The consistently wrong path to better schools by Wendy Lecker

Wendy Lecker, the pro-public education advocate and fellow columnist hits it out of the park; again, with a new commentary piece in Stamford Advocate entitled “The consistently wrong path to better Schools.

Improving education achievement in our major cities must be a top priority for all of Connecticut’s citizens.  Access to higher quality public schools is a fundamental American right, and is even guaranteed by Connecticut’s Constitution.  In addition, in the near future, 40% of Connecticut’s entire workforce will be coming from our state’s poorer, urban, Priority School Districts.  Our state’s economic future depends on providing all of our young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.  Finally, the price tag for creating quality schools is not cheap.  Connecticut’s schools are already underfunded and yet Connecticut taxpayers are paying about 80% of the entire educational expenses in cities like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.

Education is both the economic and civil rights issue of our time.

Governor Malloy, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, Bridgeport “Superintendent of Schools,” Paul Vallas, “Special Master,” Steven Adamowski and the corporate education reformers claim to have the solution – simply hand our public schools over to private corporations.

The approach being perpetrated by these corporate reformers couldn’t be more wrong and Wendy Lecker’s latest column dives that point home.

Wendy Lecker writes;

“Most people who board the wrong train headed to the wrong destination get off and look for the right train.

But not the educational leadership of Hartford.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, a protégé of the controversial “reformer” Steven Adamowski, has climbed on the wrong train despite the obvious signs that it will take Hartford in the wrong direction.

In her state of the schools address, Kishimoto highlighted a study conducted for her by University of Connecticut researchers. The study measured, by neighborhood, factors that inhibit the ability to learn, such as child poverty, the percentage of adults without high school or college degrees, crime, health, housing and neighborhood stability, and community assets such as preschool and after-school programs.

Fifty years of research have established that these out-of-school influences account for the majority of differences in student achievement.

In a recent New York Times article, Stanford University’s Sean Reardon summarized his research demonstrating that income inequality is the prime factor in educational disparities. As Professor Reardon noted, schools do not “produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students.”

Reardon’s research revealed that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students has widened in the past three decades largely because income inequality has increased, affluent students arrive to kindergarten better prepared than poor students, and affluent parents spend more on enrichment and tutoring.

Our best chance to reduce academic disparities, then, is to work to reduce economic inequities.

To the extent schools can help, we must give them the capacity to counteract the forces that hinder learning. That means a sufficient number of social workers, school psychologists, health centers, extra academic help and support for children and families, as well as a rich and varied curriculum.

However, rather than address the factors that prevent Hartford’s neediest children from learning, Hartford Superintendent Kishimoto seems intent on taking us in completely the wrong direction, ignoring the evidence she herself requested.

First on Kishimoto’s agenda is expanding the Achievement First charter franchise in Hartford. Achievement First, Inc., already operates a charter school in Hartford and is notorious for failing to serve Hartford’s neediest children. In a city where 43 percent of students come from non-English-speaking homes, only 4.8 percent of Achievement First’s students come from non-English-speaking homes. In Hartford, 18 percent of students are not fluent in English; at Achievement First, 4.8 percent. Thirteen percent of Hartford’s students have disabilities compared with 7.5 percent at Achievement First. Moreover, Achievement First has a 25 percent attrition rate.

Achievement First, a state charter school, is funded directly by the state and is not part of Hartford’s school district. However, Hartford Public Schools must pay for special education services and transportation for Hartford children attending the school. On top of this requirement, Hartford public schools paid $1.5 million dollars for capital improvements on Achievement First’s school building, which the charter uses for free. Additionally, Hartford and Achievement First entered into an agreement whereby the district pays more money to the charter company. This coming year, the district is scheduled to pay Achievement First over $3.2 million.”

Wendy’s assessment the approach being implemented by Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto is harsh but 100% accurate.

Take the time to read the whole column at the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-consistently-wrong-path-to-4487142.php#ixzz2SQUbtfw3

No need to break the law — just have it changed for you (by Wendy Lecker)

Fellow pro-public education advocate and columnist hits the mark, yet again, with her column in this past weekend’s CT Post, Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets.  Her piece is entitled, No need to break the law — just have it changed for you.

In the piece, Wendy writes, “The education “reform” movement has been rocked recently by revelations that its biggest stars are more concerned with the appearance of success than whether children actually learn.”

With that she outlines the two major scandals involving cheating on standardized tests that have been in the news.

But the core of her column is about the approach the corporate education reformers are taking here in Connecticut.

“Not to be outdone, we Nutmeggers have employed our Yankee ingenuity to game the system, as well. While superintendent of Hartford, Steven Adamowski boasted major increases in test scores — a result, he claimed, of his reform methods, including school closures, school choice and merit pay. However, as revealed by Hartford Board of Education member Robert Cotto, the gains in test scores in Hartford during that period can largely be explained by the district’s exclusion of a significant percentage of students with disabilities from the regular test and having them take a modified assessment that did not count in Hartford’s test scores. As Cotto described, it Hartford engaged in “addition by subtraction.” Neat!

Connecticut’s Legislature and state Board of Education can be crafty, too, and it’s all legal. Connecticut law provides that school administrators be certified, to ensure that our schools and school districts are led by individuals with the knowledge and experience to properly oversee the education of our children. All of Connecticut’s permanent superintendents are certified to be superintendents — except one: Paul Vallas, superintendent of Bridgeport schools, serving approximately 20,000 students. To remedy this problem, Governor Malloy wrote a law enabling Vallas to be certified if he completed an educational leadership course approved by the state board of education. But then, another problem arose: the state Board of Education did not approve any course and Bridgeport already hired Vallas permanently.

Not to worry! UConn quickly devised a course it claimed was just like what all other superintendents must pass. As Jonathan Pelto has pointed out, though, a regular superintendent candidate must have 15 credits beyond a master’s degree; go through a rigorous application process that requires a full faculty review of one’s application; complete an additional 15 credits of course work in the program; and pay approximately $30,000 in tuition and fees. UConn’s program, hastily approved by the state Board of Education, only requires Vallas to enroll in a three-credit, one semester independent study course at a cost of about $4,000. More legal cheating!”

Wendy ends with a reminder to our children writing, “So, kids, if you want to grow up to change the world like these star reformers, you don’t need to learn anything of substance (don’t worry, with standardized tests in every grade and subject, soon you won’t be learning anything of substance, anyway). But don’t break the law! Simply ally yourselves with those who make the laws and they will bend and twist them to make your dreams of greatness come true!”

The column is well worth the read and you can find the complete column here:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-No-need-to-break-the-law-just-4448335.php#ixzz2RCIUZ79S

 

“School ‘reformers’ should at least follow the law” + “Who Is Holding Education Reformers Accountable?”

Fellow public school advocates and columnists, Wendy Lecker and Sara Darer Littman have written TWO MUST READ columns this week.

School ‘reformers’ should at least follow the law” (Wendy Lecker) and “Who Is Holding Education Reformers Accountable?” (Sarah Darer Littman) present a stunning portrayal of the abuses that have become the hallmark of Connecticut’s education reform industry.

As the two articles explain, the ethical and legal abuses reach into the highest levels of state government.

School ‘reformers’ should at least follow the law

Published in the Stamford Advocate, Bridgeport Post and other Hearst Media Group outlets, Wendy Lecker writes;

“When Joel Klein was chancellor of New York City’s school district, a New York legislator criticized him for engaging in activities contrary to the legislation granting mayoral control of New York’s schools, and depriving parents of a voice in how schools were run. Mr. Klein’s response was that if the legislator did not like what the chancellor was doing he could “sue me, that is what courts are for.”

As a lawyer, rather than an educator, Joel Klein revealed a troubling disregard for parental involvement; a crucial element in school success, as any educator knows. Even more disturbing was the disdain Klein, a former Justice Department lawyer, showed for the law.

Sadly, this attitude of thumbing one’s nose at the public and ignoring the law are the hallmarks of today’s education “reformers.” They have no patience for evidence that their reforms will work, for earning the public trust or even for the law. To them, the ends that they desire justify all means.

Nowhere is this “so sue me” attitude more in display than in Connecticut, where those pushing education “reform,” Gov. Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, are, like Joel Klein, lawyers who never worked in a public school. Connecticut’s public education officials have no problem violating laws to advance their agendas — even laws they wrote.”

You can read the whole column here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-School-reformers-should-at-least-4413263.php#ixzz2Ph8iofRm

 

Who Is Holding Education Reformers Accountable?”

Published in CTNewsjunkie, Sara Darer Littman writes;

“One of the hallmark refrains of the corporate education reform movement is “accountability.” Strangely, their zeal for the concept does not extend to those who implement reforms. Let’s look at two key figures in Connecticut and see how accountable they have been to the state’s taxpayers.

First up, State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. Shortly after being appointed to his post, Pryor started hiring consultants to work on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform package. Like most reformers, he had preferred consultants. State bidding procedures? Why bother when he could funnel contracts through the State Education Resource Center (SERC) by claiming it’s a nonprofit?

That was until Tom Swan of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) filed a Freedom of Information request on state Education Department contracting procedures in Feb. 2012, drawing the ire of Malloy’s legal counsel, Andrew McDonald. ‘This is one of the more reckless efforts I’ve seen by Tom,’ McDonald told Hearst newspapers at the time.  ‘His complaint is devoid of any evidence to support his sensational conclusions regarding the governor. If not today, then sometime soon, he’d better be prepared to put some substance behind these thin assertions.’

Fast forward a year, when the State Auditors office released an interim report on the matter.

In the report, the auditors state:

‘SERC represents itself as a nonprofit organization on its website. However, the statutory language indicates that SERC was created as a state entity. SERC has not acted in a manner that is consistent with state agency requirements for transparency and accountability.’

On the next page but within the same section of the report, the auditors also state:

‘On at least two recent occasions, SERC entered into an agreement to employ individuals who would report directly to the commissioner of the Department of Education or a designee … In each of these cases, the commissioner instructed SERC to employ specific individuals. In each case, the employment contract (personal service agreement) was between the individual who was employed by SERC and either the State Board of Education or the State Department of Education. On two other occasions, contracts were entered into with private companies to provide various consulting services … Again, the contracts were executed by the State Department of Education, SERC and the private company. The contracts state that the Department of Education selected the vendor and SERC was not responsible for directing or monitoring the vendors’ activities. In each of these cases, the state’s personal service agreement procedures and its contracting procedures were not followed.’

It looks like Mr. McDonald, who is now a Supreme Court justice, has some explaining to do.”

You can read the whole column here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/who_is_holding_the_reformers_accountable/

It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it

This week, fellow public education advocate and fellow blogger Wendy Lecker’s “must read” commentary piece is entitled “Malloy reverses earlier commitment to school funding case.” 

We’ll be hearing  and I’ll be writing a lot more about this incredibly pivotal law suit, but Wendy Lecker’s column really frames the issues and provides readers with a great update about where things stand.

Lecker writes, “As Stamford’s mayor, Dannel Malloy was an original plaintiff in the pending school funding case, The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, and led the charge to win just and equitable funding for Connecticut schools. Now, Governor Malloy is trying aggressively to get the case dismissed. In doing so, he has exposed his 2012 education reforms as empty promises compared to what Connecticut’s children really need.

The plaintiffs in CCJEF v. Rell charge that the state is violating the constitutional right of Connecticut’s children to an adequate education by depriving school districts of billions of dollars. Consequently, schools, especially in Connecticut’s neediest districts, cannot afford basic educational tools such as a sufficient number of teachers, reasonable class size, adequate school facilities, services for at-risk children, electives, AP classes, even books, computers and paper.

Governor Malloy’s budget director admitted the state is shortchanging our schools by about $2 billion and even Governor Malloy conceded that the state is not currently meeting its constitutional duty to adequately fund our schools.

But that reality hasn’t stopped the state from trying to duck the lawsuit. Instead, the state claims that the 2012 education “reform” legislation will fix everything, while at the same time as much as acknowledging that they have no evidence to show that their reforms will actually work.”

You can read Lecker’s full commentary piece at the Stamford Advocate: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Malloy-reverses-earlier-commitment-4377589.php

Earlier this month, Dianne Kaplan DeVries also wrote about the pending case in a CTNewsjunkie piece entitled Fighting Children in the Courtroom.  Dianne Kaplan DeVries is the Project Director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the plaintiffs in the CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy and equity lawsuit.  Her article provides additional valuable background on the case.

“Gifted” to the right, “Special” to the left, the rest of you sit down and wait

As Wait, What Readers learned in late February after reading, Blessed are the Gifted for they shall inherit the earth, “education reformers” extraordinaire Steven Adamowski and Paul Vallas have struck again.

Adamowski, Hartford’s former Superintendent of Schools and now “Special Master” of Windham and New London schools thanks to Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Paul Vallas, who was recruited to serve as Bridgeport’s Acting Superintendent of Schools by Stefan Pryor, are part of a team that have announced the creation of three “gifted academies” for Windham, New London and Bridgeport.

Fellow blogger and public education advocate Wendy Lecker, has used her latest column in the Hearst newspapers to blow the whistle on this absurd, even revolting, proposal.

In a column entitled, A return to school segregation?, Lecker explains why the proposal for gifted academies is an insult and attack on the entire public education system. 

As she writes, “From Brown vs. Board of Education to Connecticut’s landmark case, Sheff v. O’Neill, to the language of the Connecticut constitution, the law has been clear. Children have a constitutionally guaranteed right to a public education that is not impaired by isolation based on race, ethnicity, national origin or disability. Therefore, it is unconstitutional to develop and fund education programs that intentionally or unintentionally limit access to educational opportunities based on racial or ethnic backgrounds, or disabilities.”

But as she clearly lays out, these new “gifted academies” move Connecticut away from the true mission of public education and back to the ugly era of school segregation.

As Lecker adds, not only is it unbelievable that that Pryor, Adamowski and Vallas are setting up these “academies,” but they are intending to use the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs) as major admission criteria.  Using CMTs is not only intellectually dishonest but will further divide our students on the basis of poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services.

Lecker’s latest commentary piece is a “must read” for many reasons, but “the most disturbing issue of all is that creating separate schools for “gifted” children violates Connecticut law and policies prohibiting school segregation.”

While the equal protection clauses in most state constitutions only bar discrimination, Connecticut’s expressly bans segregation as well as discrimination.

This plan violates Connecticut’s Constitution, it violates Connecticut law and it violates the official policy of the Connecticut state Board of Education.

Just three years ago, under the leadership of then Commissioner of Education, Dr. Mark McQuillan, the State Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution blasting the destructive effect of separating children based on ability because grouping by ability “limits achievement and stifles expectation and opportunity for college and successful competition in the workplace.”

Lecker highlights the wording of the State Board of Education resolution;

“The board unanimously disapproved any practice that permanently groups students for instruction. As the board noted, the practice of tracking disproportionately burdens poor, African-American and Latino students.

The state board resolved that any school district that assigned students to a particular level based on assessed or perceived readiness had to disclose this fact to parents and report to the state the research proving that this separate placement was necessary, the length of time it planned to deny children in lower levels access to learning with higher-achieving peers, and the demographic characteristics of those children denied access to higher-achieving peers.”

And yet, here we are; a new Commissioner of Education and two of his top confidants are part of a new policy that will stand as a testament to how far we can move away from the principles and ideals of full and equal access to a quality education.

Lecker closes with what I believe is an absolutely correct observation – “And now, we have a proposal for “gifted only” schools, equipped with “gifted only” water fountains, “gifted only” bathrooms and “gifted only” lunchrooms…Something is very wrong here.”

I strongly urge you to take the time to read Wendy Lecker’s extraordinary piece at   http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-return-to-school-segregation-4340187.php

State must take serious look at school funding (according to Wendy Lecker)

It is time for a real, serious and honest look at Connecticut’s school funding crisis, not the cop-out  version that has been recently proposed as part of Connecticut’s budget plan.

Fellow pro-public education blogger and commentator, Wendy Lecker, has another “MUST READ” column this week in the Stamford Advocate, CT Post and the other newspapers that are part of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

You can find her full post here; Wendy Lecker: State must take serious look at school funding

As Lecker notes, “Connecticut is a study in contrasts. We have pockets of incredible wealth, and areas struggling with entrenched poverty. We have school districts with few needy children, and those with high concentrations of children living in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. There are districts with gleaming labs, large marching bands, theater, and foreign language offered in kindergarten, while in other districts, children sit in overcrowded classrooms with inadequate libraries, no electives, insufficient books and not even enough paper. This resource disparity translates into a disparity of educational opportunity, with some districts sending scores of children to elite colleges while others have alarmingly low graduation rates.

Connecticut has allowed this chasm in educational opportunity to exist for years, in part because we have never taken an honest look at what it costs to educate all children no matter what their need.”

Lecker recognizes that the process must begin with an “educational adequacy cost study.”

As she explains, “In such a study, experts first identify the basic educational resources needed to meet state standards. Then, they “cost out” those resources, taking into account the factors that affect the cost, such as student need, geographic differences, and population density. Different levels of student need, such as poverty, limited English proficiency and disability, affect the cost of resources necessary. Moreover, the severity and/or concentration of poverty and the level of disability can add to educational cost. For over 20 years states and courts have used these studies to devise rational school finance systems with a transparent relationship between state aid, student need and a district’s ability to raise revenue.”

But despite an across the board recognition that a cost study is needed, Governor Malloy failed to propose one as part of his recent changes to the State’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

Instead, as Lecker points out, Malloy ” proposed inappropriate changes to our school finance system that will render even more children invisible in the eyes of the ECS formula.”

Furthermore, she writes, “The governor’s plan to completely remove English Language Learners from ECS is a step in exactly the wrong direction. Such a move would have devastating effect on many municipalities. In a state with a growing Latino population, and others from non-English-speaking homes, this proposal is ludicrous. Moreover, Malloy’s proposal reduces the weight for poverty, providing fewer funds to educate poor children. To make matters worse, the proposal once again fails to include a weight for special education.”

Although Governor Malloy has failed to take the necessary steps towards fiscal transparency and adequacy, Connecticut’s legislators can correct that mistake.  

You can find Lecker’s full commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-must-take-serious-look-at-4301439.php#ixzz2LjtWjttN

Will someone speak up for Latino students? Corporate reform group overlooks the truth in effort to bolster charter schools.

Will someone speak up for Latino students?

Corporate reform group overlooks the truth in effort to bolster charter schools.  

Rae Ann Knopf, the Executive Director for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform recently took issue with a commentary piece written by Wendy Lecker (recent commentary) that was published in the Stamford Advocate and Connecticut Post and then reposted here at Wait, What?

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) is a business group that was one of the biggest supporters of Governor Malloy’s” Education Reform” proposal.  The organization’s board of directors is made up of a number of corporate executives including the Presidents, CEO or COOs of United Illuminating, First Niagara Bank, The Travelers, Nestle Waters North America, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Retired Chairman & CEO of The Hartford.

In her commentary piece, Wendy Lecker reminded readers that as part of Malloy’s education reform effort, Hartford’s Milner School, a school where 40 percent of the students go home to households where English is not the primary language, was given to a nearby charter school management organization Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), despite the fact that FUSE has never had a non-English speaking student attend their Jumoke Academy schools.

Rather than devote the time and resources to help the Milner School succeed, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education gave the school, the students and millions of taxpayer dollars to a private entity that has no experience teaching bi-lingual students.  Not surprisingly, according to a recent report to the State Department of Education, the Jumoke Academy has failed to take the necessary steps to strengthen its bi-lingual program and the number of students attending the Milner School has dropped.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform’s Rae Ann Knopf came to the Jumoke Charter School’s defense writing, “Observing that enrollment at Milner, a school partnering with Jumoke Academy, has gone down, Ms. Lecker writes, “we can already see that Jumoke’s Milner is not the same as last year’s Milner.” (see Knopf’s response here)

Knopf adds, “Well, we certainly hope not. Over the last three years at “last year’s Milner”, students scored an average of 32.8 on the School Performance Index (SPI). Put in lay terms, that means most Milner students were not even scoring at the “Basic” level on their CMTs. In contrast, Jumoke students scored a three-year average SPI of 80.1 (which is close to the statewide achievement target of 88). That score indicates that many Jumoke students had “Advanced” and “Goal” CMT scores. As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner. There’s nothing unreasonable about the hypothesis that a partnership between Milner and Jumoke should advance student learning at the former Milner School.”

Once again, the education reformers will go to any length, even misrepresent the facts, to defend their school privatization agenda.

Rae Ann Knopf claims, “As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner.”

Even the education reformers recognize that the three most powerful factors determining test scores are poverty, language barriers and the number of students who need special education services

So what are the facts?

Percent of Students not fluent in English Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

20%

0%

 

Percent of Students going home to non-English speaking households Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

39%

0%

 

Percent of Students with special education needs Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

11%

2%

 

Percent of Students qualifying for Free or Reduce Lunch Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

100%

72%

 

So if the students attending the Milner School are significantly more poor, have far greater language barriers and a far greater number need special education services, is it surprising that test scores are lower at Milner than at Jumoke?

Of course not!

So do you then give the Milner School, its students and its taxpayer funds to a school that doesn’t have any experience with a major portion of the community?

Of course not!   Unless you are part of Governor Malloy’s education reform plan.

And what happens when you transfer all that money to an entity that doesn’t have any experience?

According to the Commissioner’s Network Midyear Operations and Instruction Audit for the Thurman Milner School;

Four months into the year, Jumoke still hadn’t hired a bi-lingual teacher

And “Some teachers described an ELL push-in model and others describe a pull out model, so it is assumed that both approaches are used.  While classroom teachers have had training in instructional strategies to use in teaching ELL students, some report that they could use more training in that area.”

Wait, What??

One in five Jumoke-Milner students are not fluent in English and 40% of the students go home to households that don’t speak English and Jumoke still hasn’t hired a bi-lingual teacher and the teachers report that they DON’T KNOW if the Jumoke Administrators are using a “push-in or pull out” model of teaching English Language Learners?

Not only is CCER’s Executive Director overlooking the facts by defending the Jumoke Academy but the Commissioner’s Network Program and Governor Malloy’s education reform plans are failing to provide the most vital services to the children of the Milner School and especially the schools large Latino population.

If that is what the Connecticut Council for Education Reform considers a success, it is a sad day in Connecticut.

Children before politics: Madison, Connecticut: Standing up to the Corporate Education Reform Movement

This weekend, Hearst newspaper columnist and fellow public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, has published a “must read” commentary piece that reveals that in at least one Connecticut community local elected officials, school administrators, teachers and parents are have the courage and conviction to stand up for the needs of their children – even if it means taking on Connecticut’s “education reform at all costs” State Department of Education.

Two weeks ago, Lecker used her column to ask; “Will one superintendent please stand up?”

This week we learn that yes, there is a Connecticut superintendent of schools, in fact, there is a whole local board of education and education community that isn’t being bullied by the forces that are seeking to turn our schools into privatized testing factories.

As Lecker points out, “The story of how [Madison, Connecticut] Superintendent Scarice and his community crafted the district’s recommendations for its teacher evaluation plan is a model of how education policy should be made. In Madison, the process and results reflected a consensus of the entire community and a focus on what children need.”

Unlike the policies being put forward by the Malloy administration, Madison recognized that primary and secondary education must be about instilling a love of learning, while providing the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the complex, changing world in which we live.

It is an approach and concept that standardized tests fail to measure.

Put more bluntly, as one Madison Board of Education member told Wendy Lecker, “We want to take that joy of learning kindergarteners come in with and stop stamping it out of them as they progress to 12th grade.”

The town, using a 45-member advisory council, rejected the state’s reliance on standardized testing and instead developed an alternative model that seeks to capture the real factors that promote student success and achievement.

Lecker’s latest piece should be mandatory reading, not only for those who are losing hope that we can preserve what is good about Connecticut’s public education system, but for those who continue to push their destructive “education reform” agenda; A program that is based on the over reliance of standardized testing and the continued effort to privatize our state and nation’s most important public service — our public education system.

You can find Lecker’s commentary at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-town-doing-it-the-right-way-4187399.php#ixzz2HmT7yjPh

Friend, parent activist and fellow pro-public education blogger Wendy Lecker’s letter to President Obama.

Yesterday, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, Wendy Lecker sent the following letter to President Obama.

Her letter was posted on the Parents Across America website and as reprinted on Diane Ravitch’s site.

Here is a link to Ravitch’s site:  http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/19/letter-to-president-obama-from-connecticut-founder-of-parents-across-america/

And here is the letter as printed on the Parents Across America site:

Parents Across America grieves with the community of Newtown, Connecticut over the loss of their precious children and educators. The following letter, sent yesterday to President Obama from the founder of Parents Across America-CT, expresses some aspects of what many of our members are feeling at this difficult time.

Hon. President Barack Obama

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

As a public school parent of three in Stamford, Connecticut, I wanted to thank you for lending your support to the devastated community of Newtown. I listened intently to your remarks at the memorial service last night, especially to the questions you raised: “Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?”

You indicated that you were reflecting on these questions, alluding to the issue of gun control. I hope also, that these questions caused you also to reconsider your approach to education reform.

As you said last night, “our most important job is to give [children] what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.” You described in vivid detail how skilled the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School were at dealing with the immediate unthinkable trauma of the tragedy; how they managed to keep children calm and feeling safe in the face of life-threatening danger. We can predict that the teachers of the surviving children will have to be as equipped to handle the trauma these children will carry with them as they will be to teach them the subjects the children learn. We know that these teachers will have to help these children develop the non-cognitive skills that make all the difference to success in life- those skills we cannot measure on any standardized test.

We also know, as you mentioned, that those poor children in Sandy Hook are not the only ones who deal with trauma on a daily basis. Children today, especially those living in our poorest areas, face the stress that crime and poverty exact on their young lives on a daily basis. And we know from research, like that done at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, that when children experience prolonged stress, it becomes toxic and hinders the development of the learning and reasoning areas of the brain. These researchers maintain that a nurturing environment is key to enabling these areas to grow properly. For many children, school is their safe haven; and science, and the awful events in Newtown show us that it is our paramount duty to maintain school as a secure and loving place.

In order to ensure that schools are a safe haven, where children can develop both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, they need to have preschool, reasonable class size, so children can get needed attention from teachers; enough supplies and books, and rich curriculum, including art, music sports and extra-curriculars, so children can explore and understand the world and have many outlets to express themselves; and enough support services, especially for children at-risk.

Many of our schools across this nation do not have the resources to make our schools a safe haven. As you noted in your recent report, for example, in New York City, the number of classes of 30 and over has tripled in the past four years. School districts across this country have been forced to cut support services, teachers, extra-curricular activities, music, art, even AP classes and core classes. They have to delay repairs until a roof collapses, endangering children.

Unfortunately, your policies toward our public schools are making it nearly impossible to keep public schools a nurturing and safe environment. Your chief strategies are evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores and implementation of the Common Core standardized tests in every grade, with a multitude of interim computerized tests as well as summative computerized tests. None of these preferred strategies of yours have ever been proven to raise achievement. Surely you are aware of the studies proving that rating teachers on standardized tests results in a 50% misclassification rate. The ratings vary by year, class, test and even statistical model used. The CCSS is not supported by any research showing that standards or tests improve learning. In fact, the National Research Council concluded that ten years of NCLB testing has done nothing to improve achievement.

Even more damaging, these strategies force teachers, administrators and children to abandon attention to all-important non-cognitive skill development, and focus primarily, if not only, on test scores.  This shift of focus includes a diversion of limited resources away from necessary educational basics. You have moved the focus from the well-being of children to the job status of adults.

A recent report from the Consortium of Policy Research in Education reveals just how harmful this strategy is. The report found that NCLB’s test-driven mandates provided little guidance on how to improve. Consequently, schools tried a hodgepodge of strategies akin to “throwing many darts at a target and hoping one of them hits the bulls-eye.” The only consistent tactic used to raise test scores was test prep. As CPRE acknowledged, test prep is shallow and narrow. The report recommends changing accountability systems so schools concentrate less on standardized tests and more on developing the “host of non-cognitive skills found to be related to later success.”

Other researchers found a disturbing trend caused by testing, standardization and scripting: America’s children are becoming less creative. While other countries strive to build creativity into the curriculum, American schools are increasingly forced to homogenize. Consequently, creativity, which increased steadily until 1990, has declined ever since, with the most serious decline appearing in children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

This body of research demands that we rethink our national obsession to use tests as the goal in education. A low test score should be an alarm, not that a school or teacher is failing, but more likely that there are stressors in a child’s life that warrant intervention.

Your waiver and Race to the Top programs, which push the use of standardized tests to judge all teachers and the implementation of even more standardized tests through the Common Core State Standards, only increase this hollow focus on testing. You hold hostage funding to provide the necessary resources described above to the implementation of these narrow and destructive goals. You encourage states to withhold basic funding as well, as evidenced by Governor Cuomo’s threat to withhold basic state school aid unless districts implement a teacher evaluation based on test scores. You hold up as examples of model schools privately run charters that often exclude our neediest children and often are militaristic-style test-prep factories. Moreover you encourage the proliferation of these schools, which are not answerable to democratically elected school boards, and therefore disenfranchise our neediest citizens.

My oldest child is in 12th grade and my youngest is in 7th. I have seen the increased scripting and narrowing of learning that has occurred in just the five-year gap between them. I have seen the increase in stress in my youngest, who has to suffer through meaningless computerized test after test, while units on poetry and other subjects that would expand his world, are jettisoned (to the point where I have opted him out of many of these tests). I have spoken to so many wonderful teachers frustrated and dejected by their new roles as simple proctors, rather than inspiring educators. I have spoken to school nurses who tell me that at test time, they see a spike in headaches, stomachaches and the need for anti-anxiety medication.

Is this the safe haven to which we aspire for our children? Can this stressful and intellectually-empty school experience really teach our children that they are loved, how to love and how to be resilient?

You said last night that we have to change. While I believe you were hinting at gun control, I respectfully request that you expand this resolve to change and include a rethinking of your education policy. We want all our children to feel safe and loved. We want them to be able to find their own, unique voices. We want to protect them and teach them ways to adapt and protect themselves. Please help us do that by helping schools expand our children’s world. Let us build our schools’ capacity to serve all our children, rather than tearing down the foundations of our public education system.

Sincerely,

Wendy Lecker