Tag Archives: Dannel Malloy

Westport Businessmen: Connecticut Must Do Better

When Connecticut legislators passed a controversial budget bill earlier this month — which Governor Malloy has not yet signed, and is still being tinkered with — a number of business leaders howled. GE threatened to move.

Two Westport businessmen decided to do more than just complain. Bart Shuldman (a frequent “06880” commenter) and Steve Obsitnik (a former congressional candidate) organized a “business roundtable.” Set for this Friday (June 26, 9 a.m., Norwalk Inn), the aim is to discuss ways to improve the state’s business climate.

Governor Malloy was invited, but declined. So Shuldman and Obsitnik got another governor to speak: Florida’s Rick Scott.

“We need to know what competitive states like his are doing — so we can do better,” Shuldman says. “In business it’s called benchmarking — looking at the market and seeing best practices.”

The roundtable is an invitation-only event. But I’m sure Shuldman will provide “06880” with details.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Florida Governor Rick Scott

 

Testing, Testing

Across Connecticut this month, tens of thousands of 8th and 10th graders took standardized tests. Classroom instruction halted; bubbles were filled in; formulaic essays were churned out.

In Westport, most students sailed through. They finished early, and twiddled their thumbs. The vast majority of kids in our town pass the tests — easily.

At the same time, an “education reform” bill is headed to the state legislature’s Education Committee. It would substantially change the way teachers teach.

Nina Sankovitch — a Westporter for over 10 years, and the mother of 4 boys — is not a fan. Below, she explains why:

Did your kids enjoy preparing for and taking the CMT and CAPT tests during March? Tell them to get used to it. If Governor Malloy gets his way, our kids will be subjected to more statewide standardized testing. A lot more.

And student test scores on these standardized tests will be used to determine teacher compensation and advancement. The curriculum and teaching will be geared toward test taking.

Westport’s  school system is a good one.  By so-called “objective measures,” we are one of highest performing systems in the state, with kids doing well across the board on CMTs and CAPTs, as well as on SATs and ACTs. Our teachers are committed, smart and motivated, and our administrators are dedicated. The standing-room only “Back to School” nights attest to the commitment Westport parents have to their children’s education. It takes a village, and our village is doing its job.

Standardized tests often test how to take a standardized test.

So why are State Senator Toni Boucher and Governor Dan Malloy pushing an Education Reform Bill that will change the way Westport school administrators and teachers do their jobs?  The cited reason is the achievement gap between lowest and highest performing schools in Connecticut. Numerous years of data are pulled out to show how poor-performing schools are failing.

The same data show that in many school districts, students are succeeding.  For example, virtually all Westport 8th graders are proficient in reading, writing, math and science. Approximately 95% of Westport 8th graders meet or exceed the Connecticut goal scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test (2011). Statewide, about 2/3 of 8th grade students attain that level of competence.

Many other school districts achieve far better results than the state average, and several others have results close to Westport’s.  In other words, many school districts in the state do not need to “reform” their education systems.

Last Saturday, 10 teams of 5 Staples students each voluntarily spent from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the high school. They participated in the Spectacular Student Challenge -- a collaborative attempt to solve a real-world problem. They used 21st-century skills -- and they loved it. Here's one of those teams.

Students in some Connecticut school systems, however, are not meeting state mandated goals. In Bridgeport and Hartford, 2 of the worst performing districts, only 1 in 3 students meet the goal level.

What should Connecticut do to help struggling students? Governor Malloy and Toni Boucher apparently believe that imposing more testing and a wide array of associated requirements on all Connecticut students is the solution. But the needs of Bridgeport and Hartford students are far different from the needs of Westport students.

If you had a group of 50 people and 10 were overweight, would you put all 50 on a diet? Of course not. Fix what is broken, and let the rest of the schools in the state do the great job they are doing.

A numbing photo of a numbing way of learning.

We don’t know if testing students in troubled schools more than they are tested now will help one bit. But we do know that more state standardized testing of students in Westport and in other achieving schools in the state will do nothing to enhance the quality of learning for students in the non-achieving school districts. Malloy’s proposed policy is simply wrong for Westport students and teachers, and for similarly situated well-performing school districts.

For Westport students, expanding statewide testing beyond the CMTs and CAPT testing is a waste of time and resources. The costs of administering the tests are substantial. When we allocate a portion of the school budget to the days spent testing and preparing for such tests, the burden of such unnecessary testing on Westport taxpayers could be in the millions of dollars.

Governor Malloy believes that teacher compensation should be linked to student test scores. Malloy thinks this will “weed out” bad teachers.  Based on our experience of a cumulative total of over 30 years of Westport education of our 4 children, our local schools do not suffer from bad teachers.

Standardized tests are not what a Westport education is about.

But forcing our teachers to spend more time teaching to the test will sap their energy and diminish their morale while doing nothing to reward their enthusiasm for genuine teaching. Teachers come to Westport because they seek to engage students in a profound way – they do not wish to adhere to a narrow and shallow curriculum geared toward test taking, the results of which are aimed at enhancing the resume of politicians rather than improving the learning of students.

Poorly performing schools certainly need help, and a bill should be crafted that helps them. But don’t come up with a bill that has my kids and other Westport kids taking more standardized tests, that forces teachers to teach more and more to the test  (if your salary could go down if your students’ test scores go down, what would you do?), and that will inevitably lead to a more narrow and shallow curriculum.

Malloy’s one-size-fits-all approach is wrong for Westport and wrong for Connecticut. For Westport and other excellent school systems, it will lead to greater boredom in the classroom for students and teachers alike.

That is a burden we would bear if it meant greater opportunities for all the children of the state, but no such benefit is promised. Burdening our school system with more statewide standardized testing does not help students in failing school districts, and will only hurt our students.

(To find out more about the Education Reform Bill, SB 24, visit “Connecticut Parents Need to Know More About SB 24” on Facebook.

Our representatives are Toni Boucher (http://ctsenaterepublicans.com/contact-boucher/) and Jonathan Steinberg (Jonathan.Steinberg@cga.ct.gov).

Governor Malloy can be contacted at http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/cwp/view.asp?a=3998&q=479082.)

Another team in the Staples Spectacular Student Challenge.


High Time For Medical Marijuana?

Carl Addison Swanson is freelance writer in Westport.  Preparing for a magazine article, he conducted an interview that he wanted to share with “06880” readers.

Carl is examining the Connecticut State Senate’s attempts to legalize medical marijuana, as well as decriminalize its possession.  Previous attempts in 2007 and 2009 failed, but Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged his support.

Toni Boucher, who represents parts of Westport, is an ardent opponent.  She led the 2009 filibuster that defeated passage.

The name of the woman Carl interviewed has been changed at her request.

“My granddaughter made me some marijuana Rice Krispies treats.  Quite honestly, I was afraid to eat them,” she explains.  We are sitting in her dark den, in a split level off Cross Highway.

“I thought some police would come crashing through the door and arrest me.”

“Norma” is an artist, activist, mother of 2, grandmother of 4, and ex-wife of a famous Westport producer.  She is also a cancer survivor.

“When I first realized something was wrong, my stomach swelled up like I was pregnant.  It was horribly frightening,” Norma says.  “Of course, they operated and got most of it.  Ovaries.  But I had to go through nearly a year of chemotherapy.”

Norma is fragile, and I am afraid to ask her age.  She has liver spots on her hands, which shake repeatedly.  For some reason, this makes me nervous.  My prepared questions are virtually abandoned as a result.

“The chemotherapy was dreadful,” she continues without being asked.  “I couldn’t keep anything down.  It was like a terrible case of the flu.  And just when you started to feel good, you had to have another round of the damn stuff.”  She seems shocked by her own use of the word “damn.” She smiles.

I tell her I am writing an article about medical marijuana in Connecticut.  I say that bills have been submitted to the State Senate since 2007, but have failed.  The new governor has promised to back any new attempts.  Westport’s senator is strongly opposed.

“Well, I did eat finally eat those Rice Krispies treats, and I will tell you it helped,” she says.

“By my 3rd round of chemo I was ready to try anything.  It nearly cured my nausea, and I slept better too.  I started baking them myself.  The key is to melt the grass in with the butter.”

Norma stiffens in her antique straight back chair with this confession.  She is of the “Great Generation,” and still obedient to the rules of that culture.  The use of illegal drugs makes her uncomfortable.

“But I did keep using it.  I mean, why wouldn’t I?  My daughter got me some and it helped.  It got me through the god-awful drugs and made me feel almost human.”

I tell her one fear:  that the use of marijuana may lead to other addictions.

“Oh poppycock,” she actually says, sitting straight up.  Her eyes focus for the 1st time in our session.

“I have one glass of sherry every evening, and that’s it.  I never had any interest in those treats after I got better.  I’m more dependent on my sleep medication than those things.”  Her eyes twinkle for a second.  I can see that she was beautiful when she was young.

“You don’t have any on you, do you?” she asks, crossing her legs.

States marked in red have legalized medical marijuana. Those in blue have legislation pending.