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The Day–Pre-school for poor kids will pay dividends

By Jeffrey Villar

Apart from my experience as a teacher, principal and superintendent, my experience as a father tells me that we need to fund more high-quality preschool slots for low-income children if we want to narrow Connecticut’s achievement gap.

When I look at my two-year-old son, I see a kid who has the necessary foundation for a successful schooling experience. He lives in a new, middle-class home; he has two parents, who have advanced degrees and are educators; he has five loving older siblings to serve as cheerleaders and role models; he’s surrounded by books and language; he knows his colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. His vocabulary is growing daily; and he is on track to develop a conservatively estimated vocabulary of more than 20,000 words prior to enrolling in kindergarten.Read More »

Norwich Bulletin–We Cannot Afford to Give Up On or Delay Education Reform


Jeffrey Villar is correct when he says there is nothing easy about implementing education reforms, especially when it seems that everything is being changed all at once.

Villar’s observation is based on his experience as school superintendent in Windsor where he oversaw pilot programs testing both new teacher evaluations standards tied to student performance and the introduction of new Common Core Standards in the same years.

“It’s difficult, but it can be done,” he told The Bulletin’s editorial board recently. “What I can tell you from my experience is, the second year went much smoother than the first year when it was launched.”

Villar is now the executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER). Having long supported sweeping education reforms, we invited Villar to meet with us to discuss those education reform efforts in preparation of the upcoming legislative session, and in particular concerns being raised over calls to delay full implementation of teacher evaluations this year because of the introduction of the Common Core Standards.Read More »

New Haven Register–Reform Advocates Seek More Connecticut Pre-School Slots


By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

NEW HAVEN >> A nonprofit education organization is hoping to gain legislative support for several of its objectives for 2014, such as the creation of more preschool opportunities for children in low-income families.

The New Haven-based Connecticut Council for Education Reform, which works to improve academic outcomes for students statewide, is pursuing five recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.

One proposal is to finance 500 to 1,000 new preschool slots for low-income children in the 2014-15 budget year.

“We estimate there are about 6,500 children who could use pre-K slots that don’t exist,” said Jeffrey Villar, council executive director and a former superintendent of schools in Rocky Hill and Windsor.

“We know preschool makes a significant impact on students and helps close the achievement gap” between children from low-income families and their peers.

Nicki Perkins, program manager for the council, said this proposal is estimated to cost Read More »

For Immediate Release: Connecticut Council for Education Reform Releases Its 2014 Legislative Agenda

New Haven, Connecticut – The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), today released its policy priorities for the 2014 legislative session. Jeffrey Villar, CCER’s executive director, said the organization’s primary priority is to protect the education reforms passed through legislation in 2012 and 2013.

“The key to a more prosperous future for our state is providing every single child with a world-class education,” Villar said. “That’s why we need to sustain the reform efforts that began in 2012, and we need to support their successful implementation. That means no de-funding. No delays.”

CCER’s four other priorities for this coming legislative session are to:

  • Provide the preschool experience to all Connecticut children from low-income families so that they get the starts they deserve–regardless of their family’s income;
  • Remove unnecessary barriers that discourage talented district leaders from working in Connecticut;
  • Ensure that education dollars are invested where they will be most effective, like funding extended learning opportunities; and
  • Jumpstart the development of a quality statewide longitudinal data system in Connecticut that allows us to track the achievement of every student from pre-K through college.

Read More »

For Immediate Release: CCER’s Executive Director, Former Superintendent of a SEED Pilot District, Comments on Neag Study

New Haven, Conn–With yesterday’s release by the Neag School of Education of its report on the pilot implementation of SEED—CCER’s executive director, Jeffrey Villar, reflected on his experience leading one of the districts that piloted the program. “I was pleased that Neag’s study shows the Connecticut System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) to be making positive changes in practice amongst teachers and administrators,” said Villar. “I was the superintendent of one of the pilot districts that implemented SEED, and I saw the very same positive changes taking place in my district.”
The Neag report–titled “An Evaluation of the Pilot Implementation of Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development”–is based upon data collected within the eight districts and two consortia that piloted the SEED program between September 2012 and October 2013. Hundreds of interviews and surveys were conducted amongst district and school leadership, teachers, union leaders, and representatives of Regional Educational Service Centers.

The findings show that the program has already had a measurable impact on the professional practice of educators, who are generally supportive of the model and believe it can have a positive impact over time. Indeed the majority of educators within the pilot districts reported increased time spent on evaluation activities, with valuable and reliable results. However, the study finds that teachers and leaders would still benefit from higher levels of support as this new evaluation model is rolled out.

“When we were piloting the program in my district,” Villar reported, “it was very clear that we need to be providing administrators with more time and training on how to provide actionable feedback to their teachers. Like any complex system, it has to be implemented properly if it is going to be a success. I am excited that the pilot was a success, and CCER looks forward to supporting districts as they continue to implement this program”.

Dr. Villar has spent almost two decades within Connecticut’s public education system, and he now heads up CCER, working to reform the educational system so that every child receives an exceptional education, without exception.

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Hartford Courant–Uconn Study Supports New Teacher Evaluation System


By Kathy Megan

A University of Connecticut report on the pilot for the state’s ne teacher evaluation system finds that it provides more guidance for teachers, but raises questions about whether educators have enough time to carry out the demanding assessments.

The new evaluation system, which started in 14 districts last year and expanded statewide in September, ties a teacher’s performance rating to student achievement, including students’ test scores, as well as a variety of other factors, such as classroom observations by administrators.

Deborah Wheeler, superintendent of Litchfield public schools, one of the pilot districts, said that teachers spent “more time on goal setting,” allowing them “to look deeply at their own practice and at the needs of the students sitting in front of them.”

Wheeler said her staff found that the new evaluation produced “a depth, a richness,” to the conversations between administrators and teachers that they hadn’t seen previously. “I don’t believe that we found anyone we rated unusually low who we were not aware of already,” she said.

Read More »

For Immediate Release: CCER Expands Its Work to Support Districts in Implementing Reforms

New Haven–In an online newsletter today, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that it has expanded its core work to include providing school districts with supports to raise student achievement. Previously, the organization had focused primarily on advocating for state-level policies.

“Our mission is to close the achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all public school students in Connecticut,” said Jeffrey Villar, executive director of CCER. “Since its inception, CCER has worked hard at the state-level to advocate for policies that are shown to close gaps in achievement. But we also know that we need to turn these policies into good practices within the schools and districts if we want to reach a day when every child receives a first class education.”

CCER believes that school districts need strong core management systems if they are going to boost student achievement. However, busy district leaders often lack the time necessary to rethink how management systems are working. Free support from CCER might help these leaders to tackle such systems in a strategic and district-wide fashion—ultimately for the purpose of raising student achievement.

The organization has already completed two such projects in a large, urban school district, where two core management systems (human capital and district finance) were analyzed and systemic changes were recommended. 

“We aren’t ceasing to advocate for the same policies,” cautioned Villar. “We are merely pursuing them through an additional avenue. Now, our organization will be protecting them at the state-level, while simultaneously advancing them at the district-level.”

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Understanding This Year’s District Scorecards

Yesterday, the Connecticut State Department of Education released annual scorecards for Connecticut’s schools and districts. These scorecards are part of a new accountability system that is being fully implemented for the first time this year. (It was developed as part of our waiver from No Child Left Behind, and it works in concert with the accountability components of Connecticut’s 2012 landmark education reform bill.)

The School Performance Index (SPI) and District Performance Index (DPI) are numbers that give us a snapshot of the performance of each school and district. Previously, there was no system of monitoring the overall progress of a school or district.

For example, in the past, if you had wanted to find out about the achievement level of a district, you would have had to look at CMT/CAPT results for grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10. And each of those grade-level results was then broken down into tiers of performance (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Goal, Advanced). As a result, you had specific information in each of those areas, so you were able to say, “X percent of 3rd graders scored at goal in this district.” But you lacked any whole-district assessment to tell you whether the district was performing well or not.Read More »

For Immediate Release: School and District Score Cards Show Much Work Still to Be Done

New Haven, Conn.–Today, the Connecticut State Department of Education released its annual scorecard for schools and districts in Connecticut. This is the first year this new accountability system is fully implemented, as approved by the U.S. Department of Education as part of Connecticut’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver in 2012.

“This report is an important tool that allows parents, district and school leaders, and other stakeholders to get a “snapshot” of how Connecticut’s school and districts are performing. It allows us to see where we are doing well and where we need to continue to improve,” said Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.

“This year’s scorecard shows that significant gaps in achievement continue to persistent between low-income children and their more affluent peers,” said Villar, “but there are’bright spots’ in this year’s report. For example, the number of ‘focus’ schools—schools that have particularly poor performance amongst Black, Hispanic, and low-income subgroups—has decreased from 55 in 2012 to 42 schools in 2013.”

“Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that we need to be vigilant about implementing the landmark education reforms that came out of the 2012 legislative session,” Villar concluded. “They remain our best hope of getting to a day when every child in Connecticut receives a first class education.”

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PISA Results: Connecticut Keeps Up on the International Test

Yesterday, the 2012 results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. PISA, which is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is administered every three years to countries and economies across the world. The largest international study of student performance, PISA assesses students’ ability to apply acquired knowledge in math, science, and reading in real-world contexts. The 2012 test, which was administered globally to more than 510,000 students, revealed some interesting trends.Read More »