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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.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Announces the Approval of CT’s NCLB Waiver Application

In another landmark moment for education reform in Connecticut, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Governor Malloy announced that CT’s application for a waiver from requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Legislation (NCLB) was approved. Under NCLB, progress was measured against the goal of having 100% of students in high poverty schools achieve proficiency by 2014, with corrective actions and the restricted use of federal funds for schools and districts that fell short.  The NCLB waiver will replace the state’s old system with one that allows the State Department of Education (SDE) to direct resources, interventions and supports to meet the specific needs of low-achieving groups of students in every school and district across the state.  The waiver also requires the SDE to focus on supporting effective instruction and leadership, as well as establishing and supporting college- and career-readiness expectations.

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The Implementation Phase of Education Reform Begins

The passage of Connecticut’s landmark education reform bill, Senate Bill 458 (S.B. 458), marked the starting point for the State Board of Education (SBE) and the State Department of Education (SDE) to begin the implementation phase of reform efforts in earnest. On May 17, the SBE’s monthly meeting agenda included a presentation by Commissioner Pryor on S.B. 458 and the work currently underway at the SDE to implement the bill’s provisions. Read More »

A Look at Key Elements of Connecticut’s Education Reform Bill

Connecticut’s Year of Education Reform produced a landmark education reform bill.  Senate Bill 458 mandates the type of integrated changes that will help Connecticut to close its achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students. A summary of key elements of Senate Bill 458 is below.  The full bill can be found here and an analysis of the bill by the Office of Legislative Research can be found here.

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Connecticut General Assembly Passes Landmark Education Reform Bill

“We have achieved change, and our children will benefit.” – Governor Dannel P. Malloy

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform applauds Governor Malloy for his leadership in delivering on his six education reform principles that were outlined in December, and for truly making 2012 the year of education reform.  Due to the tireless efforts and leadership of Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and Connecticut legislators, an education reform bill that will support teachers’ development and provide students with effective teachers, increase Pre-K slots, build a framework for meaningful intervention in our lowest-achieving schools, and establish a statewide common chart of accounts, was passed by the General Assembly tonight. Read More »

Lessons from a Successful State

Recently, we observed that despite having similar demographics to Connecticut–Massachusetts has both a narrower achievement gap and a low-income population that outperforms Connecticut’s on some key national assessments.  Furthermore, Massachusetts’ non low-income students rank first in the nation on many national assessments.  So, how has Massachusetts managed to achieve these enviable gains in student performance for both low-income and non-low-income students? What Massachusetts Has Been Doing Right:In 1993, Massachusetts passed an Education Reform Act, a major reform package, the implementation of which focused on (amongst other things):

  • improving educator quality by developing professional expectations for teachers and school leaders, and linking these expectations to recertification;
  • increasing state assistance in turning around “underperforming schools”, and increased intervention authority for “chronically underperforming schools”; and
  • increasing funding for the neediest schools by creating a “foundation budget”, which defined adequate funding for districts based on standards about how a school should function; this budget rose and fell with changes in the student population, and with percentages of low-income students. The foundation budget was also gradually increased over time, and had almost doubled by 2007.

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CT’s Students Decline in National Rankings: High Student Performance is Not the Cause of Connecticut’s Achievement Gap

Last week saw the revival of a myth that attributes the cause of Connecticut’s achievement gap, which is the largest in the nation, to the high performance of our non low-income students.  It is this kind of misinformation that makes it sound like the achievement gap is an accomplishment that Connecticut should be proud of – as though it is due to particularly high levels of achievement for a group of Connecticut students.  Not so. In fact, educational assessments from the past decade demonstrate that Connecticut’s achievement gap cannot be simply attributed to the high performance of our non low-income students.

Reason #1.  Connecticut’s non low-income students, while performing relatively well compared to the nation at large, have actually been losing ground over the last decadeFor example, Connecticut’s non low-income 8th and 4th graders scored  first and second in the nation on national math assessments in 2000.  By 2011, these same tests ranked our non low-income students as twelfth in the nation in 4th grade math, and eighteenth in the nation in 8th grade math.  In other words, our non low-income students’ national ranking in math has actually fallen in the last eleven years by ten and sixteen places (depending on the grade you look at).   

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Poverty is Not to Blame: CT’s Low-income Students Rank 48th in the Nation, while MA’s Rank 2nd

Today, we are taking a look at an argument frequently made in opposition to education reform: namely, that Connecticut’s achievement gap–which is the largest in the nation–is due to poverty, and that the education system and the adults within it therefore cannot be held responsible for providing a high-quality education to all students. While poverty and a lack of parenting are used as convenient scapegoats to explain the achievement gap in Connecticut, Massachusetts has skipped the blame game, and worked on addressing the issue instead.  In 2010, Massachusetts and Connecticut had almost exactly the same percentages of students who were low-income (34.2% in Massachusetts vs. 34.4% in Connecticut).

Nonetheless, on national math assessments in 2011, Massachusetts’ low-income 4th graders scored 2nd in the nation–while Connecticut’s low-income students scored 48th.  This difference in performance between Massachusetts’ low-income students and Connecticut’s equates to about 1.5 grade levels. In fact, the low-income students in all of our neighboring states outperform Connecticut’s low-income students. For instance, New Jersey’s low-income students, who make up 33% of their student population, ranked 14th on 4th grade national math assessments–again, as compared to Connecticut’s rank of 48th in the nation, and Massachusetts’ rank of 2nd.  And Connecticut’s low-income students not only score below all of our neighboring states, but also score below states like Mississippi and Tennessee.

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Fair Evaluations for Teachers: Exploring Growth vs. Absolute Measures of Student Achievement

Since Governor Malloy released Senate Bill 24, we have noticed a lot of anxiety over the idea that teacher evaluations will be partly informed by standardized tests.  S.B. 24 relies upon the teacher evaluation guidelines that were unanimously approved by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC), which calls for 22.5% of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on standardized testing.

Anxiety over being evaluated on the performance of students who might already be behind is a valid concern, but there is a model for using standardized testing to evaluate teachers fairly. You see, there is a difference between measuring student learning against an absolute performance standard and measuring growth-based performance (which measures each student’s growth against his or her own baseline).  While the details about the proposed evaluation model are still being worked out, we wanted to take a minute to talk about what we mean when we say “growth-based” student performance measures – because we know this phrase isn’t very clear and can be alarming.

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Just How Radical is S.B. 24? – Part 2

A Comparative Look at School Turnaround Policies and Intervention Authorities in Connecticut’s Neighboring States

Earlier in the week, we compared the proposals put forth by Governor Malloy in Senate Bill 24 (S.B. 24) by taking a look at the way in which all of our neighboring states have been incorporating measures of effectiveness into their teacher employment policies.

Today, we’re taking a look at how the proposals in S.B. 24 compare to our neighboring states’ intervention frameworks and the Commissioner of Education’s authority to intervene in the state’s lowest-performing schools.

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Just How Radical is S.B. 24? – Part I

A Comparative Look at Teacher Evaluation and Tenure Policies in Our Neighboring States

There has been some public opposition in the past few weeks against Governor Malloy’s proposals.  One of the most common misconceptions about Senate Bill 24 (S.B. 24) is that the proposals it calls for are completely radical ideas.  In fact, S.B. 24 proposes policies that are reflective of the types of reforms that have been sweeping the nation and that have been adopted by many states.

Just take a glance at Connecticut’s neighboring states, all of which were awarded hundred of millions of dollars in Race to The Top funds, and you’ll see that the same kinds of ideas are in the process of being enacted, if they haven’t already been adopted!  It’s time for Connecticut to recognize what our neighboring states already have: that we must reform our public education system to ensure that every student receives a high-quality education, and we must make the necessary changes – or fall behind.Read More »

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