CHRIS POWELL: Trouble with schools, kids hints at Connecticut's future

Published on Friday, 24 September 2021 21:00
Written by CHRIS POWELL

Frogs have gotten a bad reputation from the story about their supposed failure to jump out of a pot of water if its temperature is slowly raised to boiling, eventually killing them. For the story was meant as a metaphor to mock the tendency of people to accept gradually worsening conditions until it is too late.

This month Connecticut has been making those metaphorical frogs look superior.

First New Haven's schools began requiring students at sporting events to be accompanied by their parents because brawls broke out at a high school football game.

Then Waterbury's Board of Education was told about the failure of the scheme it implemented in the last school year to improve measures of student performance by reducing academic standards. So the board dismissed the failure and extended the scheme for the current school year.

The scheme makes 50 points, instead of zero, the minimum grade for students in any class. But student performance went on to decline sharply along with the academic standards, with 4,700 students receiving a failing grade, more than double the 2,300 the year before. Students who received "A" grades fell by 2,700, too.

Of course, much of the decline in performance resulted from the virus epidemic and the replacement of in-person classes with "remote learning" via the internet, a joke for most students who didn't have parents constantly watching over them. Classes in Waterbury now are back to being held in person.

But the school board's concept was faulty in the first place, even if it was consistent with the trend of public education to reduce standards and eliminate meaningful and accurate measures rather than acknowledge and confront declining performance.

Defending the lowered standards, the Waterbury school system's chief academic officer, Darren Schwartz, told the board: "There isn't a single study in educational research that supports the use of low grades or marks to motivate students. Low grades are more likely to discourage students."

So where is the study showing that awarding high grades to students who don't deserve them prepares them well for the real world? Such a practice only lets schools evade responsibility, transferring the consequences to police, courts, welfare departments, and other agencies already overwhelmed trying to remediate educational failure.

Once Waterbury's school board voted to continue falsifying student performance, New Britain High School Principal Damon Pearce announced that his school would be closed for a few days and operate by "remote learning" again because some students had been unable to "adjust" to the return of in-person classes. He meant that many students had begun vandalizing the school and getting into fights.

The principal asked parents to persuade their children to behave in school – as if many of the misbehaving kids have parents in any real sense.

The high school's haplessness enraged New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who induced the school administration to reinstate in-person classes immediately and offered police officers to help keep order. The problem, Stewart observed, is that "there are no consequences for bad behavior" by students, adding that the disruptive "should be given real consequences, including being removed from the school."

The mayor, who is seeking re-election in November, surely recognized the gross inconvenience that more "remote learning" would inflict on parents – and voters – along with more loss of learning.

Then Governor Lamont issued his formal call for a special session of the General Assembly to extend his emergency powers for the umpteenth time and practically forever – but not for legislation to address the state's surge in juvenile crime, for which there also seem to be no consequences.

Maybe the lack of a special session on juvenile crime is no big deal, since even the Republican legislators who have been pressing for one don't dare to address the cause of the failure of juvenile justice, the secrecy and unaccountability of juvenile court. But when the failures of education and juvenile justice are disregarded like this, Connecticut's future is being determined all the same – a future of ignorance, decline, and disintegration.

By now even frogs would be jumping out of such a pot.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Friday, 24 September 2021 21:00. Updated: Friday, 24 September 2021 21:03.