A $200 million proposal to build a “world-class educational system” in Connecticut met opposition from angry parents and advocates of bilingual
education during a marathon hearing Friday before the General Assembly.

For eight hours, educators, business leaders and parents praised and vilified a bill drawn from the sweeping recommendations of the Commission on Educational Excellence for Connecticut, which worked on reform proposals for 18 months.

Bilingual teachers and 40 students from Bridgeport went to the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to object to the proposed repeal of a state mandate to provide bilingual education. The current law requires bilingual education when any 20 students speaking a second language are enrolled in the same district.

The bill would require that every child with a second language receive special services but would let local boards of education determine what the services would be, said state Sen. Kevin B. Sullivan, D-West Hartford, a commission member and co-chairman of the General Assembly’s education committee. Vincent L. Ferrandino, state commissioner of education, said the legislation calls for adding $13 million for bilingual education in coming years and increasing the number of students served by at least 5,000. But the change was a surprise to advocates such as Maria M. Melendez, assistant superintendent of schools in Bridgeport. She said during a break in the hearing that the best way to make sure students are served is to retain the mandate.

Otherwise school boards may eliminate programs, particularly in communities where Hispanic residents have little political clout, said C. Patrick Proctor, superintendent of schools in Windham, which has 300 Spanish-speaking students in bilingual education.

“This would be further disenfranchisement of this group,” he said.

State Rep. Nancy S. Wyman, D- Tolland, the education committee co-chairwoman, said the wording may be changed in the next two weeks.

The bill, which calls for creating local school councils to give parents more control, raising academic standards, putting more computers in classrooms and expanding preschool programs, was praised by business leaders and commission members Friday.

Commission member John A. Dillon of Torrington, immediate past president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, urged the legislature to act quickly to approve what he called a blueprint for radical education reform.

“Who knows who will be sitting here a year from now,” he said. “This could be lost.”

The testiest moment of the hearing came when opponents of outcomes-based education spoke out. Outcomes-based education, advocated in the bill, focuses on what knowledge and skills students have gained, rather than the money spent on schools or the time students are in class. But the parents objected to state meddling in their schools and worried that emphasis on results will “dumb down” the curriculum.

Lynne Tucker, a mother of two from Naugatuck, said her oldest son suffered through a results-oriented curriculum in California before they moved to Connecticut last summer.

She said the “experiment” made students cynical about subjects they were supposed to master because they could retake the same test until they passed.

“It is proven that motivation to excel is destroyed,” she said.

When she was applauded, Sullivan chided the audience.

“Democratic government is not theater,” he said. “That only detracts from the testimony.”

Ferrandino, co-chairman of the excellence commission, said the bill aims to raise standards, not bring down student performance.

“We want to restore meaning to the high school diploma,” he said. “Our system must be reoriented toward results.”



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