importance of restricting tenure.
“We need to make sure we’re producing the best teachers and administrators and make sure we’re holding them accountable not for one year, not for four years, but for the entirety in which they teach,” Malloy said.
Co-executive director and co-founder of Students for Education Reform (SFER) Catharine Bellinger organized the trip to the capital, which drew nine Wesleyan students and others from Yale University and Quinnipiac University. She acknowledged that Malloy’s plan will not be popular with everyone.
“You also have folks on the right opposing the bill because they prefer education reform that favors vouchers, and you also have the left—the far left—opposing the bill because they think the requirements around teacher quality are too rigorous,” Bellinger said.
But she also emphasized the importance of putting an end to inaction and taking a first step toward education reform.
“Right now the perfect has become the enemy of the good,” Bellinger said. “People say we can’t have a new evaluation system until we have a perfect evaluation system.”
Another aspect of the plan that created discussion was the proposal to increase spending on charter schools from $9,400 per student to the amount spent on public schools, $11,000 per student. Most of the parents in attendance at the rally were there to support the successful charter schools in which they had enrolled their children. They led chants, saying, “charter schools are public schools.”
State representative Gary Holder-Winfield discussed the success of local charter schools when he addressed the crowd outside the capitol.
“In the state of Connecticut, charter schools are good schools," he said. "There is a national conversation about charter schools, but the local conversation is a whole other story.”
Beverly Gamble, who moved her granddaughter from a local public school to a charter, Odyssey Community School, supported Winfield’s sentiment.
“One of the smartest moves I made was to put her into a charter school," Gamble said. "She was going to a regular public school in Manchester and it wasn’t giving her what we wanted.”
Wesleyan students, on the other hand, were more cautious with their enthusiasm.
“I don’t think, personally, that charter schools are the answer to everything, but I think that they definitely can be a good model for public schools,” said co-founder and president of the Wesleyan chapter of SFER Andy Ribner ’14. “I think good charter schools are effective; I think good public schools are effective.”
Community Outreach Director of the Wesleyan chapter of SFER Sydney Lewis ’14 expressed doubt about the plan’s focus on creating new charter schools.
“I think a lot of charter schools, independently, do really incredible things for kids and for communities but I think that putting so much stock in the charter movement as a solution for public education is really misplaced energy,” she said.
There was one voice from Wesleyan that was much more vocal in its dissent. Assistant Professor of Sociology Daniel Long spoke against the plan at the public hearing. He recently wrote an article against Malloy’s reform proposal for the Hartford Courant, where he claimed that Connecticut’s achievement gap was a result of its income gap and could not be blamed on public school teachers.
“Unfortunately, the plans Gov. Daniel P. Malloy has outlined for education reform—for the most part—take us in entirely the wrong direction,” Long wrote in the Courant.
Nevertheless, a comprehensive education proposal with the kind of bipartisan support of Malloy’s plan shows promise. Ben Florsheim ’14, despite some hesitation over the charter school debate, gave his support.
“It’s exciting that this governor is taking meaningful steps towards solving a problem that a lot of states are ignoring or actively making worse," he said.