Budgets · In the State · Opinion

Former New London Superintendent Nicholas Fischer: Increased Education Funding Alone Will Not Save Connecticut Schools

There’s a lot of people who believe that increasing funding alone can save low-performing schools. Former New London Superintendent Ph.D. Nicholas A. Fisher disagrees. 

In response to the Connecticut Mirror’s three-part series comparing education reform efforts in Connecticut and Massachusettes, Fisher reflects on his own experience as a school leader in both states, asking an important question: “Do we have the political will to assure that all students have those choices and the opportunities for success?”

Here’s an excerpt from his piece in Connecticut Viewpoints :

As Judge Moukawsher documented, there are dramatic differences across Connecticut in whether and how teachers are evaluated and held accountable.   Some believe that the number of teachers proficient or above in their evaluations needs to be congruent with the number of students proficient or above in tests of skills and knowledge.  They ask how can it be that the number of students proficient or above is low and the number of teachers proficient or above is high.  Whereas Massachusetts has had a few districts such as Lawrence and Holyoke under state monitoring and intervention for more than 20 years, Connecticut years recently removed strict state monitoring and intervention from New London, Windham and Bridgeport after only a few years.

Massachusetts requires students to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Test (MCAS) in order to get a diploma recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   Embedded within MCAS are literacy and content standards.  Connecticut does not require any level of performance on state tests to graduate.  In fact recently, in 2017 the state moved to loosen its graduation standards.  Those graduation standards speak only to taking a certain number of courses in specific content areas such as English, mathematics, science and social studies.

Having had the privilege of leading two school districts, one in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut, that were identified as dramatically under-performing, I know these things to be true:

1)  There is no doubt that having more dollars can increase the services such as mental health and school-based health clinics a district can provide.  However, these services only make a difference when results are evaluated.

2)  I know from program evaluations that simply reducing class size only makes a difference when what is taught and how it is taught change.   I saw this at New London High School as it went from being identified as one of the worst in the state to one of the most improved as identified by the State of Connecticut and in U.S. News and World Report.

3) I know that suspensions can be reduced when rules are stated clearly and positively and they are consistently enforced.

4) I know that school discipline improves when staff know students and their names.

5) I know that dropout rates can be reduced by providing program options to students and having staff who encourage and pursue them to stay in school as we did in Fall River.  Education Week documented the fact that we reduced the dropout rate from 44 percent to less than 22 percent.

6)  I know that we need to stop blaming union contracts for challenges in holding staff accountable.   It takes two to sign a contract (at least).  No matter what the contract states there is a basic premise of due process that applies to contracts.  It’s called N.E.A.T.  It means that you have to give a person Notice, you have to Explain the problem in performance, you have to offer the staff member Assistance and you have to give reasonable Time to improve.  It takes two to three years of training and practice to train principals and assistant principals to use evaluation systems effectively.  In New London, we created a new teacher evaluation system involving administrators and union members that was rated by union officials as one of the best in the state for improving instruction.

7)  I know that states must have clear, observable standards for students, staff and administrators to improve the achievement of underachieving, especially low-income students to improve.  We need to remember that many gifted students are at risk and that income is no barrier to giftedness.

The “core business” of public schools is making sure that students have the skills and knowledge to have choices about the careers and lives they choose, and to be successful in their lives as adults…


If you’d like to read the full piece, it was originally published here by the Connecticut Viewpoints website. 

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