Tag Archive | "Education Reform"


Connecticut Education Reform is Failing Our Students

By Wayne Winsley

The far-reaching and (depending upon who you ask) controversial decision of Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ordered the state of Connecticut to come up with a new funding formula for public schools, devise clear standards for both the elementary and high school levels, overhaul the state’s system of evaluating teachers, principals and superintendents, and change the way Connecticut funds special education services.

All well and good from the policy side, but let us not forget the other end of the equation. Any real education reform must take the actual students into account.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionThis court case was launched over 11 years ago. Many of the students who were in school at that time have been pushed through the educational system and we are still paying to feed them either via welfare system or the penal system.

What about the students who are in our schools right now?

What are we doing to help them do better?

As a teacher, (I’m a middle school history teacher), I can say with certainty that whether a school is rich, poor, or in between, there is no “policy” that can make a child study if he or she doesn’t want to.

The dropout rate cannot be substantially reduced without giving students a compelling reason to stick with their education.

Raising student achievement cannot be accomplished without students who are motivated to achieve.

To close the achievement gap, we have to pull from both sides.

Governor. Dannel P. Malloy says, “We know that to improve outcomes for all Connecticut students and to close persistent achievement gaps, we need to challenge the status quo and take bold action.”

I agree 100 percent. It is time to take action to save the students that are currently struggling in too many of our schools.

While the politicians and lawyers bicker about what needs to be done and how to pay for it, we must throw a lifeline to our children that are sinking right now.

As Judge Moukawsher pointed out, Connecticut’s poorest schools are posting results worse than the poorest schools of 40 other states and is no better than the other nine.

Our children deserve better.

To close the achievement gap we must work from both ends. We must give our students the tools to achieve AND we must increase our students desire to achieve.

Wayne Winsley is Executive Director of BraveEnoughToFail.org an educational nonprofit that provides motivational programming and scholarships to in-need schools.

He is also a history teacher at Faith Preparatory Academy in New Milford


Wayne Winsley is the Executive Director of Brave Enough To Fail Inc.

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Q&A: Common Core a ‘Response’ to Growing Classroom Diversity

New America Media, Question & Answer By George White
Editor’s Note:  Connecticut, like Georgia and 43 other states,  will begin or has begun implementing the new Common Core State Standards for English-language arts and math. The new standards are designed to revamp the way schools instruct and assess students, placing greater emphasis on critical thinking, analysis, real-world applications and problem solving. There are questions, however, about whether the new standards will help close or widen the achievement gap for African American children. Connecticut could learn from Georgia State University professor Julie Washington,  a leading expert on black student literacy and serves on a Common Core advisory panel for Scholastic Inc., which produces  books for school districts. She says the new standards are a reflection of the country’s growing diversity, and that they will help raise expectations for all students. She spoke with NAM’s George White.What is Common Core and what should the black community know about these new standards?Common Core is a set of a teaching standards agreed to by most states. Some states need Common Core because they don’t have statewide standards. Georgia has statewide standards but we all want to see improvement in academic outcomes in our state and Common Core will help us achieve that because the Common Core curricula are rigorous and the classroom expectations are high.

In many ways, Common Core is a response to the increasing diversity in the country. Students are bringing a lot of different cultural experiences and differences to the classroom. The new standards – if they are adhered to – should benefit African-American children and all other students because classroom expectations will be raised and more transparent.

Why were the standards adopted? 

Common Core is being adopted because there is so much [state-to-state] variation in student performance, in teaching quality and in academic outcomes. Some of the disparities are related to teaching quality and some are related to curriculum content and different academic expectations.

Common Core is important for Georgia because the state has consistently ranked among the bottom ten states in academic performance. Georgia can be better than that! We want to be certain that when a child is educated in Georgia and moves away, parents will find that our curricular content and expectations are consistent with their new home state.

What will the changes in English language arts instruction mean for black student performance? 

The greatest disparity between white and black students has been in classes that rely on reading ability. There is a real learning curve because many low-income African-American students speak a cultural dialect that has features that differ from those that the school expects. The situation is similar to students who are learning English as a second language. This is not true for all African-American students but for those from impoverished backgrounds, this is often a concern.

In reading, 84 percent of African-American kids are at a basic level or below, and only 16 percent are proficient. Common Core will help address this problem because some of the language differences – for example, subject-verb agreement – are addressed in the standards. This is important because if a student uses a dialect and doesn’t learn to switch to the linguistic code of the classroom by the end of first grade, reading growth slows down. Students who make the shift from community language to standard English by second grade can usually keep pace.

How is this connected to your work with the Learning Disabilities Innovation Research Hub?

My colleagues (Dr. Mark Seidenberg from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Nicole Patton-Terry from Georgia State University) and I entered a 2012 competition for a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Our proposal focused on African-American kids and learning disabilities. African American children are overrepresented in special education generally, but have been underrepresented as recipients of learning disability assistance, because if your reading problem is believed to be based on linguistic difference, cultural difference or poverty, you don’t qualify as learning disabled.

Our goal is to figure out which students are doing well, which students have true learning disabilities and which students have reading problems due to issues related to poverty. Working in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, we are involved in five elementary schools, where we are testing the reading, writing, language and cognitive skills of 750 students. The parents of these students agreed to the testing. When the testing studies are done, the next step is intervention to address the disabilities.

We have about 50 Georgia State students who are involved with the testing and also serve as volunteers who provide classroom assistance requested by teachers. For example, the volunteers might read to students or provide tutoring at a teachers’ request.

What are your thoughts on the parental factor in black academic achievement? 

Parental involvement has a demonstrated impact on academic achievement. Parents need to be informed about these new standards. I don’t know that the burden of parent involvement is any greater under Common Core because parental involvement is always important.

It’s about shared expectations. It’s important for parents to understand their school’s academic expectations so that they can support those standards at home. Often, low-income African-American parents don’t understand their power to insist on quality of education. Parents need to make their high expectations known to the school.

How do you respond to those who say Common Core is an example of government overreach in standardizing education? 

I think they are not fully informed. The federal government had nothing to do with this. Common Core is a states initiative coordinated by governors and the heads of state education departments. In this partisan environment, there are some who believe that everything that comes from Washington is bad. But this has nothing to do with federal government.

Overall, will the implementation of Common Core help close the achievement gap?

Theoretically, if we have high standards for everyone and adequate professional development for teachers, I believe Common Core will contribute to narrowing the achievement gap; but it will not eliminate it. It is not realistic to expect the Common Core to close a gap that is present at the time that kids enter schools.


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Our Elementary View of Education

By Matt AmaralNew America Media

The other day on Yahoo I saw this article: 5 Most Regretted Jobs. I knew what was coming next. Four of the five jobs don’t require a college degree: mechanic, bank teller, delivery driver, and cashier. Most people who have these jobs aren’t in love with them.

Rounding the list out is not just teacher, but very specifically Secondary School Teacher.

How do we expect education to change in this country when teachers are on this list? The very people who are trying to show our youth the value of an education are the people who got the least value – at least as far as pay goes – from their education.

We have Bachelor’s Degrees and a Teaching Credential – five years worth of post-secondary education. Many of us have Master’s Degrees. Yet we are paid almost the same as the jobs that require only a GED. It is obvious the money is a big reason teachers regret going into the profession. But why are secondary school teachers in particular on this list?

It is because we have an elementary view of education in this country.

Let me give an example. A couple of years ago several teachers at the school where I work were attacked by students. One teacher was punched multiple times, and the other was shoved — hard and intentionally.

Neither student was expelled and both came right back to campus, where they were looked on as heroes to some students, while others were quite simply scared of them. It sent a very clear message to the rest of the school: you won’t get expelled EVEN IF YOU PUNCH A TEACHER. At what point does someone here learn a lesson?

Or take all the talk concerning teacher evaluations. It seems to revolve around the assumption that students from kindergarten up are all trying their hardest, running into our classrooms wide-eyed with Dora the Explorer lunchboxes. For the record, I’m for teacher evaluations, just like I’m for evaluations in every profession. But what evaluation really means is regulation, and everyone seems to be anti-regulation these days except when it comes to teachers.

And what about class size? We put caps on elementary school classes because we know that if a student is behind by grade 3, they will be behind for their entire education. In what world, then, does it make sense to pack 38 teenagers into a single classroom?

This is why secondary school teachers come to regret their career choice.The fact is that too many of the solutions offered to teachers at the secondary level are the same approaches used for fifth graders.

So what does a Secondary View of Education look like? First, we raise teacher pay. As it is now, high school kids don’t respect us just because we are teachers, like second graders do; in fact, they do NOT like us because we are teachers, and because we are not rich and famous. This is the secret behind the success of countries like Finland — teachers are the most respected and well-compensated workers in these places. Education will not work in this country as long as we are looked upon as charity cases.

Second, we lower class sizes drastically, especially in the freshman and sophomore years of high school. Too many students don’t even make it to junior year. In those first two years of high school, a student’s education is shaped and then defined.

Third, we need to offer medical benefits and more social services, and make it easier for students to access them at the school site. They call these wraparound services. The problems many teachers in poorer districts face are that we are teaching the children of those at the bottom of thegreatest income inequality since the 1920s. Education will not improve until this country improves conditions for all Americans.

Lastly, we need to recognize who the non-students are, and figure out how to help them. Non-students are teens that are just not ready to be in a classroom environment. They can’t sit still. They can’t read and have no intention of doing so. We do need to help these kids. But we can’t do it like Florida does and arrest them all, or by ignoring them and letting them drag down the students who do want to learn.

We need to find a place to put non-students, many of who see little to no opportunity in either education or the working world. There’s little incentive, then, to be anything but a non-student.

Strategies like the Career Pathways approach in Georgia and a number of other states offer some promise of reversing this. California looks to be taking steps toward this approach, too. But as it stands now, these students are the problem of the teacher, and we have too much to do as it is to be everyone’s savior.

We can’t be everyone’s savior. That is what teachers regret most, and why many of us quit.

Matt Amaral is a writer and high school English teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a featured blogger at EducationNews.org, a leading international website for education issues. You can also follow his work on the blogsite, Teach4Real.com

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CT College Students Rally for Ed Reform

HARTFORD — Students for Education Reform, the nation’s largest student-led education advocacy non-profit, will convene members of twelve Connecticut colleges in Hartford on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. outside the State Capitol.

The rally will consist of students representing the University of Bridgeport, the University of New Haven, Yale University, Wesleyan University, Quinnipiac University, Central Connecticut State University, University of Connecticut – Storrs, Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Hartford, Trinity College, Connecticut College, and Fairfield University. Students from these schools are expected to come from across the state in hopes of finally having their voices heard in the debate surrounding education reform.

As Connecticut college students begin to plan their futures and approach graduation, Connecticut looks less attractive due to the issues with public schools.

“A paramount part of ensuring that there is a promising future for the state of Connecticut is ensuring that our phenomenal college students stay here. We are the future of this state and our voices have yet to be heard in the debate on education reform,” said Quinnipiac SFER Chapter Leader Jordan Nadler. “Our college students need a reason to stay here and we are crying out for public school reform. It’s time that our voices are heard.”

Connecticut’s college students are calling for education reform that includes teacher tenure reform, strong school choice, and turnarounds in the schools and districts that need it most.

These students feel that it is unacceptable to sit by and do nothing when they are living in a state with the highest achievement gap in the country.

“These college students are the future parents, teachers, and taxpayers of Connecticut,” said Trinity SFER Chapter Leader Liora Mann. “But we will not be parents in Connecticut if our children cannot receive the top notch education they deserve. Give us a reason to stay.”

SFER’s policy agenda includes ensuring teacher and school leader effectiveness, quality school choices for every family, and meaningful standards and assessments in every state.

To learn more, visit: www.studentsforedreform.org.

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Malloy Outlines Broad Principles For Education Reform

By Mark Pazniokas

HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today outlined six broad principles that he says will guide the debate on education reform next year, including “intensive interventions” by the state in troubled school systems and a lighter bureaucratic touch at successful ones.

In a letter to legislators and stakeholders, Malloy hinted at a willingness to take up the politically charged issue of tenure and pay reform, saying teachers and principals should be valued for “skill and effectiveness” over “seniority and tenure.”

Malloy told the Mirror as he returned to the Capitol this afternoon that he is looking to make the tenure system more responsive by recognizing high performers.

“There’s got to be a balance,” Malloy said. “We know that tenure’s appropriate, but it’s also got to be balanced by making sure we retain the best teachers. So, it’s a balanced approach.”

The governor said he will convene a set of workshops Jan. 5 with an eye toward formulating proposals to be taken up by the 2012 legislative session that begins Feb. 8.

The letter marks the start of Malloy’s efforts to deliver on the promise of change made when he reached outside the education establishment to name Stefan Pryor as his choice for state education commissioner.

“We should not and will not accept half-measures and repackaged versions of the status quo,” Malloy said.

The governor’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, compared today’s letter to the administration’s efforts early this year to set parameters and establish expectations for an ambitious budget debate.

“He drew the box, drew it in a broad way, poured the foundation and then let the discussions begin,” Occhiogrosso said. “He set some high expectations, and he met them. He’s setting some pretty high expectations here, too.”

The governor says he wants legislation that:

  • Enhances families’ access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities;
  • Authorizes the intensive interventions and enables the supports necessary to turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools and districts;
  • Expands the availability of high-quality school models, including traditional schools, magnets, charters and others;
  • Unleashes innovation by removing red tape and other barriers to success, especially in high-performing schools and districts;
  • Ensures that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals — working within a fair system that values skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure;
  • Delivers more resources, targeted to districts with the greatest need — provided that they embrace key reforms that position students for success.

Malloy said the state’s schools have a history of excellence, and Connecticut still boasts a number of exemplary schools and districts that produce students who can outperform their peers.

“But over time, we have lost our edge as a state,” he wrote. “Our performance on standardized assessments has stagnated, and students in other states have begun to catch and surpass ours. Our state’s positioning has weakened to the point that we are not competitive in national grant competitions like the recent Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.”

In his letter, the governor gave no hint as to what he means by “intensive interventions,” nor did he explain how far he is willing to go to ensure that teachers and principals are judged on “skill and effectiveness,” not just “seniority and tenure.”

Pryor, who has been meeting with educators, union officials, legislators and other stakeholders, said in an interview that the governor’s letter is meant to give direction without closing off debate.

“The notion here is the governor is articulating principles under which we can evolve legislative proposals,” Pryor said.

Malloy previously has talked about focusing the attention of the state Education Department onto troubled districts, essentially freeing successful systems of some bureaucratic oversight.

Pryor said Malloy’s reference to “intensive interventions” meant more than simply shifting resources.

“The goal is to expand the tool box,” he said.

Reaction from the state’s largest business group and the two major teachers’ unions, the Connecticut Education Association and AFT Connecticut, was upbeat, reflecting the outreach Pryor has made to them — and the deferral of potentially troublesome specifics to another day.

“We commend the governor for his leadership on advancing high-quality public schools,” said Mary Loftus Levine, the executive director of the CEA. “In their collaborative outreach to CEA in recent months, both Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor have indicated they recognize that high-quality teachers are the greatest asset in public education.

Eric Bailey, a spokesman for AFT, sounded a similar theme.

“We’ve actually been in discussion already with the commissioner and his staff. They have been reaching out to engage a lot of the different stakeholders. It’s a good starting point,” Bailey said. “As far as the stuff they put out today, there’s nothing really there that we have an issue with.”

Bailey said the union is willing to engage on the issue of how to better recognize performance versus seniority.

“We can say that focusing on ‘skill and effectiveness’ in terms of helping kids, absolutely, that needs to be primary,” he said. “We don’t disagree on that. We don’t see that as any sign we’re absolutely getting rid of seniority or we’re absolutely getting rid of tenure.”

John R. Rathgeber, the president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, called the governor’s initiatives “a sign of real progress.”

“The principles for education reform put forth today by the governor are an important step forward in addressing a critical issue to Connecticut,” Rathgeber said.

Patrick Riccards, the chief executive of ConnCAN, a reform group, praised the statement of principles.

“The letter outlines an audacious set of ideas to guide education reform policy change in 2012,” he said. “Many of the policies the governor identifies are the types of reforms we’ve been calling for for years: guaranteeing excellent teachers and principals in every classroom, fair funding for the students and districts that are most in need, expanding high-quality school options, and transforming the lowest-performing schools and districts.”

Malloy also said he will seek ways to better connect curriculums to the needs of employers, not a new issue, but one the governor has repeatedly heard raised in his visits with businesses.

“One of the most frustrating things I heard repeatedly from employers on my jobs tour was some version of ‘I have job openings at my company, but I can’t find enough qualified people to fill them.’ These comments underscore the fact that our state’s economic future is dependent on our students’ educational outcomes,” he wrote.

Malloy’s ambitions may be at odds with the state’s fiscal condition, forcing him to settle for high-profile demonstration projects.

His letter today made no explicit mention of the cornerstone of state aid to education: the ECS, or Education Cost Sharing formula, that he and other elected officials say must be revamped. It referred only to delivering more resources to the districts with the greatest need.

ECS reform in a time of tight resources could mean winners and losers, a politically explosive undertaking in an election year for all 187 seats in the General Assembly.

Pryor said the governor wants more resources directed to districts that need help, leaving open the question of whether the ECS formula would be the vehicle for that aid.


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