Archives for category: Connecticut

Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed legislation requiring the state education commissioner to have educational experience and qualifications.

 

He said it encroached on the governor’s authority to name anyone he wanted, regardless of qualifications.

 

Mayor Bloomberg took that path when he appointed publisher Cathie Black as schools chancellor. She lasted three months.

 

Will Governor Malloy be comfortable if the pilot of his next flight has no experience? Will he go to a hospital where his surgeons are fresh from college with no training or experience?

Jonathan Pelto writes about this curious conundrum: Connecticut’s charter schools want more public money, but they object to public accountability. Their motto seems to be: give us money and get out of our way. In other states, like Néw York, charter operators have gone to court to block public audits of public funds (“trust us”).

In Connecticut, as Sarah Darer Littman wrote in a column Pelto quotes, charters testify before the Legislature that they should be excused from complying with Freedom of Information requests because it is burdensome. And their spokesman testified that they should not have to complete background tests on employees. They are in a hurry and can’t be expected to wait to find out if their new hires have criminal backgrounds.

Charter schools are special. Rules and regulations and state laws are for public schools, not for charter schools.

Didn’t Leona Helmsley, the billionaire queen of mean, sat that taxes are for the “little people?”

Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about the disastrous education policies of Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. Although he is a Democrat, he gives first allegiance to the charter school industry, whose patrons are the powerful hedge fund managers in the state’s tony suburbs.

 

She writes that Malloy “slashed funding for social programs, gave no increase for public K-12 education, despite a pending lawsuit alleging that the state owes almost 2 billion dollars to its public schools, and threatened to veto the state budget unless the legislature agreed to fund two charter schools in communities that vehemently opposed them….”

 

Governor Malloy’s tenure has been characterized by denigrating teachers, vigorously opposing adequate funding of public schools and vastly increasing financial support for privately run charter schools which fail to serve the state’s neediest children, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities, have disturbingly harsh disciplinary policies, increase racial isolation, drain public money from needy public schools and have even been implicated in fraud and theft.

 

Why would Malloy favor these questionable privately run schools over underfunded public schools? One answer lies in an article reported on by the Hartford Courant, piggy-backing off the years of reporting blogger Jonathan Pelto has done on this issue.

 

The Courant reported that this year, unprecedented amounts of money were spent to push the charter agenda by ConnCAN, the charter lobby; Northeast Charter Network, another charter lobby founded by disgraced Jumoke leader Michael Sharpe and others; and a newer group operating in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts: Families for Excellent Schools (FES).

 

The Courant further noted that the same millionaires and billionaires who copiously donated to Malloy’s campaigns are also major donors to charters and charter lobbyists. This list includes Greenwich millionaire Jonathan Sackler, the founder of ConnCAN and original board member of the Achievement First charter chain; Greenwich hedge funder Steve Mandel, who funded the players behind the illegal takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education; embattled SAC Capital chief Steven Cohen and his wife; ConnCAN board members Arthur Reimers and Andrew Boas; Andrew Stone, a board member at Success Academy charter chain, a close ally of FES; and ConnCAN donor Marianna McCall. FES even hired two public relations firms that employ Malloy’s recently departed top aides: Roy Occhiogrosso and Andrew Doba.

 

The web of charter money is so thick it must have blinded Malloy to the needs and wishes of constituents from Stamford and Bridgeport.

 

There is much more. Read the full article to view the copious links. And to think that Malloy was supported by the state’s teachers when he ran for re-election!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Cotto, Jr., is an elected member of the Hartford, Connecticut, Board of Education. In this article, he describes the outlandish fees paid to charter management organizations.

“Roughly 10 percent of a charter school’s budget can go toward management fees. For example, the New Haven-based CMO called Achievement First charged Achievement First-Hartford Charter School a $1.14 million management fee in 2013-14. The state provided Achievement First-Hartford charter schools more than $11 million to operate. So about 10 percent of that state funding went to Achievement First the CMO, not the charter school in Hartford, which ended the year with a surplus…..

Multiply this fee by the four Achievement First charter schools in Connecticut, and Achievement First Inc., the CMO, walks away with about $4.45 million in fees.

Not all charter schools are managed by CMOs or pay these management fees. In 2012-13, most charter schools in Connecticut did not pay a “charter management fee.”

If CMOs won’t show us the money, then maybe we don’t need CMOs or their fees. Charter schools can manage without them.

Jonathan Pelto reports that Governor Dannel Malloy has let the legislature know that he will not accept a new state budget unless it includes money for two new charter schools. At the same time, many public schools will be flat funded or see budget cuts. According to a story in the Connecticut Mirror, Democratic legislators are balking at the governor’s plan to cut millions from some of the state’s neediest districts while setting aside $15.9 million to expand charter school enrollment by fewer than 1,500 students.

Pelto writes:

Democrat Malloy, along with Democrats New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have become the poster boys for the anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school corporate education reform industry and their unprecedented effort to privatize public education in the United States.

In 2012 Malloy rolled out his “education reform” initiative becoming the first Democratic governor in history to call for eliminating teacher tenure for all public school teachers and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining rights for teachers in the state’s poorest schools.

Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy groups have since pumped more than $7.5 million into their record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Malloy’s efforts to denigrate teachers, radically reduce local control of education and turn the state’s public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories.

When presenting his proposed state budget earlier this year, Malloy called for record cuts to Connecticut’s public schools while demanding that Connecticut’s legislators divert scarce public funds so that Malloy’s charter school allies could open two more charter schools in the state.

Under Malloy’s plan, Steve Perry, the infamous opponent of teacher unions, is slated to get funding for his privately owned but publicly funded charter school in Bridgeport.

The Governor’s plan also calls for funding a charter school company from the Bronx that says it will save Stamford, Connecticut by opening a sister school there.

In both cases, the local Boards of Education voted against the charter school proposals and testified in opposition to the charter schools before the State Board of Education and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

Governor Malloy has quickly forgotten or put behind him the scandals surrounding Jumoke Academy, once his favorite charter chain in the state. His ties to the hedge fund managers of Greenwich, New Canaan, and Darien outweigh the facts on the ground.

Jon Pelto reports that the Connecticut Education Association voted to endorse parents’ right to opt out of state testing.

Pelto writes:

“As reported by the CEA Blog,

“Teacher leaders from across the state took decisive action today to strengthen the organization’s position on the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests and re-elect CEA President Sheila Cohen and Vice President Jeff Leake overwhelmingly.

The motion on opting out was unanimously adopted by teachers who were delegates to the CEA Representative Assembly (CEA RA), the highest policymaking body of the Association.

[…]

CEA has long supported the right of parents to make critical decisions about their children’s education. Today’s vote goes a step further by putting the full weight the CEA RA behind that position and providing great detail about teachers’ objectives in ensuring less testing and more learning in Connecticut public schools.

[…]

“Essential components of the motion include:

“Call on state policymakers and local school districts to formulate and pass legislation and policies that allow school employees to discuss standardized tests with parents and inform them of their ability to exclude children from state and/or district standardized tests.

“Call on state lawmakers and school districts to formulate and pass legislation and policies that allow school employees to provide parents with their opinions on whether students would benefit from exclusion from a state/and or district standardized test and that no adverse action or discipline would be taken against employees who engage in such discussion.

“Provide that a school and its employees would not be negatively impacted due to a student not taking a state and/or district-level standardized test, such as by ensuring that students who are opted out of standardized tests by a parent or guardian are excluded from performance calculations for state and local accountability measures and from employee evaluations.

“Reexamine public school accountability systems throughout the state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment that do not require extensive standardized testing, that more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools.”

Jonathan Pelto reacts with dismay to the new state superintendent in Connecticut. Diana R. Wentzell has been interim commissioner since Stefan Pryor departed after a series of charter school scandals.

Wentzell has been a major booster of Common Core and the SBAC tests. If Connecticut follows the pattern of other states, parents will be shocked when they learn their child has failed the test. Connecticut regularly scores second or third in the nation on NAEP.

You may recall a post about a disillusioned reformer, Jorge Cabrera, in Bridgeport, Connecticut,who quit “the movement.”

EduShyster located him and interviewed him about his life in the movement and his reasons for leaving.

Here is her last question and his answer:

“EduShyster: Last question. Do you think it may be necessary to burn the education reform movement in order to save it?

“Cabrera: At this point I would say yes. It makes me a little sad to say that because I definitely know people in the movement who have good motives. I think the education reform movement needs to be challenged, first of all, about the definition of reform. Right now all it seems to mean is charter schools. And that’s not the solution.”

WOW.

This is a remarkable and candid story of Jorge Cabrera, who joined the reform movement as a believer. He wanted to help the children of Bridgeport, where he grew up. He wanted better schools. He was a community organizer for Excel Schools.

And then he learned the truth.

“As I began my work in the “education reform movement” in Bridgeport, I noticed a plethora of ivy league educated “consultants” and “transformational leaders” that littered the often loose coalition of funders, new organizations and executive directors. From the beginning, it was clear that many of these new “leaders” that were emerging were well credentialed. They had graduated from prestigious universities and, it was presumed (though not by me), that alone qualified them to lead. Many were very young (recent graduates), energetic, unmarried with no children and little life experience. They often exhibited a cultish commitment to “the movement.” Their zeal for “education reform” and “saving the children” often resulted in a bizarre abdication of critical thinking that made a mockery of their high priced “education.” For instance, in many meetings I attended, many of these acolytes extolled the virtues of charter schools as the only solution to closing the achievement gap in Bridgeport but never once did anyone bother to discuss the ample research (i.e. “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” ) available regarding the negative impact of poverty on academic achievement or that Bridgeport had several public magnet schools that outperformed (as measured by standardized test scores) many charter schools. These magnet schools had long track records (20 plus years) of success and I assumed we should advocate for what we know, firmly, works. Despite this evidence, there was never any serious discussion regarding expanding magnet school options or advocating for high quality, universal preschool programs (research shows the achievement gap begins at this level). The entire approach to “education reform” lacked any serious understanding of the many variables (i.e., social-emotional issues, poverty, funding, English language learners) that clearly effect a child’s ability to learn. Anytime a more dynamic and multifaceted approach to closing the achievement gap was raised it was quickly dismissed as “making excuses.” The atmosphere vacillated between a callous indifference to the real challenges Bridgeport children faced and arrogant dismissiveness. Permeated throughout these various organizations that formed a loose network of power was a culture that prized blind dedication to the “mission” and socially affirmed and promoted those who obeyed and exhibited “urgency” in “reforming” the “failing schools.” The people in “the movement” made it clear that it was up to the “best and brightest” of minds to “transform” the “system” as “outside influencers.” By “best and brightest” they almost exclusively meant people who would do their bidding without question and certainly not anyone that would exhibit any degree of independent or critical thought. On more than one occasion, when the argument was made that the solutions to the multilayered challenge of public education needed to come from the people and required an authentic, engaging process with the Bridgeport community the response was often glib at best. I recall in one strategic planning meeting when I advocated for authentic engagement and patience to allow parents the time to become informed on the various issues and was told to, “just use language to convince” the parents and impress upon them a sense of “urgency.” Another person told me, “It’s all about how you say it…..”

“I began to sense that someone or something I was not fully aware of was calling the shots behind the scenes and many of these young ivy leaguers were the mercenaries on the front lines tasked with implementing the agenda. This whole enterprise was quickly becoming astroturfing and I was in the middle of it. Worse, I was starting to feel like I was hired to put lipstick on a pig and it was beginning to burn me on the inside. Nevertheless, through it all, I never gave up hope and tried to create spaces for honest, authentic and fact based discussions inside “the movement” with limited success.”

The reformers decided that Bridgeport needed mayoral control, so the mayor could open more charters faster. In the run-up to the election, high-priced media consultants arrived to take charge.

“Immediately, the focus was on marketing and sloganeering. Worse, we were trying to build the plane while it was in the air! The whole thing was rushed and disorganized. We were told to make sure we communicated to the public that voting in favor of the city charter change was good for parents, students and would lead to better academic outcomes. The insinuation was that anyone who was against the charter revision changes was anti-child or anti-education. When parents or community leaders asked questions that required more substantive, fact based responses we were coached to respond to everything in soundbites and with shallow arguments that lacked any grounding in reality. It was the worse kind of insult to the community’s intelligence and pandered to the worse aspects of human nature and—it almost worked.”

” My nearly three years in the “movement” in Bridgeport revealed to me the incredible lengths that private, often unseen and unaccountable power will go to in order to create and capitalize on a crisis. In Bridgeport, that crisis in our public education system was created by powerful forces at the local and state level who systematically starved the school system by withholding necessary school funding (Shock #1) which then created a crisis that set the stage for a takeover (Shock #2) of the Bridgeport board of education on the eve of the fourth of July in 2011. Essentially, these forces were engaged in a form of social engineering under the guise of “urgency” and “reform.” To be clear, in this “movement” there are people who have good intentions and sincerly want to improve the conditions of Bridgeport’s public schools but they do not sit at the tables of power when strategic decisions are made and their voices are often silenced. Their talents, skills and knowledge are often used to serve a larger, opaque agenda that is dictated by a radical ideology of deregulation and privatization. Shot throughout most, if not all, of the education reform “movement” you will find the radical ideology of economist Milton Friedman. Looking back, there were moments when this mindset (disaster capitalism) was revealed to me in meetings. On one occassion, a very influential operator in the “education reform” community was discussing the “amazing opportunity” that revealed itself after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans desimated the population and led to the “charterization” of the public school system. He expounded that sometimes you have to, “…burn the village to save it…” and that what we (the “reform community”) are essentially involved in is, “creative destruction.” Worse, he argued that we needed a “clean slate” in order for real “change” to happen in the school system in Bridgeport. But this was my home. This was the city I grew up in and where most of my family lived and worked. You want to burn down their city!? You want to destroy it so you can be creative!? For whom? It was all surreal. I was done.”

It’s an incredible story that confirms your darkest suspicions.

In this post, Jonathan Pelto prints the statement of a teacher who defends parents who choose to opt out, despite efforts by the State Education Department to intimidate them. The state takes the position that there is no law allowing opt-out. On the other hand, there is no law prohibiting opt-out. In the upside-down world of corporate reform, the absence of a law prohibiting opt-out means no one may opt out. Just imagine all the other activities that may be prohibited because there is no law on the books specifically permitting them!

 

Martin Walsh of Weathersfield teaches U.S. history. He writes:

 

This year, after several commentators across the state noted that parents had the right to opt out of the SBAC, Connecticut interim Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell sent a memo to superintendents stating that “These [CT] laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests.” And that, “These mandates have been in effect for many years…”

 

Several superintendents used this memo to inform parents that they had no right to opt their children out of testing. That was wrong. Fortunately, Joseph Cirasuolo, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) has now acknowledged parental opt-out rights.

 

The statutes themselves are silent on parental rights. True, there is no opt-out provision, but neither is there a non-opt out provision nor any parental penalty for opting out. Additionally, many parents have opted out of testing over the life of this “mandate” without government interference.

 

The state may be denied Title I funding if the statewide participation rate falls below 95 percent, but no state has ever been punished in that manner. Government officials should provide citizens with facts, not misleading information designed to deprive them of their rights…..

 

Enter Pearson Education and American Institutes for Research (A.I.R.), the corporations responsible for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SBAC respectively. Already free to use their tests for the purpose of data mining thanks to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unilateral amendment of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), these companies demand more.

 

They are monitoring student use of social media in order to determine what is being said about them and their tests and attempting to punish students who run afoul of their rules. That’s right; Pearson and A.I.R. are spying on school children. Wow. Are we living in the United States or North Korea? What about First Amendment Rights?

 

If the state board of education and local school officials support this policy, I will no longer have to refer to the Pentagon Papers case to explain prior restraint; I will merely have to read students the SBAC test rules. These rules and practices constitute a “clear and present danger” to our children.

 

Who knew so many Constitutional rights would have to be trampled upon in order to accommodate the corporate for-profit testing juggernaut? But data collection and tracking are more than worth the trade-off, right?

 

Life in the PARCC police state or under SBAC (curiously similar to SAVAK, Iran’s secret police under the Shah) will be fine, as long as no one criticizes the regime. Sounds like totalitarianism to me.

 

I propose a better solution. The best and most effective way to protect the proprietary interests of these corporations, and more importantly our liberty, is to tell Pearson and A.I.R that they can keep their damned tests and opt our children out…..

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