Gold Standard in the Stamford Public Schools

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To the Editor:

The term “gold standard” seems to be used a lot lately in the Stamford Public Schools.  To clarify and elaborate on this term, it is helpful to look at its educational history, design, and application when focusing on SPS curriculum, assessment, and leadership.  Is the “gold standard” really being applied in all areas?

History of Gold Standard

“Gold Standard” was first used in education when the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was enacted at the federal level.  With the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, policymakers and state/national leaders believed the education field needed to move towards interventions and practices that were demonstrated in effective, rigorous studies, not just teacher knowledge and skill levels—or using vogue materials like whole language and new math curriculums like in 1980s and 1990s.

Design of Gold Standard

Since randomized control trials (RCTs) are the only designs that provide “strong evidence” of intervention effectiveness, they are often dubbed the “gold standard” in education, medicine, welfare and employment research.  Randomized control trials consist of selecting, at random, enough people from a population of interest and assigning them to receive a particular treatment.  Another random group, of the same size from the same population, is not given treatment. After the treatment is administered, both groups are then compared.  Hopefully, great results are scaled up to create similar programs (treatments) in education.

Diagnostics, tests and benchmarks may also be used to create levels of evidence.  Well-designed, true experiments are even given higher precedence in the awarding of federal research grants.  It’s interesting that most grants used throughout public education today are federally funded.

Stamford Public Schools Gold Standard

So what is the “gold standard” for curriculum, assessment and leadership accountability in the Stamford Public Schools?  New curriculums should help all students acquire key knowledge, understanding, and success skills. Assessments should help determine strengths and allow students to move forward using merit as well as hard work.  Most important, healthy systemic leadership should build in support structures so all students can succeed in the classroom, school culture, bus rides, and extracurricular activities.  Home support systems and student self-confidence are also key indicators.

Current Issues

It is the hope that all students will have the opportunity to experience the gold standard in the SPS.  Unfortunately, there are issues that continue to raise questions:

  • Do all students have workbooks and textbooks for the new curriculums introduced this Fall?  How many students are using copied materials?  How long must students wait to have materials?  What happened at central office that curriculum orders were delayed?

  • Are students missing out on quality learning because only a small percentage are experiencing specialty curriculums across the district (see Schooldigger.com)?  What is being considered to address this issue?

  • What is the guarantee that new curriculums will improve learning?  Curriculums only provide a blueprint for teaching objectives.  What formal and informal assessments can be expected so parents know that their child is attending class consistently and truly learning?

  • With summer learning loss and rather than playing catch-up, how are teachers/schools addressing this challenge for all students?

  • Title I disparities may also exist.  Are all building leaders expected to use Title I monies and what are the indicators so the public can be kept informed?

  • Some buses have been delivering students late to their bus stops (summer and fall quarters).  Are there opportunities for parents to have more input in this area?

  • Families continue to leave Stamford.  What is happening with attendance at specific schools? Will there be future discussions about redistricting?

  • Special Education continues to struggle with staffing and consistency with providing services.  How is this being solved?

  • The teacher and administrator evaluation plan continues to operate as it always has.  Learning has not improved over a ten-year period. When will there be future revisions? 

  • Student accountability for poor behaviors is lacking (cell phone, outbursts, vaping, etc.).  What systems are in place to allow all students the ability to learn in a healthy, supportive manner?

  • Up to twenty percent of staff are leaving or transferring between some schools and fifteen percent leaving the district.  Is there an exit survey being conducted?  Does the school climate survey glean any information about this phenomenon?  What is being done to boost staff morale and retention?

In closing, taxpayers need to ask if the Stamford Public Schools gold standard is really being applied to all curriculums, assessments, and leadership areas.  Most important, is the gold standard being applied by the Stamford Board of Education in measuring overall learning and success of the Stamford Public Schools?  Lip service is not enough.  Following the gold standard is about the future of Stamford—we are a city that works, not fails!


Dr. Rebecca Hamman currently serves as Policy Chair for the Stamford Board of Education. Her comments are her own, and do not represent the official views of the Board of Education or its committees.