Archives for category: Connecticut

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

In this article, she takes issue with a public-private partnership that fails to address the state’s woefully School finance system.

Ray Dalio, a billionaire who wants to do good, has created a partnership with the state government that will operate outside public scrutiny. Dalio and the state will each contribute $100 million and raise another $100 million. This amount, she writes,  will barely scratch the surface of the state’s neediest children and schools.

Controversially, the Partnership insists on being exempt from Connecticut transparency and ethics rules. Supporters maintain that “innovation” is required to solve entrenched problems like poverty and struggling public schools, and addressing these sensitive issues can only be done in private.

When it comes to public education, the issues have already been addressed in a public forum- the CCJEF trial. The trial judge made thousands of public findings of fact in his 2016 decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, all based on evidence presented during the months-long public trial.

Among his findings are that Connecticut’s poorest districts have significantly lower levels of children who attend high quality preschool, and that preschool provides significant lasting benefits, particularly for poor children, such as: reduced grade repetition and special education identification rates, decreased behavioral problems, higher graduation and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, reductions in involvement with the criminal justice system, reductions in the probability of being on welfare, and improved health measures.

The evidence at trial also proved that, despite higher need, Connecticut’s poorest districts could not afford an adequate supply of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, reading interventionists, special education teachers, and teachers and services for bilingual students. The lack of these essential services prevented these districts from successfully serving their neediest children. Districts often had to spend their Alliance District money, funds intended to be “extra,” to try to pay for at least some of these basic services and staff; and had to divert money intended for general education to cover growing special education costs.

This persuasive public evidence came from people who work in and belong to the communities shut out of the secretive Partnership for Connecticut leadership. They are the ones with the knowledge of what these communities lack and need.

The trial court findings paint a picture of districts in triage mode, trying to plug gaping holes caused by inadequate state education funding.

Unfortunately the same judge who reached these findings did not order the state to remedy the injustice, which only the state can do, not a public-private philanthropy operating behind closed doors.

Rhode Island Officials—Governor Gina Raimondo and State Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green—are looking at the expansion of the no-excuses Achievement First Charter chain as part of the “solution” to the low-scoring Providence public school district.

Achievement First is a national charter chain known for high test scores, high suspension rates, and high teacher turnover. It was launched in Connecticut, funded in large part by Jonathan Sackler of Purdue Pharma, the opioid king, and significant contributions by hedge fund managers and philanthropists.

Let’s do the math.

Providence public schools enroll nearly 24,000 students. Two-thirds are Hispanic, 9% are white, 79% are low-income. Achievement First reports similar demographics in its two schools in Providence.

With now three schools in the state since opening in the 2013-2014 school year, Achievement First cites that the Rhode Island Department of Education in 2016 gave approval to Achievement First to grow to a high school — and add an additional K-8, giving Achievement First the ability to serve 3112 students — up from the current 1150 students in Providence and Cranston.

AF has 464 students in itselementary school, and 201 in its middle school in Providence. That was last year (2018-19), so the numbers might be higher this year.

So here is the question: If Achievement First expands by adding another elementary school and a high school, if its enrollment grows to serve a total of 3112 in two Rhode Island cities, how exactly does that uplift the Providence school district?

Suppose AF grows from its current enrollment of about 700 in Providence. Suppose it doubles its enrollment to 1,500 in Providence. That’s less that 10% of the students in the city.

What about the other 93% of the students?

What plans do the Governor and the State Commissioner have for them?

How does it transform Providence if a charter chain withdraws the students it wants and the funding for them from the struggling public schools?

To learn more about this charter chain, read this 2017 study from Yale. Thisstudy of Achievement First in Connecticut and New York says that its schools are highly segregated and get remarkably high test scores, but do so with a heavily white teaching staff strictly disciplining Black and Hispanic students, and with unusually high teacher turnover. The study is titled, “Achievement First, Children Second?” and suggests that AF’s strict discipline “may harm student development.”

AF likes to boast that if its schools can achieve great test scores, so can all schools. One way to test the proposition would be to turn an entire district over to AF. One candidate would be Central Falls, Rhode Island, the smallest urban district in Rhode Island, which registered the lowest test scores in the state. There are only 2,657 students in the whole district. Since the state is taking over Central Falls, why not invite Achievement First to demonstrate what it can do with an entire district, every single child…no exclusions, no cherry-picking. This would be a valuable lesson for all of us.

Democratic State Senator Sam Bell called for the removal of Achievement First management after news spread about a pattern of abusive behavior towards students.

Achievement First is based in Connecticut and practices “no excuses” discipline.

“Dismantling the Achievement First Rhode Island network needs to begin with removal of the Achievement First Corporation from any managerial involvement with the schools. Closure would be too disruptive to the students, and converting the schools into public schools is a better approach,” Bell told GoLocal.

Bell sites a range of issues, including physical abuse of students. in Rhode Island, Achievement First operates under the names Achievement First Iluminar Mayoral Academy and Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy.

Bell’s demand comes at the same time that the Mayor of Providence is trying to expand the Achievement First chain in his city.

In January of this year, the head of Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven was caught on video shoving a student. This was one of a number of episodes linking faculty to physical contact with students.

The defenders of the chain say that Achievement First gets high test scores, and it appears that those scores matter more than abusive adults manhandling students.


The Connecticut State Board of Education hired a new state commissioner who pledged to raise the graduation rate, close the achievement gap, and “Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.”

What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what every new commissioner promises? Has any new commissioner in any state achieved those goals?

Ann Cronin, veteran educator, explains why these are tired cliiches and what a visionary approach would look like. 

First, would be to change the term “graduation rate”  to something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

“Credit retrieval” is a common practice in public schools with low graduation rates. “Credit retrieval” allows students to make use of often dubious computer programs that, in no way, equal courses in academic subjects, yet  the students get credit for the academic courses. In doing so, students increase the graduation rate for their schools but do not have adequate learning experiences.

Charter schools have another way to increase their graduation rates. They “counsel out” students who are likely to not graduate before they get to be seniors which leaves only a pre-selected group as seniors and, unsurprisingly, they all graduate. And lo and behold, the charter school has a high graduation rate. For example, one year at Achievement First’s Amistad Academy in New Haven, 25 students out of 25 in the senior class graduated, but 64 students had been in that class as ninth graders.

A visionary way to increase the number of students who receive a high school education is to not count the number of students who receive high school diplomas but rather count how many of the students who begin a school as ninth graders complete the coursework necessary for graduation. For example, some innovative public high schools hold Saturday classes with actual teachers instead of plugging kids into commuter programs. The applause should be given to high schools who deliver a quality education to all the students who begin their high school education in the school not to the schools who either give credits without the academic content and skills or who dismiss those who won’t make for a good statistic.

Read her essay to see her critique of “closing the achievement gap,” which is impossible when the gap is based on standardized test scores which are designed to have a gap.

Civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker writes here about the persistence of racial segregation in Connecticut.

She writes:

The racial imbalance law applies to all public schools. It was enacted prior to the existence of charter schools but it was amended after the Connecticut charter school law was written. A 1996 revision of the law specifically included charters as a method to reduce racial isolation.


Despite the intent and plain language of the racial imbalance law, charter schools, which are now among the most racially isolated schools in the state, are specifically excluded from SDE’s report. This is particularly troubling since Connecticut law defines charter schools as public schools subject to all federal and state laws to which public schools are subject. Charter schools can be granted a specific exemption from some laws but only if they request that in their application. If the legislature intended to exempt charters from the racial imbalance law, it could have amended the law and done so explicitly. But that is not the case.

Moreover, in approving charter schools, the commissioner of education has a statutory obligation to consider the effect of any proposed charter school on the reduction of racial, ethnic and economic isolation in the region in which it is to be located. A charter school is to be put on probation if it “fails to achieve measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation.” Yet, as a Connecticut Voices for Children report noted in 2014, the majority of charters are “hyper-segregated:” having a student body that is more than 90 percent students of color. In addition, most charter schools tend to underserve bilingual students (e.g. ELL) and students with disabilities.

However the State Education Department has decided to exempt charter schools from the law that requires diversity.


The parents of the children massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. have been subject to unending abuse by conspiracy theorists who claim that the massacre was a hoax, that it never happened, that the children and parents were “crisis actors,” and that it was staged by advocates for gun control.

The parents have fought back with defamation lawsuits against Alex Jones, the chief perpetrator of this calumny, and his followers.

EdWeek reports that one parent just won a defamation case. 

The father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that claimed the shooting never happened—the latest victory for victims’ relatives who have been taking a more aggressive stance against conspiracy theorists.

The book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” has also been pulled to settle claims against its publisher filed by Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the shooting.

“My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son,” Dave Gahary, the principal officer at publisher Moon Rock Books, said Monday. “I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family.”

A judge in Wisconsin on Monday issued a summary judgment against authors James Fetzer and Mike Palacek.

Pozner has been pushing back for years against hoaxers who have harassed him, subjected him to death threats, and claimed that he was an actor and his son never existed. He has spent years getting Facebook and others to remove conspiracy videos and set up a website to debunk conspiracy theories.

Lately, the fight has been joined by others who lost relatives in the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After quietly enduring harassment and ridiculous assertions for years, some have changed their approach, deciding the only way to stop it is to confront it. Their efforts have turned the tables on the hoaxers, including Alex Jones, host of the conspiracy-driven Infowars website.

Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was among 20 1st-graders and six educators killed at Sandy Hook, spent years ignoring people who called him a crisis actor. His family moved to the West Coast, but still the harassment didn’t stop. He would get letters from people who found his address. He was once stopped in a parking garage by a man who berated him and said the shooting never happened…

Pozner is the lead plaintiff in several of at least nine cases filed against Sandy Hook deniers in federal and state courts in Connecticut, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin.

In the case against Jones, the families of eight victims and a first responder say they’ve been subjected to harassment and death threats from his followers. A Connecticut judge ruled in the defamation case that Jones must undergo a sworn deposition, which is scheduled for July in Texas.

I hope that justice is done.


Students at Hill Regional Career High School conducted a peaceful protest because of layoffs of some of their teachers. 

During their last period, Career students stepped out onto the grassy field behind the school. They carried a wide pink banner with the names of four teachers who received notice last week that they would be involuntarily transferred out of the school. Others held up signs that said, “WTF: Where’s the funding?” “HISTORY has its EYES on YOU,” and “We need our AP classes.”

“Save our teachers!” they chanted. “Save our teachers!”

Many of the students said they wanted to stand up for the educators who had always stood up for them — sometimes in situations that were literally “between life and death,” said Nidia Luis-Moreno, a junior. They said that, so far, they had collected close to 1,000 signatures opposing the involuntary transfers…

After they walked onto the field, students confronted Principal Zakia Parrish about why she had decided to remove two social-studies teachers and a music teacher, who had all made close personal connections with students.

On the other side of town, black ministers rallied in opposition to the students, claiming that the student protest was an effort to preserve “white privilege,” although the photographs accompanying the story did not show many white students in the protest.


The Providence Journal published 20 articles about Governor Gina Raimondo and Sackler contributions to her campaign. It was only $12,500, nothing in the world of hedge fund managers, Raimondo’s former occupation. The publicity finally got to her, and she announced she was donating the money somewhere. 

Sackler owns Purdue Pharma, major manufacturer of OxyContin, the highly addictive opioid responsible for more than 200,000 deaths. There are more than 1,600 lawsuits against Purdue and the Sacklers, whose net worth exceeds $14 Billion.

Sackler is a major funder if charter schools and charter advocacy groups, such as Achievement First, ConnCAN and 50CAN.

It seems that the courts will act when legislators, influenced by NRA lobbying, refuse to do so.

Connecticut’s highest state court overturned a lower court decision and concluded that the families of those murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 may sue the manufacturer of the gun used in the killings. 

“Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the manufacturer of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle can be sued and potentially held liable in connection with the 2012 mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“The groundbreaking decision overturned a lower-court ruling barring the lawsuit, which was brought by the estates of nine victims killed by Adam Lanza, who was armed with the high-powered rifle during his assault on the school. Bushmaster is owned by Remington.

“The families argued, among other things, that the rifle’s manufacturer and distributor negligently allowed and encouraged civilians to use a weapon suitable only for military and law enforcement use.

“The firearms company had convinced a lower court that a federal law enacted in 2005 limited the liability of firearms manufacturers and dealers, essentially preempting wrongful death suits in state and federal courts.

“The Connecticut high court disagreed. It also said the suit, which seeks unspecified damages for each death, could go forward under that state’s Unfair Trade Practices Law.

“Twenty first-grade children and 6 adults were killed and two others wounded in the attack on Dec. 14, 2012. The Bushmaster that Lanza used had been sold to his mother, according to court documents.

“The number of lives lost in those 264 seconds was made possible by the shooter’s weapon of choice,” the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit. “Plaintiffs seek nothing more and nothing less than accountability” for Bushmaster’s choice to “continue profiting” from selling and marketing the weapon for civilian use, the suit said.”


We know a few things about the Sackler family. Their family fortune is vast, about $14 billion. Their fortune was derived primarily from the sale of highly addictive opioids. More than 200,000 people have died due to opioid addiction. The Sackler nameis emblazoned on museums, libraries, and universities. Curiously, Jonathan Sackler has been a major finder of charter schools in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other states. He has been a major founder of the no-excuses chain called Achievement First.

This is the first article I have seen that tries to track the Sackler ties to the charter industry.  

“An examination of 990 donor tax forms draws a wider picture of how Sackler largely came to underwrite many pro-charter entities over several years.

“Sackler made donations to charter schools and charter groups dating back to at least 2003, including a $50,000 unrestricted gift specifically to New Haven charter school Amistad Academy, which received $365,000 from the foundation in 2004 and $20,000 in 2005. The foundation also donated to the Arizona-based Alliance for School Choice in 2004 and 2008, and donated $250,000 to pro-charter organization ConnCAN in 2004 before its official launch, for which he is listed as an interlocking directorate.

“According to forms filed by the Bouncer Foundation, which is Sackler’s foundation, Impact for Education, a New Haven-based “philanthropic advisory practice,” received nearly $100,000 from the foundation for offering “philanthropic advice” in 2013.

“The year “2013 was the heyday for charters and charter expansion,” said Wendy Lecker, a senior attorney at the Education Law Center and a contributing columnist to Hearst Connecticut Media.

“Two years prior, New Haven-based Amistad Academy charter school co-founder Stefan Pryor was named commissioner of the state Department of Education. Also, around that time, then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy publicly stood with charter school advocates, Lecker said.

“(Sackler’s) fingerprints are all over the charter movement, particularly in our neck of the woods, and that’s another stain on the charter movement,” Lecker said. “The most vulnerable are in their schools, and for the charter industry to take this money when they’re claiming to help these kids is pretty questionable.”

“The foundation’s yearly reimbursement for Impact for Education’s annual philanthropic advice increased to $130,454 in 2014 and, after a payment of $90,000 in 2015, was reported to be $470,000 in 2016 and $262,500 in 2017, the most recent year available on searchable public databases.

“Impact for Education engages forward-thinking philanthropists to catalyze systemic change in public education,” the practice says on its website.

“Impact for Education’s president and founder, Alex Johnston, also co-founded the pro-charter advocacy group Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN, with Sackler in 2005. Johnston served as executive director, while Sackler sat as chairman of the board.

“According to his biography on Impact for Education’s website, Johnston also is a board member of FaithACTS for Education in Bridgeport, a registered nonprofit coalition of religious education advocates that received $700,000 from the Bouncer Foundation between 2015 and 2017. The group’s founder, the Rev. William McCullough, told the Connecticut Post that the group believes in school choice.

“Neither Johnston, a former member of the New Haven Board of Education, nor Impact for Education returned a request for comment.

“In 2009, the Bouncer Foundation had begun making gifts to Yale University that would ultimately culminate in a $3 million endowment for the Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professorship, but other donations effectively ceased until 2011, when the foundation gave $100,000 to Students for Education Reform and $5,000 to the conservative Alliance for School Choice. After an austere 2012, the foundation donated to eight groups affiliated with charter schools, including ConnCAN and its subsequently founded national counterpart 50CAN, Students for Education Reform, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington Academy, the Northeast Charter Schools Network. In 2013, Achievement First, the charter network co-founded by Dacia Toll, and which operates Amistad Academy, was named a recipient of a donation….

“In 2013, Achievement First, which runs 35 other schools in three states, received $151,571 from the Bouncer Foundation. The contribution was increased to $250,000 in 2014 and 2015 and was more than doubled in 2016, when the network received $600,000 from the foundation. By 2017, the foundation’s gift to Achievement First was $350,000.

“For 2013, 990 forms show Achievement First reported $29,253,402 in contributions and $40,396,539 in revenue, so contributions were about 72.4 percent of revenue. In the most recent year for which data is available, Achievement First reported for 2017 about $22 million in contributions and grants, of $46 million in revenue.

“For the entirety of the Bouncer Foundation donations, Sackler sat on Achievement First’s Board of Directors.”

Wendy Lecker gave a good explanation of the appeal of charter schools to the Uber-rich like Sackler.

“The Education Law Center’s Lecker said wealthy donors receive tax incentives for donating to charter schools, so a number of wealthy charter donors are seeking financial advantages. However, she believes there’s also a basis in undermining public services.

“The whole privatizing of public education is an effort of the uber-wealthy to tamp down the expectations of what people should want in the public sphere,” she said. “A smaller public sphere in terms of public education and local democracy means people have less of an expectation of what they can get from the public.”

“Lecker said she believes a number of philanthropists believe they are doing a good thing, but the fact that some, like Sackler, “are so aggressively involved, and have been since the beginning, means they have to know what goes on in charter schools and what impact they have on funding for public schools.”

“Advocates for district schools such as Joyner and Lecker see charter schools as a movement to undermine teacher unions and hand governmental control of education to charter management companies and moneyed interests.”