(Updated 4:39 p.m. Sunday) Wednesday’s Where We Live with John Dankosky featured three members of the alphabet soup coalition that supports SB24 (CBIA, CCER, CAPSS, ConnCAN, CAS and CABE). 

Dankosky asked a great question – why aren’t teachers in their coalition, because that was what worked in New Haven. Bob Rader of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education replied: “Teachers have some different ideas and that’s why we’re seeing this rhetoric across the state.”

Despite the fact they are unable to work with teachers in their coalition, they all realize that teachers are essential to successful education:

Ramani Ayer, Vice-Chair of Connecticut Council on Education Reform: “We believe that notwithstanding poverty-related deficits, excellent teaching and excellent leaders in school makes the maximum amount of difference, even with children of poor background.”

We shouldn’t make major policy changes based on on Mr. Ayer’s “beliefs.” When I was in school, long before NCLB and Race to the Top high stakes testing insanity, we were taught to do research and evaluate ideas using critical thinking skills.

I also don’t believe that such changes should be made for one of Governor Malloy’s oft-cited reasons, echoed in a recent Hartford Courant editorial , because they “have been adopted in many other states.” My parents always warned me that just because my friends engaged in risky behavior, it wasn’t a reason for me to do it too.

I’m writing this op-ed on the behalf of a coalition that hasn’t had nearly as much airtime as the Gang of Six, perhaps because they don’t get funding from hedge fund millionaires, and foundations funded by billionaires, and thus don’t have the resources for “six-figure ad buys”. 

We are parents, we are speech and language pathologists, we are current and former teachers, we are social workers, we are Board of Ed members. We are multi-lingual and racially diverse. Some of us are married, some of us single parents. Some of us are in unions and some of us aren’t. But we share a common goal – we care passionately about ensuring all children get an effective education that will prepare them with the skills necessary for the 21st Century global workplace. We want what is best for our children based on proven research, not political ambitions or profits. I call us the Coalition of the Factual.

Messers Rader, Riccards and Ayer were joined in their support of SB 24 in a Hartford Courant editorial that accused the teacher unions of misrepresentation and went on to state:

“Make no mistake. Mr. Malloy’s governorship is on the line in this battle for better schools. He’s pushing reasonable, practical changes that have been adopted in many other states…Instead of spreading misinformation, why don’t the unions — or a nonprofit or a university — invite teachers from states that have already adopted reforms to come to Connecticut and tell their stories? That beats a half-baked ad.”

Well, since the Courant et al want to judge teachers on data, how about we look at data from other states that have implemented such changes? That beats a “half-baked” editorial.

For assistance in this endeavor, I spoke to Michael Marder, professor of physics at the University of Texas – Austin and part of the faculty at the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics.  Marder is also the co-director of the university’s UTeach program, which focuses on preparing and encouraging university graduates to become secondary math and science teachers.

When Professor Marder actually looks at the test score data from across four different states, Texas, California, New York and New Jersey, the trend continues. Poverty is the distinguishing factor in test performance, and further, that there is no evidence that charter schools outperform public schools.

Who is spreading the misinformation now?

Charter school advocates try to claim that CT is different. But let’s look at the numbers in our state. When we look at 8th grade CAPT math scores it appears, on the face of things, that charter schools have some benefit. However, by the 10th grade CAPT, it’s a different story, and same when we look at SAT scores. So if there is an actual benefit, it is temporary.

But are gains charter schools students make over public schools at the 8th grade based on a realistic comparison? It turns out we’re not looking at an apples to apples comparison. Professor Bruce D. Baker, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers analyzed the relative percentages of English Language Learners, students receiving free lunches, and students with disabilities, at public and charter schools in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. It becomes clear that charter schools have significantly lower populations in all of these groups. It’s hardly surprising that they are able to achieve higher scores, and in fact given this, it’s really appalling that they aren’t achieving better results vs public schools on the CAPT and SATs. Bear in mind that the schools themselves report these figures to CTDOE and NCES.

In light of actual research and evidence – and believe me, I have much more should legislators be interested in passing a bill based on what is best for our children rather than what is deemed politically expedient by a Governor with an eye on higher office or on the failed policies pushed by former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – we need to ask ourselves what components of SB24 actually address the achievement gap based on the research, not on ConnCan propaganda. 

Early childhood education is one of them, but 500 additional seats is a drop in the bucket. Legislators should also be asking if this bill really tackles the funding issues at the heart of the CCJEF vs Rell decision.

While the Governor and the Gang of Six have staked their souls on tenure reform and linking teacher certification and pay to test scores, despite substantial research showing that this is not in the best interest of either teachers or students, my hope is that our legislators actually review the facts. The Governor and his allies are trying to frame this as a “union issue” but it isn’t. It’s about education. And those of us who are passionate about education, who read the research and care about the facts, know that many provisions of this bill are deeply flawed and will damage our kids for years to come. 

But perhaps the most important question legislators should also be asking themselves for the future of this state is if the bill is helping to create graduates with the skills necessary for to be competitive in the 21st century global workplace.

What are those skills? Here’s an example from one of the most successful companies of the early 21st Century, Google.

Our Googley advice to students: Major in Learning

…At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.”

The Google advice echoes something a wise teacher told me when I was in school: “I’m not here to teach you facts; I’m here to teach you how to learn.”  We can teach kids to cram and regurgitate facts for multiple-choice tests, and those facts will be forgotten soon after the test is over. Meaningful education takes place when we’re able to get kids engaging higher order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation. That is true learning, which will carry through to the workplace and last for a lifetime.

Increasing the emphasis on high stakes testing isn’t going to help students achieve these skills. In fact, it achieves exactly the opposite effect.

The OECD report: 21st Century Learning: Research, Innovation and Policy , which discusses “New Millenium Learners” should be required reading by legislators before voting on SB24.

SB24 will prepare students for the 20th Century workforce, but being “so last Century” isn’t our objective, is it?

Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU