Archives for category: Connecticut

Wendy Lecker, civil rights attorney, explains here how disappointing the recent Connecticut funding decision is.

“As noted in my previous column, CCJEF trial judge Thomas Moukawsher refused to order the state to ensure adequate resources in schools, though determining constitutional adequacy was his responsibility. By contrast, the judge freely issued sweeping directives regarding educational policy.

“The judge issued far-reaching orders involving elementary and high school education and teacher evaluations. He also aired abhorrent views toward children with disabilities, which several commentators already addressed.

“This column addresses his orders regarding elementary education. I will address the others in subsequent columns.
Moukawsher observed that the educational disparities in secondary school begin in elementary school. (He actually acknowledged that they begin before elementary school, but declined to rule that preschool is essential.)

Moukawsher’s “fix” for elementary school was to order the state to define elementary education as being “primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school.”

“Most of us understand that to thrive in secondary school, children must develop skills beyond basic numeracy and literacy. From an early age, children must develop the ability to think critically, creatively and independently.
There is no real division among brain functions — cognitive, social and motor — so they all must be developed in concert. As neuroscientist Adele Diamond observed, “a human being is not just an intellect or just a body … we ignore any of those dimensions at our peril in … educating children.”

“However, Moukawsher ruled that elementary school should concern itself with basic literacy and numeracy skills. Moreover, he demanded that this definition have “force,” “substantial consequences” and be “verifiable” — code for high-stakes statewide standardized elementary school exit exams.

“The judge’s myopic focus was emphasized by his suggestion for giving the required definition “force.” He declared that the state definition “might gain some heft, for example, if the rest of school stopped for students who leave third grade without basic literacy skills. School for them might be focused solely on acquiring those skills. Eighth-grade testing would have to show they have acquired those skills before they move on to secondary school. This would give the schools four school years to fix the problem for most children.”

Many children who do not score well on standardized tests are poor and experience stress in their lives that inhibits learning. Others are just learning English. Others have disabilities. Any lag in reading does not mean a child cannot think at grade level or beyond. Moreover, many low-income children have limited exposure to the wide variety of experiences their more affluent peers enjoy. Yet Moukawsher’s prescription for “fixing” them is to limit their education to reading instruction. No art, music, physical education, social studies, science, drama, or field trips. This “solution” will leave our neediest children further behind developmentally.

Moukawsher’s proposal not only threatens to hinder development for our neediest children. It is not even an effective way to teach reading.”

Read the rest of her analysis. This is the same decision that the New York Times treated as historic. Apparently, no one at the Times actually read the decision.

A recent court decision in Connecticut, which ruled that the state’s property-tax based system of funding was inequitable and unconstitutional. The decision was hailed by the New York Times and others as a wonderful breakthrough for a “broken” school system. In some respect, that claim was right: a property-tax system is inherently inequitable, assuring that affluent districts are far better funded than poor ones.

But as Jonathan Pelto was first to point out, the decision contains a shocking dismissal of the rights of children with disabilities. Buried in the opinion is the judge’s belief that too much money is spent on such children.

The judge wrote:

““Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts.”

In this article in the HECHINGER Report, it is clear that the Connecticut decision threatens millions of children with special needs and challenges federal law.

Why the school funding judgment in Connecticut could jeopardize education for America’s 6.5 million children with disabilities

Jonathan Pelto has been a stalwart and fearless investigator and reporter of corporate reform scams in Connecticut and elsewhere.

He is running for Congress on the Green Party ticket.

He needs and deserves our help. If everyone who reads this sends him $25, he would have a nifty fund. If you can pledge more, blessings on you!

Diane

Jan Resseger writes that the New York Times has done a great disservice to the public by its incoherent reporting on the recent court decision in Connecticut.

https://janresseger.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/ny-times-muddles-education-debate/

In its “Room for Debate” feature, the Times continued its practice of citing people who had not read the decision and just repeated their talking points. This does not inform the public.

The Times has decided that this decision has national implications. It does but some of them are muddled. The judge says the legislature should fix the funding formula because the property tax-base of funding disadvantages poor children. He goes on to say that the teacher evaluation system is broken and teachers should be judged by student performance, which reveals his ignorance of the flaws and repeated failures of this method. He says that money spent on profoundly disabled children is wasted, which ignores federal law.

Let’s hope the New York Times soon finds the education editor it has advertised for, and that the editor is deeply knowledgable about research and the learned experience of the past 15 years of failed federal policies.

Last week, a judge in Connecticut overturned the property-tax based system of funding and correctly noted that this system produces and reproduces inequity for the state’s neediest children.

Those who have read the decision saluted this finding but see errors in the judge’s statements about education policy.

Jan Resseger expresses her concerns about the decision here.

She explains that the New York Times’ front-page analysis was “wishful and foolishly simplistic.”

She quotes Wendy Lecker and Molly Hunter of the Education Law Center:

“At least Judge Moukawsher did declare the current system unconstitutional. Molly Hunter, in an analysis for the Education Law Center, explains: “Separately, the court dismissed the State’s claim that local school districts bore the responsibility for education, not the state. The court quoted Connecticut Supreme Court holdings: ‘Obviously, the furnishing of education for the general public is a state function and duty,’ and ‘…in Connecticut, education is a fundamental right,’ raising education to the most important level known to law.”

“Hunter identifies several additional serious problems in Judge Moukawsher’s decision: “If there was any one thing in the trial that stood out as good…. Witnesses for both sides agreed that high-quality preschool would be the best weapon to get ahead of the literacy and numeracy problems plaguing schools in impoverished cities. But, the court failed to order it.”

“Hunter continues: “In striking contrast, the court took deep dives into education policy regarding teacher evaluations and students with disabilities. The court ordered policy changes for teachers and other educators that are controversial and have been proven ineffective, even harmful… ”

“And finally, Hunter derides the decision’s impact on special education: “Also, many will find the court’s extensive discussion of students with disabilities and funding for their services troubling. The court indicated that funding for students with severe or multiple disabilities was irrational and not connected to ‘education’ if they were not capable of receiving an elementary and secondary education.”

Wendy Lecker, a veteran civil rights attorney, here analyzes the Connecticut funding decision that was lavishly (and erroneously) praised by the New York Times. Lecker explains why in this and forthcoming articles.


On Sept. 7, Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued his post-trial decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell. His sweeping decision covered funding, which I will address here, and education policy, which I will address in my next column.

On the funding front, the outcome was mixed. While the judge did declare Connecticut’s system of distributing school aid unconstitutional, he found that the state was providing adequate funding. In doing so, he redefined constitutional adequacy and ignored the plaintiffs’ overwhelming evidence of resource deficiencies in the CCJEF districts.

At trial, the CCJEF plaintiffs put forth overwhelming evidence of severe resource deficiencies of inputs such as: academic and social intervention for at-risk students and students with special needs; guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, services for English Language Learners, music art and other subjects; and reasonable class size.

Judge Moukawsher’s charge was to examine the resources in the districts at issue in the case and determine whether those resources were so inadequate as to violate Connecticut’s constitution.

However, nowhere in the opinion does the judge systematically look the actual resources present or absent in each district.

Rather, the judge focused only on three types of resources: facilities, instrumentalities of learning, and teachers. He declared that since, in his view, the state provides the “bare minimum,” in these three areas, the plaintiffs did not prove that state funding is constitutionally inadequate.

Moukawsher claimed to base his ruling on the 2010 Connecticut Supreme Court plurality decision allowing the CCJEF case to proceed to trial. He claimed to rely specifically on Justice Richard Palmer’s concurring opinion, which is seen as the controlling opinion.

Moukawsher stated that Palmer limited his focus to those three narrow resources. This is untrue. Palmer acknowledged a much wider range of potential resource deficits, including class size, language instruction, technology, intervention for at-risk students, and a safe and secure learning environment.

Judge Moukawsher’s decision ignored the wide range of essential educational resources absent in the CCJEF districts. In fact, the judge actually claimed that intervention for at-risk children was an “extra.”

As a result, his ruling does an injustice to the children suffering in those districts.

Moukawsher also attempted to claim Palmer’s definition of a “minimally adequate” education was narrower than the plurality opinion, and that it required only the “bare minimum” of resources.

However, Palmer actually declared that “I perceive no difference between an educational opportunity that is minimally adequate and an educational opportunity that the plurality characterizes as ‘soundly basic.’”

Moukawsher created a bare-bones definition of constitutional adequacy that the Connecticut Supreme Court clearly did not envision.

The one ray of light in this funding decision is Moukawsher’s finding that the state’s system for distributing school aid is unconstitutional. He ruled that “(b)eyond a reasonable doubt, Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction.”

To illustrate Connecticut’s irrational system, Moukawsher cited the legislature’s decision last session to cut school aid for poor districts while providing more aid for wealthy districts. Here, the judge finally acknowledged the severe resource deficits caused by these cuts: of administrators, guidance counselors, kindergarten and special education paraprofessionals, music and athletics, a shortened school year and classes of “29 children per room — rooms where teachers might have a class with one third requiring special education, many of them speaking limited English, and almost all of them working considerably below grade level.”

The judge declared that a system that “allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty.”

Jonathan Pelto read the Connecticut judge’s funding decision, which many people were thrilled to see, and discovered that the judge harbors unbelievably negative views about spending money on children with profound disabilities. Pelto says that the judge’s views would set back special education by 40 years.

While the decision is an important milestone on the school funding issue, Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s Memorandum of Decision is nothing short of absurd, ill-conceived and simply wrong when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the state’s illogical teacher evaluation system and the state’s over-reliance on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and SAT testing schemes.

In his ruling, Moukawsher actually suggests that students should face even more standardized testing in Connecticut’s classrooms.

And of greatest concern is his unwarranted, outrageous and mean-spirited attack on special education services in Connecticut’s schools.

The truth is that Connecticut has actually been a leader when it comes to providing special education services to those who need extra help in the classroom. While issues certainly exist when it comes to adequately identifying and providing services to those students who have special needs, the underlying problem is not that students get special education services, but that Connecticut’s cities and towns are left with an unfair share of the burden when it comes to financing those extra educational activities.

In Connecticut, there has been widespread consensus that society and the state have an obligation to ensure that every child is provided with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to live more fulfilling lives and that includes children with special needs.

Yet in an stunning diatribe, Judge Moukawsher appears to suggest that Connecticut retreat from that commitment.

Jonathan Pelto is first to report on an important ruling by a Superior Court judge in Connecticut. His post contains links to news stories in two major Connecticut newspapers.

More than a decade ago, a group of mayors, parents and education advocates in Connecticut filed a lawsuit claiming the state’s school funding formula was unconstitutional.

On behalf of the state’s children, teachers, public schools and taxpayers, the plaintiffs argued that Connecticut’s school funding formula failed to ensure that every child had access to a quality and productive education, as guaranteed by the state constitution.

Known as CCJEF v. Rell, the case will eventually make its way to the Connecticut Supreme Court before it is fully resolved.

However today, a former Democratic state legislator-turned-judge sought to tread a political and timid path by calling the existing funding system “irrational,” but stopping short of declaring that the plaintiffs were correct in their assertion that Connecticut must both increase its level of school aid as well as distribute that aid in a more equitable manner.

I hope to get further analysis by Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney who is reading the decision now.

Connecticut’s funding formula is based on property taxes, which advantages affluent districts and harms poor district.

The Hartford Courant reports:

In a sweeping ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher declared that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to fairly educate the state’s poorest children and ordered the state to come up with a new funding formula for public education.

Moukawsher’s unexpectedly far-reaching decision also orders the state to come up with clear standards at both the elementary and high school level and to improve the evaluation of teachers. Moukawsher did not address the level of funding for schools, but he blasted the General Assembly for recent cuts to public schools in the state’s poorest cities.

“So change must come. The state has to accept that the schools its blessing and its burden, and if it cannot be wise, it must at least be sensible,” Moukawsher said.

Reading his 254-page ruling for more than two hours, Moukawsher ordered the General Assembly to devise a new school spending plan within 180 days. He also found that “the state is paralyzed about high school graduation,” producing graduates in urban districts unready for “college nor career.”

The remarkable ruling orders the state to revamp virtually all areas of public education, from the hiring and firing of teachers to special education students to education standards for elementary and high school students.

Again, I await further analysis but it sounds as if the judge, in addition to chastising the state for its funding formula, also calls for more testing and test-based teacher evaluation.

Only hours after losing its lawsuit to block teacher tenure in California, the Silicon Valley-funded “Students Matter”filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, claiming that the state’s restrictions on magnet schools and charter schools discriminated against inner-city children.

Curious. Why isn’t this group suing the state for not giving the neediest schools the funds to reduce class sizes and provide social and medical services to the children?

“California-based educational-advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit charging that Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet and charter schools harm city children and violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Students Matter, a group best known for bringing an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to eliminate teacher tenure in California, filed a 71-page complaint Tuesday charging that “inexcusable educational inequity” in Connecticut was primarily the result of state laws “that prevent inner-city students from accessing even minimally acceptable public-school options.”

“The group is taking aim at laws that have put a moratorium on new magnet schools, limit the expansion of charter schools, and set per-student funding levels for districts participating in the Open Choice program in which city students attend suburban schools.

“A statement from Students Matter said, “Year after year, these parents have tried to avoid sending their children to failing public schools by trying to enroll them in magnet schools, charter public schools or other adequate public school alternatives.”

“However, the group contends that children have been “forced to remain in failing schools” because laws prevent magnets and charters from “scaling and meeting the need for high-quality schools demanded by Connecticut’s population.”

Hmmm. If students have a constitutional right to attend charter schools, do charter schools have the right to refuse admission?

I wonder if TIME Magazine will give the story a cover, as it did for Vergara, claiming that Silicon Valley knows how to fix failing schools. Or the cover it gave to Michelle Rhee, holding a broom, saying that she knew how to fix the public schools of D.C.

I have an idea: since David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind Students Matter, knows how to fix low-scoring schools, why doesn’t he offer to take over a district in California and show us how to do it?

Ann Cronin is puzzled by the stance that Connecticut officials take toward charter schools. They consider charter schools to be the salvation for children of color. They ignore the public schools, which enroll 98% of the state’s public school children, compared to 1.5% in charter schools.

Bear in mind that Connecticut has long been recognized as one of the best state systems in the country. Yet Governor Malloy and the legislature keep cutting funding for their excellent public schools in order to increase funding for privately managed charter schools. This despite the huge charter scandal in the state, when the governor’s favorite chain (Jumoke) imploded after the revelations of nepotism, misspent funds, and a lack of accountability. This despite the fact that most charters do not outperform public schools. This despite the fact that Connecticut is still bound by a court order to integrate its schools and charters are seldom integrated.

She invites her readers to thank the NAACP for calling for a moratorium on new charters.