Corporate Education Reform Group’s proposal for new special education system in Connecticut panned;

The Connecticut School Finance Project, an off-shoot of the corporate funded charter school lobby group Connecticut Council on Education Reform (CCER) recently proposed legislation that would undermine Connecticut’s special education funding system.  Under the guise of “reform,” the new centralized and bureaucratic system would effectively remove local control when it comes to determining what programs and services would best address each individual child’s special education needs.

In violation of Connecticut’s state ethics laws, The Connecticut School Finance Project developed the outrageous proposal in conjunction with the Malloy administration and is now trying to get state legislators to put the organization’s plan into law.

In testimony provided to the Education Committee this week, Thomas Scarice, Superintendent of the Madison Schools and Dr. Elizabeth Battaglia, Director of Special Education in Madison, noted, among other points, that;

No other state in the nation has implemented a statewide intermediary to pay for all special education costs for school districts.  In short, this is a grand experiment with only theoretical assurances.  A comprehensive analysis by a task force, one that considers alternatives beyond the proposed cooperative, is necessary to address the complex problems facing districts.  An experiment is not a solution.  In fact, after a simple Google search, one can find the results of a somewhat similar model that was implemented on a regional basis in California through Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPA).  Over 100 of these models were implemented in California.  An analysis of these models by the Public Policy Institute of California found that they reduced transparency, accountability and local control.  Even more disturbing, they were consistently underfunded and failed to distribute aid in an equitable manner.  Additionally, the only somewhat analogous ode lint he nation (SELPAs) did not solve the primary problem facing districts, that is, rising special education costs.

In the California study, when local control for funding was taken away, it impacted preventative services and early intervention programs…

In a reasoned and well-thought out accounting of the problems, Superintendent Scarice and Dr. Battaglia revealed the very real short-comings in the Connecticut School Finance Project’s proposal.

The question now is whether legislators will back the corporate education reform entity or do what is best for Connecticut students who require special education services and the local school districts that provide them with that vital support.

You can read more testimony about House Bill 7255 at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmy.asp?comm_code=ed&date=03/16/2017 and Senate Bill 542 at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmy.asp?comm_code=ins&date=02/21/2017

A Clarion Call for Action – Superintendent Scarice speaks out for students, parents, teachers and Connecticut

Madison, Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has been named a public education champion by Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading education advocate.  His willingness to stand up and speak out on behalf of students, parents, teachers and public schools has earned him accolades and praise from the Washington Post to the Wait, What Blog and from many others.

In his latest piece, which first appeared in the CT Mirror, Thomas Scarice lays down the gauntlet saying, An education revolution beckons. In Connecticut, who will lead?.

Superintendent Scarice writes;

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before the Education Committee of the Connecticut Legislature.  I commented that education policy in our state sadly resembles the phenomenon of the “Macarena.”

Play along for a moment.  Let your mind drift back 20 years or so to any random wedding.  When the “Rent a DJ” wanted to get the dance floor moving you could hear the drumbeat and the lyrics, “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.” Suddenly, the house was jumping, hips were swaying, hands were clapping, and everyone from your 5-year-old nephew to your great aunt were doing the Macarena.

Now fast forward to present day.  The same stale “Rent a DJ” reaches back and tries to conjure up some dance magic.  You hear that familiar drumbeat.  But, instead of filling up the dance floor, all that is left are two embarrassing guys, hips swaying and hands clapping, all alone on the floor, while family and friends shuffle uncomfortably in their seats trying not to make eye contact.

Sadly, this metaphor is an illustration of education policy in Connecticut.  We are the state left on the dance floor with tired policies, while other states are running away.  We are overdue for a bold statewide vision that matches the uncertain and ever-changing world our students will enter when they graduate.  But who will lead?

Codified by state law, and enforced by a bureaucracy utterly consumed by compliance, tens of thousands of educators across the state are suffocating, desperate to be exhumed.  Consequently, this suffocation is stifling the young, inquisitive minds of children from all backgrounds and colors.

Have we seen the types of educational changes we want for our kids in the past 10-15 years, particularly as the world endures revolutionary changes?  If not, why continue the same ineffectual practices?  Can Connecticut jump to the forefront and lead in innovation, or do we stand on the dance floor with the two embarrassing guys clapping and swaying?

As we careen through rapid global changes that have profound implications for the worlds of work, citizenship, and lifelong learning, it is safe to assume that the traditional promise of “go to school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job” no longer applies.  If you are clinging to that promise, you are probably still searching for your music at Tower Records.

The world continues to decentralize its economy, and the flow of information, at an unprecedented rate.  The “sharing economy” rewards innovators and diversity of thought.  Yet, Connecticut clings to a command-and-control educational approach destined to homogenize children.

Either directly through prescriptive laws, such as ones that mandate precisely how local boards of education must evaluate their employees, or indirectly through schemes and mechanisms that place high stakes on invalid and unreliable tests such as the SBAC, we rank and sort kids, schools, and teachers based on test scores. Our 8-year-old students take more state tests than what is required to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer.  All the while we are missing the point.

We are educating our children for the wrong era.

So, how is this era different?  The list is endless.

Our kids must be able to think analytically through incomparable volumes of information, to imagine, to work effectively with others, to find their voice in a sea of noise, to tell a compelling story, and to ask incisive questions to name just a few.  Getting better at taking tests, answering mind-numbing “text-dependent questions” by finding facts in non-fiction texts, and limiting opportunities for original thought will only serve to further divorce important authentic learning from schooling.

Sudden, almost instantaneous changes are reshaping our democracy and the global economy.  Will Uber, with a valuation about to surpass the levels of GM, DuPont, and Time Warner, evolve beyond online transportation and be the standard business model that will employ the next generation of professionals?  Might patients someday demand the attentive droid instead of the human doctor for time sensitive procedures, such as keyhole kidney surgery?  What about entry level or service jobs?  iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn, has already replaced 60,000 workers with robots, and Royal Caribbean’s luxury cruise line now uses a robotic bar, Shakr Makr, developed at MIT, to serve customers.

What does the automated car mean for the insurance industry?  What about the “sharing economy”?  Airbnb is now the biggest hotel chain in the world.  What happens if the startup company, Otto, with engineers from Google, Apple and Tesla, perfects technology that enables fleets of robotic self-driving trucks?  Have you noticed that a multi-billion dollar industry has been reduced to a red tin box of DVDs outside of gas stations in the matter of a few years?   Couple all of these rapid transformations with an increasingly polarized interpersonal climate across the nation and an imposing landscape emerges for this and future generations.

And our response in Connecticut?  We cling to a flawed test (i.e. the SBAC), conflating measures with goals, while other states, and organizations in private industry leave the dance floor and run in the opposite direction.

Over half of the states that initially adopted the SBAC have dropped it, and the remaining states inevitably will in due time, including Connecticut, but by then how many more students will have been harmed?

Oklahoma and Hawaii have removed the coupling of student test scores from the evaluations of individual teachers.  Massachusetts is the next state to follow suit, interestingly enough, led by a coalition of superintendents and teachers.  A recent New York court decision invalidated the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations due to the arbitrary and capricious nature of the process.

Even outside of education, private industry behemoths such as, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, Google, and Accenture have eliminated the use of numerical ratings for employees, an immovable piece of the Connecticut evaluation scheme.  And finally, there’s New Hampshire, which has aggressively pursued a statewide assessment model that put teachers in the position of creating tasks where students apply their learning in real world situations, rather than flawed standardized tests.

Could Connecticut innovate on the same level?  Of course.  Will we?  Listen closely…”Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.

In Connecticut we will commission a “study” of the practice of assessing teachers’ performance on student test scores even though the actual makers of the test, and mountains of literature, warn against the practice.  We’ll grade schools and districts on a 1-5 rating scale, although that practice failed miserably across the nation.  We will count on the SBAC to predict career readiness… quite a miraculous endeavor given that the World Economic Forum recently predicted that 65 percent of the jobs our children will occupy do not even exist yet.

We will base 80 percent of elementary and middle school performance on a singular, flawed test, thus distorting the perception of schools.  We’ll place the SAT at the center of high school accountability with more than half of a school’s performance rating based on SAT scores, while a growing number of colleges and universities recognize that the SAT fails to properly predict college success and move to drop the testing requirement.

Worse yet, we apply the greatest pressure to districts with the greatest challenges, plagued with economic disadvantages and generational poverty.    Can you hear it?  “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.”

And how do we justify such practices?  Perhaps most offensive of all, we equate the need for high stakes testing , and command-and-control policies, with the obligation to ensure the protection of the civil rights for our most at-risk children without any conversation about the funding, or even more necessary, accountability for those holding others accountable.

The obsession with dehumanizing students and equating them with data points has muted any discussion about inputs into the system (e.g. funding, class size, innovative curricular and professional development).  One need to go no farther than a short drive down the turnpike to civil rights expert, Dr. Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University, who has demonstrated with thunderous authority, through the actual words and sayings of Dr. Martin Luther King, that the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement would have never stood beside those who seek to privatize and monetize public education, nor would he have supported the high stakes testing obsession that has crippled the promise of public education, dehumanized children, and driven countless educators out of the profession.

If that is not enough, perhaps civil rights icon James Meredith’s most recent comments criticizing these same intellectually and morally bankrupt practices will finally put this myth to bed.

And yet, in Connecticut, we remain on the dance floor.  Our dance partners are dwindling, running in the opposite direction.  An education revolution beckons.  One that engages, imagines, inspires, and personalizes.

Soon, it will just be us and the two embarrassing guys.  Who will lead?

To read and comment on Thomas Scarice’s commentary piece go to the CTMirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/06/09/an-education-revolution-beckons-in-connecticut-who-will-lead/

 

Speaking out for decoupling Common Core testing from the teacher evaluation process

In 2012, Governor Dannel Malloy’s “Education Reform” initiative included a destructive provision requiring that 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be dependent on how well students did on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme, despite the fact that every major academic study across the nation has proven that standardized test scores are not a proper, accurate or even useful tool for measuring a particular teacher’s effectiveness.

Over the past four years, the Malloy administration, in conjunction with the testing industry and the corporate funded “education reform” front groups, have spent thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying legislators to keep Malloy’s irresponsible teacher evaluation program unchanged rather than adopt one that uses criteria that actually determines whether a teacher is or is not doing a satisfactory job in the classroom.

On March 7, 2016 one of the bills that the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on was  Senate Bill 380, AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCLUSION OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE RESULTS ON THE MASTERY EXAMINATION FROM TEACHER EVALUATIONS.  The bill would “exclude student performance data on the Smarter Balanced Assessment from teacher performance evaluations.”

Among those speaking in favor of decoupling student’s standardized testing scores from the teacher evaluation process was Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice.

As a result of Superintendent Scarice’s leadership, the democratically elected members of the Madison School board, with the participation of teachers, parents and the community, developed a model teacher evaluation system that did not include the use of standardized tests scores.

However, rather than embrace a teacher evaluation program based on best practices, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education torpedoed the proposal.

Superintendent Scarice used his testimony at the Education Committee Public Hearing to lay out the reality about why the SBAC Common Core test is not an appropriate measure for evaluating teachers.

While Scarice’s testimony was short in length, its honest approach to the issue was in stark contrast to the “know-nothing” approach being spewed by the corporate education reform industry, their lobbyists and their allies.

Legislators, along with parents, teachers and Connecticut citizens should take the time to watch Superintendent Scarice’s testimony which can be found via the following link:

Video Testimony by Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice

http://ct-n.com/ctnplayer.asp?odID=12572&jump=7:42:53

New York Superintendents call for an end to evaluating teachers on standardized test results

Labeling children on the basis of unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory standardized tests is bad public policy.  Evaluating teachers on the scores their students get on those tests is equally wrong, yet that is exactly what the policy is in the State of Connecticut.

Last spring, more than 500,000 students across the country were opted out of the standardized testing craze.

This unprecedented development was the direct result of a growing awareness by parents, students, teachers and public education advocates that the standardized testing scheme isn’t useful and that the Corporate Education Reform Industry is turning public schools into little more than testing factories.

While school superintendents and administrators have been a major part of the anti-standardized testing coalitions in New York, far fewer Connecticut school administrators have been willingly to step forward and speak up on behalf of the students, parents, teachers and public schools they are sworn to serve.

In contrast, in the Constitution State Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has consistently been one of the school leaders who has been willing to provide his students, parents, teachers and community with the appropriate information about the extraordinary problems that come with a public education system that is overly reliant on standardized testing.

(See for example, Superintendent Scarice addresses the powerful and ugly truth about SBAC testing charade and Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again. and Diane Ravitch features Madison Superintendent Tom Scarice’s powerful letter on “education reform”)

With parents increasingly recognizing the inherent negative consequences that stems from the Common Core testing program, attention is now turning to the second major problem with the pro-Common Core, Pro-Common Core testing initiatives that have been sponsored by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the other political allies of the “Education Reformers” — and that is  — the inappropriateness of evaluation of teachers, based, at least in part, on their student’s standardized test results.

Late last week, superintendents in Nassau Country, New York sent a powerful letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo calling for an end to the use of standardized test results as part of that state’s teacher evaluation process.

The superintendents wrote;

It is because of our residents’ deep commitment that we feel a responsibility to protect our education system from misguided policy decisions, however well intended they may be. We understand that building an accountability system to ensure highly effective instruction for all students is a natural extension of the effort to raise expectations for all students. However, the exaggerated use of student test data in that system unfortunately undermined the initial goals.

[…]

We believe our parents understand the value of assessment but stand firmly against the continued distortion of curriculum driven by this flawed accountability system. The well-thought out decision of a significant percentage of our parents to opt their children out of State testing is a reflection of this concern.

Salvaging higher standards will require the State to accomplish three important objectives:

  • Declare a moratorium on the use of student achievement data for educator evaluations
  • Begin work in earnest toward developing a computer adaptive testing system, which will require far less time devoted to testing, ensure questions more appropriate to academic functioning rather than chronological age, and return actionable data in a timely fashion
  • Complete the review of the standards and make adjustments where appropriate.

Connecticut’s superintendents should follow the lead of their New York colleagues and demand that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly repeal the law they developed mandating that student achievement data from standardized tests be used as part of the educator evaluation process.

Numerous models have been developed to evaluate teachers (and administrators) without relying on flawed standardized test results.

In fact, Superintendent Scarice and the Madison Board of Education have adopted exactly such a model.

Madison Superintendent provides Parents with the truth about the Common Core SBAC Test

As George Orwell wrote in his initially classified book of fiction,

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

To which it is well to remember the words of Winston Churchill who observed,

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.

If you had a child in the Madison, Connecticut public schools you’d have a superintendent, school administrators and Board of Education that was committed to telling the truth about the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing System and dedicated to putting children, parents, teachers and their public schools above the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s ongoing attempt to undermine public education in the United States.

If you had a children in the Madison, Connecticut public schools you would have received the following a letter from Superintendent Thomas Scarice and Assistant Superintendent Gail Dahling-Hench, a letter that honestly and truthfully explains why the Common Core SBAC test is not an appropriate tool or mechanism to judge our children, their teachers or our public schools.

The letter to Madison Parents states;

Individual Student Reports for the 2015 Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized test were mailed this week. This specific report format is provided to the district by the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and is a product of the national Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, consisting of 18 states.

Tests are designed with a purpose. The SBAC test was designed to measure the college and career readiness level of students through their achievement on the Connecticut Core educational standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics in grades 3-8 and 11. In addition, as in prior years, the science CMT/CAPT test was administered in Grades 5, 8, and 10.

One singular test provides an extraordinarily limited view of individual student performance. This particular test is based on an incomplete view of “college and career readiness”. In fact, this test endeavors to provide parents and educators with a predictive measure of an individual student’s college and career readiness by mere achievement of educational standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The reliability of these predictions is imprecise and suspect at best.

Resources provided by the CSDE clearly state that characterizing a student’s achievement solely in terms of falling in one of four categories (levels) is an oversimplification, and that the specific achievement levels should not be interpreted as infallible predictors of students’ futures.

Perhaps most concerning in the student reports is the definitive nature of the claims made about an individual student based on one test. This can be found in the language that declares whether or not your child has “met the achievement level” expected for a specific grade, and whether or not your child will need “substantial support to get back on track for success in the next grade”. These claims are particularly alarming given the inadequacies, imperfections, and lack of reliable evidence on one singular test to make such assertions. A balance of assessment tools at the school level provides a more complete picture of individual student performance, as well as timely and actionable data. We encourage parents to look at student performance over various measures when understanding the academic performance of their child.

You are also invited to review the March 2015 report commissioned by the SBAC entitled, Making Good Use of New Assessments. This report conveys numerous cautions about the use, and most importantly, the misuse of these scores.

When examining your student report, we ask that you refer to the online parent interpretive guide provided by the CSDE.

We hope you find this summary helpful when examining the enclosed results for your student. If you have questions about this report….

You can read the letter at:   http://www.madison.k12.ct.us/page.cfm?p=2723&newsid=1201

When every superintendent, school administrator and Board of Education are willing to speak the truth about the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scam we will have taken a gigantic step forward in our battle to put the world “public” back into our nation’s system of public education.

A special opportunity to hear the truth about “Education Reform”

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell

Hosted by Robert Hannafin, Dean of Fairfield University’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions comes a unique opportunity to hear from Wendy Lecker, Jonathan Pelto, Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice and nationally renowned Education expert and advocate Yohuru Williams.

In their one and only joint appearance

 

March 31, 2015

6:30 p.m. -8:00 p.m.

Oak Room

Barone Campus Center

Fairfield University

Open to the public and free [Very much the corporate education reform industry]

 

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”

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

Thomas Scarice, the superintendent of Madison Public Schools in Connecticut, has been identified as a “Public Education Hero” by Diane Ravitch, the nations’leading public education advocate.  Scarice has been a leading Connecticut voice against “high-stakes test-based school reform.”

A few months ago, Thomas Scarice received national attention for a letter he sent to Connecticut State Legislators explaining why these “reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research.”

His latest commentary piece, “The greatest ‘crime’ committed against the teaching profession” was featured on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post’s education blog this week.

Thomas Scarice writes,

On May 25th, 2006, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in perhaps the most high profile scandal of corruption as a consequence of high stakes measures.  Lay and Skilling fraudulently inflated the company’s stock price to meet the high stakes demands of Wall Street’s expectations.  Not only did Lay and Skilling conspire to inflate stock prices, but they also distorted standard accounting practices to solely meet targets.  The seeds of high stakes schemes yield corruption and distortion.

The Enron case does not stand alone in the history of corruption and distortion amidst high stakes indicators, such as stock prices.  As academic scholars Dr. David Berliner and Dr. Sharon Nichols demonstrate in their work, the annals of corporate history are tattered with similar cases of corruption and distortion driven by high stakes pressures.  High stakes accountability and incentive system failures, as well as blatant fraud, at Dun and Bradstreet, Qwest, the Heinz Company, and Sears auto repair shops, illustrate that such schemes inevitably bring unintended consequences.  As people, we are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the intended or unintended consequences of such actions.  As author Steven Covey has written, “When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other end.”

The ubiquity of this principle is evident in the fields of medicine, athletics, higher education, and politics.  Quite simply, as the stakes rise, so do the occurrences of corruption and distortion.  Sadly, education is not immune to this principle.  Over a decade of high stakes accountability schemes thrust upon students, teachers, and schools have yielded sordid tales of outright corruption and cheating scandals.  Although such acts of indignity garner ornate headlines and self-righteous accusations about the lack of moral character, to which there is truth, given the inescapable unintended consequences of high stakes schemes, such corrupt behaviors and distortions of a given professional practice are inevitable and of no surprise.  Yet, we march on in the high stakes test-based accountability era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

Beneath the surface of these obvious problems lies a more insidious threat to the quality of public education for all children.  This threat begins with the redefinition of a quality education and ends with a decimating blow to the professional practice of education.  While frivolous topics related to the common core are debated in the open arena, e.g. whether or not the common core is a curriculum, a redefinition of quality education has destructively taken root.  This redefinition, one that feebly defines quality education as good high stakes test scores, and quality teaching as the efforts to produce good high stakes test scores, leaves well-intended educators consequentially conflating goals with measures.  Without question, measures, qualitative and quantitative, representing a variety of indicators that mark the values of an organization, are necessary fuel for the engine of continuous improvement.  High quality tests, specifically used for the purposes for which they were designed, can and should play a productive role in this process.  But, measures are not goals.  Regrettably, just as Lay and Skilling did in bringing a multibillion dollar corporation to its knees, in this era, the shallowest of thinkers have passively accepted the paradigm that measures are goals.

And finally, we are left with the greatest crime committed against the professional practice of education as a result of the corrosive effect of the high stakes testing era.  In an effort to thrive, and perhaps, just to survive, in a redefined world of quality education, a soft, though sometimes harsh, distortion of pedagogy, has perniciously spread to classrooms, just as the Enron executives distorted sound accounting practices to meet high stakes targets.  This will indeed be our greatest regret.

Corruption and distortion as a result of high stakes schemes sealed the fate of Enron and many other organizations like it.  History will tell the story about the future of the high stakes test-based accountability era and its unintended consequences.  And again, we march on in this era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

You can read the piece on-line at the Washington Post by going to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/20/superintendent-the-greatest-crime-committed-against-the-teaching-profession/

More than 500 New York State principals slam Common Core testing frenzy

While Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, and the Connecticut State Department of Education are instructing Connecticut superintendents and principals to mislead and lie to parents in an attempt to scare parents from opting their children out of the standardized testing frenzy, a group of more than 500 New York State principals have signed a letter setting the record straight about the problems associated with these new Common Core standardized tests.

Hopefully more Connecticut school administrators will join education leaders like Madison, Connecticut Superintendent  Thomas Scarice and stand up, step forward and speak out against the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test (SBAC), the overuse of standardized testing in Connecticut’s public schools and the right of parents to opt-out their children from these unfair, unnecessary, expensive and destructive tests.


New York State Principals

 An Open Letter to Parents of Children throughout New York State

Dear Parents,

We are the principals of your children’s schools. We serve communities in every corner of New York State — from Niagara County to Clinton, Chautauqua to Suffolk. We come from every size and type of school, with students from every background. We thank you for sharing your children with us and for entrusting us to ensure that they acquire the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their dreams and your hopes for them.

This year, many of your children experienced the first administration of the newly revised New York State Assessments. You may have heard that teachers, administrators, and parents are questioning the validity of these tests. As dedicated administrators, we have carefully observed the testing process and have learned a great deal about these tests and their impact. We care deeply about your children and their learning and want to share with you what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.

Here’s what we know:

1)    NYS Testing Has Increased Dramatically: We know that our students are spending more time taking State tests than ever before. Since 2010, the amount of time spent on average taking the 3-8 ELA and Math tests has increased by a whopping 128%! The increase has been particularly hard on our younger students, with third graders seeing an increase of 163%!

2)    The Tests were Too Long: We know that many students were unable to complete the tests in the allotted time. Not only were the tests lengthy and challenging, but embedded field test questions extended the length of the tests and caused mental exhaustion, often before students reached the questions that counted toward their scores. For our Special Education students who receive additional time, these tests have become more a measure of endurance than anything else.

3)    Ambiguous Questions Appeared throughout the Exams: We know that many teachers and principals could not agree on the correct answers to ambiguous questions in both ELA and Math. In some schools, identical passages and questions appeared on more than one test and at more than one grade level. One school reported that on one day of the ELA Assessment, the same passage with identical questions was included in the third, fourth AND fifth grade ELA Assessments.

4)    Children have Reacted Viscerally to the Tests: We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, “This is too hard,” and “I can’t do this,” throughout his test booklet.

5)    The Low Passing Rate was Predicted: We know that in his “Implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards” memo of March 2013, Deputy Commissioner Slentz stated that proficiency scores (i.e., passing rate) on the new assessments would range between 30%-37% statewide. When scores were released in August 2013, the statewide proficiency rate was announced as 31%.

6)    The College Readiness Benchmark is Irresponsibly Inflated: We know that the New York State Education Department used SAT scores of 560 in Reading, 540 in Writing and 530 in mathematics, as the college readiness benchmarks to help set the “passing” cut scores on the 3-8 New York State exams. These NYSED scores, totaling 1630, are far higher than the College Board’s own college readiness benchmark score of 1550. By doing this, NYSED has carelessly inflated the “college readiness” proficiency cut scores for students as young as nine years of age.

7)    State Measures are Contradictory: We know that many children are receiving scores that are not commensurate with the abilities they demonstrate on other measures, particularly the New York State Integrated Algebra Regents examination. Across New York, many accelerated eighth-graders scored below proficiency on the eighth grade test only to go on and excel on the Regents examination one month later. One district reports that 58% of the students who scored below proficiency on the NYS Math 8 examination earned a mastery score on the Integrated Algebra Regents.

8)    Students Labeled as Failures are Forced Out of Classes: We know that many students who never needed Academic Intervention Services (AIS) in the past, are now receiving mandated AIS as a result of the failing scores. As a result, these students are forced to forgo enrichment classes. For example, in one district, some middle school students had to give up instrumental music, computer or other special classes in order to fit AIS into their schedules.

9)    The Achievement Gap is Widening: We know that the tests have caused the achievement gap to widen as the scores of economically disadvantaged students plummeted, and that parents are reporting that low-scoring children feel like failures.

10) The Tests are Putting Financial Strains on Schools: We know that many schools are spending precious dollars on test prep materials, and that instructional time formerly dedicated to field trips, special projects, the arts and enrichment, has been reallocated to test prep, testing, and AIS services.

11) The Tests are Threatening Other State Initiatives: Without a doubt, the emphasis on testing is threatening other important State initiatives, most notably the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Parents who see the impact of the testing on their children are blaming the CCSS, rather than the unwise decision to implement high stakes testing before proper capacity had been developed. As long as these tests remain, it will be nearly impossible to have honest conversations about the impact of the CCSS on our schools.

 

Here’s what we do not know:

1)    How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.

2)    How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.

3)    The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.

4)    What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.

5)    How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.

Please know that we, your school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in our power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous. We encourage you to dialogue with your child’s teachers so that you have real knowledge of his skills and abilities across all areas. If your child scored poorly on the test, please make sure that he does not internalize feelings of failure. We believe that the failure was not on the part of our children, but rather with the officials of the New York State Education Department. These are the individuals who chose to recklessly implement numerous major initiatives without proper dialogue, public engagement or capacity building. They are the individuals who have failed.

As principals of New York schools, it is always our goal to move forward in a constant state of improvement. Under current conditions, we fear that the hasty implementation of unpiloted assessments will continue to cause more harm than good. Please work with us to preserve a healthy learning environment for our children and to protect all of the unique varieties of intelligence that are not reducible to scores on standardized tests. Your child is so much more than a test score, and we know it.

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.

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