10/23: Chris Kafoglis

Chris Kafoglis, this week’s speaker, has taught in Connecticut for 20 years and is currently a teacher leader at High School in the Community, an alternative, teacher-run school in New Haven. The school, founded in the 70s, began without a classroom, and focused on experience-based learning in the community (#Dewey). Today, High School in the Community is a turnaround school governed by four “teacher leaders”, and is implementing mastery-based learning assessment models (students are evaluated only on the basis of readiness for advancement). Chris used a Prezi presentation platform for his talk, which can be accessed at this link.

When asked about our impressions of No Child Left Behind, the class responded overwhelmingly negative. Chris – like many teachers – agreed, but had one defense for NCLB: it forced schools to focus on every kid. At testing time, he said, there is a strategy for every kid, but not every strategy is a good one (examples of bad ones: moving kids to different grades, teachers and administrators changing answers, etc). Race to the Top did not effectively replaced NCLB, but presented a competitive bidding system for states to get money for education from the federal government.

Other issues we mentioned were tenure, unions, failing schools (“dropout factories”), early childhood (the one issue on which we all agree), vouchers, teacher certification, and leadership, which Chris believes should be given more attention.

We watched these three videos, which detailed three perspectives:

  1.  back-to-basics, throwing money at the problem doesn’t help
  2. charter schools skim the most promising students from disadvantaged populations but have the ability to reject the neediest kids (homeless children, severely disabled children), we must actually address the root causes of low performance
  3.  increasing spending (which we’ve been doing since the 1970s) doesn’t improve schools, federal government programs don’t improve schools, empowering parents via choice does work, and states should have the power to create standards improve teaching, provide options

Based on these perspectives, what is school reform about? Money? School choice? Performance? Test scores? Measurement? Chris says school reform efforts fall into two major camps: teaching and learning versus structure and governance.

Charter schools are impressive. Classrooms look successful, teachers look dynamic, results are often positive. Kids that get into good charter schools do well. They’re especially impressive to the corporate leaders that fund those schools.

Stefan Pryor, Connecticut Commissioner of Education, has experience as a leader in both charter and non-charter public schools in the state. He – and many others – believe that schools can be successful if they can adopt the organization and practices of charter schools.

The current atmosphere of education reform in the state, however, is resoundingly pro-charter. The public school people feel like they are being charter-ized, Chris says, by Governor Malloy’s plan to re-organize. Teachers feel disempowered and criticized. Basic elements of Malloy’s plan (which we’ve discussed before): develop better teachers (raise the bar for entry to certification programs), making teaching more appealing to recent college grads (loan forgiveness programs, etc.), teacher evaluation (new five levels for differentiated teacher ratings), focus on turnaround schools, remove red tape, early childhood education, and  expand availability of high-quality models.

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