Executive Perspective                                     Page 47


Connecticut’s Model for




 Daniel Domenech

“Current reform efforts simply attempt to tweak the system. It’s like putting wings on an ocean liner and expecting it to fly,” says Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

His organization, CAPSS, recently engaged in a visioning exercise that may well be transformative. The association has developed a document that has captured the attention of Connecticut legislators and the governor.

“Our educational system is not currently designed to ensure that every kid graduates to be college and career ready. The system was set up to provide the opportunity, but a lot of our students don’t take it,” Cirasuolo says.

He assembled a group of 17 CAPSS members and gave them access to national experts on transformational issues, charging the group with the development of specific recommendations that would transform Connecticut’s public education system. The result is an impressive document that could become the road map for change in that state and a model for other states interested in something more than tweaking the existing system.

Personalizing Learning
“NextEd: Transforming Connecticut’s Education System” offers 10 policy recommendations that, if enacted, could realize the changes in schooling that educators long have sought but were unable to implement because of existing laws, rules and regulations.

“NextEd” wants to personalize learning to give all students the opportunity to learn. The quest for individualized learning in education dates back to the ’70s and programs such as Kettering’s Individually Guided Education, but it never has been realized because our schools are structured to conform to time rather than what is learned. Our education system seems more concerned with whether students learn what they need to know within a 13-year period, as opposed to learning what is needed without regard to time.

The report recommends that Connecticut’s school systems measure a child’s progress based on demonstrated competency, not seat time. “Enable students to advance through school, and ultimately graduate, based on their demonstration of essential knowledge, skills and dispositions — not on the time they’ve spent in class,” says the report.

This only can happen in a system that personalizes learning, allowing students to learn at their own pace, not a pace arbitrarily set for the whole class by the curriculum and the teacher. Today, technological advances can make personalized learning a reality.

Highly trained teachers and principals will be essential to the paradigm shift from time to learning, so one of the recommendations addresses the need for skilled educators who have a significant amount of “clinical” experiences.

Realizing the importance of early childhood education, “NextEd” advocates for making both preschool education universally available for all 3- and 4-year-olds and full-day kindergarten.

“NextEd” also considers the need to offer our students more choices. The report recommends we “allow students and their parents to choose from a menu of options, including magnet schools, charter schools and vocational-technical schools, as well as different schedules and curricula, all within the jurisdiction of the local school district.”

The current emphasis on college prep ignores the reality that not all students want a college degree, and by eliminating curricular options, we are forcing many students to drop out of high school without the skills that would allow them to be productive members of our workforce.

Outside Respect
Much of the thinking behind the report took place in monthly meetings over 18 months, leading to the committee’s consensus on the recommendations. Last summer, the report was widely circulated among CAPSS members. The document grabbed the attention of the news media, and presentations were made to editorial boards, resulting in a positive endorsement by the Hartford Courant and a subsequent meeting with the governor and his senior staff.

Cirasuolo is hopeful all the attention will lead to changes in public policy. He wants the state to make available $50,000 planning grants to school districts that would pilot some of the report’s recommendations.

Imagine a state where policymakers and the media respect and pay attention to recommendations made by education leaders for the transformation of their schools. Will wonders never cease?

The full report can be downloaded at www.ctnexted.org.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org


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