GUEST BLOGGER: Kevin Dwyer, Education Consultant, LearningDesignsheadshot of the author, Kevin Dwyer
Email: kevin@learningdesigns.net          
Twitter: @marketeducate

Education reform is an ongoing topic of public comment and debate in many states. Our guest blogger, Kevin Dwyer, a long-time education consultant and Connecticut resident, fills us in on the Connecticut news that he’s been following…

A fiery public debate about education reform in Connecticut has been ignited by first-term Governor Dannel Malloy. Twitter is alive with back and forth 140-character points and counterpoints (see #ctedreform and #wecantwaitct). Data is at the heart of arguments on both sides.

The driver for the debate is a fact debated by no one: Connecticut has the highest achievement gap in the country. The purported excellence of its suburban schools serve to highlight the gross inadequacies of Connecticut’s urban districts. Students in urban districts are simply not being given the same access to quality education as their suburban neighbors.

Compounding the problem is that Connecticut has failed three times to secure Race to the Top (RTTT) money. Billions of dollars have been awarded in three rounds of funding. Connecticut has yet to earn a dime. Lack of an adequate evaluation system to promote effective teaching practices has been a key shortcoming in their RTTT applications.

After the most recent RTTT application failure, the Governot drew a line in the sand. At the State of the State address in February, Malloy said, “Let’s be honest with ourselves, and let’s speak bluntly: many parts of our system of public education are broken.” In essence he said that schools in Connecticut must change—not just urban schools, ALL schools.  He added, in reference to the issue of equitable teacher quality, “In today’s (public education) system, basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”

Opponents and proponents of the Governor’s comprehensive school reform plan have readily lined up on either side of the issues of teacher quality, funding for charter schools, and definitions of education reform. Interestingly, both camps reference common data sources and are able to make data interpretations that selectively support their opposing views.

The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) leaked a memo that outlined their strategy to delay the Governor’s reforms for at least another year. The CEA has launched a television ad campaign which says that the Governor doesn’t get reform right. They attest that the Governor ‘s plan “takes away district control and places it in the hands of the state education commissioner; allows principals to decide which teachers are certified and; and siphons tax dollars from neighborhood schools.”

On the other side of the argument, reform advocacy group ConnCAN  has taken dead aim at the union—telling them to “Come Clean” with their membership about the role of student achievement data and teacher evaluations. ConnCAN is one of a host of groups representing businesses (CT Business and Industry Association), Superintendents (CT Association of School Superintendents), School Boards, and principals who are supporting Governor Malloy’s vision for school reform.

In the end, the question of what’s right for students and educators is being lost. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done. But the message is being buried by claims and counter claims buttressed by the same data—often manipulated to support opposing viewpoints. It leaves the public increasingly polarized about education funding and teacher performance, and wondering whose data interpretations to trust. The REAL challenge remains: figuring out how to move beyond special interests to how to meaningfully and accurately use the data to move together towards educational excellence.