Archives for category: Connecticut

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.

Julia Fisher taught English at the Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, Connecticut. She is now earning a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. In this article, which appeared in the Washington Post, she describes life in a “no excuses” charter school.

She begins:

When I taught at a charter school, I once gave out 37 demerits in a 50-minute period. This was the sort of achievement that earned a new teacher praise in faculty-wide emails at Achievement First Amistad High School, in New Haven, Conn.

Amistad is a No Excuses school, in the mold of high-profile charter networks such as KIPP and Success Academy. The programs are founded on the notion that there can be “no excuses” for the achievement gap between poor minorities and their more affluent, white counterparts. To bridge that gap, they set high expectations and strict behavioral codes. School days are long. Not a moment is to be wasted. Classes even rehearse passing out papers quickly so they can save every second for drilling academic content. Instruction is streamlined with methods that data says lead to strong performances on standardized tests, which lead to college acceptances.

Students at Amsted rebelled last May, protesting the lack of teachers of color.

Amistad’s students were mostly protesting the fact that their school doesn’t have more minority teachers: Achievement First says 17 percent of its faculty members at its five New Haven schools are black or Latino, which is roughly what I saw at Amistad. But the problem goes far beyond the racial composition of the faculty. More important, the students would benefit from teachers who treated them as equals in dignity and the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

The Achievement First network, like many No Excuses schools, hammers its students from their first days with the notion that each of them will graduate from college. To do so, they must work hard. At school, students encounter careful uniform checks and communal chanting of motivational slogans. And because students will face professional standards in college and the workplace, No Excuses schools insist that they start young. Posture and eye contact are important, even for 16-year-olds. Class is not to proceed without total compliance.

She describes how she broke protocols by asking students to arrange their chairs in a circle for a class discussion. She encouraged students to think and to ask questions. When administrators got wind of what she had done, they were furious at her and began monitoring her classes closely to be sure that she didn’t allow questions.

Classes were designed to follow No Excuses dogma, in a way that precluded real engagement. Discussion was considered a waste of time because it didn’t produce measurable results. Teachers were forbidden from speaking for more than 5 percent of a class period. That meant most of the time was devoted to worksheets.

Classrooms at Amistad were often unruly. My students’ favorite disruption strategy was to make bird noises — a clever move, because it’s impossible to tell who is making the noises, so no one ends up punished. One of my student advisees said to me, “I’ve been in charter schools for 10 years, and the only way to have fun is to get in trouble.” Amistad officials knew they had a morale problem. Still, an administrator once stopped me in the hall to say (on her own initiative, not following policy) that she had seen me laughing in front of my students, which was wholly inappropriate behavior….

When I left Amistad, I went to teach at a progressive prep school in D.C., where the arts thrived and students shaped the spirit of their school. Once, I looked around the room at my students and noticed that, at that moment, every one of them — engrossed in discussion, looking through their books to develop ideas, taking notes, sitting comfortably — was doing something that would have earned a demerit at Amistad. Sure, the two schools’ populations differed significantly in racial composition and affluence, but the way a school treats its students shouldn’t be based on race or class.

That’s the basic premise of No Excuses: Race and class shouldn’t determine educational success. But because administrators so misunderstand what matters about education, their students are punished for the same behavior that, at a school with a hefty price tag, merits celebration. Amistad, like its No Excuses brethren, holds that no academic work can be done until and unless the classroom reaches perfect behavioral compliance. Yet no one demands such compliance of more-privileged kids. And so No Excuses schools re-create the racial gap they aim to eliminate.

Why are “no excuses” charter schools almost exclusively for children of color? Why do privileged white kids get joyful lessons, instead of joyless repression? Would you want your own child to attend a school like Amistad? I would not.

Jonathan Pelto reports on the latest chapter in the corporate reform movement in Connecticut. Bear in mind that Connecticut has one of the best school systems in the nation.

But reformers are unhappy. They want more charters. They know they won’t get them by appealing to the public. So, they are entering political campaigns to try to oust the elected officials who don’t like charters. The hedge fund managers have moved in with their political operation, DFER. And other groups have been created to give the veneer of grassroots support, which the charter industry never has, unless they pay for it.

Pelto explains the background:

Change Course CT, a front-group for Democrats for Education Reform, was formed on July 18, 2016.

Charters Care, a new appendage of the Northeast Charter School Network, was formed a few days earlier on July 13, 2016.

Both Democrats for Education Reform and the Northeast Charter School Network are corporate-funded charter school advocacy groups based in New York City and both receive the bulk of their money from the billionaires and millionaires who are trying to privatize public education in the United States.

According to forms filed with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission, all the funds collected by Change Course CT come from Education Reform Now Advocacy, a non-profit 501 (c) 4 corporation that is operated in conjunction with New York City based Democrats for Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now.

Signing the official documents on behalf of Change Course CT has been Jenna A. Klaus, who appears to be the daughter of Jeff Klaus and Dacia Toll. Toll is the CEO of Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. In addition to collecting the bulk of the $110 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds paid to charter schools, Achievement First, Inc. earned its infamy from suspending record numbers of kindergarteners in an apparent attempt to push out children who don’t fit the company’s limited definition of appropriate students. Jeff Klaus is a regional president for Webster Bank and can often be found, throughout the day, attacking education advocates and posting pro-charter school comments on various Connecticut media websites.

The Charters Care election documents are being signed by Christopher Harrington, the Connecticut Policy Manager for the Northeast Charter School Network and the PACs money has come from OxyContin’s Jonathan Sackler and from yet another New York based corporate education front group called Real Reform Now.

Not surprisingly, Jonathan Sackler, a Greenwich, Connecticut multi-millionaire is one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest campaign contributors and is on the Board of both the Northeast Charter Schools Network and Achievement First, Inc., as well as, being the founder and board member of ConnCAN, Connecticut’s leading pro-charter school lobbying group.

The charter school industry has spent in excess of $9 million lobbying on behalf of Governor Malloy’s charter school and education reform agenda.

As reported in the local press, Connecticut will hold Democratic primaries for its General Assembly next week, and corporate reformers plan to take out critics of charter schools and privatization.

Pelto has been warning about the big money forces and their alliance with Governor Dannell Malloy.

As we are seeing in states across the nation, such as Washington, Tennessee, and Massachusetts, corporate reformers are now using their money to knock out those who get in their way.

They failed abjectly in Tennessee, where every one of their school board candidates in Nashville lost. If the public is informed, they can be defeated everywhere. But it requires a strong grassroots effort to explain that the word “reform” is a synonym for privatization, budget cuts, union-busting, and driving out experienced teachers.

Wendy Lecker warns the people of Connecticut that the New Haven public schools have made a deal with the Relay “Graduate School of Education,” which trains robot teachers who value compliance and arrive with scripted lessons. Why contract with Relay, she asks, when there are highly reputable teacher education programs in the neighborhood?

When you consider that Connecticut is one of the highest achieving states in the nation on NAEP, you have to wonder how the charter industry captured the state’s political leadership.

The billionaire boys club has opened a new branch in Connecticut, where they have a charter-loving governor, Dannell Malloy.

Connecticut experienced a gigantic charter scandal involving the governor’s favorite charter chain Jumoke Academy. It turned out that the leader of Jumoke had padded his resume and had hired people with criminal records, and engaged in other improprieties. But the governor learned nothing and continues to press for deregulated, unsupervised charter schools. (See here and here.) Jumoke had collected $53 million in public funds between 1998-2013, with no oversight. There was a glimmer of hope that this scandal would lead to legislative action to prevent future scandals.

The new billionaire-funded group is called “Connecticut Forward,” which should not be confused with the PAC of the same name that supported Malloy’s re-election bid. Among the billionaires contributing to this new organization are Michael Bloomberg, Paul Tudor Jones, and Ray Dalio. Don’t be surprised to see members of the Sackler family joining the effort to expand charter schools; these are the Connecticut billionaires who love charter schools and made their fortune by selling Oxycontin, the deadly prescription drug that has addicted so many people.

The organization is nonprofit, but it will survey the record of legislators to see which ones support replacing public schools with privately operated charter schools.

Once their survey is complete, pro-charter legislators can expect contributions to come rolling in. The group, please remember, is nonprofit. That means it has an IRS status that does not permit it to engage in political action.

Families for Excellent Schools, which has wrangled Bridgeport administrators over education reform, is behind the election year initiative.

“That struggle has lots of allies and lots of adversaries, and it will continue until every kid in the state has access to the education that they deserve,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, the CEO and co-founder of Families for Excellent Schools. “I actually think the biggest adversary here is the struggle of time.”

Connecticut has 24 charter schools, with five in the state’s largest city, Bridgeport, enrolling 2,350 students. There are three charter schools in Stamford and one in Norwalk.

New York City, on the other hand, added about 180 charter schools during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. Bloomberg’s former press secretary, Stu Loeser, runs the public relations and media consulting firm hired by Families for Excellent Schools.

In Bridgeport, FES successfully fought a proposed moratorium on charter schools in 2015. Some skeptics still view the push for public charter schools as a step toward privatization by wealthy outsiders, however.

Imagine that! Skeptics think that the goal of the charter school movement is “privatization by wealthy outsiders.” Where did they get that idea?

For giants of the hedge fund industry such as Jones and Dalio, both Greenwich residents, charter schools have become a favorite cause. Each has contributed to Families for Excellent Schools, which reported $17.6 million in contributions and grants for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, to the IRS. Kittredge’s compensation was $222,297 for that time period, more than Connecticut’s state education commissioner and New York City’s schools chancellor.

A spokesman for Jones declined to comment. Multiple requests for comment were also left for Dalio, whose Westport hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is the largest in the world. Bloomberg has not contributed directly to FES, but has been strongly linked to the charter school movement.

Investigative journalist David Sirota exposes Connecticut Governor Malloy’s protection of insurance giants. He signed a bill to shield them from Freedom of Information requests.


Is it because the giants of the industry are based in his state? Or was it their $360,000 contribution to the Democratic Governors’ Association, which Malloy chairs?


Sirota writes:


“Amid a burgeoning conflict-of-interest scandal over Connecticut’s national role regulating Cigna and Anthem’s proposed merger, International Business Times has just published a new report on Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy quietly signing insurance-industry-backed legislation exempting insurance industry information from his state’s open records law. Weeks after the Malloy-backed bill was introduced in the legislature, Anthem and Cigna pumped $360,000 into the Malloy-run Democratic Governors Association. The bill was later attached to unrelated legislation, passed in the middle of the night in the waning hours of Connecticut’s legislative session, and then signed by Malloy with no public statement.”



Tom Scarice is superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, and a well-informed critic of what is deceptively called “education reform” in that state. He also happens to be a member of the honor roll of this blog because of his thoughtful commentaries about what needs to be done to fix education in Connecticut.

In this post, he says that it is time for an education revolution in Connecticut.

He begins his post with a metaphor about music that long ago brought everyone to the dance floor, swinging and swaying, but that is now tired and irrelevant.

We are the state left on the dance floor with tired policies, while other states are running away. We are overdue for a bold statewide vision that matches the uncertain and ever-changing world our students will enter when they graduate. But who will lead?

Codified by state law, and enforced by a bureaucracy utterly consumed by compliance, tens of thousands of educators across the state are suffocating, desperate to be exhumed. Consequently, this suffocation is stifling the young, inquisitive minds of children from all backgrounds and colors.

Have we seen the types of educational changes we want for our kids in the past 10-15 years, particularly as the world endures revolutionary changes? If not, why continue the same ineffectual practices? Can Connecticut jump to the forefront and lead in innovation, or do we stand on the dance floor with the two embarrassing guys clapping and swaying?

As we careen through rapid global changes that have profound implications for the worlds of work, citizenship, and lifelong learning, it is safe to assume that the traditional promise of “go to school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job” no longer applies. If you are clinging to that promise, you are probably still searching for your music at Tower Records.

The world continues to decentralize its economy, and the flow of information, at an unprecedented rate. The “sharing economy” rewards innovators and diversity of thought. Yet, Connecticut clings to a command-and-control educational approach destined to homogenize children.

Either directly through prescriptive laws, such as ones that mandate precisely how local boards of education must evaluate their employees, or indirectly through schemes and mechanisms that place high stakes on invalid and unreliable tests such as the SBAC, we rank and sort kids, schools, and teachers based on test scores. Our 8-year-old students take more state tests than what is required to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer. All the while we are missing the point.

We are educating our children for the wrong era.

What changes are needed?

Read on. Tom explains.

Students at the Amistad High School, the crown jewel of the no-excuses Achievement First charter chain, walked out to protest the lack of diversity among the school’s teachers and the arbitrary discipline.

“Administrators overseeing the Achievement First Amistad charter high school promised to “do better” Tuesday after hundreds of black and Latino students walked out in protest to air longstanding complaints about racial insensitivity.

“The students massed on the football field of the Dixwell Avenue charter school after arriving on buses, then marched on the street chanting “What do we want? Diversity! When do we want it? Now! Now!”

“Some 98 percent of the school’s 498 students are black or Latino, according to its website. Most of the teachers are white.

“The school emphasizes that it grooms students to be leaders — and the students took them up on that mission at Tuesday’s orderly protest.

“They charged that a racially insensitive climate had led most of the black teachers to leave and to indiscriminate discipline.

“The protests brought into the open complaints students and parents have had about the racial climate in the school.

“The school has young teachers that can’t handle the classroom,” said Kordell Green, one of the organizers.”