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Eight Schools Given Lowest Grades

Persistent Problems Cited In State's Three Largest Cities

December 8, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Despite extensive reforms, eight of the state's most troubled public schools still have too many ineffective teachers, weak academic standards and low expectations of students, a new state report says.

The eight schools - three each in Hartford and New Haven and two in Bridgeport - were the first in the state to be identified as needing improvement under the federal school reform law known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

The independent review was conducted last spring, when all eight were in their fourth consecutive year on the government's warning list, meaning they were required to develop plans for a complete overhaul.

The reviews were unusually blunt, with some of the sharpest criticism directed at teachers and curriculum.

"There is a significant number of teachers who lack the skills necessary to provide quality instruction to the degree necessary. ... Further, many teachers are unable to manage student behavior appropriately," said a review of Hartford's Milner School.

Details of the review were issued Wednesday to the State Board of Education, but local school officials questioned the report's timing, saying many of the schools, including Milner, have made significant changes since the review was conducted in May.

The No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda, calls for a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make sufficient progress with all students, including low-income children, special education students and members of minority groups.

The eight schools under review all have large numbers of low-income, minority and special education students.

In addition to Milner, the other schools were Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, Jackie Robinson School and Hill Central Music Academy in New Haven; Moylan and Kinsella schools in Hartford; and Beardsley and Columbus schools in Bridgeport. Six of the eight were required to begin a major overhaul this fall under the No Child Left Behind law while the other two - Moylan and Clemente - made sufficient academic progress to avoid a full overhaul, at least temporarily.

All eight schools, including Moylan and Clemente, have made major changes. At some, that includes the replacement of principals and significant numbers of teachers.

"I think [the report is] so untimely in terms of what has taken place since then," said Reginald Mayo, superintendent of schools in New Haven. "There were some things we didn't agree with, and many of the [recommendations] we had in place to do anyway over the summer." Robinson School, for example, replaced its entire administration, and Clemente replaced two assistant principals, Mayo said.

In Bridgeport and Hartford, too, schools have adopted many of the report's recommendations, officials said.

"We've got a new administrative team," said Sheryle Jackson, the new principal at Hartford's Milner School, where 19 of the 33 teachers also are new to the school this fall.

The report cited serious discipline problems at Milner, but Jackson said the administration is not overwhelmed, as the report suggests. "We do have discipline problems, but it's not all-consuming," she said.

Some of the schools drew praise for their decorum. At Kinsella School in Hartford, for example, "Students and staff were quite polite, respectful and accommodating," the review said.

Nevertheless, students at the eight schools, on average, still score well below state averages on reading and mathematics tests, and the reviews suggested that part of the problem is the ineffective use of curriculum.

"The key features underlying the poor overall quality of teaching lie in the inappropriate way in which the curriculum is used," said the review of New Haven's Clemente Academy. "Too often, teachers slavishly follow the written curriculum with little or no regard as to the way it is matched to students' needs."

State officials have made efforts to help the eight schools, including a new series of online computer quizzes, based on the state Mastery Test, which will be available in January and can be used to take frequent measures of student progress.

"There needs to be a more directed focus on curriculum and instruction" in those schools, said state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg. "We need assurance the curriculum is actually being used."

Standards under the No Child Left Behind law will gradually become more rigorous until 2014, when all students are expected to reach a level of proficiency on state tests. As the standards become more rigorous, more schools will be required to undergo restructuring. The report to the state board projects that another 110 schools in Connecticut could require restructuring within three years.

Courant Staff Writer Rachel Gottlieb contributed to this report.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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