Archives for category: Connecticut

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney in Stamford, joins the many others who complain that charter schools have been allowed to proliferate in an irresponsible manner, with minimal or no supervision. She writes that it is time to reassess the charter movement and to set new standards for accountability. Across the country, charter school frauds have been exposed, in which the operators are profiting handsomely while refusing to accept the same children as the neighboring district. The latest example is in North Carolina, where a local businessman is making millions of dollars by supplying goods and services to his four publicly-funded charter schools while insisting that he has no obligation to open the books to public scrutiny. Connecticut has had its own charter scandal, with the implosion of Jumoke Academy.

 

 

Lecker writes:

 

Almost daily, headlines are filled with stories of charter school fraud or mismanagement. Recent revelations about possible illegal practices in charter schools in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have led even charter supporters to try to distance themselves from the “crony capitalism” fueling this sector.

 

It is cold comfort that Connecticut officials are not alone in allowing unscrupulous charter operators to bilk taxpayers. It is time to reassess the entire charter movement in Connecticut.

 

Recall the original promises made by charter proponents: that they would benefit all public schools — showing public schools the way by using “innovative” methods to deliver a better education to struggling students in an efficient, less expensive manner.

 

None of those promises have been kept. Charters cannot point to any “innovations” that lead to better achievement. Smaller classes and wraparound services are not innovations — public schools have been begging for these resources for years. Charter practices such as failing to serve our neediest children, e.g., English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and “counseling out” children who cannot adhere to overly strict disciplinary policies, are not “innovations” — and should be prohibited.

 

Charters often spend more than public schools. Charters in Bridgeport and Stamford spend more per pupil than their host districts. And while it appears that charters in New Haven and Hartford spend comparable amounts, they serve a less needy, and less expensive, population. Moreover, Connecticut charters need not pay for special education services, transportation, or, if they serve fewer than 20 ELL students, ELL services.

 

While Connecticut owes billions of dollars to our neediest districts, officials provide higher per-pupil allocations to charters. For example charter schools receive $11,500 per pupil from the state, but Bridgeport’s ECS allocation is only $8,662 per pupil. Bridgeport is owed an additional $5,446 according to the CCJEF plaintiffs, not including the cost of teacher evaluations, the Common Core, and other unfunded mandates imposed over the years.

 

Connecticut increased charter funding over the past three years by $2,100 per pupil, while our poorest school districts received an average increase of only $642 per pupil.

 

 

Here are Lecker’s proposals for reform of privately managed charter schools:

 

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s “Public Accountability for Charter Schools,” is a good starting point. The report outlines areas that demand equity, accountability and transparency: such as enrollment, governance, contracts, and management.

 

Connecticut must require, as a condition of continued authorization, that charters serve the same demographics as their host districts, through clearly delineated controlled choice policies.

 

Charter schools must maintain transparent and publicly available annual records and policies regarding enrollment, discipline and attrition. Charters must ensure that they do not employ subtle barriers to enrollment, such as strict disciplinary policies or requirements for parent participation as a condition of attendance. No such barriers exist in public schools.

 

Charters must prove that they meet the specific needs of the host community in a way the public schools do not. Charters must not be imposed over community opposition. State officials must assess the negative impact of charters on a district, including segregation and funding effects.

 

Charters must post all contracts and fully disclose revenues and expenditures. Charter officials, board members and employees must undergo background checks and disclose any relationships with contractors, state officials and others dealing with their school. Parents in charter schools must be allowed to elect charter board members.

 

Charters must show evidence annually that their unique educational methods improve achievement.

 

 

 

Kathy Cordone is a retired teacher who taught for 37 years and was selected as Wolcott’s teacher of the year. In this post, she recommends that Connecticut abandon the Common Core.

She writes:

“I am an expert on children and I can make that claim because I have spent thousands of days with children, unlike the writers of the Common Core who never spent one day trying out their standards on actual children.

And my testimony is that current education policy, which started with No Child Left Behind, then went into overdrive with Race to the Top and now Common Core and SBAC testing, has turned our schools into test prep factories, sucking the joy out of teaching and learning.

Common Core is a very expensive experiment with no evidence to support the claim that it will make students “college and career ready.” It will fail just as No Child Left Behind failed to make all children “proficient” by this year.

My greatest concern is the pressure on our youngest students to perform in ways that do not match their brain development. The joint statement of Early Childhood Health and Education professionals, signed by more than 500 early childhood experts, explained how the standards were developmentally inappropriate for our youngest students.

Requiring young students to “discover” math algorithms and think abstractly ignores Piaget’s stages of cognitive development which state that most children are not able to think abstractly until they are 11 years old…..”

She adds:

“Play has disappeared from our kindergarten classrooms as teachers are forced to try to make 5-year-olds read and write before they are ready. Early childhood specialist and advocate Susan Ochshorn explains that intentional, make-believe play is where little ones develop the part of their brains that has to do with self-regulation. A child’s ability to self-regulate is a better predictor of academic success than IQ and social class…..

Young children cannot be forced to learn things before they are ready and play lays the foundation for academic success later on.

In Connecticut we have tens of thousands of experts on children, whether retired like me, or teaching in our classrooms every day.

Connecticut needs to withdraw from Common Core and replace it with standards written by those experts: Connecticut teachers.”

Jonathan Pelto reports that Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut announced he will stay the course on his corporate education reform policies, despite the huge scandal associated with the Jumoke charter school. Jumoke was one of the governor’s star charters until it was revealed that its CEO had a criminal past and a fake doctorate. Malloy supports tying teacher evaluation to test scores, despite the fact that this method has worked nowhere. And as Pelto reminds us, he proposed eliminating (not reforming but eliminating) teachers’ due process rights. He also advocated a no-union policy in the state’s poorest schools. He seems to have bought hook, line, and sinker the reformer claim that unions and tenure depress student test scores, even though the highest performing schools in the state have unions and tenure.

Why would a Democratic governor advocate for the failed policies of corporate reform? One guess. Connecticut has a large concentration of hedge fund managers, whose ideology and campaign contributions are aligned. In their highly speculative business, no one has unions or tenure. When stocks or investments go bad, they dump them. They think that schools should live by their principles. They should read Jamie Vollmer’s famous blueberry story. You can’t throw away the bad blueberries. Unless you run a charter school. Then you can exclude bad blueberries and kick out other bad blueberries.

Last night, I spoke at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. It was an emotional outing for me because it was the first time I had given a public lecture since my knee surgery last May. I used a cane, leaned on a few strong arms, worried about whether I would be able to stand at the podium for an hour. But I was buoyed by the warm reception, the beauty of Connecticut, the friendly staff, and the excitement of returning to the fray, not electronically, but on the ground, in a state where “reformers” control the Governor’s office and major cities.

I was very happy to meet so many teachers, principals, and scholars who had come from across the state. I was especially pleased to see my friend Jon Pelto, who is Connecticut’s premier education blogger and provides not only the inside scoop but encouragement to beleaguered teachers.

Jon wrote about the event here.

Since most of you were not there, I will tell you that I urged massive opt outs from standardized testing with the hope that the opt outs would lead to a permanent moratorium on high-stakes testing. The testing sets the stage for privatization, which has become a threat to the future of public education. Most testing is now designed to evaluate teachers, not students, and this practice, so beloved by Arne Duncan, has no evidence behind it and much evidence to show that it is inaccurate. It demoralizes dedicated, hardworking teachers. It must end.

There was much more, but that’s the takeaway.

Jonathan Pelto is stunned. Despite Governor Malloy’s anti-teacher policies, the Connecticut Education Association endorsed him.

“NEWS FLASH: The only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with teacher tenure for all teachers and repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest district has received the endorsement of the Connecticut Education Association’s Board of Directors.

“According to multiple sources, the CEA’s Board of Directors reversed the decision the CEA’s Political Action Committee, who had recommended that the state’s largest public employee union make no endorsement in the gubernatorial campaign.

“Considering Malloy’s recent and repeated pledge to “stay the course” on his education reform initiatives, one can only assume that Malloy’s political operatives must have made some “significant promises” since, on the key issues listed below, Malloy has refused to PUBLICLY change his anti-teacher, anti-public education stance.

“Why the American Federation of Teachers and Connecticut Education Association would endorse Malloy without demanding that he publicly retreat from his corporate education reform industry stance is breathtaking.

“For more than two and a half years, Wait, What? has been a platform for laying out and discussing Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his administration’s unprecedented attack on public education in Connecticut. Throughout that time Malloy has not made any real or meaningful changes to his policies. Instead, he has continued to undermining teachers and the teaching profession. His disdain for the most important profession in the world and the value of comprehensive public education has been absolute.

“The CEA’s endorsement means that the leadership of all of the major public employee unions in Connecticut have thrown their support behind the candidate who has pledged that he will not propose or accept any tax increase during this second term, despite the fact that Connecticut is facing a $4.8 billion budget shortfall over the next three years.While Connecticut’s millionaires continue to celebrate the fact that they have been spared the need to “sacrifice” by being required to pay their fair share in taxes, Malloy’s policies will ensure massive increases in local property taxes for the middle class and widespread cuts in local education budgets.”

This is an excellent letter to the editor that asks the right questions about charters:

Why do they get public money yet refuse to submit to public audits?

Why do they enroll fewer children in poverty?

Why do their leaders refuse to aid struggling public schools?

Why do they claim that the only way to help poor children is to move them to their privately managed schools?

Why do they refuse to acknowledge that public magnet schools outperform charter schools?

Why are charters the preferred “reform” of some of the state’s wealthiest citizens?

Why do charter advocates slander our public schools?

Wendy Lecker, civil rights attorney, takes Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy to task for his empty rhetoric about testing. He has consistently been a fervent support of standardized, high-stakes testing. Yet now he wants to roll back one test, in the 11th grade. Who is he fooling?

 

 

Throughout his administration, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education policies have been characterized by a disdain for evidence of what helps children learn, and a refusal to listen to those closest to students — parents and teachers. While it has been proven that test-based accountability has done nothing to help learning, and has increased stress in children of all ages, Malloy callously maintained, “I’ll settle for teaching to the test if it means raising test scores.”

 

Now, weeks before the gubernatorial election, the governor has suddenly declared an interest in the welfare of children — or some children. In a self-congratulatory news release, the governor announced that he wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to begin a “dialogue” about how to reduce one standardized test for 11th graders.

 

Malloy’s newly discovered concern for over-testing for one grade must be understood against his record on standardized testing. Just two years ago, the Malloy administration rushed through an application for an NCLB “waiver,” which exchanged some of NCLB’s mandates for many other mandates — including massively increasing standardized testing. The waiver obligated the state to administer the Common Core tests, including moving the high school test from 10th to 11th grade, and to use the widely discredited method of including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.

 

Recognizing the potential for an explosion in standardized testing, parents, school board members and teachers implored the Malloy administration not to apply for the NCLB waiver until it assessed the impact on our children and the cost to taxpayers. Yet, the Malloy administration ignored these warnings and submitted the application….

 

Though Malloy professes concern about over-testing 11th graders, in reality he plans to increase testing for everyone. In May, his PEAC commission announced a plan to use multiple standardized tests in teacher evaluations going forward. Not only does this plan double down on the flawed practice of using standardized tests to measure a teacher’s performance, it also vastly increases testing for children. The SBAC interim tests, which the Malloy administration recommends, will likely double the standardized testing that already exists.

Against the reality of his policies, Malloy’s letter to Duncan proves to be nothing more than political posturing.

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Darer Littman, who writes about education issues in Connecticut, tells a shocking story here of power and money.

The Hartford, Connecticut, schools are under mayoral control; the mayor appoints 5 of 9 members of the board of education. The other four are elected by the public. But the Board is bound by its bylaws to act as a whole. The five are not supposed to hold secret meetings to make policy.

But that is exactly what happened. The mayor’s five appointees met in secret with the Gates Foundation and charter school advocates. The Gates Foundation announced a $5 million grant in December 2012.

“On June 29, 2012, staff members of the Gates Foundation came to Hartford for a meeting. According to a memo former Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto sent to the Board on October 12, 2012 — which was the first time the wider board knew of the meeting — “Participants included Board of Education Chair Matthew Poland, Mayor Segarra, Hartford Public Schools, Achievement First and Jumoke Academy senior staff members, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, ConnCAN, and other corporate, community and philanthropic partners.”

“The grant was paid through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which receives 3 percent of the total ($150,000) for serving as fiscal agent. $150,000. Just think of all the Donors Choose literacy programs in Hartford that money would fund, saving teachers the indignity of having to beg donations for sets of classroom books.

“But that’s not the worst part about the Gates grant. What’s really disturbing is that by funneling a grant through another foundation, a private foundation was able to impose public policy behind closed doors, and what’s more, impose policy that required taxpayer money — all without transparency or accountability.”

“I had to file a Freedom of Information request in order to get a copy of the paperwork on the Gates grant and what I received was only the partial information, because as Connecticut taxpayers will have learned from the Jumoke/FUSE fiasco, while charter schools consistently argue they are “public” when it comes to accepting money from the state, they are quick to claim that they are private institutions when it comes to transparency and accountability.

“But what is clear from the grant paperwork is that Hartford Public Schools committed to giving more schools to Achievement First and Jumoke Academy/Fuse, a commitment made by just some members of the Board of Education in applying for the grant, which appears to be a clear abrogation of the bylaws. Further, as a result of the commitment made by those board members, financial costs would accrue to Hartford Public Schools that were not covered by the grant — for example, the technology to administer the NWEA map tests, something I wrote about back in December 2012, just after the grant was announced.

“One of the Gates Foundation grant’s four initiatives was to “Build the district’s capacity to retain quality school leaders through the transformation of low-performing schools, replicating Jumoke Academy’s successful model of a holistic education approach.”

Littman wrote to Gates to ask whether they had conducted any “due diligence” review of Jumoke Academy before imposing these conditions of replicating it. This far, the foundation has not responded to her inquiry.

As you may recall, Jumoke Academy and its parent organization FUSE are now under FBI investigation. It no longer manages any schools in Connecticut. It is also under state investigation. “Those investigations were prompted after Michael Sharpe, the charter school management group’s CEO, resigned following news reports revealing his criminal past. Sharpe also admitted to a Hartford Courant reporter that he had lied about his education credentials.”

Littman also points out that the alphabet soup of corporate reformers had been enthusiastic supporters of Jumoke. The chain was in line to get two more charter schools from the state, and $1 million from the Gates Foundation.

Littman asks:

“Aren’t these the same people who are telling us to run schools like businesses? Isn’t due diligence part of doing business?”

She concludes:

“Let’s recognize that just because someone is a wealthy business person doesn’t mean they always make the right choices. Look at Microsoft’s performance during the stacked ranking years. By accepting a gift from the Gates Foundation in this manner, Hartford admitted a Trojan horse to disrupt public education and disable democracy, submitting voters to the dictates of one wealthy man.”

Jumoke Academy, once the star charter school of Governor Malloy and State Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, paid over $1 million to the husband of an executive for renovations, according to the Hartford Courant.

“HARTFORD — The Jumoke Academy charter school organization, now facing a state probe into allegations of nepotism, directed more than a million dollars in construction work to the husband of one of its executives, a Courant investigation has found.

“Jumoke’s payments to HSK Home Improvements included at least $85,000 in state grant money used to renovate a Victorian mansion and convert its second floor into an apartment later occupied by the charter group’s longtime leader, Michael M. Sharpe. The apartment, built in 2012 to Sharpe’s specifications, featured a new $12,000 master bathroom with a custom glass shower door.

“State records show HSK Home Improvements is owned by Kenneth Hollis and operated out of his East Hartford home. His wife, Anette Hollis, served as Jumoke’s facilities director and later became chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, the charter management group that ran Jumoke’s schools after Sharpe founded FUSE in 2012.

“Anette Hollis, who lost her job when FUSE collapsed this summer, said in August that she had no role in any of the work her husband performed for Jumoke, “because it was obviously a conflict of interest.”

“But Jumoke financial records show more than $26,000 in purchase orders for HSK that bear her name; among them, a $1,615 job in July 2011 that included painting her office. Anette Hollis did not respond to a subsequent request for comment.

“Kenneth Hollis was most active at Jumoke in 2012 and 2013, when his company received about $540,000 from the state-funded charter operation. But records obtained from Jumoke through a Freedom of Information request show that HSK has performed work for the organization dating back to at least 2000 and has been paid more than $1 million in total.”

Whoever thought it was a good idea to turn education into a political issue should hang his or her head in shame.

In the midst of a heated gubernatorial race, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, heretofore an admirer of testing and the Common Core and more testing, has written a letter to the U.S. Department of Education saying that students are tested too much, especially in the 11th grade.

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appealed to the U.S. Department of Education on Friday to consider whether juniors in Connecticut really need to take a statewide standardized test in the same year that they have SATs, ACTs, AP exams and finals.

“Federal law requires states to test students from grades 3-8 and again in 10th grade. But the new high school test for the Common Core standards is given to 11th graders, with the thinking it yields better data on student learning. This was the first year the test was given to juniors, causing an uproar from some parents.

“I am eager to explore solutions for the students who may be our most overtested: our 11th graders,” Malloy said in the letter to the U.S. Education Department.”

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