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Nicki Perkins

Nicki Perkins is the Director of Communications and Development for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. She began working at CCER as a Graduate Fellow while earning her JD from the University of Connecticut School of Law. During that time, she helped CCER to establish priorities and associated briefs for the 2012 legislative session, and she also conducted research on Connecticut’s then-existing statutory provisions as compared to corresponding statutes from other states. Currently, Nicki manages CCER’s efforts to raise public awareness and garner support for the organization. She also continues to support CCER’s research and policy work.

CT Mirror: Common Core can be a success for our children

By Jeffrey Villar

Lively debate on issues of importance to Connecticut citizens is essential to a strong democracy. Unfortunately, the debate around Common Core has been rife with misinformation, and the majority of criticisms from detractors are not based on fact.  While I understand that the opposition has a point of view, I believe it is important to refute arguments that are simply not true, especially in defense of standards intended to make our children’s education more rigorous and competitive…

Take, for instance, an Op-Ed published in the CT Mirror on Oct. 6 titled “Common Core takes the joy out of teaching.” The Op-Ed argues that classroom teachers were “deliberately excluded” from the process of developing the standards. This is blatantly untrue.

In the development of the Common Core, teachers served on the Work Groups and Feedback Groups for the standards; then, feedback from teachers was collected by organizations such as the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and theNational Council of Teachers of English; then, state teams—including teachers—provided further feedback on the draft of the standards. Finally, teachers participated in two public comment periods, which had over 10,000 comments.

It just isn’t true that teachers weren’t participants in the process of developing the Common Core.

The Op-Ed also suggests that the assessments aligned with the Common Core will drastically increase the amount of time spent on testing, and the impact of testing. This is also untrue.

As a father, an educator, and a citizen of Connecticut, I am frustrated by the spreading of misinformation about Common Core. I hope you are too.

Read the full opinion here.



Republican American–Malloy: Success narrowing academic gap

By Michael Puffer

HARTFORD — Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy touted success in narrowing the state’s academic achievement gap between white and minority students, citing student performance on the SAT college entry exams and Advanced Placement exams.

On average, black students improved their performance on all segments of the SAT tests — though they still lag behind both Hispanic and white students, according to figures from the state Department of Education.

Hispanics lost a little ground in all three subjects. Whites, on average, held steady in reading and lost a little ground in math and writing.

White students in general continue to score well above their minority peers on the SAT. In math, for example, the average white test taker scored 531 points, compared to 430 points for Hispanics and 403 for black students.

“While we still have a long way to go to ensure that all students are achieving at high levels, these results demonstrate that we are making significant progress in reducing the achievement gap for a significant percentage of our minority students,” Malloy said, according to a release issued by his office.

Malloy claimed that minorities are making “significant strides” passing the AP tests. Certainly, the numbers of AP tests taken by minority students has climbed significantly.

The number black students taking AP tests climbed to 1,640 last academic year, up 36 percent from the 2011-12 school year, according to analysis of state figures. A total of 2,437 Hispanic students took AP tests, up 27.4 percent. The number white students taking AP tests also saw a significant bump over the past three years, up 9 percent to 18,335.

SAT participation has also consistently climbed in each of the past three years. Last year, 3,532 black students, 3,955 Hispanic students and 18,335 white students took the test. The number of white students taking the SAT climbed last year, but is still down 474 students from 2012.

Two of Connecticut’s leading education reform groups sounded notes of caution about the numbers released by the College Board this week.

“Fewer than 43 percent of Connecticut kids who took the test were ready for college-level work, according to SAT results,” said Jennifer Alexander, head of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN. “That’s more than 50 percent of kids who graduated without the tools they need to succeed. We clearly need to do better, for all our kids, in every school.”

Connecticut Council for Education Reform Executive Director Jeffrey Villar said his group is pleased to see more minority students taking SAT and AP exams, and some improvement on the pervasive achievement gap. But Villar also warned against reading too much into a single year’s improvement.

“We won’t really know whether Connecticut’s achievement gap is narrowing until we can track a longitudinal trend,” Villar said.

Family income appears to play a big factor, according to figures in the College Board report on Connecticut’s performance on the SAT in 2014. Scores rose consistently with level of family income across all subjects.

In Connecticut, 2,039 members of the Class of 2014 who took SATs came from families earning between $20,000 to $40,000 yearly. This group achieved an average reading score of 467. The next tier up, families earning $40,000 to $60,000, had an average of 488 in reading. Students from families in the top income tier — greater than $200,000 — scored an average of 576.

Read it here.

CT News Junkie: Gubernatorial Candidates Focus On Education In Latest Ads

By Christine Stuart

This week, two of the three gubernatorial candidates, have decided to focus on education policy in their TV ads and like the candidates the ads are vastly different. Read More »

The Branford Seven: Branford Schools Win Common Core Contest

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 12, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that Branford Public Schools has won CCER’s Common Core Communications Contest. The contest was designed to showcase the creative and effective methods that districts and schools have used to communicate with parents about the Common Core. Branford is one of only three winners.Read More »

Common Core Communications Winners

CCER asked Connecticut districts and schools to showcase the creative and informative ways they have been communicating about Common Core with parents. We received many excellent submissions and are pleased to announce 3 winners: Branford Public Schools, Vernon Public Schools, and Hanover Elementary School in Meriden. Winners will be given a $1,000 grant to further innovation in their school or district. 

Each of our winners used multiple avenues to educate parents. They held events at schools, sent newsletters home, involved the local media, and made information available at school offices.Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CCER Chooses Branford Public Schools as Winner of Common Core Contest

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799


CCER Chooses Branford Public Schools as Winner  of Common Core Contest

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 12, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that Branford Public Schools has won CCER’s Common Core Communications Contest. The contest was designed to showcase the creative and effective methods that districts and schools have used to communicate with parents about the Common Core. Branford is one of only three winners.Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CCER Chooses Meriden School as Winner of Common Core Contest

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799


CCER Chooses Meriden School as Winner of Common Core Contest 

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 11, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that Hanover Elementary School in Meriden has won CCER’s Common Core Communications Contest. The contest was designed to showcase the creative and effective methods that districts and schools have used to communicate with parents about the Common Core. Hanover School is one of only three winners.

The announcement was held at Hanover Elementary School, and was attended by State Representative Catherine Abercrombie and staff from Meriden Public Schools. Hanover teachers Angela Fragoso and Marjorie Eager talked about the importance of presenting information to parents in both English and Spanish because the school serves many bilingual families. Then, Hanover parent Louis Bronk talked about how the school’s parent nights helped him to have a better understanding of what was happening in his daughters’ classrooms.Read More »

Journal Inquirer: Vernon schools tops in promoting Common Core standards

by David Huck

VERNON — The school system is $1,000 richer, thanks to an effective campaign to familiarize parents with new Common Core educational standards.

School officials, two area politicians, a parent, and representatives from the Connecticut Council for Education Reform — the organization that sponsored the contest — gathered Wednesday at the Northeast Elementary School library to mark the award from a contest.

With the win, the school system received a $1,000 check. The money will go toward purchasing three tripod video setups that would allow educators to digitally record a teacher or themselves with an iPad in an effort to improve teaching practices.

The occasion, however, was marked by officials defending and praising the Common Core standards — which have received a cool reception from some.

CCER distributed a flier that discusses the “top Common Core myths and facts.”

CCER Executive Director Jeffrey Villar said the standards are “an instrumental change that has the potential to make significant differences” in the way children learn by raising expectations.

CCER is a nonprofit based in New Haven that describes its aim as working toward narrowing the achievement gap.

Villar said the Vernon school system was selected for its innovative efforts to reach out to parents. Officials developed videos that were put on YouTube, distributed transcripts of meetings, held parent workshops, discussed the curriculum at board meetings, and sent home traditional fliers to households.

“Parents have to be partners at the table if we’re going to work to raise expectations for children,” Villar said.

Educators described the shift to the Common Core as moving from “teacher-directed instruction to student-driven learning.”

Ana Smith, a first-grade teacher with 25 years of experience, said that during her time she has seen many curriculums “come and go” but is a proponent of the new standards.

She said students are now allowed to better understand what is expected of them.

“This is important because if a student understands what and why they are learning about a certain subject, then there is a greater sense of purpose behind the learning,” Smith said.

In math, for example, there has been a shift from the memorization of math facts to “understanding what math is all about,” Smith said.

Students are encouraged to discuss with one another how they arrive at an answer and are therefore held more accountable for their learning, teachers say.

Another Northeast School teacher, Kristen Chepeleff, said she sees her students learning with more rigor and depth.

“I have witnessed first-graders grow into readers who are able to compare characters across books and connect to them through their own experiences and truly begin a journey towards a love of reading,” Chepeleff said.

Rosalind McFadden, whose daughter Savannah is a fifth-grader at the school, said she is excited and supportive for Common Core because of its “uniformity” and “consistency.”

Should she ever leave New England, McFadden said, she feels comfortable knowing her daughter would be able to easily adjust to the standards of a new school system.

With her children, McFadden said she encourages them to ask “why or know why” during their learning rather than just “doing something.”

She said the standards would prepare her daughter for a national and international job market.

Superintendent of Schools Mary P. Conway said the school system’s work of implementing Common Core is only in its infancy.

She said the standards are a new way of learning and teaching, so some teachers are struggling with the new instruction.

“We’re trying and will continue to try to share information with the community and parents so they can understand how they can partner in their child’s education with these high standards,” Conway said.

“New England doesn’t like to change,” Rep. Timothy J. Ackert, R-Coventry, said in remarking on resistance to the Common Core standards.Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CCER Chooses Vernon as Winner of Common Core Contest

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799


CCER Chooses Vernon as Winner of Common Core Contest 

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 10, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that Vernon Public Schools has won CCER’s Common Core Communications Contest. The contest was designed to showcase the creative and effective methods that districts and schools have used to communicate with parents about the Common Core. Vernon is one of only three winners.Read More »

Some Considerations Before Embarking Upon Implementation

Student-based budgeting will be most effective when it is integrated into a larger district-wide strategy for improvement. But changing the manner in which a district allocates funding to schools is no small undertaking. The following is a cursory list of some considerations and challenges that districts might want to address before undertaking student-based budgeting.

Determining Which Resources to Include in the Student-Based Budgeting Formula

Clearly, a district that implements a student-based budgeting system will not entirely eliminate all district-level resources in favor of school-level budgets. Therefore, when a district moves to student-based budgeting, it will need to determine which line-items can be pooled and distributed through the student-based budgeting formula, and which will remain locked—strictly for district allocation.

At a 2010 summit on student-based budgeting, most of the 14 participating districts that were implementing student-based budgeting kept centralized control over bulk purchases and district-wide services, but they gave schools control over general education, ELL, and professional development. Over other areas—such as special education, custodial services, and technology–there was less agreement about whether districts or schools should retain control.

Funds pooled for student-based budgeting should be both school-based and unrestricted. In determining which resources to allocate, a district should also consider—among other things:

  • The district’s vision of the roles that will be played by principals; this influences the degree of autonomy they should be given over school-level budgets.
  • Whether the district wants to trust individual schools to exercise discretion on issues of health and safety
  • Whether the district needs to retain responsibility over compliance issues for which the district is, itself, accountable to the state and federal governments.
  • Whether economies of scale mean it makes more sense for the district to pay for certain expenses in bulk.

For a more detailed analysis of this strategic process, see ERS’ guide to implemented student-based budgeting, here. 

Dealing with Projected v. Actual Enrollment

Student-based budgeting systems require more detailed and accurate enrollment projections than traditional funding systems. Because districts need to allocate funding based upon weights for different types of students, the district must estimate precisely how many ELL, low-income, special education (etc.) students will be enrolled in each school.

When enrollment projections are off, or when students move in the middle of the school year, funding is off. Schools will then need to have funding added or subtracted from their budgets after the school year has already begun.

Districts will need to develop a clean strategy for making adjustments throughout the school year. 

Choosing Between Average and Actual Salary

In building school budgets, the leader who is developing the budget will need to plan based upon the salaries of their staff. They can either do this by estimating the required funding based upon average salaries, or they can use the actual salaries of their staff.

It is far easier to use actual salaries, because they are more precise. However, there are (at least) two problems with using actual salaries:

  • If budgets are based upon actual salaries, then schools with more experienced teachers cost more, so they use more of the district’s resources and divert money from schools with less experienced staff;
  • If school leaders have control over staffing, using actual salaries for budgeting can give them an incentive to hire less expensive teachers so that they can save money.

For these reasons, most districts use average salaries, rather than actual salaries, for budgeting purposes. 

Being Prepared to Adjust

Since student-based budgeting is complicated, districts should be prepared to adjust the formula over time. Additionally, districts will likely need to adjust their planning schedules for the school year. Under a traditional funding system, a district likely set its budget first, then staffed schools, then created academic plans. Now, the district may need to do this planning in the reverse order because the budgeting and staffing are based on the needs of students. 

Providing Professional Development

How to develop an effective school budget is not a part of most school leader training programs. As a result, school leaders are going to learn how to build a budget and allocate their resources wisely. Therefore, districts need to invest heavily in professional development so school leaders make the best use of greater autonomy. Additionally, district-level staff will need professional development to help them shift to a new framework in which they serve schools, rather than control them.

 Additionally, this professional development might need to be accompanied by a new data system that will track funding allocation and inform decision-making.

Closing Under-Enrolled Schools

Particularly when student-based budgeting is tied to school choice, districts will need to address declining enrollment in some schools. Districts should be prepared to establish a certain minimum enrollment at which funding a school makes sense. Otherwise, an open but under-enrolled school will actually be diverting funds from the rest of the district (including funds that could be part of the student-based budgeting pool).

Acknowledging Collective Bargaining as a Potential Barrier

School leaders can’t truly have the autonomy over their schools until they have the power to hire the staff they need and let go of the staff they don’t. However, they are often limited by collective bargaining agreements. This is a significant hurdle if student-based bargaining is being used as part of a larger strategy to raise school-level accountability and flexibility.

Weights Leaders SBB


  • Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2010). Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Calvo, N. (2011). Opportunities and Challenges of Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Education Resource Strategies (2010). Fair Student Funding Summit: Conference Proceedings and Recommendations for Action. Read it here.
  • Education Resource Strategies (2014). Transforming School Funding: A Gude to Implementing Student-Based Budgeting (SBB). Read it here.
  • Furtick, K. and Snell, L. (2013). Weighted Student Formula Yearbook: Overview. Read it here.
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