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Posts tagged ‘Mary Loftus Levine’

CEA Continues to Share Teachers’ Views About Reform Done Right

As the legislature debates education reform for Connecticut and many parties weigh in, CEA continues to speak out and share teachers’ views about what works to improve education for our students. To that end, CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine appeared on two television news programs this Sunday.

Watch Loftus Levine on Fox 61’s The Real Story with AFT Connecticut President Sharon Palmer.

Loftus Levine was a guest on WFSB Channel 3’s Face the State along with CCER Executive Director Rae Ann Knopf.

Improving Education Requires Collaboration

Statement from CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine

Encouraging parental and community participation in schools was a focal point of the teachers’ reform plan released in January. A View from the Classroom: Proven Ideas for Student Achievement offers critical actions that can better engage parents, such as promoting incentives for employers to provide time for parents to participate in school-day activities; developing a challenge grant that would promote even greater collaboration between parents and teachers; and providing training for School Governance Councils to promote cultural awareness and respect, and expand the training to all stakeholders.

Connecticut teachers are proud of their work with parents. CEA has been a champion for CommPACT Schools, a school reform model that empowers parents. And CommPACT parents have been unbridled in their praise of what CommPACT offers students and families.

Collaboration has been a hallmark of reform efforts in Connecticut. In contrast, Michelle Rhee is recognized for divisive politics as evidenced by her short-lived tenure in Washington, D.C. Why should CT citizens want to import outsiders like Rhee, when there are so many solid ideas for education reform right here in our own state? Why did the Florida legislature recently work in a bipartisan effort to reject Rhee’s proposals? These are the kinds of questions everyone who cares about public education should consider as we work to ensure high-quality schools for all students who need to compete in a global economy.

New London Day: Don’t Scapegoat Teachers

The New London Day ran an editorial yesterday about CEA’s reform plan, A View from the Classroom: Proven Ideas for Student Achievement.

Don’t scapegoat teachers

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published 01/29/2012 12:00 AM

If there is one thing that gets Mary Loftus Levine steamed it’s the perception that most of the problems with the Connecticut education system, and with American public education generally, can be attributed to bad teachers.

“Teachers are facing demonization,” Levine told me when we recently sat down. “It’s not fair, it’s not accurate and it’s not going to fix the real problems.”

Levine is a lifelong teacher herself and currently the executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state with about 43,000 members.

Before dismissing Levine’s comments as the actions of a union boss out to protect the membership, consider the recent proposal put forth by the CEA. It would streamline the process for dismissing ineffective teachers. The proposals the union offers would shorten by a third the dismissal process, from 120 days to about 85. It calls for one arbitrator instead of the current costly and cumbersome three.

But the union also wants to assure school systems have clear and consistent evaluation policies, which take into account multiple indicators of academic growth, not just test scores. They want plans in place to help underperforming teachers improve. And they want to assure teachers have adequate protection from retaliation because of personal or political reasons.

Has tenure and complicated dismissal procedures protected poor performing teachers? Absolutely. Do the proposals put forth by CEA go far enough in making sure bad teachers can be rooted out? Maybe not, but they certainly appear to be a good-faith effort to start a discussion about fair and effective methods for assuring teacher accountability.

I’d have to agree with Levine that it is a mistake to scapegoat teachers as the cause of what ails our education system, particularly in Connecticut, where the gap in educational achievement between urban students and their suburban counterparts is so massive.

Simply blaming teachers lets parents who do not make education a priority in the home off easy. It masks the reality that children growing up in wealthier suburban towns begin their educational journey in kindergarten so much better prepared than kids in the cities and in some poor, rural communities. Saying it’s the teachers fault ignores the lack of discipline and respect from students that those teachers often have to deal with; values that can only be successfully engrained if reinforced in the home.

The challenges facing our public education system are myriad, the difficulty of rooting out poor teachers among them. But it’s hardly the biggest problem, not even close.

Helping Students Succeed by Listening to Teachers

On January 3, CEA released an education plan that includes reforming the teacher evaluation process and replacing tenure with a streamlined dismissal process for underperforming teachers.

At a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CEA shared A View from the Classroom: Proven Ideas for Student Achievement — a comprehensive education reform plan developed by teachers.

“There’s no greater asset to improving our public schools than teachers. Teachers are in the classroom every day; they know what is needed to prepare students for the economic challenges ahead. We are proposing specific ideas that can make a real difference to improve education for Connecticut students,” said CEA President Phil Apruzzese.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine said, “We cannot build a strong local economy in Connecticut unless we have high quality education, and we cannot have high-quality schools without adequate funding, small class sizes, and involvement of parents and communities to transform local schools that need help.”

She continued, “Teachers will do their part — we propose creating an evaluation system for teachers that uses multiple indicators of quality teaching, and we propose developing a streamlined dismissal process to remove underperforming teachers.” The plan also includes far-reaching proposals such as creating partnerships among communities, parents, teachers, and students to transform chronically low-performing schools with methods tailored to each school; requiring schools to provide health and social service supports to disadvantaged youngsters.

Apruzzese said, “Teachers lead classrooms, and our voice is necessary to ensure meaningful education reform. We want to create the conditions to make teaching a respected, supported profession. We look forward to engaging in a positive, collaborative dialogue with lawmakers, parents and everyone who’s interested in improving the quality of our public schools and preparing our students for tomorrow’s challenges.”

The CEA news conference was held two days in advance of Governor Malloy’s statewide forum on education reform at Central Connecticut State University that included education leaders from around the nation and state.

Idea of Standards Board Gets Public Airing

Lucinda Young, chief lobbyist at the Washington Education Association, said that the professional standards board in her state is run by "individuals who understand exactly what impact the rules and regulations they create will have on their classrooms, and most importantly, their students."

State officials were all ears when educators explained the potential of a Professional Educator Standards Board to a special legislative committee yesterday at the State Capitol.

Senator Steve Cassano said, “I’ve always assumed educators already had a professional board.  I wonder who else has made that assumption?  I don’t know how we could go so long and not have it.”

There is no official proposal for a board before the legislature at this time.  However, the Legislative Program Review and Investigations (PRI) Committee took a significant first step by holding a public hearing on the idea of a Professional Standards Board for Educators.  Across the U.S., 22 states have either an independent or quasi-independent board.

Testifying at the public hearing, educators told PRI committee members about a little-recognized reality in public education.  It is that educators at all levels know more about learning and academic achievement than any other group of individuals, but they have no formal and structured role in establishing standards for their profession.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine said, “When you’re only advisory, people really don’t have to listen to you – and in most cases they don’t.” Representative Mary Mushinsky agreed with the assessment, saying, “What you just said is very accurate around here. Advisory boards — no one listens to them.”

The Associate Commissioner of the State Department of Education, Marion Martinez, told PRI Committee members that the question of governance (of the teaching profession) is one among an array of issues important to explore.  Martinez promised legislators that she would carefully listen to educators’ testimony at the public hearing then confer with Education Commissioner Stephan Pryor.  “We will be following the work of the committee so that promising ideas that are generated through this process can be incorporated into our own reform strategies.”

Senator John Fonfara, co-chair of the PRI Committee, suggested he was struggling to understand why a Professional Standards Board for Educators had never emerged in law before.  “My head is spinning here,” Fonfara said, as he shared with his colleagues how different a new standards board would be from the current arrangement where educators only play an advisory role in setting state policy for their profession.

Talking to the audience at the public hearing, Fonfara said, “You’re talking about empowering teachers to have a rather strong – and actually – definitive voice.”

Dr. Linette Branham, the head of policy for CEA, told legislators, “A new Standards Board for Educators would be all about reform. It’s about restructuring our system to move forward more effectively and efficiently. The processes that have been used in the past – gathering together groups of educators to ask their ‘advice’ about proposed changes, rather than asking educators what needs to be changed – don’t work.”

Links to complete testimony from those who testified are at the end of this story.  The following are key excerpts.

Lucinda Young, Chief Lobbyist, Washington Education Association

Why did the members of the Washington Education Association support and actively work to gain an independent educator standards board?  The vast majority of professional standards boards are made up of practitioners who understand the profession, have full awareness of the demands and knowledge needed to be successful in the field, and can successfully determine, through research.

Teachers were demanding the same regard and responsibility for their profession, as the alternative (advisory role) was not working.  The PESB is now populated with individuals who understand exactly what impact the rules and regulations they create will have on their classrooms, and most importantly, their students.  Teachers graduate from pre-service programs better prepared for today’s classroom.  And most importantly, teachers who move from the residency to the professional certificate in Washington report that the process did improve their teaching abilities.

Jill Mack, Licensure Officer, Saint Joseph College

In 1989, I was appointed by Gov. Madeline Kunin to the newly created VT Standard Board for Professional Educators, a quasi-independent SB. My experiences on the Board, both as a member, and later as a consultant were the highlight of my professional career as an educator. It was exhilarating to know that collectively and collaboratively we were moving the profession forward, as well as taking some of the burden off the State DOE. A deep respect for one another and commitment to the tasks was evident from each board member. I attribute this to the care and time given to the selection of the initial charter members.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine

What is CEA’s vision for an Educator Professional Standards Board for Connecticut?  We envision an autonomous board whose members are nominated by specific constituent groups and appointed by the governor.  Membership would be delineated in statute: the Commissioner of Education or his designee as the non-voting chair; five classroom teachers representing the Connecticut Education Association; two classroom teachers representing the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut; one administrator representing the American Federation of School Administrators; one administrator representing the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents; one representative of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education; one parent of a public school child/children; one representative from a public institution of higher education; and one representative from a private institution of higher education.   As with other groups created by statute, this selection process assures balance, expertise, and a variety of perspectives, while keeping the group to a workable size.

What responsibilities and authority does CEA see an Educator Professional Standards Board having?  We would suggest this Board would do the following:

  • establish a code of professional ethics;
  • set the highest standards for educator certification;
  • issue certificates to qualified educators;
  • set standards for and accredit educator preparation programs;
  • set standards for educator assessment for prospective teachers;
  • set standards for and oversee TEAM, the educator induction program; and
  • promote National Board certification for educators.

All of these responsibilities interact to create a world-class teaching force.  Practicing educators understand that we can create a system to handle these responsibilities that is flexible and promotes high, appropriate standards.

Cheryl Prevost, Chair, Connecticut Advisory Council for Teacher Professional Standards

I can say with confidence that this lack of decision-making authority takes its toll on teachers who sit on the Council. They often feel as though their opinions aren’t valued when decisions are mad that have an impact on how they do their jobs. This questions many to ask why we even have an advisory council.

CEA President Phil Apruzzese

Am I surprised by TEAM’s success? Not at all. I could have predicted it, because it was designed BY educators, FOR educators, and is implemented by educators with decision-making authority in their districts. TEAM is a shining example of why educators should, and how educators can, have much more decision-making authority in our profession.

Doreen Merrill, Special Education Teacher, Woodbridge Public Schools

An independent educator standards board in Connecticut would use their professional resources to more effectively and efficiently make decisions that affect Connecticut educators.

Shelley Lloyd, Retired Teacher

It’s time to give educators more direct decision-making authority for the profession through an educator standards board. Other professional groups, such as engineers, lawyers, doctors, and architects, have professional representation on their standards boards that govern their professions. There is a recognition that, because they know their field best, they are the best prepared to set and implement standards, and make decisions for their profession. Educators are the professionals with the greatest knowledge of teaching and learning. They have demonstrated their ability and desire to set high standards for themselves. Expanding this work to decision-making through an independent educator standards board, will help reach the ultimate goal of moving student progress forward.

Jim Ewing, Retired Teacher

Teaching is the only profession in this state that does not have a standards board, made up of members from their own ranks, overseeing their profession. Educators can be entrusted to teach our children, so why shouldn’t they be trusted to know what good teaching – and ultimately best practices for educators – should look like.

Click on the names below to read individual’s complete testimony.

Competitive Funding for Connecticut?

CT Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the ECS Task Force, "If we use the power of the purse strings then we can make progress."

Connecticut’s new commissioner of education is suggesting that Connecticut look to the precedent set by the federal government with Race to the Top and consider an education funding model that incorporates competitive grants.  “If we use the power of the purse strings then we can make progress,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told members of the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force at a meeting yesterday. “The barrier to achievement is a lack of political will at the local level. The right steps are not being taken.”

Pryor’s comments came in the wake of a presentation to the State Board of Education on Wednesday in which he decried the state’s lack of progress on the NAEP assessment.

Task Force Co-Chair Ben Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said the competitive Race to the Top model is one that the Task Force should consider. “I’m giving it serious consideration personally,” he said.

Barnes suggested that the current necessity to respond to educational need in local districts may be bigger than the traditional school funding approach that also has addressed communities’ ability to pay and their tax bases. “There are many situations compelling local educational authorities to rethink their traditional approach in whole or in part — there are times you’ve got to push that refresh button,” he said.

The ECS Task Force is holding regular meetings to develop recommendations on possible ways to change how money is divided among school districts.

Competitive funding was one of the “three Cs” Pryor introduced to the task force.  The others were committed funding — “formulaic funding that will help to remedy the imperfections in the existing funding formula” — and conditional funding.

Mark Benigni, superintendent of Meriden Public Schools and a Task Force member, pointed out the negatives of competitive funding. “Our kids lost out on competitive grant programs. Why would we want anything that creates winners and losers? There’s enough figures available showing where the money needs to go.”

Benigni added that “concern dollars” might be a better C to include, as that type of funding is what has enabled Meriden schools to head in the right direction. “The changes we made couldn’t have happened without the state and municipality working together,” he said. “We shouldn’t follow a model that pits winner against losers when we already know who the winners and losers are.”

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine, a Task Force member, agreed that Race to the Top calls to mind a model where “the losers are usually the people who need it the most.”

Collaboration, rather than competition, should be the essential element. Loftus Levine said that CALI — the Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative — before it experienced staffing and funding cuts, was an example of an intervention model that really worked. “Teachers really bought into that model and welcomed assistance from outside experts sent by the state,” she said.

Loftus Levine also pointed to the complexity and enormity of the problems the Task Force is trying to address through education alone. She said the Task Force should be looking at successful places like Syracuse and Harlem, which are not asking schools to bear the entire responsibility of closing the achievement gap.

Inequalities are growing between poor children and those who are better off. Loftus Levine pointed to data that show that before the age  of six, children from higher income families spend 1,300 more hours in “novel” places, (places other than home, school, family care or daycare,) than their lower-income peers. “We can’t just look at what we do from roughly 7:30-3:30,” she said.

Benigni agreed, saying, “if this group is trying to address the achievement gap through education alone, we’re simplifying the problem ten-fold.”

The ECS Task Force will hold its next meeting December 1. At that meeting members plan to hear about data issues from David LeVasseur, director of municipal finance services at the Office of Policy and Management; Kevin Sullivan, commissioner of the Department of Revenue Services, and Orlando Rodriguez, demographer and senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children.

For more information on the ECS Task Force visit the task force’s website.

More Money Needed for Public Education

Ray Rossomando ECS Presentation

CEA Legislative Coordinator Ray Rossomando presents to the ECS Task Force, including CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine at left, at a public hearing in Waterford.

ECS isn’t broken: It just needs to be funded properly.

That was the consensus from speakers at the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force hearing held in Waterford last night.

“It’s not acceptable to underfund education,” said Erika Haynes, a mother of four from Windham. Haynes was one of a dozen people who spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing.

CEA’s Legislative Coordinator Ray Rossomando presented to the task force.  He showed the panel charts highlighting distortions to the ECS formula and how they have disproportionately impacted public schools across the state, especially those in our poorest communities. Rossomando pointed to a report “Improving the ECS Formula,” conducted by economist Dr. Ed Moscovitch, that shows that the ECS formula shortchanges our schools by $1.2 billion.

Click on chart for larger image.

Click on chart for larger image.

The charts show the current poverty factor using Title 1 for the red bubbles, representing the original ECS formula and the blue bubbles, representing actual funds received. The green bubbles show the formula using free and reduced priced lunch, which more accurately represents actual poverty levels in our communities, and is closer to the fully-funded ECS formula.

“The impact of underfunding is exacerbated by rising educational costs associated with the increasing demands that have been placed on our schools and our teachers,” said Rossomando.

Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Connecticut agreed, “We need a way to fulfill funding commitments Connecticut made 40 years ago, and we need to use free and reduced lunch for counting poverty.”

Mark Benigni, the superintendent of Meriden Public Schools and a task force member, said Connecticut was a trailblazer in education funding, and we need to know how the formula was meant to work originally before there were any changes.

“We had a formula that was a leader in the nation. Tweaks to the formula have not put money with the poorest kids in this state,” said Benigni.

Research shows there is a direct correlation between poverty and student achievement. Mary Loftus Levine, CEA executive director and task force member, said one of the many things the state should consider is providing wrap-around services to help schools with societal problems. “We can’t expect schools to solve all of the societal problems in Connecticut and until we deal with it together as a community, the gap will continue to grow,” said Loftus Levine.

“ECS is the root cause of where Windham is today and the economic challenges we face today,” said Haynes, referring to state intervention in the school district. She said, “It’s unfair and economically discriminatory.”

“Money matters,” said Palmer, “and those who say we can simply reshuffle the deck of money cards are unequivocally wrong. Educational outcomes in Connecticut are determined primarily by the color of money.”

The situation in the Norwich public schools is so bad that Joe Stefon, Norwich’s director of curriculum and instruction, told the task force they’ve been forced to make severe program cuts.

“The tax base in Norwich cannot afford to fund our educational programs to meet all of our needs. Currently towns like Norwich with low fiscal capacity are least able to fund education, so our schools continually are underfunded,” he said.

Still, many believe the ECS formula has value. Senator Andrea Stillman, co-chair of the task force, said, “We need to see if we can make it better. Or if it is determined that it’s totally out of date, then what do we have to do to make it more appropriate?”

Ben Barnes, co-chair of the task force, said the ECS formula has never functioned the way it was originally intended. “We need to understand what we need today in order to address the educational challenges we have now, and come up with a funding formula that gets there. I am not going to deny that more money would be an advantageous component to that,” said Barnes.

“If Connecticut is truly going to provide substantially equal educational opportunity and continually enhance its economic competitiveness, it is incumbent on the state to meet its financial commitment to sufficiently, fairly, and fully fund its schools,” said Rossomando.

Reasons Aplenty to Boost Investment in Teaching Profession

At a news conference today releasing the Fall 2011 issue of UConn's "CT Economy," contributer and CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine said "Unfortunately, teachers are feeling the brunt of our economic problems, like everyone else in the middle class."

Continued investment and public support for public schools stimulate economic prosperity, promote student achievement, and improve home values. That was the message delivered by a leading Connecticut economist and CEA’s executive director today.

The fall issue of The Connecticut Economy, the University of Connecticut Quarterly Review, released today at a news conference at the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), focuses on education and the economy.

Steven Lanza, executive editor of the quarterly journal, said education is as important as economic development or job programs.

“Education can help bring back jobs and make Connecticut more competitive.”

The average unemployment rate in the U.S. and Connecticut is around 9 percent, but it’s allocated unequally among different educational degree holders.

“From those with less than a high school diploma to those with a professional degree, you can see unemployment is much higher,” said Lanza. “Those with less education have the highest unemployment rates —15 percent for those without a high school diploma; those with professional degrees, have unemployment rates at 1 percent, 2 percent or 3 percent, which are really quite low.”

Upgrade the teaching profession

Executive editor of the quarterly journal Steven Lanza told his audience at CEA that education is as important as economic development or job programs.

CEA wants all children to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to prosper. CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine said, “Teachers know what’s needed to take on the challenges we face. Finland, for example, reduced its achievement gap through a comprehensive approach that included a major upgrade of the teaching profession. In other nations the norm is to provide teachers with continuous feedback, time to collaborate, support, mentoring, and professional respect. In an era of rising standards and increased workloads, we owe our own teachers nothing less.”

Finnish teachers spend nearly half their in-school time in professional development and collaborative planning. Our system, in contrast, too often struggles to attract and retain high-quality teachers, according to Loftus Levine.

In Connecticut, urban school districts have become teacher training grounds for advantaged school districts. An estimated 20 percent of urban district teachers leave every year, oftentimes for higher-paying jobs in advantaged communities.

“I’ve been out on a listening tour across the state, and what I’m hearing is that teachers are working harder than ever against the odds, and they want to do an even better job to help our young people succeed,” said Loftus Levine.

The CEA Executive Director, who wrote the back page article for the economic journal, says teachers know what’s needed to take on the challenges we face, but they aren’t getting the respect other professionals receive.

“Teachers are being more and more demoralized. The tenor at the bargaining table is not good. Unfortunately, teachers are feeling the brunt of our economic problems, like everyone else in the middle class.”

What can we do?

Raise the status of the teaching profession in the U.S.

“It’s the connection between how you select, train, display and regard teachers and how those things translate into more effective teaching and learning,” said Loftus Levine.

CEA supports a Professional Standards Board to elevate the teaching profession to a status reflective of the training and commitment of its members, particularly in the area of certification.

Teacher salaries

An article and graph in the quarterly journal points to the variation of teacher salaries and how they play out across towns in Connecticut. Not surprisingly, average elementary school teacher salaries are highest in towns that can most afford them.

“Economists have known for a long time that good schools do translate into more expensive homes. And that residents are more than willing to pay more money in local taxes in order to live a community where they can send their kids to better schools,” said Lanza.

Click here for a complete copy of The Connecticut Economy.

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge

$50 million in federal funding is available to improve early childhood education.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine (right) told other members of Connecticut’s Early Childhood Education Cabinet that educators recognize the critical importance of quality pre-K. At left is State Senator Andrea Stillman, co-chair of the legislature's Education Committee.

“I know we can do this.” That’s the message from Governor Dannel P. Malloy to members of Connecticut’s Early Childhood Education Cabinet working on a $50 million grant from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve early childhood education. The grant is part of the Early Learning Challenge, a piece of the Race to the Top education-reform competition launched in 2009.

In addressing the panel at the Legislative Office Building today, the governor said it’s important to seek federal assistance to help close the state’s achievement gap and to make sure no child is denied an opportunity to age appropriate education because of their parents’ financial situation. And he said, “We know what must be done.”

“Urban teachers, rural teachers, suburban teachers—they all know what it’s going to take to improve the quality of the product as it comes to our formalized kindergarten through grade 12 program,” said Malloy. “Let’s go after this grant, and design programs to make sure we get it right in Connecticut, and we get it right sooner than later.”

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine listened to Governor Malloy address the Early Childhood Education Cabinet.

The Governor said, “Anytime we deny some group of children the ability to meet their maximum—to be as good a student, as good a citizen, as good a worker as they possibly can be, in this very competitive economic environment—we are failing that child.”

CEA Executive director Mary Loftus Levine, a member of the cabinet, says educators recognize the critical importance of quality pre-K to the development of Connecticut’s youngest children.

“We need to focus on literacy skills, high-quality instruction and programs, and having highly qualified and certified teachers for our youngest children. Time is not a renewable resource for these children, so the time to act is now,” said Levine.

To win the grants, states are required to submit applications showing evidence of their commitment to a series of reforms, including the coordination and improvement of multiple early childhood programs designed for children from birth through age five.

Rep. Andy Fleischman, co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, said legislation (SB 1103) enacted last spring to create a coordinated system of early childhood care laid the foundation that the group is aiming to build upon.

The cabinet’s next meeting is Sept. 22. Applications are due October 19, and winners will be announced before December 31.

For more information visit