I read with no small measure of disappointment the letter of the Trumbull Teacher’s Association rejecting the prestigious recognition the high school received from ConnCAN for achieving remarkable academic results for its low income, Hispanic and African American students based on measurable standards. When I read it a second and third time, my disappointment morphed into astonishment. The letter unfairly characterizes the mission and motive of ConnCAN and makes no mention of the seriousness of the achievement gap and the need for it to be eliminated if we are to succeed as a society.
In my view, and in the view of many others, the academic achievement gap that is based on poverty and race is the civil rights issue of our time and Connecticut owns the store when it comes to this morally unacceptable statistic that has continued to widen over the last decade. Through an obvious display of ignorance of the goals of ConnCAN and an undertone of an elitist attitude, the authors of the letter have managed to alienate trusted allies and provided the missing ingredients that will sway those who were on the fence with the education reform legislation to side with the Govemor and give wholesale support to the reforms proposed in Senate Bill #24. That ingredient is an unbecoming display of realities outside of Trumbull’s borders which impact everyone.
Prior to addressing the above conclusion, I would like to say that based on my observations I believe that the substantial majority of teachers in the Trumbull School System are superb. I make it my business to acknowledge and thank those administrators and teachers in Trumbull who regularly go beyond what is contractually required of them to enhance the student’s learning experience. I know firsthand that the faculty at Trumbull High School go out of their way to help each student find her/his niche so that the school with a student population of over 2,100 seems much smaller and comfortable, an environment necessary for real learning to take place. I also know that most of the teachers work at least ten (10) hour days participating in after school activities and provide special help to struggling students who are motivated enough to ask for it. Under any evaluation system which has even a modicum of validity, the overwhelming majority of Trumbull’s teachers would have little to be concemed about.
That being said, I would like to lay to rest some of the outlandish and reckless comments the TEA (Trumbull Education Association) letter said about ConnCAN. One visit to its website will convince even the most skeptical critic that this organization is not an enemy of public schools nor is it an opportunistic enterprise created to cash in on the large amount of resources devoted to educating our children. "We will not rest until every Connecticut Child, regardless of race or class has access to a "great public school" (emphasis added). The organization proclaims a beautiful vision for the future of our state. The vehicle for accomplishing this realty is an excellent public education". Hardly the profit minded robber barons of the 21st century the TEA make them out to be.
Equally disturbing as the false premise that was exposed above is the resort by the letter’s authors to ad hominem commentary which in most intellectual circles is recognized as a fallacy of argument. When you attack the person taking the position as opposed to the substance of the position, you engage in name-calling; a tire-kicking stunt that does not escape the scrutiny of anyone who is objective or open minded. The tactic has the effect of alienating the audience and advancing the position of the opponent. My guess is that the TEA accomplished this with their unbecoming missive.
The former director of ConnCAN, Alex Johnston, came to the Trumbull Board of Education last summer at my request to explain the recognition his organization bestowed on the Trumbull Board of Education and the work of his organization. Due to a mix-up on my part, Mr. Johnston’s presentation was not listed as an agenda item. This error relegated him to speak during the public comments. Mr. Johnston never said a word about the mishap. He spoke eloquently about his organization’s mission and proudly about the accomplishments of Trumbull High School. Despite what others might consider to be a sleight of hand, Alex returned to Trumbull and met with Dr. Tremaglio for hours informing himself about the programs at the school and its culture which are at the heart of the district’s success. Not only for reducing the achievement gap based on wealth and race but praise for the school and has expressed his organization’s desire for more public schools like Trumbull High School.
Mr. Johnston has left ConnCAN and has been replaced by a capable leader in Patrick Riccards. Its board and staff consist of many people who I know personally. While I admit that they come from diverse backgrounds, not one of them that I know believe that charter schools are the answer to Connecticut’s flat and declining performance in its public schools. Rather, they support a strong public education system that produces college and/or career ready students. The fact that this organization is unsatisfied with the results over the last decade is not grounds to demonize them. On the contrary, they find themselves among good company on this count, including the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Connecticut Association of Schools and Connecticut Business Industry Association.
Eliminating gaps in learning based on recent poverty is a noble goal. It’s a plague on our state’s future should it continue to remain as wide as it is presently. Left to its own devices, it will continue to widen. It needs to be eliminated if this state and our nation is going to remain competitive and prosperous. The ConnCAN award acknowledges Trumbull’s deliberate success in guaranteeing all its youngsters receive a quality education. It is a cause for celebration not beratement. Moreover, it was accomplished without a mandate and without any direct costs to the system. It is a product of a culture that believes all children are capable of learning and that human dignity compels us to imbed this philosophy throughout our education system.
The ConnCAN award was given to the school district, not the few members of the high school staff who penned the subject letter. It is not theirs to reject. Its an accolade that every school should aspire to achieve. Confusing this worthy accomplishment with the pending legislation weakens any credibility that might otherwise exist for different ideas and concerns.
I can only hope the TEA will reconsider its position.