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Connecticut Superintendent Rails Against Failed School 'Reforms'

On the shoreline of Connecticut, the head of one school district is asking legislators to rethink the justification for reforms like the Common Core.

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Ever heard of Thomas R. Scarice? Unless you live somewhere in the state of Connecticut, possibly not. But his is a name to keep on your radar if you're interested in the future of public education in America -- and here's why.

Scarice is the superintendent of Madison, CT's public schools, and has previsouly earned accolades from education historian Diane Ravitch, among others, for his work to involve the local community in designing the future of its public schools. Late last month, Scarice penned a letter to his state represetatives exhorting them to look more closely at the reforms being touted as the "solution" to "failing" public schools, particularly those solutions that have come packaged as part of the Common Core. He called on them to both revisit the substance of said reforms and demand evidence that such measures as high-stakes testing actually work -- and he did so using the authority of his position as the head of school district, an expert in the field, and someone with a long-term commitment to ensuring that the children in his state are educated responsibly, and well.

In short, Tom Scarice took a public stand to defend the future of public education. It is only a shame that he is largely alone among his cohort in so doing. "If every superintendent had Tom Scarice’s courage and understanding," Diane Ravitch wrote, "this country would have a far, far better education system and could easily repel the intrusions of bad policies." Would that it were so.

Scarice's letter is well worth reading. Here is the full text, as published on Ravitch's education blog:

January 29, 2014

Senator Edward Meyer
Legislative Office Building,
Room 3200 Hartford, CT 06106
Representative Noreen Kokoruda
Legislative Office Building, Room 4200 State of Connecticut
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Senator Meyer and Representative Kokoruda:

As a superintendent of schools it is incumbent upon me to ground my work with my local board of education. My work must be grounded in two areas: in accurately framing problems to solve, and most importantly, in proposing solutions grounded in evidence, research, and legitimate literature to support a particular direction. Any other approach would be irresponsible and I’m certain my board would reject such shortcuts and hold me accountable.

In our profession, we have the fortune of volumes of literature and research on our practices. We have evidence to guide our decision making to make responsible decisions in solving our problems of practice. This is not unlike the field of medicine or engineering. To ignore this evidence, in my estimation, is irresponsible.

Legislators across the state have heard from, and will continue to hear loudly from, educators about what is referred to as education reforms. Webster defines “reform” as “a method to change into an improved condition.” I believe that legislators will continue to hear from the thousands of educators across the state because the reforms, in that sense, are not resulting in an improved condition. In fact, a case can be made that the conditions have worsened.

To be fair, the reforms did, in fact, shine a light on the role of evaluation in raising the performance of our workforce. There were cases of a dereliction of duty in the evaluation of professional staff. This is unacceptable and was not the norm for all school districts.
However, I would like to make the case that these reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research, the evidence that supports professional decision-making, like a doctor or engineer. It is simply a matter of substance. The evidence is clear in schools across the state. It is not working.