Archives for category: Connecticut

Jonathan Pelto writes here that yesterday was a very bad day for public education in Connecticut.

The State Board of Education voted to hand out $80-100 million over five years to privately managed charters, most known for excluding the neediest kids.

And they voted full steam ahead on Common Core, pet project of the corporate elite, guaranteed to increase testing and costs of hardware, software, and materials with no known benefit to children.

Pelto concludes:

“But whatever his reasoning, it is worth repeating again and again… Dannel “Dan” Malloy has become the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the country.”

New Yorkers would disagree. We accord that title to Andrew Cuomo

Journalist Sarah Darrer Littman in Connecticut wondered why the legislature was so eager to shut off debate about the Common Core. Connecticut is not a state with a big Tea Party presence. Parents are trying to understand the issues surrounding the sudden shift to national standards whose effects are unknown.

She knows that Arne Duncan and Governor Dannell Malloy and Connecticut’s commissioner Stefan Pryor want the public to believe that the only opponents of the Common Core are from the Tea Party, but she knows that isn’t true.

She writes:

Such diatribes are foolish and myopic. Common Core proponents need to face a very important fact: parents are not idiots. Those of us with older children can see the qualitative difference in curriculum since the Common Core roll out began — and we are not impressed. We’re angered by the loss of instructional time to testing for a benefit that accrues to testing companies rather than our children.

Common Core proponents claim that the standards raise the bar and will make us more competitive. But is this actually true?

I encourage parents and legislators alike to read the September 2013 study:Challenging the Research Base of the Common Core State Standards: A Historical Reanalysis of Text Complexity published by AERA (American Educational Research Association). The analysis focuses on the ELA components of the standards, but what it says about the assumptions driving them and how they were constructed is important: “The blanket condemnation made by the CCSS authors that school reading texts have ‘trended downward over the last half century’ is inaccurate” — particularly so, the authors of the study found, in the K-3 grades. Why this is dangerous is that “we may be hastily attempting to solve a problem that does not exist and elevating text complexity in a way that is ultimately harmful to students.”

She notes:

When the authors of the AERA study analyzed the literature used by Common Core writers to justify the need for more complex texts, what they found was: “a tight and closed loop of researchers citing one another and leading . . . to an artificially heightened sense of scholarly agreement about a decline in textbook complexity.”

At some point, the advocates for the Common Core–Arne Duncan, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Jeb Bush, etc.–will have to wake up and realize that the standards were written without adequate participation by knowledgeable educators, without any consensus process, without transparency, and without any appeals process. These are not standards. They are a mandate, paid for by Bill Gates and imposed by Race to the Top.

The opposition is not going away. Nor will the questions.

What a mess in Connecticut!

Robert A. Frahm writes in the Connecticut Mirror about how teachers and principals are struggling with the state’s test-based evaluation system. Teachers waste time setting paperwork goals that are low enough to make statistical “gains.” If they don’t, they may be rated ineffective.

Every principal spends hours observing teachers—one hour each time—taking copious notes, then spending hours writing up the observations.

Connecticut, one of the two or three top scoring states in the nation on NAEP (the others are Massachusetts and New Jersey), is drowning its schools and educators in mandates and paperwork.

Why? Race to the Top says it is absolutely necessary. Connecticut didn’t win Race to the Top funding, but the state is doing what Arne Duncan believes in. Stefan Pryor, the state commissioner, loves evaluating by test scores, but that’s no surprise because he was never a teacher; he is a law school graduate and co-founder of a “no excuses” charter school chain in Connecticut that is devoted to test scores at all times. The charter chain he founded is known for its high suspension rate, its high scores, and its limited enrollment of English learners.

Researchers have shown again and again that test-based accountability is flawed, inaccurate, unstable. It doesn’t work in theory, and it has not worked in five years of experience.

The article quotes the conservative advocacy group, National Council for Teacher Quality, which applauds this discredited methodology. NCTQ is neither an accrediting body nor a research organization.

Our nation’s leading scholars and scholarly organizations have criticized test-based accountability.

In 2010, some of the nation’s most highly accomplished scholars in testing, including Robert Linn, Eva Baker, Richard Shavelson, and Lorrie Shepard, spoke out against the misuse of test scores to judge teacher quality.

The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education issued a joint statement warning about VAM.

Many noted scholars, like Edward Haertel, Linda Darling Hammond, and David Berliner, have warned about the lack of “science” behind VAM.

The highly esteemed National Research Council issued a report warning that test-based accountability had not succeeded and was unlikely to succeed. Marc Tucker recently described the failure of test-based accountability.

But the carefully researched views of our nation’s leading scholars were tossed aside by Arne Duncan, the Gates Foundation, and the phalanx of rightwing groups that support their agenda of demoralizing teachers, clearing out those who are veterans, and turning teaching into a short-time temp job.

The article cites New Haven as an example:

“Four years ago, New Haven schools won national attention when the district and the teachers’ union developed an evaluation system that uses test results as a factor in rating teachers. Since then, dozens of teachers have resigned or been dismissed as a result of the evaluations. Last year, 20 teachers, about 1 percent of the workforce, left the district after receiving poor evaluations.”

Four years later, can anyone say that New Haven is now the best district in Connecticut? Has the achievement gap closed? Time for another investigative report.

For reasons unknown, Connecticut appears poised to endorse New York state’s odd lesson plans for Common Core.

This Connecticut blogger pulls apart the first grade lessons, previously discussed on this blog.

The blogger refers to a small portion of what first graders are supposed to learn (subjects that might well fit better in high school and/or college, that is, if one expects depth of understanding):

“A further examination of Domain 4 means reviewing its 81 student objectives. That number is not as intimidating as the language in the content area objectives. The first ten objectives state that “by the end of this unit, students will be able to….”:

“Locate the area known as Mesopotamia on a world map or globe and identify it as part of Asia;
Explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of canals to support farming and the development of the city of Babylon;
Describe the city of Babylon and the Hanging Gardens;
Identify cuneiform as the system of writing used in Mesopotamia;
Explain why a written language is important to the development of a civilization;
Explain the significance of the Code of Hammurabi;
Explain why rules and laws are important to the development of a civilization;
Explain the ways in which a leader is important to the development of a civilization;
Explain the significance of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and priests in Mesopotamia;
Describe key components of a civilization…”

Why do six-year-old children need to learn the word “perplexed”? There is actually a good reason. The content of the first grade lessons will surely make them feel perplexed. Better: why should they know the word “apoplectic”? You know why.

Jonathan Pelto points out that Connecticut is one of the wealthiest, best educated states in the nation, yet its politics and government are increasingly dysfunctional, driven by greed and indifference to the public weal.

Citing an article by Connecticut journalist Sarah Darer Littman, Pelto shows how state officials have been pushing to build a high school in Bridgeport on a polluted brownfield so as to make room for the expansion of Bridgeport Hospital.

He writes:

“In Sarah Darer Littman’s latest MUST READ column entitled “The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruption” in this weekend’s CT Newsjunkie, Sarah Darer Littman shines the bright light of truth on a complex deal in which Bridgeport ’s political and corporate leaders are conspiring to move Bridgeport’s Harding High School on to a severely polluted superfund site in order to make room for Bridgeport Hospital’s expansion plans.

“The political wheeling and dealing stretches from Bridgeport to Hartford and back again.

“By the time their effort is over, the cost to Connecticut taxpayers will exceed $100 million or more, and that doesn’t even begin to count the cost to Bridgeport’s public school students, teachers and parents who are but pawns in the deceit that has become the hallmark of Connecticut’s political environment.”

Be sure to read Pelto’s column and Littman’s shocking exposé, called. “The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruption.”

It is a strange world we live in, when schools are compelled to compete for “customers” and when some chain schools hold themselves up as owners of a “secret sauce” to produce high test scores, and some individuals market themselves as savants. We have a plethora of savants, individuals who claim that they alone have cured vexing educational problems. They boast, and their boasting naturally draws scrutiny.

Steve Perry, who is principal of a magnet school in Hartford, Connecticut, has perfected the style of the boastful savant. He used to be a commentator on CNN, which accepted his self-portrait as a miracle man. He recently created a managent company to open charter schools at a hefty fee. He claims a graduation rate of 100%.

No one has been more relentless in fact-checking Perry’s claims than Connecticut political analyst and blogger Jonathan Pelto. See here and numerous other entries.

In his latest blog, Pelto shows that Perry’s school has lower test scores for African American students than the much-maligned public schools of Hartford. yet Perry now seeks to open more schools.

A couple of years ago, when I checked various “miracle schools,” none turned out to be true. All had high attrition, skimming, or other ways of manufacturing high scores. And then there are charters who get high scores by turning children into “little test-taking machines.” This is the current definition of “success,” but there are no careers that rely on test-taking. It is difficult to see the exaltation of the ability to guess the one right answer as the key to success in college or careers.

Jonathan Pelto reports that Connecticut districts are spending lavishly on Google Chromebooks, while Google admits it is data mining to promote advertising and sales.

Google to Connecticut: Thank you!

Colin McEnroe of NPR in Connecticut has discovered the root problem of corporate reformers: They have lost touch with common sense and the meaning of learning. To cover up their ignorance, they have invented rhetoric that sounds impressive but is no more than unintelligible verbiage.

He starts here, and gets better:

“I don’t know about you, but I remember the moment when, as a boy, I fell in love with learning. It was 1964, in the spring. My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Vick, sat down with me in the late afternoon and gently pried from my hands Hardy Boys book No. 42, “The Secret of the Mummy’s Strategically Dynamic New Paradigms.”

“Colin,” she said. “I know you’re a good boy with a bright mind. But your EAPE scores don’t point to project-based learning across the curriculum. You need to scaffold texts to other texts, and to that end I’m going to start interfacing with your developmental space.”

“Miss Vick,” I stammered, “can you disintermediate that for me in a way that unpacks the convergence in assessment-driven terms?”

We talked for hours as the sun sank toward the horizon. I believe both of us wept. My mind opened like a flower. That night, I chopped my Hardy Boys books into little pieces and fed them to the neighbor’s python. I read Emerson’s “The American Scholar” instead.

Wait. Maybe it didn’t happen that way, because in 1964, American education was not drowning in incomprehensible crap.”

Have we lost the ability to say what we mean and mean what we say?

Tom Scarice, superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, has already been named to the honor roll for his leadership and vision in bringing together his community to plan for the future of Madison public schools.

Now, he steps up and speaks out again to take issue with those, like Governor Dannell Malloy, who call for a “pause” in the implementation of misguided reforms.

In a letter to his state representatives, Scarice explains that education policy must be based on sound research and experience. What Connecticut is doing now, he writes, is merely complying with federal mandates that harm schools and demoralize teachers.

If every superintendent had Tom Scarice’s courage and understanding, this country would have a far, far better education system and could easily repel the intrusions of bad policies.

Here is his letter:

January 29, 2014

Senator Edward Meyer
Legislative Office Building,
Room 3200 Hartford, CT 06106
Representative Noreen Kokoruda
Legislative Office Building, Room 4200 State of Connecticut
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Senator Meyer and Representative Kokoruda:

As a superintendent of schools it is incumbent upon me to ground my work with my local board of education. My work must be grounded in two areas: in accurately framing problems to solve, and most importantly, in proposing solutions grounded in evidence, research, and legitimate literature to support a particular direction. Any other approach would be irresponsible and I’m certain my board would reject such shortcuts and hold me accountable.

In our profession, we have the fortune of volumes of literature and research on our practices. We have evidence to guide our decision making to make responsible decisions in solving our problems of practice. This is not unlike the field of medicine or engineering. To ignore this evidence, in my estimation, is irresponsible.

Legislators across the state have heard from, and will continue to hear loudly from, educators about what is referred to as education reforms. Webster defines “reform” as “a method to change into an improved condition.” I believe that legislators will continue to hear from the thousands of educators across the state because the reforms, in that sense, are not resulting in an improved condition. In fact, a case can be made that the conditions have worsened.

To be fair, the reforms did, in fact, shine a light on the role of evaluation in raising the performance of our workforce. There were cases of a dereliction of duty in the evaluation of professional staff. This is unacceptable and was not the norm for all school districts.
However, I would like to make the case that these reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research, the evidence that supports professional decision-making, like a doctor or engineer. It is simply a matter of substance. The evidence is clear in schools across the state. It is not working.

We have spent the better part of the last 12 years with a test-based accountability movement that has not led to better results or better conditions for children. What it has led to is a general malaise among our profession, one that has accepted a narrowing of the curriculum, a teaching to the test mentality, and a poorly constructed redefinition of what a good education is. Today, a good education is narrowly defined as good test scores. What it has led to is a culture of compliance in our schools.

We have doubled-down on the failed practices of No Child Left Behind. Not only do we subscribe to a test and punish mentality for school districts, we have now drilled that mentality down to the individual teacher level.

We have an opportunity to listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections. We know what is coming. We’ve seen it happen in other states. We can easily look at the literature and predict how this story ends. New York, Kentucky and so forth, these states are about one year ahead of Connecticut. Why would we think it will end any differently for our state? We can take action to prevent the inevitable.

We have an opportunity. You as legislators have an opportunity. Our students and communities are counting on us.
I am pleased to see that the Governor has asserted his authority to address this deeply rooted problem. But we cannot stop there.

I ask the following:

Do not be lulled into solutions that promote “delay.” Although the problem is being framed as an issue of implementation timelines and volume, I contend that this is much more about substance than delays. Revisit the substance of these reforms, particularly the rigidity of the teacher evaluation guidelines.

As you revisit the substance, demand the evidence and research that grounds the reforms, just as a board of education would demand of a superintendent. You will find, as I have, that the current reforms are simply not grounded in research. As legislators, demand the evidence, particularly the literature that illustrates the damaging effects of high stakes test scores in teacher evaluations. Demand the evidence that demonstrates that this approach is valid and will withstand legal scrutiny. Demanding evidence is how every local board of education holds their administrators accountable.

Build on the Governor’s first steps and create even greater flexibility for local districts to innovate and create. This is 2014…standardizing our work across all schools is not the answer. That’s the factory / assembly line mentality that got public schools into this mess. We need a diversity of thought, similar to a “crowd sourcing” approach, if we are to solve the problems of the 21st century. Above all, commit to the principle that “one size fits all” does not work. We would never accept that from individual teachers in their work with students, why should we accept “one size fits all” for very different school districts across the state? There are indeed alternative approaches that fit the context and needs of individual districts. I would be happy to provide with you with our example.

You, as legislators, can create the space for innovation to thrive. Promote innovation, not mere compliance.

Revisit the No Child Left Behind waiver that was filed with the U. S. Department of Education. This is consistently presented as the trump card in any discussion involving modifications to the reform package passed a couple of years ago. We’ve been told that we cannot make changes because of promises made to the federal government. Was there a lower threshold for compliance with the No Child Left Behind waiver? Can we take a more aggressive approach for our state and not be dictated to by the federal government to this degree? This resonates at the local level and ought to at least be considered.

Finally, do not be a cynic, but be a skeptic about the common core. How can this be done?

Demand the evidence to support whether or not the standards are age-appropriate for our youngest learners. Demand the input of early childhood experts like the 500+ nationally recognized early childhood professionals who signed a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” about the K-3 standards. Or perhaps seek input right here in Connecticut from the early childhood experts at the Geselle Institute in New Haven.

Demand the evidence that supports that every child should master the same benchmarks every year when we know that all children develop at different rates.

Demand an accurate accounting of the current and, more importantly, future costs of implementing the common core and the new Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing system.

Demand the evidence that supports coupling the common core to unproven tests. In just weeks, many students will sit for these new tests. They will serve as subjects to “test out the test.” It is quite possible that you will hear even more from parents after the tests are administered. Be proactive and seek these answers in advance of the inevitable questions you will be asked.

I want to close by stating that I personally have between eighteen to twenty more years to serve in this state and I look at these problems in a very long-term sense. What can we do now, not for this year or next, but in the long-term to be the shining example for the rest of the country that Connecticut’s public education system once was considered? I’m committed to this work and I will continue that commitment for nearly two more decades.

I ask you to seize this opportunity.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Thomas R. Scarice Superintendent

[Note to readers: I abridged this article to comply with copyright limits. Please open the link and read the article in full at the Hartford Courant, which had the good sense to publish it.]

Thanks to the punitive actions and policies of the U.S. Department of Education and the states, there is a new genre of writing by teachers, explaining why they are quitting. The most famous was written by Kris Neilsen of North Carolina, whose letter of resignation went viral, was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, and went around the world.

This column was written by Elizabeth Natale, a middle-school teacher in Connecticut. This state has one of the best public school systems in the United States, yet its governor and state commissioner continually bash teachers and public schools, while lauding charters and showering them with extra money. The leaders are certain that public schools and teachers are failing and need tough measures to shake them up. In time, what the leaders are doing will be revealed as a mighty hoax whose goal is to increase market share for charters.

Natale writes:

“Surrounded by piles of student work to grade, lessons to plan and laundry to do, I have but one hope for the new year: that the Common Core State Standards, their related Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing and the new teacher evaluation program will become extinct.

I have been a middle school English teacher for 15 years. I entered teaching after 19 years as a newspaper reporter and college public relations professional….

Although the tasks ahead of me are no different from those of the last 14 years, today is different. Today, I am considering ending my teaching career.

When I started teaching, I learned that dealing with demanding college presidents and cantankerous newspaper editors was nothing. While those jobs allowed me time to drink tea and read the newspaper, teaching deprived me of an opportunity to use the restroom. And when I did, I was often the Pied Piper, followed by children intent on speaking with me through the bathroom door.

I loved it!

Unfortunately, government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children….

The Smarter Balance program assumes my students are comfortable taking tests on a computer, even if they do not own one…

I am a professional. My mission is to help students progress academically, but there is much more to my job than ensuring students can answer multiple-choice questions on a computer. Unlike my engineer husband who runs tests to rate the functionality of instruments, I cannot assess students by plugging them into a computer….

My most important contributions to students are not addressed by the Common Core, Smarter Balance and teacher evaluations. I come in early, work through lunch and stay late to help children who ask for assistance but clearly crave the attention of a caring adult…

Teaching is the most difficult — but most rewarding — work I have ever done. It is, however, art, not science. A student’s learning will never be measured by any test, and I do not believe the current trend in education will lead to adults better prepared for the workforce, or to better citizens. For the sake of students, our legislators must reach this same conclusion before good teachers give up the profession — and the children — they love.”

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