A MUST READ on Common Core Testing Mania by John Bestor

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Published in today’s CT Mirror, John Bestor’s commentary piece entitled “Connecticut’s lawmakers must see through the ‘edu-profiteers’ and testing maniais a MUST READ!

John Bestor writes;

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is, as a public school employee and practicing school psychologist, to have federal legislation written that continues to allow our students to be assessed by an unproven and invalid standardized test process and also enables the charter school industry to take funds allocated for public school students and divert them to their own private business interests.

I object to the testing mandate on many levels.

I can assure you that our elementary school students are tested three times a year on standardized measures in both reading and math as mandated by state legislation; in addition, they are also required in grades 3 through 8 and again in 11th to sit through 7-to-10 hours of further redundant testing in the same subject areas.

At least the testing that takes place three times a year —  at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the school year — informs and drives instruction.  The 7-to-10 hours of high-stakes Common Core-aligned testing has no other purpose than to serve as a town-by-town scorecard. It neither informs instruction of a student nor assists in planning educational interventions.

Unfortunately, the battle over Common Core-aligned testing has taken on a life of its own. It is strongly advocated by so-called reformers and the business interests that they support.  At the same time, it remains highly controversial to professional teachers and educators who fully understand the dangers inherent in “teaching to a test” and also understand that there are multiple ways to evaluate what students are learning and that students are more than a test score.

When Connecticut first adopted the CMT/CAPT as standardized means for monitoring student progress, it was administered to students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10 and special education students with individual education plans could be opted out by decision of the school’s planning and placement team.  This saved these vulnerable learners from the frustration and torment of a test beyond their already carefully-monitored skill levels.

Of course, this more reasoned approach ended with No Child Left Behind.  Since NCLB, the pressure for test results has affected learning for students in all communities.  Middle-to-high-performing school districts could absorb the intrusion caused by testing more readily than low-performing districts.

These low-performing districts then proceeded to narrow the curriculum and over-emphasize “teach-to-the-test” methodologies in order to prove their effectiveness, even though such strategies were unlikely to motivate their students to learn for the joy of learning.

As a result, more students in low-performing districts were driven away from learning and sadly many discontinued their education well before graduation.  As Thomas Scarice, the out-spoken superintendent of the Madison (CT) Public Schools, has repeatedly stated: “We’ve wed ourselves to a high-stakes testing model for well over a decade, and it’s shown to corrode education rather than improve it.

I also strongly object to the federal government’s continued willingness to provide private businesses access to scarce tax-dollars to fund charter schools that are then allowed to flaunt the rules and regulations that traditional public schools are required to follow.

The track record of charter schools in our state and across the nation reflects a highly contentious image that borders on, at worst, criminality and at best questionable practices, many of which would never be allowed in traditional public schools.  The supporters of charter schools have been allowed to prey on parents who are seeking clean, safe, well-supplied facilities and are willing to accept strict disciplinary practices that emphasize military-style punishments while blindly putting their trust in an unsubstantiated promise of future results.

It is unconscionable that states, like ours, are allowed to underfund their local school districts annually while somehow investing significant financial resources into the coffers of private enterprise that will suspend students for numerous, sometimes quite minor, behavioral infractions and may shut their doors suddenly on students when no longer profitable.

I understand that wealthy benefactors and major donors to all political campaigns have supported a “cottage” industry of think tanks, lobbyists, and high-profile media figures posing as experts, but it is the obligation of our U.S. senators to see through this self-serving charade and work to amend and pass federal legislation that will support the majority of public school children and their families.

Many of my colleagues and I have written to alert our two senators of the continued dangers embedded in this re-authorization bill.  I also understand that the art of passing legislation involves compromise, but simply replacing one flawed law with one that is similarly flawed is UNACCEPTABLE.

In the current legislative climate, it is too risky to pass laws that fail to address the “core” issues impacting the inequitable distribution of educational opportunities across our state and nation.  Having thought considerably about the trade-offs involved in the Every Child Achieves Act as recently passed through the Senate HELP subcommittee, the cons continue to out-weigh the pros enabling edu-profiteers unfettered access to a market that should remain within the public trust.

I can only hope that our Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy will hear the voices of teachers who work directly with children in our classrooms and to those who advocate for our public school students.

Please consider carefully, the insidious role that reform lobbyists, misguided philanthropists, and self-serving business interests have had in shaping and destroying one of our most revered bedrock institutions: the American public school system.

You can read and comment on the piece at – http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/04/24/connecticuts-lawmakers-must-see-through-the-edu-profiteers-and-testing-mania/

Educators 4 Excellence – Because teachers NEED their own “Education Reform” front group

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Some teachers and public school advocates have heard about Educators 4 Excellence, aka E4E.  For those that haven’t, you probably will as the organization continues to expand across the country.

Calling themselves Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), they claim to speak for teachers – although most E4E organizers don’t have more than a year or so of teaching experience – and what little actual teaching experience they have is usually the result of a short stint with Teach for America.

But the New York-based Educators 4 Excellence, originally created in 2010 using funds from the Gates Foundation, managed to pull in over $7.4 million from the corporate education reform industry in their first two years of operation.

Among the “teacher advocacy group’s” major funders is Education Reform Now, another corporate funded advocacy group that spends its money promoting charter schools and an end to tenure and “seniority-based layoff.”

In 2010 Education Reform Now ran a rather infamous television commercial in New York State that included a “parent” saying, “Stop listening to the teachers union.”

E4E’s fundraising has reportedly skyrocketed since 2012 allowing them to expand, including into Connecticut.

The Gates Foundation alone dropped another $3,000,695 into E4E’s coffers in July 2013.

Here in Connecticut…

When Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy took to the microphone on April 17, 2015 to announce that he was dropping the word “interim” from Dianna Wentzell’s title as “interim” Commissioner of Education, Educators 4 Excellence was quick to announce their support for the Common Core and Common Core testing aficionado writing,

“Dr. Roberge-Wentzell…was a critical member of [former Education] Commissioner Pryor’s team, which worked to secure funding for struggling schools where resources are needed most….We look forward to working with her in the years ahead…”

The reference that Wentzell deserved to be appointed Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education because she was a “critical member of Commissioner Pryor’s team,” the co-founder of the Achievement First, Inc. Charter School Management Company, reveals a lot about Educators 4 Excellence’s mission and purpose.  Public funding for charter schools skyrocketed as a result of Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor’s policies over the last three years, with Pryor’s charter school management company receiving the lions’ share of the money.

With co-CEOs each enjoying compensation packages in excess of $150,000, Educators 4 Excellence explains their reason for existence by saying,

“For far too long, education policy has been created without a critical voice at the table – the voice of classroom teachers. Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization, is changing this dynamic by placing the voices of teachers at the forefront of the conversations that shape our classrooms and careers.”

Educators for Excellence now has chapters in Connecticut, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota and the have pledged to expand even further.

According to their “official” version of events, Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) began,

“As a group of New York teachers who wanted to change the top-down approach to policy-making, which largely alienated teachers like us from crucial decisions that shaped our classrooms and careers.”

Their propaganda fails to explain that their initial funding came in November 2010 when the Gates Foundation funneled $160,000 through Stand for Children, a multi-million dollar corporate education front group to set up “Educators 4 Excellence.”

According to the grant announcement, the Gates Foundation explained that the group was being funded to, “build an authentic, alternate teacher voice.”

Stand for Children is a leading player in the “education reform” movement, with a special focus on moving corporate funds into political campaigns in order to reward candidates who support their cause and punish those who aren’t on the school privatization  bandwagon.

Jonah Edelman, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stand for Children, says the organization now has eleven state affiliates (AZ, CO, IL, IN, LA, MA, OK, OR, TN, TX, and WA).

According to Edelman’s biography,

“Jonah’s personal stand for children began during college, when he taught a six year-old bilingual child to read.”

Like a number of his fellow corporate education reform industry elite, Edelman graduated from Yale University (Class of ‘92) and attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship.

If that wasn’t enough for the financiers of the education reform frenzy, the Chairperson of Stand for Children’s Board of Directors is Emma Bloomberg, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s daughter.

When Bridgeport Connecticut Mayor Bill Finch engaged in his failed attempt to do away with Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education and replace it with one that he would appoint, a coalition of corporate education reform groups and corporate elite, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, dropped in enough campaign donations to make it the most expensive charter revision campaign in Connecticut history.

In Connecticut, Educators 4 Excellence use a New York public relations firm, the same PR firm that collected much of the money in the failed Bridgeport campaign and has been used by a number of other education reform groups in Connecticut to engage in advertising in favor of Malloy’s education reform initiative.

A Connecticut E4E press release out last summer by the New York firm opened with, “Teachers, Joined by Bridgeport Superintendent Rabinowitz, Call for Needed, Pro-Student Improvements in Professional Development at E4E Roll-out Event.”

The press release went on to read,

June 11, 2014 (Bridgeport, CT) — Educators 4 Excellence, a national teacher-led organization that seeks to elevate the voices of teachers in education policy discussions, formally launched its new chapter in Connecticut Wednesday with a kick-off event in Bridgeport and a call for sweeping changes to existing professional development. This major policy proposal, written by a team of working Bridgeport public school classroom teachers, proposes a number of changes to this pressing issue. These include increasing the opportunities for teachers to weigh in on and even lead professional development topics and personalizing the experience so that trainings better meet the needs of schools and individuals. The full proposal can be seen HERE.”

The press release adds,

“Over the past several months, a team of nine E4E-CT Bridgeport members has been developing recommendations to improve the quality of their professional development. The recommendations, which they released Wednesday, seek to inject the ideas of actual classroom teachers into the policy changes the Superintendent is currently considering.”

The release conveniently made no mention of E4E’s funders or whether any of the advocacy group’s money was spent developing or lobbying for their “teacher led changes.”

This year Educators 4 Excellence is ramping up their Connecticut presence.

The corporate education reform industry group recently advertised for a Vice President of Regional Operations, which the posting explained may be housed in Connecticut.

According to the advertisement for the job, the Vice President of Regional Operations responsibilities will include, “Designing and leading high level issue based advocacy campaigns.”

To ensure a proper understanding of life as a classroom teacher, the organization lists the preferred qualifications to be a,

“Bachelor’s degree and at least one year of professional experience as a Pre K-12 classroom teacher preferred; some form of teaching, school-based professional experience, student-based professional experience or previous work with educational non-profits.”

The required skills include, “Political savvy and keen interest in/understanding of education policy, the education reform movement broadly, and the power and politics of the education landscape both locally and nationally.

E4E explains the right candidate must also have “Tenacity” and “grit.”

In Connecticut, the organization is also looking for a new Executive Director for Connecticut,  whose job will be to oversee Connecticut’s E4E operation.

According to the job post, lobbying legislators will be one of the Executive Director’s responsibilities, along with working to, “Establish E4E-CT as a go to source for the opinions and perspectives of progressive educators on issues that impact Connecticut’s classrooms.”

Again the entity says that, “At least one year of experience serving as a Pre K-12 classroom teacher” is preferred,” as well as the requirement for “Tenacity” and “grit.”

Apparently E4E is also looking for a Managing Director of Outreach in Connecticut.

The job postings don’t explain where the present Executive Director Ranjana Reddy is heading, although after a sting with TFA she headed to Newark, New Jersey to help create Rise Academy charter school, a position she left to attend Yale Law School.

At Yale she proudly reports that she worked for John White, who took over from Paul Vallas in New Orleans and Commissioner Stephen Pryor in Connecticut.  Her biography explains that when working for Pryor she, “spearheaded the writing of Connecticut’s No Child Left Behind waiver.”

From charter school founder, to Yale, to writing Connecticut’s NCLB waiver… What a testament to the corporate education reform.

And as the saying goes, all this is just the tip of the iceberg –

Just wait till you hear what else E4E is up to in Connecticut.

You can read more about E4E in Connecticut via the following Wait, What? posts Another faux pro-public education group targets Connecticut (12/18/12) and  Teacher-led organization that gives teachers a meaningful voice in policy is expanding in CT! (5/23/13)

Careening down the wrong path as Education Reform Industry spends more money to buy public policy

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Connecticut has become a striking example of what is truly wrong with the way government and public policy functions in the United States today.

Rather than using the state motto, “Qui transtulit sustinet – He who is transplanted still sustains,” the Constitution State could easily shift to, “Step right up and buy your public policy here.”

And presiding over the entire farce is a governor devoted to coddling the rich, while lying to the people.

Victorious thanks to a campaign in which he repeatedly claimed there was no budget deficit, promised that he wouldn’t raise taxes or cut critical state services, Governor Dannel Malloy is now ducking a budget deficit that is skyrocketing.  Malloy’s next step will be to raid the state’s Rainy Day Fund to balance this year’s budget, or worse, he will put the massive deficit on the state’s credit card thereby dumping even more debt on the backs of Connecticut’s overly burdened middle class.

And as for next year, while the state’s fiscal situation deteriorates, Malloy’s proposed state budget includes massive and unacceptable cuts to a wide variety of state services.

Rather than offer up a plan to ensure that services are maintained by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes, Malloy is berating legislators or anyone else who challenges the house of cards he has built.

When it comes to the budget related to public education, Malloy’s proposed budget actually REDUCES spending on public schools by well over $150 million over the next two years, the largest such cut in history.

Yet Malloy has proposed INCREASED spending on charter schools by more than 25 percent.

As if to highlight the modern system of “pay-to-play” policy making, while Malloy turns his back on Connecticut public school students, parents and teachers, the corporate education reform industry is pouring even more money into their unending quests to privatize public education and denigrate teachers.

The corporate funded New York based entity called Families for Excellent Schools has set up yet another “education reform” front group in Connecticut.  This one is called “Coalition for Every Child.”

According to the latest reports filed with the Office of State Ethics, this organization has spent over a quarter of a million dollars lobbying in just the past eight days.  The pro-Common Core, pro-Charter School group has even hired Malloy’s chief adviser, as well as Malloy’s former press secretary, to run their PR campaign in support of Malloy’s plan to divert even more scarce public dollars to charter schools companies.

Three other corporate education reform industry groups, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN), the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), and Achievement First, Inc. (the charter school management company with strong ties to the Malloy administration,) have spent nearly $100,000 more in recent weeks in a lobbying program designed to persuade legislators that it is good idea for them to cut funding for their own public schools, while increasing the taxpayer subsidy for the privately run charter schools.

What are Malloy’s education reform supporters doing and saying with all their money?

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform is using its money to tell parents that the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test (SBAC) is a good thing even though it will label the majority of children as failures. (See: No, the Common Core SBAC test is not like a blood test.)

Meanwhile, ConnCAN and the rest of the charter school industry are using their hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote Malloy’s disgraceful budget and lobbying to stop the Connecticut legislature from pausing the development of further charter schools in the state.

Following the charter school industry’s success in preventing a charter school moratorium bill from passing the General Assembly’s Education Committee, the co-CEO and president of Achievement First Inc., the Executive Director of ConnCAN and state director for the Northeast Charter School Association all gleefully issued press releases cheering on the fact that the Malloy administration can continue its efforts to expand the number of publicly funded, but privately owned charter schools in the state.

Dacia Toll, co-CEO and president of Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that collects the lion’s share of the $100 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds spent on charter schools explained that, “The moratorium on public charter schools would have been a huge step backward.”

A huge step backward for the company’s bottom line that is…

While Malloy’s proposed budget actually INCREASES CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING BY $36 million…

Malloy’s proposed budget cuts tens of millions of dollars to public schools including the following programs;

Reduces funding for the CT Pre-Engineering Program

Reduces Youth Service Bureau programs

Reduces funding for the Parent Trust Fund

Reduces funding for Neighborhood Youth Centers

Reduces funding for Science Program for Educational Reform Districts

Reduces funding for Wrap Around Services

Reduces funding for Parent Universities

Reduces funding for the School Health Coordinator Pilot

Reduces funding for Regional-Technical Cooperation

Reduces funding for Alternative High School and Adult Reading

Reduces funding for Youth Service Bureau Enhancement

Reduces funding for Health Foods Initiative

Reduces funding for School to Work Opportunities

Reduces funding for Commissioner’s Network Schools

Reduces the Priority School District funding for Extended School Building Hours and Summer School

Reduces funding regional interdistrict grant to reduce segregation

Reduces funding for the Leadership, Education, Athletic-Partnership (LEAP)

And the list goes on….and on…

And the Corporate Education Reform Industry is silent on these devastating cuts.

Their plan is simple – more money for charter school companies – cuts to public school programs and higher property taxes for the rest of us.

Connecticut has truly become the land where “step right up, buy your public policy” has become the standard.

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

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The first in series about the lack of adequate protections related to student data and privacy

Over recent weeks the focus of this blog has been on parental right and the importance of opting out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, but that issue is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the unprecedented activities of the Corporate Education Reform Industry and their supporters like Governor Dannel Malloy.

While the vast majority of parents are blind to the issue, one of the most serious problems associated with the transformation of the nation’s education system is the creation of massive databases that track a broad array of data about children and how a variety of public and private entities mine that data for various uses including marketing to children and parents.

Just as troubling is the fact that few school administrators seem to understand the extent of these recent developments.

State and local school officials continue to tell parents that their child’s data is safe as a result of the federal government’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was originally designed to protect students and ensure that parents knew what data was being collected on their children and how that data was being used.

But even a basic review of the communications being sent out by Connecticut’s Department of Education and local superintendents reveal that these officials either don’t know about the massive changes that have been made to the FERPA law or are intentionally misleading and lying to parents.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was designed to control the use of “educational records” and any agency or institution that violates the FERPA law and its regulations can be denied funding. As the law is written, school officials cannot share student data with outside entities without parental consent.

However massive changes to the FERPA privacy law in 2008 and 2011 undermined the most important elements of the nation’s student privacy law.  The United States Department of Education now defines “school officials” to include “contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions it would otherwise use employees to perform.”

This means the nation’s federal student privacy law allows schools to provide the data it collects on students to private companies, without parental consent, if the contract is related, in some way, to educational activities.

In addition, revisions to the FERPA privacy regulations, “removed limitations prohibiting educational institutions and agencies from disclosing student personally identifiable information, without first obtaining student or parental consent,” a change that now gives private companies access to data that specifically identifies each student.

The changes in the nation’s student privacy laws were pushed by the Corporate Education Reform Industry and companies that are financially benefiting from getting access to student data.

As Politco.com observed at the time, the private sector was overjoyed.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

Politico went on to report,

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

And we’re not talking about just a few companies using a few limited databases.

Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service),  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and dozens of other companies have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to weaken privacy laws or stop the federal and state governments from reducing their access to student data.

Just this week, The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado released a major report entitled, ON THE BLOCK: STUDENT DATA AND PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE.  The report references a 2013 study conducted by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School which looked into how California school districts were handling student data.  The report found that;

“[In California] 95% of school districts now rely on cloud-services providers for a wide variety of services, such as data mining for student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, and data hosting.

However, fewer than 25% of the agreements specify the permitted purposes for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to unilaterally change the terms. Many also allow vendors to retain student data into perpetuity.”

After reviewing federal and state laws, the new NEPC report makes it extremely clear that while more than 20 states have passed their own student privacy laws to fill in gaps in the federal laws, Connecticut is one of the states that has completely failed to develop appropriate student privacy laws designed to protect the state’s children.

In Connecticut, for example, there is no requirement that contracts with vendors:

Restrict the use of data collection for advertising and marketing purposes

Require that parents are notified and have an unlimited right to review data that is being handed over to third parties

Require that third parties have and maintain appropriate data security procedures.

Require that data must be destroyed following intended use.

Require parents be notified about breaches or that third parties be held accountable for breaches. (In fact, when it comes to protecting student data, Connecticut actually has a statute that provides for immunity of liability for data breach and NO notice to parents that a breach has occurred.) 

This year a group of Republican legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly introduced H.B. No. 7017, an Act Concerning Student Data Privacy, but following a public hearing, the Education Committee passed an extremely weak version of what might be called an attempt at beginning to address the student privacy problem.

As the proposed legislation now stands, Connecticut parents would continue to have virtually no meaningful protections when it comes to the use of data collected about their children.

Check back for much more on the key issues surrounding student data and privacy, the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s efforts and the failure of public officials to address this growing problem.

A special opportunity to hear the truth about “Education Reform”

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In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell

Hosted by Robert Hannafin, Dean of Fairfield University’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions comes a unique opportunity to hear from Wendy Lecker, Jonathan Pelto, Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice and nationally renowned Education expert and advocate Yohuru Williams.

In their one and only joint appearance

 

March 31, 2015

6:30 p.m. -8:00 p.m.

Oak Room

Barone Campus Center

Fairfield University

Open to the public and free [Very much the corporate education reform industry]

 

Teachers Matter

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True, teachers don’t matter to the Corporate Education Reform Industry and the people who are pushing the Common Core and the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Testing Scheme.

And teachers don’t seem to matter to people like Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy who is not only an adherent to the Common Core and the Common Core Testing fiasco but remains the only Democratic Governor in the nation to propose eliminating tenure for all public school teachers and rescinding collective bargaining rights for teachers working in the state’s poorest school districts. [Although it is valuable to note that New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is certainly a top contender for being the most anti-teacher governor in the country.]

But people out here in the real world know that teachers matter.

Teachers matter a lot…

We all remember teachers that mattered to us when we were young, and for those of us with children, we treasure and appreciate the teachers that matter and have made a difference in our own children’s lives.

Teachers matter when they make international headlines, like the incredible individuals who gave their lives trying to protect their students over in Newtown, Connecticut.

But the amazing thing about teachers is that they matter when their deeds are deemed truly heroic and they matter when they are simply “doing their jobs.”

Sadly, disturbingly, shockingly, the United States is witnessing the greatest assault on public education in our lifetimes. Greed, stupidity, ignorance, and even more greed are behind the historic effort to denigrate teachers, turn our schools into little more than Common Core Testing factories, and destroy the concept of a true and comprehensive public education system.

In the name of preparing children to be “college and career” ready the forces behind the corporate education reform industry are undermining the very essence of the teaching profession and public education in the United States.

And the root of their ignorance (or stupidity) is their failure to truly understand that teachers matter.

As the founder, along with leading public education advocate Diane Ravitch, of what is called the Education Bloggers Network, I’ve had the tremendous honor of working with, getting to know and regularly reading the writing of more than 230 education bloggers who are collectively and individually fighting for public education and against the destructive tactics of the so-called “education reformers.”

Many of these bloggers and commentators have used their voices to help remind their readers that teachers matter.

One such article was posted earlier this week by an educator and teacher from Washington State who goes by the name of Teacher Tom.  And while he was simply telling about a moment in his day, this post, like many that Teacher Tom writes, served as a an extraordinary reminder that teachers matter…

Please take a moment and read Teacher Tom’s blog post entitled, You Want Mommy To Come Back.”  I am confident that it will remind you, like it reminded me, that teachers matter.

Sometimes mommy has to leave and you don’t want her to leave.

When I started teaching, I was a distractor. In fact, I considered myself a master distractor. I had every confidence that I could calm any kid down in less than five minutes through a combination of goofing, enthusiasm, and “Look what those kids are doing over there!” Today, I’m more inclined to simply sit with a crying child, to listen to any words they might be trying to say, to show warmth and empathy, to assure them that mommy always comes back, and to allow them the full arc of their strong emotion. Most kids still stop crying in less than five minutes, but that’s no longer the goal now that my priority is their feelings rather than my discomfort with their feelings.

So when mommy left last Friday, when he reached out to mommy as she walked away, when he screamed and cried and pulled himself from my arms, when he dropped to the floor to kick his feet in outrage, I sat there with him, blocking out the whole world but him.

I could hear he was saying words as he screamed, but they weren’t at first discernible, so I said, “You’re mad that mommy left,” and “You’re sad that mommy left.” No one can truly tell another how they feel, but I was pretty sure I was close to the mark in this case. He was still saying the words through his tears, repeating them. Finally, I thought I made out, “I want mommy to come back.”

I wanted him to know that he had been heard, that I understood and empathized, and I wanted it to be something that was true, so I said, “I want your mommy to come back too.”

He shout-cried at me, “I want mommy to come back!”

I nodded. I worked on keeping my voice gentle. I said, “I want your mommy to come back too.”

And he said back, “I want mommy to come back!”

We went back and forth like this several times. He seemed to really wanted me to know that he wanted his mommy to come back.

Other children tried to sooth him: one girl brought him a costume, another tried to hand him a construction paper fire truck. He didn’t accept their overtures, although he was by now present enough to shake his head “no” at them rather than simply scream as he was doing at me.

By now he was very clearly saying, “I want mommy to come back!” And I was replying, “I want your mommy to come back too,” to which he always shout-cried back, “I want mommy to come back!”

I continued to attempt to put a name to his feelings, using words like “mad,” “sad,” and “angry,” as well as to state the truth that “mommy always comes back.” But whenever I said, “I want your mommy to come back too,” he shouted at me, “I want mommy to come back!”

Then, finally, I really heard him. He said, “I want mommy to come back!” stressing the pronoun for his tin-eared teacher.

This time I answered, “You want mommy to come back.”

He nodded as if to say, “Finally,” and in one motion picked himself from the floor, stepped up to the art table, still crying, and got to work gluing construction paper shapes to a red fire truck pre-cut, his hands not fully under his own control. As he wadded and creased the paper, it looked almost as if he were wrestling with it, his fingers clenching and curling from the emotion that was still coursing through his whole body.

After a couple minutes, he became silent as he concentrated on manipulating the small pieces of paper, the last of his strong emotion going into this construction project.

I said one more time, “You want mommy to come back.” This time he ignored me.

You can read more of Teacher Tom’s posts at http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/

And you can find out more about the Education Bloggers Network on our emerging website at: http://edubloggers.org/

And remember, no matter how much the anti-public education forces deny it, teachers matter.

Not my daughter: How one dad opted out his kindergartner from standardized testing

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Steven Singer is a teacher in Pennsylvania and a fellow education blogger and pro-public education advocate.  As a father of a kindergarten student he recently wrote a very moving piece about his decision to opt his child out of the absurd standardized testing craze.

Published initially on his blog which is entitled GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, his article was then picked up and reposted last week  by Valerie Straus of the Washington Post – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/not-my-daughter-how-one-dad-opted-out-his-kindergartner-from-standardized-testing/

Steve Singer’s commentary piece is a powerful reminder that we can fight back and beat back the corporate education reform industry that is working so hard to undermine our public schools, denigrate our teachers and turn our classrooms into little more than testing factories.

Not my daughter: How one dad opted out his kindergartner from standardized testing By Steve Singer

I’ll admit it – I was scared.

I’m a Nationally Board Certified Teacher with a masters degree in education. I’ve taught public school for over a dozen years. But I’ve only been a dad for half that time. Would making this call get my little girl in trouble?

I didn’t want to rock the boat. I didn’t want my daughter to suffer because her old man is making a fuss. I didn’t want her teachers and principal giving her a hard time because of something I did. But I couldn’t deny what I know.

I think standardized testing is destroying public education. It’s stressing kids out by demanding they perform at levels they aren’t developmentally ready to reach. And its using these false measures of proficiency to “prove” how bad public schools are so they can be replaced by for-profit charters that will reduce the quality of kids’ educations to generate profits.

No. There was no doubt about it. I had to make this phone call. I used my most professional voice on the line with the principal. I introduced myself and said about my daughter, “I know she’s just in kindergarten but it’s come to my attention she’s taking standardized tests, and I’d like to opt her out.”

Before my little girl started school, I hadn’t even realized there were standardized tests in kindergarten. She takes both the DIBELS and the GRADE test.

He seemed surprised, perhaps even a bit fearful, but he quickly suggested a meeting with me, my daughter’s teacher, the counselor and a few others to get it done.

It was my turn to be surprised. I had expected to be asked to review the tests before writing a formal letter citing my “religious” reason for refusal. But I guess things are different before students reach third grade. Without legislation mandating a formal process,  we needed to meet and discuss like adults.

A few weeks later, here I was waiting for that meeting to begin. It wasn’t long before my daughter’s teacher arrived. We chatted briefly about a fire drill and how my sweetheart hadn’t been afraid. Then the counselor, principal and others came in and ushered us into the conference room.

Most of the space was taken up by a long rectangular table surrounded by black leather chairs on wheels. It looked like the kind of place where important decisions are made – a bit imposing really. We sat down and the principal introduced me to the team and told them I had some concerns about standardized testing.

He paused letting me know it was my turn to speak. I took out my little notebook, swallowed and began.

“Let me start by saying I think the education my daughter is receiving here is top notch,” I said. “Her teacher is fabulous, the support staff do a wonderful job, and I could not be happier with the services she’s receiving here. My ONLY concern is standardized tests. In general, I’m against them. I have no problem with teacher-created tests, just not the standardized ones. “It’s come to my attention that my daughter takes the DIBELS and GRADE test. Is that correct?”

They nodded.

“As you know, I teach at the secondary level and proctor the GRADE test to my own students. I’m sure the version given to elementary children is somewhat different, but I know first hand how flawed this assessment is. Put simply, it’s not a good test. It doesn’t assess academic learning. It has no research behind it to prove its effectiveness and it’s a huge waste of time where kids could be learning.”

I paused to see them all nodding in agreement.

In many ways, the GRADE is your typical standardized test. Vocabulary, sentence completion, passage comprehension – fill-in-the-bubble nonsense.

The principal blushed in agreement. He admitted that he probably shouldn’t be so candid but the district probably wouldn’t give the GRADE test if it didn’t receive a Keystone to Opportunity Grant for doing so. When and if the grant runs out, the district probably would stop giving the test, he said.

It’s an old story – the same as at my own district. Two school systems serving high-poverty populations bribed with extra money if they spend a large chunk of it on Pearson testing and remediation.

“As to the DIBELS,” I went on, “I had to really do some research. As something that’s only given at the elementary level, it’s not something I knew much about. However, after reading numerous scholarly articles on the subject, I decided it wasn’t good for my daughter either.”

When taking the DIBELS, the teacher meets with a student one-on-one while the child reads aloud and is timed with a stopwatch. Some of the words the child is asked to read make sense. Some are just nonsense words. The test is graded by how many words the child pronounces correctly in a given time period.

“My concern is that the test doesn’t assess comprehension,” I said. “It rewards someone who reads quickly but not someone who understands what she’s reading. Moreover, there is a political side to the test since it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch. Cut scores are being artificially raised to make it look like more students are failing and thus our schools aren’t doing a good job. Finally, focusing on pronunciation separate from comprehension narrows the curriculum and takes away time from proven strategies that actually would help my daughter become a better reader.”

I closed my notebook and looked around the table.

I thought that maybe I hadn’t done enough research. I had been too quick and simple.

But the team quickly agreed with me. And when the principal saw that, I noticed his cheeks darkening.

He stuttered a few words before giving up. “I’ve never had a parent ask to opt out of the DIBELS before,” he said.

He said the DIBELS is a piece of the data teachers use to make academic decisions about their students. Without it, how would they know if their children could read, were hitting certain benchmarks?

“I know I teach secondary and that’s different than elementary,” I said, “but there is not a single standardized test that I give my kids that returns any useful information. “I don’t need a test to tell me if my students can read. I don’t need a test to know if they can write or spell. I know just by interacting with them in the classroom.”

The fear was still in his eyes. He turned to my daughter’s teacher. “I don’t mean to put you on the spot here, but what do you think? Does the DIBELS provide you with useful information?” he asked.

The look on her face was priceless. It was like someone had finally asked her a question she had been waiting years to answer.

“No,” she said. “I don’t need the DIBELS to know if my kids can read.”

It was all down hill from there.

I agreed to revisit the situation if a problem arose but teacher recommendation will take the place of the DIBELS in the meantime.

Conversation quickly turned to hilarious anecdotes of my daughter’s school antics. What she said to get in trouble last week. How she tries to get adults to put on her coat when she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself.

I left the building feeling really good. This is the way it’s supposed to be.

Before we signed up my little girl for school, I had been nervous about her attending my home district. I wasn’t sure it was good enough for her. The papers said it was a failing school. I wanted so much to ensure my baby would have the best of everything – the best I could provide.

My district may not have the most up-to-date facilities. It may not have the smallest classes. But it has a team of dedicated educators and administrators who are committed to meeting the needs of their students.

Even the principal’s hesitancy is understandable. I don’t blame him one bit. He probably thinks DIBELS scores make an elementary principal like him look good. Kids starting from scratch only can go up. The scores can only improve.

Moreover, he sat down with me and heard me out. He may not have entirely agreed with me – in fact at times he looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead – but he respected my parental rights.

It wasn’t until then that I realized the power parents truly have. The principal Smith might have refused a TEACHER who brought up all of the concerns I had. He’s their boss. He trusts his own judgment. But I don’t work for him. In fact, he works for me. And – to his credit – he knows that.

I know everyone isn’t as lucky as me. Some people live in districts that aren’t as receptive. But if parents rose up en masse and spoke out against toxic testing, it would end tomorrow.

If regular everyday Dads and Moms stood up for their children and asked questions, there would be no more Race to the Top, Common Core or annual standardized testing. Because while teachers have years of experience, knowledge and love – parents have the power. Imagine if we all worked together! What a world we could build for our children!

Common Core Champion on Fast Track to become CT’s next Commissioner of Education

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Sources at the State Capital report that Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees on the Connecticut State Board of Education will be directed to name Nathan D. Quesnel as Connecticut’s next Commissioner of Education.  The appointment would be pushed through as early as the next State Board of Education meeting on April 6, 2015 or at a special meeting for the purpose of rubber-stamping Malloy’s choice.

Quesnel, who became East Hartford’s School Superintendent in August 2012 and received his state 093 certification allowing him to to continue to serve as a superintendent of schools in the spring of 2013 has been one of the most outspoken proponents of Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform initiatives including the controversial Common Core and Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

Just last August, Superintendent Quesnel told the Middletown Patch news outlet that, “The East Hartford Public Schools are utilizing Alliance District funding [the extra state taxpayer funds his town was given] to support early literacy — particularly for getting needed materials for students in grades K-2…These resources provide Common Core aligned instruction that help students reach grade level by Grade 3.”

Common Core aligned instruction since no one ever learned to read before the corporate-funded Common Core came along…

Earlier in 2014, Malloy named Nathan Quesnel to be the co-chair of the Governor’s Common Core Task Force which was supposed to conduct an independent assessment of the state’s Common Core policies but was, in fact, nothing more than an effort to deflect criticism away from Malloy’s aggressive support for the Common Core and Common Core testing while his administration continue to rush forward with the implementation of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scam.

The day after Malloy appointed Quesnel to head up his Common Core Task Force, the East Hartford Superintendent was supposed to speak at a special legislative hearing on March 12, 2104 in favor of the Governor’s policies and the Common Core.

However, recognizing that it would look bad if people knew that Malloy’s Task Force Chairman had already made up his mind on the Common Core issues, someone associated with the Governor intervened to try and hide Quesnel’s role.

Quesnel’s name was removed from the testimony he had written and the Chairman of the East Hartford Board of Education was given the task of reading it.

But alas for Malloy and his pro-Common Core supporters, someone had already uploaded the version of the testimony Quesnel was supposed to have given.

Even more interesting, the final official testimony that was submitted included a variety of changes that were made after Quesnel’s name was removed from the text.  Note that words underlined in red were added to the testimony and words in red and that have a line running through them were deleted from his testimony.

Who changed the testimony isn’t clear but a “close reading” of the testimony makes it extremely clear that Superintendent Quesnel was scheduled to testify and his testimony was nothing short of a cheerleading session for Malloy and his anti-public education, anti-teacher, anti-parent policies.

Instead of testifying that day, Quesnel dutifully chaired the Governor’s “independent” assessment of the Common Core, an assessment that – lo and behold – reported back that Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor were doing great and that there were no problems or barriers to be seen when it came to implementing the Common Core and its absurd testing system.

And now to complete the loop, Nathan Quesnel appears to be in line to become Malloy’s next Commissioner of Education where he can continue the ongoing effort to mislead Connecticut’s parents, students, teachers and the public about the inappropriate corporate education reform initiatives that are undermining public schools, restricting local control and denigrating teachers and the teaching profession.

Remember, when reading the testimony Nathan Quesnel was supposed to give, but didn’t, the words underlined in red were added to his testimony and the words in red that are lined through were removed.

TESTIMONY Committee Bill No. 5078

AN ACT IMPOSING A MORATORIUM ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

Good morning/afternoon Madame Chairperson, Mr. Chairman, Representative McCrory, Representative Bye, Rep. Ackert, Rep. Boucher and all members of the Education Committee here today afternoon Representatives thank you for the opportunity to testify on the matter before you. My name is  Jeffrey Currey and I am the Chairman for the East Hartford Board of Education. Nathan Quesnel and I am the Superintendent for East Hartford Public Schools.

I am here today to express our concern regarding Committee Bill No. 5078, an act imposing a moratorium on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. I am here to represent both the district I serve and, the roughly 7200 students that attend our 16 schools in our schools, and my professional judgment as a leader of a large urban school district.

 I want to express my appreciation for your awareness and focus on the importance of the changes going on within the world of education. While it is not every day that a discussion of curriculum, instruction or pedagogy reaches the average Connecticut dinner table, I am appreciative of the interest that has lately been placed on the important work of growing Connecticut’s future.

 With this being said,  I have serious concerns regarding the direction that this bill, if approved, would take  regarding the progress in terms of the progress and change that  we have made in Connecticut and  in particularly, in  East Hartford Public Schools, specifically should this moratorium move forward.. I want to crystalize and make exceedingly clear that supporting this bill will result in education is taking a drastic step back from the growth we have seen over the recent years and a move towards an uncertainty and delay that will negatively impact the lives of the children that are currently in our school systems. While I fully recognize the enormity of the changes going on in education at this moment, and I fully hear the criticism of these changes,, I ask that you also be mindful of this he need for urgency when it comes to dealing with children,  and making sure that we are “doing right” by  Connecticut’s future.

Simply put, I ask you to remember that the Common Core State Standards are simply a national set of standards that were adopted by our great state in 2010.  Guided by these national standards, my district has fully embraced the notion that high expectations for students will result in high outcomes for students. Upon state adoption in 2010, East Hartford Public Schools began immediate work on translating these standards into the fabric of the documents that guide practice on a classroom level throughout the district— our curriculum. While often confused by media or those outside of education, the Common Core is not a curriculum or heavy handed “way to teach.”   The Common Core is not the driving source behind every confusing homework assignment or foundational mathematical quagmire that has gotten so much attention of late. Rather they serve as overarching guides to challenge educators to find consistency of expectation when we talk about delivering on our promise to the next generation of American citizens.  As we have moved forward with revising and writing curriculum that addresses the standards of the Common Core, we have found this process necessarily time and resource intensive— we have been required to retool, rethink and revise some of the very core processes that have been in place in education for a very long time. This has provided the critical insights, disturbances and uneasy conversations that real change always necessitates.

 Specifically in this work, we have East Hartford has focused on developing district expertise regarding the state standards and how our curriculum can become a document that breaks the adage of “if you continue to do what you’ve always done…you will continue to get what you have always gotten…” As I speak here today, I am humbled by the number of high quality teachers, principals, department heads and specialists behind me in my district who believe deeply in where we are going, but have not been able to give this belief voice for a variety of reasons. The moratorium that has been proposed to you today would be an incredible blow to the work that they have begun and fully intend to finish.

Before you heed or put too much stock in the voice of the critic of the Common Core or any of the changes sweeping our country in regards to education reform, I challenge you to carefully listen for their solution. When their solution voice is absent (as it often seems to be) or lacks the sense of urgency that is so necessary when it comes to dealing with the education of  our  children, I  ask  you  to  think  of  the  second  grader  who  will  only  have  second  grade  one  time. Unfortunately, as we are painfully aware, if we are unable to get this second grader the necessary interventions he or she needs, this second grader will continue to struggle in both school and life moving forward. With this picture in mind, are you really willing to argue that we should “slow down?” or stop all together.  When the voice of the critic tells you that the Common Core has taken the joy and imagination out of teaching, I ask you to visit the classrooms I see that are filled with enthusiastic teachers and happy, bright faced students. I ask you to see how our teachers have found creative and engaging ways to work towards critical thinking, higher standards, and yes, access to non-fiction materials. I ask you to take a look at the teachers I see on a daily basis who have been willing to embrace what works and who are able to be honest about what should be and can be done better.  While it certainly should be acknowledged that this work has placed a new level of stress and anxiety on our systems, I challenge you to find a single example of an improving change throughout history that has not had similar impact.  When you pause in the midst of this debate that has become painfully academic and increasingly political, start looking at the issues we face through the eyes of students and parents. This is not a political agenda item— this is the future of our children and our state.

Rather than a moratorium, I urge you as the leaders of our great state to rather take a critical look at implementation from the lens of how we could provide greater supports to districts to accomplish the work that has been started.

Rather than a moratorium, I urge you to find ways to make our work more efficient, our changes more coherent and our future successes even brighter. I urge you to continue as you have done over the past three years under the leadership of Governor Malloy, in the past  to support funding through both the Alliance Grant and other channels that have provided my district with a first—a “funded mandate.” I want to thank you for the resource support we have received from your work as legislatures and assure you that the money you have invested to date in this initiative is having early returns in my district. Moving in a different direction will undoubtedly initiate a catastrophic sense of confusion and doubt that will cause long and lasting damage as Connecticut seeks to remain competitive on a national and global scale.

I want to express my appreciation for your awareness and focus on the importance of the changes going on within the world of education. While it is not every day that a discussion of curriculum or instruction reaches the average Connecticut dinner table, I am appreciative of the interest that has lately been placed on the important work of growing Connecticut’s future.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today and for your willingness to be a part of Connecticut’s solution.

Hear and Be Heard about Common Core SBAC Testing and “Education Reform”

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Please consider joining me at these upcoming events to hear about and talk about the Common Core SBAC Testing Scheme and other “Education Reform” Issues

Both events are open to the public and your attendance and participation would be great!

 

Monday, March 23, 7:00 to 8:30 pm

Jonathan Pelto

Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road, McManus Room

 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 6:30 p.m.,

“Add Tests and Stir: Education ‘Reform’ in the 21stCentury,” Hosted by Robert Hannafin, Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Panelists include, Jonathan Pelto, Wendy Lecker, Thomas Scarice and Yohuru Williams

Fairfield University, Barone Campus Center, Oak Room

You can reserve by sending an email to [email protected]

 

Connecticut education needs clearer vision, better objectives

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A commentary piece written by A dozen of Connecticut’s most forward thinking school superintendents:

This commentary piece as first published in CTMirror and can be found at:  http://ctmirror.org/2015/03/16/op-ed-connecticut-education-vision-lacks-clarity-coherence-superintendents-say/

Connecticut education needs clearer vision, better objectives

The journey of education reform, which has at times moved in a deliberate direction and at other times wandered in many directions, is currently at a very important and, potentially exciting, crossroads. At this moment, a narrow window of opportunity has presented itself.

As the federal government debates renewing the failed No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), our state is set to submit our latest plans to be held harmless from the sanctions of NCLB through a federal waiver, last done in 2012, and due for renewal on March 31, 2015.

Any effective system is best served by knowing when an important juncture presents itself and identifying, at that precise moment, the changes necessary to travel down the road of continuous improvement.

Our public school landscape is littered with initiatives, while the vision for learning in Connecticut lacks clarity and coherence.  In this “vision void” our measures (i.e. test scores) have become our goals, confounding the purpose of schooling and perpetuating yet another round of piecemeal initiatives.

The path we should avoid taking is the one that implements the NCLB waiver plan as the de facto vision for the education of Connecticut’s children. Instead we should identify a clear and compelling vision for education in our state and employ all of our resources to achieve it. Staying the course of current reform efforts without a deep analysis of the effects in actual classrooms across the state will further cement the system of compliance and “one size fits all” that grips our very diverse school districts like a vise.

One way to clarify the vision is to answer the direct and simple questions:

  • What are the most worthy outcomes of our public education system?
  • Are we preparing our students for the world they will enter when they graduate?
  • Is our public education system positioned for continuous improvement, as opposed to ranking, sorting and punishing?
  • To what extent do our laws increase conformity at the expense of innovation?

The answers to these questions imply the need to foster the cognitive, social/emotional and interpersonal student capacities for work, citizenship and life.  Additionally, they demand a deep analysis of the systemic efforts to continuously improve.  Confronting these questions, and others, will require:

  • A redefinition of the role of testing,
  • An accountability model (mandatory in the NCLB waiver) matched to a clarified vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut
  • Statewide systems that incentivize innovation and a broad sharing of innovative programs

Standardized tests … do not measure our highest aspirations for our students. They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes.

The following steps can be taken immediately and considered prior to submitting our NCLB waiver, particularly in the absence of a compelling vision for learning in Connecticut.

  1. Take action to redefine the role of testing in our schools.

Standardized tests play a critical role in validating local assessments and giving a broad view of the limited range of student outcomes they intend to measure.  They do not measure our highest aspirations for our students.  They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes.  They can disrupt authentic learning for long periods of time.  Yet, some districts have oriented their practice and curriculum around these tests.  Some immediate steps to take include:

  • Reducing or eliminating the use of standardized test scores in the evaluation of individual teachers,
  • Adjusting the role these tests play in a school/district accountability model,
  • Broadening the “student learning objectives” (SLO) component of the state mandated teacher evaluation plans to encourage districts to creatively incorporate local measures of worthy student outcomes, thereby returning some measure of local discretion to individual districts and the communities they serve, and
  • Incentivizing districts to develop local formative and summative measures in collaboration with other districts, vetted by the Connecticut State Department of Education, similar to the longstanding exemplary “New York Performance Standards Consortium”, which was founded in 1997 on the premise that high stakes standardized tests do not measure what matters most.
  1. Develop an accountability model designed to drive continuous improvement, in contrast to the current model of ranking/sorting/sanctioning.

The current school/district accountability model relies heavily on standardized test scores to inform communities about the performance of their schools. This misuse of data is a disservice to each community and to the entire state because it fails to capture the many ways in which schools generate student success.  A transparent balanced scorecard designed to drive continuous improvement is imperative.  Some alternatives include:

  • Broadening the definition of student success and aligning indicators of success with a clear and compelling vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut,
  • Leaving space for districts to incorporate local indicators of student growth specific to their communities in order to foster intrinsic motivation and ownership at the classroom teacher level,
  • Significantly minimizing the role of any single standardized test to its appropriate role as one data point in a series of overall performance criteria,
  • Focusing on the “opportunity gap”: the extent to which districts provide equitable access for all students to a rich curricular and extra-curricular educational program,
  • Incorporating a strong measure of student voice about their levels of authentic engagement in their learning experiences (genuine student engagement is not a “thing”, it is the only thing),
  • Integrating local, “real world” performance assessments designed by classroom teachers, scored at the local level and juried by a quality assurance program across all districts,
  • Surveying alumni to determine the extent to which they felt prepared for college, work, and life,
  • Assess funding patterns to determine if resource allocation targets are being met by federal, state, and local entities, and
  • Employing an external “peer review”/”school quality review” process administered by current classroom practitioners and administrators in which districts engage in a deep analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, in order to benchmark district performance, to diagnose problems of practice, and to commit to improvement strategies (accreditation models, such as that of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, could serve as ideal partners in developing a school quality review process with the state) in place of current accountability measures

In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization.

  1. Create systems to incentivize innovation.

Districts and teachers are suffocating from a “one size fits all”, compliance-based approach to schooling.  One size does not fit all in education, no more than it does in medicine, social work or any other endeavor in which human beings are at the core of the enterprise. In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization.  As a result, energy is drained, a passion for teaching and learning evaporates, and many teachers and leaders question the lack of purpose to their work.    Some ways to foster innovation include:

  • Creating a “Districts of Innovation” program through which the State Department of Education would administer a rigorous process identifying various district approaches to current challenges faced by schools, such as, reducing bullying, improving school climate, evaluating the performance of individual teachers and administrators, etc. These districts would apply for a waiver or modification from state requirements in order to innovate their practices, while analyzing the impact.  These districts could be required to partner with a university, commit to sharing their results, and, if successful, serve as a provider of professional development for other districts.  The incubation of fresh, innovative ideas, by classroom teachers and administrators would exponentially grow the capacity of educators in the state.
  • Working with Regional Education Service Centers (RESC) to develop an “expert in residence” program with area districts. Districts could grant a yearlong sabbatical to individual teachers to share their innovative work and provide professional development to schools across the state.
  • Pairing schools to work across different districts to collaboratively confront professional challenges. These partnerships could foster such promising practices as “lesson study”, peer to peer observations, and collaborative analysis of student work.

The window of opportunity is closing.  As in 2012, the waiver for NCLB dictates the overly prescriptive education laws that compromise innovation and promote a compliance-based malaise among Connecticut’s best educators.

Some states have foregone the NCLB waiver (e.g. Vermont, Washington), choosing instead to absorb the draconian NCLB consequences in order to spare their opportunity to chart their own course through a compelling vision for learning in their states.

The opportunity for Connecticut to establish a dynamic vision for its 21st Century public schools is now.

The piece was authored by the following 12 Connecticut superintendents of schools. They are Thomas Scarice, Madison Public Schools; Jody Goeler, Hamden Public Schools; Jan Peruccio, Old Saybrook Public Schools; Kathy Veronesi, Region 13 Public Schools; Jack Cross, Clinton Public Schools; Jerry Belair, Waterford Public Schools; Patricia Ciccone, Westbrook Public Schools; Paul Freeman, Guilford Public Schools; Howard Thiery, Region 17 Public Schools; Ruth Levy, Region 4 Public Schools; Kevin Smith, Wilton; and Diane Dugas, East Hampton Public Schools.

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