Too Much Instructional Time Hurts Teaching: BFT Summer Reading Article #2

Note: Click on the link for the OECD report contained within the article for a massive international study comparing teacher salary, instruction time, class sizes, impact of behavior problems, and many other insights on how the U.S. education system stacks up against other nations.

Less Is More: The Value of a Teacher’s Time

This past weekend, I had the privilege of being part of a panel at the Maryland State Education Association’s Education Policy Forum with 2014 National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb, Maryland Teacher of the Year Jody Zepp, and educator-turned-influential radio host Marc Steiner. We convened in front of policymakers, superintendents, and other thought leaders. It sounded title-rific until we actually started talking about the profession we love and lead. One of the first questions we were asked was: “If you could build a school, what would it look like?” I had a few models to draw from, including Lori Nazareno’s teacher-led Math and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, or Chris Lehmann’s inquiry-and-design-driven Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

The Unseen Work

Yet the best investment that seemed most tangible to the policymakers right in front of me was time.

If I started a school right now, I would restructure school time nationwide. On average, teachers spent the most student-teacher face-to-face time in the world, topping 1300 hours a year. In the latest OECD report studying teacher salary (PDF, 11.8MB), the time that educators are required to spend worldwide in industrialized countries averages at less than 800 hours. Finland, the country everyone loves to study, clocks in less than 700 hours in front of students.

Seats shifted, because the talking points always fall into similar arguments:

  • Students need more time with teachers.
  • Teachers don’t spent enough time with students.
  • Teachers don’t work hard enough because they get holidays and summers off.

However, in countries that have done away with those arguments, they’ve learned that teachers do much better by having less classes, less students, and more time for the mounds of paperwork they’re obligated to grade. McComb agreed as well, stating that, if we do the math based on the number of students he has compared to the time he gets in school to grade, he has about 20 seconds per student to grade their papers and give feedback. Of course, he would have to work at home and work extra (unpaid) time to finish his grading, but it seems wholly inefficient to make teachers do work at home when they could just get the time right there in school.

More Time to Plan

Some of the effective uses of time that I’ve seen include:

  • Conversations with students about their academic progress
  • Sitting with social services to talk about students’ social-emotional development
  • Meetings with colleagues about latest pedagogical practices and standards
  • Pre- and post-observation conversations with administrators
  • Department meetings to look more closely at student work.

These points might sound basic to some, but in our current school system, we cram many of these into tighter schedules, which almost always means that we trade effectiveness in one area for effectiveness in another. We have to envision better uses of the talent within our school systems than what we currently see. I envision, for example, a teacher having two double-period classes and taking the last two periods to grade the student work with their colleagues shortly thereafter, analyzing the pieces and making their curriculum and pedagogy more connected.

With more hours to plan, teachers can more thoughtfully adapt their lessons and units to the students in front of them. They can more carefully reflect on the teacher moves they use for individuals and classes. They can have longer, more meaningful conversations with colleagues and administrators. In this case, as in many cases, less is more.

A Better System

Seat time isn’t the only lever we need to push for making education better in this country, yet based on studies that we’ve seen from different school structures, much of how we do schooling has been ingrained in our culture. Many of us in American society would love to see the reform and change but don’t want the experience of school to look much different from our own experiences with schooling. The pushback on this piece probably looks like, “I want my child to have as much exposure and learning as we can cram into school, because the more time they have with the teacher of the subject, the better.” Yet we can use time more effectively by making sure that all folks within our school system learn, not just the students.

As much as I want to believe that teachers do their best with the conditions they’re given, I’ve come to understand that teachers generally work better given better systems in which to work. More so than the foundation of respect and trust that we must engender in students, we have to create pockets of time for teachers to get together and make things happen abovethe students’ work. Many high-performing countries say that they got their best ideas from the United States. It’s only a matter of time before this country gets it right for itself as well.

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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Uncategorized


Bristol Political Parties Settle on Council and BOE Candidates

These will be the candidates for city office come November.


Democrat Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and Republican Ken Cockayne

Bristol has three districts, each elects two members of the city council

In the 1st District, Democrats:Calvin Brown and Myra Sampson, a former councilor. Republicans: Eric Carlson and Anthony D’Amato.

In the 2nd District, Democrats: Morris “Rippy” Patton and David Preleski. Republicans: Josh Levesque and Jodi Zils Gagne.

In the 3rd District, Democrats: Mary Fortier and Bob Passamano. Republicans: David Mills and Jeremy Deprey.

Board of Education

There are nine members of the BOE, but no more than six can be from the same party. Hence, each party nominates six candidates.

Democrats: Chris Wilson, Karen Vibert, Tom O’Brien, Karen Hintz, Joe Grabowksi and Tina Taylor.

Republicans: Larry Amara, Genard Dolan, Jennifer Dube, Jeffrey Morgan, David Scott and Jeff Caggiano

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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


NCLB Close to Being Fixed!

AFT Members,

Thank you for your tireless advocacy over the past several months. As a result, I have exciting news to share.

Last week, the Senate, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote (81-17), passed the Every Child Achieves Act—a bill overhauling No Child Left Behind, as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is currently known. And earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed its version of an ESEA reauthorization bill.

While the House bill has significant problems, the House and Senate will soon meet to bridge their differences and create a single bill to send to the president. This means we are closer to getting a much-needed reset in our federal education policy than we have been in more than 14 years.

Help us by sending a thank-you to the senators who voted for this bill and urging those who voted “no” not to stand in the way of approving the reset we all need.

We couldn’t have gotten this far without your help.

Our members and activists—more than 100,000 people just like you—sent letters, made calls, held meetings with members of Congress, organized lobby days and spoke up on social media. The Every Child Achieves Act is stronger because of it.

The Senate bill protects ESEA’s original intent of providing extra support to the kids who need it most. It stops the federal secretary of education from closing schools or dictating teacher evaluations, and resets accountability by eliminating the test-and-punish policies that have narrowed curriculum but not the achievement gap.

See how your senators voted and send them a message.

Getting this result was not easy. Although the Senate bill has bipartisan support, it was a dogfight every day.

Thanks to your hard work, we were part of the discussions in a real way. Now, as the House and Senate go to conference committee, we will urge conferees to use the Senate bill as the basis of any final agreement.

This framework gives us the best chance to get a final bill for the president’s signature that includes what Americans need and want:

  • No more NCLB, Race to the Top or waivers.
  • No more mandatory teacher evaluation from the federal government.
  • No more federal school closings.
  • No more federal accountability system that applies to the whole country.
  • New authorization for full-service community schools and early childhood programs.
  • Ability for districts to study workplace conditions and supports.
  • And—while the funding levels have not increased—no school districts will lose money.

Our work is not done; we still have to get through conference and get a bill signed into law. But we are off to a great start.

Send the senators who helped make this happen a thank-you note, and remind those who voted NO that they are standing in the way of getting us the much-needed reset we have been working toward for more than a decade.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President

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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Anthem to Buy Cigna

Those who have been teaching in Bristol more than six years will remember that Anthem administered the insurance coverage prior to Cigna. Rumors of a possible acquisition or merger between the two insurance giants have been ongoing for weeks, and today the details are public.

Here is a New York Times article, and here is Hartford Courant coverage.

This deal is not expected to be finalized and fully approved until the second half of 2016.

What will this eventually mean for Bristol teachers? While no change in coverage will occur, members can probably expect Anthem to absorb Cigna’s resources to provide more efficient coverage and services more akin to their own business practices. It should also increase the list of possible providers in network.

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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Teachers’ Pre-retirement Seminar

There will be a Teachers’ Pre-Retirement Seminar presented by Mike Cooper on Saturday, November 7, 2015. The seminar will be from 9am-12pm (8am registration & breakfast) at Washington Middle School in Meriden, CT.

 There is a $10 fee that can be sent to AFT Connecticut prior, or brought the day of.

 For members that would like to register, please click here, or call the AFT CT office at 860-257-9782.

 Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

 Anna Mowrey


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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


Connecticut Dems Let Down Teachers, Fail to Override Malloy Vetoes

From the Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — There was a rare debate in a veto session Monday, but as expected, the House of Representatives did not override Gov. Dannel Malloy’s veto of a bill that would have stipulated qualifications for candidates for state education commissioner.

The debate was unusual because the Democratic majority normally has enough votes to block any attempt to override vetoes by the Democratic governor. But some Democrats wanted to debate the issue, and 17 House Democrats voted to override the veto.

The bill called for setting qualifications for the education commissioner, an effort rooted in controversy around Malloy’s first pick for the job, Stefan Pryor. Pryor had a law degree from Yale University and a background in economic development, as well as experience as a deputy mayor in Newark, N.J. But he didn’t have a background in classroom teaching, which some educators said should be required for the state’s top education post. Pryor announced late last year that he was stepping down.

The legislature had passed a bill that called for the education commissioner to have five years of experience in the classroom, three years as an administrator and a master’s degree in an education-related field.

State Rep. David Alexander, an Enfield Democrat who voted to override the veto, said the proposed requirements were a common-sense measure that had overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.

“This seems like a logical prerequisite that got vetoed, which is wrong,” Alexander said. “I worked in the classroom as a substitute teacher when I was in law school, and I learned valuable insights about how students learn and how other teachers teach. … If it was a good idea, then let’s override the veto.”

The veto session Monday was required by the state constitution. To override a veto, there must be 101 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate. Monday’s vote on the education commissioner qualifications fell short, with 62 votes in favor and 21 against. Sixty-eight members were absent.

The 17 Democrats who voted to override Malloy’s education commissioner bill veto included Deputy Speaker Linda Orange of Colchester, Deputy Majority Leader Michelle Cook of Torrington, and Roberta Willis of Salisbury, co-chairwoman of the higher education committee.

The House adjourned soon after the education vote, and the members did not discuss any of Malloy’s eight other vetoes. As such, all nine of his vetoes were upheld. Later Monday, the Senate took no action on the vetoes.

Veto overrides are rare because they require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the legislature. Since Malloy took office in 2011, none of his vetoes has been overturned.

The situation was different in the Senate Monday, where Democrats succeeded in avoiding a debate. Majority Leader Bob Duff said “there is no point” to debate because the House had already adjourned.

After several minutes of procedural confusion, the Senate cast a party line vote of 18-12 to adjourn their session without a debate, infuriating minority Republicans.

“I’m very disappointed the way this came out, and I’ll leave it at that,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said on the Senate floor.

Courant staff writer Andrew M. Duehren contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant

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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Education Chief Outlines Vision For Connecticut Schools

Education Chief Outlines Vision For Connecticut Schools


A conversation with new Connecticut education commissioner Dianna Wentzell

HARTFORD — Dianna Wentzell takes over as Connecticut’s new education commissioner as educators face major obstacles to improving schools throughout the state. During her first month on the job, Wentzell toured several schools and laid out her vision for Connecticut’s education system to legislators.

Here’s her take on the state of education in Connecticut and how she hopes to improve public schools.


Wentzell, who was a teacher for 12 years before becoming a district administrator, said testing students is important, but only when done appropriately. The state has faced considerable pushback from some teachers and parents who worry that too much classroom time is being consumed by testing and test preparation.
“Testing and assessment are a necessary part of instruction, but that’s just it: they’re a part of instruction. So assessment’s purpose is to inform instruction. An assessment helps us know what our students need so that our teachers can meet the needs. The most useful assessments are the ones that are small enough and quick enough that they can help inform instruction,” Wentzell told legislators during her confirmation hearing in May.

And the state’s battery of annual tests also helps ensure accountability, she said.

“The core purpose of a state assessment program really is to see whether we are making good on our promises to kids and families,” Wentzell said. “So I think in the case of student assessment, the critical conversations are around how do we rightsize this experience so it doesn’t take over the educational experience for kids and the teachers? How do we make sure the test is long enough and comprehensive enough to really give us good data, but no longer than that so that we’re not intruding on the educational experience to the degree possible?” she asked.

“We need to stand together and really convince all educational stakeholders that test preparation has no place in our schools. You know, these tests are not to be prepared for. They’re like taking your temperature to see if you are well.”

Common Core

Before becoming commissioner, Wentzell led the state office responsible for implementing the controversial Common Core State Standards and the new standardized tests aligned with them.

Those standards — which officials report matched 80 percent of the state’s existing English standards and 92 percent of math standards — require students to spend more time reading nonfiction and to show writing ability by including facts.

Wentzell says implementing Common Core in Connecticut’s schools is the right move.

“Change always makes all of us nervous, and I think once parents understand the intention of higher standards, and they understand how to better support their own child to achieve at high levels, they feel much more comfortable. But they are much more likely to feel comfortable if they can have it explained by their child’s teacher. So we have really redoubled our efforts to support the teachers who are leading this change,” she said.

Evaluating Teachers

Controversy has surrounded the state’s plan to link nearly one-quarter of teachers’ performance ratings to student test scores and to allow school leaders to use those ratings to make tenure and dismissal decisions.

But that plan may stall since the state scrapped its old assessments and launched the Smarter Balanced Assessments in the school year that just ended. The state has asked the U.S. Department of Education for permission to push back linking the evaluations to tenure and dismissal decisions until at least the 2016-17 school year since there is no baseline against which to measure a teacher’s progress.

“We would like to have an extra year to see how that test performs before there are stakes associated with them,” Wentzell said.

Limited English

One of every 15 students in Connecticut’s public schools speaks and understands limited English, and their achievement lags far behind that of their classmates. The gap in Connecticut is among the largest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In response, Wentzell says the department needs to focus more attention on those students by providing better guidance for districts.

“I do think different models are more appropriate, depending on when a child is learning English, whether they have literacy already in their native language and other kinds of specifics that are contextual,” said Wentzell, a former school leader in Hartford, which enrolls more English language learners than any other district in the state. “I think it’s very important that the state Department of Education provide guidance on the best research-based models but allow local districts to make decisions about what makes the most sense.”

Lawmakers recently boosted the state’s role in overseeing the education of English learners by requiring low-performing districts to submit plans to improve.

Special Education

The growing cost of providing needed services to students with learning disabilities has been a major concern for district leaders, especially given that the state grant that supports special education has not increased for years.

One in eight Connecticut students — more than 65,000 students — receives special education services, and nearly $1 of every $4 spent on education now goes to special education. In the past decade, while general education costs increased 36 percent, spending for special education increased by 54 percent, a nearly $650 million jump.

Wentzell said the best way for districts to contain these costs is to offer supports in their own schools, rather than paying tuition to send students out-of-district. The state’s role is helping districts understand their options and best practices, she said.

“There was a time when a lot of kids were deliberately excluded from our public schools that could be educated just fine in our public schools and be more a part of society in general. So inclusion has brought more and more kids with special needs into regular classrooms. If students needs are met in the regular classroom – that’s better. That saves funds for the district,” Wentzell said.

School Funding

The state spent more than $2 billion this fiscal year on education, but a coalition of parents, teachers and municipal leaders is suing the state, contending that is not enough to provide an adequate education.

The Connecticut Supreme Court five years ago ruled that the state Constitution guarantees students an education that meets a minimum standard. It sent the case to a lower court for a trial to determine whether the state has met that standard, and, if not, what remedies should be ordered.
That trial is scheduled to begin in three months.

Wentzell was noncommittal when asked by legislators during her confirmation hearing whether the state needs to funnel more money to districts.

“As someone who has lived in our public schools really my whole career, you probably won’t ever hear me say that we’re overfunded. I think we always all know that we could do more with more, but sometimes we learn a lot about how to do things better by doing more with less, and those are important lessons, too.
“There are areas that are in need of investment in our schools and there are investments that are in need of evaluation to make sure they’re effective,” she said.

School Choice

Connecticut has drastically expanded the number of students enrolled in nontraditional public schools. Last school year, 46,189 students attended either a charter or magnet school — nearly triple the number of students attending choice schools during the 2004-05 school year and nearly 10 percent of all public school students.

Wentzell said that regardless of school governance type, the state needs to do better figuring out what works to improve educational outcomes.

“I think when we start to talk about schools, and school models, one of the things we really need to make a conscious effort to do is to really study spotlights of excellence in Connecticut. What’s going well where and why?”

“I believe there are things to learn from all of our different types of schools. And we can learn about what the best efforts have been in certain areas,” she said.

Education Reform

The key strategy of the Malloy administration to improve educational outcomes has been to focus the state’s time and additional funding on districts and schools that are struggling to improve. Those efforts — called the Commissioners’ Network of schools and Alliance Districts — will enter their third year next school year.

Wentzell said now is the time to figure out what has worked and what hasn’t.

“When we think about the big policy initiatives of the last several years, I do think it’s more of a time of refining our efforts and really making sure to evaluate which of our initiatives are having the intended outcomes. What’s making the most difference for our kids and where do we need to either redouble our efforts or take a different path?”

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror ( Copyright 2015 © The Connecticut Mirror.

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant

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Posted by on July 19, 2015 in Uncategorized




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