Op-Ed: On education, Democrats are acting like Republicans

It took two teachers of the year from Ridgefield, Jean Jaykus and Annemarie Surfaro-Boehme, in a recent op-ed piece in a Connecticut newspaper to say what superintendents should be saying concerning the direction public education in Connecticut urgently needs to pursue.

Namely, that the current State Department of Education under Stefan Pryor is taking education in the wrong direction with Common Core.

Op-ed submit bugGov. Dannel Malloy in his second term of office has the opportunity to do what these two award-winning teachers are espousing, and that is to make Connecticut schools number one.

The first step in the process of making Connecticut schools the best in the nation is to follow these insightful, courageous teachers’ advice when they state, “the commissioner needs to be an educator who helps administrators and teachers trust each other, collaborate on how to continually improve performance and preserve the many methods to attain success. The commissioner needs to celebrate excellence in the classroom and bring back the joy in teaching and learning.”

Needless to say, this task can only be done if Gov. Malloy appoints a new commissioner who will help to lead Connecticut in abandoning the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are sucking the life out of the state’s classrooms.

What is also sorely lacking in Connecticut is leadership from the superintendents who appear to be disciples of Commissioner Pryor and do not appear to be fulfilling their primary role as student advocates. It is shameful that their voices are silent in this education crisis facing Connecticut as well as other states.

Common Core is a top-down program in which practicing teachers had little voice in its inception with its punitive and blatant use of test scores for evaluating teachers. The superintendents also appear to have turned a deaf ear to the many parents across the nation who despise Common Core and the testing aligned with the new standards — tests that critics claim to be diagnostically and instructionally useless — that are wreaking havoc on children and teachers.

Parents are also opposed to having their children over-tested and their schools turned into test-prep centers as well as being exposed to Common Core-aligned tests that label the majority of students as below proficient.

An exception is Superintendent of Madison Public Schools Thomas Scarice who, when referring to Common Core, cites the fact that “what is being taught in local classrooms has been dictated by forces beyond the local level. They have been largely influenced through massive donations via philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation, creating a chilling question about the consequential influence of one billionaire on our education system.”

Superintendent Scarice has earned the prestigious “honor roll” award by Diane Ravitch for his leadership and vision.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist for Gov. Malloy and President Obama to know that the Democrats across the nation lost in the mid-term elections because they governed like Republicans.

What will it take for Malloy and Obama to understand that teachers are among the Democrats largest constituency and cannot be taken for granted. In simple terms, teachers and parents are disgusted with the privatization movement with its focus on high-stakes testing and teacher evaluations tied to the tests.

It is a well known fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has earned the dubious distinction from many teachers and parents as a misguided, non-educator secretary with his agenda of testing, punitive accountability and, most of all, Common Core.

In essence, these principles are Republican principles and Democrats cannot win elections by acting like Republicans.   If, for example, Jeb Bush were to be president, Common Core would undoubtedly be his highest priority.

Commissioner Pryor, another non-educator, also shares this vilification in Connecticut as both Pryor and Duncan should be replaced with educators that meet the criteria suggested by the award winning teachers from Ridgefield.

The Connecticut Department of Education under Pryor is now an agency without credibility, driven by special interests, charter school advocates and ideologies that are not based in reality. Pryor and other corporate reformers have discounted the real factors that hold children back: poverty, fear and instability.

Sadly, it is their belief that “bad teachers” are responsible for troubled schools and that the student SBAC tests aligned with Common Core will somehow expose “bad teachers” by partly basing teacher evaluations on student test scores. In essence, these beliefs are systematically destroying confidence in public education and, as a result, Commissioner Pryor has lost the confidence of teachers and parents.

It is time for new leadership and a new direction for public education in Connecticut.

Joseph A. Ricciotti. Ed.D., of Fairfield, is a retired educator.

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