Connecticut need not look far for model on improving academic performance (by Wendy Lecker)

Hearst media commentator and fellow pro-public education advocate Wendy Lecker has another great commentary piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate.

Wendy writes:

“High-quality preschool is one of the best investments society can make in our children. It has been proven to improve academic outcomes and reduce the costly incidence of special education and grade retention. It increases high school graduation and reduces contact with the criminal justice system.

While Connecticut’s leaders have paid lip service to the value of high-quality preschool, they have not made a serious effort to address the inequity of preschool access in our state. For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, 98.3 percent of Westport’s kindergarten students attended preschool, nursery school or a Headstart program, compared with only 65 percent of neighboring Bridgeport’s kindergartners.

Last month, the federal government rejected the Malloy Administration‘s application for Race to the Top funds for expanding Connecticut’s preschool because Connecticut did “not present a High Quality Plan” to serve high-needs children.

The truth is, Connecticut would not have had to look very far to find a successful model of high-quality preschool serving high-needs children.

New Jersey’s Abbott preschool program has been recognized nationally as a stellar example of high-quality preschool.

In 1998, in New Jersey’s school funding case, called “Abbott,” the state’s highest court ruled that preschool is an essential component of a constitutionally adequate education and mandated universal full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in the 31 highest poverty districts in the state.

New Jersey then built a universal preschool program that resulted in strong and persistent gains for children in the Abbott districts. Children who attended the Abbott preschool outperformed those who did not in oral language, conceptual knowledge, math and literacy. Abbott preschool graduates were half as likely to be retained in a grade as those who did not; and children who attended Abbott preschool were much less likely to require special education services.

The way in which New Jersey achieved this system of high-quality preschool provides a lesson beyond just preschool. It is a model for school reform in general.

Following the court’s mandates, New Jersey was required to provide preschool programs that conformed to specific quality standards. In 1999, there was a patchwork of private and public providers already operating in these districts. Many were of sub-standard quality. On the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), a research-based assessment of preschool program quality, less than 15 percent were rated good to excellent and nearly one in four was less than minimal quality. By 2007-08, the vast majority of classrooms were good to excellent, with no “poor” ratings.

New Jersey built a high-quality, diverse delivery preschool system by investing in existing community-based and Headstart programs, and expanding school-based preschool. The state paid to send preschool teachers back to school for additional certification and boosted teacher pay. It developed operational standards that enabled communities to serve the particular needs of their districts’ children; and developmentally appropriate curricula. The state provided technical assistance to providers, for example, in managing finances. Moreover, it invested in facilities and wrap-around services.

New Jersey did not close poor quality preschools. It did not engage in wholesale firing and replacement of staff. It did not impose outside managers unfamiliar with the communities. It did not force a “cookie-cutter” model that ignored the specific needs of each district. It did not replace existing schools with ones that exclude the neediest children.

In other words, New Jersey did not use the “turnaround” methods of reform favored by today’s school reformers.

Mass school closings are a disturbing trend in financially distressed districts across the nation. The closings disproportionately impact African-American and Latino students, seldom improving academic performance. School closures have a destabilizing effect on the entire community, as the schools closed were often anchors of the neighborhood. Often, the new replacement schools fail to serve the district’s most vulnerable children. When they do not close a school, reformers favor replacing a school’s staff, another ineffective strategy. In fact, it was recently revealed that the federal government has poured millions of dollars into “turnaround” efforts like these, which replace and displace rather than rebuild, with very little evidence of a successful return on its investment.

Connecticut’s education policies have been diverted down the wrong road. It is time to put Connecticut back on track. New Jersey’s Abbott program provides an alternate model; one that can be successful not only for preschool but also for K-12 education. While corporate reformers push slash-and-burn techniques that ignore and even destroy local institutions, the Abbott program proves that cultivation of community resources reaps long-lasting benefits — for children and the neighborhoods.”

You can read the full piece: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-N-J-could-offer-a-model-for-Conn-5132350.php

  • JonBoy

    ” While corporate reformers push slash-and-burn techniques that ignore and even destroy local institutions…”

    Their actions speak far louder than their words!

    IF pro corporate reformer$ like Gate$, Duncan, Obama, Malloy, Pryor, and Perry truly wanted to improve education they would u$e logical analy$i$ and de$ign, and deploy re$ources where they could do the mo$t good with the lea$t impact on tax payer$. In $hort, early childhood program$ and intervention, prenatal and infant care for poor familie$, and equitable and fair funding of all $chool$ in all communitie$.

    The fact that corporate reformer$ are mounting a full court pre$$ to crucify teacher$, defame all of America’$ public $chool$, force unte$ted data driven management, and ultimately privatize education $HOW$ THEIR TRUE MOTIVE$.

    Corporate education reform i$ NOT about helping CHILDREN.

    Corporate education reform I$ ALL ABOUT PUTTING EVER MORE $$$$$$ IN THE POCKET$ OF CORPORATE AMERICA.

    • Linda174

      $tudent$: The new ca$h crop for corporation$

  • Mary Gallucci

    Excellent column. It reminds me that the first thing Superstar reformer and Special Master Adamowski did when he came to Windham was cut pre-school (and he did it with his usual finesse–children who had been accepted for tuition-free programs, with transportation included, were suddenly told that they were out…leaving them, and their parents, in a lurch).

  • Philip Stull

    I taught 10 – 12th grade students, and the teachers that taught K-9 where the ones that I felt prepared my students for me. Since the Nation at Risk report of 1980’s, Standarized Testing and preparing for these test have greatly changed public education and not for the better. Guess who was our President when this all started and what group most benefitted from his policies.

  • paul dave

    Informative.Just in case anyone needs to fill out a Early Childhood Environment Rating scale form, I found a blank form in this site PDFfiller. This site also has several related forms that you might find useful.