A student perspective on Malloy’s reform bill

Gov. Dannel Malloy's education reform bill has been causing controversy among residents and educators across the state of Connecticut.

In response, Malloy has been holding informational meetings in cities and towns across the state for teachers, students, parents and interested individuals. On April 5, I attended one of these meetings at Ansonia High School. After arriving 15 minutes late due to traffic, Malloy mounted the podium and began his presentation about the proposed bill and then opened the floor for questions from the audience.

Questions arose concerning charter schools, teacher certification, Pre-K education and help for low-performing schools. While questions were abundant, adequate answers were scarce. Instead of fully explaining the components of the bill, Malloy frequently told the audience to read the bill online or to do their own research on the subject. He reminded us time and time again that his proposal is based on the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) model. However, he pointed out that it takes time to perfect a bill, comparing the process of writing legislation to "making sausage." While at first glance this analogy may seem odd, it actually makes perfect sense since the ingredients of sausage can be suspect and few seem to be able to understand the exact components of Malloy's bill.

In addition, Malloy spent much of the time reciting statistics that supported his bill. His frequent use of statistics appeared to me as his attempt to justify his actions in proposing the bill in the first place. As mentioned by Shelton High School social studies teacher, Dameon Kellogg, statistics are very subjective. While Malloy could present a statistic to support his side, it would be very easy for another person to find a statistic to contradict the one used by the governor. Many of the arguments presented by the Governor appeared rehearsed and uninformative.

On March 19, I also attended the Education Forum at Shelton City Hall with Representative Jason Perillo. The atmosphere of these two meetings could not have been more different. Perillo held the forum to talk with the teachers and parents of Shelton in order to understand their concerns and hear their opinions and suggestions for the bill. However, the feeling I received from Governor Malloy's meeting was defensive. Even though the Governor discussed different components of the bill, it never felt like a discussion. While some speakers asked educated questions, others simply complained about how it was unfair that their performance would be tied to their salary and certification. In response to these questions and comments, Malloy was defensive and vague. It seemed to me that Malloy was not there to gain insight into the concerns of educators and parents or to take their suggestions, but, rather, he was there to defend his bill.

I understand Malloy's defense of his bill, but I expected him to at least attempt to persuade the audience to his side by explaining the components of the bill. However, Malloy was neither empathetic nor persuasive at the meeting. The feeling I received from Malloy can be related to what Rep. Perillo said at the conclusion of the forum, when he mentioned how some form of this bill would definitely be passed and it was impossible that the topic of educational reform would be dismissed from discussion in Harford. It appeared that Malloy was very secure that some form of his bill would be passed by the Legislature, which gave him an air of uncompromising superiority. Therefore, the atmosphere of the meeting, which at first was respectful as many in the audience stood and applauded his entrance, deteriorated into one of irritation and combativeness.

Some members of the audience remained supportive of the Governor. I was surprised when one man stood up and congratulated the governor on his initiative to travel around the state to discuss the bill. Personally, I do not believe Malloy should be congratulated. As an elected official of the state of Connecticut, it is his responsibility and duty to address the concerns of the people he represents. Before he passes a bill that will affect the lives of many in the state, he needs to explain it to the people since we are the ones who it will affect and the ones who hold the real power, despite what elected officials may believe. When I think of that comment, I am reminded of something Joe DiMaggio once said to a rookie who hit a homerun in his first game. The rookie looked to DiMaggio for praise and DiMaggio responded by saying, "why should I congratulate you for doing your job?"

Although I believe that some changes are needed to the education system, I am wary of Gov. Malloy's bill. I think it is an ambitious task to develop a statewide plan that will satisfy the needs of all the individual districts. After attending this meeting, I am still unsure of the exact details of the bill. Gov. Malloy's answers appeared to me as very vague and did not begin to answer all of the questions that the audience or I had. At the conclusion of the meeting, many of the members of the audience lingered to discuss what had transpired at the meeting. Through my conversations, I learned that many others shared my impression that the meeting was not very informative and that many of their concerns had not been adequately answered. Throughout the meeting Gov. Malloy frequently said that Connecticut schools need to "get out of the box," but I am still left wondering exactly how he plans to do this and what ramifications it will have for our state.

Are we getting "out of the box" or "opening Pandora's box?"