Something Is Rotten In The State Of Connecticut by Ann Cronin

In her latest blog post, educator and education advocate Ann Cronin reports on Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and his administration’s loyalty to the charter school industry and their latest attack on public education.

Cronin writes;

On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.

GO FIGURE:

Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.

PLUS

The new seats will cost the beleaguered and impoverished Bridgeport Public Schools money it cannot afford and will strip them of much needed resources. The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against the expansion plan because the cost of adding grades to Capital Prep Harbor School requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay additional costs for transportation and other services at an additional location.

PLUS

The expansion plan for Capital Prep Harbor School, approved by the State Board of Education in 2014, called for three grades to be added in 2017-2018, but Capital Prep Harbor School requested and was granted the expansion to six new grades, which increased the costs of services from Bridgeport Public Schools from $200,000 to $400,000 for 2017-2018.

PLUS

Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.

PLUS

Capital Prep Harbor School was approved by the State Board of Education in April 2014 as a school with its stated mission to serve the “diverse communities of Bridgeport and surrounding communities”. Capital Prep Harbor School has failed to implement that mission because of its small percentage of Hispanic students and its total lack of students with English as their second language.

PLUS

Steve Perry, the founder of the Capital Prep Harbor School and its chief spokesperson at the July 19th hearing, has been found by state auditors to have violated the lottery system at his former school in Hartford, Capital Preparatory School. Instead of the students at Capital Prep being chosen by lottery, he, as principal, handpicked a significant number of students (131 in three years), chiefly for their athletic talents. When asked by a reporter at the July 19th hearing if he was using similar illegal practices at Capital Preparatory Harbor School, he refused to answer.

PLUS

After the revelations about the lottery violations at Capital Prep in Hartford, state education officials were asked if they intended to audit the lottery at Capital Prep Harbor School. A State Department of Education spokeswoman replied, “Not at this time.” The Connecticut Post surveyed enrollment practices in the six charter schools in Bridgeport. Five of the six schools explained the methods they used to insure the propriety of their lotteries. The sixth school, Capital Preparatory Harbor School, wouldn’t answer the newspaper’s questions.

PLUS

The State Board of Education scheduled the meeting to approve the new charter seats without informing the Superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools. The Superintendent, Aresta Johnson, was told by the State Department of Education that she had until August 4, 2017 to file a written reaction to the Capital Prep Harbor School plan to expand the number of charter school seats in  Bridgeport.  She found out about the July 19th meeting by chance. She attended that hearing and strongly opposed the expansion of charter school seats, stating that the costs would present a severe hardship to children in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

PLUS

Nationally, charter schools have no greater record of success than public schools although the student population of charter schools is more select than the population of traditional public schools. Charter schools have fewer special education students, fewer ELL students, and fewer students from unstable homes. A report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut compared student achievement in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and among those students bussed from urban areas to the suburbs and did not find evidence that students in charter schools had greater achievement than other students, even with their more select student body.

PLUS

Charter schools are not public schools although they call themselves that when it serves the purpose of getting public money but declare they are not public schools when there are requests for transparency in how the public tax money is spent. Charter schools violate the democratic principle that the people should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. In public school districts, the elected school boards provide that oversight. With charter schools, it is all secret, and the profit motive is evident as the numbers of criminal cases of fraud that have occurred in charter schools demonstrate.

PLUS

Charter schools promote segregation. The NAACP, in October 2016, recognized the racism inherent in the concept of charter schools and called for “ a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice”  because “the NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably funded public education for all children”.

ADD IT UP: There is, indeed, something rotten in the state of Connecticut.

Fighting it will be an uphill battle. Big money from the charter school industry funds political campaigns in our state. The State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education are not elected by us; they are appointed by the Governor. Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are money-making operations. So how do we citizens of Connecticut make a dent in this monied political structure?

Well, we take a deep breath and remember what Edmund Burke said: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Then, we call one another, start talking, and get busy.

You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/07/21/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-connecticut/

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. 

 

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/

 

Public Schools: Who Is Failing Whom?  A MUST READ by Ann P Cronin

Education advocate and fellow education blogger, Ann Cronin, has written another powerful piece, this time asking who is failing whom when it comes to the nation’s public schools.

Ann Cronin writes;

If the same words are repeated over and over again, they begin to begin to be taken as true. “Failing public schools” are such words. I see them written and hear them spoken by legislators, journalists, and commentators who probably have not been in a public school in decades since they attended one or never because they were educated in private schools.

Looking at who is taking Advanced Placement courses and how those students are faring is one of many ways to bring the term “failing public schools” into question. The number of high school students taking Advanced Placement exams increased in 2016, and more of the test takers were from low-income families, according to the College Board’s annual report on the Advanced Placement program. More than 1.1 million high school students took at least one Advanced Placement course during high school, 25,000 more than in 2015. That means that of the 3.1 million students who graduated from high school in 2016, more than 20% of them earned a score of 3 or better on an AP exam. Scoring a 3 allowed them to gain college credit at most colleges and universities.

The increase in the number of test-takers from low-income families continues a trend. In 2003, just over 94,000 students from low-income families took an AP exam; whereas, in 2016, 554,500 students from low-income families took at least one AP exam. Those who believe public schools are failing probably think that increasing the number of test-takers, especially low-income students from urban schools, would lower the overall performance on the AP tests. Not so. The average scores on all AP exams have held steady. In fact, the average score was actually higher in 2016 than in 2003 when far fewer students took AP exams. As Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute said recently, “The fact that 1 in 5 public school graduates passed an AP exam in 2016 pushes back against the ‘public schools are failing’ narrative.”

So, the public schools in urban areas, where the increased population of test-takers is coming from, are doing good work in challenging students to learn. The students have performed well on AP exams and gained college credits for their efforts.

But what are those in power doing to foster that positive growth?

Nothing.

Those in power are working hard to end that trend.

Low-income students are in danger of not being able to take AP exams and gain college credits because they cannot afford the cost of taking AP exams now in 2017 and in the future.  A federal grant program that subsidized AP exams for low income students has ended. It was replaced in the Every Student Succeeds Act by a block grant program in which the funds given to states do not have to be used to subsidize the cost of taking AP exams in the future, and the grants are not available at all for this 2016-2017 school year.

This creates a problem for cities like Worcester, Massachusetts. Under the leadership of Maureen Binienda, the Superintendent of Schools, high school students have  been encouraged to challenge themselves by taking AP courses. She said that emphasizing rigorous academic course offerings has changed the culture of the city’s high schools. Last year, low-income Worcester students, utilizing the federal subsidy, took 1, 919 AP exams. The fee for taking an AP exam is $93.oo; with the subsidy, students paid $15.00 per exam. This year, with no federal subsidy, low-income students will be required to pay the College Board reduced fee of $53. That College Board discounted price is still too expensive for many families in Worcester. Ms. Binienda appealed to the state legislature for funds, but the legislators could not help and suggested she try local businesses.

Appealing to private citizens and businesses is exactly what the state of Washington did. Washington state officials became concerned that low-income students, due to the removal of federal subsidies, will not be able to take AP exams so they set up an emergency fund to raise $800,000. That fund would allow low-income students to keep paying $15 per test. Microsoft, Boeing, the Shultz Family Foundations, other corporations, individuals, and nonprofits contributed to the emergency fund. The state legislature appropriated $75, 000. The result was that more than the $800,000 was raised, and low income students will take their 2017 AP exams for free.

In Connecticut, the state is picking up the costs for this one year only to provide subsidies for all of the low income students taking AP exams but with no promise of future funding by the state.

So there we have it. One state is fully funding the subsidies. In another state, private citizens and corporations are providing the subsidies. And in a third state, low-income students currently have no funding to take AP exams and earn college credits.

That is the wave of the future. Each state for itself.  Each state will decide for itself who gets access to college credits through AP courses. Each state will decide for itself what students receive services for special needs. Each state will decide for itself about providing vouchers for segregated schools. We have a Secretary of Education who said at her confirmation hearing that she does not support equal accountability for all schools. We have a President who said that a model school, one that is worthy of taxpayer support through vouchers, is one in which the students pledge allegiance to the Bible. We have a bill proposed in Congress (HR610) which will give block grants to the states to use as each state wishes rather than for specified and uniform standards for special education, integration, or equal access to challenging courses and qualifying exams for college credits. In fact, the grants, according to HR610, do not have to be used from public education at all and will provide taxpayer money for vouchers to totally unaccountable private schools. Shame on us.

It is not the schools that are failing our children. It is the adults with political power who are failing our schools.

You can read Ann Cronin’s commentary piece and her other posts at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/03/09/public-schools-who-is-failing-whom/

Betsy DeVos — A clear and present danger by Ann Policelli Cronin

First published in CT Mirror, educator and advocate Ann Policelli Cronin highlights what she learned  from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

Ann Conin writes;

  • Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.
  • Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.
  • Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of children with special needs and children with disabilities.
  • Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.
  • Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.
  • Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.
  • Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is precedent for that courtesy being extended to senate colleagues who request additional time for questions.

What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony, but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and the lack of questioning of Betsy DeVos permitted by the chairman:

According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found 10 senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the chair of the committee.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose.
  1. That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the taxpayer funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money, but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform.” Education was not reformed. All that happened is that the very rich gained control of the agenda for education and the aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. But now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us.
  1. Be grateful for the clarity.
  1. Fight like crazy.

You can read and comment at Cronin’s original post on the CT Mirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/19/betsy-devos-a-clear-and-present-danger/

 

When you ask the wrong questions, you can’t possibly get the right answers. (By Ann P. Cronin)

The Mastery Examination Task Force, whose report about student assessment in our public schools is due to come out soon, has asked all the wrong questions. We, therefore, can’t have any confidence in the findings of the Task Force.

Questions that the Task Force never asked are:

  • Are the tests that we now use, the SBAC and the SAT, reliable, valid, and fair?
  • What kind of learning do we want to measure and why?
  • How can we assess students so that the assessment itself is a learning experience for them?

The first question is a meat-and-potatoes no brainer. If the SBAC and the SAT lack reliability, validity, or fairness, we shouldn’t keep spending time and money on junk.

The second and third questions tell us about the quality of the education we are giving to our students here in Connecticut.

A fourth question is: Why didn’t the Mastery Examination Task Force ask Questions 1, 2, and 3?

For an answer to that question, see Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’ by John Bestor, written by veteran Connecticut educator, Jack Bestor, and first published in CT Mirror where it can also be read at . http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/04/mastery-exam-task-force-report-due-soon-its-findings-predetermined/

You can read Ann Cronin’s blog at: https://reallearningct.com/

Relay Is A Very Bad Joke-One That Hurts Kids  (By Ann Cronin)

Writing on her blog, Real Learning CT, educator, education advocate and education blogger Ann Cronin explains;

The Relay Graduate School of Education recently applied to be a graduate school of education in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. That application was denied in Pennsylvania and California. That application was approved in Connecticut.

What is the Relay Graduate School of Education? Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions  in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education. So how did it get approved in Connecticut?

On November 2, 2016, the Connecticut State Board of Education held a hearing to listen to testimony about whether Relay should be approved or not. More than 30 people testified. The overwhelming majority of those who testified strongly recommended denying Relay’s application. Some cited research about Relay and its ineffectiveness and its lack of quality . Some cited their own experience as teacher educators. Some cited their experiences in being trained as teachers. Some cited ways to bring people of color into the teaching profession in Connecticut without lowering standards and expectations for them. Only those already enrolled in or employed by Relay and two paid advocates forConnecticut charter schools spoke in favor of approving Relay.

Astoundingly, within minutes after the hearing, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved Relay as a valid program for certifying teachers in Connecticut.

The political fix was in.

Connecticut children, particularly those most in need of a good education lost. Again.

Below is my statement at that hearing:

Testimony to the Connecticut State Board of Education on November 2, 2016

My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.

Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.

Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.

It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough.

Teaching is complex. Teachers need more than a “how”; they need a ”why”. Brain surgeons in training certainly benefit greatly by doing their surgical rotation with expert surgeons, but when they are on their own as licensed surgeons, they must have a depth of knowledge to deal with all of the possible complexities that could occur in any surgery. So too with teaching.

Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.

The accreditation process has standards to insure that graduates of teacher preparation programs have a deep knowledge of their field and a deep knowledge of child and adolescent growth and development. To be accredited, a teacher education program must also require its prospective teachers to have specified experiences of being mentored by amazing teachers. All prospective teachers need both academic course work and mentoring. Relay denies its students an essential element of teacher preparation, the element that is the foundation of all else.

Relay has been promoted both as a way to bring people of color into the teaching profession and as a fast track to let the teachers of the children of color become certified or earn Master’s degrees. How demeaning is that claim! Demeaning to both the adults of color and the children of color. Prospective teachers of color are capable of the same academic challenges as their white counterparts in accredited teacher preparation programs. And children of color in our cities, whom these teachers in the Relay program are being trained to serve, are entitled to the same appropriately trained teachers as their counterparts in the affluent suburbs.

To permit Relay to prepare teachers in Connecticut is to perpetuate the same gap between the haves and the have-nots in Connecticut that we already have. It is racist and classist. We, as state, cannot endorse that. We must give our children better care. If not us, who? If not you as the State Board of Education, who?

You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s article at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/11/05/relay-is-a-very-bad-joke-one-that-hurts-kids/

Closing Connecticut’s Real Achievement Gap (By Ann Cronin)

So what is the answer to closing Connecticut’s Achievement Gap?  Educator, education advocate and fellow education blogger Ann Cronin lays out the real solutions for Connecticut’s schools in her latest article. You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s article at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/09/15/closing-connecticuts-real-achievement-gap/

Ann Cronin writes;

There‘s a lot of talk in Connecticut about closing the achievement gap between affluent students who are predominately white and poor students who are predominately black or brown, but there have been no effective actions taken and none are on the horizon. Instead, Connecticut gave up its own well-founded state standards and adopted the narrow and inadequate Common Core Standards, called them rigorous which they are not, and gave students standardized tests to measure their achievement of those quite limited standards. Then Connecticut waited for the test scores to see if the impoverished would catch up to the affluent. They haven’t and they won’t.

The poorer the students, the lower the test scores. Standardized test scores, always and ever, are correlated with the family income of the test takers so it makes no sense to address the achievement gap by analyzing standardized test scores. The achievement gap that makes sense to address is the gap between those who succeed in their academic goals and those who do not, between those who graduate from college and those who do not.

That gap is a staggering one. For students who attended Connecticut public high schools and began college, the graduation rate is: 24.4% for black, 21.4% for Hispanic and 53.8% for white college students. Similarly, only 19% of Connecticut’s economically disadvantaged students who attend college earn a college degree as compared to 54.2% of their more advantaged peers.

Colleges and universities across the country have recognized this achievement gap in which the rich are sure to graduate and the poor are not.Nationally, 90% of college freshman born into families in the top income quartile graduate while only 25% of those born into the bottom half of the income distribution graduate. 

Colleges and universities are taking effective steps to solve the achievement gap among their students, but  Connecticut is not taking any effective steps to close the K-12 achievement gap. Colleges and universities are successful because they ask a question much different from the question that Connecticut is asking. The Connecticut question is: How can we reduce the gap in standardized test scores? The question that the colleges and universities are asking is: What can we do to improve student achievement?

As in so many things, asking the right question is the secret to success

Research psychologists at Stanford University headed higher education in the right direction in answering the college and university question. They had for years been exploring the premise that students are often blocked from living up to their potential because of their fears about not belonging in college and their doubts about their ability. They found that lack of achievement is often rooted in students’ feelings of not belonging to what they see as a community of achievers and considering themselves less academically able than others.

In one of the Stanford University studies, researchers provided students at an elite Northeastern college with a message about belonging. They informed them that everyone at their college feels overwhelmed and not smart enough and asked them to react in writing to that idea. This exercise had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study. The experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class and cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.

This study was replicated at a private Midwestern university with students who were the first in their family to attend college. The result was that the achievement gap between students who were the first in their family to attend college and the students whose parents had attended college was reduced by 63%.

In another Stanford University study, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out scientific evidence against the theory of a fixed intelligence that cannot grow and change. At semester’s end, 20% of the students in the control group had dropped out of developmental math and, therefore, out of college, compared with just 9% of the treatment group. This intervention cut the community-college math dropout rate by more than half.

At the University of Texas at Austin, a chemistry professor, David Laude,worked with the same hypothesis as the Stamford researchers. He identified 50 students who had lower SAT scores, were economically disadvantaged, and the first in their families to attend college. He taught them the exact same curriculum and gave them the exact same tests as the 400 students in his other class. The difference was that he involved the fifty students in a program which gave them both a sense of belonging to a group of achievers and strategies for developing themselves as learners. The result was that this group of disadvantaged students, who were 200 points lower on the SAT than students in Laude’s larger section, had exactly the same grade distribution as the students in the larger section. The impact went beyond that chemistry class. This group  of 50 students who, statistically, were on track to fail, returned for their sophomore year at rates above average for the university as a whole and three years later had graduation rates that were above the university average.

Laude has now been appointed senior vice provost, charged with improving the four-year graduation rate. He instituted a program, based on the same premises as his chemistry program, for 500 students who are low income, first members in their family to attend college, have lower SAT scores, and a graduation rate of 20%. These 500 students are given $5000 a year scholarships for which they are required to be in leadership positions on campus, participate in campus internships, and attend weekly lectures on developing strategies for learning. Through these activities, students gain a sense of themselves as part of the community of achievers and learn how to learn.

Also at the University of Texas at Austin, David Yeager, a psychology professor and former Stanford researcher, has been commissioned to address the dropout rate among poorer students with lower SAT’s and the first in their family to go to college. As part of freshman orientation, he asked students to read articles that address their sense of belonging in an academically challenging environment and that discuss the brain as malleable and able to grow and change its capability with effort. With this simple intervention, the University of Texas cut in half the achievement gap between advantaged freshmen and freshmen who are black, Latino, first-generation, and/or poor.

Many colleges and universities are instituting programs to address the particular learning needs of students who are poor and first in their family to attend college. Brown hosted the first Inter-Ivy First Generation Student Network Conference in 2012, drawing students from across the country. Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, Brown and Yale are involved in a multi-year study in which they interview first generation students from low income families (usually an income under $40,00 year) to ascertain their needs. These programs for first generation college students seek to give students  both a sense of belonging and strategies for learning.

What can we in Connecticut learn from higher education? How can we close the real achievement gap? How can we close the gap between our children who become well-educated and accomplished human beings and our children who become dropouts from the world of education and accomplishment?

Here is a plan:

First: End high stakes standardized tests. With standardized tests, test prep becomes the curriculum, and all students – black, brown, white, poor, and affluent –  are deprived of real learning. Standardized tests deprive the poor, the black, and the brown of a fair chance. Standardized tests hurt all children.

Second: Ask educators to design performance assessments which demonstrate what students can do, how they can think, how they learn, and what they can create in each discipline.

Third: Require each school district to create a curriculum which teaches students strategies for learning in a developmental progression from K-12.

Fourth: Hold all of us – teachers, school administrators, school boards, teachers unions, the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Connecticut State Board of Education, legislators, the governor – to the same standard. That standard is: What are you doing to bring all he students for whom you are responsible into the community of achievers?

Then, and only then, will Connecticut close its achievement gap.

REQUIRING THE SAT GETS CONNECTICUT LESS THAN NOTHING (By Ann Cronin)

Repost from Ann Cronin’s blog…

Big News! It was on the front page of the The Hartford Courant, reported on in all the other state newspapers, and featured on the Connecticut State Department of Education website:

Nearly 66% of 11th graders met the state standards for English and 40% met the state standards for math on the 2016 SAT.

And what does that tell us about what Connecticut has gained from fully funding the SAT for all high school juniors?

Absolutely nothing.

It was a waste of taxpayer money.

First of all, it doesn’t tell us anything about who is ready for college. The SAT is based on the Common Core Standards, which Connecticut has taken as its own. The Common Core Standards lack validity and reliability. Common Core Standards were written, without input from educators at the K-12 or college level, by employees of testing companies and companies that analyze standardized test data. They were never field-tested to see if being successful with those standards makes for achievement in college. So we don’t know if we should be happy if students score well because it could be that they succeeded at something that is innocuous at best and inferior education at worst.

We do know that getting a high score on the SAT gives us no information about the students’ ability to ask their own questions, make their own connections, and construct their own meaning as they read, or express their own ideas as they write in a personal voice because the Common Core rejects those skills. And we do know that those are skills needed for college. Therefore, SAT scores don’t tell us if students will be successful in college.

Secondly, this SAT does not allow for comparisons because it is a new test. Scores cannot be compared to the SAT of past years. It has different content and a different way of being scored than past tests. Also, the student population taking the SAT has changed. Previously, 82% of high school juniors took the SAT; in 2016, with the new requirement,  94 % took the test. So with different content, scoring, and test-taking populations, no conclusions about student improvement or decline can be made.

Thirdly, some may say we need the SAT to ascertain how Connecticut is doing as compared to other states, but we have the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the Nation’s Report Card, that gives state-by-state reports. NAEP tests students in reading and math and scores them, based on college readiness. There is no charge to the state or local districts. Individual scores are not reported so there is no punishments for students. Best of all, there is no class time sacrificed to prepare for the tests because, during the school year, districts do not know if they are to be tested that year.

Fourthly, the SAT is not the necessity it once was. Increasingly, high school students do not need SAT scores for their college applications. Colleges and universities are realizing the limits of standardized tests as indicators of a prospective student’s academic promise and intellectual strength. Currently, 850 colleges and universities, including 210 in the “top tier”, do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission to bachelor degree programs. The research is clear, and colleges and universities are responding to it: High school grade point average is the predictor of success in college, not standardized tests.

So why does the State of Connecticut mandate that all high school juniors take the SAT?

The only reason left is the one politicians love to herald: To close the achievement gap.

Only those who have never taught students could give that answer. Educators know that there is no way that any set of standards or any standardized test has ever or will ever overcome the damage of poverty and racism. In fact, mandating standardized tests reinforces that damage and tells many impoverished students and students of color that they do not belong in the mainstream. Standardized test scores, including the SAT, are always correlated with the income of students’ parents. With the current 2016 SAT, school districts with higher scores include the affluent towns of Darien, Simsbury, Westport, and Wilton; school districts with lower scores include the cities of Hartford, Waterbury, and Bridgeport with their high rates of poverty. And so it has ever been.

Students with parents who have the time, the energy, the money, and the benefits from their own higher education to enrich the lives of their children and support them in school will always score higher than most students whose parents do not have those advantages. How could it be otherwise?

So mandating the SAT is not even a neutral event; it actually does harm. It limits the curriculum for all students, affluent and poor, and turns the curriculum into test prep. It does added harm to those students most in need because the cost of the tests, test prep materials, and the technology to administer the tests takes financial resources away from addressing their needs propelled by poverty and racism.

There is a path forward. Connecticut must:

  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach. We must recognize that we are foolishly spending millions of dollars on SBAC and the SAT, and it gains nothing for us as a state. The tests reinforce Connecticut’s shame: unconscionable income inequality.
  2. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach because it denies our children a real education as learners and thinkers that they deserve.
  3. Use the money now spent on testing to invest in what has been proven to improve student achievement. It is what every teacher knows works: positive relationships with adults in schools. Educators know that having those positive relationships with adults engages students in school, inspires them to want to learn, and gives them the skills to succeed and live productive lives. According to Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Education Law Center in Stamford, CT, researchers have identified three ways to foster those adult/student relationships:
  • Provide developmentally appropriate preschool in which the emphasis is on play.
  • Mandate small class size in grades K-12.
  • Reduce the student caseload of guidance counselors.

Let’s put our money where we are sure we can make a difference. It’s time to stop spending money and getting nothing for it. And, worse yet, spending money and getting less than nothing by hurting our most precious resource as a state: our children.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator, education advocate and education blogger.  You can read her writing at: https://reallearningct.com/

How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers by Ann Policelli Cronin 

Educator, public education advocate and fellow education blogger takes on the notion that the Common Core is good for children in her blog entitled, P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers.  She writes;

The New York Times, whose writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published, ”The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Error, pointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them.

I would like to add a P.S.

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences.

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.

You can read and comment on her commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/07/29/p-s-how-the-common-core-hurts-kids-as-readers-and-writers/

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator. She currently is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education.