Archives for category: Malloy, Dannel

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

Civil rights lawyer can’t understand why state leaders in Connecticut get to choose which laws to follow.

They seem to follow the advice of NYC former chancellor Joel Klein, who responded to complaints by saying, “Sue me.”

Why the disdain for the law?

Jonathan Pelto reports on Jeb Bush’s recent visit to Connecticut. While there, he saluted the “reforms” pushed through the legislature by Governor Dannell Malloy, especially his efforts to curb teachers’ tenure and seniority. And he boasted about Florida’s achievement (he didn’t mention the class size reduction initiative, which voters approved and he tried to roll back). And choice, choice, choice!

Funny that no one mentioned that Connecticut is one of the top two or three states in the nation on NAEP, even though it has strong teachers’ unions, seniority and tenure. It is far ahead of Florida. Since when does a state whose students are ABOVE the national average (8th grade math, NAEP) take lessons from one that is well below the national average?

A parent objects to Connecticut’s plan to test children in kindergarten, first and second grades and asks for your help:

Does anyone have any info on “opt out” procedures in CT? My daughter will not be subjected to this destructive nonsense during these crucial, early years.

 

In response to a post about a new “reform” law in Connecticut that mandates standardized testing for kindergarten, first and second grades, a reader comments:

I have seen my students in first and second grade put their heads down on their tests and sob uncontrollably while taking district-wide assessments. I can only imagine what standardized tests will do to them. I keep wondering if I have the stamina to ride out this insanity for another 10-12 years before I can retire.

Hello, Governor Malloy, are you listening? Commissioner Pryor, are you listening? Think of how you will be viewed by future generations. Think of what you are doing to little children. Do you want the teachers of these children to teach to the test?

Education reform is definitely found a home in Connecticut!

There, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy wants to prove he is the biggest and baddest of education reformers.

Through his efforts, the Legislature passed a “reform” bill that mandates new standardized tests for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

No child in Connecticut will be left untested!

No, sirree!

Remember if  you will, that the three highest performing states in the nation on the no-stakes NAEP are: Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Malloy is very very worried about the state’s terrible performance. He will fix it with more tests.

His core belief is that teachers should “teach to the tests.”

Educators used to believe that teaching to the test was reprehensible, almost like cheating.

No more.

Governor Malloy will get his wish.

It’s kind of funny when a blog talks to a blog, which then talks back to the other blog.

I wrote today about how the State Superintendent of Schools in Georgia came out in opposition to a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would allow a commission appointed by the governor to override the decisions of local school boards that reject charter schools.

The news story about him said:

“I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education,” Barge said in a prepared statement. “What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).”

Then, in response to my post,  Jonathan Pelto wrote that Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy pushed for the same authority in Connecticut, to allow his Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (who founded a charter school and is a strong proponent of charters) to intervene in low-income districts with almost unlimited authority to impose the changes he prefers.

And here is the funny part: The idea is promoted by the conservative group called ALEC, which advocates for vouchers, charters, the parent trigger and opposes unions, tenure, and certification. As an organization of some 2,000 conservative legislators, ALEC would normally be in favor of small government and local control. But ALEC advocates that governors should be able to appoint a commission with the power to overturn local decisions about charter schools, so that more charters will be created despite local opposition. This is a case where ideology trumps ideology.

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) supports privatization and promotes a free-market ideology. It gained some unwanted attention this spring for its model “stand your ground” legislation, which figured in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida by George Zimmerman.

Strange world we live in.

A reader reminded me of a post by blogger Jonathan Pelto about Hartford, Connecticut, that shows how districts can “game the system” to meet testing target.

And that reminded me that Jon Pelto is someone you should know about. Subscribe to his blog if you want an insider’s view of education reform in Connecticut.

Pelto was a legislator for several years and cares passionately about public education. He knows how to follow the money and watches for conflict of interest and hidden lobbyists.

He has written many posts in opposition to Governor Dannel Malloy’s alliance with the hedge fund managers’ group called ConnCAN (now operating in other states as 50CAN). Pelto has called out all the players in the corporate camp, including the other Wall Street group called Democrats for Education Reform, the charter chain Achievement First, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, and Teach for America, all of which took a role in shaping and pushing Governor Malloy’s “reform” bill to funnel more money to charters than to the state’s poorest districts and to strip teachers of tenure. It’s all “for the children,” remember. Malloy said he would be happy to see more “teaching to the test,” and also said the achievement gap in his state made it necessary to take away teacher tenure. This is absurd; Connecticut has a large achievement gap because it has outsized income inequality, with large concentrations of urban poverty and intense concentrations of extreme wealth. But let’s not talk about that.

Pelto has been critical of State Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who was a founder of a Connecticut charter school, Amistad Academy, and chairman of its board for five years. That charter school is the flagship in the Achievement First charter chain. Pelto has been fearless in criticizing the claims of the powerful Achievement First chain, showing what a small percentage of ELLs it enrolls compared to urban districts in the state, and pointing out how Malloy’s budget showered far more money on this wealthy charter chain than on the state’s neediest students.

Pelto has posted several times about what happened in Hartford during the reign of Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski.Adamowski was brought in to raise achievement, and he did get the numbers up. Here is his account from his own blog. Some school superintendents ward off charter schools, but not Adamowski. He hasworked closely with the politically powerful charter chain, Achievement First.After his tenure in Hartford, he was appointed as “special master” to run the schools of Windham, Connecticut. There, his moves have been controversial, such as cutting back on early childhood education and AP classes.

Not surprisingly, Pelto has been critical of Adamowski’s close ties to the charter school industry and to conservative groups like NCTQ. Pelto repeatedly exposed the ties between Governor Malloy and corporate reformers, as well as the lobbying activities of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst. Pelto has written scathing commentaries about the state takeover of Bridgeport and about Paul Vallas’s stewardship of the district. Pelto is one of the few commentators who has criticized the “reformers” in Connecticut for ignoring the impact of poverty on educational achievement. Please readthis.

Pelto has a dogged devotion to the facts and a well-honed sense of moral outrage: this article is the best exemplification of that combination, where he lambastes the state’s urban mayors for endorsing a budget that shortchanges their own city’s children.

A reader asked if I am following the battle over what is misleadingly called school reform in Connecticut. Indeed I am, largely tHrough the efforts of three smart Connecticut blogger-writers: Jonathan Pelto, Sarah Littman, and Wendy Lecker.

The Democratic governor of Connecticut, Dannell Malloy, was elected with the endorsement of the states’ two teachers unions, the NEA and the AFT. It was generally assumed, certainly by me, that he would not join the wolf-pack now blaming teachers for low scores and would not jump aboard the movement to privatize public education.

Unfortunately, that assumption was wrong. Malloy showed his hand when he appointed Stefan Pryor as state commissioner. Not only was Pryor on the board of the charter chain, Achievement First, but he previously worked for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is one of the leading voices in favor of privatizing the public schools. When I spoke in Hartford last fall, I met Pryor, who was charming and decided to wait-and-see.

Then Governor Malloy proposed SB 24 as his major reform program. It included restrictions on teacher tenure, a new teacher evaluation system, and a pledge to turnaround low-performing schools by putting them in a special Commissioner’s district. The governor’s statements inflamed reactions to the bill. Governor Malloy blamed teachers for Connecticut’s racial achievement gap, and he said that teachers get paid just for showing up or breathing, or words to that effect. He said that he would be happy with teachers “teaching to the test,” although most educators know that any gains so obtained are likely to be temporary. He lauded charter schools. In his Commissioner’s district, made up of the state’s lowest performing schools, the State Commissioner would be empowered to fire all the teachers, ban collective bargaining, make contracts not subject to the usual laws and regulations, and turn the schools over to private entities to manage.

On his blog, former legislator Jonathan Pelto warned that Governor Malloy had formed an alliance with powerful financiers and that the low-performing schools would very likely be handed off to Achievement First. Although the so-called reform faction included the state’s superintendents and school boards, this was an odd alliance, which found them joined with such privatization-loving groups as StudentsFirst, ConnCAN, and Democrats for Education Reform. Malloy’s budget, Pelto wrote, had a disproportionate amount of money for Achievement First charter schools (http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/04/24/news-flash-malloy-hits-new-low-as-he-misleads-minority-community-on-education-reform/). Pelto regularly publishes powerful commentaries, such as today’s (http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/05/05/what-do-you-do-when-someone-wont-stop-lying/). Some of his other top entries: http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/03/24/just-when-you-think-youve-seen-it-all-big-city-mayors-speak-out/; also this one: http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/03/25/these-billionaires-and-millionaires-sure-are-interested-in-education-reform-3/.

Wendy Lecker was former president of the Stamford, CT, parent teacher council and staff attorney for the NYC Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Her articles are consistently thoughtful and enlightening, such as the last one: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Follow-colleges-advice-on-what-3535530.php#ixzz1twnbQkaX

I have also learned by reading Sarah Darer Littman, who writes often about education in Connecticut. Here is a sampling of some of her articles: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/op-ed_dont_blame_teachers/ and http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/op-ed_coalition_of_the_factual/.

So, yes, I am watching to see what happens in Connecticut. I have heard that a compromise was in the works, that Governor Malloy would back down on some of his most extreme proposals. Connecticut is a blue state, after all, and it should not be fertile ground for attacks on teachers’ rights to due process, their right to bargain collectively, or on the very idea of public schooling. I expect that Henry Barnard, the founding father of public education in Connecticut, must be watching these shenanagins with concern. After all, Connecticut was one of the first states to establish a public school system. On the NAEP, it is one of the highest performing states in the nation. An odd place to impose corporate-style reforms with private takeovers of public responsibility.

It’s important to keep an eye on what happens in this state.

Diane

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