George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.
www.asthma-drsprecace.com


Public Education in New London, CT and Elsewhere in 1997 and Beyond
BY GEORGE A. SPRECACE, M.D., J.D.

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT LYING TO A PERSON WILL IRRITATE HIM, WHILE TELLING HIM THE TRUTH CAN INFURIATE HIM.  THERE ARE NO LIES IN WHAT FOLLOWS.

This paper and the subsequent newspaper statement are the result of substantial research and numerous interviews personally conducted by me with teachers, parents and administrators of the New London Public School System - on condition of anonymity - in the summer of 1997.  There is evidence that little has changed since then, especially as reflected in the poor showing of the students in this system on this year’s State testing efforts.  If I am in error here, I would appreciate learning about it, with facts,  either privately or by way of public media.

The paper consists of three parts.  Section 1 includes relevant facts obtained from a  review  of pertinent newspaper and other media sources over the prior eight months.  Section 2 is a summary of interview comments made by teachers,  administrators and parents, provided as background and not for specific attribution.  Section 3 is a list of resulting themes for change offered by the participants and by myself to improve the current status and direction of public education,  in an urban setting and in the often self-satisfied but also afflicted suburban settings.  It is offered for the benefit of the students, teachers and parents, and also for the benefit of the remaining citizenry rightly concerned about the market value of their real estate  property, given the central inportance of a good public school system to that value.  This is not an effort to place blame, for there is plenty to go around, but rather a personal effort of a life-long student and former member and President of the Board of Education to offer an accurate diagnosis and to recommend useful treatment.

SECTION I - Facts

A. General

1. One recent book on education in the United States decries the lack of accountability, but opines that the SAT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT exams are "stupid".  What?!

2. Education is "a remarkably unwatched industry" despite the expendi ture of massive public funds.

3. Today, college students take an average of six years to earn a baccalaurate degree; half of those who matriculate do not graduate.  Twenty-five per cent never become sophomores.  Only twenty per cent of today's college students are under 22, enrolled full-time, and living on campus.  Desperate for funds, most institutions, except the fifty elite universities – out of 2100 – which control 60% of all endowments, are lowering academic standards to attract the raw material (students) they need to survive.

4. The average college student does about 29 hours of work per week compared with 60 hours performed by students in the early 1960's.

5. Ad unct faculty, the migrant workers of academia, account for 40-50 per cent of all undergraduate teaching, as compared with 22 per cent in the early 1970's.  They are poorly paid and thus are required to hold multiple appointments, minimizing their contact time with students.

6. Twenty per cent of college graduates work in jobs that do not require a college degree.

B. Facts About the New London Education System.
Seventy per cent of New London students are non-white (86% at Edgerton School).  This school system is the fourth poorest in the State In terms of needy students, where over 60% of students qualify for school meals and other support.  The New London system is In the top three for drop-outs in the State.  The New London system scored worse in standardized testing than all their counterparts in the region.

New London.High School has not had specific graduation criteria.  Principal Allen recommends implementation of such criteria for graduates in 2008!

At this time algebra is not required for graduation, and foreign languages are elective.

Regarding improving math and language offerings: "This would require more teachers". (What are the teachers doing in a high school that is currently. operating at 50% of capacity?)

Both Edgerton School Principal, Anna James and William Garcia of Centro dela Communidad critized bilingual education in New London.  Edgerton School is the home of bilingual education in New London.

Magnate Schools, prompted in part by Sheff v. O'Neil, are increasingly specialized.  They get tuition payments from the home school district, but are run by regional, education services, not by the school district.  They provide less of the basics, already insufficient, and emphasize specialties like performing arts, music... There are twelve such schools in the State, with 15 more planned.

A recent United States Supreme Court case will allow public funds for school housing and equipment for public school teachers to work with private and parochial schools in remedial education.

Connecticut has the nations highest per capita income; however, Connecticut high school graduates earn mediocre grades in several categories based upon 75 nation-wide parameters. (Elaine Maynard Adams, New London School Board member. has been quoted as calling the whole issue of accountability “worthless" - The Day, January 20, 1997).

Reading recovery programs in New London. utilize teachers at a cost of $750,000 per year.  Why is this needed?  What is wrong with regular reading instructions?  Federal funds pay teacher's salaries only for specific remedial programs!

The charter school in New London is a middle school, racially diverse (Minority population 45%), concentrating on arts and languages.  These schools look for "creativity and flexibility...to break the mold".  Connecticut will have room for 999 students out of  one half million students in the public schools.  Connecticut will pay $6000 per student in charter schools, more than nearly all public schools receive per student.  Schools are run by a Board of Directors chosen by the applicant charter group, not politically elected or publically accountable.  There are charter schools in sixteen states and the District of Columbia.  They have been criticized as costly and piece-meal and still considered experimental.

NEW LONDON IS A TYPICAL URBAN CENTER WITH PROBLEMS SIMILAR TO OTHER URBAN CENTERS THAT MUST BE ADDRESSED AND DEALT WITH.  SEE BELOW.

SECTION I I - Comments from school professionals (teachers/administrators) and parents

A. General

1. The public schools can teach, or they can do intensive social work; they can not do both.  Currently, too much teacher and administration time has to be spent on medical and social child care and on surrogate parenting to leave time for adequate teaching.  Thus, good teaching and learning are not uniformly taking place in the schools.

2. Mainstreaming is a laudable goal; but it does not work for any of the participants when medically or behaviorally affected students disrupt the primary function of the classroom, which is effective teaching and learning.  Under those circumstances, such students should be handled specially and separately.

3. Bilingual education is a failure for too many students.  A maximum of two years should be provided to assist in the complete assimilation of a student into English classes.

4. The current system is cheating students and parents and taxpayers alike.  There are absent or unclear standards for proficiency in reading, writing and arithemetic at each class level.  There is non compliance with existing standards, resulting in improper student advancement.  There is little integration among the core subjects.  There is definite tracking of many students based upon prejudice (not racism) regarding the abilities of black students.  They can do, given the opportunity, which is frequently denied them by counselors and administration.

5. The Board is charged with teaching the student as he or she presents to the school regardless of the baggage.  The Board must figure out how to do this without getting lost handling the baggage.

6. Parenting, both in quality and quantity, is a massive problem here.  A functioning two-parent family is the best and is the goal; but an involved single parent is better than a dysfunctional two-parent family.  And in urban centers, one-parent families are the rule for the majority of students, a fact without easy remedy and the result of three generations of stupidity by individuals, liberal do-gooders and misguided government.  The system and society just have to deal with this fact.  The best way is for the school system, especially individual teachers, to involve the parent very early and often in the school process: to contact them, offering dialogue, expecting and insisting upon parental involvement.

7. The misuse of both prescription drugs (including Ritalin by the school system) and the use of illicit drugs are big problems.  Individual communities and neighborhoods are organizing to deal internally; but they need public guidance and support.  In that way the communities should monitor their own.

8. Teachers should be periodically rotated among all New London schools to avoid burn-out / apathy which is a big problem in some schools after years of crisis handling.

9. Goals should be educational and social integration and not separatism or “multi-culturalism", another term for a benign racism.  The latter would produce a permanent second-class citizenry.  Also, great deal of good will existing in the majority population in favor of integration would be lost and converted to disengagement and even contempt if separatism becomes the avowed goal.

10. The above requires strong leadership at all levels, better than we have had in recent years.

B. Specifics
1. There are serious problems academically with children entering high school, especially in math and in the ability to articulate ideas. (Reading and Writing)

2. There is too much reliance on computers and calculators.  Children are entering the ninth grade unable to do simple arithmetic.  High school students are approaching college with only two years of diluted math education, poorly prepared.  Math is an important tool and is culturally neutral.  A college bound student must be prepared from the first grade.

3. Many children have trouble settling down, related in some to ADD and in others to lack of discipline and structure in the remainder of their lives.  Special needs students are not average but are not as troubled as special education students.  Special needs students are mainstreamed, however, some still present in diapers.  Such children should be mainstreamed only when this does not disrupt the class - a frequent situation in our schools.  Currently, mainstreaming involves having very disturbed children in general classrooms and at best teaching to the middle, shortchanging the needs of both lower and upper groups.  Also, the behavior of special needs students affects the behavior of all the other children.

4. Bilingual education has been a failure; total immersion is better.

5. Much teacher time is taken up with non-educational work involving medical, social and behavioral challenges of the children with chaotic homelife.  School should not be the setting for that, but must deal with it effectively as a societal and federal mandate.

6. Teachers have reservations regarding alternative schools.  However, if combined with vouchers and promoting parental school choice in competition with public schools, this may be stimulatory for benefit.

7. Public schools are geared to a mediocre level, sights set too low.  This affects, all the children.  It is unfair and unnecessary.

8. There is criticism of the administration which reportedly delegates responsibility but does not follow through.  There are special problems at specific schools.

9. Regarding teacher continuing education, the requirement is 90 hours of continuing educational unit over a five year period.  There should be much higher requirements.

10. Teachers do not speak out publically.  Each principal has an autocratic fiefdom under the present administration.  This is not conducive to collegiality and professionalism and to appropriate and timely input from the teachers.

11. The Education Profession continues to do raw experimentation using this or that new idea.  It is a weakness of the profession.  The most recent and current example is "the latest education disaster: whole math".

12. In surburban schools, children do well.  They come from stable families or at least an involved parent, and they are generally preparing for college.  There is no mainstreaming which would disrupt the class activities.  There is increased autonomy of teachers regarding how to teach.  All schools in all communities have many resources for teachers and students.That should not be the problem.

13. In New London, (an urban setting) teachers must be everything to the children: "teacher, parent, nurse, social worker, psychologist – “We can't do it”.

14. The various New London grammar schools are not alike.

15. There is no full-day kindergarten in New London but rather a lottery to get into full-day kindergarten.  This is a gross deficiency.  Children must have full-day kindergarten where actual teaching takes place.  Children are ready for it.  Not much actual teaching takes place currently.  Children should be literate by the end of the first grade.

16. Class sizes are too large, averaging 26-28 for second graders.  Such classes including 4-5 severe problems or 7-8 disturbed children.

17. We must get to the child before he becomes a total failure.  "Being a loser comes into consciousness by the end of the first grade".

18. Many urban children are malnourished in every way. (fetal, environment, nurturing, special medical problems, nutrition...)

19. The education system must do.more with the same dollars.  There are no more funds available.  Therefore, the education profession and industry need a revolution of the sort shaking up the medical profession.

20. Meanwhile, Administration asserts the following:

1. That New London schools have developed a unity of purpose, with a stress on test grades and on continuing improvement.  The new techonology grant will be a help.

2. The system contributes positively to the upbringing and socialization of its students.

3. Compassion for the lives of many urban students, where poverty is the main issue, is legitimate and natural for teachers.

4. Urban schools have to deal with what they are presented, and this adversely affects their main mission: teaching.

5. Mainstreaming, defined as the least restrictive environment comparable with the special students needs, is federal law.  But the teachers in the system can still separate the child where mainstreaming demonstrably does not work or is too disruptive.  This takes conferences, documentation and time.  Some teachers and administrators don't make use of the available procedures. This inaction relates to burn-out, apathy, self-protection.

6. Bilingual education is also the law.  It generally takes five or six years of this to allow students, some of whom arrive in this country without language skills in any language, to be changed to English-only classes.

7. Urban centers - and urban problems - are the result of the same dynamics that produced ltalian, Irish, Jewish, Polish and other ghettos earlier in this century.

8. The decline of empires (e.g., Roman Empire) can be traced to the abandonment of their cities. "Don't do this”.

9. Realistically, initiatives like Sheff v. O'Neill cannot suceed in integrating economically disparate communities that don't want it.  Thus, bring the urban communities and suburbs up to same standard, whatever the effect this has on de facto integration.  Economic integration and everything that follows, including social and ethnic integration depends upon young people having the necessary educational tools to enter the common job market.

10. The administration believes in and stresses standardized testing, including national testing.  The administration believes in a role for alternatives like magnet school (possibly also charter schools) but has a problem with vouchers for religious schools, citing the issue of separation of Church and State.

11. The administration is not satisfied with the performance at any grade level in this system.

12. The rise from 30% non-white school population in the late 1960's to 50% in 1980, to 71% in 1997 was gradual.  However, experience in other urban areas points to a rapid increase in that percentage after 70% is reached.

13. We cannot be teaching institutions and also orphanages.  But we must provide societal support to kids in the absence of home support; and we must stress better learning.

14. The key is to begin early with pre-school etc.

15. There is no extra money within the system.  Even at New London High School there has been a great increase in required special programs, utilizing teachers in those directions.  Therefore, the system "needs more money to do all. this'.'

16. Some rotating of teacher assignment is 'already done.  This will be considered further.

17. The main criteria in the search for a new superintendent is "be flexible, have negotiating skills, and stress demonstrable teaching and learning.

SECTION III - Themes for Change

1. Stress teaching in schools over social service activity.  Demand outside support for those activities wherever teaching is affected.

2. Eliminate mainstreaming where this is not compatible with teaching to a high standard.  Eliminate teaching to the middle, or just muddling through.

3. Totally revise the concept of bilingual education.  English must be the primary language within two years, with integration at that time into regular classes.

4. Adopt clear standards for proficiency in each of the core subjects (reading, writing, mathematics) and teach integration among those skills.  Have the student repeat classes, at any level, if standards are not achieved.

5. Give all students the benefit of the doubt, and clearly outline the implications of low tracking to the involved students.

6. Involve the parent early and often.  Work with what you have in each family and leave it to society and common sense to deal with the underlying problem of family structure over the next generation.

7. No tolerance for drug misuse.  In this regard demand parental, community and official involvement.  Jail any drug pusher.

8. The goal is educational and social integration and assimilation, not separatism and racism/multi-culturalism.

9. Demand strong leadership committed to the above goals.  Otherwise, fire recalcitrant individuals, seek better leadership.

10. We must have full-time kindergarten for all and also pre-school opportunity for all.

11. Should have smaller classes, more homogeneous regarding ability and problems.

12. Emphasize math and science, as well as Englishl, as culture-neutral and vital to college track and success in general.

13. Give more autonomy to teachers; encourage dialogue with whistle-blower protections.  Also demand more of teachers initially regarding credentials and more continuing.education units.

14. Seek excellence in our education industry"; the whole city has a big stake in this.

15. Eliminate individual failure.  Every kid should be helped to be a winner in something no matter how much time and special effort that takes.  Our children are too valuable a resource for us to waste, as we are doing.

16. Set clear goals for any alternative schools using public funds or discontinue the public funds.  Endorse vouchers for private schools to introduce competition and to eliminate monopoly although with guarantees that "cherry picking" will not be allowed.

17. Affirmative action may have a role, but only where standards are not reduced to favor one group over another.  Maintain the standards and help each student achieve those standards.

18. Avoid divorce, involve parents, be alert for child abuse.

George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.
Chairman, Education Committee
August 20, 1997
 

PUBLIC EDUCATION IN NEW LONDON
- REPORT CARD -
This report on the second PUBLIC EDUCATION SEMINAR recently held represents the consensus of opinions developed by the participants.  The entire discussion was based upon a 10-page report, available at the public library, the result of relevant research and interviews with teachers, administrators and parents.  Read the paper.  Listen to the voices.
1) Public education generally, and particularly in urban centers, is the “Disease of the Year”, a chronic illness which is worsening with each marking period.  Students are being badly shortchanged by the system.
2) The deterioration of basic school structure, involving family support, mutual respect and discipline - especially self-discipline - will be reversed only through effective political action, beginning with school parent/teacher committees demanding appropriate changes from the Board of Education.  It was acknowledged that it is the board that runs the system, and that the superintendent, although important as the administrator and professional consultant, is not the most important element.  Thus, in the coming election the selection of board members is probably the most important choice to be made.
3) The failure of bilingual education programs to assimilate Hispanic children into the dominant American language and culture will only be reversed when the parents and relatives of those children demand better results.  Failure to master the English language in this country is a ticket to permanent second class status.
4) Alternatives to the existing public education system are desirable to break the current stagnant monopoly.  But magnet and charter schools must be closely monitored for results, which have been lacking in some other pans of the country.  The issue of vouchers, which would guarantee all children equal opportunity for alternative private and parochial schools, is still controversial precisely because they are effective where implemented.  That issue will be resolved only when those children and parents, without such a mechanism to pay for alternatives, demand it.
5) It was clear that racial integration, as endorsed by Martin Luther King and now by the vast majority of Americans, is greatly to be preferred to any “Multiculturalism", benign racism or Balkanization of America.  Economic integration in a free society can only be achieved through effective education, as distinguished from feel-good fadism.
6) Our teachers should be personal and professional resources to the community.  However, they appear either worn-out or apathetic or intimidated, and thus are not available to serve this function.  They must be empowered and protected in order to speak freely on the issues.  This involves “Whistle-blower Protection”, both with regard to the school administration and regarding their follow teachers and union members.  This matter should be addressed in all teacher union contracts.
Finally, it was clear that this effort is not a “flash in the pan”.  We will continue to monitor and speak out on the issues facing public education in New London until the function is no longer necessary.  Certainly a change in the membership of the Board of Education would go a long way to obviate our regular involvement.  This patient is seriously ill.  The doctors are the citizens of New London.  The operation will take place on Tuesday, November 4, in the polling booths.  Good luck to us all, and especially to the children.
George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.
THE DAY, SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12,1997


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