Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker returns to the recent CCJEF v. Rell legal decision in her weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate. You can read and comment on her piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php
Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker
In issuing his decision in the CCJEF school-funding case last month, Judge Thomas Moukawsher claimed he was faithfully following the dictates of the Connecticut Supreme Court. However, it is clear that the judge ignored a major warning by our highest court: that the judiciary is “ill-equipped” to deal with educational policy matters. Nowhere is this disregard of the court’s warning more evident than in Moukawsher’s rulings on high school and teacher evaluation. In these rulings, the judge contravened the mountain of academic and experiential evidence showing that what he proposes is dead wrong.
First, the judge declared that Connecticut should institute standardized high school exit exams. The judge decided that because Connecticut does not have “rational” and “verifiable” high school standards, meaning standards measured by a high school exit exam, Connecticut diplomas for students in poor districts are “patronizing and illusory.” He concluded that the cure for this problem is standardized, “objective” exams that students must pass to graduate.
In pushing this proposal, the judge relied heavily on one defense witness, Dr. Eric Hanushek, a witness whose testimony has been flatly rejected in school funding cases across the country. Hanushek claimed that Massachusetts’ status as the “education leader” in the country was a result of instituting an exit exam.
Had the judge examined the evidence, however, he would have discovered that Massachusetts’ high school exit exam has increased dropout rates for the state’s most vulnerable students. In fact, as the New America Foundation reported, decades of research on exit exams nationwide show two things: students are not any better off with exit exams, and exit exams have a disproportionately negative impact on the graduation rates of poor students and students of color. That is why the trend among states is to drop exit exams. Exit exams would widen the graduation gap in Connecticut.
Again, had the judge examined the evidence, he would have also learned that the actual major factor in Massachusetts’ improvement was the very measure he refused to order Connecticut to implement: school finance reform that dramatically increased the amount of school funding statewide. No fewer than three studies have shown that increasing school funding significantly improved student achievement in Massachusetts. Recent major studies confirmed those findings nationwide, demonstrating that school finance reform has the most profound positive impact among poor students.
The judge also missed the mark by a wide margin in his ruling on teacher evaluations; which again he insisted be “rational and “verifiable” from his unstudied perspective. Anyone who has been paying attention to education matters the past few years has surely noticed the understandable uproar over the attempt to rate teachers based on student standardized test score “growth.”
Experts across the country confirm, as the American Statistical Association pointed out, that a teacher has a tiny effect on the variance in student test scores: from 1 percent to 14 percent. Thus, it is now widely understood that any system that attempts to rate teachers on student test scores, or the “growth” in student test scores, is about as “rational” and “verifiable” as a coin toss.
Courts that have actually examined the evidence on systems that rate teachers on student test scores have rejected these systems. Last year, a court in New Mexico issued a temporary injunction barring the use of test scores in that state’s teacher evaluation system. And in April, a court in New York ruled that a teacher’s rating based on her students’ “growth” scores — the foundation of New York’s teacher evaluation system — was “arbitrary and capricious;” the opposite of “rational” and “verifiable.”
Yet despite the reams of evidence debunking the use of student growth scores in evaluating teachers, and despite these two court rulings, Judge Moukawsher insisted that rating teachers on student “growth” scores would satisfy his demand that Connecticut’s system for hiring, firing, evaluating and compensating teachers be “rational” and “verifiable.” His ruling defies the evidence and logic.
These and all of the judge’s other rulings are now being appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court by both sides: the state and the CCJEF plaintiffs. One can only hope that that our highest court will steer this case back on course, away from these ill-advised educational policy rulings and toward a proper finding that the state is failing to provide our poorest schools with adequate funding and is consequently failing to safeguard the educational rights of our most vulnerable children.
Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center. Her column can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php