Superintendents Propose Radical Public School Remake
The Hartford Courant
November 11, 2011
There is almost a Sisyphean frustration with public education in Connecticut. The system seems to be doing the best it can, and many kids do well in it, but we are still falling behind a couple of states and a lot of foreign countries. We still have troubling achievement gaps to reconcile.
Although there have been some imaginative steps, most reform efforts in recent years have consisted of tweaking the present system. The tweaks got the state nowhere in the federal Race To The Top challenge grant competition.
Perhaps the answer is to change the system; erase the whiteboard and start over. That, remarkably, is what Connecticut's superintendents of schools believe is necessary.
On Wednesday, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents released a report with 134 recommendations that, if implemented, would get the state on track and significantly — radically — change public education.
In broad strokes, the plan envisions each child using his or her individual learning style to master world-class standards — the equivalent of those that have carried such countries as Finland, South Korea and Singapore to the top of international rankings. All kids would have to meet the standards, and would have whatever time they needed to do so. School districts would be freed from the current rules on the number of school days, classroom hours and credits, and would focus only on getting all children to master the standards, at their own speed and in their own learning style.
To help them do so, each child would have the equivalent of an Individualized Educational Program, a tool designed to help students with special needs meet their unique learning challenges.
This means that students must be able to choose among different programs and different schools. Such options aren't currently available at many of the state's smaller districts, particularly the 21 school districts in the state that have only one school.
So, smaller districts would be encouraged (or required) to consolidate, or at least to form strong regional cooperative agreements.
Also, the districts would be financially independent. They would be taxing districts, raising their own funds, and they would be the direct recipient of state funds. This could create more accounting work, but would eliminate a number of perennial fiscal issues such as how state money should follow a child. Local boards would have more control over their budgets, but would also be accountable for results.
Teacher selection, preparation and evaluation would be rethought — every child deserves a first-rate teacher (and most now get one). The superintendents' recommendation that's gotten the most attention thus far is one to replace lifetime tenure with five-year contracts. It makes sense; lifetime tenure is an anachronism. But teachers unions are already balking at the idea of giving it up.
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the superintendents organization, said the idea of the five-year contracts is to either improve marginally effective teachers or show them the door. If the unions have a better idea, Mr. Cirasuolo is open to it.
Mr. Cirasuolo, former superintendent in Wallingford, said the superintendents now plan to talk with a variety of organizations and agencies, and "form coalitions around areas of agreement." The timing might be propitious; Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he plans to focus on education in the next two years.
Though Connecticut is genetically programmed to resist change, even when change is called for, these ideas are certainly a place to start. Instead of being in a seat for a set amount of time, which works for some kids and not as well for others, all kids will have to master a challenging body of knowledge. Thus far in schools, "time has been the constant and learning has been the variable," said Mr. Cirasuolo. "We would like to reverse that."
The full plan is at http://www.ctnexted.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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