Answers From The New CEA President-2

We are in immediate need for dynamic leadership in public education in Connecticut. Public education is under attack. Visionary leaders who recognize that vibrant public schools are an absolute necessity for the functioning of a democracy are essential.

Those currently in power in our state are about to change. We will have a new governor, a new commissioner of education, and a new president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. As the candidates present themselves, I will ask them the same twelve questions. I will then report their answers as a way to raise consciousness about the issues facing us as a state as well as to provide readers with detailed information for making their own choices.

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Robert Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Robert Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, CT. I will post two of the questions and the candidates’ answers each day this week.

The first two questions and the candidates’ answers were posted yesterday. Here is the second set of questions and answers:

Robert Smoler

3. What do you propose that will ameliorate the achievement gap in Connecticut schools?

Answer: It starts with mandatory pre-school in all communities. All students need to enter kindergarten with the same kind of enrichment that families provide their children in the wealthy communities. It doesn’t end there, though. We need high expectations for all students and when those standards aren’t met, remediation needs to be provided to get the student back on track. It’s probable that many students will need a summer school experience to learn all that their peers learn in a standard school year. There is nothing wrong with that. Not all children learn at the same speed so they shouldn’t be expected to be on the same timetable.

Currently, many districts don’t provide the type of remedial programs needed to keep students on pace. This is an area where the CEA Academy can play a leading role through the establishment of best practices in the academic, emotional and civic growth of students.

4. What is your position regarding the Common Core State Standards, both their content and the pedagogy required of teachers?

I am not in favor of the common core. The common core encourages a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep. The 21st century demands students obtain and build on skills such as communication, problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking, etc. Content should just be a vehicle in which students gain mastery in these skills.   The CEA should advocate for the elimination of the common core and a change in the concept of what a graduate should know and be able to do. I envision my idea of a CEA Academy as being central to the creation of these new standards.


Jeff Leake

3. What do you propose that will ameliorate the achievement gap in Connecticut schools?

a. The achievement gap in CT is really a family wealth and family education gap -and we cannot expect to close this gap when children who live with poverty and/ or trauma arrive at school years behind their suburban counterparts;

b. We will begin to ameliorate the achievement gap when we address the issue of poverty in our communities – meaning a livable minimum wage and health care, and establish community schools that can address the needs of all our students;

c. School inequity and the achievement gap starts with our elected officials and we must hold them accountable.

4. What is your position regarding the Common Core State Standards, both their content and the pedagogy required of teachers?

    1. CCSS were written without real input from classroom teachers;
    2. CCSS did not undergo real field testing or pilots;
    3. CCSS are especially inappropriate for our youngest (Pre-K-2) children;
    4. I am appalled to hear this phrase: Kindergarten is the new first grade;
    5. Two quotes from Diane Ravitch are appropriate here: “Teaching and learning are dynamic, dependent on the social conditions of families and children, as well as changing knowledge of teaching and learning…I oppose the mandated use of the Common Core standards. If teachers like them and want to use them, they should. I have no problem with that. It should be up to the teachers, not to a committee that was funded by Bill Gates, promoted by Arne Duncan, and marketed as a “state-led initiative,” which it was not.

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