Spoiler Alert:  Teachers can educate you

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.”

Teachers Matter

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

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

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

Teachers matter a lot…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education School Deans in CT make national headlines with powerful commentary piece

Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate, whose blog gets as many as 800,000 hits a month has highlighted the courageous stand taken by a number of college and university deans at schools of education in Connecticut.

The anti-testing, pro-teacher position these college deans are taking is especially important in light of the fact that Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration has been engaged in an effort to force the University of Connecticut to turn its School of Education over to the Corporate Education Reform Industry.  The Malloy administration’s State Department of Education has also been working to undermine some of the schools of education in the Connecticut State University System, especially targeting the program at Southern Connecticut State University.

In a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece, education deans from Connecticut’s independent colleges and universities step forward on behalf of teachers, the teaching profession, teacher preparation and public education in Connecticut.

Covering the news, Diane Ravitch posted a story entitled, “Connecticut: Ed School Deans Call for Common Sense and an End to Teacher-Bashing,”

Diane Ravitch writes;

Kevin G. Basmadjian, Dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, wrote a powerful article in the Hartford Courant in collaboration with other deans from across the state.

Connecticut’s students are among the highest on the NAEP, yet its policymakers insist that its schools and teachers are unsuccessful. The politicians want more charter schools and Teach for America.

He writes:

“As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated. Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families. But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve. Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.

“Our nation’s obsession with standardized test scores will not solve these problems, and they put our country at great risk intellectually as well as economically. As educational researcher Yong Zhao writes, countries with which we are often compared — such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea — are moving away from a focus on testing in their public schools. Why? Because they have learned from the history of the United States that a great education and nation is one that rewards creativity, originality, imagination and innovation….

“The most recent scapegoat for our nation’s shameful achievement gap is teacher preparation programs, for failing to produce a steady stream of what the U.S. Department of Education abstractly calls “great teachers” to work in our neediest public schools. By blaming teacher preparation programs, the department can yet again divert public attention from the most crucial barrier to achieving educational equality: poverty.

There is a need for more “great teachers” who will commit themselves to our state’s neediest public schools. But achieving this goal will take more than naive slogans or punitive measures levied against teacher preparation programs that do not successfully persuade graduates to teach in these schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher preparation — with its emphasis on standardized test scores — work against this goal because of the overly technical, anti-intellectual portrait of teaching they endorse. We in Connecticut need to make these jobs more attractive to prospective teachers through increased respect, support and autonomy rather than criticism, disdain and surveillance.”

The entire commentary piece authored by the deans can be found here: Stop Blaming Teachers And Relying On Tests.

The authors of the powerful piece are Kevin G. Basmadjian, the dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University. Also participating in writing this piece were: James Carl, dean of the Isabelle Farrington College of Education at Sacred Heart University; Allen P. Cook, dean of the School of Education at the University of Bridgeport; Sandy Grande, chair of the Education Department at Connecticut College; Robert D. Hannafin, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield University; Ann Monroe-Baillargeon, dean of the School of Education at the University of Saint Joseph; Nancy S. Niemi, chair and professor in the Education Department at the University of New Haven; and Joan E. Venditto, director of education programs at Albertus Magnus College.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence!

Jonathan Kantrowitz, is a public education advocate, political activist and blogger.  His blog appears on the Connecticut Post website and the sites operated by the Hearst Media Group.  In a post entitled, “U.S. has the world’s most educated workforce—but students face unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence,” Jonathan Kantrowitz has written an extraordinary and profound piece about the real problems that are causing the growing educational achievement gap in the United States.

This article should be mandatory reading for the President of the United States, every member of Congress, every state governor and every state legislator.

At the very least, Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo should read it and be required to respond  – in writing – as to why they are promoting policies that take our public education policies in exactly the wrong direction.

The following is Jonathan Kantrowitz’s post;

Source: Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable

A new study released today challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores and questions conventional wisdom that the U.S.educational system has fallen badly behind school systems abroad.

In their report, School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect, the Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable examined six dimensions related to student performance—equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes—in the G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Finland and China. They then examined 24 “indicators” within those dimensions.

Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.

“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.

Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. Measures included rates of childhood poverty, income inequality and violence. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”

The study is a unique analysis, which for the first time compares K-12 education internationally on an array of social and economic indicators, not just test scores. The goal was to look at the whole iceberg, not just the tip—and provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools.

Some key findings:

 Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.

 Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. The U.S.is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.

 Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.

 Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.

 Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.

 System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.

“Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. To avoid that scoreboard mentality, we need to look at many measures important to shaping our future citizens. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.

A call for more nuanced assessments

American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ performance in education. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment—called the Program for International Student Assessment—PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.

“We don’t oppose using international assessments as one measure of performance. But as educators and policymakers, we need to compare ourselves with similar nations and on a broader set of indicators that put school performance in context—not just a single number in an international ranking,” said Harvey.

“Our study suggests the U.S. has the most educated workforce, yet students confront shockingly high rates of poverty and violence. Research shows that those larger issues, outside the classroom, are serious threats to student learning,” noted HML Executive Director Jack McKay.

For more of his posts, go to; http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/

The key factor driving academic performance is poverty…

And a new study from the Southern Education Foundation reports that low income students are now a majority of the schoolchildren attending the nation’s public schools.

Using data from the 2012-2013 school year, the study determined that 51 percent of all students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible under the federal program for free and reduced-price lunch, a standard measure of the number of children living in poverty.

The Southern Education Foundation also reported that, “In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.”

According to the report, even in Connecticut, the state with the highest per capita income in the nation, more than one in three public school students come from homes in poverty.  That number of public school students coming from poor households skyrockets in many of Connecticut’s poorer cities and towns where more than 8 in 10 students qualifying for free or reduced school lunches.

The Washington Post article covering the new study quoted Michael A. Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, who explained, We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later…A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all.

Kent McGuire, the president of the Southern Education Foundation, which according to the Washington Post is the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, discussed the harsh reality associated with reaching a point where a majority of school children are now living in poverty.  McGuire said, “The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years, it didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”

The Corporate Education Reform Industry claims that the Common Core, more standardized testing, doing away with teacher tenure and privatizing public education by shifting to privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools will solve the biggest problems and challenges facing public education in the United States.

But the real truth is that the root problem is the fundamental lack of adequate resources for public schools, which in turn, prevents public schools from providing the breadth of support and services that would be needed to give poor children a real opportunity for academic success.

The recent Washington Post highlighted the funding problem reporting,

The amount spent on each student can vary wildly from state to state. Vermont, with a relatively low student-poverty rate of 36 percent, spent the most of any state in 2012-2013, at $19,752 per pupil. In the same school year, Arizona, with a 51 percent student-poverty rate, spent the least in the nation at $6,949 per student, according to data compiled by the National Education Association. States with high student-poverty rates tend to spend less per student: Of the 27 states with the highest percentages of student poverty, all but five spent less than the national average.

And The Southern Education Foundation concluded their report with a stark warning;

 “No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness…  Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…”

You can access the full report at: http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now

A Letter from a Teacher: What We Should Do Instead (Guest Post by Dr. Jeannette Faber)

This guest post is from Connecticut Educator Jeannette Farber;

 2015 is upon us. Instead of staying on the road known as “education reform,” I have 12 resolutions – one for each month of 2015.

Two words: Investment and Innovation

But first… The myth of “our public schools are failing.” We erroneously base a school’s success on standardized test scores. We are duped into thinking public schools are failing based on an international test known as the PISA test.  In the five decades of our students taking this test, we have never done well.  Yet, our nation continues to drive innovation and our nation has the world’s best universities. We are compared to countries with a 3 % poverty rate, Finland. We are compared to countries that do not educate or test everyone.  Meanwhile, in the US, we educated everyone and test everyone.  If test scores are the basis of success (again, an erroneous measure), we currently have the highest test scores in our history.  We also have our highest graduation rates – 80% in four years and 90% for those who take more than four years or who earn a GED.

There are many myths: They are perpetuated by the corporate media and those profiting from privatizing public education.

Any lack of progress in school improvement is due to the lack of teacher empowerment and to equity in funding.  We need to invert the power dynamic and create schools that work from the classroom out, not the federal, state, central office, and/or principal “down.”  We need to focus on schools where there is intense poverty. These are not “failing schools”: they are schools that are being failed by society.

“Education reform” as we know it, began in 1983; since then, teachers have had to respond to initiatives that come and go whenever there is a change from “above.” Unfortunately, many folks driving policy and influence – like Arne Duncan, the Waltons, Bill Gates – have never been educators.  Current drivers of education “reform” are “corporation education reformers.” Corporations profit from public schools by selling “solutions” that are anything but solutions. They brought narrow, not rigorous, standards, The Common Core, written by testing companies.  What follows the Common Core? Canned assessments, scripted lessons, and an increasing onslaught of standardized testing – all purchased with taxpayer money.

And worse, this replaces the joy of life-long learning with the dread of a one-size-fits-all regime. It is not real learning. It is soul crushing.

So, instead of staying on this doomed road of corporate education reform, what should we do instead?

The 12 resolutions I offer are framed by two concepts: innovation and investment

To start, by innovation, I mean this: We do need to transform public education as we still largely work on a century-old model – the factory model.  We do need to make education more innovative, creative, student centered, and constructivist – all focusing on critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.  The current road of “corporate education reform” will not take us there. In fact, it will take us in the opposite direction.

By investment, I mean this: Equity in funding and resources.  When public education became compulsory a century ago, education leaders vowed to make public education the great equalizer. We have failed at that for a century. Usually, wealthier students receive more funding; poor students, less. That is a betrayal of our democratic values.

Resolutions:

  1. Innovate, invert, the power dynamic: Starting from the “bottom” (See how we are conditioned to think?), educators need to take back our classrooms and schools for the sake of real learning and for our students.
  1. Innovate the purpose of “unions.” We can re-envision our teachers’ unions as true educational associations. Teachers need a credible way to ensure a seat at the head of the table.  Education associations need to shift the paradigm from being narrowly focused wages, benefits, working conditions to transforming our organizations to lead the profession. We are the experts. 
  1. Innovate the federal and state roles in education. Departments of Education (state and federal) should not be controlled of an administration. Administrations like to change the pieces, and even the game board, every 4 or 8 years. Rather, DoEs should be independent educational institutions that reports to an administration.  Institution leaders should be actual educators. Every time we get a new principal, a new superintendent, a new governor, a new president, schools have to change direction.  There is never continual focus on addressing the real problems.  And, teachers have no voice in these “initiatives” or “reforms.”
  1. Innovate by creating the education institution just mentioned – a national organization that has state and local organizations – education associations!  Teachers need professional development in the latest research and best practices. This national education institute and its state and local associations can provide professional leadership through affiliations with researchers and practioners in education, K – 12 or university experts. This would create ongoing, meaningful, and lasting transformation.
  1. Innovate how schools improve. Schools can work with these education organizations to create a vision and action plan for individual schools. Schools cannot fit into a one-size-fits-all reform.  Instead, this model would be akin to how accreditation organizations work but more for the purpose of helping schools/teachers continually work on school-improvement that works from the classroom/school out.
  1. Innovate how schools and teachers help other schools and teachers transform themselves. Each school could have a profile describing it – its strengths and challenges – so it can be part of a consortium of other like schools, all working together to affect meaningful change – all teacher/administration/expert led, of course.
  1. Invest in universal pre-school education in all 50 states. Have additional programs for children living in severe poverty that engages the parent/s and child from birth until s/he enters preschool.  Such programs can offer parenting classes and stress the importance of reading to a child.  This can help close the gap before children enter school.
  1. Invest in wrap-around serves in all school districts with a high percentage of poverty. School districts can work with outside organizations and non-profits to supply families with wrap-around services: continuing education for parents, mental health services, rehab programs, heath care, conflict mediation, character education, after-school programs, tutoring, etc.
  1. Invest in teachers. In order to have a real and lasting effect, teachers need meaningful professional development, time to collaborate, and reasonable students loads. Currently, 46.2% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. That statistic, obviously, tells us we do not treat teaching as the profession it is.
  1. Invest in collaboration. We need to invest in schedules that allow schools to be learning communities not just for students but also for teachers: these are inter-related. Teachers learn to be better teachers through continual reflection, collaboration, implementation, and innovation.
  1. Invest in lead teachers. Public education has become an incalcatrant bureaucracy. Approximately 51% of K-12 employees are classroom teachers. The remaining 49% is administration and support staff.  We need to distinguish between administrators who have a managerial role (scheduling, policy, etc.) and administrators who are educational leaders (experts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment). I’ll call these folks Lead Teachers.  We could trim the bureaucracy if we empowered teachers, unleashing their expertise in order to lead schools in a continual growth model. And, let’s narrow the wide gap between teachers’ and administrators’ salaries.
  1. Invest a rich curriculum. Since NCLB and RttT, curricula have become very narrowly focused on math and reading – both vital components to education.  However, students deserve a rich curriculum.  Art, music, history, world languages, electives, etc. And young children need play time.  We need to bring our curriculum into the 21st century: more interdisciplinary and focused problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

The future of public education is truly at risk. We must resolve to transform our public schools by entrusting the experts, American educators, to lead the way. 

Jeannette Faber has been teaching high school English in CT for 19 years. She holds three advanced degrees, the most recent a doctorate in English Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College.  Dr. Faber resides in New Haven, CT. © Jeannette C. Faber 2014

 

Look out Malloy and Foley – you are both on the wrong side on education

A new National Poll on Public Education was released today.  The poll was paid for by a Democratic leaning advocacy group and conducted by Harstad Strategic Research – a Colorado-based firm which worked on President Barack Obama’s 2008 election and 2012 re-election.

The poll reports….

Solid majorities back more funding for public schools and teacher pay, and overwhelming majorities rate local public schools and their teachers highly.

  • A 61% majority of voters believe that state funding for public schools should be increased – including 79% of Democrats, 57% of Independents and even 45% of Republicans.
  • And 56% of voters with an opinion believe pay for public school teachers falls short of what it should be.
  • Fully 82% of voters able to rate their local public school teachers rate them as excellent, very good, or good – versus just 8% who rate them as marginal or poor. Among public school parents, 93% rate public school teachers as excellent, very good, or good.
  • Speaking of public school parents, 84% give their children’s schools an A (53%) or B (31%) grade. Ten percent offer a C, and 3% say D or F. While there is certainly room for improvement, the median grade would in effect be an A-minus.

When given four broad reasons for why public schools might not be performing better, virtually no one puts the blame on “bad teachers.”

  • 40% Lack of parental involvement and support
  • 29% Inadequate funding and resources for public schools
  • 18% The effects of poverty, hardship and problems kids bring to school
  • 3% Bad teachers (including 4% of Republicans and 3% of conservatives)
  • 9% Don’t know

The survey tested a dozen statements, asking whether voters agree or disagree with each one. Messages that were supported by at least 2/3rd of Americans were the following.

The survey tested a dozen statements, asking whether voters agree or disagree with each one. Messages that were supported by at least 2/3rd of Americans were the following.

  • Neighborhood schools should be our top priority because they educate a huge majority of our kids;
  • Teachers should be held accountable by principals, supervisors and parents– not by standardized bubble tests;
  • Taxpayer money should pay for children’s education– not for corporate profits, CEO bonuses, or advertising budgets;
  • Educators should be teaching critical thinking and problem-solving– not just teaching to the standardized bubble test; 
  • We must let teachers do what they know best– teach our kids and prepare them for college and careers. Politicians and corporations should get out of the way; 
  • Everyone has a favorite teacherwho made a real difference in their lives – and we need to support and promote those kinds of classrooms.

More about the poll can be found at: http://www.democratsforpubliceducation.com/news/dems-public-ed-releases-poll-showing-overwhelming-support-public-schools/

 

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

Thomas Scarice is the Superintendent of Schools in Madison, Connecticut. 

Last January, Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading voice for public education, added Superintendent Scarice to her champion of public education honor roll for his leadership in bringing together the Madison school board, teachers, parents and the local community. Rather than accepting the regimented, dictatorial, top-down teacher evaluation system being pushed by Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, Scarice led a community based planning process that developed a home-grown teacher evaluation system that should be used as a national model.

Although Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has yet to approve Madison’s teacher evaluation plan, it is and will remain as a true example of what communities can do when given the opportunity to make public education a true priority.

This week Thomas Scarice reiterated his role as a major voice for public education in Connecticut when he used his back to school address to lay out a vision for his students, teachers, schools and community.

In addition, the event included an extraordinarily powerful student produced documentary entitled “What makes a great teacher.”

As you watch the video and read Superintendent’s Scarice’s speech, imagine the state and country we could have if every elected official and policymaker took the time to truly listen to learn from these two examples.

Here is a link to the student video:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI5EM8WBSSQ

And here are the remarks made by;

Thomas Scarice
Superintendent of Schools
Madison, Connecticut

IN A MATTER OF DAYS, 313 STUDENTS WILL BEGIN THEIR CULMINATING YEAR IN THE MADISON PUBLIC SCHOOLS AS THEY LOOK TO GRADUATE FROM DANIEL HAND HIGH SCHOOL IN JUNE.

WHEN THESE STUDENTS BEGAN THEIR ACADEMIC CAREERS IN KINDERGARTEN IT WAS AUGUST OF 2001 AND THE WORLD WAS A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE.  I’M SURE THERE WERE THOSE PROJECTING THE FUTURE OF THESE YOUNG CHILDREN…WHICH IN THIS ERA IS LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

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