LET’S DO EDUCATION FUNDING REFORM THE RIGHT WAY (BY JIM FINLEY)

Despite all the fiscal and other challenges paralyzing Connecticut, there is an opportunity in the 2017 special legislative session to take the first real step toward comprehensive, rational and constitutional education funding reform.  That first step is authorizing an education adequacy cost study be conducted in our state as called for in Substitute House Bill 7270 (File 511, House Calendar 351) of the regular legislative session.

Connecticut’s shame is to tolerate among the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation.  As pointed out in painful clarity by the plaintiffs in the historic CCJEF v. Rell case now under appeal to the CT Supreme Court, too many of our public school students are denied their state constitutional right to an adequate and equitable education.  Connecticut is failing our poor, special need and minority students.  The achievement gap between poor and minority students and other students in our state is among the worst in the country.  The socioeconomic consequences of such unconstitutional indifference are not only dire for the students affected but for our state as a whole.

Our education finance system is broken and needs to be fixed.  Everyone agrees on this.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Unfortunately, the wrong way is on full display in the 2017 legislative session.  There are currently at least four proposals to change the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant and special education funding, some public and some not, scurrying around the Capitol.  All repeat the mistakes of the past.

However well-intentioned they may be, all these proposals fail a fundamental test:  The proposals are not informed by up-to-date hard data on what it actually costs to provide an adequate and equitable educational opportunity across the diverse student-need spectrum in Connecticut.  Only an education adequacy cost study can provide such real-world data.  The proposals are a political and non-empirical response to the unconstitutional inequities that exist in our education finance system.  As has been done so many times over the last 40 years, these proposals are rush-to-judgment fixes masquerading as comprehensive reform.  None of these proposals will resolve the adequacy and equity constitutional issues raised in CCJEF v. Rell.

Education adequacy cost studies are the gold-standard prerequisite for education finance reform.  They have been performed with great success in over 30 other states to help effectuate education reforms.  The results of an education cost study formed the basis of education funding reform in Maryland that has resulted in a significant closing of their achievement gap.  Governor Malloy’s 2013 Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that a cost study be undertaken.  A 1991 cost study in Massachusetts laid the groundwork for their Education Reform Act of 1993.  This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.

An education adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than 1/10,000 of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education.  It is a great investment in Connecticut’s future and a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational and constitutional education funding formula that truly ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for ALL public school students.

Let’s not repeat the policy development mistakes of the past.  Let’s commission an education adequacy cost study so that we get education funding reform right.  Our public school students deserve nothing less.

Nothing abstract about the lessons of play By Wendy Lecker

Last week, The New York Times unwittingly provided an example of how bad education policy is made. A front-page article trumpeted “Free play or flashcards? A new study nods to more rigorous preschools.”

The study the article featured purportedly proved that frequent, direct instruction of “academic” content in preschool yielded more “cognitive gains” than play-based preschool. The study even contended that preschools that do not engage in enough direct academic instruction “may be doing their young charges a disservice.” The study’s author, Bruce Fuller, denigrated play, declaring that “(s)imply dressing up like a firefighter or building an exquisite Lego edifice may not be enough.”

However, Fuller’s study did not prove that “academically oriented” preschools help children learn better.

The study showed simply that children who were exposed to instruction regarding phonics, simple writing and counting manipulatives frequently in preschool, and then were tested on these discrete skills near the beginning of kindergarten, did better on those tests than children who were not exposed at all or as frequently to this instruction.

Of course if one instructs a child on something and tests her on it soon after, she will perform better on that test than a child who did not receive that instruction.

Does this obvious observation prove that “academic” preschool helps children learn better? No — as the authors themselves admit. They state that they did not follow children in this study past kindergarten, even though they acknowledge that previous preschool studies find that many effects fade by fifth grade.

To the contrary, decades of research demonstrate that an emphasis on play in the early years provides long-lasting academic and social benefits.

Young children’s brains are not ready for the abstract thinking that direct instruction of “academic” content requires. Children use play to establish the foundation for abstract learning. For example, socio-dramatic play enables children to understand sequencing essential to math and reading. Building with blocks enables children to understand that objects can represent other objects, so later they can comprehend that lines represent letters and words represent ideas. Contrary to the claims in The New York Times article, play is learning for young children.

Play builds a strong foundation for acquiring academic skills. As I have written (http://bit.ly/1blEzTj), children who learn to read at age seven, having engaged in play-based learning before, have better comprehension in middle school than those who learned to read at five.

The Fuller study did not follow the children who engaged in more play-based activities to test them on those math and literacy concepts, once they learned them at a developmentally-appropriate age. It is entirely possible that the children in Fuller’s study who did not score well at age five on concepts to which they were not exposed in preschool would, at a later age, outscore those children from “academically-oriented” preschools; precisely because they engaged in more play-based learning in their early years.

Forcing children to engage in age-inappropriate tasks in preschool instead of play creates a stressful environment that undermines learning and social development. Children who experience the “toxic stress” associated with living in poverty need play to develop crucial executive function and self-regulation skills, and to learn to form positive relationships. A curriculum comparison study that followed children to age 23 found that, as they grew, children who had direct instruction in preschool engaged in more misconduct than those who had more play-based curricula.

The Fuller study noted in passing that preschools serving advantaged children have more play-based activities than those serving poor children. In 2014, I wrote about the detrimental effects of making kindergarten the new first grade (http://bit.ly/1blEzT). Low-income children suffered the most, enduring more age-inappropriate instruction and being starved of a rich curriculum. Now The New York Times gives top billing to an inconclusive study advocating introducing developmentally inappropriate practices even earlier.

Public funding for preschool, especially for disadvantaged students, is gaining traction nationwide. Is it coincidental that an article pushing “academic” preschool, which produces immediate quantifiable, though questionable, results, without regard to long-term effects, appears on the front page of a national newspaper now?

Policy makers force many unproven and disproven reforms on schools educating our most vulnerable. As a condition of basic funding, they demand concrete results, like standardized test scores, that are often irrelevant to important educational and life outcomes; and that often force schools to deprive poor children of the types of learning that are most important in life.

Why, when it comes to poor kids, do we not have any stake in long-term outcomes?

To read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece go to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Nothing-abstract-about-the-lessons-11208722.php

 

Let’s Make History by Ann Cronin

Efforts to improve K-12 education over the past 30 years have produced a bipartisan mess. In the excerpt below, Diane Ravitch describes how Democrats have contributed in substantive ways to that mess.

“Listening to their cries of outrage, one might imagine that Democrats were America’s undisputed champions of public education. But the resistance to DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth: Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Part lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts, and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur. That year, when President George H.W. Bush convened an education summit of the nation’s governors, it was a little-known Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton who drafted a bipartisan set of national goals for the year 2000 (“first in the world” in mathematics, for starters). The ambitious benchmarks would be realized by creating, for the first time, national achievement standards and tests. Clinton ran on the issue, defeated Bush, and passed Goals 2000, which provided grants to states that implemented their own achievement metrics.

The Democrats had dipped a toe in “school reform.” Before long, they were completely immersed. After George W. Bush made the “Texas miracle” of improved schools a launching pad for the presidency, many Democrats swallowed his bogus claim that testing students every year had produced amazing results. In 2001, Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s liberal lion, teamed with Bush to pass No Child Left Behind. For the first time, the government was mandating not only “accountability” (code for punishing teachers and schools who fall short), but also “choice” (code for handing low-performing public schools over to charter operators).

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, educators hoped he would return the party to its public school roots. By then, even Bill Clinton was calling No Child Left Behind a “train wreck.” Instead, Obama and Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice. Their Race to the Top program was, in essence, No Child Left Behind II: It invited states to compete for $5 billion in funds by holding teachers accountable for test scores, adopting national standards, opening more charter schools, and closing low-scoring public schools.

The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Cory Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.

It’s fitting that Trump and DeVos rely on the same language to tout their vision of reform. They’re essentially taking Obama’s formula one step further: expanding “choice” to include vouchers, so parents can use public funding to pay for private and religious schools. Democrats are up in arms about the privatization scheme, as they should be: It’s a disaster for public schools. But if they’re serious about being the party that treats public education as a cornerstone of democracy, they need to do more than grandstand about the consequences they helped bring about. They need to follow the money—their own campaign money, that is.

As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union-busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools.

The money had its intended effect. When Andrew Cuomo decided to run for governor of New York, he learned that the way to raise cash was to go through the hedge funders at Democrats for Education Reform. They backed him lavishly, and Cuomo repaid them by becoming a hero of the charter movement. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, often celebrated for his unvarnished liberalism, is another champion of the charter industry; some of its biggest funders live in his state.

There are plenty of reasons that Democrats should steer clear of the charter industry. Charter corporations have been repeatedly charged with fraud, nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. Many charters make money on complex real-estate deals.

But it’s more than a matter of sleeping with the enemy. School choice doesn’t work, and “evidence-based” Democrats ought to acknowledge it. Charter schools are a failed experiment. Study after study has shown that they do not get better test scores than public schools unless they screen out English-language learners and students with profound disabilities. It’s well-established that school choice increases segregation, rather than giving low-income students better opportunities. And kids using vouchers actually lose ground in private schools. Support for charters is paving the way for a dual school system—one that is allowed to choose the students it wants, and another that is required to accept all who enroll.

This is what Democrats should be yelling about. And if there’s ever a moment for them to reclaim their mantle as the party of public education, it’s now. The misguided push for “reform” is currently being led not by Obama and Duncan, but by Trump and DeVos, giving Democrats an opening to shift their agenda on education.

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, ‘I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.’ There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.”

So what does that mean for us in Connecticut? 

There are two immediate actions we need to take: 

1.             We have to recognize that our political establishment has failed us. Our Democratic governor sold out for the money provided to him by the charter school industry. The Connecticut State Department of Education endorsed student and school accountability measured by the lowest level of intellectual endeavors: standardized tests. The Connecticut State Board of Education permitted profiteers in the form of the totally inadequate Relay Graduate School of Education to certify teachers for our neediest schools. Recognizing the vacuum of political leadership in K-12 education, we must search for and insist upon new political leadership – both from currently serving Democratic politicians and newcomers to politics. 

2.     We must use the innovative leadership we already have in our Connecticut schools. Three experiences I had just this week showed that leadership. First, I listened to students in a Hartford high school address an adult and student audience about their projects, such as starting and running a successful business, designing a mural to encompass major elements of African Americans history in this country, making music the center of their lives by creating and performing in a band, and making a documentary about a previously unrecognized medical researcher in order to give fellow students a sense of their own possibilities to achieve and change the world. Secondly, I listened to high school students in New Haven describe their social justice projects to political and business leaders. The students each identified a societal problem, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the lack of equitable funding of public schools in this country, researched it thoroughly, analyzed causes and possible solutions, and proposed a way to remedy the problem. Thirdly, I was inspired by a suburban middle school principal who described the school’s assessment practices. Teachers do not grade students on a one-time snapshot of their performance but rather work with the students to keep them engaged in rethinking, revising, trying again and again until the students do achieve the goals that the faculty has identified for them. 

We have the educational leadership we need for the schools in Connecticut. We just need to tap into it. Our politicians must honor the expertise of the educators who put together these three programs as well as other talented educators across the state. Then, we will move forward. 

Let’s do it. Let’s make history. 

 

Both Trump and Connecticut Democrats propose drastic cuts that would undermine higher education

While it should come as no surprise, President Donald Trump’s new federal budget proposal targets higher education for what would be unparalleled budget cuts.  Over the next ten years Trump’s budget plan would eliminate more than $143 billion in financial aid and federal support for students seeking a college education.

Trump’s budget ends the effective Perkins Loan program, eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, makes record cuts to Pell Grants, dumps the program to forgive student loan debts if a student works for at least 10 years in selected public sector jobs and ends a program that covers interest payments for low income students while they are enrolled in school.

But at the same time, in what can only be described as an incredibly insulting attack, Democratic legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly have proposed equally appalling budget cuts aimed at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.

In February, Governor Dannel Malloy targeted Connecticut’s public colleges and universities for nearly $50 million in budget cuts, these coming on top of the record cuts Malloy has already made to the University of Connecticut, to the Connecticut State Universities and to the state’s community college system.

But now, in a stunning development, the Democrats in the General Assembly have proposed an additional $135 million in cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, ensuring massive tuition increases and major reductions in programs and services at all public institutions of higher education in Connecticut.

While Trump’s cuts are to be expected from an unstable, right-wing “nut job,” the cuts being proposed by the Democrats would have a more immediate and devastating impact on public higher education in Connecticut.

The fact that Democratic legislators have proposed to destroy Connecticut’s public colleges and universities is a sad commentary about just how little they care about Connecticut’s middle income and poorer residents and how little they understand about meeting the future needs of Connecticut’s economy.

For more on the federal cuts go to: https://edsource.org/2017/white-house-seeks-billions-in-cuts-to-higher-education-spending/582316 and https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/19/reported-details-trump-budget-include-big-cuts-financial-aid

For more on the budget being proposed by the Democratic legislators go to: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3723660/May-16.pdf

Connecticut elected officials propose record budget cuts to public colleges and universities

While remaining dedicated to coddling the rich by refusing to require them to pay their fair share in taxes, Governor Malloy and members of the Connecticut General Assembly have offered up state budget plans that that will decimate Connecticut’s public colleges and universities and lead to significantly higher tuition at UConn, CSU and the state’s community colleges.

Governor Malloy has already presided over the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education but now he – and both parties in the legislature – are seeking truly unprecedented cuts in state funding levels for the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State Universities and Connecticut’s Community Colleges.

These cuts will lead to higher costs for Connecticut families and reduced offerings at Connecticut’s colleges and universities.  The proposals will lead to nothing more than students paying more and getting less.

Faced with a $5 billion projected budget shortfall, Malloy and the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the State Senate and State House of Representatives recently offered up revised budget proposals aimed at addressing Connecticut’s growing fiscal crisis.

The new proposed budgets rely heavily on cuts to education and human services.

In February, Governor Malloy proposed a $38 million in budget cuts to the CSU/Community College budget, a cut that would come on top of Malloy’s massive cuts over the last few years.

Then this past week, Malloy and the Republicans both proposed nearly $25 million more in cuts to CSU and the Community Colleges, while the incredibly outrageous proposal from the Democrats would actually cut off as much as $90 million in state aid to the schools.

As previously noted, in Connecticut, the poor pay about 12% of their income in state and local taxes, the Middle Class about 10% and the state’s wealthiest citizen’s only pay about 5.5% of their income in state and local taxes.

However, rather than require wealthy residents to pay their fair share in taxes, Democrats and Republicans are seeking to dump the state’s budget problems on those least able to pay more.

The cuts to public colleges and universities will certainly lead to massive increases in tuition – which is nothing short of a tax increase on those who are already paying more than their fair share.

As the CT Mirror reported on the Democratic Plan;

Public colleges and universities also face very deep cuts under the Democratic plan.

The University of Connecticut, which already faced a deep cut under the budget Malloy proposed back in February, would lose another $35 million over the next two fiscal years combined under the Democratic legislators’ proposal.

And the Board of Regents of Higher Education, which oversees the state universities and community colleges, would lose another $100 million over the biennium.

The Governor and legislature have no begun closed door negotiations over the budget plan and there appears to be no one in the room who is willing to stand up and speak out on behalf of adequate funding for Connecticut’s colleges and universities.

Do education reform right — with an education adequacy cost study (By Jim Finley, CCJEF)

Despite all the fiscal and other challenges paralyzing Connecticut, there is an opportunity in the 2017 legislative session to take the first real step toward comprehensive, rational and constitutional education funding reform.  That first step is authorizing an education adequacy cost study be conducted in our state as called for in Substitute House Bill 7270 (File 511, House Calendar 351).

Connecticut’s shame is to tolerate among the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation.  As pointed out in painful clarity by the plaintiffs in the historic CCJEF v. Rell case now under appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, too many of our public school students are denied their state constitutional right to an adequate and equitable education.

Connecticut is failing our poor, special need and minority students.  The achievement gap between poor and minority students and other students in our state is among the worst in the country.  The socioeconomic consequences of such unconstitutional indifference are not only dire for the students affected but for our state as a whole.

Our education finance system is broken and needs to be fixed.  Everyone agrees on this.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Unfortunately, the wrong way is on full display in the 2017 legislative session.  There are currently at least four proposals to change the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant and special education funding, some public and some not, scurrying around the Capitol.  All repeat the mistakes of the past.

However well-intentioned they may be, all these proposals fail a fundamental test:  The proposals are not informed by up-to-date hard data on what it actually costs to provide an adequate and equitable educational opportunity across the diverse student-need spectrum in Connecticut.  Only an education adequacy cost study can provide such real-world data.  The proposals are a political and non-empirical response to the unconstitutional inequities that exist in our education finance system.  As has been done so many times over the last 40 years, these proposals are rush-to-judgment fixes masquerading as comprehensive reform.  None of these proposals will resolve the adequacy and equity constitutional issues raised in CCJEF v. Rell.

Education adequacy cost studies are the gold-standard prerequisite for education finance reform.  They have been performed with great success in over 30 other states to help effectuate education reforms.  The results of an education cost study formed the basis of education funding reform in Maryland that has resulted in a significant closing of their achievement gap.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s 2013 Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that a cost study be undertaken.  A 1991 cost study in Massachusetts laid the groundwork for their Education Reform Act of 1993.  This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.

An education adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than 1/10,000 of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education.  It is a great investment in Connecticut’s future and a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational and constitutional education funding formula that truly ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all public school students.

Let’s not repeat the policy development mistakes of the past.  Let’s commission an education adequacy cost study so that we get education funding reform right.  Our public school students deserve nothing less.

First published in the CTMirror, you can read and comment on Jim Finley’s commentary piece at: https://ctviewpoints.org/2017/05/16/lets-do-education-reform-the-right-way-with-an-education-adequacy-cost-study/

The war on education as public good (By Wendy Lecker)

In a recent commentary piece in the Stamford Advocates, Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker provided an important analysis of the unwarranted and dangerous attack on public education that is taking place in the United States.  Wendy Lecker writes;

Political theorist Benjamin Barber, who died April 24, wrote about the importance of education as a public good. “Education not only speaks to the public, it is the means by which a public is forged.”

As he noted, education transforms individuals into responsible community members, first in their classrooms and ultimately in our democracy. Local school districts are also the basic units of democratic government.

Michigan professor Marina Whitman recently noted that the essence of a public good is that it is non-excludable; i.e. all can partake, and non-rivalrous; i.e. giving one person the good does not diminish its availability to another.

Some school reforms strengthen education as a public good; such as school finance reform, which seeks to ensure that all children have adequate educational resources.

Unfortunately, the reforms pushed in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations attack education as a public good. For example, choice — charters and vouchers — is a favorite policy of all three administrations. Choice operates on the excludable premise of “saving a few.”

In operation, choice makes education rivalrous. As a New York appellate court observed, diverting funds from public schools to charters ‘benefit a select few at the expense of the ‘common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated.’”

The experience in America’s major cities reveals choice’s damaging results. At a recent NAACP hearing, New Orleans residents spoke of an all-charter system rife with fraud and mismanagement. The schools are highly segregated with poor children and children of color relegated to schools with limited resources, inexperienced teachers and long commutes.

Michigan’s policy of unfettered charter expansion, together with a money-follows-the-child school funding system decimated Detroit’s public schools, along with other poor districts, and has left schools across that state intensely segregated.

Chicago’s choice policies disenfranchised mostly communities of color, shuttering neighborhood schools to open charters with a history of excluding ELL students and students with disabilities and with expulsions at 10 times the rate of Chicago’s public schools.

Recent research from Roosevelt University reveals that Chicago’s policies toward charters are a major factor causing the fiscal crisis in Chicago’s public schools. Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emmanuel claimed to close neighborhood schools, in predominately poor and African-American communities, to “right-size” the district. However, he then proceeded to open a slew of charter schools in neighborhoods with declining enrollment, demonstrating that he had no interest in “right-sizing.”

The public school district, responsible for charter facilities, saw its debt burden increase markedly. A third of Chicago’s charters alone carried a debt burden of more than a quarter of a billion dollars. The charter strain, coupled with Chicago’s existing $6 billion debt, forced public schools to cut special education teachers, advanced courses, the arts, increased overcrowding and left schools without funds for basic supplies, such as toilet paper.

A new study in California similarly showed that its charter policy operates without regard to the health of the public school system. California has spent billions on charters without considering the quality of charters or the impact on host districts. The report, prepared by the organization, In the Public Interest, noted that to be eligible for school construction, a public school district must demonstrate the need for seats. However, charters have no such requirement. As a result, California has spent more than a billion dollars opening schools in areas with no need, and often opening schools that perform worse than public schools.

Connecticut’s policies regarding charters also fail to consider the impact on children in and out of charter schools. State officials turn a blind eye to segregation, exclusion and astronomical suspensions in charters. They ignore restrictions on over-saturating districts and directives to consider local opposition.

Across this country, public money is diverted from public schools to charters with no consideration of need, quality or the impact on the majority of public school students. The result is invariably the creation of exclusive schools, out of the reach of voter oversight, at the expense of public schools that serve everyone.

Charter advocates claimed charters would be superior without the constraints faced by local districts. However, after more than 20 years, charters are no better than public schools.

Moreover, they leave public schools without resources to serve the most vulnerable and communities disenfranchised by unelected school boards.

As Barber predicted, “What begins as an assault on bureaucratic rigidity becomes an assault on government and all things public … (destroying) a people’s right to govern themselves publicly … (and) to establish the conditions for the development of public citizens.” Reforms that gut public education attack democracy.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-war-on-education-as-public-good-11124896.php

Teacher Evaluation: Let’s Get It Right (By Ann Cronin)

First published on her blog and in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator Ann Cronin writes:

An editorial in The Hartford Courant (April, 23, 2017) entitled “ Back to Squishy Teacher Evals” argued for using the scores of students’ standardized tests to evaluate teachers. It seems so neat and tidy. Teachers produce a product (a test score). We take a look at the product. We then judge if the teacher is competent or not, based on that product. If only it were that simple. But it’s not.

Factors, other than who the teacher is, affect a student’s standardized test score, such as:

  • Elements of the school – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.)
  • Home and community supports and challenges
  • Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance
  • Peer culture
  • Prior teachers and schooling as well as other current teachers

The truth is that many factors create that product of a student test score, and those very factors make using test scores to evaluate teachers impossible. Teachers who are rated as competent could easily be rated the next year as incompetent, depending on the students he or she is teaching.

In fact, a study examining data from five school districts found that many teachers who scored at the bottom one year moved to the top of the rankings the next year, and many  who scored at the top similarly moved to other parts of the distribution the following year. The rankings of the teachers did not remain stable over time because each school year brought them a new batch of students with differing combinations of factors.

When I was a high school English teacher, I taught two sections of the same American literature course for college-bound students, and even with the same teacher, the same school, the same curriculum, the same books, the same ability level of the students, there never once was an essay that I assigned in which students in one section of the course received exactly the same grade distribution as students in the other section. The students’ performance was a result of more than what they received from me.

In addition to student test scores not being solely the product of a single teacher, the test itself is not a good way to measure student performance. The editorial stated that SBAC, the standardized test Connecticut uses, has been “painstakingly designed to provide objective and uniform data about whether the students are learning their lessons”. But what lessons would those be?

The lessons of an English language arts teacher that promote literacy are lessons for students in using writing as a tool for learning, lessons in learning to write to express narrative or argumentative thinking or to explore a question, lessons in expanding and refining their thinking by revising their writing, lessons in learning to collaborate- to listen and speak to one another in order to deepen and broaden their individual thinking, lessons in learning how to question in increasingly deep and complex ways, lessons in creating meaning as they read, and lessons in exploring multiple interpretations of what they read. And none of that is on a standardized test.

If the English language arts teacher teaches lessons that match the test, that teacher is teaching test prep – not literacy.

The information gained from the standardized tests is useless, except for checking how well students perform on the lowest level of intellectual engagement, but even if the tests did provide good data, how would we evaluate all teachers on the scores of them?

Standardized tests are required in only two subjects: math and English language arts. There, however, are teachers of history, biology, chemistry, physics, art, music, physical education, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, technology, vocational arts, early childhood, special education, bilingual education as well as teachers who are specialists and guidance counselors and teachers who do not teach in the grades being tested. Do we evaluate all those teachers by the school’s English and math scores or do we develop a standardized test in each discipline and mandate that students spend their whole springtime taking standardized tests?

All of this is not to say that the current teacher evaluation system is effective in developing beginning teachers, making good teachers better ones, and holding everyone, both teachers and administrators, accountable. It isn’t. I have evaluated teachers for 22 years and can attest to that.

But there is a three-step program that would work. It is not as expensive as standardized tests and has a track record for creating effective teachers, and, best of all, serves the students. First would be to establish standards for teachers, based on the best practice for each specific academic discipline and stage of child and adolescent development. So there would be standards for teaching early childhood, standards for teaching English language arts, standards for teaching math, science, music etc. Second would be the requirement that all teachers must be involved in professional development in those standards pertinent to their teaching. And thirdly, administrators must participate in the professional development in the areas for which they supervise teachers. Best practice for early childhood educators, best practice for English language arts teachers, best practice for teachers of all disciplines then becomes what is required of all teachers and becomes the means of accountability.

What would be gained?

The students would become meaningfully engaged in their learning. The teachers would be empowered to do what gives them satisfaction: teaching well. And administrators would have the means for moving their school or department forward.

When teachers and administrators are engaged in conversations about best practices and best pedagogy, teacher evaluation is not squishy. It is tight. It is meaningful. It creates life in the classroom and the school.

Best of all, it gives students what they came to school for: an education.

You can read and comment on Ann Conin”s piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/04/29/teacher-evaluation-lets-get-it-right/

 

Connecticut Education Association vote would promote democracy in union elections

Similar to the Electoral College for President of the United States, the Connecticut Education Association presently elects its officers through a process that separates individual union members from the direct election of their officers.  However, educators attending the CEA’s annual Representatives Assembly (RA) will have the opportunity to change that…for the better.

If the constitutional change is adopted, teachers throughout Connecticut would he given the ability to vote directly for their state officers.

It is a change that would not only ensure democracy at the CEA, but it is a step that would send a powerful message about the importance of one person, one vote in our society.

As a recent press release explained,

The amendment will be voted on by delegates at this year’s CEA Representative Assembly on May 6th. Under the proposal, all 43,000 CEA members would have the right to vote for state-level union leaders.

Connecticut educator, Martin Walsh, a teacher residing in Wethersfield and member of the CEA’s Progressive Caucus said,

“Unions thrive on participation, and direct democracy spurs involvement. In this age of instantaneous and secure data transmission, it makes perfect sense to open statewide elections to all union members. Our proposal can be easily implemented at a reasonable cost. Now is preeminently the time to make this important change.”

At a time when our democracy is under unprecedented threats, it is great to see that the Connecticut Education Association will actually be voting on a Constitutional Amendment to expand the use of direct democracy when it comes to electing officers.

Last month Malloy claimed Connecticut would have a surplus, now we have a deficit —- why?

From Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo;

COMPTROLLER LEMBO REPORTS $393.4-MILLION DEFICIT AFTER CONTINUED INCOME TAX EROSION

Comptroller Kevin Lembo today announced that continued erosion of the state income tax – likely due to a combination of investors relying more on tax-friendly investment funds, an economic trend towards lower-paying jobs and population loss – has increased the current fiscal year deficit to $393.4 million.

The Budget Reserve Fund has a current balance of $235.58 million, which is insufficient to cover the current General Fund deficit.

In a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lembo said his deficit projection is approximately $3.6 million higher than the deficit reported by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) because Lembo believes the state will spend more than initially planned on ongoing settlement payments related to the SEBAC vs. Rowland case.

“Connecticut’s budget performance is a reflection of our national and state economies,” Lembo said. “Over at least the past two months, I have expressed concern regarding final income tax collections.

“History demonstrates that final April collections typically move in the same direction as the quarterly estimated income tax payments collected earlier in the fiscal year. For the first two quarterly deposits of the fiscal year, estimated payments were running more than 8 percent below last year. This raised significant concerns – now proven true – about final payment collections. It now appears that final payments will be approximately 10 percent below last fiscal year’s level.”

Connecticut joins nearly 20 other states facing eroding income tax revenue – however, Lembo said that Connecticut also faces its own unique structural problems, including unfunded pension liabilities and retiree health costs.

Lembo said the most significant deterioration in the General Fund’s fiscal outlook occurred in the projection for income tax receipts, which are now $450.7 million below last month’s estimate and $532.2 million off from the original budget plan.

Gov. Malloy’s administration had an optimistic view regarding the potential for gains due to a significant run-up in the stock market at the end of 2016, Lembo said.

“Those gains have not materialized,” Lembo said, pointing to increasing popularity of “tax efficient” investments such as Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). “These funds are designed, in part, to minimize capital gains taxes.”In the United States, ETF assets increased from $157 billion in 2003 to $2.8 trillion by March 2017.

In addition to the drop in estimated and final income tax payments, there has been a significant downturn in the withholding portion of the income tax, which is responsible for over 60 percent of total income tax revenue. 

“A general shift in the composition of employment by sector to lower paying jobs may be a contributing factor,” Lembo said. “In addition to greater use of tax advantaged investments, the state’s population loss may also have played a role in the disappointing final payment results.”

Lembo said U.S. census data shows that Connecticut experienced a decline in population of 8,278 residents between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. Connecticut was one of only eight states to experience a decline in population during this period – and has now posted three consecutive years of population decline.