Brain Surgery and the Common Core

What if the manual with step-by-step procedures for performing brain surgery that is mandated medical practice in all hospitals in the United States was not written by any brain surgeons? Instead,  all of the individuals writing the manual were employees of companies who made post-surgical supplies.

What if the manual was written in secret with no records of the meetings, and no doctor was allowed to know who was at the meetings and who wrote the manual?

What if there was no field-testing of the procedures to see if following them accomplished successful brain surgery?

What if the people who wrote the step-by-step procedures were people who would profit from their post-surgical materials being used?

What if those people knew nothing about brain surgery but only about how their post-surgical products were used?

What if the leader of the manual-writing group was not only not a brain surgeon but also was someone who had his own heartfelt feelings about how he thought brain surgery should go and was able to impose his own heartfelt, but uninformed, feelings on others so that the procedures for brain surgery were based just on his feelings?

What if regardless of how the surgeries turned out or how much the brain surgeons said the procedures were ineffective, there was no way that the step-by-step procedures could be changed, no way to revise or modify the procedures?

Wouldn’t you object?

I would.

For the same reasons, I object to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. They came to be in exactly the same way.

Not one elementary school reading or language arts teacher was involved in writing the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. . Not one middle or high school English teacher was involved. Not one college professor of literature, composition, or rhetoric was involved. The people who wrote the standards were employees of standardized testing companies.

The meetings were held in secret with no minutes kept. For a long time, they would not release the names of those who were writing the standards, but eventually pressure from journalists caused the release of the names.

There has been absolutely no field testing of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts. There was no study conducted to see if meeting the standards in grades k-12 led to good grades in college and future employment. It is anybody’s guess if doing well and meeting the 42 K-12 Common Core English Language Arts Standards will make for success in college or lead to a job.

Since the writers of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards were standardized test makers, the standards consist only of what can be measured by standardized tests. That is a very limited definition of learning and falls way short of the competencies students need for their future.

And, needless to say, testing companies are the big winners in this misbegotten approach to education. They are making huge profits from the manufacture of the national standardized tests and from the publishing of test prep materials that schools are compelled to buy.

The person called the “chief architect” of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards is David Coleman who has zero teaching experience, however, has very strong feelings about how reading and writing should be taught. He successfully imposed those feelings on the group of writers.

David Coleman likes non-fiction better than literature so the amount of literature to be read in K-12 schools throughout the country is restricted. David Coleman likes an approach to teaching literature that was popular in the 1940’s and then discredited so that is the approach mandated by  the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. The approach called New Criticism has been discredited because it does not allow discussion of the historical or cultural context in which a text was written and prohibits individual reader interpretations of a text. David Coleman is famous for saying that students have to learn that “no one gives a **** what they think and feel” so all Common Core essays must be formal arguments devoid of personal connections and written in an anonymous, impersonal voice. Major research in the field of English since the 1970’s contradicts all of David Coleman’s heartfelt feelings, but those heartfelt feelings govern the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Finally, the group who wrote the Common Core English Language Arts Standards has disbanded. There is no agency or person who has authority over the content of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. There is no way to revise them. There is no way to see how they work with students and then make changes. The Common Core English Language Arts Standards are engraved in stone.

Let’s leave the brain surgery to the brain surgeons and the teaching of English language arts to the educators.

Reject the Common Core. Those standards will not teach students to be thoughtful readers, effective writers, or critical and deep thinkers.

The writers of the Common Core for English Language Arts simply didn’t know any better.

We educators, we teachers of English language arts, can definitely do better.

The Common Core State Standards: A Thing Of The Past

The Common Core State Standards, which promise to make all students college and career ready are way behind the times and will not give our students what they need for their future. At the end of the two-minute video, which I invite you to watch, the competencies that will really make students “college and career ready” are quickly flashed on the screen. Not one of those competencies is a Common Core Standard for English Language Arts.

The competencies are:

  • Exploration
  • Creativity
  • Responsibility
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Accountability
  • Problem Solving
  • Innovation
  • Civic Engagement
  • Productivity
  • Communication
  • Initiative
  • Leadership

We English teachers know how to develop those competencies. Let’s do it. Reject the Common Core.

If you cannot see the video,  click here.

The REAL College and Career Readiness

The Secretary of Education says it. The New York Times says it. The President of the United States says it. So it must be true.

But it isn’t.

They all say that the Common Core State Standards will make graduates of our K-12 schools “college and career ready”

But they won’t.

I know the 42 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts really well.

For reading, those standards and the tests that assess those standards ask high school students to know the information in what they read, to objectively summarize what they read, to recognize elements of fiction such as plot, character, setting, point of view, and theme, to recognize elements in informational texts such as claims and evidence for the claims, to recognize structure in both kinds of texts, and to see how source materials influence later texts.

For writing, those standards and the tests that assess those standards ask high school students to write arguments in an impersonal, anonymous voice about assigned topics. The emphasis is on the writing of single draft essays. Revision will be done only “as needed” instead of as an integral part of developing thinking and improving written expression of that thinking. Students are asked to use technology to gain information for their written pieces.

That’s it.

We, as a country, got into the business (and it IS a business) of thinking that the purpose of K-12 education is to make graduates “college and career ready” instead of seeing learning as the means of personal fulfillment and growth or education as the means of creating an informed citizenry necessary for a functioning democracy. Education with the Common Core is regarded as a matter of national security.

The Common Core has as its major premise that those standards will insure that students are “ college and career ready” and that having all of our students “college and career ready” will then make the United States secure as an economic powerhouse.

There are three problems with that premise:

1. There is zero correlation between academic standards and the economic strength of any country.

2.The Common Core Standards have never been field-tested to ascertain if being proficient in meeting those standards means that the students will be successful in college or careers.

3. They are the wrong standards.

So what are the right standards?

There is near universal agreement, among both scholars and business leaders, about the competencies we need to teach today’s students. Not one of these competencies, however, is part of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Not one of these competencies is assessed on the standardized tests aligned with the Common Core.

Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab and previously the first education fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, has written two books that discuss in depth the competencies that our students need. In The Global Achievement Gap, he interviews business leaders and asks them to tell him what they need in the people that they hire. In Creating Innovators. Wagner gives examples of what instruction that produces the needed competencies looks like.

Professor Wagner calls the competencies survival skills. The Seven Survival Skills are:

1. Critical thinking and problem solving: Approaching problems as learners as opposed to knowers, engaging in the inquiry process, asking provocative questions.

2. Collaboration: Engaging in dialogue with diverse people in order to explore questions, consider a wide range of possibilities, and identify solutions.

3. Agility and Adaptability: Being a life-long learner, being able to deal with ambiguity and new  information, knowing that there are no right answers.

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurship: Taking initiative and trusting yourself to be creative.

5.  Effective Written and Oral Communication: Expressing ideas with focus, clarity, and passion. Writing with a strong personal voice.

6.Assessing and Analyzing Information: Finding the important details and then saying, “ Here’s what we should do about it.”

7. Curiosity and Imagination: Being inquisitive, engaged, and interested in the world; creating something new.

What these core competencies have in common is that they are all about the construction of knowledge and the creating of personal meaning.

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, on the other hand, are all about the transmittal of information from teacher to student and then from student to teacher.

We can teach these competencies. I have been in English classes in the most privileged of Connecticut communities and in the neediest of Connecticut communities and have seen English teachers in both kinds of communities teaching their students those competencies. I have seen engaged and motivated students in both kinds of communities questioning, exploring, finding personal meaning, and growing as learners and thinkers as they increase their facility with those competencies. We can’t let test prep for the Common Core stop that energy, stop that rigor, or stop that learning.

Tony Wagner sums sit up:

“Increasingly in the twenty-first century, what you know is far less important than what you do with what you know. The interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that students must master today.”

Put the Common Core aside as a vestige of the past, and let educators prepare students for their future.

The Ten Worst Governors for Education……And We Have One of Them.


The following list of governors who have negatively influenced public education in their states was compiled by Russ Walsh, an experienced curriculum director in school districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Our governor, Dan Malloy, is on the Top Ten list of offenders, but Governor Malloy is ranked number 10. I am sure, to the dismay of many in Connecticut, if this list had been written today, our governor could earn a much, much higher spot.

Surely, he could place at #3 or maybe even at #2. His new attacks on public education include taking $17.1 million out of traditional public schools, which will curtail extended day and summer programs in needy school districts, make universal preschool impossible, not fund priority districts as promised and at less than last year, and limit aid for transportation of students. At the same time, his budget will spend $12.4 million to build two new charter schools in cities that voted against them and add 700 new seats in existing charter schools.

In addition as the legislative session was coming to close the first week of June, Governor Malloy  tried to pull a fast and sneaky trick on the legislature by switching language on a bill that the legislature had almost unanimously passed a few days earlier. The bill gave the authority to approve charter schools to the state legislature instead of keeping it in the hands of the officials at State Board of Education, who are appointed by the governor,  and would make charter schools responsible under the Freedom of Information laws to disclose the same information as all other publicly funded entities. The governor tried to change those two provisions in the bill that the legislature had just passed without telling the legislators.

Now that I think of it, I say that we have a governor who definitely ranks #1 in the destruction of public education.

Here is the list as posted on

Top Ten Governor’s Stupid Education Tricks

by Russ Walsh

Now that David Letterman has exited stage left, taking his Top Ten Lists and Stupid Pet Tricks with him, Russ on Reading is ready to step into the void by highlighting a new bunch of clowns for your diversion. Inspired by the incredible stone-headedness of this nation’s governors when it comes to education, I call my new list Top Ten Stupid Governors Education Tricks.

Since education policy supposedly lies with the states in this country (unless you are accepting bribes in the form of stimulus money from the federal Department of Education), governors hold a great deal of power when it comes to education policy and budgets. Many governors have fallen in love with the false promises and faulty reasoning of the corporate education reformers (possibly because these reformers fill their campaign coffers) and have done some supremely stupid things. The list below only scratches the surface. Please feel free to add your own stupid governor’s tricks to the list.

Now that David Letterman has exited stage left, taking his Top Ten Lists and Stupid Pet Tricks with him, Russ on Reading is ready to step into the void by highlighting a new bunch of clowns for your diversion. Inspired by the incredible stone-headedness of this nation’s governors when it comes to education, I call my new list Top Ten Stupid Governors Education Tricks.

Since education policy supposedly lies with the states in this country (unless you are accepting bribes in the form of stimulus money from the federal Department of Education), governors hold a great deal of power when it comes to education policy and budgets. Many governors have fallen in love with the false promises and faulty reasoning of the corporate education reformers (possibly because these reformers fill their campaign coffers) and have done some supremely stupid things. The list below only scratches the surface. Please feel free to add your own stupid governor’s tricks to the list.

10. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy – While most governors on this list are Republicans, Democrat Malloy shows that Republicans don’t have a monopoly on gubernatorial stupidity. In his 2012 State of the State address, after riding teacher union support to an electoral victory, Malloy said,  “In today’s [education] system, basically all you have to do is show up for four years. Do that and you have a job for life.” Malloy then introduced a bill to do away with tenure. Malloy has been backpedaling from this stupid trick ever since, finally pressuring his reformy Education Commisioner, Stefan Pryor, out in a deal with the Connecticut Education Association last year. But you need to ask, “On what planet do you get better education performance from students by denigrating the people who are working closely with those students every day?” See?  Just stupid.

9. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner – Rauner is so reformy that he has a charter school named after him. He has given millions to charter schools in Chicago. In an exchange with charter critic Diane Ravitch, Rauner said that his charters don’t need to apologize for not accepting second language learners and children with disabilities, because they only want families who are highly motivated. For Rauner “school choice” apparently means only educating children that charters choose to educate. He is a champion of the dual system of education, one for the haves and another that none of his cronies cares about or supports for the have-nots.

8. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – Chris Christie is running so hard for president that he is laying waste to the state he was actually elected to govern. On education he has flip-flopped more than a stranded whale on a New Jersey beach. Christie has read the conservative political waters of the nation and has suddenly discovered that the Common Core State Standards, which he has long championed, now represent federal overreach. Compounding his stupidity is that the governor has called for new “New Jersey” standards, but will keep the Common Core aligned PARCC test in place. So, let’s change the standards, but not the test that measures the learning of those standards. This leaves New Jersey’s school children and teachers further confused about what to study and how to prepare. In any test of accountability in public office, Christie can only be pronounced “not proficient”.

7. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – Like Christie, Jindal loved him some Common Core until he decided to run for president. But this flip-flop added an extra measure of stupidity by generating a legal battle between Louisiana Schools Superintendent John White, who continued to support the Core and Jindal, who needed to distance himself from the Core to appeal to the conservative Republican base. White actually sued and won a court battle over the Common Core against Jindal. Louisiana blogger Mercedes Schneider writes that Jindal’s legal team failed to provide a strong case. This is the second high profile court case related to education Jindal has lost (He lost an earlier federal case that vacated his voucher program). Jindal has argued that teachers do not need training in education to be effective teachers. Perhaps Jindal hires lawyers without legal training as well.

6. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant – Governor Bryant flunked third grade when he was 9 years-old because he couldn’t read well. Bryant believes that this was really good for him and so he has decided to share this good fortune with about 6,000 current Mississippi third graders who “failed” a state literacy test. Apparently, Bryant’s literacy education was not sufficient to allow him to read and comprehend the tons of research that demonstrates how retention is bad for children in myriad ways and often leads to students dropping out. I wrote more about this child abuse here, but for perpetrating this stupid education trick let us hope that Bryant is not “retained” as governor in the next election.

5. Indiana Governor Mike Pence – Republican Mike Pence came into office in 2012 hoping to continue the destruction of public education begun by his predecessor Mitch Daniels. Unfortunately for Pence, on the same election night when Pence was elected, the people of Indiana also elected a new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz. Ritz was voted in as a rebuke to the reformy policies of former Superintendent Tony Bennett (not the one who left his heart in San Francisco), so Pence was faced with a quandary: How to continue the reformy agenda with an actual public school teacher and advocate for public education in office as the schools superintendent. Pence hit on a plan that earns him a special place on this list. He decided to ignore the democratically elected Ritz and strip her of any power. His message: Democracy be damned, I gotta’ deliver school choice for my wealthy cronies.Pence managed most of this with the aid of a heavily Republican legislature, but Ritz may have the last laugh. She recently announced she is running for governor. In the last election, she polled more votes than Pence. We can only hope that happens again in 2016. Read more about Pence’s stupid education tricks here.

4. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – College dropout Scott Walker earns his stupidity award honestly. His motto seems to be “Who needs an education when you have rich friends?” Taking his cues from these rich friends, Walker has gone full frontal in his attack on public employees, particularly teacher’s unions.The New York Times reporters Patrick Healy and Monica Davey have done a good job of exposing the roots of Walker’s anti-unionism in this article. There are many acts of stupidity that can get Walker on this list, but his latest one is a doozy. Walker wants to cut 250 million from the budget of the University of Wisconsin and use the money to build a new stadium for the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks. Walker was quoted as saying about his reasoning for spending big bucks on the Bucks, “There is a cost to ‘no’.” Apparently it is ok to say no to a great state university, but you dare not say no to a basketball team. What Walker seemingly learned during his short stay at Marquette was “Basketball good, public education bad.”

3.  Florida Governor Rick Scott – Like the other reform governors here, Florida’s Rick Scott loves charter schools, vouchers, union bashing and everything else designed to destroy public education and turn it over to the privatizers. Scott makes this list though because about three years ago he discovered that Florida might be giving too many tests.  Nothing much happened about this discovery until this year, where, after apparently three years of study of the problem, Scott signed a bill eliminating exactly one test, an 11th grade language arts exam. I am sure that makes the 3rd graders in Florida feel better. Of course, these kids should all feel better because now they can only be tested for 45 hours a school year or the equivalent of non-stop testing for two weeks a year. Gee, thanks, Guv.

2. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez – Martinez earned her way onto this list with one of the more telling stupid governor’s tricks. During her campaign she was caught on tape denigrating women, political opponents, and teachers in a profanity laced campaign meeting. Specifically, Martinez said that she could not understand what teachers were complaining about since they “don’t work you know two-and-a-half months out of the year, three months out of the year.” Unsurprisingly, a person with such a low regard for teachers has bought in to the entire corporate education reform agenda of test based accountability and choice. When her uncensored remarks were made public, her advisors tried to laugh it off as Susana being Susana, but the teachers and children of New Mexico are not laughing.

1. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – And the number one prize for Stupid Governor Tricks can go to none other than that champion of educational obtuseness, Andrew Cuomo. In December 2014, Cuomo vetoed his own bill that placed a two year moratorium on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. Apparently, Merry Andrew was miffed that teachers scored well on their 2014 evaluations, and he would have none of that.  Against any and all factual information at hand, Cuomo then decreed that 50% of the teacher evaluation would be based on test scores. If these bogus “value added measures” show the teacher to be ineffective, the teacher cannot get an effective rating, no matter what observational data says. Other provisions rule out the following as part of the evaluation: student work portfolios, student or parent surveys, and professional goal setting documents. Andrew Cuomo truly believes that teachers are to blame for student failure and by gum, he is going to find an evaluation scheme to prove he is right, no matter what damage it does to teachers, children, and public education in New York.

Like all the other governors listed here, Cuomo has chosen to ignore the real reasons for educational problems: poverty, segregation and inequitable distribution of resources and has focused his sights on those miscreant teachers, who have only dedicated their lives to working with children. Children whose welfare and potential these governors ignore at every turn. Let us understand that the actions of these governors play to their political and financial backers, to the monied few, and are designed to further disenfranchise those without the political and financial resources to fight back. Unfortunately, the ultimate joke is on all the citizens of this country who rely on a strong public education system as a centerpiece of a thriving democracy.

Governors vs. Teachers

Some people know about K-12 education and some people don’t.

Governor Christie is one of the people who doesn’t have a clue about K-12 education or what it means to teach.  He thinks that teaching is just giving information to students.  He thinks that teachers stop working when the students leave on the school bus. He thinks that teachers are not spending the summer taking grad courses in their academic disciplines,  not writing curricula for their school district, not teaching other teachers, and not participating in professional development programs for themselves or conducting them for other teachers.

A person who does understand education and what it means to teach because she does it every day is a New Jersey English teacher who wrote a reply to Governor Christie. 

Things are similar in Connecticut.  Next to Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut are recognized as having the best schools in the country.  Secondly, we in Connecticut also have a governor who speaks about education without understanding education. We also have legions of teachers who work as hard and love their jobs as much as the English teacher from New Jersey does. Let’s raise our voices as educators. Let’s set the record straight. 

Watch the video to hear Governor Christie:

If you cannot see the video, here is a direct link to the video on YouTube.

Here is the teacher’s response. Full text is at: ( 

Governor Christie: Let me start by getting something out of the way: I do not get paid a full-time salary for a part-time job. I am a teacher, not a leech on the rest of the state. How dare you?……..This is such a highly offensive conversation. I recognize the satire in the original speaker’s questions, but Governor Christie?

Feel free to follow me for a year. Follow my colleagues.

I am not “off for four or five months a year”. ln fact, my summer “break” this year is from June 23-Sept 2. That’s not four or five months; it’s approximately 10 weeks.

Secondly, during those hours after 3:30pm and during the summer? I’m often working. I plan, I attend PD on my own time and my own dime, I email parents, I teach PD, I purchase supplies, I update our class webpage, I speak with students over email and social media.

I grade. I grade a lot, Mr. Christie. A LOT. I just finished grading a set of almost 80 poems. I have 80 3-4 page self-evaluations to read and grade. I will have almost 100 exams to grade in the next few days. I have to complete the data analysis for my SGO. But I guess I have to make time to get all of that stuff done from 8:30-3:30 while I’m teaching and interacting with students.

And that long summer break you talk about? Not really a break. I will spend most of my summer working in order to continue paying my bills. I will also do the following:

  • take classes for my advanced degree.
  • teach other teachers and informal educators at the “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” workshop.
  • plan for my new schedule- next year I will change my freshman focus and take on two new senior units. That means rereading books, drafting assignments, writing assessments, setting up our online spaces, finding resources, planning Skype sessions with experts, rewriting my syllabi, co-planning with colleagues, and much more.
  • complete the summer-long Roots & Shoots Turning Learners into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education course offered by the Jane Goodall Institute.
  • organize and sort my thousand+ book class library (most of which I have purchased myself and continue to supplement on a monthly or even weekly basis).
  • read at least a book a day in order to be able to share new and exciting books and authors with my students next year.
  • pre-plan the first National Honor Society outreach with my student leaders so that they are ready in the fall.
  • organize and set-up my classroom, prior to the first teacher work day, as I will have meetings and mandatory professional development in the days leading up to the students’ first day.
  • meet with my state board for NJCTE to plan our fall conference, fall outreach, and spring conference in order to bring more PD to my colleagues who teach English across the state. complete my presentations (yes, multiple) for the NCTE National Convention in the fall.

I don’t know about you, but that seems packed to me. And many of my colleagues have similarly packed breaks, with professional commitments and learning engagements that run through the entire summer. Why? Because during the school year we are in the building for 7, 8, 9, 10, maybe even 12 hours each day. Then we bring work home with us to continue working on late into the night.

Please understand- I love my job. I love my students with a fierceness you obviously don’t understand. I can’t imagine not teaching every day, reaching out to students and guiding them. But I abhor the politics that now surround my profession. And I’m tired, we are all tired, of teachers being the sacrificial lamb at that altar of some politician’s attempt to climb to the top.

We are tired, Governor, but we keep working. We keep inspiring, motivating, and teaching our students while doing all of the other “stuff” that comes with teaching. Do you or your wife ever email your child’s teacher and get a reply that same night? That’s a teacher who is working outside of contracted hours. Have you had a child sit with a teacher during lunch, before school, or after school for extra help? That’s outside of contracted hours. And do you know what? Most of us do that almost daily because we love our jobs and our students more than we hate the system we are stuck in.

The good news is that I do agree with you on some points, Mr. Christie– many of our schools in NJ are doing well. In fact, we have some of the best students, schools, and teachers in the country. Consider my school, which is ranked #1 in the country. It’s right here in central NJ but it’s a school you have never acknowledged or visited during your tenure in office. That saddens me. That’s not fair to my students or my colleagues because you continue to say our students are not succeeding when outside sources disagree.

You and I also agree that some schools in NJ struggle. They do a disservice to the students they serve in some cases. That’s a fact that we can all recognize. Schools in Asbury Park, Camden, and Newark absolutely struggle and it’s wrong; the students in those schools deserve the best education possible. But guess what? All three cities you named, Mr. Christie, are state-controlled and/or monitored districts. Isn’t their “failure” a reflection of your tenure in office and your leaders and not the teachers in the trenches?

Also, the schools that are ranked the lowest in our state are ranked the highest in a few big categories. Where are they ranked #1? In poverty, Mr. Christie. Study after study has proven that the biggest hurdle for children is poverty. We will never “fix” a single school until we start to fix the cycle of poverty.

Also, stop citing that community college statistic. The vast majority of community college attendees are not traditional students. In fact, the mean age of students at Mercer County College, about 20 minutes west of me and the community college serving the Drumthwacket area, is 22 years old. This is true across the state! These non-traditional students have been out of high school for a number of years so yes, they might need remedial classes. Could you walk into an Algebra II class or a college writing class tomorrow and succeed without a bit of review? I doubt it. I doubt most adults could. Let’s be real- we all watch adults struggle to answer questions on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”! It’s not because they can’t do the work but rather because they haven’t done a trigonometry problem in a number of years. Mr. Governor, that statistic is nonsense so please stop using it.

You are not a teacher, Governor Christie. Stop speaking authoritatively about all the things wrong with schools and what you would do to improve them. It’s insulting to those of us who work with our students every single day. It’s insulting to the teachers you had, the teachers your children have, and the taxpayers in this state who trust their children to the care of schools each day. You talk about teachers standing at the front of the room and lecturing to students for hours at at time and that tells me just how out of touch you are. I haven’t seen desks in rows with a teacher lecturing in the front of the room for many, many years. That has not been a best practice for decades!

Oh wait, you know when I see that? When my students have to take the PARCC test! I see it when schools force their teachers to use a scripted curriculum, often endorsed by the state, in order to encourage increases in test scores. Stop mandating nonsense like PARCC and let us teach our students. We know more than you do, I can promise you that.

You know where else I see those dreaded rows? In charter schools. In fact, I see that in your friend Eva Moskowitz’s Success charter schools, where students are routinely humiliated and the teacher turnover rate is astronomical. You know what I do not see in her charter schools? Students with disabilities and students with behavior issues. Charter schools like Success usually achieve their test scores because they do not serve our neediest populations, while our public schools do.

Mr. Governor, I implore you to take a step back and listen to yourself. Listen to your constituents. Listen to the nation. You are tearing down our teachers on a daily basis and we are tired of it. We are exhausted. Eventually most teachers won’t have the energy to fight anymore or to teach anymore. Maybe that’s what you want, but it’s not what’s best for the future of this state. You might plan to flee New Jersey and head to Washington, DC the first chance you get, but I’m here for the long haul. Maybe you should start seeking out great teachers (they aren’t hard to find) instead of berating us, demeaning us, and embarrassing us. What will you do when no one wants to teach anymore?

Connecticut Education: Getting It Right In The Future

The bad news for education in Connecticut is that in the state budget, which takes effect on July 1, 2015, money will be spent on charter schools for 2% of Connecticut children that would have been better spent on the other 98% of Connecticut children. The good news is that if the Connecticut legislature wants to address that kind of injustice, it will soon have the power to do so.

The legislature derives that power from a bill it just passed. It is S.B. 1096 entitled “An Act Concerning Charter Schools”. The bill passed with a vote by the Connecticut State Senate of 35-1 and with the House of Representatives voting in concurrence with the Senate. The passage of that bill gives the Connecticut legislature, for the first time, the authority to approve the formal funding of any proposed charter schools. Previously, the appointed officials of the Connecticut State Department of Education had that authority. This change means that we as citizens, for the first time, through our elected officials, will have some say over the extending or limiting of charter schools in Connecticut. That will take place unless nefarious political shenanigans in the Special Session overturn the decisive vote of the legislature.

As CT Mirror reports, the two-year budget that was passed on July 3, 2015 allocates $12.4 million dollars to add about 700 seats to existing charter schools and to open two new charter schools this fall, one in Bridgeport and one Stamford, both of which are being opened despite the local boards of education voting against them. At the same time, a group of struggling public schools, targeted for state intervention and state funding, called The Commissioners Network will receive $4.7 million less than they received this year. Also, 15 of our poorest public school districts will lose $3.6 million slated to extend the school day and offer summer academic programs and lose $1.6 million to help public schools transport students. In addition, the Democratic Party’s plan to move the state towards universal preschool has been put aside because $7.2 million was cut from the planned $10 million dollar project.

For those of you who are counting, that is $12.4 million given to publicly funded, privately operated and profit-making charter schools and $17.1 million taken away from traditional public schools.

But maybe it’s not all about the money. Maybe it’s about the education. What if the student achievement gained in charter schools is worth it? What if the trade-off pays off?

Answers to these questions can be found in a multitude of national studies which demonstrate that student achievement in charter schools and traditional public schools is pretty much the same. Answers particular to Connecticut can be found a report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut, which was just released. The report compares student achievement in non-urban schools, urban schools, and the choice programs of public charter schools, magnet schools operated by districts, regional magnet schools such as those operated by CREC, and Open Choice programs in which inner-city students attend suburban schools.

The news was quite underwhelming regarding the performance of charter schools. As Commissioner of Education, Dianna Wentzell commented, “ In some cases, students in choice programs made greater academic gains than their peers not enrolled in these programs (students in traditional public schools), thereby closing the achievement gap, while in other cases they did not.” Sometimes students in regular, old inner city public schools made more impressive gains than students in publicly funded but privately owned and managed charter schools, and sometimes students in charter schools did better.

There was no clear winner among the alternatives to traditional public schools. The report compared the growth in reading and writing at both proficient and advanced levels of students between grades 3 and 5 and between grades 6 and 8 as measured by standardized test scores.

The public charter schools actually showed a regression in proficiency in reading and writing for students between Grades 3 and 5 while all other choice programs as well as traditional urban schools demonstrated growth in proficiency. Charters students also demonstrated much less growth in advanced scores of 5th graders than all other groups of students, including those in traditional urban public schools. The students in regional magnet schools showed the greatest growth in proficiency in reading and math.

The report also measured students’ growth in proficiency between Grades 6 and 8. Students in charter schools and inner city students who attend school in the suburbs through the Open Choice program showed the most growth in proficiency, and students in charter schools and regional magnet schools demonstrated the most growth in 8th grade advanced scores.

So it’s a mixed bag for charter schools.

Charter schools in Connecticut, as everywhere else, have a more select population than traditional public schools: fewer students with special education needs, fewer students who have English as a second language, fewer students from impoverished homes or no homes at all, and more students who have higher base line scores than their counterparts in traditional public schools. This Connecticut State Department of Education study acknowledged those differences and corrected for them but did not correct for other differences between the students in charter schools and students in traditional public schools.

Three factors not corrected for in the study influence student achievement. One is the dynamism or lack of it in the family structure. There is a difference between charter school parents who have had the time and energy to seek out various schooling options for their children and other parents who did not or cannot. That family structure influences study habits and attitude towards school and provides all kinds of support for achievement. Another factor contributing to student achievement is peer influence. Attending a charter school with other students from families who similarly value education establishes a school culture which fosters achievement. Both the family and the peer group greatly influence the third factor: intrinsic student motivation.

Given that many more students in charter schools have the advantages of a positive family structure, a peer group that is a positive influence, and their own inner drive that many students in traditional public schools do not, it is reasonable to expect that charter school students would perform very much better than they do. But they don’t.

The report also demonstrates that it is impossible to know if the teaching and the approach to learning in charter schools improve student achievement. The report states: “ It cannot be said with certainty that clones of these choice programs, or an exportation of specific pedagogical techniques and strategies used, will necessarily ensure similar performance success for urban students in general.” Therefore, this report does not in any way endorse the curriculum or instruction of charter schools or make any statement about what goes on in the classrooms as being a causal factor for student achievement.

So we are back to the question: Should we set up new publicly funded, privately managed, profit-generating charter schools at the expense of providing educational resources to a broad spectrum of Connecticut’s children? Hopefully, each Connecticut legislator in the future and each Connecticut citizen who puts legislators in office will answer: Not on my watch.

Ultimately, it is way more than a question about one educational setting versus another one. Whether like Jennifer Alexander who lobbies for charter schools, you see thousands of Connecticut public school students “trapped in failing schools” or, like me, you see the possibilities for curriculum design and professional development in those schools, what we have before us and before the Connecticut legislators in the future is a key moral question about what is the right thing for citizens in a democracy and their elected representatives to do.

That moral question is: Are not all Connecticut’s children our children, and, if they are, how will we educate them?