Do­ing no harm would be a start

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - OPINION - Hbai­[email protected]­medi­

Twelve years af­ter he made na­tional news, eight years af­ter he looked to be fin­ished and six years af­ter he was last heard from, Ned La­mont has fi­nally taken of­fice in Con­necti­cut.

A lot has changed in that time. In 2006, La­mont be­came fa­mous for tak­ing on and beat­ing a long-serv­ing se­na­tor in a pri­mary, which al­most never hap­pens. The win didn’t take, and we all got in­tro­duced to the short-lived Con­necti­cut for Lieber­man Party.

In 2010, La­mont was the fa­vorite go­ing into the Demo­crat pri­mary for gov­er­nor against Dan­nel Mal­loy, but that didn’t go so well, ei­ther. Mal­loy won the pri­mary eas­ily and squeaked into of­fice that Novem­ber. With Democrats hold­ing ev­ery statewide of­fice, La­mont’s chances of get­ting any­where seemed slim.

Then in Mal­loy’s first term he popped up, seem­ingly out of nowhere, with a sharply writ­ten opin­ion piece aimed at push­ing through the gov­er­nor’s con­tro­ver­sial school re­form pack­age.

“Au­to­matic ten­ure for K-12 is so over,” La­mont wrote, sound­ing more like an ag­grieved eighth­grader than a fu­ture gov­er­nor. “Like most of us, teach­ers must con­tinue to show that they still are on their game.”

That sen­ti­ment makes some sense, but he paired it by com­ing out strongly in fa­vor of char­ter schools, and even in­cluded a plug for the movie Wait­ing for Su­per­man, a fea­ture-length char­ter­school com­mer­cial.

That was then. Be­sides the war in Iraq and the end of Joe Lieber­man’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, one of many things that seems to have changed since La­mont got back into pol­i­tics is his view of ed­u­ca­tion re­form.

In a re­cent in­ter­view with the CT Mir­ror, La­mont mostly dis­avowed the most con­tro­ver­sial parts of the re­form he had pushed for, which would have linked stu­dent test scores with ten­ure de­ci­sions. What ended up pass­ing was wa­tered down sig­nif­i­cantly from ear­lier pro­pos­als, which brought le­gions of teach­ers protest­ing at the state Capi­tol, along with no­to­ri­ety for Mal­loy as a ma­jor school re­form Demo­crat.

Run­ning for gov­er­nor last year, ed­u­ca­tion was a side show, at best. Joe Ganim tried to make on is­sue over whether La­mont un­fairly claimed teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause he vol­un­teered for a while at Hard­ing High School. But that was mostly a 2006 re­tread and never got any trac­tion.

In the gen­eral elec­tion, ed­u­ca­tion was again an af­ter­thought. That was true for all kinds of is­sues, which is what hap­pens when one can­di­date bases his en­tire race on a prom­ise to de­liver a magic tax cut to solve all our prob­lems. That leaves the other side to say, Sorry, you’re not get­ting a magic tax cut. Credit the elec­torate for see­ing through that one.

These days, La­mont talks about ed­u­ca­tion us­ing the same tone he uses for most things — he wants every­one to get to­gether and work on so­lu­tions that ben­e­fit every­one, which is fine, if vague. He’s fo­cused on in­cen­tives to at­tract the best teach­ers, and he sounds not at all in­ter­ested in bring­ing back a Mal­loy-era re­form at­tempt.

That’s part of a big­ger trend. Democrats were not long ago the party of school re­form, and it came from the top. Barack Obama made it key to his ed­u­ca­tion agenda, push­ing sup­posed fixes that in­cluded more re­lax­ing ten­ure rules and link­ing stu­dent test scores to var­i­ous re­wards. Crit­ics, rightly, said it all looked like a pri­va­ti­za­tion plan, and wouldn’t work any­way.

The pol­i­tics around school re­form have shifted. To name one prom­i­nent re­former, Cory Booker made a na­tional name as mayor of Ne­wark, N.J., for, among other things, push­ing char­ter schools and even vouch­ers. To­day, as he gets ready to run for pres­i­dent, his long­time re­form en­thu­si­asm is likely to be a se­ri­ous hur­dle in a Demo­cratic pri­mary. That wouldn’t have been the case even a few years ago.

Un­like La­mont, Mal­loy is as fiery as ever, com­plain­ing still about not get­ting his plans through. But he’s not gov­er­nor any­more.

No one ex­pects any­thing rev­o­lu­tion­ary from La­mont, the kind of large-scale so­lu­tions that might make a dif­fer­ence — things like de­seg­re­ga­tion, re­gion­al­iza­tion and mass re­al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources. But just by fo­cus­ing on small­bore fixes, and avoid­ing plans that would bring ac­tual harm, his gov­er­nor­ship is likely to be a pos­i­tive step for stu­dents.

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