By Brian Zahn, New Haven Register
The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents has unveiled its public policy goals for 2016, reflecting its vision of schools that teach students to demonstrate mastery and receive more funding from the state.
In a meeting with the New Haven Register editorial board, CAPSS Executive Director Joseph Cirasuolo said the organization identified three themes to advocate in 2016: equity, excellence and innovation.
One of the proposals would see a shift to personalized learning.
“We issued a report four years ago calling for a major transformation, making sure every kid leaves us ready for the next step,” he said.
For example, according to Cirasuolo, schools currently require all students to spend 180 days in a classroom over the course of 13 years to receive a diploma, but the amount of learning that a valedictorian receives differs greatly from that of whichever student graduates last in the class.
“Time is the constant; we’ve got them for 13 years, and how much they learn is the variable,” he said. “We need to switch that and make learning the constant and time the variable so kids get the time they need to learn what they need to learn.”
Cirasuolo said that ultimately, CAPSS’s vision would group students based on their mastery of material and place them on their own path, instead of requiring them to master material at the same rate as their peers of the same age.
Holding children back, he said, is just as disadvantageous to a child as pushing them along. With the absence of grades, he said, students will be less self-conscious about how they identify in their learning progression.
Under the CAPSS vision, standardized tests would be offered four times a year, and teachers would determine which students they believe are on schedule to take the exams. Cirasuolo said CAPSS also recommends in its agenda that testing not be used for teacher and administrator evaluations until at least the 2017-18 school year.
“If we can get the kind of testing system we’re calling for, state tests become not the determiner but the verifier,” he said. “Now it becomes the one thing anybody looks at, when there are a lot of things to look at.”
Cirasuolo said that underneath a personalized learning program, test performance would be reflective of teacher performance because it would demonstrate whether students aren’t performing up to standard while on a pathway that suits their learning needs best.
CAPSS also is calling for a fair amount of financial reforms, including a recommendations to lift the state’s 2.5 percent spending cap on municipal budgets included in the annual Implementer bill, which Cirasuolo argues subsequently limits the amount of funding public school districts receive, and to increase the Education Cost Sharing system by 4 percent. Cirasuolo said the ECS grant has been flat-funded for “effectively seven years” and the state and municipalities both must work harder to fund education.
“I worked for 23 years as a superintendent and no one ever came to me and said, ‘Joe, this is a good year so ask for what you want,’” he said.
Still, he contends that the state is not funding special education and less-affluent school districts fairly.
“We have two specific recommendations, and they’re not going to solve this problem in two years by any means,” he said.
Cirasuolo also said state mandates have greatly limited innovation among competent teachers and administrators.
“We need to get a good handle on the mandates and how much they cost and what they’re doing to us so we can remove the ones that don’t make sense,” he said. “Mandate relief is going to be a big part of what we talk about this year.”
Additional CAPSS recommendations include increasing stability for superintendents by removing the three-year statutory limit on contracts, greater financial incentives for experienced teachers and administrators to come out of retirement and a reformation of the way districts must demonstrate the burden of proof in due process hearings for parents who disagree with special education programs provided for their children.