Archives for category: Connecticut

Kevin G. Basmadjian, Dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, wrote a powerful article in the Hartford Courant in collaboration with other deans from across the state.

Connecticut’s students are among the highest on the NAEP, yet its policymakers insist that its schools and teachers are unsuccessful. The politicians want more charter schools and Teach for America.

He writes:

“As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated. Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families. But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve. Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.

“Our nation’s obsession with standardized test scores will not solve these problems, and they put our country at great risk intellectually as well as economically. As educational researcher Yong Zhao writes, countries with which we are often compared — such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea — are moving away from a focus on testing in their public schools. Why? Because they have learned from the history of the United States that a great education and nation is one that rewards creativity, originality, imagination and innovation….

“The most recent scapegoat for our nation’s shameful achievement gap is teacher preparation programs, for failing to produce a steady stream of what the U.S. Department of Education abstractly calls “great teachers” to work in our neediest public schools. By blaming teacher preparation programs, the department can yet again divert public attention from the most crucial barrier to achieving educational equality: poverty.

There is a need for more “great teachers” who will commit themselves to our state’s neediest public schools. But achieving this goal will take more than naive slogans or punitive measures levied against teacher preparation programs that do not successfully persuade graduates to teach in these schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher preparation — with its emphasis on standardized test scores — work against this goal because of the overly technical, anti-intellectual portrait of teaching they endorse. We in Connecticut need to make these jobs more attractive to prospective teachers through increased respect, support and autonomy rather than criticism, disdain and surveillance.”

Jonathan Pelto, a former legislator and now Connecticut’s premier blogger, warns that a money grab for charters is on the horizon, while the state’s neediest schools are ignored.

 

This Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Governor Malloy will play his hand as to whether he will insert taxpayer funds into next year’s state budget in order to fund Steve Perry’s dream of opening a privately-owned, but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport. An out-of-state company is also counting on Malloy to come through with the cash needed to expand their charter school chain into Stamford, Connecticut.

 

Both charter school applications were vehemently opposed by the Bridgeport and Stamford Boards of Education.

 

However, despite that opposition from the local officials responsible for education policy and despite the fact that Connecticut doesn’t even fund its existing public schools adequately and the fact that the State of Connecticut is facing a massive $1.4 billion projected budget deficit next year, Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education approved four new charter school proposals last spring.

 

Initial funding for two of the four applications was included in this year’s state budget, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington charter school and yet another charter school for Bridgeport.

 

Now the charter school industry is counting on Malloy to divert even more scarce public funds away from the state’s public schools so that Steve Perry can start pulling in a $2.5 million management fee from a charter school in Bridgeport and the out-of-state company can open up a revenue stream from a new charter school in Stamford.

 

While most public education advocates are focused on the Malloy administration’s ongoing attempt to privatize public education via policies at the state level, the politically connected Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain is using a completely different approach as it seeks to pull off a deal in New Haven that would shift existing funds away from New Haven’s public schools and into the coffers of the Achievement First operation.

 

Of course, Achievement First Inc. is the charter school chain founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s former commissioner of education.

 

Achievement First Inc. is also the charter school chain that gets the lion’s share of the $100 million in public funds that are already diverted to charter schools in Connecticut.

 

New Haven is the only district in the state with a mayoral controlled board.

 

The New Haven Board of Education is not democratically elected by the citizens of New Haven. It is one of the only boards of education in Connecticut to be appointed by the mayor of the community.

 

In this case, the New Haven Board of Education is appointed by Mayor Toni Harp – who, thanks to an earlier sweetheart deal – happens to sit on the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors for the Amistad Academy schools.

 

Wonder what will happen there? Read on.

 

 

Jonathan Pelto reports that some school officials have warned parents that they do not have the right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced test of Common Core. Pelto says they are wrong.

 

He writes:

 

Despite repeated posts here at Wait, What? and the work of a number of state-wide efforts to inform state and local officials that they must respect a parent’s fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC Test, a significant number of local school superintendents, and their staff, continue to mislead parents, throw up barriers or harass parents into believing that they have lost their right to protect their children from an unfair test that is rigged to ensure that as many as 7 in 10 children fail.

 

So once again, let us be clear!

 

*There is no federal or state law, regulation or policy that prohibits a parent or guardian from opting their children out of these inappropriate, unfair and discriminatory tests.

 

*There is no federal or state law, regulation or policy that allows the government or local school districts to punish parents or their children if the parent refuses to allow their child or children to participate in the Common Core SBAC testing scam.

 

Not only is there no law, regulation or policy that prohibits parents from opting their children out of the Common Core SBAC test, but although the Malloy administration issued a memo last year instructing superintendents, principals and local school officials on how to mislead parents, when Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education was finally brought before the General Assembly’s Education Committee on March 12, 2014 to address concerns surrounding the Common Core and Common Core SBAC testing system, Commissioner Pryor admitted that,

 

“On an individual level, I don’t believe that there’s any specific provision in law regarding consequences… To my knowledge there are no state provisions that are specific, or no federal provisions that are specific to an individual student.”

 

The Chairman of the State Board of Education, Attorney Alan Taylor, agreed with the Commissioner and went even further stating that there was no legal action that the state or school district could take to punish a parent or child who opted out of the Common Core SBAC test.

 

See his post for the relevant links.

Robert Cotto, Jr., an elected member of the Hartford (CT) board of education, says that the state could save millions of dollars by reducing testing. Annual testing has been a waste of money. Before No Child Left Behind, Connecticut tested children in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Now it tests every child in 3-8 every year.

“Reducing the tests that students take in each subject to only grades four, six, eight, and ten could save millions of dollars. The funds saved could help limit any budget cuts that will affect communities across the state, particularly for the most vulnerable children and families. Cutting testing in this way could also result in yearly savings of up to $9.5 million. That’s half of current state spending to administer the tests.

“At best, the evidence is mixed regarding the impact of spending more on testing and ratcheting up punishments. Here are some trends:

“Same data: With the exception of a few new features, the State reports and uses nearly the same type of test information today as it did more than a decade ago.

“Addition through subtraction: Increases in test results over the last decade didn’t happen until students with disabilities (mostly low-income, Black and Latino children) were removed from regular tests.

“Same disparities: The results of the “low-stakes,” sample-based National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have shown high overall test results of children in Connecticut, but little diminishing of race and class-based disparities. This historical pattern remains even after more than a decade of increased testing and punishments.

“Collateral damage: Curriculum hours in Connecticut narrowed to focus on the tested subjects. Students spent more time taking and practicing for tests throughout the year, taking away time for instruction.

“The State now uses the test results to rate students, schools, districts, and teachers.

“This isn’t educational progress.”

What really matters, he writes, is support for students, families, and communities. That’s a far better investment than high-stakes bubble tests.

Journalist Sarah Darrr Littman read the full investigative report about the FUSE charter scandal and here presents some of the seamy details, the fraud, and abuse of public authority.

To begin with, the FUSE charter organization was the favorite of state officials. There was no accountability, transparency, or oversight.

FUSE was invited to take over a school in Bridgeport;

“When questioned by then-Bridgeport school board member Maria Periera about why the same resources couldn’t be devoted to a district school without having to pay an outside organization like FUSE, Paul Vallas’ Chief Administrative Officer, Sandra Kase, said, “it was often not a matter of money but knowing what to do with the money. She said that the Dunbar School was still a district school with a partnership with FUSE, an organization that knows how to use increased funding well.”

I guess that depends on your definition of “well.” Marilyn Taylor, brought in by FUSE from Louisiana as the new Dunbar School principal, was arraigned on larceny charges last Friday, the day the report dropped.

When Taylor started, she and FUSE were lauded by then-Superintendent Paul Vallas, according to a report in the CTPost:

“The transformation will be extraordinary, because this group has done it in the past,” Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas told a large crowd of students, parents, community members, who were treated to a hot dog barbecue, free backpacks, and a chance to meet teachers and other staff members. Before the event was over, state Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor also put in an appearance.”

It appears that Ms. Taylor may not have wanted it to stop at free backpacks. She is alleged to have withdrawn more than $10,000 in school funds for personal expenses, including from ATMs at the Mohegan Sun Casino.”

When FUSE was awarded another school in Néw Haven, the letters of endorsement were filled with praise for the chain’s track record of “success.”

Littman writes:

“That depends on your definition of “success,” doesn’t it? If “success” constitutes feathering your own nest at the expense of taxpayers, behaving unethically, and acting in such a way that even the parents at your own school “have questions about accountability for the financial piece,” as stated in the FUSE Board of Trustees minutes dated Oct. 10, 2013, I guess FUSE did have that track record.

“Listening to these same enablers say that “it’s for the kids” while they fleece the public purse is infuriating. But what really enrages me is knowing that there are so many fine educators in classrooms across this state trying to teach and help children day in and day out while being deprived of basic resources, while politicians are allowing our taxpayer dollars to be siphoned off by crooks.”

Joseph Ricciotti, a retired educator, asks the question posed in the title: Why are Democrats in Connecticut acting like Republicans?

 

He cites the advice of two veteran Connecticut teachers who expressed the hope that Governor Dannel Malloy would replace outgoing Commissioner Stefan Pryor with an educator. Imagine! An educator as state commissioner of education!

 

He writes:

 

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist for Gov. Malloy and President Obama to know that the Democrats across the nation lost in the mid-term elections because they governed like Republicans.

What will it take for Malloy and Obama to understand that teachers are among the Democrats largest constituency and cannot be taken for granted. In simple terms, teachers and parents are disgusted with the privatization movement with its focus on high-stakes testing and teacher evaluations tied to the tests.

It is a well known fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has earned the dubious distinction from many teachers and parents as a misguided, non-educator secretary with his agenda of testing, punitive accountability and, most of all, Common Core.

In essence, these principles are Republican principles and Democrats cannot win elections by acting like Republicans. If, for example, Jeb Bush were to be president, Common Core would undoubtedly be his highest priority.

Commissioner Pryor, another non-educator, also shares this vilification in Connecticut as both Pryor and Duncan should be replaced with educators that meet the criteria suggested by the award winning teachers from Ridgefield.

The Connecticut Department of Education under Pryor is now an agency without credibility, driven by special interests, charter school advocates and ideologies that are not based in reality. Pryor and other corporate reformers have discounted the real factors that hold children back: poverty, fear and instability.

Sadly, it is their belief that “bad teachers” are responsible for troubled schools and that the student SBAC tests aligned with Common Core will somehow expose “bad teachers” by partly basing teacher evaluations on student test scores. In essence, these beliefs are systematically destroying confidence in public education and, as a result, Commissioner Pryor has lost the confidence of teachers and parents.

It is time for new leadership and a new direction for public education in Connecticut.

 

 

A letter from Mary G., a teacher in Connecticut, about the “Jumoke model” promoted by state officials–until it was engulfed by scandals:

 

Many concerned people–parents, bloggers, writers–have been asking questions about Michael Sharpe and FUSE–see the numerous posts on Jonathan Pelto’s blog, for a start.
When Stefan Pryor, the (thankfully) out-going CT State ed commissioner, was ramping up his reform initiatives, such as the state Turnaround Office and the Commissioner’s Network, he showcased Michael Sharpe and the “Jumoke” model. This emboldened Sharpe to create his FUSE corporation–along with the Northeast Charter School Network. Pryor had Michael Sharpe present his “Jumoke model” to all the schools forced into the Commissioner’s Network, such as Windham, CT and Bridgeport. Thus, at the roll-out workshop for participating districts, Michael Sharpe was the star, along with his employee, Andrea Comer–who was immediately nominated to be placed on the State Board of Education. Could there be any more blatant proof that not only Pryor, but the State Board of Education, the legislature, and the governor, threw their full support behind Michael Sharpe and Jumoke, a man they called doctor and a “model” they hailed as exemplary?
Stefan Pryor has a nerve pretending to scold Sharpe. No one enabled Michael Sharpe more than the Commissioner, the SBE, and Stephen Adamowski, the ex-Superintendent/CEO of Hartford schools who allotted Sharpe so much autonomy.

Jonathan Pelto reviews the FUSE-Jumoke scandal and shows how the report of the damning investigation was released. When politicians want to minimize coverage of an embarrassing event, the press release is issued late on a Friday afternoon, preferably in the middle of a holiday.

Pelto writes:

“Now, months after the investigation was called for, an incredibly damning report has been made public.

“But in a typical move designed to limit political fall-out and protect the guilty, Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education failed to release the stunning report until late in the afternoon on Friday, January 2, 2014.

“The Hartford Courant, which has led the investigative work on FUSE/Jumoke didn’t get a full news report up until 8pm and the CT Post, another media outlet that has followed the story, produced their updated report after 10:30pm.

“Oh, and try as you might, you won’t even find the press release or the report listed on the Department of Education’s “Media Page.”

In Connecticut, a formal investigation of Families for Excellent Schools and Jumoke Academy concluded that the growing charter chain–a favorite of top state officials–engaged in unchecked nepotism, with little or no supervision by the state. Be it noted that Governor Dan Malloy appointed Andrea Comer, chief operating officer of FUSE to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned from her position at FUSE after the scandals surrounding Michael Sharpe broke, and she also resigned from the State Board of EducAtion.

 

The Hartford Courant reports:

 

The Jumoke Academy charter school operation was saddled with “rampant nepotism,” imposed little or no oversight on former CEO Michael Sharpe and made repeated financial missteps that could sink the organization within three years, according to a 99-page investigative report ordered by the state Department of Education.

 

The report, released Friday afternoon and coming in the midst of an FBI investigation of Jumoke and the closely related Family Urban Schools of Excellence, mirrors reporting by The Courant since June. The state report was especially critical of Sharpe, who hired multiple family members, gave work to the relatives of Jumoke executives, approved the hiring of felons for school jobs and oversaw “expensive and ornate modifications” to a Jumoke-owned apartment that he later rented. Sharpe resigned on June 21.
“There were virtually no checks and balances in place to control Mr. Sharpe’s actions at Jumoke,” the report’s author, Hartford attorney Frederick L. Dorsey, wrote. “Michael Sharpe basically had unfettered control of Jumoke from the time he was appointed CEO in 2003, and even after he had transitioned in July 2012 from CEO of Jumoke to CEO of FUSE.”

 

Here is the full report: http://blog.ctnews.com/education/files/2015/01/Jumoke-FUSE-Invest-2014-2.pdf

 

 

 

In their eagerness to prove that public schools are failing, Connecticut’s leaders have agreed to passing marks on Common Core tests that are guaranteed to fail most students.

Wendy Lecker explains that the “cut scores” (or passing marks) were selected with full knowledge that most students would fail.

Outgoing state commissioner Stefan Pryor (soon to be state commissioner in Rhode Island) and his aides:

“……voted to set the SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] cut scores so that only 41 percent of 11th graders will pass in English and 33 percent will pass in math. In elementary and middle school, only 38-44 percent of students will pass in English and only 32-39 percent will pass in math.

“Standardized test passing rates are based on arbitrary and political decisions about how many students decision-makers want to fail. SBAC admits it cannot validate whether its tests measure college readiness until it has data on how current test takers do in college. In fact, SBAC declares that the achievement levels “do not equate directly to expectations for `on-grade’ performance” and test scores should only be used with multiple other sources of information about schools and students.

“Since the vast majority of factors affecting test scores occur outside school, test scores are poor measures of school quality, teacher quality and student performance.

“Yet, with his November vote, Pryor guaranteed that many successful Connecticut students and schools will now arbitrarily be declared failures.”

Since NAEP state testing began in 1992, Connecticut has consistently been one of the top three states in the nation, along with Massachusetts and Néw Jersey. Yet most of its students, teachers, and schools will arbitrarily be stigmatized as “failures,” by design.

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