Archives for category: Connecticut

Tom Scarice, superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, has already been named to the honor roll for his leadership and vision in bringing together his community to plan for the future of Madison public schools.

Now, he steps up and speaks out again to take issue with those, like Governor Dannell Malloy, who call for a “pause” in the implementation of misguided reforms.

In a letter to his state representatives, Scarice explains that education policy must be based on sound research and experience. What Connecticut is doing now, he writes, is merely complying with federal mandates that harm schools and demoralize teachers.

If every superintendent had Tom Scarice’s courage and understanding, this country would have a far, far better education system and could easily repel the intrusions of bad policies.

Here is his letter:

January 29, 2014

Senator Edward Meyer
Legislative Office Building,
Room 3200 Hartford, CT 06106
Representative Noreen Kokoruda
Legislative Office Building, Room 4200 State of Connecticut
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Senator Meyer and Representative Kokoruda:

As a superintendent of schools it is incumbent upon me to ground my work with my local board of education. My work must be grounded in two areas: in accurately framing problems to solve, and most importantly, in proposing solutions grounded in evidence, research, and legitimate literature to support a particular direction. Any other approach would be irresponsible and I’m certain my board would reject such shortcuts and hold me accountable.

In our profession, we have the fortune of volumes of literature and research on our practices. We have evidence to guide our decision making to make responsible decisions in solving our problems of practice. This is not unlike the field of medicine or engineering. To ignore this evidence, in my estimation, is irresponsible.

Legislators across the state have heard from, and will continue to hear loudly from, educators about what is referred to as education reforms. Webster defines “reform” as “a method to change into an improved condition.” I believe that legislators will continue to hear from the thousands of educators across the state because the reforms, in that sense, are not resulting in an improved condition. In fact, a case can be made that the conditions have worsened.

To be fair, the reforms did, in fact, shine a light on the role of evaluation in raising the performance of our workforce. There were cases of a dereliction of duty in the evaluation of professional staff. This is unacceptable and was not the norm for all school districts.
However, I would like to make the case that these reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research, the evidence that supports professional decision-making, like a doctor or engineer. It is simply a matter of substance. The evidence is clear in schools across the state. It is not working.

We have spent the better part of the last 12 years with a test-based accountability movement that has not led to better results or better conditions for children. What it has led to is a general malaise among our profession, one that has accepted a narrowing of the curriculum, a teaching to the test mentality, and a poorly constructed redefinition of what a good education is. Today, a good education is narrowly defined as good test scores. What it has led to is a culture of compliance in our schools.

We have doubled-down on the failed practices of No Child Left Behind. Not only do we subscribe to a test and punish mentality for school districts, we have now drilled that mentality down to the individual teacher level.

We have an opportunity to listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections. We know what is coming. We’ve seen it happen in other states. We can easily look at the literature and predict how this story ends. New York, Kentucky and so forth, these states are about one year ahead of Connecticut. Why would we think it will end any differently for our state? We can take action to prevent the inevitable.

We have an opportunity. You as legislators have an opportunity. Our students and communities are counting on us.
I am pleased to see that the Governor has asserted his authority to address this deeply rooted problem. But we cannot stop there.

I ask the following:

Do not be lulled into solutions that promote “delay.” Although the problem is being framed as an issue of implementation timelines and volume, I contend that this is much more about substance than delays. Revisit the substance of these reforms, particularly the rigidity of the teacher evaluation guidelines.

As you revisit the substance, demand the evidence and research that grounds the reforms, just as a board of education would demand of a superintendent. You will find, as I have, that the current reforms are simply not grounded in research. As legislators, demand the evidence, particularly the literature that illustrates the damaging effects of high stakes test scores in teacher evaluations. Demand the evidence that demonstrates that this approach is valid and will withstand legal scrutiny. Demanding evidence is how every local board of education holds their administrators accountable.

Build on the Governor’s first steps and create even greater flexibility for local districts to innovate and create. This is 2014…standardizing our work across all schools is not the answer. That’s the factory / assembly line mentality that got public schools into this mess. We need a diversity of thought, similar to a “crowd sourcing” approach, if we are to solve the problems of the 21st century. Above all, commit to the principle that “one size fits all” does not work. We would never accept that from individual teachers in their work with students, why should we accept “one size fits all” for very different school districts across the state? There are indeed alternative approaches that fit the context and needs of individual districts. I would be happy to provide with you with our example.

You, as legislators, can create the space for innovation to thrive. Promote innovation, not mere compliance.

Revisit the No Child Left Behind waiver that was filed with the U. S. Department of Education. This is consistently presented as the trump card in any discussion involving modifications to the reform package passed a couple of years ago. We’ve been told that we cannot make changes because of promises made to the federal government. Was there a lower threshold for compliance with the No Child Left Behind waiver? Can we take a more aggressive approach for our state and not be dictated to by the federal government to this degree? This resonates at the local level and ought to at least be considered.

Finally, do not be a cynic, but be a skeptic about the common core. How can this be done?

Demand the evidence to support whether or not the standards are age-appropriate for our youngest learners. Demand the input of early childhood experts like the 500+ nationally recognized early childhood professionals who signed a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” about the K-3 standards. Or perhaps seek input right here in Connecticut from the early childhood experts at the Geselle Institute in New Haven.

Demand the evidence that supports that every child should master the same benchmarks every year when we know that all children develop at different rates.

Demand an accurate accounting of the current and, more importantly, future costs of implementing the common core and the new Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing system.

Demand the evidence that supports coupling the common core to unproven tests. In just weeks, many students will sit for these new tests. They will serve as subjects to “test out the test.” It is quite possible that you will hear even more from parents after the tests are administered. Be proactive and seek these answers in advance of the inevitable questions you will be asked.

I want to close by stating that I personally have between eighteen to twenty more years to serve in this state and I look at these problems in a very long-term sense. What can we do now, not for this year or next, but in the long-term to be the shining example for the rest of the country that Connecticut’s public education system once was considered? I’m committed to this work and I will continue that commitment for nearly two more decades.

I ask you to seize this opportunity.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Thomas R. Scarice Superintendent

[Note to readers: I abridged this article to comply with copyright limits. Please open the link and read the article in full at the Hartford Courant, which had the good sense to publish it.]

Thanks to the punitive actions and policies of the U.S. Department of Education and the states, there is a new genre of writing by teachers, explaining why they are quitting. The most famous was written by Kris Neilsen of North Carolina, whose letter of resignation went viral, was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, and went around the world.

This column was written by Elizabeth Natale, a middle-school teacher in Connecticut. This state has one of the best public school systems in the United States, yet its governor and state commissioner continually bash teachers and public schools, while lauding charters and showering them with extra money. The leaders are certain that public schools and teachers are failing and need tough measures to shake them up. In time, what the leaders are doing will be revealed as a mighty hoax whose goal is to increase market share for charters.

Natale writes:

“Surrounded by piles of student work to grade, lessons to plan and laundry to do, I have but one hope for the new year: that the Common Core State Standards, their related Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing and the new teacher evaluation program will become extinct.

I have been a middle school English teacher for 15 years. I entered teaching after 19 years as a newspaper reporter and college public relations professional….

Although the tasks ahead of me are no different from those of the last 14 years, today is different. Today, I am considering ending my teaching career.

When I started teaching, I learned that dealing with demanding college presidents and cantankerous newspaper editors was nothing. While those jobs allowed me time to drink tea and read the newspaper, teaching deprived me of an opportunity to use the restroom. And when I did, I was often the Pied Piper, followed by children intent on speaking with me through the bathroom door.

I loved it!

Unfortunately, government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children….

The Smarter Balance program assumes my students are comfortable taking tests on a computer, even if they do not own one…

I am a professional. My mission is to help students progress academically, but there is much more to my job than ensuring students can answer multiple-choice questions on a computer. Unlike my engineer husband who runs tests to rate the functionality of instruments, I cannot assess students by plugging them into a computer….

My most important contributions to students are not addressed by the Common Core, Smarter Balance and teacher evaluations. I come in early, work through lunch and stay late to help children who ask for assistance but clearly crave the attention of a caring adult…

Teaching is the most difficult — but most rewarding — work I have ever done. It is, however, art, not science. A student’s learning will never be measured by any test, and I do not believe the current trend in education will lead to adults better prepared for the workforce, or to better citizens. For the sake of students, our legislators must reach this same conclusion before good teachers give up the profession — and the children — they love.”

Sarah Darer Littman, a journalist in Connecticut, read that Maryland will spend $100 million for Common Core testing.

This led her to wonder what the Common Core testing will cost in her own state.

She asked the State Education Department to fill in the blanks about costs and about what district will receive, and she was surprised by what she learned:

When I looked at the dollar grant per student on a district by district basis, some anomalies jumped out.

For example, the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication charter in New London received $474 per pupil, whereas the New London School District received a mere $44 per pupil. I struggle to understand how this makes sense when New London is allegedly an Alliance District.

Similarly, the Park City Prep charter school in Bridgeport received $384 per pupil whereas Bridgeport District Schools received only $45 per pupil.

The Jumoke Academy Charter Schools network, which are operated by an organization called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), received a $260 per pupil grant whereas the districts in which its charters operate, Hartford and Bridgeport, received $30 and $45 respectively.

The Achievement First Charter Schools network in Connecticut received $82 per pupil compared to Hartford’s $30 and Bridgeport’s $45. New Haven, the other city in which Achievement First operates charter schools, did better at $130 per pupil.

Why did New Haven ($130 per pupil) receive almost three times the grant of Bridgeport ($45 per pupil) and more than four times that of Hartford ($30 per pupil)? All three are in District Reference Group I, representing the districts with the highest need in the state. Their Adjusted Equalized Net Grand List per Capita (AENGLC) Rank/Weighted ANGLC Ranks are 167, 166 and 169 respectively. Based on the Education Cost Sharing Town Wealth and Rank, New Haven ranks 165, Bridgeport ranks 164 and Hartford 169.

Donnelly explained that “project proposals were developed at the local level. Project proposals reflect their individual needs and local readiness as determined by the district or school. Every grant request submitted by an Local Education Authority (LEA) was honored in accordance with their respective town wealth measure.” What’s important to note here is that, as defined by federal law, school districts are an LEA, but public charter schools and interdistrict magnet schools are considered LEA’s unto themselves.

She adds:

I’m still struggling to understand why a charter school in New London requires 10 times the grant on the basis of the number of students served than the district schools there. One wonders what guidance was received from the Education Department regarding these grants.

It turns out that the Education Department has not produced, and is not in the process of producing, a report on the full costs of implementing the Common Core in the state. According to the department, on top of the previously announced technology grant for which we are borrowing the money, “the state is investing approximately $8 million this year and $6 million next year to support implementation efforts.” I’m not sure if this includes the $1 million CCSS marketing campaign announced by State Education Commission Stefan Pryor last December, or if that’s a separate line item.

I’m also still struggling to understand why we’re using school construction bonds to finance the purchase of iPads and computers. That controversial practice hasn’t worked so well in Los Angeles.

The bottom line in Connecticut is that no one has figured out–or no one is revealing–what it will cost to install the technology and bandwidth and IT specialists for the Common Core testing.

It would be nice to know.

Blogger Jonathan Pelto reports that Governor Dannell Malloy of Connecticut plans to spend $1 million to a public relations firm to sell the idea of Common Core.

This suggests that he is concerned about the kind of public backlash that was caused by the botched implementation of Common Core in New York.

Connecticut is one of the three highest performing states on NAEP, and parents are not likely to take kindly to the new Common Core tests, which are likely to produce a sharp decline in test scores, as they have in other states. There are quite a lot of “suburban moms” in Connecticut. Lots of moms and dads who will not be easily persuaded that their children are failures. Not by Governor Malloy or Commissioner Stefan Pryor or a public relations firm with a $1 million contract.

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney in Connecticut, remembers when Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy was a champion for equitable funding.

But no longer.

He recently spoke at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and boasted about the success of his “reform” program.

According to Lecker:

At his AEI speech, Malloy shockingly dismissed the need to provide all children with educational opportunities as “old rhetoric.” His focus is not on educational opportunity, he claimed, but rather “educational success.” Malloy trumpeted his 2012 education “reform” legislation as providing the path to educational success.

Contrary to Malloy’s contention, educational opportunity is not just “old rhetoric.” The concept of educational opportunity has a specific constitutional meaning in Connecticut. Under our constitution, Connecticut must provide all children with “suitable educational opportunities.” Connecticut’s highest court has defined those opportunities as schools with sufficient resources to provide an education that prepares Connecticut’s children to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.

As mayor of Stamford, Malloy understood the constitutional significance of educational opportunity. He was a founding member of theCCJEF coalition and one of the original plaintiffs in the suit demanding the state fulfill its legal obligation to provide fair and adequate funding to all Connecticut public schools.

Two days after Malloy spoke to AEI, a judge in Connecticut denied Malloy’s motion to dismiss the court case that he had helped initiate on behalf of fairness.

Malloy has abandoned his commitment to equality of education opportunity and now relies on high-stakes testing, evaluation of teachers by test scores, and ample funding to charter schools as the reforms that can take the place of equitable funding.

He even appointed a co-founder of the state’s leading charter chain as his state commissioner of education.

In his re-election campaign, Governor Malloy can count on the financial support of some of the wealthiest equity investors in the nation, who live in sheltered enclaves in places like Greenwich and Darien and support charter advocacy organization like ConnCAN.

Lecker writes:

In his motion to dismiss the CCJEF case, Malloy claimed there was no need to continue with this case because his 2012 education reforms cured all the constitutional deficiencies in Connecticut’s educational system. The judge disabused the governor of the fantasy that his reforms have actually improved Connecticut’s schools. He ruled that Malloy and the state presented no evidence to prove that his 2012 reforms were enacted to correct the constitutional inadequacies of Connecticut’s educational system or state school funding.

Malloy’s 2012 education legislation was not designed to provide Connecticut’s children with equal educational opportunity. As he admitted in his AEI speech, educational opportunity is no longer the governor’s focus. He would rather push unproven “reforms” that bear no relationship to what our highest court and our constitution recognize that our children need.

Another incredible claim made by Malloy at the AEI appearance was that his 2012 education legislation, for the first time in Connecticut history, directed copious amounts of money to Connecticut’s neediest districts.

A few hard numbers may help bring Malloy back to this planet. According to CCJEF’s expert’s analysis, updated to 2012 dollars, East Hartford’s school district is owed $6,131 per child in state funding. Malloy’s 2012 legislation gave them an increase of $214 per pupil. Bridgeport’s school district is owed $7,505 per child, but only received an increase of $209 per pupil in the 2012 legislation. The state owes New Britain’s children $10,185 per student. The 2012 legislation provided them with a whopping $245 per pupil increase. The list goes on and on. Moreover, as a condition for each tiny increase in ECS funding, these districts were saddled with costly mandates.

By contrast, charter schools, which educate 1 percent of Connecticut’s public school children and 90 percent of which serve a less needy population than their host districts, received an increase of $2,600 per pupil over three years in the 2012 legislation. Diverting state funding to 1 percent of public school children, who are often not the neediest, is likely to increase educational resource inequity in the state, especially when our neediest schools are getting so little.

 

EduShyster retains the capacity for astonishment and surprise.

In this post, she identifies some seemingly blatant conflicts of interest on the part of big players in the education reform world.

Yet no one cares. Ethics? What’s that?

She calls it “carerruption.”

I don’t feel like getting a lawyer’s letter today threatening to sue me for defamation, so I will ask you to read EduShyster yourself.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the three top performing states are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut. You would think that the governors and legislatures of these states would shower praise on their successful educators and schools and protect and strengthen them. But none of these states is immune from the assault on public education by the privatization movement.

The notorious corporate reform lobbying group Stand for Children has pushed to remove due process rights from teachers in Massachusetts and to lift the cap on charter schools. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie speaks of his state’s schools as “failure factories.” In Connecticut, Governor Dannell Malloy hired a charter school founder as state commissioner and has been a darling of the super-rich who fund the privatization movement.

In this post, Jonathan Pelto describes just how closely tied Malloy is to the privatization movement. One of its main advocacy groups is ConnCAN, which is now 50CAN, whose goal is to spread the message about privatization nationwide.

The corporate reformers have Malloy funded his priorities:

“Since Malloy introduced the most anti-teacher, anti-union education reform bill of any Democratic governor in the nation, the corporate reform industry has spent more than $6 million lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s initiatives. One education reform group, A Better Connecticut, which was formed by the present and former CEOs of ConnCAN spent in excess of $2 million television advertisements “thanking” Malloy for his leadership in promoting charter schools and the privatization of public education.

“Malloy has also been going to the corporate education reform industry for campaign contributions.

“Last year Malloy, a held a lucrative fundraiser for the Prosperity for Connecticut Political Action Committee at the home of Jonathan Sackler, the corporate executive who helped finance Achievement First, Inc., ConnCAN, 50-CAN and other education reform organizations. The fundraiser netted in excess of $40,000 for the Malloy related PAC.

“This year the money from the corporate education reform industry has been funneled through the federal and state accounts of the Democratic State Central Committee.

“Malloy’s recent contributions include another $20,000 from Sackler and his wife, at least $15,000 from other members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors and at least $11,000 from members of Achievement First’s Board of Directors. Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, co-founded Achievement First, Inc. and the larger charter school management company has received a major increase in funding since Pryor took over the State Department of Education.”

Ebony Murphy-Root was intrigued by what she heard on television about Steve Perry’s Capitol Prep school in Hartford, and she applied to teach there. This is her report on her year teaching in Perry’s school.

She started work during the six-week summer session. And she noticed something strange:

“But within that six week period, six teachers disappeared. I didn’t yet know this but such sudden disappearances were a regular occurrence at Capital Prep. After the December break, one of the best teachers in the school simply failed to return. I never found out if she’d been fired or had just become disenchanted with the place. By that point the shine was already off for me. Dr. Perry was gone constantly, traveling the country on paid gigs even as he was accepting his sizable salary. Once we went almost a month without paper in the copy machine with no explanation.”

She was puzzled by Perry’s hatred of unions:

“Perry directed his insults toward members of the Hartford Board of Education, the Hartford Federation of Teachers, even other principals. I could never figure out Perry’s obsession with unions, and as the daughter of a Teamster it didn’t sit well with me. What sort of jobs did he envision for his students after college? I wondered. After all, Perry himself belonged to a union. If our poorest students had parents with union jobs, steady wages and paid time off, they might be able to support their kids better, both financially and emotionally. I wondered how Perry, if he’d ever been a classroom teacher himself, might teach about the history of the labor movement.”

She was not happy, and the school was not happy with her. By February, she was offered a choice of resigning or being fired.

This is an interesting insider’s view of a school that boasts of miraculous results.

Jonathan Pelto has recently posted several times about Steve Perry, who runs a magnet school in Hartford and boasts that he has the secret to success for all students, no matter what their background.

Perry is a “no excuses” kind of guy, who sets strict rules and enforces them with a strong hand.

In this post, Pelto reprints a letter from a public school parent about Perry and his methods.

The parent says that Perry would never be able to apply the same methods to white and/or middle class students.

Perry’s rule at Capital Prep is evidence of a deep racism, for the simple reason that his bullying and obnoxious ways would NEVER be tolerated in a middle class suburban school predominantly populated by “white” children. Perry would not dare to practice his authoritarianism on such children. He is an egotist, but even he cannot be so stupid as to antagonize middle class people with lawyers who know their rights. He knows that in Simsbury or West Hartford or in Farmington, parents would be after him so quickly, if he bullied their children, that his feet would not touch the ground. The School boards in any of these towns would fire him quicker than he could fire off one of his trademark tweets. But Perry does all his bad stuff to Hartford children for the very simple reason that he knows he can get away with it.

The Hartford Board of Education recently voted 5-4 not to give another school to Perry.

Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about a battle over the future of two elementary schools in Connecticut.

In both cases, parents resisted efforts to turn their children over to corporate reformers.

She writes:

In recent weeks, parents from two community schools protested proposals by Christina Kishimoto, Hartford’s outgoing “reform” superintendent, and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, to hand their schools over to private companies. Neither school community was consulted before the plans were developed.

The initial proposal was to give Hartford’s Clark Elementary school to Achievement First, Inc., the charter school company co-founded by Pryor. Almost 18 percent of Clark’s students have disabilities, and 15.2 percent are English Language Learners. Clark’s school governance council has begged the district, in vain, for additional resources, including teachers, a psychologist, a guidance counselor and basic school repairs such as a functional heating and cooling system.

Only 6.7 percent of Achievement First’s students have special needs, 6.7 percent are English Language Learners. Moreover, Achievement First has the highest rate of suspensions in the state for children under 6 years old, and has been investigated and cited for federal violations in mistreating students with disabilities.

Upon hearing of the proposed Achievement First takeover, Clark’s parents fought back. They openly feared that their special needs children would “not have a place” at an Achievement First school. One parent said “Our teachers work very hard and they love our kids.” Another remarked that when children do not listen, Achievement First suspends them. “Our teachers find a way to keep them in school, find out what is behind their (behavior).” Noting the school was praised by the district in 2013 for its academic progress, a parent declared, “We didn’t ask for our school to be redesigned but only for supports to keep making improvements.”

In the face of the strong opposition from parents, the mayoral-controlled majority of the school board backed down.

In the second instance, the board rejected an effort to turn another elementary school with large numbers of high-need students over to Steve Perry’s new private management company.

The “reformers” are still looking for a way to execute their plans.

Lecker is not sure that the parents will prevail unless they stand together and refuse to permit this hostile takeover of their community school.

 

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