Education is a top priority on the legislative agenda for 2012. This is great news for Connecticut's kids, their future employers and all of us with a stake in the state's economic health. The General Assembly, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state's new commissioner of education are partnering on a series of bold initiatives that will address long-standing challenges in our schools. Now is the time to act.

It is well known that Connecticut is home to some of the highest-performing and lowest-performing schools in the nation, resulting in the worst achievement gap of any state. And even as our highest-ranking students consistently graduate from top colleges, other disturbing trends have emerged. High school graduation and college attendance rates have remained stubbornly stagnant, even among high-performing schools. As Gov. Malloy said in his state of the state speech, employers have raised alarms about a diminishing pool of workers with the skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Also disturbing is the fact that Connecticut students are falling behind in an increasingly competitive global economy. In math, Connecticut eighth-graders rank 30th in the world, behind Japan, France, Germany and Canada.

Left unaddressed, this situation threatens our state's competitiveness, as well as our children's hopes and dreams. So I'm excited to see the governor and state legislators -- both Democrats and Republicans -- working together on solutions that will assist students and teachers in the classroom. The education reform package currently in development in the legislature addresses five areas:

Improving school and district accountability

Targeting support to the lowest-performing schools

Improving teacher/administrator training and review

Updating the education cost-sharing formula

Increasing aid for public school choice

These reforms would:

Eliminate the "adequate yearly progress" benchmark created as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law and replace it with a smarter, more nuanced system of analyzing school success. Schools struggling the most would join a newly created Commissioners Network allowing the state's Department of Education more direct administration over those schools.

Establish new teacher performance guidelines that take into account student learning, classroom performance, peer and professional evaluations, and the achievement of both the school and district.

Create new opportunities for teachers' professional development, higher standards for graduation and a revamped tenure system.

Change the education cost-sharing formula to better measure for child poverty and town wealth. While towns like Fairfield and Westport would not see their state grants cut, additional grants would be made available to challenged districts that are also working to meet expectations. Successful charter schools in our inner cities would be eligible for additional funding as well.

The details must be debated and worked out, but these proposals are an important step in Connecticut's effort to get serious about education reform.

State Rep. Kim Fawcett

133rd District