Are we taking our educational system in the right direction? I fear not.
Over the past few months I have been engaged in many conversations and meetings with superintendents and administrators, board of education members, teachers, parents and colleagues regarding Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED), the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. The feedback that I received, in addition to the results of my research, have left me very concerned about the current direction and future focus of our education system.
I am certain that the bottom-line premise for adopting these initiatives was to provide our children with the best educational foundation possible in order to move them toward successful college and career pathways. I also recognize that the idea of a nationally aligned curriculum is very attractive in many ways. For instance, if a student relocates from one district to another, either statewide or nationally, their academic transition would be seamless. Equally important is ensuring that our teachers are not only effective educators, but also fully invested in helping our children achieve their potential. While we all want the best for our children’s future, my concern is the way in which we are attempting to achieve this goal.
Implementing new standards, testing them with the new assessments, and evaluating teachers in part by the students’ performance on these tests is simply too much, too fast. When the State Board of Education adopted Common Core and the State Department of Education (SDE) supported a new way of evaluating teachers, the real-life implications were likely unknown. The roll-out of all of these initiatives is extremely time consuming and requires time away from students and teaching. It is a drain on limited funding and each component builds upon the next when none have been vetted properly. All of these initiatives are very complicated and the implementation details, many of which are still being unraveled, are broadly misunderstood and/or misinterpreted.
While much of Common Core is reported to be strategically and philosophically sound, I am concerned about the lack of strategies related to early childhood development. There are currently none related to age-appropriate development of social and emotional skills such as positive interaction with others and conflict resolution. It is widely reported that our teachers have more “troubled” children in their classes and more behavioral distractions than ever before. The entire focus of education has become cognition. I would like to see us find our way back to a time when schools were also a place that children learn socialization within their peer group.
Although it has been said that we are working to close the achievement gap, many believe that doing so in this manner, we will actually widen the achievement gap. Some predict that we will actually put our high school students at a disadvantage when competing nationally for college admission because the initial flaws in this three-part initiative will artificially deflate their test scores. Parents need to be prepared to see a fluctuation in student’s performance from our traditional testing measures, as they are not directly comparable with the new SBAC tests. A spike in scores one way or the other will not necessarily equate with a change in their child’s effort or the teacher’s performance. The tests simply measure different types of knowledge.
While more than 45 states have adopted Common Core, at least 12 have introduced bills in their legislatures to suspend or prohibit implementation. In Connecticut, the Governor and Legislative leadership has recently asked the SDE council which established teacher evaluation measures to postpone some of the implementation guidelines and ease burden on districts and teachers. I believe we have a long way to go if we aim to support our school districts while improving student performance. Our resources must be spent wisely. Money should not be spent on an advertising campaign to improve public perception. I would prefer to see execution of the programs enacted in a more uniform and deliberate way by SDE; understanding and acceptance will naturally follow. Let’s slow down and do this right!
Danté Bartolomeo, Democrat, represents Connecticut’s 13th Senatorial District, which includes Cheshire, Meriden, Middlefield, Middletown and Rockfall.