Connecticut Receives NCLB Waiver: Relief or fuss?

This afternoon Governor Malloy and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Connecticut will receive a waiver exempting Connecticut from fulfilling some of the mandates under No Child Left Behind (reauthorization of ESEA). NCLB has become increasingly unpopular as it exhorts educators to teach to the test, thus reducing time spent teaching material not included on standardized tests. The curriculum has increasingly narrowed to focus on STEM and basic literacy. Instructors in higher education have noticed a reduction in critical thinking abilities since the implementation of NCLB. Additionally, the federal mandate labels schools as “failing.” Schools falling under this category are pressured to be shut down, redesigned, and reopened; some have interpreted this underfunded mandate as an attempt to privatize education, as charter schools open in place of some “failed” public schools.

According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education, “67% of [Connecticut’s] superintendents believe the state’s formulas for funding education [were] unfair or very unfair” previous to the granting of this waiver. (more…)

Still Revolutionary, Real Hartford-Style

Connecticut is not boring. It is revolutionary. Still.

But tourism websites and ad agencies never capture this for a multitude of reasons, giving the masses yet another branding campaign to mock.

One reason these don’t work: they are too slick. We know someone is trying to sell us on a trip here or there. The realness is removed through photography and videography that is just too polished. There’s no human voice there.

Contrast that with two homegrown sites that exist primarily for the authors’ own amusement. Connecticut Museum Quest, authored by Stephen Wood, comes with its own mission statement: “destroying the myth that there is nothing to do here.”  Wood, often with his family in tow, travels around the state exploring museums, trails, food, and specializing in the quirky. This is how I learned there is something called “peak-bagging,” which is not what it sounds like. If all you know about Connecticut is Mystic Seaport, Mark Twain, and Mohegan Sun, this is the site to visit. He’ll show you everything on and off the beaten path, make you laugh while doing it, and tell the truth about which places have employees with nasty attitudes or venues with inconsistent hours. Even if you have lived in Connecticut your entire life, this site will introduce you to at least one thing you did not know existed.

The Size of Connecticut is a blog about the author’s “attempt to discover (and live in and travel around and photograph) these 4,845 sq. miles.” Johnna Kaplan was raised in Westport, where she understandably developed a skewed sense of what the rest of Connecticut was like; now, in New London, she travels the state learning about life outside of Fairfield County. This is where to find out about synagogues randomly in the middle of nowhere, replica schoolhouses, and what might attract young(ish) people (back) to Connecticut. Yes, she writes about Nathan Hale, but her portrayal has flavor.

There is nothing touristy about these sites, yet they are compelling in ways that the well-funded official sites are not.

The Connecticut Office of Tourism’s website is not without merit. There is information. It does make Connecticut appear attractive. But there are gaps. Look at the “Creative in Connecticut” list, for example. Someone unfamiliar with our state may glance at it and believe that we lack in creativity; we simply lack in people willing to put together comprehensive lists about creative offerings. To be fair, the “This Weekend” lists are better than the “Getaways.”

The other major failing of the “Still Revolutionary” official propaganda is that it wholly ignores activism in Connecticut today. Governor Malloy should get credit for acknowledging Connecticut’s role in the sexual revolution, but he speaks of it in the wrong verb tense. (more…)

Changes for Rooftop Garden’s Next Season

The downpour had stopped only moments before. What were the odds that the VIPs, in their suits and heels, would step out onto a possibly slippery and definitely damp rooftop?

In a swankier city the festivities would have ended after the green ribbon was cut, indoors, by a pair of shears wielded by the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer. But this is Hartford and that kind of pretension is thankfully absent.

Yesterday afternoon, David McHale had the honor of symbolically opening the Connecticut Science Center’s rooftop garden for the 2012 season, for which Northeast Utilities with its $25,000 gift is its sponsor.

The garden has come a long way since the building opened three years ago. Like most gardens, it has transformed from being sparse and haphazard, to more robust and organized. Elements like the frog and turtle sculptures, along with “Pickles” — a compost bin designed to look like a pig — have made the garden more appealing to children. Michaela’s Garden is another part of the transformation. This addition is partly a living memorial and partly a project to encourage girls to pursue careers in science. (more…)

Discussion of Islam and Free Screening of Amreeka

To this day there are individuals who believe President Obama is a Muslim, and of them, those who believe this is a deficit. Every few years the American Psychiatric Association revisits the question of whether racism and other forms of extreme bias should be considered forms of mental illness, to the dismay of those who predict hate crimes being committed by those who will then be able to claim insanity in defense of their actions.

The origins of negative images surrounding Islam will be a topic for discussion this Wednesday at the Hartford Public Library. The panel discussion will include: Dr. M. Reza Mansoor, MD Founding Member of Muslim Coalition of CT; Kareem W. Shora, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security; Rabia Chaudhry Esq, President, Safe Nation Collaborative; and Mongi Dhaouadi, Executive Director, Council of American Islamic Relations.

This discussion will begin at 6p.m. in the “Center for Contemporary Culture.” A free screening of Amreeka, a comedy, will immediately follow the discussion at 7:15 on May 23, 2012.

Stealing Simsbury’s Thunder?

Bike to Work 2012

Bike to Work 2012

Simsbury has had no trouble branding itself: village charm and bicycles. They have infrastructure to support cyclists. Most notable is the visibility of teenage girls on bikes; this is usually the time of life when many females stop participating in physical activities. All of this is great for Simsbury, but recent developments in Hartford may give the little town some competition for the title of the only Bicycle Friendly Community in Connecticut— maybe not this year or next, but soon.

Improvements to bike infrastructure were written into One City, One Plan — Hartford’s Plan of Conservation and Development. These improvements include providing of parking facilities; connection of neigbhorhoods to parks, shopping, and employment; and investment in “bike lanes, wide shoulders, wide outside lanes, and multi-use trails.” The POCD through 2020 also focuses on complete streets and reducing the dependency on single occupancy vehicles.

Next to the $5 million appropriated for the iQuilt plan in the fiscal year 2012-13 budget, $300,000 for citywide bike lanes is nothing. For FY 2011-2012, $50,000 had been appropriated for lanes. (more…)