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Letter: Norwalk Schools Can Learn From Business

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

The political grandstanding needs to STOP. I haven't heard any significant recommendations. Sadly, the proposed march is just a spectacle, distracting us from the real financial issues. It's kind of hard not talk about collective bargaining when all but four employees in the public school system are part of one union or another. It's just the way the public sector is structured. No one wants to criticize their local teacher or principal ... but the system is broken!

There's no conspiracy out there. Simply put, healthcare costs and post-retirement benefits are trumping the classroom. In our attempt to protect the classroom at all costs, we let our central operations and bookkeeping fall apart. But the elephant in the room is that taxpayers are frustrated that public workers have better benefit packages than the private sector. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the taxpayer is struggling to pay his own rising healthcare premiums, let alone an educator's.

Sadly, this budget fight is NOT about the kids, quality instruction or the classroom. But it will impact them.

For 20 odd years, I worked at Lucent Technologies and Bell Labs, once the premier research and development manufacturing arm of AT&T, but it lost its way to more innovative Silicon Valley competitors and was sold to the French company Alcatel. Another company we all are familiar with, GM, had a cost structure out step with its competitors. A government bailout and restructuring followed. The list is long and the industries varied: Blockbuster, Borders, Woolworths, Sears, Kodak are just a few common names of organizations that lost their way.

Can the private sector shed any light on the challenges we are facing in K-12 public education? I think so.

Status Quo Organizations: Private companies that faltered lost their way because they resisted change.K-12 has also been slow to change. Achievement in the United States has been dropping compared to the rest of the world. Too many kids after 13 years in the system are not prepared for a vocation or college. One in three college students needs remedial assistance. This is the trend regardless of whether you live in Norwalk, a leafy suburb, or private school. Engaged parents have combated with tutoring and enrichment.

Cost Structure: Private companies failed because the public stopped buying their product. These companies had to restructure, cut costs, and improve. Some went out of business.K-12 needs to get its costs in line with taxpayer's wallets and deliver better outcomes. Four out of five Norwalkers don't have kids in the system, and years of tax increases have not improved student achievement. More money hasn't made the system better.

Outside Influences: Private companies ignored outside influences and in most cases, it was competition that forced them to change.In K-12, it's the federal government that is trying to change things by releasing states from the No Child Left Behind legislation, in return for organizational reforms. Incentives like Race to the Top funding is driving state legislatures across the U.S. to introduce changes directed at improving K-12 instruction via charters, magnets, performance evaluations, etc. Educators can argue against the reforms, but they're happening.

Ineffective Use of Technology: Private companies fell behind in their respective technologies or failed in their operational use of it.Most of us came of age with the Dewey Decimal system, but our children have much more data at their fingertips. Studies reveal K-12 students who received their education partially or fully online performed better, on average, than their peers who took the same course in a traditional class setting. One estimate predicts that half of all K-12 classes will be taught online in the next decade. Policies prohibiting high school students from getting credit because the subject wasn't taught by the school must change. Bended learning can and will 1) drive consistency in the classroom, 2) reduce costs and 3) differentiate learning for ALL students.

It's time for those in leadership positions to stop telling half-truths to the press or at student functions. Norwalk faces a national not local political issue. Relentless attacks waged on the superintendent since her arrival in Norwalk, by some, was for trying to bring consistency to 19 schools doing their own thing for over a decade. Their resistance to change and accountability could have MUCH better served our children by working to drive quality practices across classrooms and schools.We've had four superintendents in 10 years and at some stage Norwalk must look within itself. Political tactics that may have worked for the past 20 or 30 years in this town are coming to a close. The money is NOT there.

The other night, as I listened to each school plead their case, I was reminded of my perusal through the various collective bargaining contracts and how there were no parameters for performance. Lots of arbitrary work rules about how staff-interact and no mention of communication or cooperation between elementary, middle and high schools. In fact, quite the opposite. Each have very different terms and working conditions. Ironic, when as a parent I bought into the 13 year plan for my child.I wish that the grown-ups in town, regardless of political affiliation, collective bargaining position, or school would work together and stop the circus-like atmosphere. As a parent, I won't be manipulated, as in past years, to pit one school, program or position over another. What's happening in the economy isn't fair – welcome to the club.

REd APPLES is a grassroots non-partisan community coalition organized around improving Norwalk Public Schools by advocating for systematic reform, according to its website.

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