Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Education Reform: A Progress Report

Earlier this year, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed P.A. 12-116, An Act Concerning Educational Reform, into law.  P.A. 12-116 stands as the most significant education reform effort every undertaken in the Nutmeg State.  This new law addressed needed changes in everything from early childhood education to school choice, from turning around our lowest-performing schools to fairly evaluating all of our teachers and principals.

As we all know, though, passing a law and actually doing what the law promises are two very different things.  Many disagreed with P.A. 12-116 and many powerful special interests stand against some of the key components passed by the Connecticut General Assembly.  So there is little question that some may seek to delay, deter, or downright reject efforts to take the specific improvements called for under the law.

We should all agree that every child in Connecticut should receive a great public education.  That all kids should have exemplary teachers and should attend good public schools that prepare them for both college and career.  And that every child, regardless of race, family income, or zip code, can and should succeed.

If we can all agree on those points, then we should all agree we need to ensure we implement a law – P.A. 12-116 – that seeks to provide all of that for every kid and every family in our state.  That is why ConnCAN has decided to issue a Progress Report help Connnecticut’s families see the progress being made in education reform and to understand what we all should be looking for in the future from our schools, our policymakers, and our state.

ConnCAN released the first edition of this Progress Report this week, and will release updates every quarter.  The Progress Report is publicly available, and can be found at: http://www.conncan.org/progressreport.

In this report, we examine progress in five key policy areas: Educator Evaluations; Commissioner’s Network; Alliance Districts; School Finance; and School Choice.  In each category, we examine what the law requires, progress to date, and what to watch for.

From the inaugural report, a few key trends are clear.  First, P.A. 12-116 is very ambitious in the improvements it promises to Connecticut’s students.  Second, we have made real progress since it was signed into law in late May.  And finally, we have a long way to go before we deliver on our promise to improve our public schools for all of our kids.

If we are serious about real education improvement, we must be willing to hold all accountable.  It falls to all of us – educators and advocates, parents and policymakers, community leaders and civic voices – to ensure we fulfill the promises made in P.A. 12-116.  The stakes are too high, and the outcomes are too important, for us to settle for anything less.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ed Haters Gonna Hate

Public schools in Connecticut – all public schools in Connecticut – have room for improvement. Room to better empower teachers. Room to make instruction more relevant.  Room to improve test scores.  Room to ensure that all kids are getting a great education.

Yet despite this room for improvement, there are some out there that will do or say anything to protect the failed status quo. Without letting the facts or the realities so many families face get in the way, these haters are quick to throw around the allegations, accusations, and vitriol to try and scare and bully parents, educators, and community leaders from helping improve our schools.

Taking to blogs and Twitter feeds, many of these haters are simply “wanna be” bullies. They love to attack. They love to question the motives of others. They love to spin conspiracy theories. They love to engage in the politics of personal destruction.

What these haters fail to do, though, is to offer solutions. They fail to offer alternatives. They fail to offer new ideas. They are quick to attack the efforts of others, but offer no thoughts of their own on how to improve and provide a better public education for our kids.

If you think our public schools are serving all of our kids just fine, then explain the dismal graduation rates, low reading proficiency, and troubling college remedial rates.

If you don’t like public charter schools, then offer an alternative that provides parents the choice to ensure their kids can attend a good public school.

If you don’t believe that teachers and principals should be evaluated, in part, based on how well their students learn, then offer an alternative for how to effectively assess the performance of an educator.

If you don’t believe that our public schools deserve private philanthropic support, then offer an alternative on how to get much needed funding into our school communities.

We have a reputation here in Connecticut of being the “land of steady habits.” Unfortunately, for too many students, we can’t wait another generation or two before we break those bad habits and focus on how to improve our classrooms.

Change is hard. It threatens those who are benefitting from the failed status quo. When we see voices opposed to change and attacking the personal motives of those who are willing to speak out to improve their child’s lot in life, we need to ask, “Why?”

Why defend a system that is failing so many kids? Why defend a system that is failing so many teachers? Why defend a system that is failing so many families? Why defend a system that is failing so many communities?

At the end of the day, haters gonna hate. There is simply too much at stake for us to listen to those attack dogs of the failed status quo, who offer no solutions and only ridicule and assault those who are looking to provide a better path for our kids.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Economic Growth Depends on Education Reform

At the Democratic National Convention last week, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel TOLD a gathering of Democratic governors, “There’s no denying connection between economic growth and education.”

On this point, Van Roekel is 100 percent correct. Our future economic success depends on our ability to provide all students a world-class education. It demands that we have every child – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – reading proficient by the start of fourth grade. It means eliminating our drop out factories and ensuring all kids earn a meaningful high school diploma.

Our economy is not like it was a decade ago, and it certainly isn’t like it was in the 1950s. We’ve moved from an economy where a third of high school students could drop out of school and still hold a job that allowed them to raise a family, to one where every American likely needs some form of postsecondary education. We’ve adapted what we produce, how we produce it, and who we sell it to so it matches the needs and expectations of the current day economy. We’ve embraced change as a requirement of economic growth.

But why are we so resistant to similar change in education? With such a strong connection between economic growth and education, we’ve seen our economy transform as we try to teach our kids using the same systems, approaches, and expectations as we did nearly a century ago.

Our consumer-driven economy should yield a consumer-driven educational system. A system where families have a choice in the schools their kids attend. A system where moms and dads are assured their kids have great teachers in the classroom and a great principal leading the school. A system where all students are funded equally, rejecting the establishment of two classes of public school students in the same city.

We cannot and should not continue a public education framework just because it is the way we have always done it. Those who continue to defend a model that has failed so many of Connecticut students for decades must ask what they are defending.

Do they support a third of fourth graders failing to read at grade level? Do they support 40 percent of Latino students dropping out of high school? Do they support more than 70 percent of high school graduates needing remedial English or math if they get to college? Do they support our Black students performing more than two grade levels behind their Black peers in states like Massachusetts or Maryland?

Yes, Mr. Van Roekel, there is no denying the connection between economic growth and education. Economic growth depends on ongoing reforms and adaptations to changing life conditions. Educational success depends on the same.

We all should be education reformers, seeking better schools for all of our kids. We may disagree on the specific methods and paths for education reform in Connecticut, but we can’t deny that real change is needed. Our economic, civic, and social growth depends on meaningful reforms.

(This post originally appeared on the ConnCAN blog on September 13, 2012.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Connecticut Ed Reform: By the Numbers

As I wrote earlier this week, we all should be education reformers.  We all want to see our public schools do better.  We all want to see our kids succeed.  We all want to see exemplary teachers leading every classroom, receiving the support they need to succeed.

If that isn't enough reason, let's take a look at Connecticut by the numbers, so we can have a better sense of the problem that needs to be fixed:

  • Only one-third of Connecticut's low-income, African-American, and Latino third grade students performed at grade level in reading compared to 70 percent of white and non-low income third graders
  • Low-income students in Connecticut scored worse than similar students in 33 other states
  • Dropouts from Connecticut's High School Class of 2008 will lose $1.4 billion in lifetime earnings because they lack a high school diploma
  • Our low-income students and students of color consistently perform three grade levels behind their White and non-low income peers
  • By 2018, 65 percent of Connecticut jobs will require at least a bachelor's degree, but right now only 36 percent of our high school graduates compete an undergraduate degree within six years
  • Of the students who graduate from high school on time, too many are nor prepared for higher education, with Connecticut spending $84 million a year on college remediation because students arrive unable to do college-level work
  • The graduation gap between African-American and White students is 20 percentage points, while the gap between Latino and White students is nearly 25 percentage points
  • Nearly one in five Connecticut students does not complete high school in four years

Based on these numbers, why are you an education reformer?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kids' Breakfast a Point for Teacher Contract Negotiations?

For years, those seeking to defend the failed status quo in our public schools have offered up many excuses as to why reform is not necessary. The most popular one, particularly here in Connecticut, is poverty. Our achievement gaps continue to grow, and we continue to fail our students, strictly because of poverty.
Of course, these defenders fail to acknowledge that poor Black and Latino students in states like Massachusetts and Maryland are outperforming poor Black and Latino students here in the Nutmeg state by two grade levels. Is Connecticut poverty really that much different than Massachusetts poverty?
There is no question that poverty, regardless of the state one lives in, impacts student learning. That is one of the reasons why schools have a free and reduced lunch program, and why so many schools are now implementing a breakfast program. Providing students with that first meal of the day increases their ability to learn and to get the most out of their time in the classroom.
So it is a real headscratcher when one sees that the teachers union is now opposing breakfast programs for our neediest students. Over in Los Angeles,TEACHERS UNION OFFICIALS SEEM PERTURBED ABOUT A NEW STUDENT BREAKFAST PROGRAM THAT IS SERVING 84 PERCENT OF CHILDREN. A program that has parents and community members volunteering to help manage and take care of the cleanup. A program that is providing all kids – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – an equal start to the day.
Yes, United Teachers Los Angeles is perturbed because they weren’t consulted before Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) stepped up to provide free breakfast to its poor students. And now, the teachers union is asking that a student breakfast program be part of the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement.
As LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy put it, “It's incomprehensible as to why we would negotiate a student's nutritional needs.”
Incomprehensible is putting it kindly. For years now, ConnCAN has fought to ensure that the needs of students were included in any arbitration decisions involving teacher contracts. Yet it is still illegal for Connecticut to consider the interests of the child in any such decisions. After all, those status quo defenders contend, collective bargaining agreements are all about protecting the rights and interests of the adults in the system.
Fair enough. But then how can one possibly insist that contracts governing the pay and benefits for teachers should act as a forum for unions to negotiate whether or not a community can provide breakfast to its poorest children?
It is just another example of public education being all about the adults in the room, with no real concern for the children we are supposed to be serving. Such logic is indeed incomprehensible … and unconscionable.

(This post was originally published on the ConnCAN blog on September 11, 2012.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Why are you an education reformer?"

I’m often asked, “Why are you an education reformer?” For those of us with kids in Connecticut’s public schools, we look for the good in our children’s classrooms. The caring principal. The knowledgeable and committed teacher.  A roomful of students excited to learn. All of the things we want to see in a strong community school.

Unfortunately, the statistics in our state show that far too many kids are being denied the great public education they all deserve. The data is startling:
  • Only one-third of our low-income, African American, and Hispanic/Latino third grade students can read at a third grade level
  • Our English Language Learners are five grade levels behind their non-ELL peers in reading
  • One-third of our African-American students and 36 percent of our Hispanic/Latino students will fail to graduate from high school
  • Of those kids who graduate from Connecticut public high schools and go onto college, nearly 80 percent will need to take remedial classes in math and reading, classes that cost real dollars but don’t count for college credit

And the numbers are just as bad, if not worse, in New Haven and in Connecticut’s other large cities.

We can do better, and we should do better. I have two children of color, one in first grade and one in kindergarten. They both attend public schools. Every day, I pray that the system won’t fail them, that they won’t become another statistic. That they will be proficient readers. That they will graduate. That they will beat the odds.

So when I’m asked why I’m an education reformer, my initial response is that I am doing this so that my kids and their classmates have access to better schools and better opportunities. But I quickly follow that up with an important statement. “We all should be education reformers.”

Unfortunately, we have many in Connecticut who reject reform out of hand and are committed to block progress.  Those that defend the educational status quo in Connecticut speak loudly and passionately. They attack the motives of those seeking change and claim the statistics aren’t real or that the failures of our education system cannot or should not be fixed.

As a parent, I refuse to believe that. As a former board of education chairman, I refuse to believe that. As the son of two educators, I refuse to believe that. An as an education reformer, I am committed to doing something about that.

At ConnCAN, we are committed to fighting for great public schools for all kids. Not great public schools, except if you are Black. Not great public schools, except if you are Brown. Not great public schools, except if you lack the green. Great public schools for all, no exceptions.

This blog – Yes Conn, We Can – was launched so we can have the tough discussions about education and education reform in Connecticut. We cannot provide great public schools for all of our kids if we aren’t willing to have the raw, frank conversations about what works, what doesn’t work, and what we need to do to ensure that all kids – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – have access to a great public education.

Here, you will see blunt talk. You’ll see guest writers talking about their personal experiences. Most importantly, you’ll see why we all need to be education reformers and how we can work together to improve our schools and our opportunities for our kids. Yes Conn, we can.