Connecticut lawmakers heard from education advocates Thursday afternoon about a new bill that would create a model for evaluating teachers. But the state's teachers' unions don't agree on it, and others say it doesn't go far enough.
Hundreds of teachers face lay-offs in the state due to budget constraints. But using seniority as the only means to decide who stays and who goes is unprofessional, says Alex Johnston. Johnston is the CEO of ConnCann, an education advocacy group.
"Literally, the tie-breaker in the Hartford teacher contract -- if the two teachers are hired on the same date -- is the last four digits of their social security number," Johnston says. It's ludicrous to think that we can't differentiate between teachers -- and in terms of their impact of students -- other than looking at a number that was randomly assigned to them at birth.
Johnston is dissatisfied with the bill and says it doesn't go far enough. He says teaching awards and specialized training, not just years on the job, should be taken into account when districts consider cutting teachers.
The bill in the education committee doesn't address the use of seniority in lay-offs, but new teachers have traditionally been among the first to go.
The legislation has also divided the state's two teachers' unions. John Yrchik is director of the Connecticut Education Association. He says it unnecessarily invalidates the work of a committee formed last year to address the same issue.
"Why would we pass this bill to supposedly improve teacher evaluation? I'm somewhat mystified," Yrchik says.
But the other union supports the bill.
Sharon Murphy Palmer is the president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. She says it's a step in the right direction but urged the state to be careful about defining what it means to be a good teacher.
"What is an effective teacher?," Palmer says. "Nobody really knows and really, it's a matter of opinion."
Palmer wants to make sure high test scores aren't the only method for measuring effective teaching.