This legislative session, let Connecticut children win for a change

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Every child has a unique genius that cannot be replicated, and our world is diminished to the extent that genius isn’t cultivated and nurtured to the fullest degree. Every child has within them the capacity to change the world, and to achieve greatness. But all too often, dreams are deferred, and hopes are dashed, because of leadership that does not inspire, policy that does not uplift, and systems that do not deliver on promises.

As the Connecticut General Assembly races toward the end of the legislative session, I urge leaders to prioritize the needs of public school children this year — not adults with the biggest megaphones and the greatest influence.

Lawmakers can reject Senate Bill 380, which seeks to de-couple teacher evaluations from student performance on standardized tests.

This year, why not let the kids win for a change? After all, we are counting on them to lead us into a more secure future. But first we have to do right by them.

Kids are inherently brilliant. They respond to great educators who challenge them, trust them, and nurture them.  And we know that teacher quality is the single biggest in-school indicator of whether a student will be successful in pursuing their education. That’s why I favor making student performance one of the multiple factors for measuring teacher effectiveness.

While Connecticut is blessed with prosperity and high academic attainment, it is also straining under economic uncertainty, concentrated poverty, and one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps. Here, as in many states, black, brown, and poorer students tend to do less well than their wealthier, white counterparts in terms of academic attainment. Linking student performance with great teaching, which many great teachers welcome, can help ensure that students of all hues and economic backgrounds fulfill their potential and meet high standards.

The nation for years has looked to Connecticut for its progressive leadership — especially in education. Will Connecticut beat back the progress it made in adopting a modern educator evaluation system in 2012? That system recognizes great teachers for a job well done, while providing support to struggling teachers. Or will lawmakers cave to a power structure that wants to keep things the same?

As Connecticut leaders work through budget deficits and the loss of major businesses to other states, I urge them to have foresight and embrace historic education improvement efforts that will drive future change and progress.

Like other states, Connecticut needs to do a better job training new teachers and allowing certified teachers from other states quickly get into the classroom once they arrive. And the state needs more teachers and leaders of color in our schools to better serve the 40 percent of its students who are of color.

And the end of the day, the adults in the room have all the power. They can choose to inspire students and cultivate their genius through great teaching, leadership, advocacy, and programs. Or, simply, they can choose the path of regression – a path that will lead to less favorable outcomes down the road.

This year, let’s allow the kids to win.

Shavar Jeffries is the National President of Democrats for Education Reform

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