So it turns out that when you take the time to listen to teachers you actually learn stuff, including how to improve public schools without privatizing and turning them over to the corporate education reform industry.
In this recent commentary piece entitled, Smart solutions for Connecticut public schools, award winning Connecticut public school teachers Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme provide a teaching moment that all policymakers would do well to stop and read.
Imagine if Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials actually stopped denigrating teachers, the teaching profession and public schools and started listening to teachers and providing the resources necessary to improve educational outcomes, especially for Connecticut children living in poverty, facing English language challenges or requiring special education services.
Smart solutions for Connecticut public schools (By Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme)
Their piece was first published in the Stamford Advocate;
Common Core National Standards are not outstanding standards. A state like Connecticut, the Constitution State, has an obligation to its taxpayers to answer the questions: Why keep defending Common Core and ignore an outcry from taxpayers, teachers, and students? Why are school boards not questioning this issue? Connecticut needs more than a fix for Common Core. Connecticut needs to take a pedagogical stand and replace Common Core and its SBAC tests with appropriate Connecticut standards and tests written by representatives from all education levels, including teachers, administrators and university professors. Just because the proponents of Common Core claim that it will have benefits and cure educational inequalities, doesn’t mean that it is so.
The damaging side effects and requirements of Common Core standards, teaching, and testing are affecting our schools by destroying creativity and taking away programs with proven good results. Teachers know this and morale is low. How will districts attract excellent teachers? Common Core is dummying down our public schools with overtesting and undereducating. Addressing the achievement gap does not mean bringing down higher-functioning schools to raise the level of lower-functioning schools. It is unfair to blame the schools for the achievement gap, a complex problem that is the result of socio-economic and cultural as well as educational issues. It is unfair to put students on a track based solely on tests, which is not only developmentally inappropriate, but leads to a narrow life path.
Putting all our resources behind Common Core across the state will not change the effects of neighborhood and family culture. The factors that contribute to learning and school success, from the early years on are family, parenting, neighborhood, income, good teaching, extracurricular and community activities, and especially positive role models. We need to create a culture in underperforming districts that values education. Connecticut needs the courage to challenge Common Core and change the direction of state funding to support smart solutions for schools, and promote the academic, behavioral, and emotional success for all our children.
New Connecticut standards and tests are the first step. As these are being formulated and piloted, we need additional steps and new solutions to help move our at-risk students into proficiency, raise student incentives to learn, and help close the achievement gap in our schools.
Mentoring plays a vital role in this journey. Any school willing to focus its efforts on mentoring can increase performance and create a culture of high expectations and support for all students. Start with principal to teacher mentorships. Principals need to be educational leaders, not testing supervisors and managers of technology. Instead of hiring more assistant principals and academic coaches to meet Common Core mandates, get principals back into the classrooms and help teachers enrich instruction, guaranteeing the strongest outcomes for students. In addition, establish teacher to teacher, school to school, and district to district mentorships by using state funding that is aligned to support these partnerships that model best practices. Also set up local business-education partnerships and apprenticeships. Mentoring encourages good connections, builds a strong work ethic, and helps our students work hard and pursue education.
Increase effective Magnet Public Schools across the state, like the 2014 Danbury Elementary Magnet School of the Year. Use state funding for more magnet schools, not charter schools. Magnet schools offer educational opportunities in our cities and towns in the areas like World Languages, STEM, Media, the Arts, and Tech Ed programs. Having a consortium of districts facilitates interdistrict cooperation, allows for smaller class sizes, and a greater diversity of students and talents.
Celebrate creativity in schools, and you instill passion, curiosity, pursuit, and purpose. You capture those teachable moments, a time to enrich the classroom experience and opportunities. When you value time on art, music, theatre, student government, field trips, and athletics, it connects the community to the schools. Student participation in these meaningful activities develops skills like communication, cooperation, time management, organization, problem solving, and leadership.
Establish more pre-school programs. These programs give young children more experiences in language development, play, and school readiness. Use state funds for community parenting education programs that foster strong family relationships, school support, and parent networking.
And it’s time to use our retired teachers. They are a proven asset. Many are available to render services in schools even on a part-time basis. They are well-suited to a variety of public school needs and activities in the total education of our students.
We can have education that excels, helps close the achievement gap, and moves children forward. Instead of treating high-stakes reading and math tests as a one-size fits all single measurement of success, how about celebrating excellence in education for educational growth and opportunity. It is time to stop hiding behind the screen of Common Core and adopt smart solutions for Connecticut schools.
Jean Jaykus taught for the Ridgefield Public Schools for 36 years in grades 3-6. She was Ridgefield’s Teacher of the Year, and won a Connecticut Celebration of Excellence Award for her curriculum project in Science and Technology. AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme taught in the Ridgefield Public Schools for 34 years. Her teaching career includes the Early Childhood levels kindergarten, first, and second grades. She was Ridgefield’s Teacher of the Year, and won a Connecticut Celebration of Excellence Award, for her curriculum project in “The Arts: Creative and Performing.”