Alexander: Judge’s Decision Paves Way For “Bold, Systemic” School Change

Jennifer Alexander spent four hours watching a Connecticut judge on TV demand the kind of overhaul she’s been seeking for years in Connecticut schools.

Alexander, who runs the New Haven-based educational advocacy group ConnCAN, was watching the CT-N feed Wednesday of Judge Thomas Moukawsher reading a 254-page landmark decision in a decade-plus-old lawsuit seeking to change the way Connecticut funds its public schools.

Moukawsher declared that the state’s current educational system “unconstitutionally” deprives kids in poorer districts like New Haven of equal opportunities for education. He gave the state 180 days to fix how it distributes money, evaluates teachers, graduates “functionally illiterate” teens from high school, and funds special education.

In the process, Moukawsher seconded arguments Alexander has advanced about improving public education.

“This decision exceed expectations in terms of its sweeping ... condemnation of our educational system, which puts politics and the status quo over the best interests of the” children, Alexander said in an interview on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program. She said she hopes the decision leads to “bold and systemic change.”

“[T]he state is torn between the need for communal and objective standards and the apparently irresistible pressure for the idiosyncratic status quo,” the judge wrote in his opinion. “Instead of the state honoring its promise of adequate schools, this paralysis has left rich schools to flourish and poor school districts to flounder ... To keep its promise of adequate schools for all children, the state must rally more forcefully around troubled schools. It can’t possibly help them while standing on the sidelines imposing token statewide standards. And while only the legislature can decide precisely how much money to spend on public schools, the system cannot work unless the state sticks to an honest formula that delivers state aid according to local need.”

Read the judge’s decision here.

The judge noted in his opinion that evaluations almost always rate Connecticut teachers as effective. He called for that to change. He acknowledged arguments by the teachers union that teachers shouldn’t be held responsible for the extra problems many impoverished students bring into urban classrooms. But he also argued that the schools can deal with that challenge and still evaluate teachers more reasonably.

Alexander seconded that sentiment. Her group, a pro-charter school advocacy organization often at odds with teachers unions, calls for incorporating test scores into evaluations — but, she said, they can be used to measure students’ progress over the course of a year. “Student outcomes have to count in how we hire and promote teachers,” she argued. Poverty does impact learning, she said, but can be addressed through high expectation.

She also seconded the judge’s criticism of the legislature’s use of politics in, say, shifting millions of dollars from a poor performing district like Bridgeport to a wealthy suburban district like New Canaan, rather than adhering to the original vision of the Educational Cost-Sharing process. In responding to the judge’s order over the next 180 days, she said, the state should ditch ECS and the 11 different formulas it uses for funding schools and arrival at one formula based on addressing student learning needs where they’re greatest — in schools, for instance, with higher poverty rates, more England language learners.

Judge Maukawsher did not rule that the state has to spend more money overall on schools. Alexander said that she believes that “money alone is not going to solve our educational problems.”

She also repeated a call, which is bound to remain controversial in Hartford, that the state more fully fund charter schools. Advocates of traditional public schools accuse charters of draining needed public dollars from strapped schools left to deal with higher populations of low-performing and special-education students. Charter advocates deny the charge. “We have to spend our dollars where they’re going to work for kids,” even if that means parents have decided their kids will learn better in charters or magnet schools, Alexander argued.

Click on the audio file at the top of this story to hear the full interview with Alexander on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.”

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posted by: Burnsie on September 9, 2016  12:03am

As per usual Jennifer Alexander is totally on the wrong side of what is right for all of our children, parents and our national public school system as a whole. I understand that HER job depends on developing divisions between public schools and charter schools. Her ridiculous statements and stances on anything of real educational substance have been stated in the newspapers and at the legislature of which you can peruse at any time. ConnCan and their latest phony leader started out purportedly as public schools partners and now at every step of the way they berate the public schools and support charters as an alternative. The corporate takeover of education will never stop, for those who are moved by money do not care who they hurt on their way to personal riches. Jennifer should be ashamed of herself and privately I am sure she is—- for putting herself before what is best for all of our children. But that’s her job and as she matures I am sure she will regret what she did to harm your kids and mine. Maybe she’ll write a book—what the Judge did isn’t related in anyway to how Ms. Alexander is looking at it—-of course those with less need more—and will get it if this decision stands—-but what she wants is for this decision to enrich the Charter Movement at the expense of leaving those children most in need left behind—To all you parents out there please stand up for your child’s public school teachers and reject this Bernie Madoff move of privatizing our schools—Do not let these charlatans divide us—We are a Community not a Corporation and a Family not a Business—-these are your public schools—you own them and rightfully so—All the best—Tom Burns

posted by: Nashstreeter on September 9, 2016  12:39am

I don’t know why you let Jennifer Alexander be the go-to commenter on the judge’s ruling. She wants to privatize our school system. She wants to rate our educators and our students on a fraudulent testing system. Her charter schools thrive on the idea that public schools are failing, and therefore she has no ideas about how to fix them other than to turn them into charters.  Surely there must be someone else more dedicated to public education than she is.

posted by: Jeff Klaus on September 9, 2016  10:56am

When opponents of school choice are willing to exchange places with the parent of the child who is trapped in a failing school, only then do they have standing to ask others to not seek a better educational option for their child. 

I can’t understand how anyone who sends their own child to a private/parochial school, or has the resources to live in the suburbs can possibly be against school choice for others.

posted by: westville man on September 10, 2016  8:48am

Ps.  If you reply please answer this:

Would all of our children, regardless of income, be guaranteed a place in a “better” school?  That calls for a yes or no answer.

posted by: Jeff Klaus on September 10, 2016  9:18pm

If that question is directed at me, the answer is there are no guarantees - other than you would be guaranteed dollars which would give you the opportunity to have your child attend the school of your choice.  In America outcomes are not guaranteed.  Opportunity is, or ought to be.

posted by: 1644 on September 11, 2016  8:41am

In the opinion, I was struck by the 26% of Greenwich high school graduates who were not college or career ready.  While that figure is much lower than New Haven’s 64.5%, it shows that our public schools are failing to enforce meaningful standards even in our wealthiest community.

posted by: westville man on September 11, 2016  11:45am

I don’t know what happened to the first part of my comment. Only the PS came through but yes Jeff I was trying to answer your question about school choice. So I’ll try again.
  I can afford to send my daughter anywhere in the country. So why am I not for this so-called school choice? Because I believe many of our children Who need the choice will not be given it. The well-connected and certain students will. That’s why I asked about the guarantee – any child that wants a better school will be guaranteed a spot in that school ??  If not, we are setting up a deeper cast system. If the charter schools and public schools have the answers, then implement them into the public schools as they exist. Let’s not keep resegregate in our children. They’re already segregated enough.

posted by: Jeff Klaus on September 11, 2016  4:17pm

Westville Man, so you advocate for denying poor people the same opportunity you have for your kids to try to find a great school?  Even if you provide a financial backpack that allows them to pay tuition?  I don’t understand.  You have no guarantees either.  This is basic fairness.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 11, 2016  8:27pm

He s my take.School choice can be a fix for individuals, but it does not address systemic failures.

posted by: westville man on September 12, 2016  8:43am

JK-  are you reciting off a talking points memo??  I said precisley the opposite- if it doesnt serve everyone who wants a better education, then it will only serve the connected and certain students. My concern is that it will leave behind mostly children of color and poor folks, unless you can guarantee everyone who wants a spot will get one. Or are we back to the so-called “lottery” system?

That is my answer to your original question- why would someone who can afford any school be against this so-called school choice?  Because many will be left out.