Archives for category: Connecticut

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…..

Civil right attorney Wendy Lecker chastises education leaders in Connecticut for their whole-hearted embrace of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. She contrasts her home state with the wisdom of Vermont.

Vermont’s State Board deminstrated independent judgement:

“Last week, Vermont’s State Board of Education unanimously approved a new resolution on the SBAC tests, which gives strong and informed guidance that Connecticut’s education leaders are unwilling to provide.

“Vermont’s resolution declares that while the SBAC tests “purport to measure progress towards `college and career readiness . . . the tests have not been externally validated as measuring these important attributes.”

“Accordingly, the state board resolved “until empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (“college and career-ready”), test results should not be used to make normative and consequential judgments about schools and students.”

“Vermont’s state board also resolved that until Vermont has more experience with evidence from the SBACs, “the results of the SBAC assessment will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance, and thus should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose.”

“Finally, honest education officials admit the SBACs have never been proven to measure “college readiness” or progress toward “college readiness,” and in fact are unreliable to measure student learning. In other words, the foundation upon which the Common Core rests is an artifice, and our children are being subjected to unproven tests. Connecticut districts have been diverting resources and time toward a testing regime without any proof that it would improve our children’s education.”

Conclusion: Vermont puts children first. Connecticut doesn’t.

Hooray! Jonathan Pelto reports that parents in Connecticut have the right to opt their child out of Common Core testing!

“In a published report today in the CTMirror, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Joeseph Ciracoulo, has announced that superintendents in Connecticut will now recognize the right of parents to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC Testing AND that students who opt out will be provided with an alternative location where they can read a book, do homework or engage in some other educational activity for the eight to eight and a half hours of the SBAC Testing.”

Eight (8) hours of testing! This is nuts!

Opt out!

A dozen superintendents in Connecticut issued a manifesto for real reform. It is one that parents and teachers–and students too!–would happily embrace in place of the current stale and test-driven juggernaut that crushes learning and creativity.

They say, in part:

“Our public school landscape is littered with initiatives, while the vision for learning in Connecticut lacks clarity and coherence. In this “vision void” our measures (i.e. test scores) have become our goals, confounding the purpose of schooling and perpetuating yet another round of piecemeal initiatives.

“The path we should avoid taking is the one that implements the NCLB waiver plan as the de facto vision for the education of Connecticut’s children. Instead we should identify a clear and compelling vision for education in our state and employ all of our resources to achieve it. Staying the course of current reform efforts without a deep analysis of the effects in actual classrooms across the state will further cement the system of compliance and “one size fits all” that grips our very diverse school districts like a vise.

“One way to clarify the vision is to answer the direct and simple questions:

“What are the most worthy outcomes of our public education system?

“Are we preparing our students for the world they will enter when they graduate?

“Is our public education system positioned for continuous improvement, as opposed to ranking, sorting and punishing?

“To what extent do our laws increase conformity at the expense of innovation?

“The answers to these questions imply the need to foster the cognitive, social/emotional and interpersonal student capacities for work, citizenship and life. Additionally, they demand a deep analysis of the systemic efforts to continuously improve. Confronting these questions, and others, will require:

“A redefinition of the role of testing,

“An accountability model (mandatory in the NCLB waiver) matched to a clarified vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut

“Statewide systems that incentivize innovation and a broad sharing of innovative programs…”

“Districts and teachers are suffocating from a “one size fits all”, compliance-based approach to schooling. One size does not fit all in education, no more than it does in medicine, social work or any other endeavor in which human beings are at the core of the enterprise. In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization. As a result, energy is drained, a passion for teaching and learning evaporates, and many teachers and leaders question the lack of purpose to their work. Some ways to foster innovation include:

“Creating a “Districts of Innovation” program through which the State Department of Education would administer a rigorous process identifying various district approaches to current challenges faced by schools, such as, reducing bullying, improving school climate, evaluating the performance of individual teachers and administrators, etc. These districts would apply for a waiver or modification from state requirements in order to innovate their practices, while analyzing the impact. These districts could be required to partner with a university, commit to sharing their results, and, if successful, serve as a provider of professional development for other districts. The incubation of fresh, innovative ideas, by classroom teachers and administrators would exponentially grow the capacity of educators in the state.

“Working with Regional Education Service Centers (RESC) to develop an “expert in residence” program with area districts. Districts could grant a yearlong sabbatical to individual teachers to share their innovative work and provide professional development to schools across the state.
Pairing schools to work across different districts to collaboratively confront professional challenges. These partnerships could foster such promising practices as “lesson study”, peer to peer observations, and collaborative analysis of student work.”

These are but a few of the good ideas, grounded in experience and research, that these thoughtful superintendents propose. It is a vision for positive reform that should replace the sterile strategy of carrots and sticks.

The superintendent in affluent Néw Canaan, Bryan Luizzi, changed his mind. A few days ago, he said that students were not allowed to refuse to take the Common Core tests. After parents objected and signed a petition, he realized that students have the right to opt out.

Protests work.

Remember the Néw York Times story about the tech executives in California who send their own children to a no-tech Waldorf school?

Look at this:

“Please comment on this and help stop before it starts. This has to be stopped before these are turned into laws. This is how bad it is getting in Connecticut.

“HIGH-STAKES testing BEFORE Kindergarten…..Keyboarding instruction in Kindergarten. God help these children:

“AN ACT CONCERNING THE KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT TOOL. (given in preschool!!)

http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=SB00339&which_year=2015″

AN ACT CONCERNING COMPUTER KEYBOARDING INSTRUCTION IN KINDERGARTEN AND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=HB05015&which_year=2015

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.

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