Corporate Education Reform Group’s proposal for new special education system in Connecticut panned;

The Connecticut School Finance Project, an off-shoot of the corporate funded charter school lobby group Connecticut Council on Education Reform (CCER) recently proposed legislation that would undermine Connecticut’s special education funding system.  Under the guise of “reform,” the new centralized and bureaucratic system would effectively remove local control when it comes to determining what programs and services would best address each individual child’s special education needs.

In violation of Connecticut’s state ethics laws, The Connecticut School Finance Project developed the outrageous proposal in conjunction with the Malloy administration and is now trying to get state legislators to put the organization’s plan into law.

In testimony provided to the Education Committee this week, Thomas Scarice, Superintendent of the Madison Schools and Dr. Elizabeth Battaglia, Director of Special Education in Madison, noted, among other points, that;

No other state in the nation has implemented a statewide intermediary to pay for all special education costs for school districts.  In short, this is a grand experiment with only theoretical assurances.  A comprehensive analysis by a task force, one that considers alternatives beyond the proposed cooperative, is necessary to address the complex problems facing districts.  An experiment is not a solution.  In fact, after a simple Google search, one can find the results of a somewhat similar model that was implemented on a regional basis in California through Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPA).  Over 100 of these models were implemented in California.  An analysis of these models by the Public Policy Institute of California found that they reduced transparency, accountability and local control.  Even more disturbing, they were consistently underfunded and failed to distribute aid in an equitable manner.  Additionally, the only somewhat analogous ode lint he nation (SELPAs) did not solve the primary problem facing districts, that is, rising special education costs.

In the California study, when local control for funding was taken away, it impacted preventative services and early intervention programs…

In a reasoned and well-thought out accounting of the problems, Superintendent Scarice and Dr. Battaglia revealed the very real short-comings in the Connecticut School Finance Project’s proposal.

The question now is whether legislators will back the corporate education reform entity or do what is best for Connecticut students who require special education services and the local school districts that provide them with that vital support.

You can read more testimony about House Bill 7255 at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmy.asp?comm_code=ed&date=03/16/2017 and Senate Bill 542 at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmy.asp?comm_code=ins&date=02/21/2017

A Clarion Call for Action – Superintendent Scarice speaks out for students, parents, teachers and Connecticut

Madison, Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has been named a public education champion by Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading education advocate.  His willingness to stand up and speak out on behalf of students, parents, teachers and public schools has earned him accolades and praise from the Washington Post to the Wait, What Blog and from many others.

In his latest piece, which first appeared in the CT Mirror, Thomas Scarice lays down the gauntlet saying, An education revolution beckons. In Connecticut, who will lead?.

Superintendent Scarice writes;

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before the Education Committee of the Connecticut Legislature.  I commented that education policy in our state sadly resembles the phenomenon of the “Macarena.”

Play along for a moment.  Let your mind drift back 20 years or so to any random wedding.  When the “Rent a DJ” wanted to get the dance floor moving you could hear the drumbeat and the lyrics, “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.” Suddenly, the house was jumping, hips were swaying, hands were clapping, and everyone from your 5-year-old nephew to your great aunt were doing the Macarena.

Now fast forward to present day.  The same stale “Rent a DJ” reaches back and tries to conjure up some dance magic.  You hear that familiar drumbeat.  But, instead of filling up the dance floor, all that is left are two embarrassing guys, hips swaying and hands clapping, all alone on the floor, while family and friends shuffle uncomfortably in their seats trying not to make eye contact.

Sadly, this metaphor is an illustration of education policy in Connecticut.  We are the state left on the dance floor with tired policies, while other states are running away.  We are overdue for a bold statewide vision that matches the uncertain and ever-changing world our students will enter when they graduate.  But who will lead?

Codified by state law, and enforced by a bureaucracy utterly consumed by compliance, tens of thousands of educators across the state are suffocating, desperate to be exhumed.  Consequently, this suffocation is stifling the young, inquisitive minds of children from all backgrounds and colors.

Have we seen the types of educational changes we want for our kids in the past 10-15 years, particularly as the world endures revolutionary changes?  If not, why continue the same ineffectual practices?  Can Connecticut jump to the forefront and lead in innovation, or do we stand on the dance floor with the two embarrassing guys clapping and swaying?

As we careen through rapid global changes that have profound implications for the worlds of work, citizenship, and lifelong learning, it is safe to assume that the traditional promise of “go to school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job” no longer applies.  If you are clinging to that promise, you are probably still searching for your music at Tower Records.

The world continues to decentralize its economy, and the flow of information, at an unprecedented rate.  The “sharing economy” rewards innovators and diversity of thought.  Yet, Connecticut clings to a command-and-control educational approach destined to homogenize children.

Either directly through prescriptive laws, such as ones that mandate precisely how local boards of education must evaluate their employees, or indirectly through schemes and mechanisms that place high stakes on invalid and unreliable tests such as the SBAC, we rank and sort kids, schools, and teachers based on test scores. Our 8-year-old students take more state tests than what is required to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer.  All the while we are missing the point.

We are educating our children for the wrong era.

So, how is this era different?  The list is endless.

Our kids must be able to think analytically through incomparable volumes of information, to imagine, to work effectively with others, to find their voice in a sea of noise, to tell a compelling story, and to ask incisive questions to name just a few.  Getting better at taking tests, answering mind-numbing “text-dependent questions” by finding facts in non-fiction texts, and limiting opportunities for original thought will only serve to further divorce important authentic learning from schooling.

Sudden, almost instantaneous changes are reshaping our democracy and the global economy.  Will Uber, with a valuation about to surpass the levels of GM, DuPont, and Time Warner, evolve beyond online transportation and be the standard business model that will employ the next generation of professionals?  Might patients someday demand the attentive droid instead of the human doctor for time sensitive procedures, such as keyhole kidney surgery?  What about entry level or service jobs?  iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn, has already replaced 60,000 workers with robots, and Royal Caribbean’s luxury cruise line now uses a robotic bar, Shakr Makr, developed at MIT, to serve customers.

What does the automated car mean for the insurance industry?  What about the “sharing economy”?  Airbnb is now the biggest hotel chain in the world.  What happens if the startup company, Otto, with engineers from Google, Apple and Tesla, perfects technology that enables fleets of robotic self-driving trucks?  Have you noticed that a multi-billion dollar industry has been reduced to a red tin box of DVDs outside of gas stations in the matter of a few years?   Couple all of these rapid transformations with an increasingly polarized interpersonal climate across the nation and an imposing landscape emerges for this and future generations.

And our response in Connecticut?  We cling to a flawed test (i.e. the SBAC), conflating measures with goals, while other states, and organizations in private industry leave the dance floor and run in the opposite direction.

Over half of the states that initially adopted the SBAC have dropped it, and the remaining states inevitably will in due time, including Connecticut, but by then how many more students will have been harmed?

Oklahoma and Hawaii have removed the coupling of student test scores from the evaluations of individual teachers.  Massachusetts is the next state to follow suit, interestingly enough, led by a coalition of superintendents and teachers.  A recent New York court decision invalidated the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations due to the arbitrary and capricious nature of the process.

Even outside of education, private industry behemoths such as, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, Google, and Accenture have eliminated the use of numerical ratings for employees, an immovable piece of the Connecticut evaluation scheme.  And finally, there’s New Hampshire, which has aggressively pursued a statewide assessment model that put teachers in the position of creating tasks where students apply their learning in real world situations, rather than flawed standardized tests.

Could Connecticut innovate on the same level?  Of course.  Will we?  Listen closely…”Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.

In Connecticut we will commission a “study” of the practice of assessing teachers’ performance on student test scores even though the actual makers of the test, and mountains of literature, warn against the practice.  We’ll grade schools and districts on a 1-5 rating scale, although that practice failed miserably across the nation.  We will count on the SBAC to predict career readiness… quite a miraculous endeavor given that the World Economic Forum recently predicted that 65 percent of the jobs our children will occupy do not even exist yet.

We will base 80 percent of elementary and middle school performance on a singular, flawed test, thus distorting the perception of schools.  We’ll place the SAT at the center of high school accountability with more than half of a school’s performance rating based on SAT scores, while a growing number of colleges and universities recognize that the SAT fails to properly predict college success and move to drop the testing requirement.

Worse yet, we apply the greatest pressure to districts with the greatest challenges, plagued with economic disadvantages and generational poverty.    Can you hear it?  “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.”

And how do we justify such practices?  Perhaps most offensive of all, we equate the need for high stakes testing , and command-and-control policies, with the obligation to ensure the protection of the civil rights for our most at-risk children without any conversation about the funding, or even more necessary, accountability for those holding others accountable.

The obsession with dehumanizing students and equating them with data points has muted any discussion about inputs into the system (e.g. funding, class size, innovative curricular and professional development).  One need to go no farther than a short drive down the turnpike to civil rights expert, Dr. Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University, who has demonstrated with thunderous authority, through the actual words and sayings of Dr. Martin Luther King, that the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement would have never stood beside those who seek to privatize and monetize public education, nor would he have supported the high stakes testing obsession that has crippled the promise of public education, dehumanized children, and driven countless educators out of the profession.

If that is not enough, perhaps civil rights icon James Meredith’s most recent comments criticizing these same intellectually and morally bankrupt practices will finally put this myth to bed.

And yet, in Connecticut, we remain on the dance floor.  Our dance partners are dwindling, running in the opposite direction.  An education revolution beckons.  One that engages, imagines, inspires, and personalizes.

Soon, it will just be us and the two embarrassing guys.  Who will lead?

To read and comment on Thomas Scarice’s commentary piece go to the CTMirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/06/09/an-education-revolution-beckons-in-connecticut-who-will-lead/

 

Speaking out for decoupling Common Core testing from the teacher evaluation process

In 2012, Governor Dannel Malloy’s “Education Reform” initiative included a destructive provision requiring that 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be dependent on how well students did on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme, despite the fact that every major academic study across the nation has proven that standardized test scores are not a proper, accurate or even useful tool for measuring a particular teacher’s effectiveness.

Over the past four years, the Malloy administration, in conjunction with the testing industry and the corporate funded “education reform” front groups, have spent thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying legislators to keep Malloy’s irresponsible teacher evaluation program unchanged rather than adopt one that uses criteria that actually determines whether a teacher is or is not doing a satisfactory job in the classroom.

On March 7, 2016 one of the bills that the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on was  Senate Bill 380, AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCLUSION OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE RESULTS ON THE MASTERY EXAMINATION FROM TEACHER EVALUATIONS.  The bill would “exclude student performance data on the Smarter Balanced Assessment from teacher performance evaluations.”

Among those speaking in favor of decoupling student’s standardized testing scores from the teacher evaluation process was Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice.

As a result of Superintendent Scarice’s leadership, the democratically elected members of the Madison School board, with the participation of teachers, parents and the community, developed a model teacher evaluation system that did not include the use of standardized tests scores.

However, rather than embrace a teacher evaluation program based on best practices, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education torpedoed the proposal.

Superintendent Scarice used his testimony at the Education Committee Public Hearing to lay out the reality about why the SBAC Common Core test is not an appropriate measure for evaluating teachers.

While Scarice’s testimony was short in length, its honest approach to the issue was in stark contrast to the “know-nothing” approach being spewed by the corporate education reform industry, their lobbyists and their allies.

Legislators, along with parents, teachers and Connecticut citizens should take the time to watch Superintendent Scarice’s testimony which can be found via the following link:

Video Testimony by Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice

http://ct-n.com/ctnplayer.asp?odID=12572&jump=7:42:53

New York Superintendents call for an end to evaluating teachers on standardized test results

Labeling children on the basis of unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory standardized tests is bad public policy.  Evaluating teachers on the scores their students get on those tests is equally wrong, yet that is exactly what the policy is in the State of Connecticut.

Last spring, more than 500,000 students across the country were opted out of the standardized testing craze.

This unprecedented development was the direct result of a growing awareness by parents, students, teachers and public education advocates that the standardized testing scheme isn’t useful and that the Corporate Education Reform Industry is turning public schools into little more than testing factories.

While school superintendents and administrators have been a major part of the anti-standardized testing coalitions in New York, far fewer Connecticut school administrators have been willingly to step forward and speak up on behalf of the students, parents, teachers and public schools they are sworn to serve.

In contrast, in the Constitution State Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has consistently been one of the school leaders who has been willing to provide his students, parents, teachers and community with the appropriate information about the extraordinary problems that come with a public education system that is overly reliant on standardized testing.

(See for example, Superintendent Scarice addresses the powerful and ugly truth about SBAC testing charade and Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again. and Diane Ravitch features Madison Superintendent Tom Scarice’s powerful letter on “education reform”)

With parents increasingly recognizing the inherent negative consequences that stems from the Common Core testing program, attention is now turning to the second major problem with the pro-Common Core, Pro-Common Core testing initiatives that have been sponsored by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the other political allies of the “Education Reformers” — and that is  — the inappropriateness of evaluation of teachers, based, at least in part, on their student’s standardized test results.

Late last week, superintendents in Nassau Country, New York sent a powerful letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo calling for an end to the use of standardized test results as part of that state’s teacher evaluation process.

The superintendents wrote;

It is because of our residents’ deep commitment that we feel a responsibility to protect our education system from misguided policy decisions, however well intended they may be. We understand that building an accountability system to ensure highly effective instruction for all students is a natural extension of the effort to raise expectations for all students. However, the exaggerated use of student test data in that system unfortunately undermined the initial goals.

[…]

We believe our parents understand the value of assessment but stand firmly against the continued distortion of curriculum driven by this flawed accountability system. The well-thought out decision of a significant percentage of our parents to opt their children out of State testing is a reflection of this concern.

Salvaging higher standards will require the State to accomplish three important objectives:

  • Declare a moratorium on the use of student achievement data for educator evaluations
  • Begin work in earnest toward developing a computer adaptive testing system, which will require far less time devoted to testing, ensure questions more appropriate to academic functioning rather than chronological age, and return actionable data in a timely fashion
  • Complete the review of the standards and make adjustments where appropriate.

Connecticut’s superintendents should follow the lead of their New York colleagues and demand that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly repeal the law they developed mandating that student achievement data from standardized tests be used as part of the educator evaluation process.

Numerous models have been developed to evaluate teachers (and administrators) without relying on flawed standardized test results.

In fact, Superintendent Scarice and the Madison Board of Education have adopted exactly such a model.

Madison Superintendent provides Parents with the truth about the Common Core SBAC Test

As George Orwell wrote in his initially classified book of fiction,

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

To which it is well to remember the words of Winston Churchill who observed,

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.

If you had a child in the Madison, Connecticut public schools you’d have a superintendent, school administrators and Board of Education that was committed to telling the truth about the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing System and dedicated to putting children, parents, teachers and their public schools above the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s ongoing attempt to undermine public education in the United States.

If you had a children in the Madison, Connecticut public schools you would have received the following a letter from Superintendent Thomas Scarice and Assistant Superintendent Gail Dahling-Hench, a letter that honestly and truthfully explains why the Common Core SBAC test is not an appropriate tool or mechanism to judge our children, their teachers or our public schools.

The letter to Madison Parents states;

Individual Student Reports for the 2015 Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized test were mailed this week. This specific report format is provided to the district by the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and is a product of the national Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, consisting of 18 states.

Tests are designed with a purpose. The SBAC test was designed to measure the college and career readiness level of students through their achievement on the Connecticut Core educational standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics in grades 3-8 and 11. In addition, as in prior years, the science CMT/CAPT test was administered in Grades 5, 8, and 10.

One singular test provides an extraordinarily limited view of individual student performance. This particular test is based on an incomplete view of “college and career readiness”. In fact, this test endeavors to provide parents and educators with a predictive measure of an individual student’s college and career readiness by mere achievement of educational standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The reliability of these predictions is imprecise and suspect at best.

Resources provided by the CSDE clearly state that characterizing a student’s achievement solely in terms of falling in one of four categories (levels) is an oversimplification, and that the specific achievement levels should not be interpreted as infallible predictors of students’ futures.

Perhaps most concerning in the student reports is the definitive nature of the claims made about an individual student based on one test. This can be found in the language that declares whether or not your child has “met the achievement level” expected for a specific grade, and whether or not your child will need “substantial support to get back on track for success in the next grade”. These claims are particularly alarming given the inadequacies, imperfections, and lack of reliable evidence on one singular test to make such assertions. A balance of assessment tools at the school level provides a more complete picture of individual student performance, as well as timely and actionable data. We encourage parents to look at student performance over various measures when understanding the academic performance of their child.

You are also invited to review the March 2015 report commissioned by the SBAC entitled, Making Good Use of New Assessments. This report conveys numerous cautions about the use, and most importantly, the misuse of these scores.

When examining your student report, we ask that you refer to the online parent interpretive guide provided by the CSDE.

We hope you find this summary helpful when examining the enclosed results for your student. If you have questions about this report….

You can read the letter at:   http://www.madison.k12.ct.us/page.cfm?p=2723&newsid=1201

When every superintendent, school administrator and Board of Education are willing to speak the truth about the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scam we will have taken a gigantic step forward in our battle to put the world “public” back into our nation’s system of public education.

Superintendent Scarice addresses the powerful and ugly truth about SBAC testing charade

With Connecticut’s State Department of Education refusing to release the results of the 2015 Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in a timely manner – other states released their state wide results at least six weeks ago – Madison, Connecticut Superintendent Thomas Scarice speaks the truth about the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory SBAC testing scam.

Scarice is widely recognized as a leader in the effort to provide parents with accurate information about their rights when it comes to opting out their children from the SBAC testing scheme and 86 percent high school juniors in Madison did not take the test design that was purposely defined to label them failures.

In his latest commentary piece, Scarice addresses the most fundamental failure of all when it comes to the SBAC test.

You can find and comment on Superintendent Scarcie’s MUST READ piece on the CTMirror at: SBAC: Data but no meaning, when meaning matters most

Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice writes;

I can still feel the slap of his small leather batting glove in the palm of my hand as he rounded first base.  By the time he reached home plate, occasionally touching the ground in route, my 8-year-old son, Owen, and I shared a moment that cannot truly be captured by words, and by no means, captured by numbers.

Owen hit a grand slam …over the fence… in a baseball tournament watched by a generous crowd of his closest friends and teammates.  A volcanic eruption of joy.  An eternal moment between a father and son.  The slap of our hands in mid-flight, a celebration marked by a selfless love that can only be felt by a parent.

Although we possess a breathtaking picture, a moment frozen in time, the depth of pride and mutual excitement can never be held or touched, nor could it ever be quantified.

A boy clutching his dad.  A boundless, timeless, indescribable bond.

Moments like this define us in profound ways, big and small.  Their meaning deepens as a result of context.  It deepens as a result of the story behind the moment. Viewed in isolation, with a faceless boy and faceless adult, this moment loses all of its meaning.  In a sense, this moment can be dehumanized with numbers and symbols replacing the faces and stories, with callous disregard for the humanity that makes us whole.  For it is the stories themselves that give life and meaning to numbers.

Yet the educational community –the very field that finds its existence in the care and welfare of children, particularly where “the story” matters most — continues to kneel and bow at the altar of big data, any data that can be captured, with flagrant disregard for its importance or meaning.

Nevertheless, that which is easiest to count, may very well be the least meaningful or important to count.  For you can count how many times I tell my children I love them, but you cannot quantify how much I love them, nor, without context, does the number you count represent the depth of sacrifice and denial of self that characterizes a parent’s primal love for their child. In these circumstances, the very act of counting, without regard for the story or context, has the chilling effect of dehumanizing.

Sadly, too many teachers have been trapped in mindless data exercises that irresponsibly neglect the story behind the numbers, turning children into faceless numbers… hence dehumanizing the sacred process of fostering the growth and development of our children.

Perhaps it is true that no profound, complex problem in human history has been solved without data, quantitative or qualitative.  Yet, decades ago, eminent scholar and “father of quality,” Dr. W. Edwards Deming identified “management by use only of visible figures, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable” as one of his seven “deadly diseases” of management.

This reveals a very critical consideration when looking at data, you must understand the system, and perhaps more importantly, the context or story, that generated the data. This poses yet another warning from Dr. Deming, namely, that “Statistical calculations based on warped figures lead to confusion, frustration and wrong decisions.”

These wise words are most timely as the educational community awaits the next batch of big data to be delivered, the results of the latest test promising to revolutionize schooling, the SBAC.  A hollow promise, based on warped figures, that will certainly deliver hollow results.

What will the SBAC data mean?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing at all. Numbers in isolation, lacking story and context.

But, worse yet, numbers based on a specious assessment that will in time suffer and die from a credibility crisis.  Sadly, some communities will be asked to explain why this one indicator supersedes volumes of contextual data that form a completely different narrative and tell another story entirely.  How could it be that SAT and ACT scores, as well as college admissions rates and college success, do not align with the “college and career readiness” measure of the SBAC?

What are parents to believe, the SBAC results, or their own lying eyes?  Assuredly, there will be contorting and spinning of the results, primarily to serve and indulge the special interests of adults, which has the insidious effect of exploiting children.  In the end, after the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars, the data will be meaningless, empty, and faceless.

Data is meaningless without context, without a story.  Consequential data based on a spurious assessment is dangerous.  However, meaning deepens as a result of context, as a result of the story behind a given moment. A dad clutching his boy.  A boundless, timeless, indescribable bond.  For it is the stories themselves that give life and meaning to numbers.

Add your thoughts below and at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/08/05/sbac-data-but-no-meaning-when-meaning-matters-most/

 

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

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]

 

Connecticut education needs clearer vision, better objectives

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.

It is time to restore the innocence of childhood by Thomas Scarice

Thomas Scarice is the town of Madison’s superintendent of schools.  This commentary piece first appeared in the CT Mirror.  You can read the original at: It is time to restore the innocence of childhood.

Just over two years ago, like most parents, my wife Kerry and I did the unthinkable.  We entered the bedroom of our then third grader, Ella, on a cold Sunday night, and tried to communicate, in age-appropriate language, the unspeakable tragedy of Sandy Hook.

We did this against our better judgment.  We did this to protect her from inadvertent comments from other children on the bus or playground.  That night, we left her room with a piece of her innocence that will never be restored.

Sometimes life crashes down on us, forcing our hand.  In our hearts, we knew that she was not ready for this information, nor could she truly comprehend it. At the time she was merely 8 years old.  However, we felt powerless, similar to the feeling while standing at the shore watching a violent surf crash just in front of you.  We felt tiny and helpless.

Moments like this happen.  But, moments like this ought to be the exception and not the rule.  As adults, we can, and should, pause to consider the moments when adults seize the innocence of childhood.  We should pause because they are counting on us to do so.

Some say the measure of a civilization is how it treats its oldest, youngest, and most vulnerable citizens. In an era of overexposed, overscheduled, overstimulated, overanxious, and overstressed children, I’d say our civilization needs to take a long look in the mirror.

As a father and an educator, I believe it is time to categorically restore childhood.  Childhood is not some mythical, romantic concept memorialized in literature and film.  Childhood is real.  The innocence of childhood is not only real, but it is fundamentally necessary.  It is the foundation of human development upon which all adult stages of development rely.

The fragile thread that runs through childhood is fraying as a result of a culture that has lost its moorings.  Wrongheaded education policies, reckless media, and pathological pressure cooker achievement environments (academic and athletic) indulge adults while leaving kids hollow and empty.

The result is an emptiness that cannot be filled by reactive therapeutic or pharmacological care.  Alas, this “race to nowhere” is littered with vain academic pursuits, anxious students, and child athletes pressed to unnaturally accelerate their development in unhealthy, harmful competitive environments.

Over the past decade, schools have deteriorated into data factories, reducing children to mere numbers, with a perverted ranking and sorting of winners and losers in high stakes testing schemes.  And now, a new test promising to revolutionize education will produce yet more meaningless data for adults starving to exploit children for self-gain, selfish career aspirations, blind ideological ploys, or for the purposes of establishing high property values on the backs of children, all the while sorting out which 8 year olds are on track to be “college and career ready”.

Even at the classroom level, children suffer from the unintended consequences of well-meaning adults unaware of the ways that children naturally develop and grow.  Frivolous homework policies invade private family time and rob children of necessary unstructured time to develop executive functioning.

Play, the natural way children learn, is reduced to filler, barely acknowledged for the critical role it fulfills in child development.  No one questions why the caged bird flies as soon as the cage door opens, nor should they question why children naturally play at a moment’s notice.

Even perhaps the most fundamental function of schools, the teaching of reading, has succumbed to the ignorance of this era.  New standards and tests with a myopic focus on text without regard for the reader (i.e. the child actually doing the reading), without regard for their interests, knowledge, and passions, will serve to further disengage children from the splendor of reading and give students more reasons to see school, and reading, as irrelevant.

With unprecedented childhood poverty rates, an explosion in the identification of attention deficit disorder, recent reports of soaring teenage suicide rates, one thing is clear: the violation of childhood knows no boundaries.

Children from all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds are victimized by adult ignorance of child development.  Sadly, those who have successfully shown the way, such as the revered Dr. James Comer of the Yale Child Study Center, no longer have the prominent seat at the table they deserve and our kids need.

We are left with a flagrant disregard for how kids naturally develop and grow, the consequences to which will have a creeping catastrophic effect.

Sometimes life does indeed force our hand.  One careless wrong turn, one fractured family, one tragic medical report, can strip a child of his or her naturally endowed childhood.  However, as adults, we are responsible for this sacred stage of development.

It is time to pause.  They are counting on us to do so.

Previous posts about Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice can be found here:

Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again.

A CT superintendent speaks: Madison’s Thomas Scarice and the Power of truth

Thomas Scarice: Superintendent of Schools and leading voice for public education (updated)

Diane Ravitch features Madison Superintendent Tom Scarice’s powerful letter on “education reform”

Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again.

Thomas Scarice, the superintendent of Madison Public Schools in Connecticut, has been identified as a “Public Education Hero” by Diane Ravitch, the nations’leading public education advocate.  Scarice has been a leading Connecticut voice against “high-stakes test-based school reform.”

A few months ago, Thomas Scarice received national attention for a letter he sent to Connecticut State Legislators explaining why these “reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research.”

His latest commentary piece, “The greatest ‘crime’ committed against the teaching profession” was featured on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post’s education blog this week.

Thomas Scarice writes,

On May 25th, 2006, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in perhaps the most high profile scandal of corruption as a consequence of high stakes measures.  Lay and Skilling fraudulently inflated the company’s stock price to meet the high stakes demands of Wall Street’s expectations.  Not only did Lay and Skilling conspire to inflate stock prices, but they also distorted standard accounting practices to solely meet targets.  The seeds of high stakes schemes yield corruption and distortion.

The Enron case does not stand alone in the history of corruption and distortion amidst high stakes indicators, such as stock prices.  As academic scholars Dr. David Berliner and Dr. Sharon Nichols demonstrate in their work, the annals of corporate history are tattered with similar cases of corruption and distortion driven by high stakes pressures.  High stakes accountability and incentive system failures, as well as blatant fraud, at Dun and Bradstreet, Qwest, the Heinz Company, and Sears auto repair shops, illustrate that such schemes inevitably bring unintended consequences.  As people, we are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the intended or unintended consequences of such actions.  As author Steven Covey has written, “When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other end.”

The ubiquity of this principle is evident in the fields of medicine, athletics, higher education, and politics.  Quite simply, as the stakes rise, so do the occurrences of corruption and distortion.  Sadly, education is not immune to this principle.  Over a decade of high stakes accountability schemes thrust upon students, teachers, and schools have yielded sordid tales of outright corruption and cheating scandals.  Although such acts of indignity garner ornate headlines and self-righteous accusations about the lack of moral character, to which there is truth, given the inescapable unintended consequences of high stakes schemes, such corrupt behaviors and distortions of a given professional practice are inevitable and of no surprise.  Yet, we march on in the high stakes test-based accountability era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

Beneath the surface of these obvious problems lies a more insidious threat to the quality of public education for all children.  This threat begins with the redefinition of a quality education and ends with a decimating blow to the professional practice of education.  While frivolous topics related to the common core are debated in the open arena, e.g. whether or not the common core is a curriculum, a redefinition of quality education has destructively taken root.  This redefinition, one that feebly defines quality education as good high stakes test scores, and quality teaching as the efforts to produce good high stakes test scores, leaves well-intended educators consequentially conflating goals with measures.  Without question, measures, qualitative and quantitative, representing a variety of indicators that mark the values of an organization, are necessary fuel for the engine of continuous improvement.  High quality tests, specifically used for the purposes for which they were designed, can and should play a productive role in this process.  But, measures are not goals.  Regrettably, just as Lay and Skilling did in bringing a multibillion dollar corporation to its knees, in this era, the shallowest of thinkers have passively accepted the paradigm that measures are goals.

And finally, we are left with the greatest crime committed against the professional practice of education as a result of the corrosive effect of the high stakes testing era.  In an effort to thrive, and perhaps, just to survive, in a redefined world of quality education, a soft, though sometimes harsh, distortion of pedagogy, has perniciously spread to classrooms, just as the Enron executives distorted sound accounting practices to meet high stakes targets.  This will indeed be our greatest regret.

Corruption and distortion as a result of high stakes schemes sealed the fate of Enron and many other organizations like it.  History will tell the story about the future of the high stakes test-based accountability era and its unintended consequences.  And again, we march on in this era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

You can read the piece on-line at the Washington Post by going to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/20/superintendent-the-greatest-crime-committed-against-the-teaching-profession/