American Federation of Teachers, Connecticut Education Assocation, Malloy, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing, Teacher Evaluations, Wendy Lecker, Wyman AFT-CT, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), CEA, Connecticut Education Assocation, Malloy, SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Teacher Evaluations, Wendy Lecker, Wyman
In a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece entitled, ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Wrong Answer For Students, Teachers, Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen correctly explains that,
[The] Smarter Balanced and other high-stakes standardized tests are not useful measures of student success — and were not designed to evaluate teachers. Smarter Balanced is an invalid, unfair and unreliable test that does not measure student growth within a school year. Smarter Balanced does not assist teachers in measuring academic growth, takes away precious instruction time and resources from teaching and learning, and is not developmentally and age-appropriate for students.
Teachers, administrators and parents want an evaluation system that develops and sustains high-quality teaching and provides teachers with more time to collaborate on best practices that result in a better outcome for all students.
But then, in a bizarre move that appears to be yet another attempt to acquiesce to Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s ongoing education reform and anti-teacher agenda, the leader of the CEA claims that although the state should not use the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC test as part of the state’s teacher evaluation program, it is okay to use the NWEA’s MAP standardized test as a teacher evaluation tool.
The CEA’s President notes,
Teachers are evaluated appropriately by measurable results using:
Standardized progress monitoring tests like NWEA or STAR.
Progress on student performance rubrics tied to external standards in their evaluations.
District- and department-designed common assessments
When developed correctly, student performance rubrics and district and department designed common assessments can be useful tools when it comes to evaluating and improving teacher performance.
However, standardized tests like the SBAC or NWEA’s MAP are inherently unfair and inappropriate for use as part of a teacher evaluation system. Period. End of Story.
Education Advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, addressed this very point when she recently published, Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker.
One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.
Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.
Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.
If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.
As for the claim that the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) is a valid teacher evaluation tool, Wendy Lecker explains,
The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.
There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.
The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.
The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”
The truth is that the NWEA’s MAP standardized test is just as inappropriate a tool to evaluate teachers as is the SBAC and the unions that represent teachers have a fundamental obligation to ensure that public policy makers understand what are and what are not valid techniques for determining how well an individual teacher is doing in the classroom.
The CEA’s latest move to condemn the SBAC but endorse the MAP is an uncomfortable reminder that, over the past six years, teachers and other public employees have watched as their union leaders have engaged in an almost schizophrenic approach when it comes to dealing with Governor Malloy’s bully, while standing up for their members.
Wanting to be perceived as “insiders” for the purpose of “getting into the rooms of power,” some union leaders have consistently dismissed or tried to explain away Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman’s ongoing anti-teacher, anti-public employee agenda.
On the other hand, recognizing that their membership is getting angrier and angrier and that the Malloy/Wyman agenda is undermining public education, public services and is translating into public employee layoffs, some of these same unions have taken to running television advertisements urging citizens to stand up for the public servants who educate our children, provide critically important support for those in need and ensure that government programs are available to the people of Connecticut.
The CEA’s initial approach to the teacher evaluation issue was a case study in the strategy of trying to get-along to go-along. But, after failing to successfully fight off Malloy’s inappropriate and unfair teacher evaluation initiative, the union changed course this past January.
As the January 5, 2016 Wait What? post, 4 years late[r] – The Connecticut Education Association may finally be standing up against Malloy and Wyman on their teacher evaluation disaster, reported,
According to a press advisory issued earlier today, the Connecticut Education Association will hold a press conference at 11am at the Legislative Office Building on Thursday, January 7, 2016 to call on Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to “join with the majority of states in the U.S. that have replaced the federally-sponsored SBAC or PARCC tests with better, more authentic and effective assessment programs.”
If the announcement is as impressive as suggested, it would mean that the leadership of Connecticut’s teacher unions have finally moved 180 degrees from the position they held on January 25, 2012 when the CEA and AFT joined with the other members of Governor Malloy’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) to approve the so-called “teacher evaluation framework” that inappropriately and unfairly mandates that student’s standardized test scores be a major factor in the teacher evaluation process.
In addition to reversing their position on the SBAC test, the CEA and AFT-CT have been working extremely hard to get the Connecticut General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 380 which would prohibit the state from using the results from the Connecticut’s Mastery Testing program in the state’s teacher evaluation program – a proposal that Malloy and his education reform allies strongly oppose.
And yet, as the CEA seriously – and finally – engages on this vital issue, along comes the claim that the NWEA MAP test is a valid mechanism for evaluating teachers – a claim that may please Governor Malloy and his anti-teacher friends but is absolutely and completely out of line with the academic evidence and good public policy.
Connecticut can and should have a strong and effective teacher evaluation system, but using standardized test results to evaluate teachers has no place in such a system.
It does a tremendous disservice for the CEA to suggest otherwise.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Charter Schools, ConnCAN, Erik Clemons, Malloy, State Board of Education, Wendy Lecker Achievement First Inc., Charter Schools, ConnCAN, Erik Clemons, Malloy, State Board of Education, Wendy Lecker
The Connecticut House of Representatives will be meeting tomorrow – Wednesday, March 16, 2016. On their agenda is a vote to confirm Erik Clemons, Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent nominee for a position on the State Board of Education.
When Governor Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education he failed to reveal that Clemons was a founding member of a new charter school in New Haven or that he served, up until recently, on the Board of another New Haven charter school, this one owned by Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain that operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. When Clemons left the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors he was replaced by an aide that works for Clemons’ company.
In addition, Malloy appears to have intentionally kept secret the fact that Erik Clemons’ company received a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded by the State Department of Education, the very board that Malloy has appointed him to serve on. The State Board of Education is required to monitor this contract and could continue to fund it in the years ahead.
As reported in previous Wait, What? articles, this incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.
The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT). Erik Clemmons is the founding executive of ConnCAT and his compensation package is well in excess of $100,000 a year.
The Turnaround Plan read;
“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”
The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”
As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”
A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.
This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.
However the ethical issues challenging Erik Clemons ability to serve on the State Board of Education go well beyond the no-bid contract that remains under the purview of the State Board.
Considering Clemons’ close relationship with the charter school industry, he shouldn’t be voting on any issue related to the oversight and funding of charter schools in Connecticut.
Furthermore, since the “Turnaround School” process was manipulated to grant Clemons a no-bid contract, he certainly shouldn’t be voting on any turnaround plans for any schools in New Haven or any other city.
Considering his company’s contract with the New Haven Public Schools will depend on adequate funding from the State of Connecticut, Clemons shouldn’t be voting on any issue that will provide New Haven schools with funding.
In Malloy’ world of “power politics,” it may be understandable that he wants to reward the charter school industry and its lobbying front group, ConnCAN, but the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Connecticut deserve better.
With the Connecticut General Assembly voting on Mr. Clemons’ appointment as early as tomorrow, the question is whether state legislators will stand with their constituents by supporting proper ethical standards for elected or appointed officials or will they throw ethics aside and vote in favor of Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education?
More about this issue can be found in the following articles, a number of them written or co-written with fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker.
Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)
CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)
It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)
Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)
New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)
Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)
Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), Education Reform, Joseph Cirasuolo, Wendy Lecker CAPSS, Corporate Education Reform Industry, Joseph Cirasuolo, Personalized Learning, Wedny
No, it’s not a headline from the satirical Internet website known as “The Onion.”
It is an approach to public education that is being pushed by the Corporate Education Reform Industry and those that believe that one of the best ways to improve “educational achievement” is to have the nation’s public school children spend less time learning with teachers and more time receiving “personalized instruction” from computer programs.
Among the benefits, they claim, is that school districts could reduce the high cost of teachers.
Their proposal will also provide computer companies, software companies, testing companies and educational consulting companies with an even greater share of the taxpayer funds being spent on public education.
Perhaps they call it a “win-win” scenario.
Rather than recognize that real teachers, with the appropriate support, have always been and always will be the best equipped to help and support each and every child in their classroom, the proponents of “personalized learning” claim that computers can complete the task of personalizing “learning” more efficiently and effectively than a teacher ever can.
Not satisfied with turning public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories, those who would profit from the so-called “personalized learning” approach, and those who support their absurd initiative are now pushing to bring this concept to Connecticut’s schools.
A Wait, What? article explored the issue earlier this year in an article entitled, When THEY say “personalized learning” it is time to be afraid, very afraid.
Now, in her latest commentary piece in the Stamford Advocate entitled, Removing humans from education, Connecticut public education advocate and Hearst Media columnist Wendy Lecker focuses on the extremely troubling “education philosophy” that is being advocated by the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents and its Executive Director, Joseph Cirasuolo,
The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) is an organization that is supposed to be representing local public school superintendents and other key administrators. Responsible for advocating on behalf of school superintendents, and assisting with their professional development needs, the organization’s primary source of funding comes from the dues that local school districts pay so that their superintendents, assistant superintendents and other “central office administrative personnel” can be part of CAPSS.
For those concerned about the future of public education in Connecticut, Wendy Lecker’s latest is a “MUST READ” article. As you read it, remember that it is your local tax dollars that are helping to fund CAPSS’ lobbying effort for this nightmare of a concept.
Removing humans from education (By Wendy Lecker)
The late education commentator Gerald Bracey once observed that technology “permits us now to do in nanoseconds things we shouldn’t be doing at all.” Nowhere is this observation more true than in the agenda of Connecticut’s superintendents’ association, CAPSS; specifically its promotion of a concept called “personalized learning.”
“Personalized learning” is an ill-defined term popular in the education reform world meaning different things to different advocates. The common thread is a heavy reliance on computers to teach children.
In CAPSS’ incoherent version, schools will no longer be age-graded, students will design their own curricula and progress when they develop “competencies” rather than completing a school year. Rather than being grouped according to age, students will be grouped according to “mastery.” In order to progress to the next level, children will have to undergo four standardized tests a year.
Of course, any system that depends on standardized tests for advancement cannot be “personalized.” In addition, the CAPSS plan institutionalizes tracking; a harmful educational practice rejected by the Connecticut State Board of Education. Worse still, CAPSS’ version of tracking, where there is no age-grading, would humiliate a student who fares poorly on standardized tests by grouping her with children years younger than she.
The CAPSS muddled vision also proposes students not necessarily learn in school, meaning that much learning will be conducted online; a method with little evidence of success.
This reliance on online learning is also troubling in light of research showing that reading online may negatively affect brain development. Online reading promotes superficial, non-linear reading which discourages sustained attention and intellectual effort. By contrast deep reading, a skill developed by reading paper text, promotes more profound thought and analysis. Tufts reading and child development expert Maryanne Wolf is among those who raise concerns about emphasizing learning on a computer before rigorous research tells us how online learning may change brain circuitry. Studies already demonstrate that heavy use of technology in school worsens academic outcomes.
CAPSS’ bizarre proposal for schools raises an important question: What should “personalized learning” mean?
If we are concerned with our children’s development into healthy responsible citizens, then personalization should mean that schools should focus on relationships — with humans, not computers. Relationships with teachers and other students are the key to keeping students engaged and in school. A longitudinal study of diverse California high schools confirmed previous research that students who feel connected to their teachers improve academically, engage in less risky behavior, and are more likely to complete high school.
Another recent study comparing “personalized learning” to a control group in traditional schools found that students in the control group “reported greater enjoyment and comfort in school, and felt their out-of-school work was more useful and connected to their in-school learning.” As Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw recently observed in the New York Times, “after 30 years as an educator, I am convinced that the ideal experience for a student is a small class that fosters personal interaction with a dedicated instructor.”
The need for human interaction to promote effective learning is rooted in brain development. As neuroscience expert Adele Diamond has written, the brain does not recognize a sharp division between cognitive, motor and emotional functioning. Thus, research has shown that feelings of social isolation impair reasoning, decision-making, selective attention in the face of distraction and decreases persistence on difficult problems.
The goal of public education, to develop responsible and productive citizens, also demands a focus on human interaction. If we want to develop into adults who cooperate with others in civilized society, they must practice as children in a classroom with peers. If a child spends his time progressing on isolated tasks in a “self-designed curriculum,” how will he fare with a lab partner in college, in a class discussion, or when he tries to navigate the workplace?
A truly “personalized” education would ensure small classes with supports for every need; and a variety of subjects to develop students’ interests as well as their cognitive, motor and social capabilities.
Dr. Diamond recounted the remark by a prominent psychologist to those with a one-sided view of development. He inquired, “which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?”
Our children are complex, multi-dimensional beings who need deep and rich experiences to develop properly. They are not characters in a video game who just need enough points to jump to the next level. Anyone who cares about healthy child development should reject CAPSS’ narrow and de-personalized vision of learning.
You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s column where it was first published at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Removing-humans-from-education-6842720.php
Education Reform, Malloy, SAT, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing, Wendy Lecker, Wyman Corporate Education Reform Industry, Malloy, SAT, SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing, Wyman
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and his State Department of Education are engaged in an unethical effort to spin their new “mandate” that every Connecticut High School Junior (11th grader) MUST take the NEW SAT test on March 2, 2016.
Driven by their support for the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and their desire to use the test scores to rate students and evaluate teachers, the state is on a mission.
However, parents, students, teachers and the public should be aware that their effort is a disgrace and that their lies will not go unchallenged.
To repeat a common refrain here at Wait, What? – There is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prohibits parents from opting their children out of the unfair, discriminatory and inappropriate Common Core testing program – and that includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests for grades 3-8 and the new SAT for grade 11.
Even Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman has admitted to parents that they have the right to opt their children out of the test, although she remains silent in public about this fundamental issue.
Local school superintendents and school administrators also know the truth. If they are telling students and parents that children must take the SBAC or SAT in order to graduate or move on to the next grade they are lying!
The SBAC test is designed to fail students, in part because it includes content that the majority of students have not be taught. Proponents of the NEW SAT claim that it too is aligned to the Common Core, but it isn’t even being released until March 2016 so those Connecticut students who do take it on March 2, 2016 are nothing short of guinea pigs for the corporate testing industry.
It is parents – not the state – that have the inalienable right to decide whether their child should take a test that is designed to label tens of thousands of students as failures when they are not failing by any honest definition of that word.
My next Wait, What? column here will be entitled;
“Why my daughter will not be taking the NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016.”
As a prerequisite to that piece and to better understand the under-handed action that is being taken by the Malloy administration, please take the time to read fellow education advocate Wendy Lecker’s expose entitled, The lies in the new SAT.
This article was first published in this past weekend’s Stamford Advocate.
Wendy Lecker writes;
Connecticut’s political and educational leaders have sold us a bill of goods with the new SAT. Last spring the legislature and the State Board of Education hastily decided to replace the 11th-grade SBAC with the newly designed SAT. The move was in response to outcry about the invalidity of the SBAC and about the addition of another standardized test for juniors.
As I wrote previously (http://bit.ly/1Kv8TXk), our leaders did not wait for the SAT to be validated, nor did they validate any accommodations that English Language Learners (ELL) or students with disabilities would need.
Instead, they misrepresented the facts to parents and students.
In December, the State Department of Education (SDE) sent districts a sample letter intended for parents. In it, SDE claimed that “(b) y adopting the SAT, we are eliminating duplicate testing.”
That assertion is false for many Connecticut students and SDE knew that when it wrote this letter. In a separate document sent at the same time but addressed to district leaders, not parents, SDE acknowledged that the vast majority of ELL students taking the SAT with accommodations will be unable to report their scores to colleges, because the College Board does not accept ELL accommodations. Similarly, many students with disabilities using accommodations will not be able to report scores either, as the College Board has more stringent criteria for disability accommodations. For those students, the SAT will only count for state accountability purposes.
In other words, for thousands of students, the state-mandated SAT will not count for college applications and they will have to take another test — either the SAT or ACT without accommodations.
Our state leaders also misled us by claiming that the new SAT is appropriate as an accountability exam aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements. Connecticut law requires that, for the current graduating class until the class of 2020, students must complete three credits of mathematics. Algebra II is not required nor is trigonometry or precalculus. Beginning with the class of 2021, the law specifies that students must take Algebra I and geometry, and either Algebra II or probability and statistics. Algebra II is not a requirement and trigonometry and precalculus are not even mentioned.
Yet the new SAT has a significant amount of Algebra II, and has trigonometry and precalculus. Almost half the math SAT is composed of “advanced math” and “additional topics” both of which have these advanced subjects. By contrast, there is very little geometry.
The new SAT is not aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements. Moreover, choosing this test sets students who have not taken Algebra II before 11th grade up for failure, along with their districts.
The SAT is designed to be a test with winners and losers. It is a comparative, scaled test. As one top SAT tutor recently wrote to the Business Insider, “(i) f everyone got a 1,600, there would be no point to this test at all. This test is designed to show colleges who is better and who is worse — not who is good.” A test with this goal should not be used as an accountability test, which is supposed to confirm who has met state academic goals for high school — i.e. who is “good.”
The final lie our state leaders are selling is that the new SAT will tell us who is ready for college success. As I have written before, the evidence — something our leaders rarely examine — shows that the best predictor of college cumulative GPA and graduation, i.e. college success, is the high school GPA. This is true over time, across the entire nation, in all types of colleges and universities. By contrast neither the SAT nor the ACT is a good predictor of college success.
The same top SAT tutor notes that the College Board’s claim that the new SAT will accurately reflect the demands of the American high school curriculum has a major flaw, namely “this is exactly what they said about the last version that they launched”— the one the College Board has now abandoned. He declared that anyone who takes the new SAT is merely “a guinea pig for the College Board’s marketing machine.” He recommends that none of his students take the new SAT until other guinea pigs prove its validity.
Those other guinea pigs? Connecticut’s students, thanks to our political leaders, who served them up merely to satisfy College Board’s data needs. It is time that parents demand that leaders make education policy that is in the best interests of students, not testing companies.
You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-lies-in-the-new-SAT-6777613.php
Wendy Lecker is absolutely right!
Parents and students;
Do not be bullied by the Malloy administration or your local school administrators.
If our other elected officials, state legislators and board of education members, were really committed to the well-being of the parents, students, teachers and residents of their communities they would be taking action – now – to stop this abuse of power.
For more about the NEW SAT read;
Once again Connecticut elected officials are wrong to mandate the SAT for all 11th graders
More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT
Big Changes with the SAT and why juniors should take the old SAT at least once before March 2016
PSAT score delay spells more bad news for Connecticut SAT mandate
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Education Funding, George Jepsen, Malloy, Wendy Lecker, Wyman CCJEF, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], ECS, George Jepsen, Malloy, school funding, Wyman
As Connecticut education advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, reports in her latest commentary piece in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut’s children finally get day in court.
Of the many disappointments that have arisen since Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman were sworn in to office in January 2011, few, if any, is greater than their immoral efforts to dismiss, derail and delay what may be the most important Connecticut court case in our lifetime – the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit.
The truth is that Connecticut’s school funding formula is not only illegal, it is unconstitutional.
Inadequate funding is robbing Connecticut’s public schoolchildren of their constitutional right to a quality education, while placing an unfair burden on Connecticut’s local property taxpayers.
A new funding formula is needed. But Connecticut politicians lack the will to adopt one, so the responsibility to act has fallen on the courts.
Despite having been supporters of the lawsuits prior to taking office, Malloy, Wyman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen have wasted five years and massive amounts of taxpayer funds trying to stop Connecticut’s judicial branch from even hearing the critically important court case.
As mayor of Stamford, Dan Malloy was actually one of the original sponsors and plaintiffs of the CCJEF V. Rell School Funding lawsuit.
Running for office in 2010, Dan Malloy bragged about his role in pushing the CCJEF lawsuit, telling the Hartford Courant on March 23, 2010;
“I think in the long run it is very important to the state of Connecticut,” said Malloy, who was among the group that launched the coalition that brought the lawsuit. “I began these efforts years ago because I firmly believed that the state was not honoring its constitutional requirement and the funding formula for education in poor and urban communities was not fair to those communities.”
Nancy Wyman and George Jepsen were also strong advocates for addressing Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding system.
And then, when they were finally in a position to make a real difference, these three “leaders” turned their backs on Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, schools and taxpayers.
While the Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen were able to delay the day of reckoning, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell school funding lawsuit is finally set to begin on January 12, 2016 in a Hartford courtroom.
Wendy Lecker explains;
On Jan. 12, Connecticut’s school funding trial, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell, will finally begin. The plaintiffs include a statewide coalition of parents, municipalities, local boards of education, and organizations, and individual parents in districts across the state. They began the case in 2005. Since then, the state has waged a costly, failed crusade to keep the plaintiffs from having their day in court.
The plaintiffs claim that the state’s flawed school funding system provides inadequate resources to schools, thereby depriving Connecticut’s public school children of their rights under the Education Article of Connecticut’s constitution.
Under Connecticut’s Constitution, the state is responsible for providing children with a “suitable” public education. In 2010, when Connecticut’s Supreme Court denied the state’s first attempt to dismiss the case, it defined a “suitable” education as one that enables graduates to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment, or progress to higher education. The court ruled that the state must provide sufficient resources to enable students to obtain this level of education.
The CCJEF plaintiffs contend that for children to have a constitutionally “suitable” education, schools must have certain essential resources:
- high quality preschool;
- appropriate class size;
- programs and services for at-risk students;
- high quality administrators and teachers;
- modern and adequate library facilities;
- modern technology and appropriate instruction;
- an adequate number of hours of instruction;
- a rigorous curriculum with a wide breadth of courses;
- modern and appropriate textbooks;
- a healthy, safe, well-maintained school environment conducive to learning;
- adequate special needs services;
- appropriate career and academic counseling; and
- suitably run extra-curricular activities
This list of essential resources is consistent with what courts across the nation deem necessary for a constitutionally adequate education.
In the state’s last attempt to dismiss the case, in 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration claimed that its 2012 reforms, including yearly common core standardized testing of students, evaluating teachers by students’ standardized test scores and a system of ranking, shaming and punishing districts with low test scores, would solve all the state’s education woes.
This failed tactic was attempted by states in other school funding cases, such as Kansas. The Kansas court declared that relying on similar unproven reforms rather than adequate funding was “experimenting with our children (who) have no recourse from a failure of the experiment.”
The CCJEF court ruled that there is no evidence that Malloy’s reforms would redress the constitutional inadequacies and ordered that the state prove it at trial.
The state has known all along that the plaintiffs are right — that schools need the essential resources the CCJEF plaintiffs demand. In 2005, Connecticut’s top education official, Commissioner Betty Sternberg, wrote to then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and told her so.
In the letter, Commissioner Sternberg requested permission to continue testing children only in grades 4,6, 8 and 10. She stated that adding standardized tests in the other grades “will cost millions of dollars and will tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students’ achievement and what we must do to improve it.”
Sternberg maintained that high-needs schools needed support to improve and set forth proven strategies to improve education, including:
- High quality preschool;
- School based health centers/family resource centers;
- Small class size;
- Adequate support staff, such as nurses, social workers, psychologists, reading specialists and guidance counselors;
- Incentives to retain experienced teachers;
- Adequate technology, curriculum, supplies and professional development;
- Adequate learning time;
- Adequate space for learning.
In 2005, Connecticut’s top education official enumerated almost the exact same list of resources that the CCJEF plaintiffs seek. Moreover, Commissioner Sternberg maintained that these resources “are not a buffet,” but rather a “full-course meal.” “If we want to see significant improvement in student achievement, all of these areas should move ahead in concert,” she wrote.
Despite this admission by the state that schools need these essential resources, the state did nothing over the past 10 years to try to ensure every Connecticut school be properly equipped. Rather, the state chose to waste millions of taxpayer dollars in a futile attempt to keep the facts about its failure to fund schools from coming out in court. During that time, a generation of Connecticut children passed through the educational system deprived of basic educational resources they needed to succeed in school and life.
The governor, legislature and state education officials knowingly and repeatedly disregarded their duty to our children. One hopes that when the facts finally emerge, the court will grant our children the justice Connecticut politicians consistently denied them.
You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s column which first appeared in the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Connecticut-s-children-finally-6745644.php
Connecticut Education Assocation, Malloy, Teacher Evaluations, Wendy Lecker, Wyman CEA, Malloy, Teacher Evaluations, Wendy Lecker, Wyman
In her commentary piece last week, public education advocate Wendy Lecker returned to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s unfair, inappropriate and fundamentally flawed teacher evaluation system. Her article, entitled Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul, first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.
While Wendy Lecker has pounded away about the problems associated with Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system for four years, the good news is that it seems that some of the power-elite are finally listening.
Having helped craft and usher in the absurd and destructive teacher evaluation system, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) will be holding a press conference later today, January 7, 2016, in which they will apparently stand up for Connecticut educators and take a strong stand against Malloy and Wyman’s anti-teacher and anti-public school, teacher evaluation program.
The problem with the existing teacher evaluation system could not be any clearer. As Wendy Lecker explains – Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul;
With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system.
In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating.
Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.
Connecticut’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (“PEAC”), the body that oversees the teacher and principal evaluation system, will next meet in January. Since PEAC last met, the notion that one can rate teacher’s effectiveness based on student standardized test scores has been thoroughly debunked.
As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors. A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid.
Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches. They cannot be jury-rigged after the fact to be.
In light of the ESSA, some PEAC members, notably the Connecticut Education Association, now indicate they would advocate decoupling statewide standardized tests from evaluations. Indeed, why continue such a demonstrably invalid practice?
Other members, including Connecticut’s superintendents’ and boards of education associations (CAPSS and CABE), maintain that standardized test scores must still be included because they show “student achievement growth.”
What does that mean?
Learning is a complex process. Even if one focuses only on cognitive skills, different grades teach different content and different skills. Each standardized test measures skills that supposedly correspond to that grade level. Comparing one grade level test to another is comparing apples to oranges.
As I wrote in an earlier column (bit.ly/1sOOxFc), in constructing “growth scales” for standardized tests, statisticians make a fictional assumption that learning in math and reading is linear and can actually be compared from year to year. To make this work, they can only focus on a limited universe of skills that might be subject to such a rough comparison.
Measuring growth through standardized tests is, at best, looking at a tiny fraction of cognitive skills.
When we construct an evaluation system based on that tiny universe of disjointed skills, all the components in that system will be equally narrow. Any observations of and conclusions about teachers will center only on how those teachers are teaching those particular skills.
Why do we want to know so little about a teacher?
I want much more for my son. I want my son’s teachers to help him learn skills, but I also want them to help him apply those skills to other subjects and in life. I want them to help him make sense of the world. I want them to help him ask better questions, so he can become a more critical thinker. I want them to help him be a better member of his school community so he can learn to become a good citizen. I want teachers who can assess my child with tools they developed based on their teaching.
None of these teaching skills can be measured with a test.
However test scores are simple, readily available measures; so policy-makers embrace them, even when they are inappropriate.
Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t PEAC start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?
Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.
The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers.
Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students. All eyes will be on the PEAC members to see if they have the courage and wisdom to do so.
For more about Connecticut’s flawed teacher evaluation policies check out the following Wait, What? posts;
Malloy’s Teacher evaluation system is fundamentally and fatally flawed
Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan – even worse than we thought
Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured
Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program
Will Malloy decouple Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system from the unfair Common Core SBAC Test?
Teacher Evaluations At The Heart Of Education Reform Are Flawed (By Jonathan Kantrowitz)
Evaluate Teachers based on Standardized Test Scores? Can an “education reformer” please answer the following question?
Teacher Evaluation Program: Malloy, Pryor and General Assembly slam door on a locally developed plans
Test Scores and Teacher Evaluations – But Wait – That’s Like Comparing Apples and Tomatoes
Common Core, Education Reform, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Wendy Lecker Common Core, Corporate Education Reform Industry, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Wendy Lecker
The Corporate Education Reform Industry and its allies say the Common Core, Common Core testing mania and their agenda to privatize public education in the United States is necessary in order to ensure children are college and career ready.
However, as parents, students, teachers and the public are learning, the effort to disrupt and undermine public schools is having a very negative impact on the quality of education many students are receiving.
In her latest column in the Stamford Advocate, fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the notion that the “new” math being pushed by those focused on selling new textbooks, computer programs and curriculum is pushing children in the wrong direction.
Wendy Lecker writes;
At parents’ night this fall, a high school math teacher I know begged parents to teach their children long division “the old-fashioned way.” She explained that the new way students had learned long division impedes their ability to understand algebraic factoring. She lamented that students hadn’t been taught certain rote skills, like multiplication tables, that would enable them to perform more complex math operations efficiently.
It turns out that brain science supports this math teacher’s impressions. Rote learning and memorization at an early age are critical in developing math skills.
A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.
The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.
The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.
Those who developed the Common Core State Standards clearly ignored brain research in math, as they did in reading (http://bit.ly/1IeIgKm); The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding at every phase of math instruction. So, even young children are required not only to conduct a simple math procedure, but to also explain and justify every answer.
As education professor Katherine Beals and math teacher Barry Garelick wrote recently in the Atlantic, when certain mathematical procedures become automatic, it frees up the brain to progress to more difficult math concepts. Forcing children to explain every simple procedure distracts students from this vital transition. In a Wall Street Journal article last year, engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained that much like focusing on every aspect of a golf swing impedes the development of the swing, forcing children to stop and continually prove their understanding can actually impede their understanding. Mandatory explaining of math impedes the doing of math. The Stanford brain study indicates that it also inhibits brain development.
Moreover, as Beals and Garelick point out, some students, particularly English Language Learners and those on the autism spectrum, cannot easily explain their answers, even though they understand the concept and procedure. Thus these students would be penalized even though they may be strong math students.
Professor Oakley noted that just because a student understands a concept does not mean that she has mastered it. Expertise comes with repetition. True mastery, she explains, is the ability to pull out a chunk of knowledge quickly and use it. And expertise builds profound conceptual understanding, not the reverse.
Maybe the fad to force kids to explain every simple math procedure grew out of our selfie and Facebook culture; that tendency to document every mundane life experience. It certainly did not emanate from a true understanding or concern for how math skills develop.
Beals and Garelick observe that it is as if the architects of the Common Core thought that if students just act like mathematicians, they would magically become them. As they note, this approach may be an interesting behavioral experiment, but it is not mathematical development.
The goal of public education is to provide children with an education, not to use children as unwitting subjects in experiments. Our children only go through school once. Their brains only develop once. To jeopardize their growth because of some unfounded idea a policy maker thought might be neat is criminal.
Our children would be best served if politicians leave the experimenting to scientists, then pay attention to the findings.
Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.
You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s latest column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Leaving-math-standards-to-6660194.php
Common Core, Opt-Out, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing, Vermont, Wendy Lecker Common Core, opt out, SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Vermont, Wendy Lecker
Yesterday the Vermont State Board of Education approved a letter that is being sent out to parents of public school students in that state. Their honest and hard-hitting assessment that the Common Core SBAC test inappropriately labels children as failures and undermines public education is a message that all children, parents, teachers and policymakers need to hear. By telling the truth and essentially trashing the SBAC test results, the Vermont Board is a shining example that we can fight back against the Corporate Education Reform Industry and its political allies. – Jonathan Pelto
A MUST READ NEWS FLASH – From fellow Connecticut public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker;
“Do not let the results wrongly discourage your child from pursuing his or her talents, ambitions, hopes or dreams.
These tests are based on a narrow definition of “college and career ready.” In truth, there are many different careers and colleges, and there are just as many different definitions of essential skills. In fact, many (if not most) successful adults fail to score well on standardized tests. If your child’s scores show that they are not yet proficient, this does not mean that they are not doing well or will not do well in the future.” – Vermont State Board of Education 11-4-2015
Wendy Lecker explains,
Once again, Vermont’s education officials are leading the way and, frankly, putting all other education officials, state and federal, to shame. These leaders understand the proper place standardized tests should occupy in the educational landscape, and they understand the purpose of education.
With the release of the 2015 test scores, Vermont’s State Board, of which Education Secretary, Rebecca Holcombe, is a member, issued a letter essentially telling parents that tests have limited value in describing the education their children are receiving or the type of students they are.
Here is the letter. It should be sent to every parent and guardian across the country: More
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne Kaplan DeVries, Education Funding, Jepsen, Malloy, Nancy Wyman, School Funding/ECS, Wendy Lecker CCJEF v. Rell, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne Kaplan deVries, ECS Formula, Jepsen, Malloy, Nancy Wyman, Wendy Lecker
Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, a dear friend and extraordinarily powerful champion for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools died on Sunday after a battle with cancer.
Although her legacy is yet to be fully written and those who will benefit the most from her incredible work may never know her name, as the leading force behind the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne has been and will remain the most vital force behind the historic effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public schools are adequately and fairly funded and that every Connecticut child is provided with the education, knowledge and skills they need to live more fulfilling lives.
J.R.R. Tolkien whose work is categorized as fiction rather than non-fiction, and therefore cast aside by the Common Core and Common Cores testing enthusiasts wisely noted that,
“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit” – J.R.R. Tolkien
With that knowledge and in that light there are few who have been as courageous and dedicated as Diane Kaplan deVries and fewer still whose lifetime of work has been as important to the future of our children.
Incredible in life, perhaps the most disturbing truth of all about Diane Kaplan Devries’ work is the uncomfortable fact that so many elected officials, often led by so-called Democrats, immorally and unethically sought to throw up barriers to stop Diane’s critical effort to make sure that Connecticut’s children got the education they needed, while ensuring that Connecticut’s middle income property taxpayers were treated more fairly.
It was a topic that many education advocates including Wendy Lecker and I wrote about often. To fully understand the meaning of losing Diane Kaplan DeVries and the way in which some worked so hard to undermined her efforts, I respectfully request that you click on the links and read some of the following articles;
Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime; (2/7/2012)
It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it (by Wendy Lecker) (3/23/13)
The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history (4/5/2013)
The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen (9/16/2013)
Malloy can tell it to the judge (By Wendy Lecker) (12/14/2013)
Whatever you do, don’t mention school funding and the school funding lawsuit! (1/15/2014)
NEWS FLASH: Kids win, Malloy/Jepsen lose as judge rules school funding trial to begin this summer (1/16/2014)
As CCJEF (www.ccjef.org) reported in the press released that they issued last Monday night,
For the past 17 years Dianne has been the leading champion in the battle to force long-needed school finance reform here in Connecticut. Here dedication to overturning Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula began with the case of Johnson V. Rowland which lasted from 1998 to 2003.
When that case was dropped, Diane built a much larger statewide coalition that led to the filing of the CCJEF V. Rell lawsuit. In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that “under the education clause of the state constitution, public school children are entitled not just to a free and equal education but also to an adequate (quality) education, and the state must pay for it.” Although the court’s determination remains unfulfilled five years later, the finding was the turning point in how Connecticut will fund its schools.
While Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, upon being sworn in as Governor Dannel Malloy, the self-described education proponent completely reversed his position and has spent that last five years wasting precious time and taxpayer funds in his concerted effort o delay, derail and destroy what is probably the most important Connecticut legal case in our lifetimes.
But despite Malloy’s effort and that of his administration and other key Democrats, the CCJEF v. Rell will come to trial in January 2015 in Hartford Superior Court.
In the CCJEF press release, Herbert C. Rosenthal, the CCJEF President said,
“Dianne Kaplan deVries was a tireless advocate for the rights of all Connecticut public schoolchildren — regardless of economic background, race or town of residence — to receive the quality education our state constitution promises and requires. The passion, intelligence and commitment that Dianne brought to educational equity and adequacy is unsurpassed. Our friend and colleague will be sorely missed. In this sad time, all of us in CCJEF rededicate ourselves to ensuring that her dream of equal educational opportunity is realized.”
And CCJEF consultant and fellow education advocate James J. Finley added,
“Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries will be in the forefront when the history of equal educational opportunity in Connecticut is written. At great personal sacrifice, Dianne dedicated over 17 years of her life to righting the wrongs of our state’s PK-12 education finance system. It is because of her singular and indefatigable efforts that the work of CCJEF will continue.”
Additional media reports on losing Diane can be found in the following recent news stories.
CT Newsjunkie – School Funding Advocate Dianne Kaplan deVries Dies of Cancer
Hartford Courant – Education Activists Say Director’s Death Won’t Stop Funding Lawsuit
CT Mirror – Kaplan deVries, leader of school-funding coalition, dies
Education Reform, Jonathan Sackler, Malloy, SFER, Wendy Lecker Corporate Education Reform Industry, Jonathan Sackler, Malloy, SFER, Students for Education Reform, Wendy Lecker
In a commentary piece entitled Heeding the lessons of teenagers, fellow Education Advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker used her latest article in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets to remind us that when it comes to the so-called “education reform” agenda it is critically important that student voices be heard above the din of politics and the greed of the corporate education reform industry.
The Corporate Education Reformers and their allies in the charter school industry are so desperate to hijack the voices of public schools students that they actually create front groups with names like Students For Education Reform.
Calling themselves SFER, the group claims to be a “student run” organization but turns to the power elite for money and guidance. An early member of the SFER Board of Directors was none other than Connecticut’s own Jonathan Sackler, the man behind the education reform groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN, as well as a key funder in the large charter school chain, Achievement First, Inc. Sacker is also among the largest funders of Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election.
Present members of SFER’s Board of Directors includes a Chief Growth Officer from the gigantic KIPP charter school chain, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, a major hedge fund, the Deputy General Counsel of Unilever, the President of the major education reform consulting company called Mass Insight Education, that got a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration, and the list goes on.
Although Students For Education Reform has yet to file their IRS forms for this past tax year, in their first three years of business the group collected at least $6 million from corporate education reform groups, including a major start up grant form Democrats For Education Reform, an anti-union, anti-teacher, pro-charter group that have run attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups speaking out for the rights of teachers and students.
Claiming to have chapters on 100 college campuses, SFER is among the organizations that joined in the record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform agenda.
In 2012 the group dropped $15,000 in support of a pro-Malloy student rally. However, following an ethics complaint it was later revealed that the money appeared to actually come from StudentsFirst, a national corporate education reform group that was headed, at the time, by Michelle Rhee.
By comparison there are the very real and very genuine voices of students, students who aren’t being paid to parrot the phrases of corporate executives like Jonathan Sackler.
And when you listen to real students, you hear a very different set of opinions and concerns.
As Wendy Lecker writes;
Although reformers and pundits like to pretend the interests of teachers are at odds with children’s best interests, those who know understand that their interests are aligned. Teachers know teaching conditions are learning conditions. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for, among other things, smaller class size, art, music and wraparound services for children. In their recent victorious strike, Seattle teachers won mandatory recess for elementary school children.
Students also know that they and teachers want the same things. A fine example is the recent, unprecedented filing by Houston high school students of an amicus brief in the Texas school funding case now on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.
In researching their brief, written entirely by them, the students visited schools across Houston, and spoke to students, teachers and administrators. They also drew on their own experience. As they point out, by the time they graduate, they will have spent 16,000 hours in public school. These kids are the experts.
Their research and experience led them to the same conclusions that courts across the country found: Schools need certain essential resources for kids to succeed, including: small class size, teacher training and support, extra-curricular activities and a rich curriculum.
The students stressed the need for small class size to help English Language Learners (“ELL”), a large population in Texas. The authors point out that individualized attention is necessary because for these students, “every class is a language class.”
Small class size is vital for all students. The authors remark that in large classes, teachers cannot provide feedback that is essential so students learn from their mistakes. As one student said, “it’s demotivating for us to spend hours on an assignment knowing that the teacher can only afford to spend a few minutes (if even that) checking for completion before putting a grade on it. It’s also demotivating for teachers to spend hours grading assignments that don’t require any of their expertise.”
Small class size is also essential to develop a personal bond with a teacher. This need is especially strong for disadvantaged students who face trauma in their daily lives. The personal connection prevents “children from falling through the cracks.”
The students note that private schools advertise their small classes. “This factor is a selling point for well-off parents who want the best for their kids, but isn’t available for those less fortunate.”
The authors stress that they need trained teachers, not novices. They show how teacher training is vital to help ELL teachers navigate the different cultures they encounter, and how the lack of funds for training hurts students and teachers alike.
Enrichment activities are often the first resources to be cut in a budget crunch, as they are viewed as extra. The authors here provide real-life examples of how these “extras” provided a vital outlet for students experiencing personal crises, enabling them to stay in school and focus on their studies.
The students’ authentic voice shines through in their writing. They confess:
“Most of us do not wake up in the morning excited to attend school and learn math. Many of us attend school because we look forward to ROTC, band, or orchestra, and while we’re there, we might as well learn math too. That mindset is useful to understand arts education as a pragmatic method of retaining students, boosting grades, and improving education for all.”
The students recognize how the absence of support services affects the futures of disadvantaged children. They note that the lack of guidance counselors deprives impoverished students of information about “four-year residential colleges, two-year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps.”
These students illustrate with real-life examples how teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that cannot be reduced to one data point. Thus, schools need comprehensive services and programs.
The authors do not blame teachers. They know that school personnel care about them. Rather, they call out the state, which communicates to children that it does not care by ignoring the severe lack of resources in schools.
The brief is also remarkable for what it omits. These students do not ask for choice. They do not want teachers to be rated on their standardized test scores, or replaced by untrained recent college graduates, a la Teach for America. Current fashionable education reforms are irrelevant to these real students.
Politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of these teenage experts, who know what’s best for them and their teachers.
Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center. You can read and comment on her full piece via: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Heeding-the-lessons-of-teenagers-6545659.php