(Updated with corrected information about 3rd grade assessments)
Earlier this week, Governor Malloy, Lieutenant Governor Wyman, and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, announced a new pilot program that will institute “intensive new reading intervention programs for students in kindergarten through grade three.”
This new “Literacy Initiative” was part of Malloy’s “education reform” bill. This year, the literacy program, will be tried in five communities and next year, every K-3 school in the state will have to implement the new program.
Lt. Governor Wyman hailed the new initiative saying, “providing an opportunity for every child to develop good reading skills at an early age is not only critical to their future as individuals, but to the future of Connecticut.”
There is certainly no arguing with Nancy Wyman’s observation.
What is interesting, however, is that Malloy, Wyman and Pryor only mentioned the elements of the initiative that are universally admired. They didn’t even acknowledge that certain aspects of the new law might raise some concerns with parents, educators and taxpayers.
The “good” news” is that the new law allocates $1.77 million to support a literacy coach and four “reading interventionists” in each of the five test schools. These people will, “implement new instructional practices, individualized academic interventions based on student needs, and data monitoring strategies to improve literacy instruction.”
But here is what Malloy, Wyman and Pryor didn’t say – in fact they didn’t mention these issues at all!
(1) While the $1.77 million is helpful to the 5 schools piloting the reading initiative, the state hasn’t committed or pledged any substantial funds to help towns when the program is expanded to every K-3 program in Connecticut. That used to be called an “unfunded mandate” or a prescription for a major local tax increase.
(2) The bill requires the State Department of Education to develop new, standardized tests that will be given, at regular intervals, to all kindergarteners, first graders and second graders. As they say, it is never too early to train children how to fill out those bubble tests.
(3) The new law also requires that all certified employees, including teachers and administrators who work with children in the K to third grades, (and all special education teachers,) must pass a new State Board of Education reading instruction exam. In addition, all teachers and administrators in those grades will have to have 30 hours of continuing education in reading instruction every five years, instead of the present requirement of 15 hours. Again, no additional resources for the towns has been pledged or provided.
And finally, in the piece de résistance, the new funds will primarily be used to hire the additional staff. The purchase of reading materials will continue to be the responsibility of the local community.
To provide a sense of the potential financial impact, one need only look to the Town of Windham, which is actually home to one of the five pilot schools (the Windham Center Elementary School.)
When Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education moved to take over the Windham Schools, they appointed Steven Adamowski, Hartford’s former superintendent of schools, to serve as Windham’s new “Special Master, at a cost of $225,000 a year. As part of the program, the state provided Windham with $1 million, $200,000 of which was to pay for a new Reading program for the Windham Schools.
The only problem was that although Adamowski set out from the State Department of Education with $200,000 for the new reading program, the package he ended up choosing, called The Imagine It! program (for grades K-5,) actually cost $755,000.
The people of Windham, one of the poorest communities in Connecticut, were then required to come up with that money.
For background purposes, The Imagine It! Program is created by SRA/McGraw-Hill, a division of McGraw-Hill Education, which, in turn, is a subsidiary of The McGraw-Hill Companies. Last month, The McGraw-Hill Companies reported revenues of $1.547 billion in the second quarter of this year.
That said, in July, The McGraw-Hill Companies filed the forms necessary for the company to separate into McGraw-Hill Financial and McGraw-Hill Education. At the time, Harold McGraw IIII, Chairman, President and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies, announced, “we are particularly excited by the global growth prospects of McGraw-Hill Education, especially in digital learning where sales of digital offerings have been growing by more than 30% annually over the last three years…”
Unfortunately, there appears to have been no mention as to whether, considering Windham has already committed $755,000 for McGraw-Hill Education products, the company might provide a buy one, get one free deal (known to shoppers as a BOGO) if any of the other four pilot towns would also purchase The Imagine It! Package.