Wednesday, August 31, 2011


As the State continues to climb out of the mess left behind by Tropical Storm Irene, the authors of Throwing Curves send our best thoughts and hopes to the residents of Connecticut and the East Coast.

Many, many schools had to start the year with cancelled classes - Connecticut still has a long list of school closings across the State. Schools are without power or are being used as emergency shelters for residents that need them.

How fortunate we are that schools are so well-built that they can shelter people in times of need as well as provide shelter for young growing minds in better times. It is a reminder of how important a good school is to a community -- especially in the many small towns of New England.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Waterbury Teachers May Have To Pay For Costs Of Cheating

The Connecticut Post reported that the State Department of Education may try to get a law passed to make teachers caught cheating to pay for the costs of investigating and correcting the problems caused by their cheating.

It surely seems like a good idea -- the costs to the State of cheating scandals is large. Investigators have to be paid, students will need to be retested, and well, apparently there's a lot of money at stake. If teachers and administrators were involved in actually changing student answers to fake passing the CMT, then they clearly have some personal responsibility for their actions.

And what these "educators" have done is just like stealing.

But, that being said, they aren't the only ones to blame these days. There are a lot of people out there that have claimed to educate students, but given them a sham. The State is to blame for setting such low and vague standards that they could be met merely by exposing students to a topic. Meeting the state standards should mean you've learned something.  All too often the standards are set so low that anything will count.

Then there are the Boards of Education that set graduation requirements so low that a high school diploma ceases to mean anything.  And the curriculum administrators that force teachers to use a new program because someone at a conference somewhere convinced them it would solve all of their problems, or purchased programs because they claimed to be "research-based" but never bothered to read or evaluate the quality of that research.

The textbook companies and myriad of education companies that create appealing, but vacuous, curriculum and materials, and reap the profits of our schools' failures. Yes, they are to blame too. 

Or the schools of education that have set the bar so low, and removed all elements of content from the required knowledge of newly minted teachers, that they are not prepared (by any measure) to take on a classroom and succeed.

And then there are the unions and the teachers themselves, that have watched passively as their profession lost credibility and respect, and spent too much time protecting the incompetent and not enough time worrying about what is best for students.

And, finally, parents need to be honest ourselves. We've trusted too much, and we've happily believed that we could just pop the little ones on the bus and all would be well.

So let's beat up on the dishonest teachers of Waterbury -- those that knowingly changed student answers should pay the costs of their actions. But the widespread problems of our failing education system will not be addressed until we take a critical and honest look at all levels of the education bureaucracy. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lots of Education News

It is hard to believe how much activity the realm of education has experienced this summer. And Connecticut has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it seems.

First, there was the Board of Education drama in Bridgeport -- in which the elected members decided to throw their hands in the air and leave all of the most difficult decisions to unelected persons appointed by the State. The sad thing is, the unelected Board looks much more promising than the disbanded Board that had been picked by the voters. Coleman has put together an impressive list of people to serve on the Bridgeport Board -- the retired President of Bridgeport Hospital, a professor of teacher preparation from Sacred Heart University, an executive from People's Bank in Bridgeport, and the list goes on. I wonder -- why didn't these people run for the Board? How come people of high caliber are willing to serve on the Board of a troubled school system, but are not willing to stand for election for the same Board?  Actually, the answer is obvious, when you think about it. There are very few things most of us would find more unappealing than standing for election in any city in this country.

Second, the Waterbury School system continues to be rocked by the cheating scandal. In case you missed it, Waterbury teachers are suspected of changing student answers on the CMT to improve the scores of the students they failed to teach. The latest reports are that 17 teachers and administrators have been placed on leave. Seventeen! But the State insists that there's no evidence of widespread cheating in Connecticut. I wonder how hard the State is looking for such evidence?

Finally, the Connecticut teachers union made the mistake of posting on their website a power point presentation that was shocking in its self-congratulatory tone describing in detail how the union "succeeded" in denying parents the right to insist on closing or reforming perpetually failing schools. If you'd like to take a look at the power point -- here's a link to it: Parent Trigger Power Point

That seems like enough bad news for today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Still More on Vocational and Technical Education

In case you missed it, the New York Times did  a long article on Saturday on the fate of Career and Technical Education schools: Tough Calculus as Technical Schools Face Deep Cuts.

Federal funding to vocational and technical schools could be cut by 20% in the next budget. In States like Connecticut, where state funding is disappearing as well, this could mean the closing of many technical high schools.

These cuts are baffling -- technical high schools have a much higher graduation success rate than general "comprehensive" high schools -- 90% for technical high schools v. 75% at a traditional high school.

And the success of these schools doesn't come by lowering standards. In fact, in a recent survey, employers were much happier with students coming from technical high schools than traditional ones.

And the Times article points to a Massachusetts analysis that technical high school graduates actually do better on reading and math tests than traditional high schools. With such a strong record of achievement, our elected leaders would do better increasing funding to technical high schools, rather than cutting it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Strange happenings in Bridgeport

In a new first for Connecticut, the Bridgeport Board of Education simply gave up on the task of creating a budget and educating the kids.  Things are so bad in Bridgeport that the elected Board members believe that strangers and outsiders would better serve the needs of their children. They are most probably correct, but it is still a sad day when acrimony between board members is so terrible that they give up the job and walk away.

The Bridgeport school board requested that the State Department of Education take over the operation of the schools. The local elected leaders will be replaced by a five member panel appointed by acting commissioner of education, George Coleman. The press on this suggests that the main reason for the imploding of the Bridgeport school board is the inability of board members to "get along" and act like grown-ups.

The take-over by the state of Connecticut's second largest school district (with 31 schools, Bridgeport has about 20,000 students enrolled) has also been driven by the $18 million budget short-fall. However, the State has said that it will not have any money available to increase the Bridgeport budget. Basically, the State will decide what to cut and what to save, rather than local elected board members.

Maybe that's for the best as the Board of Education has managed to hire more than 100 administrators making more than $100,000 each, with little to show for it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Technical High Schools Do A Better Job In Connecticut

Employers looking to hire new workers for manufacturing jobs find graduates of Connecticut's technical high school system to be much better prepared than those coming out of our traditional high schools. A just released survey of business and manufacturing companies in Connecticut demonstrates the strength of the technical education system. 61% of employers said they were satisfied or highly satisfied with employees coming out of the technical high schools, but only 28% were satisfied with those coming from a traditional high school.

Also interesting is that there is almost no difference in employer satisfaction with new workers who come from a 2-year community college versus a 4-year college.

But the survey was not all good news - despite a desire to hire more workers for good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, employers say they need a better trained workforce. The biggest problems? Lack of math and reading skills, poor work ethic, not showing up on time for work, and a lack of skills. 

The employer survey shows that there are companies looking to hire, but they need better employees with stronger education in the science and technical areas -- and basic skills are needed too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where did this past month go?

Yes, it has been a crazy month and neither Rosemary nor I have written a thing on our blog. Apologies to all. There have been graduations and travel and start of summer activities a plenty. Many days were spent doing interesting things, but computers were not a part of it.

In the meantime, here is a new blog to watch. Grace is putting up some interesting posts -- go check her out!

Cost of College