Sunday, May 02, 2010

CT Legislature Poisons the Schools

Yesterday, the CT legislature passed more poison pill education laws.  Grace E. Merritt and Amanda Falcone of the Courant report:
The bill establishes a more rigorous high school curriculum designed to better prepare students for college and to compete in a global economy.

The new standards mean students would have to earn a minimum of 25 credits to graduate, up from 20, including two language credits and one more credit each in math and science.

Students also would have to take end-of-year exams for core courses to ensure that they've learned the material. Seniors would be required to complete a multidisciplinary "capstone project" before graduation — which would spell the end of coasting during the second semester of senior year.

The new requirements wouldn't take effect until the Class of 2018, a concession made to make the bill more palatable to opponents who characterize it as another unfunded mandate in a poor economy.

"We certainly are not going to be in this economic condition … too much longer," Gaffey said.

Besides, he said, the bill is designed to help the state win millions in federal stimulus money from the Race to the Top competition, which officials hope might bring as much as $192 million to Connecticut.

Having failed to win any of the federal money in the first round of the Race to the Top competition, the state is revising its application to try again June 1. The state is hoping the new bill will strengthen the application by demonstrating the state's commitment to school reform.

The bill would also establish a new framework for teacher evaluations that would use indicators of student academic growth in assessing performance. The State Board of Education would work with an advisory board of representatives from teachers unions, school boards and state and local education leaders to develop the evaluations.

"I believe that this is a very reasonable approach to teacher evaluation at the present time," said John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the largest statewide teachers union.
There is no doubt that Connecticut politicians will sell their souls and the wallets of their constituents on the flimsiest excuse to spend more tax money. There are no responsible adults involved. Nor do they seem to read the newspaper.

On that same day, Steve Goode of the Courant reported on Hartford's Rawson school (Parents, Students Say Hartford School Spirals Out Of Control).
Tamara Golding moved into a house across the street from Rawson School last March, feeling lucky that her son and daughter would attend a beautiful school that just completed a $33 million makeover.

These days she has a different view of the school.

"Pretty on the outside — hell on the inside," she said.

Parents and teachers say student behavior at Rawson, a pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school on Holcomb Street, has spiraled out of control.

Fights are commonplace: boys fighting boys, girls fighting girls, even boys fighting girls.

Current and former students say that alcohol and marijuana are being brought into the school and that students are engaging in sexual activity in stairwells and isolated areas.

Bathrooms, frequent sites of assault, are locked. Students are escorted to the bathrooms, which students and parents say are decorated with gang symbols.

There are three security guards for the 750 students, and parents say they fear for the younger children's safety.

Bullying inside and outside the school is a regular occurrence, students and parents say. Last Wednesday, according to one student, a group of students committed random assaults inside the building. The day culminated with an after-school assault on a teenager who came to Rawson to pick up his younger brother and escort him home.

The boy, Andrew Manning, 15, was beaten by four young men at the corner of Holcomb and Cornwall streets and taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, where he received a dozen stitches to close a gash in his forehead. He also had a concussion and an eye injury. The attack was interrupted by a man who stopped his pickup truck.

"If we don't stop this, something really tragic is going to happen," said Golding, who acknowledged that her daughter, Jazzman Smith, an eighth-grader, is currently suspended from the school for a disciplinary problem.

Let's see, where's the disconnect?

The legislature wants to up the ante in terms of required credits. How will this close he achievement gap we see in full bloom here? The THIRTY-THREE MILLION DOLLAR renovation apparently hasn't helped. MAYBE MORE MONEY WILL HELP! But I don't think so.

Oh, and what about that idea of preparing more and more kids for college? Seth Godin's blog has an interesting response (The coming melt-down in higher education (as seen by a marketer)). He lists five reasons higher education's desirability is fading
1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.

Pick up any college brochure or catalog. Delete the brand names and the map. Can you tell which school it is? While there are outliers (like St. Johns, Deep Springs or Full Sail) most schools aren't really outliers. They are mass marketers.

Stop for a second and consider the impact of that choice. By emphasizing mass and sameness and rankings, colleges have changed their mission.

This works great in an industrial economy where we can't churn out standardized students fast enough and where the demand is huge because the premium earned by a college grad dwarfs the cost. But...

2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.

As a result, there are millions of people in very serious debt, debt so big it might take decades to repay. Word gets around. Won't get fooled again...

This leads to a crop of potential college students that can (and will) no longer just blindly go to the 'best' school they get in to.

3. The definition of 'best' is under siege.

Why do colleges send millions (!) of undifferentiated pieces of junk mail to high school students now? We will waive the admission fee! We have a one page application! Apply! This is some of the most amateur and bland direct mail I've ever seen. Why do it?

Biggest reason: So the schools can reject more applicants. The more applicants they reject, the higher they rank in US News and other rankings. And thus the rush to game the rankings continues, which is a sign that the marketers in question (the colleges) are getting desperate for more than their fair share. Why bother making your education more useful if you can more easily make it appear to be more useful?

4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.

College wasn't originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that's what it has become. The data I'm seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn't translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

5. Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

A lot of these ills are the result of uniform accreditation programs that have pushed high-cost, low-reward policies on institutions and rewarded schools that churn out young wanna-be professors instead of experiences that turn out leaders and problem-solvers.

Even the village idiot can do this math. Herding students into a lifetime of debt for higher education makes no sense. Nor does upping the ante for admission.

And chasing Race to the Top dollars is like passing legislation to give the federal government a new way to tax you.

This legislature needs to be fired. Every stinking one of them.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):