Norwalk Public Schools taking ‘intelligent risk,’ going with Rivera’s ELA choice

NORWALK, Conn. – A new English Language curriculum for Norwalk’s public elementary schools was finally agreed to Tuesday in what Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons described as the “most important vote” that has been taken during his time on the board.

Superintendent Manny Rivera’s recommendation to go with Houghton Mifflin’s Journeys curriculum for children up to grade 5 – and hold out Core Knowledge as a possible alternative for the youngest children in up to two schools – was approved by seven of nine board members, with Migdalia Rivas and Shirley Mosby abstaining. This followed more than an hour of skepticism and resistance from Rivas and Mosby, ending finally with Rivas telling Rivera he had to listen to her as the parent of children who have suffered through the fault of the school system. 

The selection of a new curriculum was the topic of controversy more than a year ago when a committee of teachers and school administrators butted heads with BOE members.  Norwalk Public Schools Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila preferred Reading Street, a Pearson product, and considered Journeys a close second. Then-BOE member Sue Haynie and others favored Core Knowledge. The impasse was resolved in August when Rivera recommended not rushing things to get a curriculum in place by the start of the 2013-14 school year.

The resultant plan includes a recommendation to to offer a pilot program with Core Knowledge (CKLA) as an optional alternative — in one or two schools — for kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms.

That was the sticking point.

Rivas made a motion to separate the issue of a Core Knowledge pilot program from that of approving Journeys as the city-wide curriculum of choice. Mosby seconded that. It eventually failed 5-4, with Sherelle Harris and Rosa Murray joining Mosby and Rivas on the losing side.

After the vote, Rivas explained, in response to a question from Harris, why she thought separating the ideas was preferable, as shown in the video below. She said Rivera’s previous comments about an application process or the criteria for a pilot program are not on paper, not even in the minutes of the last meeting.

“I will not know if every elementary school had the opportunity to apply for this,” she said. “I will not know what is the criteria, how they will select the school for the pilot … The thing is now I have no way of knowing, it’s all jumbled together. I don’t know who is doing what, who is accountable and what is happening to these children.”

Rivera responded by repeating things he had said in the March 4 board meeting.

“To be very frank I believe I stated this and if it wasn’t clear or captured I will say it again tonight. The expectation is that yes, I would administratively develop the procedures, the process, the criteria and put that out and expect that any school that is interested would address a lot of that criteria,” he said.

Other board members said it was important not to micromanage the school system, to let administrators do their jobs.

Artie Kassimis said he voted for Rivera to become superintendent a year ago because of the approach Rivera said he would use to approach to decision making, with risks minimized. He said Rivera had done that in recommending a curriculum.

“The risks are being reduced as much as possible,” Kassimis said. “Everything has a little risk. With that said, for the past five years the K-5 curriculum to me has been like a big lazy river. You jump in and wherever the current goes – and a lot of kids have popped their tubes on the way and have drowned. They still can’t read. I think it’s time for us to get out of the lazy river, get a curriculum that is going to do something, move forward, that’s going to mean something to our kids.”

“I almost think that anything you can come up with is better than what we have now,” Harris said. But detecting problems and intervening when necessary is important, she said.

“We need to be able to galvanize the teachers and to stand behind this,” she said.

Lyons said a safety net is a good idea, but should be particularly applied to Journeys as the scientific data shows Core Knowledge is better. He quoted from studies showing that minority students do very well with Core Knowledge. The studies are attached below.

The work of Rivera and his team is amazing, Lyons said.

“This is a real inflection point for the school system,” Lyons said. “We can vote against this, which is a vote to maintain the status quo, keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. As has been described at length tonight, what we have been doing hasn’t worked. Or we can say it’s time to make a dramatic step forward, not settle for incremental little changes. Make a big change, work some innovation into it. Yeah, take some chances, but we’re taking chances using Journeys just as much as we’re taking chances with pilots with Core Knowledge. … Anytime you try something new there are going to be risks. An intelligent person does not say I’m never going to do anything because there are going to be risks. An intelligent person takes calculated risks.”

Rivas said it wasn’t about micromanaging. The school district failed her as a parent, she said.

“My children are a product of what is not working and I can speak on that,” she said. “I can speak on my children being spoken to badly and being discriminated against in schools. I can talk about an administration that has not helped. I can tell you how special ed is. I can tell you about ELL. … It can’t continue this way.”





40 responses to “Norwalk Public Schools taking ‘intelligent risk,’ going with Rivera’s ELA choice”

  1. LisaLen

    What I really don’t understand is why Migdalia would not be in favor of change if her kids have been failed by the existing/prior system? You can’t go forward if you are always talking about what was.

  2. Admo

    Do any of these people know what they are talking about?

  3. EveT

    According to Wikipedia: “Core Knowledge is an educational reform movement based on the premise that a grade-by-grade core of common learning is necessary to ensure a sound and fair elementary education. Based on a body of research in cognitive psychology and school systems operating worldwide, Core Knowledge posits that, in order to attain academic excellence, greater fairness, and higher literacy, early education curriculum should be solid, specific, shared, and sequenced.”

  4. Thanks, Eve. Note that we will be using Core Knowledge supplemental reading materials at all elementary schools (along with Journeys), not just at the CKLA pilot schools. Here’s a description of the materials: http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/classroombooks/coreknowledge.htm.

  5. anonymous

    Those videos are painful to watch, perhaps a warning label is in order. ‘This followed more than an hour of skepticism and resistance from Rivas and Mosby’. Amazing.

  6. Ken Werner

    The NYC data convincingly indicates that their Core Knowledge program produced better results than the program(s) in the comparison schools that were analyzed. But what program (or programs) was (were) being used in the comparison schools? Without knowing that, the data presented says NOTHING about how Core Knowledge compares with Journeys and Reading Street.

  7. Ken, true, the New York City study compared CKLA schools with a control group (using standard ‘whole language’ instruction) and with another reading program (Reading First), not Journeys or Reading Street. For those, we have Journeys’ and Reading Street’s own studies of their effectiveness, so as to make that comparison (these were all provided to the Board members). Both show negligible improvements in student reading performance in test schools (in fact, the Reading Street schools showed DECREASED student performance compared to the control schools in grades 4 and 5). So by combining the studies of all of the programs (which were independently analyzed by experts retained by Dr. Rivera through a General Electric grant), Core Knowledge definitively shows much better results than either Journeys or Reading Street.

  8. A disappointing aspect of the “hour of skepticism and resistance from Rivas and Mosby” is that practically every issue they raised questions about or objections to had already been fully addressed in Dr. Rivera’s original presentations on the literacy curriculum at the Curriculum Committee on February 7 and at the full Board meeting of March 4. See NON’s article here: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/02/rivera-takes-charge-recommends-curriculum-literacy-program, and the full presentation here: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/PreK-5_Literacy_Presentation_2-27-2014.pdf.
    I am truly perplexed by Board members who will talk for hours about how the school system has failed our children, and then refuse to support a comprehensive program designed to eliminate those very failures. Maintaining the status quo is not the way out of failure.
    Fortunately, a solid majority of the Board “gets it”, and supported the comprehensive literacy program. It’s unfortunate that this amazingly positive, transformative plan had to be shrouded in the negativity of that debate.
    But let’s be clear – this was a big win. We have now approved the complete Common Core upgrade for all of our schools, the most comprehensive early literacy program I have ever seen, and all sorts of major improvements (including two straight affordable but highly progressive school budgets in a row). I have never been as optimistic for the Norwalk schools as I am now.

  9. Piberman

    An ongoing tragedy here. A courageous BOE Chair guides the selection of a nationally prominent Supt.to community acclaim. But we still have BOE members who agree only to “object”. Without ever making cogent reasons for their objections Makes the press notice but does a real disservice to our City and its PSS. Just whom do they represent ? Not our community.

  10. the donut hole

    Rivas and Mosby need to go. We need board members who know how to conduct themselves and stop wasting the taxpayers time and money. Their time might be free, but aggrieving our staff unnecessarily to maintain the huge chips on their shoulders has to stop. Reasonable people can disagree about curricula, but the grandstanding serves no purpose other than to demoralize those who are trying to get work done. The DTC had better wake up and get rid of these poison pills.

  11. NPS Parent

    Thanks for the info Mike. Why isn’t CKLA the first choice then?

    Unfortunately, in the end, you can buy the best product off the shelf, but without parental involvement/assistance, you will be back to square one.

  12. NPS, CKLA is harder to implement than Journeys (which is a ‘curriculum in a box’). It takes a greater degree of school buy-in and precisely the increased parental involvement/assistance that you reference to work. That’s why CKLA was chosen for piloting (rather than as the base program) to start off. Journeys is a solid set of curricular materials, which (because in the context of the overall literacy program), should help bring about significant gains. Schools committed enough to put in the extra effort involved in adopting CKLA (presumably self-selected by applying for the pilot) will be able to reap the extra level of improvement that CKLA offers. Perhaps other schools, seeing that improvement, will then want to join in.

  13. Bill

    Rivas and Mosby obviously have an inferiority complex. Rivas doesn’t even make sense. She claims that her kid is being failed by the system, yet she wants to keep that system in place. These two unhelpful seat warmers need to be kicked out in the next election and replaced by those who are productive and professional.

  14. Marjorie M

    Wait just a minute! Think about what you are reading. Mike Lyons has the audacity to criticize and demean fellow Board of Ed members. Since when is that acceptable? Also, he is continuing to push the CKLA program that Sue Haynie and the Apples wanted. It was NOT the first choice of the consultants and it was NOT presented as Rivera’s first choice. Who is he to declare that CKLA is the “best” program? Is he really more qualified than the consultants and the ELA supervisor and teachers? Are we anointing him as emperor next?

  15. Bruce LeVine Mellion

    Well it is finally done and done very well. We finally have a plan. A plan that will make a great deal of difference for every young child. The 44 page plan is comprehensive in nature and has the full support of Norwalk elementary teachers as well as the Norwalk Federation of Teachers. It was not done over night but through a very intense process that the Norwalk community can be very proud of. A key part of this plan is the parents role in literacy and when this is finally rolled out it will be most special.

  16. @Bruce,
    don’t put the horse before the cart and hold that thought…only time will tell. The key part (parents) is a very precarious as well as the teacher’s accountability… not holding my breath for Norwalk’s next generation.

  17. Mike Lyons

    Marj, “audacity” to note hours of objections with no positive suggestions? Yes, I have no problem with being that “audacious”. And if disagreeing with someone’s actions constitutes “demeaning” them, then you better stop criticizing people on this blog (as you do all the time) – you’re being “demeaning.”

  18. Mike Lyons

    More on Marj —

    CKLA “was NOT the first choice of the consultants and it was NOT presented as Rivera’s first choice. Who is [Lyons] to declare that CKLA is the “best” program? Is he really more qualified than the consultants and the ELA supervisor and teachers?”

    Rivera said that he and the experts he worked with rated Journeys and CKLA as the top two choices. Rivera noted the superiority of CKLA based on scientific evidence at two different meetings. But he also noted that CKLA was more difficult to implement than Journeys, which is why he chose it for pilot schools rather than the base program.

    And for what its worth, I have a degree in Psychology with a concentration in cognitive science(learning, memory and cognition), which I received before going to to get my MBA and JD. I was deeply instructed in experimental design and statistical analysis of psychological and social science data as part of that program. I know how to read and analyze studies like those submitted in support of the various considered programs. In fact, I had a professor of psychology (and instructor in advanced statistics courses) at Fairfield University (Dr. Ronald Salafia) review the studies as well. Rivera’s experts and the psychologist at Fairfield agreed that the strongest data was that supporting CKLA.

    I’m not an emperor, Marj. But I delve much deeper into this than casual bloggers on NON.

  19. EveT

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who found Ms. Rivas’s comments (in the video) hard to comprehend. She seemed to be just complaining for the sake of complaining. As for Ms. Mosby’s comments that you have to stand in someone else’s shoes before you can judge them, of course that is an old adage, but what does it have to do with the decision that was being made on the BOE agenda?

  20. Carolyn Chiodo

    That was brutal to watch. Mosby and Rivas are out of control.

    Rivera’s plan might need modification(s) along the way but what qualifications do Mosby and Rivas have regarding curriculum. Isn’t that what we are paying Dr. Rivera to do? Let the teacher(s) and the Superintendent do their job. I consider it a major win having most of the BOE, Union, Teacher(s), Parents, etc supporting his plan.

    You would think that Rivas and Mosby would be the biggest supporters to changing things up and trying something new after the system failed them!

  21. Casey Smith

    Okay, folks. After reading all the comments, it’s good to know that I’m not the only one in town that doesn’t like Rivas. The only way to deal with this is to replace her. Rivas’s term is up in November 2015. She represents South Norwalk, District B. Anybody out there interested in running against her? Now is the time to get familiar with how the BOE functions and start with the name recognition factor. Mosby isn’t up for re-election until 2017.

  22. anon

    Get someone with common sense in District B.

    As for Mosby, 4 more years of her shenanigans in store, too bad for that. The Unions endorsed her and Rillings backed her.

  23. Marjorie M

    I am listening to these two women and HEAR them. They are worried about the minority children and all children who are not succeeding with the present curriculum. They are asking everyone to take a close look at the resources for Core Knowledge and truly ask themselves if the resources provide for those students who have failed in the past. It is not enough to provide for the students who already do well. The ELL and the failing students MUST have excellent resources to succeed. I believe these two women do not want to see CKLA in the buildings. That is their right and we shall see if they are correct or not in the next few years, if not sooner. The commenters here are very eager to get rid of the voices that don’t agree with them. I say we wait and see if they are right or wrong. Whichever, they have the best interest s of the minority students at heart!

  24. Carolyn Chiodo

    maj-I am not “eager to get rid of the voices that don’t agree” I want to know what qualifications (ie education, training, on the job experience) Ms. Mosby and Ms. Rivas have that should allow them to make any decisions regarding curriculum. Being a parent of a failed child does not qualify. All I hear from Mosby/Rivas is the system FAILED! I don’t disagree.

    The CKLA is only being tested in two schools. Bridging the Gap is a National Issue. If it was that easy to fix don’t you think somebody would be making a boat load of money selling the solution.

    With the exception of marj, Rivas and Mosby Norwalk finally is working together. Build a coalition of those that can. Rivera has done that. It is a good first step.

  25. Marj, I say again, please take some time and read the study results published by the New York City Board of Education on CKLA. I read this information aloud to Ms. Rivas at the meeting. In the NYC schools that participated in the CKLA pilot, 12.5% of the students were ELL (higher than Norwalk), 17.5% were Special Education (higher than Norwalk), 72% were free/reduced lunch (vs. 49% in Norwalk), 84.3% were black or Hispanic (vs. 63% in Norwalk). The results?

    “6X Greater Literacy Gains for CKR Students than Students at Demographically Similar Comparison Schools”; “Significantly Higher End of Year Performance on Decoding and Spelling”; “At All Achievement Levels, Greater Literacy Gains for CKR Students than Students at Comparison Schools”; “Significantly Higher Scores on End of Year Terra Nova Reading Tests”. These conclusions were not reached in a study paid for by a textbook publisher (as most other studies are), but in one conducted independently by the New York City Department of Education, Research and Support Group (http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/data/DataRequests).

    Marj, I hear Ms. Rivas and Ms. Mosby, too, as they detail the historic failings of our school system, going back decades, to teach ELA. What I don’t hear from them are any suggestions of what to DO about it. The plan we adopted Tuesday night is our best shot in many years to DO something about it. We should be celebrating that — as the Teachers Union is, as the PTO Council is, as teachers from the review committee who came to the Board to support it are — not attacking it.

    Time to move forward.

  26. Marjorie M

    Mike, I too am literate on statistical analysis. What you are failing to mention is that test scores for CKLA only reach 2nd grade. In order to quote significant results, longitudinal studies should at least go through fourth grade, if not higher. READING RECOVERY showed the same results as CKLA for students in the program up until 3rd grade, as I recall. Their achievement levels soared as compared to students who did not participate in the program. Then the achievement levels flattened out.

    There are also the unmentioned variables. We could talk about the ” halo effect” or the “confounding variables,” but consider research that shows that teachers who adopt programs are more interested in the success of the program. Another might be the fact that the program used by the control group did not emphasize what was being tested at that grade level. A mismatch of test to a reading program can negatively skew scores.

    The information I read speaks to the weakest link, the lack of help for the ELL students and the disabled learner. As you know, we have many students in Norwalk who fit that description. I believe the two BoE members who are showing their concern have valid points regarding CKLA and our low achieving learners.

    I vote to eliminate CKLA. I hope no school will choose this program, as the implementation of CKLA is a disservice to our students.

  27. anonymous

    @ Marjorim by your logic Journeys should be thrown out way before CKLA since it has no studies at all. You and those 2 board members sound a lot alike, reasoning be darned, you just don’t like it, like broccoli.

  28. Marjorie M

    Journeys provides for ELL students, provides differentiated instruction and has a solid writing program. You are right however. I would love to see a longitudinal study done on any choice of program in grades K-5. Unfortunately, in education, our students are guinea pigs. No time to check out what is effective and what is not! Sad!

  29. Marjorie M

    Of course maybe the schools that opt for CKLA could also pilot sheltered learning for the ELL students. What do you think, Mike?

  30. Not right

    Haven’t both mosby and Rivas been on the board for many years? Rivas for at least 8. What have they done all this time? I’ll tell you , they have just complained about the world not being fair to their kids and family members. Get over yourselves ladies. You had your chance and you blew it. I tip my hat to those board members that really care about all kids and voted for the new curriculum.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Not right

      Ms. Mosby served out two years of an unexpired term, 2007-2009, but was not on the board again until her election last November. She is in the first year of a four-year term. Ms. Rivas joined the BOE in 2006 to serve out her sister’s unexpired term has was elected on her own in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. Her term expires in 2015.

  31. Mike Lyons

    Marj, your recollection of Reading Recovery is incorrect. Head to head it was blown out of the water by CKLA in the New York City study (see the data in the analyses).

    I see no reason to provide sheltered learning for ELL kids in the CKLA pilots; in NYC the ELL and SPED kids also showed dramatic improvements in literacy when using CKLA. It would make more sense to provide sheltered learning for ELL and SPED kids with Journeys, since the study on Journeys’ results (in contrast to the CKLA studies) showed no statistically significant improvement in literacy.

  32. Lifelong Teacher

    For some reason, Marjorie M is fixated on Reading Recovery. This was a good but very expensive intervention with a highly paid, specially trained teacher working daily with just FOUR first grade students one on one. That’s right, four students. The lowest performing readers in first grade level were targeted for intervention. Four children in each school – not a Schoolwide reading approach.

    Because it was such a very narrow focused program, I cannot imagine how she twists her logic to compare it to Joirneys. And research data did not show a difference between their performance and their peers anyway.

    Let’s get behind the superintendent. At long last, we have a plan. Those of us at the building level are praying for follow through,

  33. Marjorie M

    Lifelong Teacher, your comment is incorrect. Please re-read my comment. I did not think Reading Recovery worked well. Over a period of time, test scores flattened out. That means the gains made by these students were not sustainable. Mike, testing first graders was done with running records. One can not compare running records with the tests that emphasize word analysis at that grade level. Once again, match the test to what is being taught.

    Also, Mike, SPED and ELLs test at the lowest levels using CKLA. They do not make the gains that other learners make. The gap will continue to widen. Using CKLA. Our struggling students do make gains now. The point is that they don’t make enough of a gain and therefore they fall behind even more each year.

  34. Mike Lyons

    Marj, let’s see how our two CKLA schools are doing a few years from now in comparison to the Journeys schools. You can buy me lunch when the CKLA numbers prove higher – across the board. 🙂

  35. Marjorie M

    Deal! Do I get to choose the place for lunch when I win?

  36. Mike Lyons

    Winner gets to choose!

  37. Marjorie M

    You’re on!

  38. Nps parent

    Mike – I just wanted to thank you for all you do. You are in a thankless position but I commend you for your demeanor and professionalism. While I don’t always agree with you, You have substance to back up your thought process. Info is power. Thank you for always sharing.

  39. Mike Lyons

    Nps – thanks.

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