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Remembering Newtown

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At a time when I might normally be sending out a lighthearted message reminding you to take time with family over the holidays, I find myself wrestling with the right words to write in the wake of this horrific tragedy. As I try to balance the need to celebrate all that we have with the depth of grief over what we have lost, I remember how quickly life can turn from one to the other—from gains to losses, from celebration to grief. Our hearts go out to the students, parents, family members, educators, administrators and community members of Newtown, who have been so deeply affected in the wake of these tragic events.

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Secretary Arne Duncan Thanks the Educators of Sandy Hook Elementary

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Weekly Update: Resources for Schools and Parents–and a Thank You to the Nation’s Educators

We ask a lot of our nation’s teachers, Secretary Duncan said in a video message to the educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School. “But no one could possibly ask for this kind of sacrifice,” he said of the courage shown by educators during last week’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

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Our Condolences

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We at CCER extend our heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the victims, their families, the students and staff of Newtown Public Schools and all those affected by today’s terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

New SPIs: Do You Know Your Score?

Parents got a helpful holiday present from the State Department of Education (SDE) this week! With little fanfare, the SDE rolled out the School Performance Index (SPI), which provides families with a snapshot of how their schools are performing. The SPI is a single number that encapsulates the overall achievement level of the entire school. Every school is awarded points based on its students’ standardized test scores– 100 points for every student scoring at Advanced or Goal levels, 67 points for Proficient scores, 33 points for Basic, and 0 points for Below Basic. Then, all of the points are added together and averaged to assign each school a single metric, the SPI.(In other words, if the majority of students score at Goal or Advanced levels, the SPI will be higher.) This new system of monitoring whole-school progress is part of Connecticut’s brand spanking new accountability system, which will help us tier schools within a framework of interventions. The SDE has promised, as part of its ESEA waiver, to try to start moving districts towards an 88 SPI score. And while there are some schools in Connecticut with high SPIs, there are far too many with SPIs in the 30s and 40s, which means that student achievement in those schools is far below proficiency.Read More »

Hartford Schools To Receive $5 Million From Gates Foundation

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Congratulations to Christina Kishimoto and the students of the Hartford school district!

Today, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it has awarded Hartford a $4,996,773 grant after the district signed a District Charter Collaboration Compact. The three-year grant will fund a new leadership academy that will train Hartford principals, in a program headed up by the Achievement First charter network. Funding will also support Jumoke Academy (which has partnered with the Milner School as part of the Commissioner’s Network of Schools) in taking on the turnaround of two more Hartford schools. Of the seven cities (including New Orleans, Boston, Denver, Spring Branch, Philadelphia, New York City) to win a piece of this education grant, Hartford was granted the largest award.

So Just What Are the Common Core Standards?

Did you know that when a student is “proficient” in math or reading in State A, that student is not necessarily also “proficient” in the same subject in State B? Lack of consistency in expectations is a serious problem we face as a nation, and it is one of the many challenges that the Common Core College and Career Readiness Standards are designed to solve.

The Problem, Exemplified

Just take a look at the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP). This is the only assessment of academic subjects that is administered across the
 nation on an ongoing basis in every state. Look at last year, for example, in which a number of states showed lower percentages of proficiency on the national test than they did on their own state tests. For instance, Connecticut students taking Math on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) showed 86% proficiency, far higher than New Hampshire students taking the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), which found 66% of students taking the test to be proficient. However, when you gave Connecticut and New Hampshire students the same test (NAEP), the results showed that New Hampshire students had higher rates of proficiency than Connecticut students. Makes no sense right? It’s because we have different standards and expectations between states.Read More »

Connecticut Leading the Way in Expanded Learning Time

After an impressive year in education reform, we’re continuing to set national trends in Connecticut! Today, the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), the Ford Foundation, and Connecticut leaders announced that we will be one of 5 states (along with Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee), to collaborate in a new program to develop expanded-time models for schools. We all realize that it’s time to revamp the antiquated model of learning time in schools; and this is our chance in Connecticut to re-imagine that variable as an important facet of reforming public education! This effort, called the Time for Innovation Matters in Education (TIME) Collaborative, is funded by Ford and supported by NCTL.

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The Good News and Bad News about Our High School Graduation Rates

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So what can we learn from the federal Department of Education’s publication of the nation’s graduation rates this week? On the new and more rigorous metrics used by the DOE, Connecticut’s overall graduation rate was amongst the top five in the nation. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news.  Although Connecticut did relatively well overall (with an 83% statewide graduation rate), our low-income students ranked in the bottom ten states. Perhaps that’s not surprising, in light of the fact that Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the nation. But it certainly underscores the need to narrow the gap.Read More »

Education Reform Funding Must Be Protected Despite Budget Shortfalls

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Each November 15th, the Connecticut budget office projects state revenues and expenditures for the next few years.  This year, the news was bad.  A $1.2 billion hole has been projected in the state budget. Governor Malloy said he would not raise taxes to plug the hole. What this means is that the expenditure side of the budget must be reduced. Two-thirds of the most expensive programs in the state budget are either politically or legally untouchable.  They include:

  • Medical services for children, poor adults, the elderly and the disabled;
  • State employee salaries and benefits (Union employees cannot be laid off.);
  • Teachers’ Retirement Contributions (untouchable because legally required);
  • The Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant; and
  • Payments on the state’s debt (also legally required)

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Governor Malloy Pushes for an Early Childhood Quality-Rating System

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This month, the Early Childhood Cabinet–along with a plethora of providers and advocates, as well as the occasional journalist–gathered to hear from a working group about the early childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).  In 2008, the Cabinet had embraced a version of the QRIS, but the economic downturn and lack of state funding—coupled with a more fundamental lack of government support for the QRIS–doomed the program to languish in oblivion. Now, QRIS is back. And this time, Governor Malloy wants to make sure it is a success.  Governor Malloy’s envoy to the cabinet, Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, gave the cabinet a deadline to give the governor a QRIS framework from which he could make his own policy recommendations. Read More »