Education Reform, Malloy, Teacher Evaluations, Wendy Lecker Education Reform, Malloy, Teacher Evaluation, Wendy Lecker
Among Governor Malloy’s package of election year gimmicks to win back enough support to get 50 percent of the vote in November’s gubernatorial election are a series of steps to deceive teachers, parents and public school advocates into thinking that he is mending his ways and stepping off the corporate education reform industry gravy train.
In a move that would make any panderer proud, Governor Malloy said he would even delay Connecticut’s unfair, inaccurate and counter-productive teacher evaluation program. In fact, he said he would delay it all the way until January 2015, a full TWO MONTHS after his dreamed of re-election.
What Malloy and his education reform allies refuse to admit is that Connecticut’s Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured. Delaying its implementation is a worthless political stunt.
As Wendy Lecker writes in her latest commentary piece for the Stamford Advocates and Hearst Media Group newspapers, “The time has come to repeal Malloy’s education reforms and develop proposals that will actually improve our schools.”
In another MUST READ piece, Wendy Lecker writes:
With an election year upon us, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently announced that we should delay his new teacher evaluation system. This comes after his policies wasted millions of dollars and thousands of teacher, administrator and student hours.
The governor claims a delay will solve the glitches in the system, implying that the problems with this unproven teacher evaluation system are only procedural.
The truth is that Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation model, called SEED, is fatally flawed and no amount of delay will cure it. It must be scrapped and replaced by a valid system that will actually work to improve teaching and learning.
As the Malloy administration has been warned repeatedly, the reliance on standardized test scores for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation renders the entire system unreliable.
Research has demonstrated conclusively that using standardized test to rate teachers is invalid because scores vary widely based on the test, year, class and statistical model used. This overwhelming evidence prompted Tennessee’s State Board of Education, one of the first adopters of the so-called Value Added Model (“VAM”), to now abandon the use of VAM in any decisions to license or fire teachers. A bill is pending in Tennessee to prohibit the use of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.
Connecticut uses an even more inaccurate method called Student Growth Percentiles (“SGP”). While VAM tries but fails to isolate a teacher’s small effect on student test scores, SGP does not even attempt to measure a teacher’s effect.
SGP tells us nothing about a teacher. Yet that is what Connecticut uses for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Though SGP is a portion of a teacher’s evaluation, it will likely be the determining factor because its volatility will make it the tipping point in a rating.
Delay will not cure the use of SGP. Time cannot magically make unreliable data more reliable — it just gives us more consistently unreliable data.
Delay will also not cure the other fatal flaws in the evaluation system.
The goal of Connecticut’s evaluation system should be to improve teaching and learning. Because they teach human beings, teachers work in a dynamic environment and must be able to adjust their lessons and behavior to each class. A successful teacher evaluation model captures authentic teaching and learning.
Kim Marshall’s admired mini-observation model employs this approach. Since not every aspect of teaching occurs in every class, several mini-observations are required, with conversations after each one. In order not to disrupt teaching, supervision should occur throughout the year, and evaluation at the end.
However, Connecticut’s teacher evaluation program emphasizes so-called measurement, not teaching practice. It is so focused on measurement that it detracts from teaching and learning.
Connecticut’s system is not geared toward improving teaching or learning because it did not emanate from the classroom or classroom practice. Teachers are asked to respond to externally generated jargon-filled questions that have little relationship to their classroom or students. Where they used to use staff meetings to review student work and share ideas for improving lessons, they now spend hours in meetings discussing how to answer these artificial questions and enter them into the computer.
In classroom observations, administrators write down every word a teacher says. One teacher reports having the evaluator interrupt her interactions with students so she could repeat verbatim what she had just said. An experienced counselor described an observed family meeting in which the administrator’s transcribing was so distracting that she focused on every word she said rather than the toxic dynamic developing between the parent and child. A 40-year veteran first-grade teacher recounted how she no longer reads books aloud to her students because she fears an evaluator will say she is off-script.
Waiting a year will not help. As one teacher said “We can all figure out how to fill out the forms more quickly and accurately and nothing will have improved for the student.”
He continued. “A teacher’s most valuable resource is time. I used to spend this time trying to think of ways to make my lessons more engaging, or how to scaffold better.” Now, the teacher reports spending that time answering questions that seem to exist merely to justify an outside consultant’s fee.
The majority of Connecticut teachers agree. UConn’s study of the evaluation pilot found that only 42 percent of teachers believe that with sufficient resources — time and staffing- SEED will improve teacher practice.
The time has come to repeal Malloy’s education reforms and develop proposals that will actually improve our schools.
You can read Wendy Lecker’s latest article and search for her previous commentary pieces at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Ailing-teacher-evaluation-program-can-t-5215123.php
Early Childhood Education, Education Reform, Malloy, Wendy Lecker Early Childhood Education, Education Reform, Malloy, Wendy Lecker
Hearst media commentator and fellow pro-public education advocate Wendy Lecker has another great commentary piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate.
“High-quality preschool is one of the best investments society can make in our children. It has been proven to improve academic outcomes and reduce the costly incidence of special education and grade retention. It increases high school graduation and reduces contact with the criminal justice system.
While Connecticut’s leaders have paid lip service to the value of high-quality preschool, they have not made a serious effort to address the inequity of preschool access in our state. For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, 98.3 percent of Westport’s kindergarten students attended preschool, nursery school or a Headstart program, compared with only 65 percent of neighboring Bridgeport’s kindergartners.
Last month, the federal government rejected the Malloy Administration‘s application for Race to the Top funds for expanding Connecticut’s preschool because Connecticut did “not present a High Quality Plan” to serve high-needs children.
The truth is, Connecticut would not have had to look very far to find a successful model of high-quality preschool serving high-needs children.
New Jersey’s Abbott preschool program has been recognized nationally as a stellar example of high-quality preschool.
In 1998, in New Jersey’s school funding case, called “Abbott,” the state’s highest court ruled that preschool is an essential component of a constitutionally adequate education and mandated universal full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in the 31 highest poverty districts in the state.
New Jersey then built a universal preschool program that resulted in strong and persistent gains for children in the Abbott districts. Children who attended the Abbott preschool outperformed those who did not in oral language, conceptual knowledge, math and literacy. Abbott preschool graduates were half as likely to be retained in a grade as those who did not; and children who attended Abbott preschool were much less likely to require special education services.
The way in which New Jersey achieved this system of high-quality preschool provides a lesson beyond just preschool. It is a model for school reform in general.
Following the court’s mandates, New Jersey was required to provide preschool programs that conformed to specific quality standards. In 1999, there was a patchwork of private and public providers already operating in these districts. Many were of sub-standard quality. On the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), a research-based assessment of preschool program quality, less than 15 percent were rated good to excellent and nearly one in four was less than minimal quality. By 2007-08, the vast majority of classrooms were good to excellent, with no “poor” ratings.
New Jersey built a high-quality, diverse delivery preschool system by investing in existing community-based and Headstart programs, and expanding school-based preschool. The state paid to send preschool teachers back to school for additional certification and boosted teacher pay. It developed operational standards that enabled communities to serve the particular needs of their districts’ children; and developmentally appropriate curricula. The state provided technical assistance to providers, for example, in managing finances. Moreover, it invested in facilities and wrap-around services.
New Jersey did not close poor quality preschools. It did not engage in wholesale firing and replacement of staff. It did not impose outside managers unfamiliar with the communities. It did not force a “cookie-cutter” model that ignored the specific needs of each district. It did not replace existing schools with ones that exclude the neediest children.
In other words, New Jersey did not use the “turnaround” methods of reform favored by today’s school reformers.
Mass school closings are a disturbing trend in financially distressed districts across the nation. The closings disproportionately impact African-American and Latino students, seldom improving academic performance. School closures have a destabilizing effect on the entire community, as the schools closed were often anchors of the neighborhood. Often, the new replacement schools fail to serve the district’s most vulnerable children. When they do not close a school, reformers favor replacing a school’s staff, another ineffective strategy. In fact, it was recently revealed that the federal government has poured millions of dollars into “turnaround” efforts like these, which replace and displace rather than rebuild, with very little evidence of a successful return on its investment.
Connecticut’s education policies have been diverted down the wrong road. It is time to put Connecticut back on track. New Jersey’s Abbott program provides an alternate model; one that can be successful not only for preschool but also for K-12 education. While corporate reformers push slash-and-burn techniques that ignore and even destroy local institutions, the Abbott program proves that cultivation of community resources reaps long-lasting benefits — for children and the neighborhoods.”
You can read the full piece: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-N-J-could-offer-a-model-for-Conn-5132350.php
Common Core, Malloy, Stefan Pryor, Wendy Lecker Common Core, Malloy, Stefan Pryor, Wendy Lecker
Public School parent, fellow public-education advocate and ally Wendy Lecker has written another “must read” commentary piece in this past weekend’s Stamford Advocate.
The article may very well be the most powerful take-down yet of the Common Core and, in this case, the Malloy administration’s plan to spend up to $1 million in public funds on an absolutely absurd waste of $1 million to advertise and promote he warped Common Core standards.
Wendy Lecker writes;
Who can forget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s repugnant words, “I’ll settle for teaching to the test if it means raising test scores?”
When it comes to their children, parents do not want to settle. They know that teaching to the test means a narrowed curriculum and mind-numbing test prep. Unlike the governor, parents and teachers understand that children need and deserve a well-rounded and engaging education.
A recent study out of MIT renders Malloy’s statement even more odious.
Researchers found that an increase in standardized test scores does not increase a child’s cognitive skills: specifically her ability to analyze abstract problems and think logically. This study confirms earlier research showing that standardized tests essentially measure merely how good a test-taker a student is.
Governor Malloy’s statement and resulting policies undermine the goal of developing citizens capable of flourishing our complex world.
The MIT findings also shed important light on the dangers associated with our state’s rush to implement the controversial Common Core State Standards. Proponents of the Common Core swear that this new regime will teach our children to think deeply and critically. In fact, it was just revealed that Malloy’s Education Commissioner plans to spend up to 1 million taxpayer dollars on a public relations firm to sell this idea to the public. The plan is to create a multi-media campaign to try to convince the public that the Common Core is worthwhile.
However, the focus of the Common Core is new and even more onerous standardized testing. The tests are longer, contain more multiple choice questions and have computer-scored essays that cannot assess anything but rudimentary writing skills. MIT’s study proves that a regime, such as the Common Core, whose goal is increased scores on standardized tests, will not develop critical thinking, no matter what its high-priced salesmen claim.
It is no wonder, then, that parents across the country are rising up to resist the rollout of the Common Core tests. There has been an explosion in the opt-out movement, from New York, to Oklahoma to Chicago to Oregon. Protesting parents are meeting with some impressive success. For example, after 80 percent of parents at one elementary school in Washington Heights in New York City, boycotted new state testing of young elementary school students, the school canceled the tests altogether.
Now that Common Core testing has come to Connecticut, officials around the state are reporting that parents here are seeking to opt out of state tests. They are preparing for the possible tidal wave of parents who will refuse to subject their children to invalid, overly long and meaningless tests.
State and local officials also know that while Connecticut law provides that students “shall” take state tests, there is no sanction for parents who refuse to have their children take the tests. Rather than honestly inform parents of this fact, the State Department of Education has a detailed plan of action for how to frighten those parents who might want to opt their children out of testing into submission.
If a parent seeks to opt his child out, SDE suggests that administrators inform him that the district has no freedom in the matter. State officials are instructed to tell parents who contact them that there is no opt-out language in the law. If a parent persists, the district is advised to present him with an intimidating legal-looking, but meaningless, “letter of intent” to sign.
Should a parent make it past the bullying gauntlet outlined above, he will find out what SDE knew all along. SDE’s instruction provides that if, after all these steps, a parent still refuses, then “the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as `absent’ (for purposes of testing), which negatively impacts the participation rate for the district.”
In other words, there are no negative consequences to a parent or child who opts out of state tests.
When our state education officials impose an educational program that does nothing to develop our children’s intellectual abilities, intentionally mislead parents about what the law on testing permits, then waste scarce taxpayer dollars, not on educational services, but rather on a media blitz to further snow the public, we know that they do not have the best educational interests of our children in mind.
Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Connecticut’s legislators need to understand that Connecticut’s parents, like those in New York and elsewhere, will not stand for this unprecedented assault on our local schools and the children they are dedicated to serve.
Here is the link to Wendy Lecker’s “must read” piece: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Tax-dollars-spent-to-mislead-parents-5096886.php
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Education Funding, Malloy, Stefan Pryor, Wendy Lecker CCJEF v. Rell, Malloy, school funding, Stefan Pryor, Wendy Lecker
Fellow public school advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker has written yet another “must read” column for the Stamford Advocate.
While candidate “Dan” Malloy ran on a platform of supporting public education, Governor “Dannel” Malloy has pushed an agenda that has systematically undermined Connecticut’s public schools. Rather than solve Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula, as he promised, Malloy has repeatedly worked to destroy the very lawsuit that he helped bring on behalf of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.
His education “reform initiative” is the most anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-local control legislation of any Democratic governor in the nation.
And his Commissioner of Education has so mismanaged the Connecticut Department of Education that a significant number of school superintendents are actually talking about a vote of no confidence in Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
With that as the background, Wendy Lecker has written a piece appropriately entitled, “Malloy can tell it to the judge.”
In it she writes:
Connecticut recently was treated to two contradictory pictures of education in our state: one was fantasy and the other, reality. The magical thinking was provided by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at a speech at the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute on Dec. 2. There, he trumpeted the success of his 2012 education “reform legislation.” Two days later, Judge Kevin Dubay of Connecticut Superior Court provided a dose of reality about Malloy’s grand, but empty, pronouncements, in his decision to deny Malloy’s motion to dismiss the CCJEF v. Rell school funding suit.
At his AEI speech, Malloy shockingly dismissed the need to provide all children with educational opportunities as “old rhetoric.” His focus is not on educational opportunity, he claimed, but rather “educational success.” Malloy trumpeted his 2012 education “reform” legislation as providing the path to educational success.
Contrary to Malloy’s contention, educational opportunity is not just “old rhetoric.” The concept of educational opportunity has a specific constitutional meaning in Connecticut. Under our constitution, Connecticut must provide all children with “suitable educational opportunities.” Connecticut’s highest court has defined those opportunities as schools with sufficient resources to provide an education that prepares Connecticut’s children to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.
As mayor of Stamford, Malloy understood the constitutional significance of educational opportunity. He was a founding member of the CCJEF coalition and one of the original plaintiffs in the suit demanding the state fulfill its legal obligation to provide fair and adequate funding to all Connecticut public schools.
However, as governor, Malloy would like to pretend that Connecticut’s children can achieve academic success while he deprives them and their schools of the basic educational resources necessary to provide constitutionally required educational opportunity. Indeed, the governor’s faulty approach was the linchpin of his most recent failed attempt to get rid of the CCJEF case.
In his motion to dismiss the CCJEF case, Malloy claimed there was no need to continue with this case because his 2012 education reforms cured all the constitutional deficiencies in Connecticut’s educational system. The judge disabused the governor of the fantasy that his reforms have actually improved Connecticut’s schools. He ruled that Malloy and the state presented no evidence to prove that his 2012 reforms were enacted to correct the constitutional inadequacies of Connecticut’s educational system or state school funding.
Malloy’s 2012 education legislation was not designed to provide Connecticut’s children with equal educational opportunity. As he admitted in his AEI speech, educational opportunity is no longer the governor’s focus. He would rather push unproven “reforms” that bear no relationship to what our highest court and our constitution recognize that our children need.
Another incredible claim made by Malloy at the AEI appearance was that his 2012 education legislation, for the first time in Connecticut history, directed copious amounts of money to Connecticut’s neediest districts.
A few hard numbers may help bring Malloy back to this planet. According to CCJEF’s expert’s analysis, updated to 2012 dollars, East Hartford’s school district is owed $6,131 per child in state funding. Malloy’s 2012 legislation gave them an increase of $214 per pupil. Bridgeport’s school district is owed $7,505 per child, but only received an increase of $209 per pupil in the 2012 legislation. The state owes New Britain’s children $10,185 per student. The 2012 legislation provided them with a whopping $245 per pupil increase. The list goes on and on. Moreover, as a condition for each tiny increase in ECS funding, these districts were saddled with costly mandates.
By contrast, charter schools, which educate 1 percent of Connecticut’s public school children and 90 percent of which serve a less needy population than their host districts, received an increase of $2,600 per pupil over three years in the 2012 legislation. Diverting state funding to 1 percent of public school children, who are often not the neediest, is likely to increase educational resource inequity in the state, especially when our neediest schools are getting so little.
The governor’s empty political posturing about the success of his education reforms may work at think tanks in Washington. However, here in the Constitution state, facts matter, and Judge Dubay made clear that, so far, Malloy has failed to provide any. The judge ordered that the CCJEF case proceed to trial where, one way or another, Malloy will have to put his money where his mouth is.
You can read Wendy Lecker’s column here: Lecker: Malloy can tell it to the judge
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Education Reform, Hartford, SAND Elementary, Steve Perry Capital Preparatory Magnet School, Wendy Lecker Achievement First Inc., Capital Preparatory Magnet School, Clark School, Hartford, Steve Perry, Wendy Lecker
Public education advocate and fellow commentator Wendy Lecker has an outstanding piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media outlets about Hartford’s recent “school choice” debacle.
You can find Wendy’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-School-choice-or-extortion-5022275.php. Below is a somewhat longer version.
Both do an excellent job laying out the issues surrounding Achievement First, Inc., Capital Prep and Hartford’s Clark and SAND elementary schools.
The entire story is a great case study in how the corporate education reform industry is trying to destroying our public education system and how parents, teachers and communities can fight back.
School Choice or Extortion (By Wendy Lecker)
Driven by their Madison Avenue advertising mentality, the corporate education “reform” industry’s narrative seeks to convince our nation’s citizens that our public education system is failing,” parents need market-based “ school choice” so their children can escape dismal neighborhood schools.
A primary solution, according to these education reformers is to remove public schools out of the control of local community school boards and hand them over to boards made up of corporate leaders or even hand them over to private management companies.
As a result of this business first mentality, rather than properly fund neighborhood schools, officials in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York and even right here in Connecticut push a political agenda in which underfunded community schools are closed and replaced with privately-run “schools of choice.” In nearly every case, our most vulnerable children are the first to be excluded from these “new” schools, while the remaining students are faced with barely-trained, inexperienced and often temporary teachers.
One of the most interesting developments has been the fact that voters simply don’t buy the corporate education industry’s version of the world.
In a recent 2013 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup national poll on public education, the largest majority of parents ever recorded gave their community schools a grade of A or B.
The fact is most parents do not think their schools are failing their children. The poll revealed that the majority of parents trust teachers. The most serious problem facing public schools, according to parents polled, contrary to claims by reformers, is the fundamental lack of adequate funding, with school overcrowding being the second most serious concern cited by parents.
Rather than close and replace their schools or fire their children’s teachers, the vast majority of parents in the United States want their schools funded sufficiently so they have the capacity to provide all children with the resources, services and support they need to succeed.
A powerful example of the clash between reformer rhetoric and parent reality can be found in Connecticut’s Capital City.
In recent weeks, parents from two community schools have risen up to successfully oppose proposals by Christina Kishimoto, Hartford’s outgoing “reform” superintendent, and Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor to hand over their neighborhood schools over to private companies. Neither school community was consulted before the plans were developed.
The reformers initial proposal was to hand Hartford’s Clark Elementary school over to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company co-founded by Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
Almost 18% of Clark’s students have disabilities, and 15.2% are English Language Learners. Clark’s school governance council has begged the district, in vain, for additional resources, including teachers, a psychologist, a guidance counselor and basic school repairs such as a functional heating and cooling system.
Only 6.7% of Achievement First’s students have special needs, 6.7% are English Language Learners. Moreover, Achievement First has the highest rate of suspensions in the state for children under 6 years old, and has been investigated and cited for federal violations in mistreating students with disabilities.
Upon hearing of the proposed Achievement First takeover, Clark’s parents fought back. They openly feared that their special needs children would “not have a place” at an Achievement First school. One parent said “Our teachers work very hard and they love our kids.” Another remarked that when children do not listen, Achievement First suspends them. “Our teachers find a way to keep them in school, find out what is behind their [behavior].” Noting the school was praised by the district in 2013 for its academic progress, a parent declared, “We didn’t ask for our school to be redesigned but only for supports to keep making improvements.”
In the face of the strong opposition from parents, the mayoral-controlled majority of the school board backed down.
The same scene recurred about a week later. This time the Hartford BOE was presented with a plan to hand the SAND elementary school over to Steve Perry’s new private management company. Perry currently heads Hartford’s Capital Prep Magnet School. Kishimoto and Pryor tried to shift both SAND and Capital Prep to Perry’s company.
At Capital Prep, 6.3% of the students have disabilities, 3.4% of the students are English Language Learners, and 51.4% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Mr. Perry bills Capital Prep as a “no excuses” school. The school has a high attrition rate for teachers and students; and allegations of bullying abound.
Mr. Perry has been absent for almost 20% of the year so far, traveling and giving speeches. In one speech, he claimed that public schools are “over-feminized.”
In SAND school, 14.9% of the children have disabilities, 21.4% are English Language Learners, and over 95% of the children are eligible for free-or-reduced-priced lunch.
Parents came out to contest the “hostile takeover” of their school. One student claimed that “Capital Prep does not understand the [SAND] students” and feared that Capital Prep would “kick [neighborhood kids] out.” Another remarked that “We know these teachers and they know us.” He continued,” If you want kids at SAND to learn better, give kids the same support you do at fancy schools like Capital Prep. If I had fifteen kids in my classroom and two teachers, I would learn better too.”
The school board backed down again.
But this retreat may only be temporary. The school board subsequently met in private, in executive session, and emerged with another “turnaround plan.” Digging up an obscure law, the board suggested finding a school to become a “lighthouse” school. A lighthouse school is an existing school that is “redesigned” to have a specialized curriculum and be open to intradistrict and interdistrict choice. Such a school would be eligible for additional funding if it is subjected to this “redesign.”
According to approach being taken by the corporate education reformers, the only way parents will get more resources for their inadequately funded schools to acquiesce to a redesign- a redesign that will necessarily disrupt their school community – fire teachers, exclude children.
But of course, that is not really school choice- in the real world it’s called extortion.
It remains to be seen whether Hartford officials will listen to parents- those who know best what their children need. If they don’t, as one parent reminded Hartford officials- “We voted you in. We can vote you out.”
You can read the piece in the Stamford Advocate here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-School-choice-or-extortion-5022275.php
Standardized Testing, Wendy Lecker Standardized Testing, Wendy Lecker
Fellow pro-public education advocate and commentator lays out the harsh truth about the absurdity of the massive standardized testing industry that is being forced up on America’s children, teachers and parents.
Here is another must read column from Wendy Lecker:
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Government and business leaders profess that today’s education policies will provide students with “21st-century skills.” If only these leaders had the 19th-century wisdom of Frederick Douglass, they would see that the education “reform” they are imposing has created a school environment that is devastating to our children’s development and mental health.
Our most vulnerable children often suffer “toxic stress:” prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system brought on by chronic traumatic experiences. Toxic stress disrupts the development of the areas of the brain associated with learning and can have lifelong consequences.
The effects of toxic stress must be mitigated, according to the American Association of Pediatrics. To do so, adults must reduce children’s exposure to continuously stressful situations.
It is imperative, therefore, that we make school a supportive environment free of the extreme stress that can harm healthy development. Some stress is productive and promotes growth. However, especially for children living in poverty, creating an unnecessarily stressful environment has long-term damaging effects.
Unfortunately, many public schools are generating, rather than reducing, anxiety. The explosion of almost continuous high-stakes standardized testing is a major factor.
This year, Pittsburgh students will take 270 tests; 33 just for fourth graders. Bridgeport’s testing schedule calls for six weeks of standardized district tests, a week of CMT science tests; then the final 12 weeks of school are set aside for the new Common Core standardized tests.
For children under 8, standardized testing is unreliable. Moreover, requiring young children to meet specific reading and mathematics goals ignores the fact that there is an acceptable range of ages for developing these skills. Child-development experts have decried the age-inappropriateness of the Common Core. In 2010, more than 500 people signed a statement stating that the “standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.”
Dr. Samuel Meisels, director of the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, agrees that a school culture focused on high-stakes tests is exactly the type of environment that we should avoid for children who experience toxic stress. Dr. Marcy Guddemi, head of the Gesell Institute of Child Development maintains that for children under 8, current policies combining an age-inappropriate curriculum with standardized testing are nothing short of child abuse.
For older children, the overuse of high-stakes testing is just as useless and damaging. Children who pass state standardized tests one year are overwhelmingly likely to pass them the next. Thus, yearly testing is unnecessary to gauge a child’s progress. Moreover, according to the venerable National Research Council, high-stakes standardized tests themselves are of little educational value.
High-stakes tests impair a student’s brain function and mental health. Cornell University researchers found that the stress associated with high-stakes standardized tests disrupts the function of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, affecting memory and attention skills.
Psychologists recognize that a focus on intrinsic rewards results in reduced anxiety and better life outcomes. However, as Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray has observed, “our system of constant testing and evaluation in school — which becomes increasingly intense with every passing year– … very clearly substitutes extrinsic rewards and goals for intrinsic ones. (It) is almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.” Indeed, the National Institute of Health finds that childhood anxiety is on the rise and is now the most prevalent psychological disorder in children and adolescents.
Mental health professionals report an alarming rise in anxiety-related symptoms, including self-mutilation, coinciding with New York’s Common Core implementation.
While the brunt of the psychic damage of high-stakes testing falls on children, the true targets of these so-called “student-centered” policies are adults. High-stakes tests are the means to fire teachers and close schools. Children are merely tools to achieve political goals unrelated to their education or development. Worse still, our children are being exploited for profit. The U.S. Department of Education hyped the Common Core as creating a “national market” for “educational entrepreneurs.”
And now, even our children’s anxiety is for sale. A Connecticut district recently received emails selling “Your Child And Standardized Tests — Grades 3-5; A Parent’s Handbook;” promising to help parents reduce a young child’s test anxiety. What kind of society are we, that rather than remove the known source of harm to children, we instead allow it to become a marketing ploy?
You can read this commentary piece and other articles written by Wendy Lecker at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-State-sanctioned-child-abuse-4986416.php
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Wendy Lecker CCJEF v. Rell, Common Core, Wendy Lecker
Wendy Lecker, fellow pro-public education advocate and commentator, has a stunningly profound piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and in other Hearst Media newspapers about the new Common Core standards and their inappropriateness for Connecticut.
Andrea Conway, a fellow pro-public education warrior here in Connecticut read the piece and observed “This is the absolute BEST explanation of what is wrong with Common Core and the money making reasoning of its creators.”
Andrea is absolutely right. Read Wendy’s piece and you’ll understand just how badly our elected officials have done when it comes to Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and school.
Common Core fails to meet constitutional standards
The Common Core State Standards, national standards adopted by Connecticut in 2010, promise to reflect “the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
This promise alone raises questions: Which colleges: Community? Non-selective? Selective? And which careers: Plumber? Beautician? Hedge fund manager? Physicist? Can one set of standards really encompass this wide spectrum of education and work?
There is an even more fundamental and pressing question, though: Is “college-and-career-ready” an adequate standard, as measured by Connecticut’s constitution? The answer is a resounding “no.” In the pending school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that our constitution “guarantees Connecticut’s public school students educational standards and resources suitable to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.”
The drafters of the Common Core ignored Connecticut’s primary goal for public education: capable participation in democratic institutions. Sources involved in the Common Core’s development process confirm that citizenship was never the focus. In fact, the Common Core’s foundational document mentions “economy” more than 100 times, while the word “citizen” appears only once — in a footnote.
Ironically, although the sole focus of the Common Core was the ability to compete in the global marketplace, the most serious threat to our national and global economy is our government’s current dysfunction. The recent government shutdown cost the nation $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. The International Monetary Fund warns that if Congress cannot agree to raise the debt ceiling, the world might plunge into another recession.
Given the failure of our democratic institutions, our most urgent goal should be to ensure that our children learn the lessons of democracy. Yet the architects of the Common Core disregarded this fundamental purpose of public education.
Perhaps if the Common Core standards were developed in a democratic fashion in our state, Connecticut’s goals would have been considered.
From their inception, the drafting and adoption of Connecticut academic standards was an inclusive, public process. The State Department of Education invited teachers from across the state to collectively draft standards in their areas of expertise. SDE would then solicit public comment from all sectors, including parents, teachers, school administrators, superintendents and school boards. There could be as many as 50 iterations, and the process could take as long as three years.
Since this process was directed by a state agency, it was subject to open meeting and Freedom of Information laws. The product was an educational framework that was created by Connecticut educators with input from everyone connected to our public schools.
The Common Core State Standards, by contrast, were developed behind closed doors by two private, non-governmental organizations: the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. There was no public comment. The organizations even refused to release the drafters’ names until there was public outcry. The entire development process remains shrouded in secrecy. NGA and CCSSO are not subject to any sunshine laws that governmental bodies must obey.
The members of Common Core validation committee were required to sign confidentiality agreements. This committee was ostensibly charged with ensuring that these standards that were about to be used in schools across America were valid. It is shocking that the public would be prevented from knowing what this committee discussed.
When the standards finally reached Connecticut in 2010, they were presented as a fait accompli to state officials, who were given two months to adopt them — under threat of being disqualified from federal Race to the Top money if they failed to do so. Rather than question the inadequacy of these standards as measured against Connecticut’s constitutional requirements, the State Board of Education, here in “the Constitution State,” acquiesced to federal pressure and adopted these substandard standards; just months after the Connecticut Supreme Court decision in CCJEF v. Rell.
The Common Core State Standards were developed in a rushed and undemocratic process, far from Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, and officials. It is no wonder, then, that the standards themselves do not reflect Connecticut’s values or constitutional mandates.
At a time when the biggest threat to our economy and society is the glaring lack of governing skills by our leaders, our duty is to ensure that our children are able to function in a democratic society. Sadly, we cannot count on the Common Core State Standards, which fail to fulfill Connecticut’s basic constitutional requirements, to help us meet this challenge.
Wendy Lecker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center.
You can read Wendy’s commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Common-Core-fails-to-meet-constitutional-4947484.php#
Arne Duncan, Barak Obama, Common Core, Education Reform, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Lecker Arne Duncan, Barak Obama, Common Core, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Lecker
Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, Barak Obama, Arne Duncan and the entire Corporate Education Reform Industry is busy selling the American people on the notion that without the full and complete adoption of the Common Core Standards, Common Core Curriculum and Common Core Testing Scheme, America’s best days are behind us.
Jeb Bush Defends Common Core At ALEC Meeting and Jeb Bush defends Common Core and Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush warn Michigan legislators against abandoning Common Core standards and JEB BUSH AND JOEL KLEIN: The Case for Common Educational Standards and Arne Duncan tells newspaper editors how to report on Common Core and Arne Duncan: Beating Up on Common Core Is ‘Political Silliness’ and Arne Duncan Defends Common Core, Ridicules Critics and Obama quietly implements Common Core.
Their message seems to come down to the false rhetoric and hyperbole that the choice facing American education is the adoption of “The Common Core Standards” or nothing.
They’d have us believe that one path would lead our nation and its children to success, the other to ruin and failure.
It is almost as if they take great pride in the fact that the simplistic arguments have no academic basis in fact.
The truth is that these corporate education reformers have become the living, breathing example of those who live by the creed, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
Well the facts are exactly what pro-public education advocate and fellow blogger, Wendy Lecker, has been bringing to the discussion over and over again.
In here latest column, entitled “Common Core using children as guinea pigs” uses the truth to condemn the incredible lies the corporate reformers are trying to force upon public education in America.
As usual, Wendy Lecker’s latest piece published in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group newspapers is a “Must Read.”
Common Core using children as guinea pigs (By Wendy Lecker)
The nationwide rollout of the Common Core standards is an experiment on our children that violates all standards of human subject research.
The Common Core was rushed into schools before the curricula were developed and aligned to the standards, and before the tests were finalized and aligned to the curricula. Alignment is independent verification that a curriculum addresses standards, and that tests assess what the curriculum teaches; and is particularly necessary when high stakes are attached to tests. Those who insist that test scores should determine teacher effectiveness, school quality and whether a student is ready to graduate have a responsibility to guarantee that the tests actually measure what teachers teach and students learn.
The Common Core is being implemented not only before the curricula and tests are independently deemed valid. The curriculum in many cases is not even written. New York’s Education Commissioner admitted that the Common Core curriculum modules are being written as the school year unfolds. A curriculum not yet written cannot be aligned. Likewise, the Common Core tests are not finalized. The tests are being developed independently of the states and school districts; by contractors hired by two multi-state consortia. It is impossible that these unfinished tests are aligned to curricula now being taught.
This type of experimentation would never be allowed in research. Human subject research must adhere to three basic principles: (1) respect for individuals; respecting their autonomy; (2) beneficence; doing no harm and maximizing possible benefits while minimizing risks; and (3) justice; taking special care not to exploit vulnerable groups.
Ethics requires that subjects participate in an experiment knowingly and voluntarily. A recent poll revealed that the majority of Americans know nothing about the Common Core. Moreover, parents, children and teachers had no choice but to comply with the standards and tests.
The most glaring ethical violation concerns the prohibition against doing harm. The focal point of the Common Core is high-stakes standardized testing. We now know that education based on high-stakes tests not only fails to raise achievement but also harms learning, by narrowing the curriculum, increasing anxiety and diverting resources from methods that actually improve achievement. Officials imposing the Common Core knowingly embarked on a course that hurts students. At public hearings, parent after parent told New York’s Education Commissioner King that their children now hate school, and children testified about their anxiety and despair. A Greenwich, Connecticut official acknowledged that Common Core testing in 11th grade, when students take AP tests, SATs, SAT subject tests and ACTs, will cause undue stress. Parents and teachers report that the Common Core makes no adjustments for children learning English or students with disabilities.
In rolling out this untested program, officials jeopardize valuable learning time. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even 10 days of lost learning is a significant deprivation. The Common Core tests are much longer than previous tests. The high stakes attached pressure school districts to spend inordinate amounts of time on test prep. If it turns out that these standards were not a success, our children will be unable to recapture the years lost to an ineffective testing regime.
The Common Core requires massive investments in textbooks, tests, training, and technology. Money is spent on the Common Core experiment at the expense of strategies with a long track record of success, such as high-quality preschool, small class size, wraparound services and extra help for at-risk children.
The benefits of the Common Core are speculative at best. A New York comparison of the 2013 Common Core tests, the previous standards and college completion rates, revealed that the previous standards were better predictors of college readiness. Moreover, the evidence is clear that neither tests nor standards raise achievement. Countries with national standards fare no better than those without, and states with higher standards do no better than states with lower ones. In states with consistent standards, achievement varies widely. The difference in achievement lies in those resources that states are now foregoing to pay for the Common Core.
As for justice, schools serving our most vulnerable students suffer most from a narrow test-based curriculum. A new report in New York reveals that poor children and children of color are least likely to be in schools with libraries, art and music rooms, science, and AP classes. Expanded Common Core testing will disproportionately harm our neediest children.
It is time to ask policy-makers why they made our children guinea pigs in the rush to impose the not-ready-for-prime-time Common Core.
You can read Wendy Lecker’s full column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Common-Core-using-children-as-guinea-pigs-4907921.php
Arne Duncan, Education Reform, Malloy, Wendy Lecker Arne Duncan, Education Reform, Malloy, Wendy Lecker
Fellow blogger and public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, has another “must read” commentary piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate.
Wendy Lecker lays out the case against Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, observing, “Secretary Duncan is the one in an alternate universe, and our students, teachers and taxpayers are paying the price.”
The commentary piece begins with;
“Education reformers claim that standardized test scores are an objective measure of student performance, and school and teacher quality; thus it is reasonable to attach severe consequences to them. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demands that states administer standardized tests yearly so that we can “hold everyone accountable.” In fact, Duncan recently accused anyone who criticizes America’s overemphasis on tests as “living in an alternate universe.”
But the evidence is clear that test scores are not objective. Officials play with standardized test scores to further their political goals.
Proficiency levels, or “cut scores,” are politically determined. New York implemented new Common Core tests in 2013, setting such high cut scores that statewide proficiency rates dropped 20 to 30 percent from 2012. In Illinois and D.C., officials did the opposite. Facing the prospect of widespread school failure this year, Illinois quietly recalculated what “failure” meant. D.C. officials reverted to an earlier grading scale to make their scores look better.
The manipulation extends beyond cut scores. State officials move test scores and targets whenever it fits their agenda.
In New York, children who fail state tests must receive academic intervention services (AIS). The majority of children statewide failed the 2013 tests, resulting in a sharp increase in children that must receive AIS. Providing AIS to more children costs more money. To save money, the New York State Regents changed the threshold so that fewer children would qualify for AIS.
In doing so, the Regents essentially lined up the old tests against the new Common Core tests and developed a scale they claimed could equate the old and new scores. However, this type of equating is only valid if the new tests assess the same skills as the old tests.
Proponents sold the Common Core standards promising that they will teach entirely new “sophisticated reasoning skills” not found in previous state standards. Apparently, for the Regents, when it means that the state would have to spend money on additional services for children, the Common Core does not teach new skills.
Connecticut is requiring that teachers engage in similar statistical acrobatics. Districts across Connecticut are implementing the new, ill-conceived teacher evaluation plan. Teachers must set “student learning objectives” (SLOs) for each child. In subjects covered by state standardized tests, the SLO baseline must include a student’s score on the CMTs the previous year. Then, the teacher must set a goal for the student on the upcoming state tests. This year, districts can choose to administer either CMTs or the new Common Core pilot tests. For those districts using existing CMTs, teachers must somehow predict how each student will score on 2014′s CMTs.
In districts using the Common Core tests, teachers have it even worse. They must use the CMTs as a baseline, and predict a score for each child on the new Common Core tests. Thus, like the New York Regents, teachers must assume that the new tests assess the same skills as the CMTs.
Officials cannot have it both ways. Either the Common Core teaches different skills, in which case we cannot equate the old tests with the new tests. Or, the Common Core tests can be aligned with the old tests, in which case they assess the same skills the CMTs did and in which case we are wasting billions of dollars nationwide on a boondoggle.”
You can read Wendy Lecker’s the full commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Arne-Duncan-s-alternate-universe-4870140.php
Stefan Pryor, STEM, Wendy Lecker Education Reform, Stefan Pryor, STEM, Wendy Lecker
In another “must read” commentary piece, fellow public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, confronts the propaganda machine that is spinning out the rhetoric that we need more and more STEM Academies and that a “STEM Education” is the salvation for America’s education system.
STEM is the political concept of the day that says rather than receiving a comprehensive education American children need to learn four key things to “succeed” and those four things are Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
If you listen to President Obama, Governor Malloy, Education Commissioner Pryor or a host of other elected officials and policy makers you might actually think STEM is the silver bullet that will “turn-around” America’s economy and education system.”
There is even a STEM Education Coalition in Washington D.C. that “represents the broadest and most unified voice in advocating for policies to improve STEM education at all levels. As an alliance of more than 500 business, professional, and education organizations, our Coalition works aggressively to raise awareness in Congress, the Administration, and other organizations about the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain the economic and technological leader of the global marketplace of the 21st century.”
The message is loud and clear… If you want your kid to succeed, make sure your school is a STEM academy or based around a STEM curriculum.
In this important piece, Wendy Lecker reveals that, once again, the emperor has no clothes
The “Myth of the STEM crisis” first appeared in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut Post and other Hearst media group papers.
Wendy Lecker writes;
We have heard the claims all over the media. U.S. schools are not producing enough STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates, and we are losing some unspecified race with the rest of the world. In describing Connecticut’s “STEM” crisis, education commissioner Stefan Pryor complained that “we’re getting passed by, and our country is getting passed by.”
It turns out that the purported “STEM crisis” is a myth. Researchers at Georgetown, Rutgers, Harvard and elsewhere have proven that the United States produces three times as many STEM graduates as our job market can absorb.
Why, then, do our leaders and the media perpetuate the STEM crisis myth? A Columbia Journalism Review article recently posited that it is the business world’s and academia’s appetite for cheap skilled labor. Create a glut of workers, and wages go down. The article notes that Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve, advocated increased immigration of skilled workers with the express goal of depressing domestic wages. Indeed, researchers found that top STEM graduates often leave these fields for higher salaries elsewhere.
Engineering a STEM crisis also allows our leaders to engage in a time-honored American tradition: blaming public education for societal problems schools neither created nor can solve. Here, the problem, the STEM shortage, does not even exist. Yet is has been used to vilify American public education and spark a frenzy of spending on “STEM” academies that often make available superior resources and equipment only to the chosen few who are accepted.
The STEM myth plays into America’s fears that we are no longer the leader in innovation. However, if our leaders were truly interested in innovation, they would pay attention to how creative thinking actually happens. A recent study of creativity in the workplace demonstrated that disorder — for example, a messy office — leads to more creative thinking, while order and structure result in conventional choices.
In learning, too, messiness breeds creativity. Innovation results from the unorthodox connections people make when exposed to a variety of subjects and stimuli. Thus, children need “clutter,” in the form of experience with a diverse set of seemingly unrelated subjects. They also need exposure to children who have different life experiences and perspectives than their own. Children need science and math, but scientists must understand the world around them, so a foundation in history, literature and the arts is equally vital. Children also need clutter in the form of spontaneity. Classrooms must be living laboratories for new ideas and unplanned discoveries.
American education used to be this way. High-scoring countries on international tests, like Singapore, once envied our creative educational system. Singapore’s Minister of Education observed that while his country trained people to succeed on tests, “America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority.”
Yet our policies in recent years are moving us away from that creative culture of learning toward a system that produces compliant, conventional thinkers seeking the one right answer. Our leaders are singularly focused on increasing test scores as a measure of student, teacher and school success. This obsession has forced schools across the country to eliminate arts, music and physical education and drastically reduce subjects like social studies. It has forced teachers to teach from a pacing guide or script and use rubrics. And it has ignored the importance of diversity, so that more and more children are attending highly segregated schools.
Experienced teachers see the change in our children. My son’s fifth-grade teacher once said that by the time they got to her, after several years of CMTs and an increasing barrage of district-wide assessments, students were following her around, asking if they had the right answer. She saw that as a habit of which she needed to gently break them. In her class, free-flowing ideas led to creative connections. One morning the class was studying equilateral triangles. In the afternoon, their social studies textbook showed a diagram of a triangle with the three branches of government on each side. All she had to do was ask the class what an equilateral triangle meant and the children embarked on a robust discussion of the balance of powers.
Epiphanies do not exist inside rubrics and scripts. It is in the spaces in between subjects that innovation occurs. Therefore, if our leaders are truly trying to create the next generation of creative thinkers who will restore vitality to our stagnant democracy and economy, they must allow the “messiness” of learning back into our schools.
Wendy Lecker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center. You can read her column at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Myth-of-the-STEM-crisis-4830623.php