Connecticut Education Committee members hear from a CT educator

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A number of Connecticut legislators have told constituents that Governor Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor are implementing education policies that are very different from what they were told during the 2012 debate that led up to the passage of Malloy’s “education reform” legislation.

Here is a letter that James D. Trifone recently sent to the members of Connecticut’s Education Committee.  James Trifone is a teacher at Cheshire High School.  Like his colleagues across Connecticut, he is a first-hand witness to the damage Malloy and Pryor are doing to Connecticut’s students, teachers and to our public schools.

If Connecticut legislators really care about their communities, they need to read this letter and others like this one, and act quickly to stop Malloy’s initiatives before even more damage is done.

A Letter to Members of the Connecticut Education Committee by James D. Trifone

As a young man I was encouraged by my father−an inspirational and masterful educator−who instilled in me a desire to share my passion and enthusiasm for learning with others. As my role model he further inspired me to follow in his footsteps as a public school educator. I have been a dedicated and impassioned educator for thirty-eight years. However, for the first time in my career I am disheartened with the current reform efforts that have been foisted upon public schools by education outsiders−businessmen and politicians. As a classroom teacher, I have been an educational innovator for over three decades in bringing about real and effective change in enhancing my teaching and learning.  Therefore, change is no stranger to me.  Today’s global society leaves the American student at a disadvantage that can only be remedied by a significant change in the way we structure and approach teaching and learning. Nonetheless, I believe the recent nationally inspired education reform efforts from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to the most recent iteration of them−the Common Core State Standards−are leading American schools down the wrong path. Collectively these reform efforts have been regressive, repressive and oppressive, as well as dismissive of educators, who as highly educated professionals, are trained to know how best to develop young minds.  The tragic irony of these reform efforts is based on a 19th century mindset that is intended to prepare students for success in the 21st century!  However, to paraphrase Einstein “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. The current reform efforts are designed to systematize, standardize and align the learning process using a “factory” model of “one size fits all”.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s (SBAC) assessment of the Common Core State Standards is flawed in many ways.

First of all, it assumes that the learning process can be distilled to a few objective and quantitative measures. Moreover, these measures exclude those due to socioeconomic inequities, which cannot be remedied from within the educational system.  Nonetheless, what matters most to fostering the learning process are intangibles that are not easily quantified.  Einstein stated it more eloquently as “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Secondly, using the CCSS to assess student learning is a misguided approach that is not supported by any empirical studies that validate their use as substantive to measuring the skill and knowledge base proficiency requisite to be deemed “educated”. Moreover, the test is designed so that only 35-40% of students can pass it!

Thirdly, mandating the use of CCSS is insidiously undermining the development of imagination, creativity and innovation that made this nation a leading world power.

Lastly, linking student performance on the SBAC assessment to evaluating teachers is not only educationally unsound, but counterproductive to improving education in the first place. The major flaw inherent to this reform initiative is that it assumes that excellence in teaching and learning can be objectively measured. If we, as a society are going to survive, we need to embrace the emerging learning paradigm that views the mind, learning and thinking in a more holistic and integrated framework. What is needed, now more than ever, is a paradigm shift in what this country’s leaders recognize as the skill-set of thinking and learning processes requisite for success in the 21st century. 

In the July 10, 2010 Newsweek article: “The Creativity Crisis,” the point is made that while America is moving more towards high stake testing, and away from the teaching of creativity and problem solving, the rest of the world is moving in the other direction, away from testing and increasing their emphasis on creativity and “whole-brain” real world skills. We need to promote a systemic change requisite to restore American educational praxis to the vanguard that other nations aspired to for much of the last century. The modern world is a very different place than the one in which previous generations of students were prepared to enter following their secondary or post-secondary educational schooling. With the advent of computers, podcasts, webinars and other technologies, today’s learners have access to the World Wide Web, social media, constant communication and global interaction, and through this, a myriad number of libraries, museums and informational sources of information across the globe.

Today’s learners have instant access to virtually millions of other learners throughout the world.  Additionally, today’s learners are expected to be adept in accessing these resources and working collaboratively with others electronically. In his bestselling book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman attributes the Internet as one of many technologies that has changed the way we communicate, learn and do business. Thus today’s classroom is not exclusively confined to one inside a school or even a classroom.  Rather virtual classrooms exist in the form of online cohorts, chat rooms etc. Furthermore, as Daniel Pink (Pink, 2005) discusses in his acclaimed book A Whole New Mind, the skills needed to survive in the 21st century workplace are no longer being developed in our classrooms.  He suggests that the future depends on fostering a new set of creative and empathic “right-brain” skills to augment the “left-brain” dominant ones advocated and emphasized in the past two centuries. Howard Gardner offers similar notions in his book 5 Minds or the Future (Gardner, 2008).

Instead of relying on high stakes testing to help us assess and develop ways to improve learning in American classrooms, it is my contention that policy makers need to include professional educators in the dialogue. Government officials and corporate leaders may have the best of intentions in attempting to reform American education. However, authentic educational reform can only arise from professional educators whose honed skill-base, expertise, dedication and passion provides them with the ability to fully understand and respond to the needs and challenges of effectively educating children for success in the 21st century.

Teaching is an art that involves responding authentically to the needs of children, curriculum and the culture without rigidly adhering to a specific methodology.  Characteristics such as: authenticity, empathy, mindfulness, and sensitivity to each unfolding moment in a child’s learning process, are qualities one might find in educators operating within what David Sobel and his colleagues at Antioch New England Graduate School calls “authentic curriculum”. Teaching from this perspective means being mindful to the myriad learning opportunities that typically occur during the day and employing them to foster students’ recognition and appreciation of learning as real-life and ubiquitous phenomena rather than a contrived process, whose content is driven by the intentional and manipulative designs of the teacher, or worse yet-the learning assumptions of high stakes standardized test designers.  Students learning in authentic contexts begin to view nature as alive with potential opportunities to learn and grow and construct meaning.  Taking time to momentarily follow the students’, rather than teacher’s, interests also promotes a stronger sense of self-worth and confidence in students’ ability to recognize and seize a learning opportunity and participate in the creation of their own personal meaning.  Ken Robinson, internationally recognized expert on the nature of creativity and outspoken critic of the current educational reform efforts, succinctly summarizes this as follows: “The task of education is not to teach subjects: it is to teach students.  No school is better than its teachers”(Robinson, 2011,p. 267).

Meaningful learning and thinking consists of integrating “hands-on” and “minds-on” real-life experiences that challenge learners’ preconceived assumptions and level of conceptual understanding. It is here that the 21st century educator can capitalize on the learners’ state of cognitive dissonance (confusion) to make a real difference in motivating them to transform misconceptions into valid conceptions. The 21st century educator embraces the notion that any individual can learn a given subject as long as he/she is provided with the opportunity to learn in a conducive (read as: loving and supportive) environment with experienced mentors willing in spirit to identify what they currently know and scaffold their conceptual development to a higher level of understanding. Meaningful learning and thinking processes foster the development of a unique and personalized relationship between the learner and the ideas and information under consideration.

In conclusion, the progressive educator, with a vested interest in educational reform that includes enhancing the way children are prepared for life in the 21st century, needs to integrate pedagogical strategies and practices into their classroom that foster learners in adopting more meaningful approaches to learning and thinking, rather than a scripted, linear and “conveyor belt” approach designed to produce more “widgets”. Our “products” are impressionable children and young adults who will be the workforce, as well as the captains of industry, and statesmen of the future. We have a moral, ethical and civic responsibility to do now what is in their best interests. In summary, please consider my plea to work with, not against, Connecticut educators to co-create a renewed vision of our mission−one that fosters the growth and development of authentic learners.

Respectfully Submitted,

James D. Trifone Ph.D.
Educator 
Cheshire High School

Cheshire, CT 06410

References

Gardner, H. (2008). 5 Minds for the future. Harvard Business Press, Boston, MA.

Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Riverhead Books, Penguin Group NY, NY.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative, Capstone Publishing Ltd, West Sussex, UK.

 

When real teachers speak… Elected officials should listen

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Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach in Connecticut.  He also writes commentary pieces for CT News Junkie.  His pieces should be mandatory reading for every federal, state and local elected official in Connecticut.

In his latest column entitled, Already Feeling Squeezed As I Attempt to ‘Align’ With Common Core, Barth Keck provides a direct view into the challenges facing teachers and the chaos being created by the corporate education reform industry and their elected and appointed lackeys who are implementing their strategies.

There are the complexities and oddities of the Common Core Standards, some of which actually force Connecticut’s teachers to back-down and reduce the scope and sequence of Connecticut’s existing standards.

Then there is the rush to test child on those Common Core Standards despite the fact that sufficient Common Core Curricula has yet to be developed.

And now there is the unfair and flawed Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test.

And the list goes on and on.

The whole education reform fiasco is demoralizing teachers and undermining Connecticut’s system of public education.

As Barth Keck observes;

Little did Elizabeth Natale know that her Hartford Courant opinion piece would not only go viral, but also set off a chain reaction that essentially put Connecticut’s education reform on hold.

Natale’s op-ed appeared on Jan. 17 under the headline “Why I Want To Give Up Teaching.” The piece has been read by nearly 500,000 viewers, according to the Courant.

Ten days after Natale’s op-ed appeared, veteran Connecticut politico and blogger Jonathan Pelto published a comprehensive post summarizing the reactions of politicians and pundits.

The real bomb was dropped on Jan. 29 when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy effectively put the brakes on education reform in Connecticut.

Shortly thereafter, Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice pled with state legislators to “listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections” to school reform.

In truth, the issue of education reform has been smoldering for a while. Connecticut, however, has been slow to react because most Nutmeggers — especially parents — had not truly contemplated the “Common Core” until Natale’s personal and lucid reflections brought CCSS to the forefront.

Veteran teacher Stan Karp has written perhaps the most comprehensive and informative article on the issues surrounding the Common Core State Standards, starting with the hasty implementation of its untested principles.

“These standards have never been fully implemented in real schools anywhere,” writes Karp. “They’re more or less abstract descriptions of academic abilities organized into sequences by people who have never taught at all or who have not taught this particular set of standards.”

As a high school English teacher for the past 23 years, I consider myself, well, experienced. But not even my own professional experience could prepare me — in one year’s time — for the voluminous standards which, under Connecticut’s plan, comprise 22.5 percent of my performance evaluation.

Take the English Language Arts Standards for 9th and 10th graders as an example. There are six “strands” such as “Reading: Literature” and “Reading: Informational Text.” Within each strand are standards, many of which have numerous sub-standards.

The strand of Writing, for instance, has four categories: Text Types and Purposes, Production and Distribution of Writing, Research to Build and Present Knowledge, and Range of Writing. This last category has just one standard, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10: “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.”

All of the other categories in the Writing strand, meanwhile, have multiple standards. Text Types and Purposes alone has 19 standards and sub-standards, including CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1c : “Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.”

All told, there are 75 standards and sub-standards that I must teach my students to prepare them for the computerized Smarter Balanced test — the final details of which are still being worked out.

[…]

Please take the time to go read Barth Keck’s entire piece.  It can be found at the CT News Junkie at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_already_feeling_squeezed_as_i_attempt_to_align_with_common_core/

Parents can opt their children out of the standardized testing frenzy and school superintendents should be supporting them

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Connecticut Parents have a right to opt their children out of the standardized testing frenzy and school superintendents should be supporting them.

It is not easy being a superintendent of schools.  I know, having had a superintendent in the family and having e worked with dozens of superintendents over the past 30 years.

Superintendents are pulled in countless directions and are often put in “no-win” situations.

However, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has put Connecticut’s public school superintendents in an untenable position and now they must choose whether they see their job as carrying out orders from above or serving as the voice and chief advocate for the students, parents, teachers, staff and taxpayers that are part of their school district.

Superintendents must make this choice because Governor Malloy, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and their Corporate Education Reform Industry thugs are on a mission to convince parents and guardians that they do not have a right to opt their child out of the unfair, ill-conceived and ludicrous standardized testing fiasco that is enveloping Connecticut’s Public Schools.

Sadly, far too many Connecticut Superintendent of Schools appear to be turning their backs on their students and communities and are, instead, taking on the responsibilities of following inappropriate orders and directives.

Yesterday, Regional School District #16 joined Shelton and other districts in trying to persuade parents that they lack the right to opt-out their children for these faulty tests.

Reports are coming in from across the state that other superintendents have or will be sending out letters that are intended to mislead parents into believing that their local school administrators “don’t have a choice” when it comes to the opt-out issue.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is that superintendents have been instructed by the State Department of Education to send out a letter based on a model that was provided by Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.  The letter is misleading, inappropriate and contains statements that cross the line into outright lies.

As was the case in Shelton, public school parents are being told that local school administrators, “have no degrees of freedom in this matter.  Federal and State laws require that public school students be tested.”

As directed by Commissioner Pryor’s office, the local letter states;

“Both federal and state statutes are clear in their language – that all students enrolled in public schools must take this yearly state assessment.  Until such legislation changes, the Department of Education and each school district must comply with federal and state mandates.”

As many Wait, What? readers already know, this information was contained in a December 2013 memo that was sent by Commissioner Pryor’s office to public school superintendents.

You can read the full memo here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/206539705/Connecticut-State-Department-of-Education-on-Opt-Out-State-Testing-Requests-2014.

While Pryor’s memo states;

“There is no opt-out language in state or federal law governing assessment. Sec.10-14n of the Connecticut Education Laws states that “Each student enrolled…in any public school shall annually take a statewide mastery examination.”

The memo goes on to explain;

 “….there are no legal/policy directions when parents seek to remove a child from statewide testing. Until recently, there have only been a handful of requests for exemptions each year. Districts are now reporting greater numbers of parents desiring to remove their child(ren) from participation in the statewide testing program.

The State Department of Education memo then goes on to instruct Connecticut public school superintendents and other school administrators about what they should say to mislead, trick and lie to Connecticut parents.

Those instructions are as follows:

“If Parent(s) contact their public school district to request/inform the district that they want their child(ren) removed from statewide testing…

  • The school or district administrator explains to the parent that the district has no degrees of freedom in the matter. Federal and state law requires that public school students are to be tested.

If Parent calls the state to ask if they can opt-out of testing.

  • State informs parent that there is no opt-out language in the law. As long as the student is enrolled in a Connecticut public school, the district is required to test them on some form of the statewide exam. The state sends a copy of the statutory references to the parent.

If Parent informs the district that, regardless of the law, the district is not to test the student.

  • District is advised to get this statement of intent from the parent in writing so that the district can provide a written response. The CSDE’s legal office has provided a model letter…which districts may adapt, citing all pertinent laws and regulations and asking the parent to reconsider as it is a violation of the law not to comply.

If Parent writes back to the district a letter explaining that they have read and understood the district’s letter, but insist that the child not be tested.

  • In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing).

When it comes to the Connecticut Mastery Test, local superintendents are well aware  that if parents “insist that the child not be testing” then “In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing).”

Incredibly, Commissioner Stefan Pryor’ directives for the 2104 standardized testing are even more misleading because the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test is nothing but a test of a test  and doesn’t even qualify as a Connecticut Mastery Test under the law.

Here is the Connecticut State Statute on the definition of a Mastery Test;

“Sec. 10-14n. Mastery examination. (a) As used in this section, “mastery examination” means an examination or examinations, approved by the State Board of Education, that measure essential and grade-appropriate skills in reading, writing, mathematics or science.”

Even Malloy and Pryor have to know that a Test of a Test CANNOT be used to “measure essential and grade-appropriate skills.”

If SBAC, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test, is not a Connecticut Mastery Test then parents have the absolute right to opt-out their children.

If Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor want to further destroy their careers and ask Attorney General George Jepsen for an official opinion that the Common Core field test is a Connecticut Mastery Test or they want to go hunt for a judge to rule that the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test is a Connecticut Mastery Test then they have that right.

But even if Attorney General Jepsen or a Connecticut judge determine that the Common Core test of a test is a Connecticut Mastery Test, then parents can return to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s own memo that states;

  • In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing.

The following chart indicates which towns are using the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test and which superintendents decided not to turn their students into guinea pig and stuck with the Connecticut Mastery Test.

As you can see, only a handful of towns decided to wait until the Corporate Education Reform Industry could work out the bugs and problems with their new absurd Common Core test before making our children suffer through it.

Meanwhile, if you are look for examples of Connecticut opt-out letters here are some drafts that you may want to use.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/202349382/UPDATED-Draft-Opt-Out-Letters-for-Connecticut-CMT-and-Common-Core-Smarter-Balanced-Assessment-Field-Test-1-26-14

No HS means the districts does not have its own high school but I part of a regional high school:

School District Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test (Grade 3-8) Common Core Smart Balanced Field Test (Grade 11) CMT (Grades 3-8) CAPT (Grade 10)
Andover X No HS
Ansonia X x
Ashford x No HS
Avon x x
Barkhamsted x No HS
Berlin x x
Bethany x No HS
Bethel x x
Bloomfield x x x x
Boton x x
Bozrah x   NO HS
Branford x x
Bridgeport x x
Bristol x x
Brookfield x x
Brooklyn x No HS
Canaan x x
Canterbury x No HS
Canton x x
Chaplin x No HS
Cheshire x x
Chester x No HS
Clinton x x
Colcehster x x
Colebrook x No HS
Cornwall x No HS
Coventry x x
Cromwell x x
Danbury x x
Darien x x
Deep River x No HS
Derby x x
Eastford x No HS
East Granby x x
East Haddam x x
East Hampton x x
East Hartford x x
East Haven x x
East Lyme x x
Easton x x
East Windsor x x
Ellington x x
Enfield x x
Essex x   NO HS
Fairfield x x
Farmington x x
Franklin x   NO HS
Glastonbury x x
Granby x x
Greenwich x x
Griswold x x
Groton x x
Guilford x x
Hamden x x
Hamden x x
Hampton x No HS
Hartford x x
Hartland x No HS
Hebron x No HS
Kent x x
Killingly x x
Lebanon x x
Ledyard x x
Lisbon x x
Litchfield x x
Madison x x
Manchester x x
Mansfield x No HS
Marlborough x x
Meriden x x
Middletown x x
Milford x x
Monroe x x
Montville x x
Naugatuck x x
New Britain x x
New Canaan x x
New Fairfield x x
New Hartford x No HS
New Haven x x
Newington x x
New London x x x x
New Milford x x
Newtown x x
Norfolk x No HS
North Branford x x
North Canaan x x
North Haven x x
North Stonington x x
Norwalk x x
Norwich x No HS
Old Saybrook x x
Orange x No HS
Oxford x x
Plainfield x x
Plainville x x
Plymouth x x
Pomfret x No HS
Portland x x
Preston x No HS
Putnam x x
Redding x x
Rocky Hill x x
Salem x x
Salisbury x x
Scotland x No HS
Seymour x x
Sharon x x
Shelton x x
Sherman x No HS
Simsbury x x
Somers x x
Southington x x
South Windsor x x
Sprague x   NO HS
Stafford x x
Stamford x x
Sterling x  NO HS
Stonington x x
Stratford x x
Suffield x x
Thompson x x
Tolland x x
Thomaston x x
Torrington x x
Trumbull x x
Union x   NO HS
Vernon x x
Voluntown x  NO HS
Wallingford x x
Waterbury x x
Waterford x x
Watertown x x
Westbrook x x
West Hartford x x
West Haven x x
Weston x x
Westport x x
Wethersfield x x
Willington x  NO HS
Wilton x x
Windham x x x x
Winchester x   NO HS
Windsor x x
Windsor Locks x x
Wolcott x x
Woodbridge x  NO HS
Woodstock x   NO HS
Region 1 x x
Region 2 x x
Region 3 x x
Region 4 x x
Region 5 x x
Region 6 x x
Region 7 x x
Region 8 x x
Region 9 x x
Region 10 x x
Region 11 x x
Region 12 x x
Region 13 x x
Region 14 x x
Region 15 x x
Region 16 x x
Region 17 x x
Region 18 x x
Region 19 x x
Norwich Free Academy x
Woodstock Academy x
School District Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test (Grade 3-8) Common Core Smart Balanced Field Test (Grade 11) Connecticut Master Test (Grades 3-8) CAPT (Grade 10)

Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured (by Wendy Lecker)

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Among Governor Malloy’s package of election year gimmicks to win back enough support to get 50 percent of the vote in November’s gubernatorial election are a series of steps to deceive teachers, parents and public school advocates into thinking that he is mending his ways and stepping off the corporate education reform industry gravy train.

In a move that would make any panderer proud, Governor Malloy said he would even delay Connecticut’s unfair, inaccurate and counter-productive teacher evaluation program. In fact, he said he would delay it all the way until January 2015, a full TWO MONTHS after his dreamed of re-election.

What Malloy and his education reform allies refuse to admit is that Connecticut’s Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured.  Delaying its implementation is a worthless political stunt.

As Wendy Lecker writes in her latest commentary piece for the Stamford Advocates and Hearst Media Group newspapers, “The time has come to repeal Malloy’s education reforms and develop proposals that will actually improve our schools.”

In another MUST READ piece, Wendy Lecker writes:

With an election year upon us, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently announced that we should delay his new teacher evaluation system. This comes after his policies wasted millions of dollars and thousands of teacher, administrator and student hours.

The governor claims a delay will solve the glitches in the system, implying that the problems with this unproven teacher evaluation system are only procedural.

The truth is that Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation model, called SEED, is fatally flawed and no amount of delay will cure it. It must be scrapped and replaced by a valid system that will actually work to improve teaching and learning.

As the Malloy administration has been warned repeatedly, the reliance on standardized test scores for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation renders the entire system unreliable.

Research has demonstrated conclusively that using standardized test to rate teachers is invalid because scores vary widely based on the test, year, class and statistical model used. This overwhelming evidence prompted Tennessee’s State Board of Education, one of the first adopters of the so-called Value Added Model (“VAM”), to now abandon the use of VAM in any decisions to license or fire teachers. A bill is pending in Tennessee to prohibit the use of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.

Connecticut uses an even more inaccurate method called Student Growth Percentiles (“SGP”). While VAM tries but fails to isolate a teacher’s small effect on student test scores, SGP does not even attempt to measure a teacher’s effect.

SGP tells us nothing about a teacher. Yet that is what Connecticut uses for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Though SGP is a portion of a teacher’s evaluation, it will likely be the determining factor because its volatility will make it the tipping point in a rating.

Delay will not cure the use of SGP. Time cannot magically make unreliable data more reliable — it just gives us more consistently unreliable data.

Delay will also not cure the other fatal flaws in the evaluation system.

The goal of Connecticut’s evaluation system should be to improve teaching and learning. Because they teach human beings, teachers work in a dynamic environment and must be able to adjust their lessons and behavior to each class. A successful teacher evaluation model captures authentic teaching and learning.

Kim Marshall’s admired mini-observation model employs this approach. Since not every aspect of teaching occurs in every class, several mini-observations are required, with conversations after each one. In order not to disrupt teaching, supervision should occur throughout the year, and evaluation at the end.

However, Connecticut’s teacher evaluation program emphasizes so-called measurement, not teaching practice. It is so focused on measurement that it detracts from teaching and learning.

Connecticut’s system is not geared toward improving teaching or learning because it did not emanate from the classroom or classroom practice. Teachers are asked to respond to externally generated jargon-filled questions that have little relationship to their classroom or students. Where they used to use staff meetings to review student work and share ideas for improving lessons, they now spend hours in meetings discussing how to answer these artificial questions and enter them into the computer.

In classroom observations, administrators write down every word a teacher says. One teacher reports having the evaluator interrupt her interactions with students so she could repeat verbatim what she had just said. An experienced counselor described an observed family meeting in which the administrator’s transcribing was so distracting that she focused on every word she said rather than the toxic dynamic developing between the parent and child. A 40-year veteran first-grade teacher recounted how she no longer reads books aloud to her students because she fears an evaluator will say she is off-script.

Waiting a year will not help. As one teacher said “We can all figure out how to fill out the forms more quickly and accurately and nothing will have improved for the student.”

He continued. “A teacher’s most valuable resource is time. I used to spend this time trying to think of ways to make my lessons more engaging, or how to scaffold better.” Now, the teacher reports spending that time answering questions that seem to exist merely to justify an outside consultant’s fee.

The majority of Connecticut teachers agree. UConn’s study of the evaluation pilot found that only 42 percent of teachers believe that with sufficient resources — time and staffing- SEED will improve teacher practice.

The time has come to repeal Malloy’s education reforms and develop proposals that will actually improve our schools.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s latest article and search for her previous commentary pieces at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Ailing-teacher-evaluation-program-can-t-5215123.php

Colin McEnroe’s commentary piece on Pryor getting national coverage

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After reading Colin McEnroe’s recent commentary piece entitled,  Parsing The Unintelligible Stefan Pryor, Diane Ravitch, America’s leading public education advocate, cross posts the piece to her blog asking, “When Did Gibberish Replace Conventional English?

The two are MUST READ pieces.

Diane writes:

Colin McEnroe of NPR in Connecticut has discovered the root problem of corporate reformers: They have lost touch with common sense and the meaning of learning. To cover up their ignorance, they have invented rhetoric that sounds impressive but is no more than unintelligible verbiage.

He starts here, and gets better:

“I don’t know about you, but I remember the moment when, as a boy, I fell in love with learning. It was 1964, in the spring. My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Vick, sat down with me in the late afternoon and gently pried from my hands Hardy Boys book No. 42, “The Secret of the Mummy’s Strategically Dynamic New Paradigms.”

“Colin,” she said. “I know you’re a good boy with a bright mind. But your EAPE scores don’t point to project-based learning across the curriculum. You need to scaffold texts to other texts, and to that end I’m going to start interfacing with your developmental space.”

“Miss Vick,” I stammered, “can you disintermediate that for me in a way that unpacks the convergence in assessment-driven terms?”

We talked for hours as the sun sank toward the horizon. I believe both of us wept. My mind opened like a flower. That night, I chopped my Hardy Boys books into little pieces and fed them to the neighbor’s python. I read Emerson’s “The American Scholar” instead.

Wait. Maybe it didn’t happen that way, because in 1964, American education was not drowning in incomprehensible crap.”

Have we lost the ability to say what we mean and mean what we say?

You can read Colin McEnroe’s piece at: http://touch.courant.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-79199774/

Snow Day(s) Re-Cap: The Wait, What? Posts you may have missed

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As a result of the polar vortex (otherwise known as a polar cyclone, polar low, or a circumpolar whirl), some Wait, What? readers may have missed some of the latest posts.  Here is a re-cap:

Hello CT and Hartford officials… Is there anyone who will confront the lawbreakers?

Are there any elected or appointed official in Connecticut who have the courage and conviction to actually ensure the laws of this state are equitably enforced?

Student-athlete recruitment by interdistrict magnet schools such as Capital Prep Magnet Schools is illegal in Connecticut.  (For example, see Sec. 10-220d.of the Connecticut General Statues).

According to the Connecticut State Department of Education, “All eligible applicants are either offered a placement or placed on a waitlist for Regional School Choice schools and programs through a random lottery process.”

Based on state law and state regulations, “The RSCO lottery is the computer-based method that places students who have submitted a complete and on-time application to available RSCO schools and programs. The Connecticut State Department of Education manages the RSCO lottery process.”

See: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/02/05/hello-ct-hartford-officials-anyone-will-confront-lawbreakers/

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

Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading pro-public education advocate, has used her blog to highlight the letter Madison Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent to his legislators about the failed education reforms that are being pushed through in Connecticut.

The letter is one of the most powerful statements to date about the failure of the corporate education reform industry agenda and the need to re-take control of our public schools and preserve local control, parental involvement and the values inherent in a true system of public education.

Diane Ravitch’s blog is the most read education blog in the country generating up to 70,000 or more hits a day.

In the piece entitled, “A Connecticut Superintendent Speaks Out Against Failed “Reforms”, Ravitch writes:

Tom Scarice, superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, has already been named to the honor roll for his leadership and vision in bringing together his community to plan for the future of Madison public schools.

Now, he steps up and speaks out again to take issue with those, like Governor Dannel Malloy, who call for a “pause” in the implementation of misguided reforms.

In a letter to his state representatives, Scarice explains that education policy must be based on sound research and experience. What Connecticut is doing now, he writes, is merely complying with federal mandates that harm schools and demoralize teachers.

If every superintendent had Tom Scarice’s courage and understanding, this country would have a far, far better education system and could easily repel the intrusions of bad policies.

See: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/02/05/diane-ravitch-features-madison-superintendent-tom-scarices-powerful-letter-education-reform/

NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office

Don Michak of the Journal Inquirer newspaper has a blockbuster story on the way Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry have contaminated the public policy making process in Connecticut.

The JI story, entitled, Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office, raises extraordinary legal and ethical issues about the possibility of illegal lobbying and ethics violations, as well as shines a light on how a billionaire Malloy donor is not only giving the Governor campaign cash but paying for Malloy staff who are in the unique position to help push the corporate education reform industry’s agenda.

Don Michak explains:

“A hedge fund billionaire’s private foundation is paying three “fellows” to develop public policy in the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and two state departments.

The arrangement is eye-catching because the foundation is bankrolled by Stephen F. Mandel Jr., the founder of the Lone Pine Capital hedge fund in Greenwich and one of the biggest financial backers of Malloy’s Democratic Party.

But it also is extraordinary because of the controversial role Mandel’s foundation and its executive director, Meghan K. Lowney, played in Connecticut’s education policy — particularly in the state’s failed takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

See: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/02/03/news-flash-hedge-fund-founder-buys-leadership-pipeline-malloys-office/

And more posts on the never-ending drama and controversy surrounding Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry

NEWS FLASH: Did Capital Prep corrupt School Choice Lottery process to enroll student-athletes.

Last August, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference stepped in to investigate serious allegations of inappropriate even illegal, recruitment of student-athletes by Capital Prep Magnet School.

The CIAC Board of Control authorized an independent investigation and then met to review and act upon the recruitment investigation reports that had been lodged against Capital Preparatory School.

In a letter dated August 23, 2013 the Associate Executive Director of CIAC wrote to Capital Prep Principal Steven Perry on behalf of the CIAC Board of Control.

The letter included the following passages:

“….the Board expressed serious concerns about two issues both of which could be viewed as a form of recruitment.

It appears that student-athletes involved may have been admitted to the school through other than the lottery process and may have been given special preference because they were athletes.

Allowing student-athletes from another school to attend conditioning sessions prior to attend the school is not in the spirit of CIAC rules and gives the appearance that recruitment was taking place.

See:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/02/04/news-flash-capital-prep-corrupt-school-choice-lottery-process-enroll-student-athletes/

Along with:

Capital Prep “Table of Shame” Steve Perry on the notion of “Professional Responsibility to Students.”

Wait, What? Just who is Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry calling “insane?”

Another Former Capital Prep teacher speaks out…

 Breaking News: Citizens prevented from addressing Hartford Board of Education on Steve Perry

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

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Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading pro-public education advocate, has used her blog to highlight the letter Madison Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent to his legislators about the failed education reforms that are being pushed through in Connecticut. 

The letter is one of the most powerful statements to date about the failure of the corporate education reform industry agenda and the need to re-take control of our public schools and preserve local control, parental involvement and the values inherent in a true system of public education.

Diane Ravitch’s blog is the most read education blog in the country generating up to 70,000 or more hits a day.

In the piece entitled, “A Connecticut Superintendent Speaks Out Against Failed “Reforms”, Ravitch writes:

Tom Scarice, superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, has already been named to the honor roll for his leadership and vision in bringing together his community to plan for the future of Madison public schools.

Now, he steps up and speaks out again to take issue with those, like Governor Dannel Malloy, who call for a “pause” in the implementation of misguided reforms.

In a letter to his state representatives, Scarice explains that education policy must be based on sound research and experience. What Connecticut is doing now, he writes, is merely complying with federal mandates that harm schools and demoralize teachers.

If every superintendent had Tom Scarice’s courage and understanding, this country would have a far, far better education system and could easily repel the intrusions of bad policies.

You can read Superintendent Scarice’s letter here on Wait, What?:  A CT superintendent speaks: Madison’s Thomas Scarice and the Power of truth  (http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/01/31/ct-superintendent-speaks-madisons-thomas-scarice-power-truth/)

The Washington Post has also covered Scarice’s letter, see:   CT Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s letter on “education reform” makes the Washington Post

NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office

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Don Michak of the Journal Inquirer newspaper has a blockbuster story on the way Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry have contaminated the public policy making process in Connecticut.

The JI story, entitled, Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office, raises extraordinary legal and ethical issues about the possibility of illegal lobbying and ethics violations, as well as shines a light on how a billionaire Malloy donor is not only giving the Governor campaign cash but paying for Malloy staff who are in the unique position to help push the corporate education reform industry’s agenda.

Don Michak explains:,

“A hedge fund billionaire’s private foundation is paying three “fellows” to develop public policy in the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and two state departments.

The arrangement is eye-catching because the foundation is bankrolled by Stephen F. Mandel Jr., the founder of the Lone Pine Capital hedge fund in Greenwich and one of the biggest financial backers of Malloy’s Democratic Party.

But it also is extraordinary because of the controversial role Mandel’s foundation and its executive director, Meghan K. Lowney, played in Connecticut’s education policy — particularly in the state’s failed takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Asked if those developments pose conflicts or, more simply, the potential for political backlash, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded that the program sponsored by Mandel’s Zoom Foundation is “a learning opportunity for aspiring leaders and public servants to get a unique view at the executive level of state government.”

“Outside of recruiting great fellows and providing outside leadership training to the fellows, Zoom has no influence on the fellows’ work with the state,” he said. “As a foundation, there is a prohibition of advocacy and lobbying for the fellows which is made abundantly clear from the start and reinforced through the yearlong fellowship.”

Doba compared the governor’s arrangement with Zoom to that of “several similar learning opportunities in other states, cities, and at the federal level like the White House Fellows Program.” He said Malloy’s office previously hosted a fellow from the Dukakis Governor’s Summer Fellows Program through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, “which is funded privately.”

Reminded of the role played in Bridgeport by Mandel’s second “charitable trust,” the Lone Pine Foundation, Doba said the governor’s office works only with Zoom.

“The fellows do a variety of work from staffing task forces, research, grants management, project coordination, among many other assignments with a view to ‘executive experience,”’ he said. “They do not replace a job that would normally be done by a state employee, whether in our office or an agency.”

As Wait What? readers will recall, Mandel and his aide, Meghan Lowney, played the pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform advocacy group that supported Malloy’s education reform bill, worked to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s failed charter revision proposal to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport and has been the biggest boosters for Paul Vallas and Kenneth Moales Jr, the disgraced former chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Excel Bridgeport’s incorporation papers revealed that the lobby group was formed by Meghan Lowney and that its corporate address was also Lowney’s address.  Since then, Nate Snow, the Director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America has become Excel Bridgeport’s President, although Lowney remains on the board of directors.

Billionaire Steve Mandel is also on the Teach for America’s  Board of Directors and helped finance Finch’s failed charter revision campaign.

As reported here at Wait, What? and in the Journal Inquirer, Mandel has also donated the maximum allowable amount ($10,000) to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

In addition, as the JI goes on to explain;

“Lowney was a key figure in the brouhaha over public schools in Bridgeport in 2011 and 2012. Basically, the city’s Board of Education, stalemated and facing an $18 million budget shortfall, voted to dissolve itself, backed by what the Wall Street Journal called “well-funded outside interests.” A state-appointed board subsequently brought in a new superintendent, but the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the state’s takeover was illegal and ordered a special election.

Lowney, together with Nate Snow, the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Teach for America, had founded Excel Bridgeport, a proponent of the state takeover. One of the biggest opponents of that move, retired state Superior Court Judge Carmen L. Lopez, dubbed Lowney “the conspirator in chief”’ of the “coup that led to the illegal removal of a democratically elected Board of Education by the state.”

Moreover, the Connecticut Post reported that emails showed that Lowney initially introduced herself to state education officials as an agent of the Mandels, saying they had joined with other funders to revise the city’s education charter to give control to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a political ally of Malloy.

Although there were numerous emails between Lowney and officials within the Malloy administration, Meghan Lowney never registered as a lobbyist nor filed the required lobbying reports.

You can read Don Michak’s story at: http://www.journalinquirer.com/page_one/hedge-fund-founder-buys-leadership-pipeline-in-malloy-s-office/article_3994ac24-8cf9-11e3-949d-001a4bcf887a.html

Check back for updates because there is MUCH MORE to this story than has been revealed so far.

CT Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s letter on “education reform” makes the Washington Post

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On Friday, in a piece entitled, “A CT superintendent speaks: Madison’s Thomas Scarice and the Power of Truth”, Wait, What? posted Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s letter to legislators about the fundamental flows associated with Connecticut’s “education reform” initiative and what Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools really needed from state government.

Over the weekend, the Scarice’s piece was showing up on blogs around the country and today it is featured on the Washington Post’s website.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss’s features Scarice’s letter in an article is entitled, “Superintendent on school reform: ‘It is not working’.

Strauss writes:

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has just asked for a “pause” in implementation of a controversial new teacher evaluation system that uses student standardized test scores to assess teachers as well creation of a task force to study the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Is “a pause” the answer?

You might think Malloy did this because of the growing opposition to both in his state, but blogger Jonathan Pelto points out here that he did it not because he really believes there is a problem with the school reforms but because he is trying to assure his re-election this November and can read the political tea leaves.

Whatever Malloy’s motives, here’s a powerful letter that Madison Schools Superintendent Tom Scarice wrote to state legislators explaining why Malloy’s “pause” isn’t the answer to the real problems. Incidentally, teachers, parents, community members, educators and others in his district together approved a teacher evaluation plan that does not include the use test scores. The state hasn’t approved it yet but the district is using it anyway.

You can read Superintendent Scarice’s letter in the Washington Post at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/03/superintendent-on-school-reform-it-is-not-working/

Or at Wait, What?: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/01/31/ct-superintendent-speaks-madisons-thomas-scarice-power-truth/

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

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What happens when a superintendent of schools stands up and speaks out!

For more than two years many Connecticut teachers, public school advocates, parents of public school students and others have been warning about the dangers that will result from Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative.

When public school teachers recently gathered in large groups at events sponsored by their teacher unions, legislators started to take notice.

When West Hartford Teach Elizabeth Natale wrote her Hartford Courant commentary piece entitled, “Why I Want To Give Up Teaching,”  the fundamental message went “viral” and even Governor Malloy, the one who introduced the most anti-teacher, anti-union, pro-charter school, anti-public education reform bill of any Democratic Governor in the country was forced to lower his arrogance a bit and come down from on  high to pretend to address teacher’s concerns.

In a letter that is equally as powerful, the Superintendent of Schools in Madison, Connecticut, Thomas Scarice met with local officials and state legislators in his area and read them a letter he had written about the environment surrounding public education in Connecticut.

Not only is Thomas Scarice’s letter the most profound and powerful statement we have heard yet from a Connecticut Superintendent of Schools but it is one of the most forceful documents that any school administrator in the nation has written.

The nation’s leading public school champion, Diane Ravitch, has already named Superintendent Thomas Scarice one of the country’s pro-public education champions.

The follow letter reiterates why he earned that title and why Connecticut’s Governor, Education Commissioner, State Board of Education, State Legislators and State Representatives would do well to read the letter, read it again, and then act to save Connecticut’s public schools before it is too late.

The Letter from Superintendent Thomas Scarice to his Connecticut State Legislators:

As a superintendent of schools it is incumbent upon me to ground my work with my local board of education. My work must be grounded in two areas: in accurately framing problems to solve, and most importantly, in proposing solutions grounded in evidence, research, and legitimate literature to support a particular direction. Any other approach would be irresponsible and I’m certain my board would reject such shortcuts and hold me accountable.

In our profession, we have the fortune of volumes of literature and research on our practices. We have evidence to guide our decision making to make responsible decisions in solving our problems of practice. This is not unlike the field of medicine or engineering. To ignore this evidence, in my estimation, is irresponsible.

Legislators across the state have heard from, and will continue to hear loudly from, educators about what is referred to as education reforms. Webster defines “reform” as “a method to change into an improved condition.” I believe that legislators will continue to hear from the thousands of educators across the state because the reforms, in that sense, are not resulting in an improved condition. In fact, a case can be made that the conditions have worsened.

To be fair, the reforms did, in fact, shine a light on the role of evaluation in raising the performance of our workforce. There were cases of a dereliction of duty in the evaluation of professional staff. This is unacceptable and was not the norm for all school districts.

However, I would like to make the case that these reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research, the evidence that supports professional decision-making, like a doctor or engineer. It is simply a matter of substance. The evidence is clear in schools across the state. It is not working.

We have spent the better part of the last 12 years with a test-based accountability movement that has not led to better results or better conditions for children. What it has led to is a general malaise among our profession, one that has accepted a narrowing of the curriculum, a teaching to the test mentality, and a poorly constructed redefinition of what a good education is. Today, a good education is narrowly defined as good test scores. What it has led to is a culture of compliance in our schools.

We have doubled-down on the failed practices of No Child Left Behind. Not only do we subscribe to a test and punish mentality for school districts, we have now drilled that mentality down to the individual teacher level.

We have an opportunity to listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections. We know what is coming. We’ve seen it happen in other states. We can easily look at the literature and predict how this story ends. New York, Kentucky and so forth, these states are about one year ahead of Connecticut. Why would we think it will end any differently for our state? We can take action to prevent the inevitable.

We have an opportunity. You as legislators have an opportunity. Our students and communities are counting on us.

I am pleased to see that the Governor has asserted his authority to address this deeply rooted problem. But we cannot stop there.

I ask the following:

1. Do not be lulled into solutions that promote “delay.” Although the problem is being framed as an issue of implementation timelines and volume, I contend that this is much more about substance than delays. Revisit the substance of these reforms, particularly the rigidity of the teacher evaluation guidelines.

2. As you revisit the substance, demand the evidence and research that grounds the reforms, just as a board of education would demand of a superintendent. You will find, as I have, that the current reforms are simply not grounded in research. As legislators, demand the evidence, particularly the literature that illustrates the damaging effects of high stakes test scores in teacher evaluations. Demand the evidence that demonstrates that this approach is valid and will withstand legal scrutiny. Demanding evidence is how every local board of education holds their administrators accountable.

3. Build on the Governor’s first steps and create even greater flexibility for local districts to innovate and create. This is 2014…standardizing our work across all schools is not the answer. That’s the factory / assembly line mentality that got public schools into this mess. We need a diversity of thought, similar to a “crowd sourcing” approach, if we are to solve the problems of the 21st century. Above all, commit to the principle that “one size fits all” does not work. We would never accept that from individual teachers in their work with students, why should we accept “one size fits all” for very different school districts across the state? There are indeed alternative approaches that fit the context and needs of individual districts. I would be happy to provide with you with our example. You, as legislators, can create the space for innovation to thrive. Promote innovation, not mere compliance.

4. Revisit the No Child Left Behind waiver that was filed with the U. S. Department of Education. This is consistently presented as the trump card in any discussion involving modifications to the reform package passed a couple of years ago. We’ve been told that we cannot make changes because of promises made to the federal government. Was there a lower threshold for compliance with the No Child Left Behind waiver? Can we take a more aggressive approach for our state and not be dictated to by the federal government to this degree? This resonates at the local level and ought to at least be considered.

5. Finally, do not be a cynic, but be a skeptic about the common core. How can this be done?

  • Demand the evidence to support whether or not the standards are age-appropriate for our youngest learners. Demand the input of early childhood experts like the 500+ nationally recognized early childhood professionals who signed a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” about the K-3 standards. Or perhaps seek input right here in Connecticut from the early childhood experts at the Geselle Institute in New Haven. 
  • Demand the evidence that supports that every child should master the same benchmarks every year when we know that all children develop at different rates. 
  • Demand an accurate accounting of the current and, more importantly, future costs of implementing the common core and the new Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing system. 
  • Demand the evidence that supports coupling the common core to unproven tests. In just weeks, many students will sit for these new tests. They will serve as subjects to “test out the test.” It is quite possible that you will hear even more from parents after the tests are administered. Be proactive and seek these answers in advance of the inevitable questions you will be asked.

I want to close by stating that I personally have between eighteen to twenty more years to serve in this state and I look at these problems in a very long-term sense. What can we do now, not for this year or next, but in the long-term to be the shining example for the rest of the country that Connecticut’s public education system once was considered? I’m committed to this work and I will continue that commitment for nearly two more decades.

I ask you to seize this opportunity.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Thomas R. Scarice
Superintendent of Schools, Madison Connecticut
10 Campus Drive
PO Box 71
Madison, CT. 06443
www.madison.k12.ct.us

 

Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public school advocates  needs more public school superintendents to follow Thomas Scarice’s action and step up and speak out.  The very future of public education in Connecticut and the nation depends on their courage.

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