A classroom in Bridgeport High School.

Quo Vadis?

The future of education in Connecticut is, in the main, in the hands of the commissioner of education, the department heads at the University of Connecticut, Central Connecticut State University, St. Joseph’s and the University of New Haven graduate schools and their undergraduate teacher training schools. These are the main supply routes for filling our teacher and administrative roles.

To date none of the products of these institutions has made inroads or systemic changes to the districts they serve nor at the state level. The system we use to train teachers and administrators is by cloning.

We give teachers an academic understanding of the field, but the real training and molding comes from their student-teaching experience. The same is true of aspiring administrators in Ph.D. programs. They are instructed by retired superintendents who graduated the same program and then mentored by practicing superintendents of the same ilk. It is a mimicry process whose quality is limited by the exemplars on faculty.

The track record of superintendents from these institutions and now the commissioner of education shows little leadership. The Alliance districts who are led mainly by the products of these universities have shown no change systemically in the six years and tens of million dollars spent.

Nothing is different in the guts of these districts.

If we think like “Consumer Reports” we’d have to rate the professional outcomes of these institutions as “Good +” in management and a  D in leadership as measured by their product.

If we examine the system that produces these results we must start at the beginning; the boards that hire the leaders. In the private sector boards who choose CEO’s are composed of successful professionals in their field. In the public sector they are appointed by the governor in the case of the commissioner. Superintendents are chosen by elected moms and pops at the district level, and at the university level it is trustees who are school supporters from various non-related backgrounds who hire presidents who are primarily fund raisers, who then hire department heads.

These are the groups that define excellence, that hire the leaders to run the programs, and the people who evaluate their performance. In the main they are amateurs. What qualification do they have to fill these roles? District level board members are given a one- or two-day workshop by CABE. State Board of Education members are appointed. On what grounds are university presidents selected? What background do they have to select department heads?

When you combine the two factors you have blind boards selecting near-sighted candidates who produce a blurry outcome.

The system is fatally flawed. No corporation who wishes to stay in business could run as we run education. CABE is failing in its role to train and there is no monitoring of boards of education. The pass-fail for board members is at election time, their election having nothing to do with their performance, but more to their party affiliation. SBOE members have no training and no evaluation

Presidents stay in their positions if the university is profitable and can raise money, but their retention is not related to the quality of the programs. At a certain point every system reaches the limit of its potential.

After many patches and reworks we must say “nothing else can be done. No more tune-ups.”

We must start from scratch and redesign the system.

In Connecticut we educate our ready and willing kids just fine, regardless of race creed or religion; we are equally good at educating our special needs students. We absolutely fail the children who come from homes that are unlike our schools, who have no advocacy in their homes or who live in non- or limited-literate environments. These children do not have an equal opportunity to learn under our present structure.

When we look at how we run our systems, how we train our leaders, who selects and evaluates them and those who are in place today; we can only expect the same results we’ve had for decades. We need leaders who will cause a revolution in thought; not another decade of managers.

Matthew Borrelli of Niantic is a longtime Connecticut educator who has served as an interim superintendent of schools in Bloomfield, Waterbury and Hartford school systems and has served in administrative capacities in a number of districts including South Windsor, West Hartford, New Haven and Hartford.

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