"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 07, 2012

Parents Uniting to Fight for Their Public Schools

This is a good sample letter for parents across the rest of the country battling the same misguided and destructive education policies.
Dear Members of the Legislature:
We are writing to you as a newly formed Connecticut chapter of Parents Across America. We have come together, as public school parents from different communities across Connecticut, to support our children and the public schools that educate them.
We experience first-hand the challenges facing our schools and our children. We know what works and what does not. What works to strengthen our schools are: proven, research-based reforms, sufficient and equitable funding, diversity and meaningful parent involvement.
With the exception of the limited preschool spots opened and the limited health clinics promised, we do not see any movement forward with SB24. Many of the provisions set forth in SB24 are not grounded in solid evidence of success in achieving sustained improvement for schools or children. The Governor and supporters of SB24 claim that these measures are already being implemented in other states, implying that these are proven measures. They are not. None of these measures have been successful in achieving sustained success in other states. All across this country, states are embracing faddish bad education policy. It does our children a gross disservice to follow these bad policies blindly- especially when we know what does work.
Below are our positions on various aspects of SB24. We hope you will consider our input.
1. The Commissioner’s Network gives unwarranted and unprecedented power to a non-educator, Commissioner PRYOR, to implement things that have never been proven to raise student achievement or help schools. SDE can already help schools and districts in a variety of ways, through an SDIP. If they haven’t, it is SDE’s failure (in fact, the CAPSS survey noted that SDE has not helped districts as much as it should).
Neither the Governor nor his supporters can point to any evidence that concentrating power in the hands of one individual has succeeded. They try to use mayoral control in New York City as one example. Yet, Bloomberg’s rule has been marked by state test score inflation and national scores that are no better than they were in 2001. In addition, a new report finds that the Mayor’s policies disadvantage the neediest children.
In the other example held up to push the Commissioner’s Network, the New Orleans’ Recovery School District, “success” was achieved through manipulation of state standards and student population. Moreover, in addition to charges of corruption and opacity, RSD has been criticized for creating “a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the city’s white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and another group, including most of the city’s students of color, into a group of lower-performing schools.”
The Commissioner’s Network is not about school improvement or community engagement. It is about power and about disenfranchising the local school board and school community, including parents.
The newest version of the bill neutralizes some of the worst aspects of the Commissioner’s network. However, why does the Network exempt charters and magnets? Are we not concerned if we have low performing charters and magnets?
Furthermore, we know that the schools with the lowest test scores are also the schools suffering from persistent underfunding by the State. As parents we see this every day. We see the overcrowded classrooms, the lack of basic tools like textbooks and computers, insufficient funding for programs that help the neediest kids, etc. Prior to “taking over” a school, shouldn’t SDE be required to do a resource audit of that school to make sure it has adequate tools to serve its children?
2. The Alliance Districts: Like schools subject to the Network Schools provisions, our Alliance Districts are our poorest districts, and those most affected by the state’s persistent underfunding of public schools. Instead of remedying this deprivation by ensuring adequate resources for these districts, this provision provides just a tiny increase in ECS funding, which increase is conditional on implementing reforms that will surely be more expensive. Is there any evidence that the Alliance District provision does anything different than our current SDIPs? SDE and districts work as partners in implementing the SDIPs. The Alliance districts do not represent any improvement over the current partnership.
3. Funneling money to charter schools, schools that segregate and do not perform better than public schools, has never been proven to help our public schools. Charters are no longer new innovative practices. They have been around for 20 years and have not proven to be any better than our public schools. They score better when they have fewer needy children and/or spend more. That is not innovative. It is inconceivable how depriving needy public schools of more funds will help public education. While the newest version does not require local districts to pay $1000 per student who attends a charter, it does provide charters with an increase of $1600 per student, while the most a needy district will receive in increased ECS funding is $150 per student.  Moreover, the ECS increases for the neediest districts are conditional on implementing requirements that will surely cost more than $150 per student.
We oppose including charter funding in the ECS pool. Charters are not on par with public schools. They do not need to serve a full range of grades, and none do. They do not need to serve all children, and many do not serve our neediest children. They do not need to provide all programs. They receive private funding for which they need not account. In addition, they are privately run. Therefore, they cannot be in the same pool as our public schools.
Furthermore, we should not be making such a major change to our ECS formula prior to conducting a comprehensive cost study. In all states serious about school funding reform, an educational cost study is the first step.
4. The teacher evaluation provisions have not even been worked out by PEAC yet. Without finalizing them and without proving their validity, we can’t tie them to dismissal, tenure and certification. Especially with solid research showing that tying test scores to teacher evaluations results in a 50% misclassification rate.
5. NCLB Waiver
Governor Malloy is threatening that we will lose the NCLB waiver if his version of the bill is not passed. A review of the history of this waiver application is necessary. Prior to submitting the application, several of us called on the state to do a cost study to determine whether it makes financial sense for the state to apply for the waiver. After all, California estimated the waiver to cost them over 2 billion dollars and decided against it. States that once jumped at it are now regretting its expensive provisions.
The state ignored this request, despite the fact that prior to suing the federal government in 2005 over NCLB, the state indeed conducted a cost study.
The waiver provisions are onerous and expensive. Contrary to the claims put forth by its supporters, since the waiver is voluntary, Connecticut will suffer no loss of federal funding if it is not granted. Moreover, any meager amount given to the state if our application should be granted would be dwarfed by the cost of implementing the waiver’s requirements. Please don’t fall for this excuse to pass bad legislation.
While we do not believe that SB24, for the most part, represents a positive response to what our schools truly need, we do believe that passing the original version would be even more harmful to our schools and our children than the version that currently exists.
We are asking, on behalf of all of your constituents, to make every effort to truly understand the ramifications of this bill and how it will affect our state’s public schools, our children, and our democratically elected school boards, for years to come.
Thank you.
Parents Across America – Connecticut
Founding Members: Leticia Cotto, Hartford; Hon. Luis Cotto, Hartford; Mary Gallucci, Windham; Cindy Grafstein, Stamford; Jill Greenberg, Westport; Jackie Heftman, Stamford; Darcy Hicks, Westport; Shannon Jacovino, West Hartford; Michael Jefferson, Esq., New Haven; Wendy Lecker, Stamford; Sarah Darer Littman, Greenwich; Mercedes Soto, Hartford

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