First Steven Adamowski was the superintendent of schools in Hartford. Then Governor Malloy’s administration made him the $225,000 “Special Master” of Windham’s Schools. And then they made him “Special Master” of New London’s schools as well.
Over the weekend, New London’s, The Day newspaper, ran an informative news story about what Special Master Steven Adamowski is calling his sure-fire solution, a plan that will not only “save New London’s schools, but New London as well.” (See article)
The “plan” is specific to New London, but it reminds us that “education reformers” are fond of building things, renaming things, moving things around, and then declaring victory. Their modus operandi (aka standard operating procedure) seems to be to announce lots of changes and then move on before anyone realizes that they’ve been had.
Whether it is improving standardized test scores or graduation rates, “reformers” appear to think that things like, “the facts,” and the “truth,” are unnecessary complications.
When it comes to Special Master Steven Adamowski’s, plan for New London, you certainly have to give him points for the impressive claims he is making. Adamowski is saying that his plan will not solve New London’s financial problems, but it will improve student performance and close the academic achievement gap in the next three years.
So what is this remarkable plan?
The plan is to turn all of New London’s schools into “magnet schools.”
Or, as Adamowski put it to The Day, implementing his all-magnet school system will create, “the opportunity for suburban students to come to [New London] and students from the city to go to the suburbs.”
This will not only push up test scores and reduce drop-out rates, but, according to Adamowski, will provide New London with an additional $9 million in state funding each year. Enough, he says, to ensure New London’s school system is properly funded well into the future.
And if all that rhetoric wasn’t enough, Adamowski goes for the knock-out punch by telling New London’s elected officials that, “You’re a third to 40 percent of the way there. The rest could be achievable.”
It’s almost too good to be true…And you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true…
Knowing a thing or two about school funding issues in Connecticut, I’d like to take a moment to highlight a few issues that New London’s leadership should look into before they make the decision to slam their foot down on the accelerator, and risk careening off the cliff.
Some facts and questions;
New London is nowhere near 40% of the way towards making this fantasy a reality. The 40% he is apparently referring to is that fact that two of New London’s five (or so) schools are presently called “magnet schools.” (Two of five being 40%). However, simply calling the remaining three schools, “magnet schools,” is neither simple nor inexpensive, and even more importantly, having “five magnet schools” doesn’t in and of itself represent a successful proposal.
As Adamowski explains, once all of New London’s schools are “magnet schools,” there are “just two barriers to overcome,” in order to make his plan work.
- First, at least 15 percent of the student body at each school must come from towns outside of New London and
- At least 25 percent of the student body at each magnet school cannot be minority students.
If these two conditions are not met, then Adamowski’s plan falls apart and New London’s taxpayers are on the hook for all the costs associated with these changes.
Recently, New London Superintendent of Schools, Nicholas A. Fischer, was quoted as saying that attracting out-of-district students to New London would be “easy.”
As evidence, Adamowski and Fischer point out that the new Winthrop School was able to attract 71 students from outside of New London. While getting 71 non-New London students to sign up for Winthrop is impressive, ensuring every New London school has sufficient numbers of out of town students and sufficient numbers of non-minority students is a very different challenge.
With New London’s present student population, the City would need to attract well over 500 out of town students to reach the goal of having 15 percent of all students from towns other than New London. (The number would need to be well over 850 students if the goal was to have 25 percent of the students from out of town.) *see note below on the 15 percent vs. 25 percent issue.
Meeting the requirement that at least 25 percent of the students in each school are white would also be a major challenge.
At Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, for example, between 85 and 100 new non-minority students would be needed to meet the requirement.
Finally, Adamowski’s claim that if New London was to make all of these changes and meet all of these criteria, the City would receive another $9 million in state funding each year, is a bit disingenuous.
Connecticut’s funding formulas include the words, “within available funds,” meaning that even if New London is “entitled” to the funds, the Governor and Legislature must allocate enough money to fully fund the grant. Full funding and the State of Connecticut are not two phrases that go together. In fact, the Educational Cost Sharing Formula is underfunded by about 50%.
It is naïve to think, for a moment, that New London would get “their money” when other towns would go without their share.
Of course, this is not to say that Adamowski’s plan should be rejected on the spot, but the costs of implementing the plan will be very high, the likelihood of success relatively low and if the plan doesn’t work exactly as projected, New London’s taxpayers will be left holding the bag for all of those additional costs.
Finally, regional cooperation is certainly an important goal, but with towns already facing difficult economic times, New London can be sure that their neighboring towns will not be going out of their way to send their children to New London. The way the funding formulas work, those towns will want their students to stay right where they are, since each one of those students means more money for that town’s school system.
As a footnote, while Adamowski’s claim is that only 15 percent of the students must come from outside New London, at least one part of the Connecticut State Statues indicates that the correct number is of students that most come from out of the district is 25% of the student body. If for some reason Adamowski is wrong and this state statute is correct, the challenge for New London would be even greater. The language of the State Statute can be found in Section 10-264l.
Sec. 10-264l. Grants for the operation of interdistrict magnet school programs. The governing authority for each interdistrict magnet school program that begins operations on or after July 1, 2005, shall restrict the number of students that may enroll in the program from a participating district to seventy-five per cent of the total enrollment of the program, and maintain such a school enrollment that at least twenty-five per cent but not more than seventy-five per cent of the students enrolled are pupils of racial minorities, as defined in section 10-226a.
The answer to the question about the 15% vs. 25% can be found in the follow reader’s comment:
New London has special legislation to give it a magnet district status that requires 15% minority. This sets it apart from what other individual magnet schools need to conform to. But this entitles him only to the out-of town student subsidy. To get the matching local student subsidy for magnets, he’d need to reach the 25%.