Last week, the Middletown Eye asked Superintendent of Schools Michael Frechette if any Middletown Elementary Schools would be forced to offer choice because they had been designated “in need of improvement” under Federal No Child Left Behind regulations.
He declined to answer, saying that the measurement of test scores against federal standards was “embargoed” by the Connecticut Department of Education until Aug. 31, and he couldn’t comment until then.
On the same day, his Associate Superintendent of Schools, Barbara Senges revealed in a public email that Bielfield and Farm Hill schools had been designated “in need of improvement” and were forced to offer choice. According to Senges, the district offered choice selectively to a number of Title 1 students, which she described as free or reduced lunch students achieving below grade level, and to some late-registering kindergarten parents and students.
While the “in needs of improvement” designation is disturbing, it isn’t disastrous. As a longtime critic of No Child Left Behind, I feel the difficult-to-meet standards are often an inaccurate reflection of achievement at urban schools. In addition, the recent school redistricting was predicted to have a negative effect on city elementary schools as the schools adjusted to the incoming students, and the students adjusted to the schools.
However, the district itself has used these very scores to tout successful improvement in achievement, and they did so as recently as July. As such, it must bear the consequences when these same scores indicate problems in achievement.
As a Board of Education candidate, I find it extremely disturbing that the school district has done such a poor job in communicating the facts to the Board of Education, and to administrators, teachers, parents and students affected by the “in need of improvement” designation.
To begin with, for the Connecticut Department of Education to sit on public information it possesses, and delay its release until Aug. 31, is unconscionable. For many districts it’s the first day of school, for others, school has already been in session for a week. The CT DOE is denying parents and students essential information they need and deserve to make appropriate choices until school is already in session.
For the district to distribute this information on a selective basis seems to fly in the face of the spirit of the law. While regulations permit schools to account for lack of space in achieving schools when offering choice, to offer choice to selected students means that other students in the designated school are stuck in a school with a negative designation.
The district enacted this selective choice without informing the Board of Education. Senges, in her email, indicates that the district had the information several days before the most recent Board of Education meeting, and yet the matter was not brought to the attention of the Board by Senges or Superintendent Frechette.
The process of selecting “choice” students and parents also seems arbitrary and designed to shift students who are most in need of help. Some parents registering kindergarten students at Farm Hill, Macdonough and Bielefield were informed that because of class overcrowding, they could send their students to Wesley.
According to Senges, some chose to do so, but because others did not, the choice to send students was extended to other kindergarten registrants. A third kindergarten at Wesley will be filled with seven students from Bielfield, and 10 from Farm Hill who have been offered a “choice.”
The problem is that kindergarten overcrowding was a problem before school choice became an option, and the administration decided to use “school choice” to solve a problem. I hope parents are aware that because they have been offered choice, the district must provide school transportation.
In addition, “choice” was offered to parents and students who are labeled Title 1. These are students with significant needs, and are least likely to thrive another round of “redistricting.” When they were originally redistricted the district was advised to provide training for schools and teachers about to receive a population of students with exceptional needs. The district provided no such training or consultation.
In fact, in some cases, the district, has shifted students far from their neighborhoods, and the school where they were originally redistricted. This re-redistricting was done without the consultation of the redistricting committee, who asked to be involved in ongoing decisions.
The district is also now forced to put a plan of improvement into effect for the affected schools.
This situation points out the futility of implementing a high-stakes testing program without adequate resources at the state or district level. Tests are unavoidable, and data essential, but when education is disrupted because of a poorly-devised, and improperly-executed law, the only losers are the students who are supposed to benefit.
Of course, there are a number of questions which need to be raised, and it is the duty of the Board of Education to raise them, and raise them immediately:
- Which parents and students in troubled schools are entitled to choice?
- What is the plan of action to improve these schools?
- How are school administrators being held responsible?
- Why are impoverished, underperforming students with few resources targeted for displacement?
- What do we do as a district, and as a state, to avoid this disruption in the future?
- How is it that the Board approved approximately $50,000 in administration raises, and turned back $50,000 to the city at the end of the fiscal year, but didn't have the foresight to hire an additional kindergarten teacher for the anticipated overcrowded classrooms (which the selective school choice, is being used to resolve)?
While the AYP standards may not be a true and fair standard by which to judge schools or student performance, this school administration is certainly in need of immediate improvement.