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Malloy Proposes Commissioner's Network And $24.8 Million For Lowest-Achieving Schools

Governor Also Calls For $21.6 Million Boost For Charter And Magnet Schools


February 06, 2012

HARTFORD— — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy chose SAND Elementary School Monday to announce his plans to spend $24.8 million on the state's lowest-achieving schools and to create a "Commissioner's Network" to turn them around.

Not long ago, SAND was one of the city's lowest-performing schools, but two years ago the city shut it down and reopened it with a new principal, retrained staff and a new mission to turn it around.

Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she is proud of SAND and the progress Hartford has made in reducing its achievement gap by one-third in recent years — but that school districts have "sorely needed" the help Malloy proposes.

"We cannot do this reform work alone," she said. "The fact is, we don't have the capacity to continue to do this at the accelerated pace we want to do it. We want all kids to have access to great schools, no matter where they live."

Kishimoto said the Hartford school district sought the state's help in the past but was turned down. Now she hopes she'll get it to turn around two elementary schools that she says are still in crisis: Burns and Milner.

Malloy said the key to improving education is to "take on the 'elephant in the room': our state's lowest-performing schools. We simply cannot afford to continue to turn our backs on our lowest-achieving schools and let those students receive a second-rate education that leaves them unprepared even for graduation."

Under the governor's proposal a "Commissioner's Network" would provide a system of support and interventions to improve the bottom 5 percent of chronically low-performing schools, about 20 to 25 schools..

The network, which would be led by the state Department of Education's newly created "Turnaround Team," would operate in two ways.

In some cases, the local school district would lead the effort in partnership with the state's Turnaround Team, which would provide resources and support for an agreed-upon plan. In others, the state could serve as a temporary trustee and directly administer turnaround efforts or bring in universities, nonprofit organizations, charter school management organizations, CommPACT or other providers to operate the schools.

The schools would be selected for the network based on low student achievement and lack of progress.

"We know change is possible," Malloy said, "because it's happened before in our state." Referring to SAND, he said, "Here we are standing at a school that is attempting to do just what we described."

The targeted schools could be restructured to provide more learning time, including a longer school day and year. Malloy said there would be opportunities at the schools for career advancement and increased pay for teachers and other professionals.

Kishimoto said a "major concern and challenge for us" has been the recruitment of Hartford teachers by suburbs that can pay more.

She said the suburban school systems wait for three or four years —while new Hartford teachers receive comprehensive training. Then, "right before they get tenure," Kishimoto said, suburban districts "are recruiting our teachers from under us."

'A Buddy System'

Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, said she liked the idea of a network of schools "all working on substantially the same issues. ... There's a possibility that they can help one another — a buddy system."

But, she said, it's important to make sure "whatever programs are used are sound and research-based."

New York City, San Diego, Cleveland and the state of Louisiana have used systems similar to the Commissioner's Network to turn schools around, according to Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based coalition of the nation's largest public districts.

Casserly said the approach has worked well in the cities, but it's not clear how well it worked on a statewide basis in Louisiana. He said the schools in Louisiana "improved somewhat," but that much of the student population turned over in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina.

"It was hard to know precisely what caused the improvement," he said.

Of Malloy's proposal, he said: "It could be a home run. And it could be a strike-out. Like anything else, it'll depend on how well it's implemented and what's focused on."

Kenneth Wong, chairman of the Education Department at Brown University, called the Louisiana effort "by and large successful" and said he saw some "promising results" in New York City and elsewhere.

However, he said the best results came when an outside provider — not the local school district — took the lead in turning around the school. He also said it would be important to engage parents and the local community in the turnaround effort.

More Money For Charter Schools

Also, on Monday, the governor pledged to increase funding for alternative schools — including charter and magnet schools — by $21.6 million.

Malloy's proposal would increase the state's contribution for charter schools from $9,400 to $11,000 per pupil, bringing it closer to the share the state pays per student in traditional public schools. In addition, local schools would be asked to contribute an additional $1,000 per pupil.

The proposal also calls for investing $5.5 million to open new schools, including local charter schools, CommPACT schols, community schools and five new state charter schools.

In the past, critics have said that charter schools drain funds away from traditional public schools and serve only a small number of students.

Another complaint has been that charter schools often turn away special education students or students with behavioral problems or low academic performance. Those students receive special attention in Malloy's proposal. He calls them "priority student populations," and says the state Board of Education should give preference to proposed charter schools with educational programs designed for those students.

Malloy says anyone applying to run a new charter school also would have to submit a plan detailing how priority students would be recruited and retained.

Mary Loftus Levine, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said she was heartened by this and glad to see that the governor is "compelling charters to be accountable for all children as we in the public schools have always had to be."

But she said the requirement that districts contribute $1,000 for each child attending a charter school is a problem.

"We really have concern about the governor's wish to divert local education dollars from already strapped school districts," she said. "They can't afford losing millions of dollars that they don't have now."

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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