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CT Mirror Op Ed: Don’t Write Off Impoverished Kids

Check out Jeffrey’s response to a recent OpEd that predicted parents will react to low assessment scores by rebelling against testing and efforts to improve schools… We know the truth: that parents aren’t going to protect a system that is failing their own children!

This latest round of test results simply reinforces the fact that we need to change our educational system if we want to improve student learning. A student’s address does not need to define his or her future. And that’s not a truth that is hard for parents to get behind.

I became an educator because, as a child, I saw firsthand that my circumstances weren’t my destiny. Growing up, I watched my father, a Cuban immigrant, work to provide for his family. Self-employed with no medical insurance, no paid vacation, no sick days, he returned to work just days after being injured in a terrible accident because our bills wouldn’t get paid if he didn’t work. At the same time, I watched my mother return to school after having dropped out to raise three children. She eventually became the principal of a school. Through hard work and education, they proved that you can make something of yourself no matter where you come from. It is upon this foundation that they created the luxury of opportunity for me, sending me to college and setting me up to earn advanced degrees. They exemplified what this country is all about.

The education system can’t just write off tens of thousands of children for being poor or for having extra needs.

Read the full piece here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–CCER Provides SAT Opportunity in Urban School Districts

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799

CCER Provides SAT Opportunity in Urban School Districts

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 15, 2015, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that it will be funding SAT preparation opportunities within the Bridgeport Public Schools and East Hartford Public Schools. This project is being conducted in partnership with Kaplan K12 Learning Services, which will provide 18 hours of direct instruction and two practice test experiences to an aggregate of 125 students in Bassick High School (Bridgeport), Harding High School (Bridgeport), Central High School (Bridgeport), and East Hartford High School (East Hartford). The initiative begins this Saturday, September 19th, 2015, in both districts.

Explaining how the initiative was born, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of CCER, stated, “Connecticut has recently shifted to making the SAT a mandatory exam for high school students.  While this policy shift may address concerns regarding over-testing in high school, it is also likely to increase the educational inequities that already exist among the students who attend our public school districts. That’s why we’re doing what we can to begin leveling the playing field.”

Bridgeport Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz said, “The SAT prep provided by CCER is incredibly beneficial to our students. They deserve and need very effective preparation for this assessment, and I feel that the Kaplan Prep gives them an equal opportunity to compete with their suburban peers. Many thanks to CCER for helping Bridgeport with the best SAT preparation available.”

Ned Lamont, Secretary and Treasurer of the CCER Board of Directors, was once a part-time teacher at Bridgeport’s Harding High School. He said, “Nobody likes testing, but college admissions officers put a lot of weight in how you perform on the SAT test. Harding students are extraordinary, and this prep program will remind colleges how extraordinary they are.”

In East Hartford, Superintendent Nate Quesnel described the project as, “an incredible opportunity for East Hartford kids.”

“The tutoring sessions will provide the kids with the needed skills for SAT success and an ability to take that next big step,” he said. “We are extremely appreciative of this partnership and look forward to the success of the program.”

Bryan R. Hall, the Chairman of the Board of Education in East Hartford, said, “We are confident that this partnership with CCER and Kaplan will expand East Hartford’s ability to meet the needs of our students and increase their opportunities to access the college of their dreams. We are very appreciative to CCER for finding a way to provide this valuable support in a tangible, real, and ‘shovel ready’ manner when it comes to kids.“

In response, Villar added, “We believe that this initiative has the potential to provide students with increased opportunities. Improved results on the SAT can impact college admissions and the availability of scholarship funds, both of which are real game changers for students and their families. All of these students deserves an exceptional education, without an exception.”

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CT Mirror–Bloomfield schools stage a comeback

By Robert A. Frahm

Bloomfield – In a high school that only a few years ago posted some of the worst math scores in the state, a cluster of bright teenagers one recent morning tackled a series of challenging calculus problems…

‘It’s a success story,’ said Marian Hourigan, an official with the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a statewide, business-sponsored non-profit group that issued a report in March describing the district’s aggressive reforms as a blueprint to narrow the achievement gap.

One of 30 low-performing school systems designated by the state three years ago as Alliance Districts targeted for extra funding, Bloomfield was singled out by CCER because it is one of the only districts that has made steady progress in all of its schools, said Jeffrey Villar, the group’s executive director.

‘Quite honestly, in education, there’s a narrative out there that says minority and poor children can’t learn at the same levels as majority Caucasian kids. That’s a difficult thing to fight,’ he said. The Bloomfield story ‘counters the narrative…that poverty and race are somehow destiny.’

Read the full story here.



Yale Daily News-Bill Proposing Charter School Moratorium Ignites Debate

Students, parents, lawmakers and education experts spent over 12 hours discussing the state Senate’s proposed moratorium on state charter schools last Thursday during the state’s Education Committee meeting.

A rally took place the day before at Booker T. Washington Academy, opposing the proposed Connecticut Senate Bill 1096. The bill proposes a two-year moratorium on public charter school approvals beginning July 1, 2015, during which the commissioner of education will review existing charter schools and make a plan for future charter schools, which will be due on Feb. 1, 2017. A similar moratorium occurred five years ago for all state magnet schools other than those in the Hartford area, but the review still has not been released.

“It’s not really clear what they hope to gain by this two-year moratorium,” said Lizanne Cox, the director of Common Ground, a local environmentally oriented charter school. She added that while her school will not be impacted as much as charter schools that have not yet been created, Bill 1096 does have the potential to impact existing charter-review processes. If the bill were to pass, charter schools currently in operation will need to submit annual audit reports, fiscal reports and background checks.

According to Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, the bill was proposed in response to the mismanagement of funds and allegedly falsified certifications at one Hartford charter school that is currently under investigation. He added that this investigation has sparked a larger debate over the expansion of charter schools in Connecticut.Read More »

Hartford Courant-Call For Moratorium On Charters Stirs Passionate Debate

A proposal for a two-year moratorium on public charter schools has ignited impassioned debate and tapped into long-standing disagreement over how well the schools perform and whether they drain needed resources from ordinary neighborhood schools.

“I ask that you consider our social, moral and American obligation to educate our youth and not further disable our true public school students…” said Dennis Bradley in legislative testimony in support of the moratorium. “It’s only logical … that we consider all positive and negative factors in the light of the best interest for our children.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.22.50 PMRep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, who proposed the moratorium, said he supported the development of the state’s first charters back in the ’90s but has been disappointed with the performance of the schools.

Although the state says that 86 percent of charter elementary schools and 83 percent of charter high schools outperformed their host districts in 2013 on the state’s standardized tests, Vargas said that he wants more detail on how students are doing, on the funding for the schools and other operating policies.

“Over the years, we have to take their word, they are doing a great job, but there’s very little independent verification of any of it,” Vargas said.

Senate Bill 1096, raised by the education committee, calls for a halt on the approval of new charter schools after July 1, until the state education commissioner develops a comprehensive statewide charter school plan and conducts a review of existing charter schools. The plan would have to be submitted by Feb. 1, 2017, and would be reviewed by a legislative joint standing committee.

In addition, the bill would strengthen accountability for charters, and it calls for charter management organizations to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.Read More »

The Bloomfield Blueprint for Closing the Achievement Gap

One of the most challenging issues in American education today is that not all of our nation’s children are educated equitably. Commonly referred to as the “achievement gap,” this problem often becomes apparent when comparing the achievement of groups of students that differ in socioeconomic status, race, language, or special learning needs.

BlueprintTo mitigate these differences, a “one size fits all” educational experience no longer works. Narrowing these gaps is extremely difficult work because there are so many different variables to address.

Connecticut, historically, has had one of the widest achievement gaps in the nation. Reducing the achievement gap and accelerating progress may seem daunting. However, tangible and encouraging progress is occurring in Bloomfield Public Schools under the leadership of its Superintendent, Dr. James Thompson, Jr. This suburban district has a student population that is 90 percent African American or West Indian and 50 percent low-income. Bloomfield created a blueprint to narrow and eventually eliminate the achievement gap–and its four-year trajectory of student performance proves that it’s working.Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–CCER Congratulates Crosby on Approval of Turnaround Plan

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799

CCER Congratulates Crosby on Approval of Turnaround Plan

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, February 4th, the Connecticut State Board of Education (SBOE) approved a turnaround plan for Crosby High School in Waterbury. Crosby joined the second cohort of Commissioner’s Network Schools in 2013. These schools gain greater school-level flexibility and autonomy in exchange for additional state-level oversight, including the need to have their turnaround plans approved by the SBOE. In response to the SBOE’s approval of Crosby’s plan, CCER Executive Director Jeffrey Villar made the following statement:

“CCER congratulates both the Waterbury Board of Education and the Turnaround Office of the State Department of Education on getting this plan approved. They took a hard, honest look at the data, and developed a realistic school turnaround plan for Crosby High School.

“Turning around a school with a long history of low performance is very difficult work. I am pleased that the proposed plan seeks to address the needs of diverse learners; recognizes the need for a rigorous and engaging curriculum; promotes a positive school climate; and maintains a focus on parental engagement.

“I also applaud the State Board of Education for requiring the plan to focus on chronic absenteeism. Absenteeism is a fundamental problem in many low-performing schools, and any investment in school improvement is wasted if we cannot ensure that students are attending in the first place.

“It’s vitally important to the turnaround process that approvals of these plans not become merely a rubber stamp. By making sure that the Crosby plan was sound, the State Board of Education has demonstrated that it takes this process and this intervention framework very seriously. Now that this plan has been approved, it will be equally important for Crosby, the State Board of Education, and the State Department of Education to hold each other responsible for showing that real, measurable progress is being made. Connecticut’s students deserve nothing less.”


About the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)–a statewide, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not- for-profit organization–works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut. The achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between children from low-income families and children of color, and their peers. We advocate for state policies and local practices that research shows have the best chance of raising achievement for high-need student populations.

For more information on CCER, go to

Expanded Time Spreads Through Meriden

Yesterday, we attended the launch of the TIME Collaborative at Roger Sherman Elementary School. Because we’re so excited about the promise of this program, we wanted to share our experience of visiting two other Meriden schools that are already into the process of implementing extended time in partnership with TIME.

Imagine a learning environment in which children are provided with lessons beyond those normally presented in a traditional curriculum; a place where creativity and exploration are encouraged and nurtured; a place where enrichment is provided not only for the mind, but also for the body and spirit. The good news is that you do not need to imagine such a place because it actually exists in the extended day programs at Casimir Pulaski School and John Barry School in Meriden, Connecticut.Read More »

Expanding Learning Time for Student Success through the TIME Collaborative

Last year, Connecticut’s State Department of Education (SDE) collaborated with the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) to bring the TIME Collaborative to a limited number of Alliance Districts. This year, as the first cohort is implementing expanded learning time, the SDE and NCTL are currently working with a second group of districts and schools in a planning process to expand learning time in the 2014-15 school year. Today, we’ve asked Rob Travaglini from the NCTL to tell us a little bit about expanded learning time and the TIME Collaborative.

In 2012, NCTL collaborated with the Connecticut State Department of Education and a strong steering committee to launch the TIME Collaborative in Connecticut. We did this because every child in Connecticut deserves an education that prepares her for success in college and career and sets her on a path to a rich, fulfilling life. Unfortunately, our antiquated school calendar is too limiting to provide children from low-income communities with the breadth and depth of educational experiences they will need to thrive.Read More »

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: What I’ve Learned Teaching Charter Schools



One seventh grader asked me, ‘Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?’


I’m a seventh-grade math teacher at Success Academy Harlem West, a public charter school. On April 30 and May 2, 3, the 272 students at my school, along with some 480,000 other New York City public school children, will sit for the state math exam. Last year, 89% of my seventh-graders and 83% of our sixth-graders passed the test, more than half scoring at the highest level.

But only 29% of all sixth-grade public-school students in the city passed the New York State Mathematics Test last year. Among sixth-grade black and Latino kids, only 15% and 17% passed, respectively. Among my sixth-graders, 97% are African-American or Latino, and three out of four of them are from low-income families.

Many teachers and parents—as well as New York City’s school chancellor and the mayor, have said there is too much emphasis on testing. But at Success Academy, we believe internal assessments and the results from state exams are essential feedback for how well we as teachers have done our job in the classroom. Students and teachers embrace academic rigor and take pride in having some of the top math scores in the city, in many cases outperforming the city’s gifted and talented programs.

A group of charter school students rally in support of charter schools outside the Capitol in Albany in March.Associated Press

I grew up in an affluent Connecticut suburb, attended an elite private school, and had many advantages the children in my school do not. Yet students are getting a far better education than I did. They are in school from 8:00 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. If some students do not fully understand a concept that day, they willingly stay for tutoring after school until they master it, sometimes working till 6 or 6:30 p.m.

Success Academy critics, however, have a hard time accepting our students’ academic achievements, even after a five-year track record ranking among the state’s top-performing schools. Critics, among them the teachers union, claim we “counsel out” special needs or low-performing students to keep scores high. Success Academy loses fewer of its students (10%, including special needs students) each year than our peer co-located public schools do (21%). Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth is frequently cited as fact in print and online. Last year, 1,538 Success Academy students took the state exams; 13% of them were special-needs kids. Of that group alone, 56% of them passed math. An average of 7% of New York City district special-needs students passed math.

The newest theory regarding our test scores is the most outlandish. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a union-funded nonprofit, was quoted in Bloomberg News saying that Success Academy is “trying to find ways to increase test scores; that’s why they go into the wealthier neighborhoods.”

Really? Is it just me—or does anyone else hear the prejudicial undertone in that statement? Is it really impossible for Mr. Westin to believe that Success Academy’s poor black and Latino children can achieve at extraordinarily high levels? That with hard work and dedication, significant numbers of children in Harlem and the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy can be proficient at math and reading? That Success Academy might want all children—black and white, poor and middle class—to have access to great schools in various New York City neighborhoods?

Critics fail to understand how insulting and hurtful their remarks are to students and their parents. One of my students recently asked me, “Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?” These children work incredibly hard, and they’re proud of their success. No one, especially without knowledge of their situation or home life or personal effort, has the right to undermine their remarkable achievements.

There’s an excellent reason why Success Academy scholars do extraordinarily well on the state exams: We believe they can. We believe all children can succeed, no matter their socioeconomic circumstances.

Our critics do not share that belief. To them, the achievement gap—with only 11% of African-American children and 12% of Latino students prepared for college—is a given, an unfortunate, but unavoidable fact of New York City’s public schools.

Our students have flipped that “fact” on its head. Now it’s time for educators to start believing that with the right changes, we can achieve these results for all New York City students.

Mr. Simmons is in his second year teaching mathematics at Success Academy Harlem West Middle School.

Read the original post here.

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