Forum on Education Reform Law: ‘The Whole Climate Has Changed’

House Minority Leader Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk), speaks to students in the Neag School of Education's Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates about the implications of the state's new education reform law for classroom teachers. (Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo)

House Minority Leader Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk), speaks to students in the Neag School of Education's Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates about the implications of the state's new education reform law for classroom teachers. (Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo)

The landmark education reform bill signed into law last month by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy means sweeping changes for schools across Connecticut, a top lawmaker told a group of prospective teachers in the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education’s Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates at the Waterbury campus on Wednesday night.

Among other things, that means educators have to be closely attuned to the world outside their classroom, House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, told the students.

“All of you in education, regardless of what you do, if you’re going to be good in your profession, you have to be cognizant of what’s going on outside the classroom door,” he said.

Cafero came to Waterbury at the invitation of Michael Marotto, a lecturer in the Neag School certification program, specifically to talk with students about the most major changes to Connecticut education in a generation.

Students in the Neag School of Education's Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates attending a forum at UConn's Waterbury campus on the state's education reform had many questions about the new laws. (Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo)

Students in the Neag School of Education's Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates attending a forum at UConn's Waterbury campus on the state's education reform had many questions about the new laws. (Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo)

“The whole climate has changed,” Marotto, a veteran teacher in public schools, said. “The things I’m teaching this cohort are different from the things I taught even a year ago.”

That’s because of the education reform law, which passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives and overwhelmingly in the state Senate.

Cafero outlined the implications of the law for teachers, including a new methodology for evaluating the performance of educators in the classroom. The law also focuses on under-performing schools in the state, providing resources and assistance to help them turn around, but with the possibility of significant consequences if they don’t.

“We passed the law so that those 25 lowest-performing schools will be put to the task of turning around, and if not, they’re going to be literally reconstituted,” perhaps as charter schools or other types of non-traditional environment, Cafero said.

Students in the program, which awards teacher certification and a master’s degree after a rigorous one-year course of study, had clearly stayed informed of changes in the law. Those attending the forum peppered the veteran lawmaker with detailed questions ranging from the fate of standardized tests under the new system to whether the law creates a disincentive for teachers looking to work in under-performing schools.

A persistent concern was exactly how teachers will be evaluated under the new guidelines, a question that UConn’s Neag School will play a role in answering.

The state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council is currently developing ways to measure categories such as the effectiveness of teachers and principals that will be piloted in 10 districts throughout the state.

Michael Marotto, lecturer in the Neag School of Education's Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates and a veteran public school teacher, says it's an exciting time to be a teacher. (Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo)

Michael Marotto, lecturer in the Neag School of Education's Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates and a veteran public school teacher, says it's an exciting time to be a teacher. (Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo)

The Neag School will study the most high-profile measurement – teacher effectiveness – and report back to the General Assembly before the evaluation procedures are rolled out to other schools.

Despite uncertainty about such significant changes, Marotto said the reforms actually present an excellent opportunity for teachers to use the kinds of skills taught in the Neag School certification program.

“This is an exciting time to be a teacher,” he said. “You need innovation, creativity, sensitivity, and awareness, and that’s what I see in these students.

“Just to get accepted into this Neag program is a very tough screening process,” Marotto added. “These students are very aware of what they need to do to succeed.”