Let’s Make History

Efforts to improve K-12 education over the past 30 years have been a bipartisan mess. Here’s a description, written by Diane Ravitch, of how we got into that mess:

               Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats. The Democrats Paved the Way.

BY DIANE RAVITCH

Of all the corrupt, unqualified, and extremist characters Donald Trump has tapped to lead his administration, none has generated the tsunami of liberal outrage whipped up by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And with all due respect to Jeff Sessions, there’s good reason for the backlash: The billionaire Amway heiress from Michigan, who long ago made “school choice” her passion project, is the first education secretary in history to be hostile to the very idea of public education.

Prodded by grassroots activists and what’s left of teachers’ unions, Democrats went all out to defeat DeVos. George Miller, the former congressman from California, slammed her plan to create a $20 billion “school choice” program that would underwrite private and religious schools, calling it “a perfect storm of ignorance, money, and power.” Senator Al Franken grilled DeVos at her confirmation hearing, drawing out her jaw-dropping ignorance of federal programs. Senator Michael Bennet called her nomination an “insult to schoolchildren and their families, to teachers and principals and communities fighting to improve their public schools all across the country.” And when DeVos was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 50, over unanimous Democratic opposition, Senator Cory Booker went on Facebook, “frustrated and saddened,” to sound a sorrowful note: “Somewhere in America, right now, there is a child who is wondering if this country stands up for them.”

Listening to their cries of outrage, one might imagine that Democrats were America’s undisputed champions of public education. But the resistance to DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth: Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts, and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur. That year, when President George H.W. Bush convened an education summit of the nation’s governors, it was a little-known Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton who drafted a bipartisan set of national goals for the year 2000 (“first in the world” in mathematics, for starters). The ambitious benchmarks would be realized by creating, for the first time, national achievement standards and tests. Clinton ran on the issue, defeated Bush, and passed Goals 2000, which provided grants to states that implemented their own achievement metrics.

The Democrats had dipped a toe in “school reform.” Before long, they were completely immersed. After George W. Bush made the “Texas miracle” of improved schools a launching pad for the presidency, many Democrats swallowed his bogus claim that testing students every year had produced amazing results. In 2001, Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s liberal lion, teamed with Bush to pass No Child Left Behind. For the first time, the government was mandating not only “accountability” (code for punishing teachers and schools who fall short), but also “choice” (code for handing low-performing public schools over to charter operators).

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, educators hoped he would return the party to its public school roots. By then, even Bill Clinton was calling No Child Left Behind a “train wreck.” Instead, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice. Their Race to the Top program was, in essence, No Child Left Behind II: It invited states to compete for $5 billion in funds by holding teachers accountable for test scores, adopting national standards, opening more charter schools, and closing low-scoring public schools.

The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates—whose ranks include the outraged Booker and Bennet—have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.

It’s fitting that Trump and DeVos rely on the same language to tout their vision of reform. They’re essentially taking Obama’s formula one step further: expanding “choice” to include vouchers, so parents can use public funding to pay for private and religious schools. Democrats are up in arms about the privatization scheme, as they should be: It’s a disaster for public schools. But if they’re serious about being the party that treats public education as a cornerstone of democracy, they need to do more than grandstand about the consequences they helped bring about. They need to follow the money—their own campaign money, that is.

As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union-busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools: Among its favorites have been those sharp DeVos critics George Miller, Michael Bennet, and Cory Booker. Conservative funders like the Walton Foundation also give generously to charter schools and liberal think tanks such as the Center for American Progress.

The money had its intended effect. When Andrew Cuomo decided to run for governor of New York, he learned that the way to raise cash was to go through the hedge funders at Democrats for Education Reform. They backed him lavishly, and Cuomo repaid them by becoming a hero of the charter movement. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, often celebrated for his unvarnished liberalism, is another champion of the charter industry; some of its biggest funders live in his state. California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters in the state, and has resisted efforts to make charters more accountable. As mayor of Oakland, he opened two charter schools.

There are plenty of reasons that Democrats should steer clear of the charter industry. Charter corporations have been repeatedly charged with fraud, nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. Many charters make money on complex real-estate deals. Worst of all are the “cybercharters”: mega-corporations that offer virtual schools, with high attrition, low test scores, and abysmal graduation rates. The biggest cybercharter chain is K12 Inc., started by former junk-bond king Michael Milken and listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

But it’s more than a matter of sleeping with the enemy. School choice doesn’t work, and “evidence-based” Democrats ought to acknowledge it. Charter schools are a failed experiment. Study after study has shown that they do not get better test scores than public schools unless they screen out English-language learners and students with profound disabilities. It’s well-established that school choice increases segregation, rather than giving low-income students better opportunities. And kids using vouchers actually lose ground in private schools. Support for charters is paving the way for a dual school system—one that is allowed to choose the students it wants, and another that is required to accept all who enroll.

This is what Democrats should be yelling about. And if there’s ever a moment for them to reclaim their mantle as the party of public education, it’s now. The misguided push for “reform” is currently being led not by Obama and Duncan, but by Trump and DeVos, giving Democrats an opening to shift gears on education—though they’ll lose some of that hedge-fund money. But if 2016 taught Democrats anything, it’s how unwise it was to allow the demolition of organized labor—including teachers’ unions, once a great source of money and grassroots energy. The party needs strong teachers’ unions and it needs their enthusiasm.

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.                                                             ………………………………………………………..

So what does that mean for us in Connecticut? 

There are two immediate actions we need to take: 

1. We have to recognize that our political establishment has failed us. Our Democratic governor sold out for the money provided to him by the charter school industry. The Connecticut State Department of Education has endorsed student and school accountability measured by the lowest level of intellectual endeavors: standardized tests. The Connecticut State Board of Education has permitted profiteers in the form of the totally inadequate Relay Graduate School of Education to train and certify prospective teachers for our neediest schools. Recognizing the vacuum of political leadership concerning K-12 education, we must search for and insist upon new political leadership – both from currently serving Democratic politicians and newcomers to politics. 

 2. We must use the innovative leadership that we already have in our Connecticut schools. Three experiences I had just this week showed that leadership. First, I listened to students in a Hartford high school address an adult and student audience about their projects, such as starting and running a successful business, designing a mural to encompass major elements of African Americans history in this country, making music the center of their lives by creating and performing in a band, and making a documentary about a previously unrecognized medical researcher in order to give fellow students a sense of their own possibilities to achieve and change the world. Secondly, I listened to high school students in New Haven describe their social justice projects to political and business leaders. The students had each identified a societal problem, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the lack of equitable funding of public schools in this country, researched it thoroughly, analyzed causes and possible solutions, and proposed a way to remedy the problem. Thirdly, I was inspired by a suburban middle school principal who described the school’s assessment practices. Teachers do not grade students on a one-time snapshot of their performance but rather work with the students to keep them engaged in rethinking, revising, trying again and again until the students do achieve the goals that the faculty has identified for them.

We have the educational leadership we need for the schools in Connecticut. We just need to tap into it. Our politicians must honor the expertise of the educators who put together these three programs as well as other talented educators across the state. Then, we will move forward. 

Let’s do it. Let’s make history. 

Connecticut Will Not Vote For Hillary For President

Why?

We do not like being used, especially being used about a tragedy that broke our hearts: Sandy Hook.

Hillary Clinton recently said on MSNBC that it was “unimaginable” but true that Bernie Sanders was against the grieving Sandy Hook families. Hillary is also running ads featuring the daughter of the valiant principal who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School as she tried to protect the children in her school. The ad brings tears to our eyes as the daughter describes the devastating loss of her mother whom she describes as her “rock” and her “best friend”, right before she endorses Hillary as being just like her mother.

How are we being used by Hillary and her campaign?

  1. We are being told untruths. Hillary is making statements about her own positions and Bernie Sanders’ positions that are false.
  1. We are being given an emotional appeal about the one thing all residents in Connecticut agree: We mourn the loss of the little children and heroic educators of Sandy Hook.

Hillary knows the range of her own changing positions on gun control. In her 2008 bid for the Presidency, her opponent, Senator Obama, said that Hillary was such an advocate for the right of American citizens to own and use guns that she sounded like someone “packing a six shooter” and that she was portraying herself as Annie Oakley. At that time, Hillary criticized Barak Obama for being against gun owners and gun manufacturers. Now the political winds have changed, particularly in Connecticut, so Hillary is on the other side of the issue.

The ad says that Bernie is “in the pocket of the NRA”, but it is Hillary, not Bernie, who took money from NRA lobbyists who hosted a fundraiser for her during this 2016 campaign. Hillary knows very well that Bernie has a D- rating from the NRA and that he decries the gun violence at Sandy Hook and elsewhere. Hillary knows that Bernie voted for expanding federal background checks on gun purchases in order to prevent guns from being in the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Hillary also knows that Bernie voted for federal legislation banning assault weapons. Once, he even lost a Vermont election because of his staunch opposition to assault weapons like those that killed the children and educators at Sandy Hook.

Hillary has now changed her 2008 position on the side of gun manufacturers and, in this campaign, is saying that gun manufacturers should be held liable when someone does harm with the weapons they manufactured. Bernie maintains that the gun manufacturers do not bear the responsibility for that harm because the government says it is legal for the manufacturers to make the guns. The question is a complex legal one and will be settled in court in 2018.

Hillary’s untruths about the record of Bernie Sanders and the distortion of her own history are bad enough, but for Hillary to communicate that message by playing on the grief in this state about the deaths at Sandy Hook is heartless and self-serving.

Those in the media are now asking if Bernie will tone down his criticism of Hillary in order to unify the Democratic Party. Fostering unity, however, is the primary responsibility of the frontrunner, the person getting ready to head the party. Those in the media are asking the wrong question. They should be asking why Hillary, at this time in the campaign, is taking the low road by impugning the character of Bernie Sanders. It is the responsibility of a frontrunner to take charge, end the attacks on an opponent, and lead by taking the high road in the name of party unity.

Connecticut wants a President who has deep and consistent integrity. Connecticut wants a leader who will inspire us as a nation to be our best selves – honest, compassionate, and smart.

That person is Bernie Sanders.

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Senator Sanders speaking in Hartford on the day before the Connecticut primary: No attacks on the character of his opponent.  No distortions of the facts.  Clearly addressing the real issues: financial fraud on Wall Street, climate change, the minimum wage, immigration, education, and economic inequities .  A leader.

Wanted: The Best Teachers

Betty Sternberg, former Connecticut Commissioner of Education says that Connecticut education has “lost its way”.  I agree. Education in Connecticut has lost the capability to attract the best new teachers and to keep many of the best experienced teachers because it is clear that people with excellent minds, innovative spirits, and collegial leadership are not valued. The Connecticut State Department of Education has put in place an evaluation system that mandates ordinariness and compliance.

Let’s change the message. Let’s give our  teachers an environment to work in that values them as strong thinkers and independent learners.  Only then will our children discover their own potential as thinkers and learners.

 

It’s All Over But The Cheering

 

Right before an institution dies, things get a little crazy. Think of the days before the fall of Rome and the days before the French Revolution. That is where we are now in terms of the misnamed education “reform” in Connecticut.

Things are getting crazy.

When the Connecticut State Department of Education threatens to withdraw needed funds from school districts in which some parents decide to not have their children participate in unreliable, invalid tests, then we know the end is at hand. When a governor prioritizes the opening of new publicly funded but not publicly accountable charter schools for a few over the funding of public schools for all, then we know the end is at hand. When the State Board of Education champions the Common Core as “far better than anything we have done before” although those standards were written by employees of testing companies, not educators, and contradict literally all research in how children learn best, then we know the end is at hand.

The test-and-punish era of education “reform” in Connecticut will soon meet its end because its craziness has become evident to so many.

It is clear that standardized testing can never close the achievement gap, that the Common Core Standards are not good learning and do not give students the skills they need for their future, and that the education “reform” effort is not reform at all but a way to remove public education as a right for all while it provides substantial financial profit for the investors.

So what is the path forward?

David Kirp in a recent New York Times piece points the way. He analyses why the schools in Union City, New Jersey improved while the efforts in Newark failed. In Newark, huge infusions of money, most notably 100 million dollars from Mark Zuckerberg, and outside talent did not bring success. In fact, they might be the reason for the failure. In Union City, by contrast, the school improvement efforts were led by a team of principals and teachers within the district who focused on how students learn best, how teachers teach most effectively, and how parents can be engaged in the schools. Through this process, learning took center stage, the culture of the schools changed, and the achievement of the students took off.

The Harvard School of Education report,” How High Schools Become Exemplary”, also points the way. It describes how 15 high schools improved the achievement of their students. In all 15 schools, the improvement was a result of a team of educators within the school recognizing what their students needed to learn and how they could learn best and accepting responsibility for meeting that need. They created a mission and determined priorities for their school, designed a plan for adult learning, developed criteria for judging student work and teacher practice, and provided resources and incentives. In all 15 schools, the leaders for the school improvement came from each school and overcame some teachers’ resistance to change because those teachers trusted the motives, the competence, the reliability, the collegiality, the intellectual diligence, the courage, and the hard work of the leaders.

The way forward is clear.

Here is what we must do in Connecticut:

1. Make school improvement a local enterprise. It must begin with the leaders having trust in the staff to grow and learn. As Michael Fullan, a leading expert in school improvement, has said, the first principle of school change is to “love your employees”. That comes from knowing them.

2. Set up authentic and focused collaboration among the teachers so that they become the kind of open, questioning, active learners they will teach their students to be.

3. Analyze the needs of the students. Determine how they learn best and what is it they need to learn. Design ways to assess both what they learn and how they learn.

4. Conduct adult learning experiences focused on improving instruction.

For many years, I have been part of creating positive change in Connecticut’s schools, both in suburban and urban districts, in schools with high standardized test scores and those labeled as “failing schools” due to their standardized test scores. I know for sure that collegial leadership, collaboration, and attention to how students learn and how we can best teach by the educators in an academic department, a school, or a school district offer the only path forward for increased student achievement.

Let’s give the test-and-punish version of “reform” a good burial and move on.

The kids are waiting.

Moving Forward By Going Back To A Basic: Reading Literature

The fate of the nation may well rest on what two high school English teachers from Glastonbury High School, Steven Nicastro and Timothy Sanderson, point out in their op-ed piece in The Hartford Courant (December 20,2015), which is printed below.

The say, and all of us in the field of English know, that the Common Core has greatly reduced the amount and quality of literature read in our classrooms from kindergarten through grade 12. That reduction diminishes the lives of our children and adolescents as they have limited ideas and questions in their heads about the human experience, fewer challenges to their imaginations, and fewer examples of the power of language. That reduction in the teaching of quality literature even undermines the very intent of the Common Core: to build a competent workforce.

The Common Core is supposed to make us more internationally competitive, but how can it?

With the Common Core, the United States is the only nation in the world to set limits on the teaching of literature and to privilege the teaching of informational texts. Students are taught to read informational texts to understand the writer’s point of view and to gain the information that the writer presents. Reading literature, however, provides a much different challenge to readers. There isn’t just one set of facts to be gained from a poem, short story, play, or novel. There are possibilities to be explored and various interpretations to be created and supported. What the author intended is of no consequence; rather the individual meaning that the reader creates from the evidence the text offers is what matters. Reading literature fosters inquiry, requires speculation, demands interpretation, and honors creativity- all skills necessary for thoughtful careers, including in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

I have seen, as an English teacher and as a supervisor of English teachers, how reading literature enriches the lives of students and enables them to be deeper, stronger, more whole individuals than they would be without reading literature, without discussing in class a wide range of questions and perspectives about that literature, and without writing about the ideas offered by that literature. Witnessing students’ personal and intellectual growth from reading literature is what inspires me more than knowing that reading literature will help to produce their increased competitiveness in the global marketplace. But even for that goal, our children and adolescents need to be taught how to read literature.  

How to make that happen in Connecticut?

Easy. 

Rescind the Common Core and go back to the Connecticut State Standards. The Connecticut State Standards require that we teach all students in kindergarten through seniors in high school the two different ways of reading: reading for information and reading in response to literature. The Connecticut State Standards acknowledge that reading literature teaches students a valuable and unique way of thinking.  The Connecticut State Standards require that we truly educate Connecticut’s children and adolescents. We must reinstate those standards. Now.

 But first, read on……….

 

Classic Books Disappearing From Schoolrooms

STEVEN NICASTRO and TIMOTHY SANDERSON
Emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math squeezing out literature classics

“Give me my students, give me my books and close the door on your way out.”

A colleague used that pithy mantra whenever a new trend in education emerged. This was not a refusal to embrace new initiatives; it was a statement about our priorities as English language arts teachers — students, books and a place to bring them together.

With those three essential ingredients, our teaching and our students would be successful. Now, however, one of those fundamental ingredients is disappearing: books.

You read that right. Books are disappearing from our classrooms. Books — the be-all and end-all of teaching kids to be better readers, writers, thinkers and human beings — are going the way of the dinosaur. It’s an alarming trend we can’t ignore.

Many schools are eliminating the classics of literature, the backbone of any self-respecting English language arts class, in favor of “choice” books such as pulp fiction that offers comparatively little challenge.

Anyone with affection for reading and the study of literature has to wonder how this could happen, why school officials would allow it to happen and why there isn’t more outrage.

In part, the cause of this terrifying trend is the Common Core State Standards emphasis on short articles and excerpts of nonfiction, particularly historical and scientific documents, which are easily assessed on a standardized test. The Common Core website indicates that “fulfilling the standards requires a 50-50 balance between informational and literary reading.”

This translates to fewer works of great literature, more nonfiction.

Of course, we can’t separate the curriculum changes wrought by Common Core from the forces driving those changes: the realization that the U.S. lags behind other countries in education and the resultant emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). According to the Common Core website, “It’s no secret that most of the best jobs out there that today’s students can hope to find are in the STEM fields.”

You don’t need to be an English teacher to read the writing on the wall: The increased focus on STEM minimizes the humanities, placing ever-decreasing importance on liberal arts and resulting in a nation of job-ready graduates with a limited view of what it means to be a human being.

Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post that the dismissal of a liberal arts education comes from a misunderstanding, particularly about America’s international rankings on math and science tests. “Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math,” Zakaria wrote. “And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.”

Even the staunchest proponents of STEM-centered education would have to concede that minimizing language arts is at best premature, at worst, unnecessary.

Sadly, students who once embraced the classics, including Shakespeare, now flinch when given lengthy novels and dramas — books that might get in the way of math and science homework. As literature slowly disappears, our more than capable students become reluctant to read, analyze, discuss and connect with complex books. They miss the value of immersing themselves in books, of reflection, particularly on others’ ideas, and of the sustained focus needed to work through difficult material.

No one contends that STEM subjects aren’t important. We often remind students that if they don’t learn algebra, they will never learn to think in certain abstract ways. Beyond their ability to stimulate cognitive function — a worthy goal — STEM skills are essential in today’s global economy.

But books, the soul of humanity, are essential, too.

The solution is a matter of balance: Offer high-caliber STEM courses and preserve literature in our language arts classrooms while using nonfiction to supplement the themes of such literature. For the ability to read literature effectively can produce smart scientists, trustworthy techies, ethical engineers and mindful mathematicians, individuals who understand the power and the responsibility they hold and the effects their innovations will have on humanity.

To school administrators, school board members and state legislators, we offer this slightly altered version of our colleague’s stance: Give us our books, give us our students and come visit our classrooms to see what happens when you bring them together.

Steven Nicastro and Timothy Sanderson teach English language arts at Glastonbury High School.

Not One Step Further: Stop Now

Here is your holiday gift from this blog which advocates for real learning. Your gift is: The magnificent use of the English language. And a call to action.

In The Hartford Courant (December 18, 2015) piece below, Gina Barreca beautifully and pointedly uses metaphor and imagery to show how  the Common Core, with its invalid and unreliable claims of “college and career readiness” and its hugely expensive and equally unreliable standardized tests, destroys learning for all children and adolescents in K-12 schools and dooms the underclass to remaining the underclass. She argues persuasively against bringing that injustice to the young adults in Connecticut universities. Hooray for Professor Barreca!

As Connecticut parents, politicians, and educators, let’s take her message into the new year and act on it. Opt out of standardized testing. Rescind the Common Core. Evaluate students as learners, not as test-takers.

But first, enjoy this wonderful piece of writing:

Universities Teaching To Test: A Disaster
by  Gina Barreca

Achieving accountability through testing is like achieving truth through waterboarding, achieving affection through bribery or achieving beauty through plastic surgery: You can’t actually trust the results.

To emphasize metrics and measurement at the expense of learning and understanding is to marginalize what can’t be measured. It puts pressure on precisely the wrong points and, like a chiropractic adjustment gone terribly wrong, can cripple rather than cure.

Connecticut is considering implementing a new version of outcomes-based funding for universities and colleges, thereby bringing policies already shown to have some disastrous effects in K-12 schools to a new level.

As someone who has taught at a state university for almost 30 years, I have a horse in this race.

I choose my words carefully: The language of gambling has pervaded the vocabulary of education, especially when it comes to standardized testing, and that should make us jittery.

The thousands of articles and hundreds of books on testing, both pro and con, regularly refer to “high-stakes testing,” and “gaming the system.” Most recently, when reading Connecticut’s task force notes, I was struck by the fact that the consultants hired to advise the politicians and other committee members suggested offering “momentum points” when students in colleges reached certain milestones. Our local casino offers “momentum dollars” when you put enough money into the machines and pull the handle enough times. It was tough to avoid the comparison. Isn’t assessment by outcome a version of waiting to see whether you can get three lemons in a row and thereby judge yourself a winner?

While it’s fine at the race-track or the roulette table, it’s corrosive to talk in binary terms about winners and losers when it comes to learning. It’s deeply misguided to evaluate students, teachers and educational institutions by seeing how profitable they can be when they cash-out on their returns for the lowest possible investment.

Part of the movement toward “outcomes-based” support is an emphasis on preparing graduates to enter jobs where there are “workplace shortages.” Yet as my friend Barbara Cooley put it, “Teaching to the corporate demand is not exactly a recipe for original and independent thinkers.”

While vocational training is an important and vital mission of some distinguished institutions, they are usually proud to identify themselves as such. To make all educational institutions into training grounds to meet the immediate needs of in-state corporations or large-scale employers has never been the mandate of any great university or college, whether public or private.

According to Timothy A. Livengood, a research astronomer at the University of Maryland, perhaps the greatest error of standardized testing is “The insufficiently scrutinized belief that the test evaluates the thing it is advertised as evaluating. Resulting in [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia believing that African-Americans who score poorly on such tests are actually less capable, or less genuinely well prepared than people who score highly. And Larry Summers ignoring decades of research to argue to a bunch of women that the reason they weren’t all math professors is that they just aren’t up to the task.” Test results can be rigged, too, in their interpretations.

According to a 2014 Gallup-Perdue Index, three of the most important factors in educational success are excitement, encouragement, caring. These are not delivered by teachers who whip their students into crossing finish lines. If we extend policies that fail in schools to colleges — teaching to the test, teaching so that everything can be “measured” by some useless standardized grid devised by the impoverished minds of egregiously overpaid consultants — we’ll usher in a new level of diminished possibilities for students who do not attend private, expensive universities.

To do so will add to what’s called the “education gap” — except that the division is not a gap; it’s a moat, a separation constructed and vigilantly maintained so that the poor and underserved will not be able to cross over into the territories held by the rich and privileged.

How much do you want to bet that Ivy League schools are not teaching to test? How much do you want to bet that they’re not adopting the short-sighted goals of performance-based funding? Why should the ambitious, dynamic and intellectually driven students at public universities be offered anything less than their more privileged counterparts?

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.

Post NCLB: CT Must Reject The Common Core

With the end of No Child Left Behind, states will have the flexibility to continue with the controversial Common Core State Standards or not. This is Connecticut’s opportunity to put a good education in place for our students by rejecting the Common Core. However, Alan Taylor, the Chair of the Connecticut State Board of Education, recently said, “I don’t foresee that happening. I happen to think that the Common Core is far better than anything we had done before.” 

The Common Core Standards “far better than anything we had done before”? Hardly.

In fact, the claim has been the opposite. When the Common Core was adopted by Connecticut in 2010, the Connecticut State Department of Education claimed that the existing Connecticut State Standards were 80% the same as the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and 92% the same in Mathematics.

Connecticut students have done really well in the years when their education was based on our Connecticut State Standards rather than on the Common Core. On the international PISA test, Connecticut’s 15 year olds scored higher in reading than students in 63 nations. Also, from 1992 until 2014, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores in the country. Somebodies had been doing something right under our own Connecticut State Standards.

It’s time to build on that “something right” and rid ourselves of the Common Core. The figure of a 20% percent difference between the Connecticut State Standards in English Language Arts and the Common Core English Language Arts doesn’t tell the whole story. There is the 20% difference in topics covered, but, even more importantly, the whole approach of the Common Core contradicts the philosophically and academically-sound Connecticut State Standards approach and dictates outdated pedagogy for teachers and poor learning experiences for students. It is time to get rid of the Common Core and return to what we already had in Connecticut.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core early childhood approach to learning that 500 of the country’s most prominent early childhood professionals say harms young children due to the Common Core emphasis on didactic instruction and reduction in active learning through play and inquiry. Those experts say that we must return to developmentally appropriate active learning, which encourages the initiative, curiosity, and imagination of our youngest students and helps them to be successful learners.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the limitations that the Common Core puts on the amount of literature that students read. We must return to students reading full books in place of the Common Core recommended practice of reading selected chapters of books. We must once again give students opportunities to fall in love with reading.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core practice of treating literary texts as informational texts in which the reader’s task is to figure out what the author intended to say, based on word choice and sentence structure, rather than to explore a range of interpretive possibilities. We must return to the Connecticut State Standards, which divided texts into informational texts and literary texts and taught students how to read and respond to each kind of text and to think in the markedly different ways that reading each kind of text offers.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core approach to the teaching of writing, which was best summed up in the words of the “architect of the Common Core”, David Coleman, when he said that with the Common Core, writing is taught so that “students know that no one gives a **** what they think and feel.” We must return to the approach of teaching writing in which students are taught to write by gaining ownership of their ideas and their expression of those ideas.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core’s prohibition of students using the personal voice when arguing a position in essays. We must return to the classroom practice of students exploring a wide range of ideas and questions in class so that each student forms his or her individual thinking and then teach students to  express that thinking in both personal and impersonal voices.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core way of teaching writing in which students revise their writing only “as needed”. We must return to teaching students the process of writing in which revision is always assigned because it is through revising their writing that students develop the quality of their thinking and learn the art and craft of written expression.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of teaching students the answers for the standardized tests aligned with the Common Core and, instead, teach students to form their own questions and explore those questions wherever those explorations take them because questioning is the essential skill for the information-laden 21st century.

Connecticut is in great shape to begin the Post No Child Left Behind Era. Many other states have the choice of staying with the inadequate Common Core Standards or spending large sums of money to create their own standards because the standards they had prior to Common Core were inferior. Not so in Connecticut.

We are ready to go.

Post NCLB: Here we come.

The steps to beginning the Post NCLB Era in Connecticut are:

  1. Form a committee of educators to review the Connecticut State Standards, revising and adding on if necessary, and republish the Connecticut State Standards.
  2. Form a committee of educators to make the decisions about the forms of yearly  assessments required by the federal government, reviewing existing Connecticut standardized tests, the CMT and CAPT, and designing new performance assessments.

Onward, Connecticut!