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Oct 012013

Last month, Norwalk ACTS released its Community Scorecard to its partnership of civic leaders and organizations that work to improve the lives of Norwalk’s children and youth.  The Scorecard was unveiled at Stepping Stones Museum for Children with the expressed intent to use it as a tool to communicate specific data, results or findings to the Norwalk community.

The Scorecard was produced by Norwalk ACTS community members, working toward the overarching  concept of collective impact.   Collective impact is defined by a diverse group, representing many different aspects of a student’s educational timeline, with ALL organizations working toward the same outcome and looking at student level data and using that data to continuously improve practices over time.

Norwalk ACTS was assisted by KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati, Ohio based company that developed the nationally recognized STRIVE methodology, for building a Cradle to Career civic infrastructure.  It has been adopted by school districts in 34 states.  The methodology is built on the following principles:

  • Shared Community Vision
  • Evidenced Based Decision Making
  • Collaborative Action
  • Planned Investment and Sustainability

Norwalk ACTS has identified six (6) community level outcomes that coincide with a student’s educational timeline and how data can be used to help identify success.

  1. Norwalk children are ready to enter kindergarten.
  2. Norwalk students meet the GOAL level in 3rd grade reading.
  3. Norwalk students have the necessary skills to successfully transition from 5th to 6th grade.
  4. Norwalk students have the necessary skills to successfully transition from 8th to 9th grade.
  5. Norwalk students graduate from high school in 4 years ready for college, post secondary training or full time-employment.
  6. Norwalk graduates are career-ready with a college degree or professional certificate.

Nowalk ACTS expects to release its first baseline Scorecard by the end of this calendar year.

Click the thumbnail view below to see Norwalk ACTS Scorecard.



Sep 052013

The Center For Education Reform has created the PARENT POWER INDEX, which gives parents an interactive tool to discover whether their state affords them power – and if not, what they can do to get it.  Click on the  link below to find out what power Connecticut parents have compared to other states in the U.S.   Issues like school choice, charter schools, on-line learning, teacher quality and transparency are addressed.


Summary: A poor charter law has plagued the state since its inception, but lawmakers did adopt a parent trigger law giving parents some power to make choices. A hearty group of parents are trying to pull the trigger on a failing school in one district, but they have not yet succeeded. While the state prides itself on paying teachers well, its quality indices are below average. Connecticut falls in the middle of the pack on digital learning, and parents will not find information easily about options or school quality through government agencies. School board elections are held in odd numbered years during May, diminishing parent power to effect change.

The Center For Education Reform was was founded in 1993 to bridge the gap between policy and practice and restore excellence to education. Today the Center is the pioneer and leading advocate for structural and sustainable changes that can dramatically improve educational opportunities in the U.S. We do that by primarily working to (1) generate and share leading ideas and information, (2) support and enable grassroots activism, and (3) protect and stimulate media coverage and issue accuracy.


Aug 222013

Professor Tony Wagner of Harvard weighs in on the global achievement gap affecting millions of U.S. students each year.  In his 2010 book, The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What We Can Do About It  outlines some pretty staggering statistics regarding high school students:

Some Basic Facts

The high school graduation rate in the United States—which is about 70 percent of the age cohort—is now well behind that of countries such as Denmark (96 percent), Japan (93 percent), and even Poland (92 percent) and Italy (79 percent).

  • Only about a third of U.S. high school students graduate ready for college today, and the rates are much lower for poor and minority students.
  • Forty percent of all students who enter college must take remedial courses.
  • And while no hard data are readily available, it is estimated that one out of every two students who start college never complete any kind of post-secondary degree.
  • Sixty-five percent of college professors report that what is taught in high school does not prepare students for college. One major reason is that the tests students must take in high school for state-accountability purposes usually measure 9th or 10th grade-level knowledge and skills. Primarily multiple-choice assessments, they rarely ask students to explain their reasoning or to apply knowledge to new situations (skills that are critical for success in college), so neither teachers nor students receive useful feedback about college-readiness.
  • In order to earn a decent wage in today’s economy, most students will need at least some post-secondary education. Indeed, an estimated 85 percent of current jobs and almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs now require post-secondary education. Even today’s manufacturing jobs now largely require post-secondary training and skills.
  • According to the authors of “America’s Perfect Storm”: “Over the next 25 years or so . . . nearly half of the projected job growth will be concentrated in occupations associated with higher education and skill levels. This means that tens of millions more of our students and adults will be less able to qualify for higher-paying jobs. Instead, they will be competing not only with each other and millions of newly arrived immigrants but also with equally (or better) skilled workers in lower-wage economies around the world.”
  • The United States now ranks tenth among industrial nations in the rate of college completion by 25- to 44-year-olds.
  • Students are graduating from both high school and college unprepared for the world of work. Fewer than a quarter of the more than 400 employers recently surveyed for a major study of work-readiness reported that new employees with four-year-college degrees have “excellent” basic knowledge and applied skills. Among those who employ young people right out of high school, nearly 50 percent said that their overall preparation was “deficient.”
  • Only 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the last presidential election, compared to 70 percent of 34- to 74-year-olds.

To read more  from his book, click on the link below.

The Global Achievement Gap – Wagner

Feb 242013

The Norwalk BOE heard a status readout by CREC (Capital Region Education Council) on progress made by Norwalk’s Special Education Department  in terms of staffing, operations and expenditures.  It also examined actions taken by NPS since its 2008 evaluation.  The presentation is below:



Click below to listen to an audio of the BOE Meeting that night.





For more information on CREC, click below:





Feb 082013

Connecticut is not the only state trying to clean up its public education system.  A NY Times article provides an brief overview of the reforms that the neighboring, New York Education Reform Commission has identified.  Extending the school day, breaking an academic calendar, tied to an agrarian culture, consolidating school districts and having teachers pass a type of ‘bar exam’ similar to the ones doctors and lawyers must pass before they enter the profession are just some of the recommendations.

To view the article click below :


To view the report click below:

EducationReformCommissionReport- NY

Jan 222013

During the Summer, 2011 the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducted a national study on the strength of teacher’s unions and their role in shaping or reshaping education policy.  The Executive Summary is outlined below and the full  report can be found here. 20121029-Union-Strength-Full-Report

Executive Summary

In recent years, debates over school reform have increasingly focused on the role of teacher unions in the changing landscape of American K–12 education. On one hand, critics argue that these unions, using their powerful grip on education politics and policy to great effect, bear primary responsibility for blocking states’ efforts to put into place overdue reforms that will drive major-league gains in our educational system. Such critics contend that the unions generally succeed at preserving teacher job security and other interests, and do so at the expense of improved opportunities for kids.

On the other side, we find union defenders who stoutly maintain that these organizations are bulwarks of professionalism in education, that their power is greatly exaggerated, that their opposition to misguided reforms is warranted, and that they couldn’t possibly account for achievement woes—considering that highly unionized states perform at least as well as any others (and better than many) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other indicators.
This debate has taken on an international aspect, too, as critics of U.S. reform initiatives (and defenders of unions) point out that teachers are unionized all over the world, including nearly all the countries that surpass us on comparative achievement measures such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Both sides agree that, for better or worse, teacher unions look out for teacher interests. This study sheds light on how they use politics to do this, by measuring teacher union strength, state by state, more comprehensively than any other study to date.

It sought answers to three questions:
1. What elements are potential sources of a union’s strength (i.e., inputs)?
2. How might unions wield power in terms of behavior and conduct (i.e., processes and activities)?
3. What are signs that they have gotten their way (i.e., outcomes)?

We do not limit the answers to those questions to routinely-studied channels of union strength such as membership density and bargaining status, though we do include those. We also include such other measures as alignment between state policies and traditional union interests, union contributions to political campaigns, and the impressions of union influence held by knowledgeable participant-observers within the states. We chose to focus on state-level unions rather than local ones, because the state organizations are apt to affect education policy on a large scale.

To gauge union strength at the state level, we gathered and synthesized data for thirty-seven different variables across five broad areas:

Area 1: Resources and Membership: Internal union resources (members and revenue), plus K–12 education spending in the state, including the portion of such spending devoted to teacher salaries and benefits.
Area 2: Involvement in Politics: Teacher unions’ share of financial contributions to state candidates and political parties, and their representation at the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Area 3: Scope of Bargaining: Bargaining status (mandatory, permitted, or prohibited), scope of bargaining, right of unions to deduct agency fees from non-members, and legality of teacher strikes.
Area 4: State Policies: Degree of alignment between teacher employment rules and charter school policies with traditional union interests.
Area 5: Perceived Influence: Results of an original survey of key stakeholders within each state, including how influential the unions are in comparison to other entities in the state, whether the positions of policymakers are aligned with those of teacher unions, and how effective the unions have been in stopping policies with which they disagree.

Using these data, we rank the relative strength of state-level teacher unions in fifty-one jurisdictions as compared to one another (fifty states plus Washington, D.C.). To do this, we score the state separately on each of the five areas and rank the states according to those scores. We then average the five area scores and re-rank the states accordingly.


Nov 262012

According To US News and World Report:

Seven U.S. states have passed “parent trigger” laws, which give parents the ability to petition for changes at their children’s low-performing public schools.  If more than half of the parents at a school sign the petition, the school district must comply with the changes.  These can include hiring a new staff, hiring a public charter school operator to take over reforms, or closing the school altogether and sending students to better performing neighboring schools.

Proponents of the laws say it gives parents real power to make a change in schools that are chronically failing when the administration has been unable to improve student performance. They say that parents at these schools, often in poor and minority neighborhoods, should be able to take steps in closing the achievement gap to which their children fall victim. It allows parents, they argue, to take a dominant role in their children’s educations and actively advocate for better schools.

Opponents of the parent trigger laws say merely signing a petition isn’t the appropriate way for parents to institute reforms. Allowing parents to instigate such disruptive changes denies teachers and parents the ability to work together to improve the school community, often relinquishing control of the process to a third-party charter company. Those against the laws maintain that there is no proof that they work, and though well-intentioned, the trigger system gives parents the false perception that they don’t have to play any other active role in improving their child’s education.


This article first appeared http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-there-a-need-for-parent-trigger-laws/fixing-our-failing-schools-is-a-civil-rights-issue

Michelle Rhee, CEO at Students First:  Communities Need Parent Trigger Laws   

Parents of children at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., didn’t decide to seek an overhaul of the school using the state’s 2010 parent-trigger law lightly, or with little thought. They sought changes on numerous occasions, giving administrators plenty of chances to bring about improvements at the school, where 70 percent of sixth graders aren’t reading or doing math on grade level and which has been on a state list of failing schools for six years.

Parent-trigger isn’t a first course of action, and it’s not used to solve small problems. It’s a law families can rely on to bring about change when their children are trapped in a school that isn’t meeting their kids’ needs. I’ve met a fair number of parents whose sons and daughters are assigned to such schools and it’s truly heartbreaking. We can’t expect parents and kids to be patient while slow-moving reforms take root.

Parent-trigger laws, recently enacted in half a dozen states, allow parents of children at a chronically failing school to petition for immediate, transformative changes. Districts are then required to implement those changes if more than half of parents sign the petition. I’ve been involved in plenty of schools as a mother, teacher, and administrator, and I can tell you that getting half of the parent body to agree on something isn’t a low bar.

[See the U.S. News Best High Schools.]

Parents can select from a set of options such as turning to a public charter operator for help with the overhaul, bringing in new staff, or closing the school and sending the students to better-performing schools nearby. Other changes might result in new curricula or longer days. Each of these has been defined by the Department of Education as sound turnaround options for failing schools. Parents are responsible for choosing the changes, not for running the school once a plan has been established.

Many, like me, see this as a civil rights issue. Far too often, chronically failing schools—the ones that are subject to parent-trigger laws—serve poor and minority communities. These schools, if left unchanged, will perpetuate achievement gaps between minority students and their wealthier, white peers. No child should have to attend such a school, and as concerned citizens we have a special responsibility to close the unconscionably large learning gaps in our country. Poverty can present huge challenges in our schools—I’ve seen this firsthand—but with the right supports in place, all children can learn at high levels.

When we’re having conversations in this country about how to improve schools in high-needs communities, people say we need to encourage more parental involvement. Well, parent-trigger is a way in which parents are seeking to be involved in their kids’ education and serve as advocates for them. It may not be a traditional form of parental involvement, such as helping with a fundraiser, but we shouldn’t limit what form parental involvement should come in.

[See the U.S. News Best STEM Schools.]

Of course, I’m not saying that parent-trigger laws offer some sort of silver bullet solution that will fix all of the problems our schools are facing. We also need to ensure that all of our kids have great teachers, and must ensure those teachers are supported and rewarded for their hard work. We also need excellent principals, more educational choices for families, and better stewardship of our public resources. If we bring about these kinds of reforms and include parent-trigger as one tool, then we will be well on our way toward building the kind of world-class education system we all want for our kids.


Nov 052012

On November 3rd, a State Department of Education Arbitration Panel rendered its decision and award in the collective bargaining agreement between the Norwalk Board of Education (BOE) and the Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) for a successor agreement to the existing contract following the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Both parties met 3 times for direct negotiations and after that with a mutually agreed mediator, on 2 occasions, but failed to resolve outstanding issues and so the collective bargaining agreement went into arbitration.   Below is the decision and award in its entirety along with the BOE and NFT  Briefs.  Also included are exhibits that benchmark Norwalk’s contract items against other teacher contracts  in cities and town around Connecticut.

NORWALK 2012 11 AWARD (3)



Norwalk Teacher Arbitration Brief 2012 FINAL 10-19


Norwalk BOE Exhibits 1 thru 18

Norwalk BOE Exhibits 19 thru 37