After 180 days, it will still be about money.

Superior Court judge Thomas Moukawsher has given the State of Connecticut 180 days to fix its education system.

And a highly-pleased New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart (one of the few Republicans I’ve ever voted for) said this: “the state can no longer ignore its poorest cities and lowest-performing education systems.”

Except it can: nowhere in his pronouncement did Moukawsher do anything to repair that disparity. He didn’t declare, for instance, what the level of funding should be, or mention the impact of magnet and charter schools on educational opportunities in large cities. He did however citer Connecticut’s “befuddled and misdirected” education policies that have left cities without the funding necessary to run its public schools while the semi-private public schools manage to get by just fine. It’s a denial of an equal education, he said. No argument here.

But Moukawsher saved an awful lot of criticism for teachers who apparently can never be fired. He’s right in my case—I retired a number of years ago and I’m safe. But before that I saw plenty of colleagues dismissed, and I watched plenty of dedicated administrators gather the evidence necessary to terminate the employment of sub-par instructors. This bromide about teachers never getting fired is just—well what’s the word I’m looking for—oh yes, stupid. Teacher tenure never guaranteed that and never will, and for Moukawsher to blame failing schools on bad teachers is—well what’s the word I’m looking for…well you know.

I’ve encountered a lot of excellent classroom instructors who, if placed in an inner-city school with no resources and no support—would have been failures based on Moukawsher’s criteria. I can only imagine how many qualified and dedicated teachers in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, etc. face the frustration of dismal working conditions daily. To blame the system that evaluates them is just another facile approach to a problem whose root lies in money.

That’s all. Money. Provide the cities with the funding necessary and you’ll see improvement. Decrease the number of high schools in Hartford from its current double digits back to three or four and fund them adequately and equitably, then sit back and watch the teachers “improve.”

I was lucky to have taught in a town whose population valued education, and if I was successful at all, it had as much to do with the atmosphere in which I taught as it did any personal or professional skills I had. I arrived every September to find clean, often newly painted rooms and polished floors and the supplies I ordered stacked neatly on my desk. Every teacher in every town should expect at least that much.

This is all obvious to anyone who has ever been in a classroom, and though I’m sure Moukawsher did his research and means well, he has missed the point just like others before him. One-hundred eighty days really would be enough time if legislators and community leaders were honest enough to deal with the problem.

 

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Chuck Radda

I'm a former high school English teacher, currently a literacy volunteer and novelist. I invite your responses right here or to chuckradda@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and on Twitter—where I tweet annually at @chuckrad45.

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