A back-to-school wish for Connecticut (Guest Post)

Education advocates Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme were teachers in the Ridgefield Public Schools.  In this commentary piece that first appeared in the Danbury News-Times, they lay out their wish for Connecticut’s public schools.

Connecticut public schools are becoming unrecognizable.

Common Core top-down mandates and pedagogy are ingrained and embedded into the classroom and have infected all our public schools. TheFederal Government and large publishing companies have taken control of our schools, impacting every district in the state. And the taxpayer shouldn’t be fooled by the new “law.”

“The Every Student Succeeds Act” did not do away with the failed Common Core, and does not insure quality education for all our students because of its inflexibility. Common Core still exists in Connecticut, along with the federal government top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates which are destroying public education throughout our country. Connecticut is a state with diverse communities and students. We need to serve all our students.

The Connecticut State Department of Education and our local districts need to take control, decide standards, and write appropriate curriculum now. With the new school year starting, we have a chance to begin fixing the problems and issues facing our public schools. Elected boards of education need to do their homework, and be continuous learners on how to meet the needs of the students in their districts. They need to meet with staff and students, and engage in conversations that will have concrete results and not just rubber-stamp administrative requests. They need to follow the money spent on district initiatives and assessments carefully to be sure their budgets reflect informed decisions.

Our schools do not need more management, mid-level consultants and coaches. This overflow is creating mediocre rigid school systems and infers a lack of confidence in the teaching staff. Schools need administrators who are truly educational leaders who understand the truth about how students learn. They need administrators who care and have the courage and integrity to evaluate and support effective teachers who have the expertise to create a supportive environment for learning, and a commitment to quality education.

Unfortunately, the morale in many districts is low and teachers are uninspired with scripted lessons. Teachers need to sit through redundant professional development seminars trying to reinvent the wheel, and documentaries on what good education looks like in unconventional charter schools. Yet they are locked into rigid scheduling and told that their test scores must be even better. Teaching to the test has become an accepted practice. To reach this testing goal our young children are put into developmentally inappropriate programs with expectations that are known inhibitors to providing a quality education. This defies the research on how young children learn. If this trend continues public education as we know it will be gone.

We need right now a redirection for our schools, where Connecticut educators lead, decide, and create their own developmentally appropriate standards, meeting the diverse needs of the students. This is our wish for the new school year:

  1. Allow high-performing districts to keep the exemplary public schools they have by giving outstanding teachers a voice and the support to bring autonomy back into the classrooms.
  2. Empower at-risk districts to design and choose programs that work for them and meet their needs. We need to increase their funding and add more diverse magnet public schools, regional schools, and vocational technical schools to give students and parents opportunities and choices. Top down Common Core regulations are strangling our inner city schools, not serving at-risk students, and they are suffering the most.
  3. Celebrate excellence and an inventive spirit. Encourage projects that are designed to be knowledge based, hooked to the curriculum and embedding multiple disciplines, including writing, within the classroom structure. They must also make allowances for individual learning styles, opportunities to work alone or in partnerships, and time to share and articulate the research and the projects with classmates.
  4. Promote parent and community partnerships — parents, students and community coming together via conferences, science fairs, productions, apprenticeships, community service, etc.
  5. Get rid of block scheduling which is problematic and limiting especially at the elementary level. It fails all our students, especially those at-risk.
  6. Provide integrated school programs that promote supportive mentorships and long-term connections with students. These programs encourage the development of educational and social values.
  7. Change the current teaching trajectory immediately and begin again to value innovation, creativity, and classroom experience.

In Connecticut, we need a public school system of, by, and for the children it serves. Communities need to be engaged education advocates. Administrators need to stand up and do the right thing for children and teachers.

If we don’t act now, then the 21st Century may prove to be the demise of our Connecticut Public Schools, and a direct route to private and unaccountable charter schools.

You can read and comment on the original commentary piece at: http://www.newstimes.com/opinion/article/Op-ed-A-back-to-school-wish-for-Connecticut-9200717.php