Wendy Lecker’s latest column – The importance of listening to students

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In a commentary piece entitled Heeding the lessons of teenagers, fellow Education Advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker used her latest article in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets to remind us that when it comes to the so-called “education reform” agenda it is critically important that student voices be heard above the din of politics and the greed of the corporate education reform industry.

The Corporate Education Reformers and their allies in the charter school industry are so desperate to hijack the voices of public schools students that they actually create front groups with names like Students For Education Reform.

Calling themselves SFER, the group claims to be a “student run” organization but turns to the power elite for money and guidance.  An early member of the SFER Board of Directors was none other than Connecticut’s own Jonathan Sackler, the man behind the education reform groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN, as well as a key funder in the large charter school chain, Achievement First, Inc.  Sacker is also among the largest funders of Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election.

Present members of SFER’s Board of Directors includes a Chief Growth Officer from the  gigantic KIPP charter school chain, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, a major hedge fund, the Deputy General Counsel of Unilever, the President of the major education reform consulting company called Mass Insight Education, that got a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration,  and the list goes on.

Although Students For Education Reform has yet to file their IRS forms for this past tax year, in their first three years of business the group collected at least $6 million from corporate education reform groups, including a major start up grant form Democrats For Education Reform, an anti-union, anti-teacher, pro-charter group that have run attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups speaking out for the rights of teachers and students.

Claiming to have chapters on 100 college campuses, SFER is among the organizations that joined in the record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform agenda.

In 2012 the group dropped $15,000 in support of a pro-Malloy student rally.  However, following an ethics complaint it was later revealed that the money appeared to actually come from StudentsFirst, a national corporate education reform group that was headed, at the time, by Michelle Rhee.

By comparison there are the very real and very genuine voices of students, students who aren’t being paid to parrot the phrases of corporate executives like Jonathan Sackler.

And when you listen to real students, you hear a very different set of opinions and concerns.

As Wendy Lecker writes;

Although reformers and pundits like to pretend the interests of teachers are at odds with children’s best interests, those who know understand that their interests are aligned. Teachers know teaching conditions are learning conditions. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for, among other things, smaller class size, art, music and wraparound services for children. In their recent victorious strike, Seattle teachers won mandatory recess for elementary school children.

Students also know that they and teachers want the same things. A fine example is the recent, unprecedented filing by Houston high school students of an amicus brief in the Texas school funding case now on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

In researching their brief, written entirely by them, the students visited schools across Houston, and spoke to students, teachers and administrators. They also drew on their own experience. As they point out, by the time they graduate, they will have spent 16,000 hours in public school. These kids are the experts.

Their research and experience led them to the same conclusions that courts across the country found: Schools need certain essential resources for kids to succeed, including: small class size, teacher training and support, extra-curricular activities and a rich curriculum.

The students stressed the need for small class size to help English Language Learners (“ELL”), a large population in Texas. The authors point out that individualized attention is necessary because for these students, “every class is a language class.”

Small class size is vital for all students. The authors remark that in large classes, teachers cannot provide feedback that is essential so students learn from their mistakes. As one student said, “it’s demotivating for us to spend hours on an assignment knowing that the teacher can only afford to spend a few minutes (if even that) checking for completion before putting a grade on it. It’s also demotivating for teachers to spend hours grading assignments that don’t require any of their expertise.”

Small class size is also essential to develop a personal bond with a teacher. This need is especially strong for disadvantaged students who face trauma in their daily lives. The personal connection prevents “children from falling through the cracks.”

The students note that private schools advertise their small classes. “This factor is a selling point for well-off parents who want the best for their kids, but isn’t available for those less fortunate.”

The authors stress that they need trained teachers, not novices. They show how teacher training is vital to help ELL teachers navigate the different cultures they encounter, and how the lack of funds for training hurts students and teachers alike.

Enrichment activities are often the first resources to be cut in a budget crunch, as they are viewed as extra. The authors here provide real-life examples of how these “extras” provided a vital outlet for students experiencing personal crises, enabling them to stay in school and focus on their studies.

The students’ authentic voice shines through in their writing. They confess:

“Most of us do not wake up in the morning excited to attend school and learn math. Many of us attend school because we look forward to ROTC, band, or orchestra, and while we’re there, we might as well learn math too. That mindset is useful to understand arts education as a pragmatic method of retaining students, boosting grades, and improving education for all.”

The students recognize how the absence of support services affects the futures of disadvantaged children. They note that the lack of guidance counselors deprives impoverished students of information about “four-year residential colleges, two-year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps.”

These students illustrate with real-life examples how teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that cannot be reduced to one data point. Thus, schools need comprehensive services and programs.

The authors do not blame teachers. They know that school personnel care about them. Rather, they call out the state, which communicates to children that it does not care by ignoring the severe lack of resources in schools.

The brief is also remarkable for what it omits. These students do not ask for choice. They do not want teachers to be rated on their standardized test scores, or replaced by untrained recent college graduates, a la Teach for America. Current fashionable education reforms are irrelevant to these real students.

Politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of these teenage experts, who know what’s best for them and their teachers.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  You can read and comment on her full piece via: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Heeding-the-lessons-of-teenagers-6545659.php

New Jersey lawyer known for privatization effort leads UConn bargaining effort against faculty.


If there was any doubt that Governor Dannel Malloy was lying to state employees last fall when he was courting their vote, they need only look to the decision by Malloy’s political appointees on UConn’s Board of Trustees to hire a New Jersey based, corporate law firm with close ties to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to lead the contract negotiations against UConn’s faculty.

New Jersey lawyer John J. Peirano, a partner with Elroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, has been given a contract that could cost state taxpayers and UConn students $500,000 or more to serve as the lead negotiator against the American Association of University Professors – UConn Chapter.

Peirano’s firm, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, is closely connected to Christie.  The firm’s Managing Director, Edward Deutsch, served on Christie’s gubernatorial transition team and is now a member of the Christie for President fundraising committee.  The firm’s Newark Managing Partner was recently appointed Christie’s chief legal counsel and other firm lawyers have been appointed by Christie to major New Jersey Boards and Commissions.

The news that the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees had hired a big time, out-of-state law firm to represent UConn in its negotiations with the faulty was first reported here at Wait, What? in an article entitled UConn hires Gov. Chris Christie connected law firm to negotiate contract with faculty union.

While both the Hartford Courant and CT Mirror have recently followed with their own news stories about the development, both media outlets skipped over any reference to the law firm’s connection with Governor Christie.  The Hartford Courant article is here – UConn’s Hiring Of Outside Law Firm Angers Faculty and the CT Mirror story is here – UConn begins labor contract talks with cost savings as goal.

As confirmed in the news reports, UConn will be paying the New Jersey firm $250,000 plus expenses for its work through December with an automatic contract extension into 2016.  The cost to UConn students and Connecticut taxpayers for the out-of-state “expertise” will run $310 an hour for attorney Peirano’s help.  Considering how long contract negotiations generally last, the total cost for the New Jersey law firm could easily surpass $500,000.

While UConn already spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on its own legal and labor relation staff, what makes the decision to hire outside negotiators particularly newsworthy is that this will be the first time that UConn has hired outside labor negotiators.

Considering Governor Dannel Malloy serves as the President of the UConn Board of Trustees, appoints the Chairman of the Board and directly appoints and controls the majority of the members of the board, the unprecedented decision has the Malloy administration’s fingerprints all over it.

The choice UConn made is also a strange one.  In addition to the close relationship that the New Jersey law firm has with Republican Governor Chris Christie, is the fact that controversy has often surrounded John J. Peirano, the law firm’s lawyer who will be leading the UConn negotiating operation.

A review of his track record reviles that Peirano has been associated with a series of unfair labor practice charges brought by unions, not to mention the role Peirano played in the Christie administration’s failed attempt to privatize the New Jersey Turnpike.

After taking office, Governor Christie created the New Jersey Privatization Task Force in March 2011.  Two months later, the anti-union governor’s Task Force reported that “privatization offers a variety of benefits to governments and taxpayers including lower costs, improvements in the quality of public services and access to private sector capital and professional expertise.”

A corresponding effort to privatize the New Jersey Turnpike Authority was derailed when the contract with toll collectors was extended for two years after toll collectors agreed to salary cuts of about 25 percent — from around $65,000 a year to $49,500 annually.

Attorney Peirano has been a lead labor lawyer for the Turnpike Authority.

Despite the major concessions given by toll collectors, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority issued a Request for Proposal to privatize the work of the Turnpike’s toll attendants.  The plan called for firing more than 200 full-time public employees and approximately 350 part-time employees, although the RFP did include a provision that would require any private contractor to offer positions, even if they were at a much lower salary level, to any of the public employees who would be laid off.

However, only a few weeks later, on February 25, 2011, the Turnpike Authority suspiciously eliminated the First Right of Refusal provision from the RFP.

In response to the Turnpike Authority’s decision to cut the public employees off at the knees and not even allow them an initial opportunity to remain employed, the union filed a lawsuit claiming the action was in retribution for the union’s outspoken opposition to the plan and that the Turnpike Authority’s action should not be allowed to stand.

In his brief to the court, the Turnpike Authority’s lawyer, Attorney Peirano, blasted the union and the public employees they represented in a court brief that opined,

“In an effort to undermine that decision, plaintiffs – the union representing toll collectors and seven of its members – have impermissibly sought to derail that process by manufacturing a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court.”

As the Star-Ledger reported at the time in an article entitled,

Wednesday in federal court, a lawyer for the toll collectors said that after they spoke out against plans this summer to privatize their jobs, the authority on Feb. 25 vindictively removed a “right of first refusal” provision that would have given the toll takers first dibs on jobs with the new company handling toll collection.

The clause was removed two days after union members picketed and protested at an authority meeting, and Simpson told reporters after the meeting he was “not happy” with the way toll collectors were behaving.

“The timing here could not be any clearer,” said lawyer Steven Weissman, representing International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local No. 194.

But John J. Peirano, a lawyer representing the authority, said toll collector protests did not lead to the removal of the right of first refusal provision.


The provision was removed because it was causing some prospective bidders to drop out, he said. Even though 23 prospective bidders initially expressed interest, only four bids were received.”

Whether the move was an immoral attempt to silence the unions or an unethical attempt to appease private contractors, the net effect was the same.

Attorney Peirano and his client, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, was intent on privatizing a public activity and refused to even give the displaced workers a first right of refusal to keep their jobs.

Inherently, despite the Christie administration’s best efforts, the ill-conceived privatization effort later collapsed.

Now that same lawyer is part of Governor Dannel Malloy’s team.

And as for Malloy and his record on higher education…

The CT Mirror reported yesterday that as a result of Governor Malloy’s utter failure to propose sufficient funding for the University of Connecticut and the state’s other public institutions of higher education,

The university in June reported is was facing a $52.7 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July 2016 — a 4 percent hole in the $1.36 billion needed to continue providing existing programs, services and salary levels. That projection was made before the final two-year state budget was adopted, providing UConn $4.5 million less than its leaders were anticipating.

University officials declined Wednesday to provide updated budget projections for the fiscal year that starts in nine months.

More on the Big Changes with the SAT and why juniors should take the old SAT at least once before March 2016


As reported in yesterday’s Wait, What? Post,

“Current 11th graders are strongly encouraged to take the CURRENT SAT before the NEW SAT comes out in March.  Colleges will continue to accept SAT scores earned prior to the NEW SAT rollout.  In this way, students may also take the NEW SAT and compare scores, submitting the set of scores that is more favorable.  This option (using the current SAT scores) will not be available to younger students.  In other words, students in the Class of 2017 will be the last to have the option of using scores earned on the current SAT.”  (Recommendation from the Guidance Department of E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, CT.)

Starting in March 2016 the College Board, which owns the lucrative PSAT and SAT testing systems, will be rolling out a NEW SAT which it claims is aligned to the “Common Core Standards”

The “primary author” of those Common Core Standards – a system that is causing so much controversy – took over as President of the College Board and immediately announced that he would do for the SAT what he did for the nation’s education standards.

And many of the same problems and issues that have arisen with the Common Core SBAC and Common Core PARCC tests are likely to appear with the new SAT.

Remember that the Common Core testing scheme was designed to fail the vast majority of public school students, and it did, because the tests included a significant amount of content that students had not learned prior to taking the tests.

In Connecticut, for example, the Common Core SBAC testing scam proclaimed that that only 30% of high school students were “proficient” in Math, while the Connecticut Mastery Test had been reporting that that 78% – 82% of all high students had been scoring at a proficient level in Math for decades.

How did the education reform’s testing industry engineer a system in which Connecticut’s high school students suddenly got stupid, dropping from 80% proficient to 30% proficient?

The answer lies in the fact that students were tested on Math content they had not been given the opportunity to learn… a sure why of “proving” that students were “failing.”

And now the NEW SAT is going to do the same thing.

Based on the recent Common Core SBAC test results, Students facing challenges will likely be hit the hardest by the shift to the NEW SAT

In Connecticut, the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory SBAC test determined that only 16.4 percent of poor children where “proficient” in Math, only 8.2 percent of students with special education needs scored at the “proficient” level and only 7 percent of English Language Leaners (those not fluent in the English Language) scored at a “proficient” level.

And now those students will be required to take the NEW SAT.

But the unfair assault on Connecticut’s public school students should come as no surprise considering the NEW SAT is just another piece of the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s agenda to undermine public education.

While this year’s high school juniors can take the old SAT and submit it with their college applications, as long as they take it before March, the State of Connecticut is one of the state’s that have signed a deal with the College Board to “require” that every high school junior take the NEW SAT next spring.  The requirement was passed by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Malloy earlier this year.

As for the elements of the NEW SAT, the College Board is reporting that the NEW PSAT, a standardized test that many high school juniors are taking this fall, is similar in scope to the NEW SAT that will be forthcoming.  However, since the NEW SAT has not be used or validated, students will flying blind when taking the NEW SAT starting in March.

According to the propaganda coming from the College Board, the NEW SAT will be made up of 4 parts; Math, Reading, Writing/Language Arts and a new optional SAT Essay that is taking the place of the required essay that has been the cornerstone of the old SAT testing system.

Apparently some of the biggest differences with the NEW SAT will show up in the Math section which will focus, as they put it, on the following:

However the NEW SAT Math test will also contain what the College Board is calling “Additional Topics in Math,” which will include “trigonometry.”

The inclusion of “advanced” and “additional” topics in math will mean that the NEW SAT will include content that most high school juniors will not have been taught.

While some students who are particularly proficient in math may actually do better with the NEW SAT system, the vast majority of students will probably face greater problems as a result of the “enhancement” to the SAT.

AS for the “optional SAT essay,” the College Board reports that the essays will be scored “using a carefully designed process” in which, “Two different people will read and score your essay, Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing, The two scores for each dimension are added” and “You’ll receive three scores for the SAT Essay — one for each dimension — ranging from 2–8 points.”

The magical scoring rubric can be found via the following link: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/essay

In summary two key points rise to the surface.

First, “current 11th graders are strongly encouraged to take the CURRENT SAT before the NEW SAT comes out in March.  Colleges will continue to accept SAT scores earned prior to the NEW SAT rollout.  In this way, students may also take the NEW SAT and compare scores, submitting the set of scores that is more favorable.”  This option (using the current SAT scores) will not be available to younger students.  In other words, students in the Class of 2017 will be the last to have the option of using scores earned on the current SAT.”

Second, why Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly would mandate that all Connecticut 11th graders take the NEW SAT is a sad commentary on their on-going failure to stand up for Connecticut’s students and parents.  The NEW SAT, like the Common Core SBAC test is designed to fail students, especially students who are already face challenges when it comes to getting into college.

WARNING – Parents of High School Students – Especially Juniors – Beware!


Starting in March 2016, students taking the SAT College Admission Exam will be given the NEW Common Core aligned SAT test rather than the version that students have been taking over the years.

David Coleman, who was the primary “author” of the Common Core, is now the President of the College Board, the organization that develops and overseas the SAT.  Last Spring, Coleman announced that a new SAT would be introduced in 2016.  According to Coleman and the College Board,

“The SAT and SAT Subject Tests are designed to assess your academic readiness for college. These exams provide a path to opportunities, financial support, and scholarships, in a way that’s fair to all students. The SAT and SAT Subject Tests keep pace with what colleges are looking for today, measuring the skills required for success in the 21st century.”

In other words, according to this gigantic standardized testing company that collects hundreds of millions of dollars a year from students, parents, schools, school districts and state and local governments, getting a high score on the SAT is the key to getting into and paying for college.

What Coleman and the Education Reform Industry is not telling parents is that the NEW Common Core aligned SAT, like the Common Core Smarter Balanced Consortium SBAC test and other Common Core Testing schemes will include content that most students have not been taught.

The truth is that many students who take the NEW SAT may be stunned when they receive SAT scores that are far lower than they would have otherwise expected.

The impact could be will be especially significant and unfair for this year’s high school juniors who are taking the SAT’s this spring as part of their college application process.


Hopefully parents of this year’s high school juniors have already heard the news from their high school’s guidance department, but according to the guidance counselors at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut;

“Current 11th graders are strongly encouraged to take the CURRENT SAT before the NEW SAT comes out in March.  Colleges will continue to accept SAT scores earned prior to the NEW SAT rollout.  In this way, students may also take the NEW SAT and compare scores, submitting the set of scores that is more favorable.  This option (using the current SAT scores) will not be available to younger students.  In other words, students in the Class of 2017 will be the last to have the option of using scores earned on the current SAT.”

While the existing SAT has more than its share of problems, experts are reporting that by aligning the NEW SAT to the so-called Common Core standards, students will need to have successfully completed Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, as well as Pre-Calculus, Trigonometry or Probability and Statistics in order to get a co-called “college ready” score on the math portion of the new SAT standardized test.

However, as noted, many, if not most, high school juniors will not have taken the “advanced courses” that are needed in order to get a higher school on the NEW SAT.

While some high students are provided the opportunity to take advanced math course, the State of Connecticut requirement that students even have four years of math doesn’t take effect until the graduating class of 2018, ensuring that many students who graduate in 2016 and 2017 don’t have the necessary background to “succeed” on the NEW SAT and those graduating in 2018 and beyond may have four years of math, but may not have been taught the concepts needed to successfully take the NEW SAT.

The rush to a Test and Punish system of public education is putting today’s students at risk and policymakers in Connecticut and across the country are making things far worse, not better, as the Corporate Education Reform Industry laughs all the way to the bank.

In states like Florida and Texas, once proponents of the Common Core, governors and legislatures are actually moving in exactly the opposite direction by eliminating the requirement that students even have to take Algebra 2, let alone study more advanced math courses, in order meet graduate requirements.

While Connecticut is moving toward the requirement that students take four years of math, Governor Dannel Malloy’s uncompromising support for the Common Core and Common Core Testing scheme is actually undermining public schools students who are caught during the “transition” to the higher standards.

Just yesterday Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education and a handful of key legislators held a press conference at a West Hartford High School to congratulate themselves on promoting a testing system that will actually hurt many Connecticut students.

Governor Malloy’s press release read;

“Governor Dannel P. Malloy today joined State Department of Education (SDE) Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell, State Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), and State Representative Andy Fleischmann (D-West Hartford) at Conard High School in West Hartford, where they highlighted the state’s plan to replace the 11th Grade Smarter Balance Assessment – or SBAC exam – with the SAT later this school year.  This plan represents an important milestone in Governor Malloy’s commitment to reduce the amount of standardized testing for public high school students and ensure that all students are prepared to succeed in college and careers.”

The notion that Dannel Malloy, a champion of the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme is committed to reducing the amount of standardized testing for public school students is utterly absurd.

But equally distressing is the fact Malloy and his State Department of Education, along with the help of the Connecticut General Assembly are seeking to force all Connecticut 11th graders to take the NEW, untested and unproven SAT that, like the SBAC Test, is designed to fail huge numbers of Connecticut students.

What isn’t clear is whether their headlong rush to mandate the use of the NEW SAT is due to their ignorance, their desire to divert scarce public funds to massive education testing and corporate education reform companies or their complete unwillingness to understand how to help, not hurt, Connecticut’s students and parents.

While the NEW SAT will make its appearance in all of Connecticut’s high schools in March, the truly unsettling reality is that the Connecticut General Assembly passed and Governor Malloy signed into law a requirement that every high school junior take the NEW SAT next spring and that those students be judged by a test that is being redesigned and aligned to the Common Core, that no one has seen and that will almost certainly test students on content that they haven’t even learned.

Furthermore, as result of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” initiative, high school teachers in Connecticut will then be “evaluated” on how well their students do on this NEW Common Core aligned SAT.

Early this year, the Atlantic Monthly Magazine highlighted some of the problems with the “NEW” SAT in an article entitled New SAT, New ProblemsThe piece focused on the fact that the “NEW” SAT’s math section would likely put many students at a significant disadvantage when it comes to getting into college.

Why?  Because, as the magazine reported, the NEW SAT will include a significant amount of content that many students have not learned.

As the Atlantic Monthly reported,

“[I]t’s the revision of the math section that could have particularly egregious consequences

The new SAT will focus on fewer types of math than the current version does, sacrificing breadth for depth and testing students on the material the College Board believes to be most essential to “college and career success.” That might sound like good idea. But with this change in focus comes a change in question style. And that’s problematic.

The new version includes fewer questions that deal simply with ‘figures and equations’ and far more with topics that many, even most, students have not been properly prepared for.”

But despite the very real and extremely serious issues with the NEW SAT, Governor Malloy and his allies celebrated Connecticut’s decision to mandate that every student take the NEW SAT and that students and teacher be judged by the results of that test.

Malloy press release yesterday added,

“All children deserve a chance to pursue their dreams, go to college, and compete for the best jobs in a global economy. We are no doubt raising a new bar – graduation rates are at record highs while we’re preparing children for the future like never before,” Governor Malloy said.  “But we also believe in testing smartly, and mitigating stress among students and parents. That’s why we’ve taken this step, and I would like to thank Senator Bye, Representative Fleischmann, and all those who worked in the House and Senate on this issue.

Beyond the benefits of reducing duplicative testing, the move has an added benefit of leveling the playing field by ensuring those who otherwise might not be able to afford the SAT – the costs for which typically run more than $50 – will not be precluded from taking the exam, which is often requisite for admission to higher education institutions.

“Our job is to make sure all of our students in Connecticut have access to a top-quality education that prepares them for success in college and career.  Tests are an important tool for gauging where we are as a state and where students need additional help to succeed,” Commissioner Wentzell said.

“Replacing the Smarter Balanced assessment with the SAT for 11th graders cuts down on the amount of time students spend taking exams and allows high schools to focus on delivering rigorous academic instruction and preparing young people for college.  We thank Governor Malloy, our legislators and educational partners for their leadership and support on this important issue.”

“I’ve heard complaints from many parents and students over the past few years about lost learning time and the impact of too much student testing, especially for 11th-graders, who have some of the heaviest testing burdens with the SBAC, SAT and Advanced Placement exams,” Senator Bye said.  “I believe the changes we have instituted will reduce student stress while still providing them with a proven and valuable college-preparation tool.”

“Federal requirements created a bottleneck of testing for high school juniors that we are now fixing,” State Representative Fleischmann, House co-chair of the Education Committee, said.  “By replacing the 11th Grade SBAC with the new SAT, we not only get rid of a test many students weren’t taking seriously – we also make a college entrance exam free for all families.  Students who might not have considered college before will start to do so – while their parents get a break on ever-rising test fees.”

As the saying goes, with “friends” like these, Connecticut’s public schools students, parents and teachers certainly don’t need enemies …. They already have them and they are running Connecticut’s State Government.

Taking from the Middle Class, Giving to the Rich — It’s the Malloy Way


At yesterday’s State Bond Commission meeting, Governor Dannel Malloy’s plan to give $1 million in taxpayer funds to the private equity company MC Credit Partners so they could move to Stamford sailed through despite the fact that days earlier Malloy announced more than $100 million in deep budget cuts to a variety of vital services as part of  his effort to knock down what will surely be a significant budget deficit before the year is out.

Adding insult to injury, Malloy continues to pay for his Corporate Give-A-Way Program with funds that he is charging to the state’s credit card, meaning, he is actually borrowing the money from Wall Street, which in turn, pushes up the long-term cost to taxpayers since we have to pay back the money plus the associated interest.

According to the Malloy administration, in return for the $1 million, MC Credit Partners [Yes, McCredit is their real name], will move their office, along with their 21 employees, from New York City to space in a building in downtown Stamford, Connecticut.

The office building is owned by one of the city’s biggest campaign contributors and is already the home of two other companies that received Corporate Welfare payments from the Malloy administration.

Malloy’s political spin about the whole arrangement takes a bit of hit when one learns, thanks to a quick search on Bloomberg.com, that MC Credit Partners is already located on the 5th Floor of 2200 Atlantic Street in Stamford.

But then again, perhaps the “deal was done” long before the people of Connecticut were provided the opportunity, through the Bond Commission, to actually vote on the decision to give taxpayer funds to MC Credit Partners.

According to the language adopted by the State Bond Commission,

“These funds are requested to provide a loan to MC Credit Partners, LP to assist in relocation from New York City to Stamford. The company will create 21 new jobs. The loan will be provided at an interest rate of 2% for ten years. The company will be eligible for loan forgiveness of $250,000 if it creates the 21 jobs and retains them for two years. Additional loan forgiveness of $250,000 if the company creates five additional jobs and retains them for two years.

Just to be sure we all understand the full parameters of the deal…

Connecticut taxpayers will borrow $1 million for twenty years at an interest rate of about 3 percent.  Governor Malloy, on our behalf, is then loaning our money to an extraordinarily successful private equity firm at a rate of 2 percent for ten years.  Although it is called a “loan,” the company gets to keep $250,000 of our money if it maintains its present number of employees for 2 years and they get to keep another $250,000 of our money if they create an additional five jobs at some point over the next ten years and keeps those for at least two years.

For background, according to Bloomberg.com,

“MC Credit Partners LP is a private equity firm specializing in debt capital investments in middle market companies in entrepreneur, management / family owned and sponsor-backed businesses. The firm invests in all industry groups. It prefers to invest in United States, Canada, and United Kingdom… MC Credit Partners LP is based in Stamford, Connecticut.”

A bit more research reveals that MC Credit got its start in the spring of 2013 when, as Buyouts Magazine reported, the new company collected $200 million from Billionaire hedge fund manager Louis Bacon.  MC Credit apparently remains affiliated with Bacon’s Moore Capital and Michael Zimmerman, who served as a senior managing director at Moore Capital, is now a senior managing director at MC Credit Partners.

Of course, the public may never know whether the $1 million that Governor Malloy gave away was necessary to “lure” the private equity firm to Connecticut, but the company is connected Louis Bacon who sits at the number 375 position  on Forbes 400 Wealthiest with a net worth of $1.8 billion.  Billionaire Bacon, who gave nearly $500,000 to the Conservative Party in England and was a major fundraiser for Mitt Romney has generated a fair amount of controversy over the years including getting the High Court in London to grant him a court order so that he could try and force the Wikimedia Foundation, The Denver Post and WordPress to hand over the names of “internet users” who allegedly had defamed him.

Meanwhile, back in Connecticut, MC Credit has already moved into a building that is owned by a Delaware company named ONE HARBOR POINT SQUARE LLC, which is owned by a Delaware company named HARBOR POINT HOLDING COMPANY LLC, which is owned by Paul and Carl  Kuehner, of Ridgefield and Norwalk, Connecticut respectively.

As reported by the Federal Election Commission, the Kuehners and their immediate family members have donated more than $560,000 in campaign contributions in recent years.  While most of their money goes to Republicans, a number of Connecticut Democratic candidates have benefited from the Kuehner’s political donations including Dannel Malloy, Chris Dodd, Ned Lamont and Jim Himes.

It should also be noted that this isn’t the first time the Kuehner brothers have directly or indirectly benefited from Malloy’s Corporate Welfare Program.

In November 2013, the conservative Watch-Dog Group Raising Hale reported,

Stamford real estate developer must spend at least $9.7 million to receive a $25 million taxpayer contribution toward a waterfront remediation project according to documents obtained from the Department of Economic and Community Development.

DECD provided two agreements related to the proposed site for the future headquarters of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

None of the publicly available documents appear to mention Bridgewater, but the company could be referenced in documents that remain secret.

DECD made the agreements with three limited liability companies related to lead developer Building and Land Technology to support the Bateman Way remediation project.

In addition to the $25 million in public money destined for BLT and its partners, DECD plans to give Bridgewater another $115 million to partially fund its move from Westport to Stamford.


BLT is also landlord for two other companies that received aid from the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy: Deloitte, which will get $14.5 million, and Starwood Hotels, $90 million.

The State Bond Commission approved $7 million for the Bateman Way project in January. DECD completed an agreement with the companies involved on March 19.

The bond commission approved another $9 million in April. An agreement dated June 14 governs that $9 million payment and a possible future payment of another $9 million. The second $9 million still needs bond commission approval.

According to the agreements, state funding cannot exceed 72 percent of the project’s cost. If the bond commission approves the last payment of $9 million, the developer must spend a total of $34.7 million to receive the $25 million from the state.

If the last payment does not come through, the developer must spend $6.2 million of its own money to receive the state’s $16 million contribution.

The state’s agreements are with three related limited liability companies: The Strand/BRC Group, Harbor Point Holding Company and TL76 Holdings.

TL76 Holdings, a real estate operating company, is the direct recipient of the state money.

Harbor Point Holding Company LLC is the sole member of TL76 Holdings, which means Harbor Point effectively owns TL76.

In addition to directly controlling TL76, Harbor Point indirectly controls The Strand/BRC Group, which owns the 14-acre parcel being developed by TL76.

Harbor Point is the managing member of The Strand/BRC and owns 1 percent of the company. The remaining 99 percent is owned by Admirals Wharf LLC.

According to the Secretary of the State’s website, Harbor Point Holding Company also controls Admirals Wharf.

Carl Kuehner III and Paul Kuehner, the brothers behind BLT, serve on Harbor Point’s board of managers. They are joined by Gerald Ronon and Jane Smith, executives with Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds, BLT’s Philladelphia-based partner on the project.

Initially, Lubert-Adler partnered with Antares Investment Partners on the Harbor Point project. After taking unrelated losses during the financial crisis, Antares withdrew and BLT took its place, making a $200 million investment, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Harbor Point, the joint venture between BLT and Lubert-Adler, recently sold an apartment building, Infinity Apartments, for $98.8 million.

As Wait, What? readers learned just two weeks ago, while elements of the Bridgewater deal fell by the wayside when the world’s largest hedge fund company decided not to move from Westport to Stamford, Governor Malloy has put together a second deal to help Connecticut’s wealthiest billionaire Ray Dalio and his company by giving them more than $50 million in Connecticut taxpayer money to expand their Westport headquarters.  See: To Hell with Connecticut’s Middle Class – Someone needs to subsidize the Billionaires

Cuomo and Malloy – Deaf, Dumb and Blind about the Common Core Testing Opt-Out Movement


When it comes to the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry, Democrat Governors Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy are twins separated at birth.  Proponents of charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and its associated anti-parent, anti-teacher agenda, both Cuomo and Malloy have spent the last few years praying at the Alter of the Public School Privatization Movement.

And both Cuomo and Malloy have eagerly reaped the benefits of their actions by hauling in unprecedented amounts of campaign cash from the corporate executives, hedge fund owners and other wealthy elite who fund the charter school and education reform advocacy groups that lobby elected officials.

Perhaps the most offensive fact of all is that not only are Cuomo and Malloy diverting tens of millions of dollars in public funds to charter schools and turning public schools into little more than testing factories, but that they are using state government agencies and officials to inappropriately – and illegally – stomp on the fundamental rights of parents to protect their children from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scam.

When it comes to recognizing, let alone protecting the rights of public school parents and students, Malloy and Cuomo have been nothing short of Deaf, Dumb and Blind.

As reported yesterday in the Wait, What? article entitled  Look Out Parents – Malloy’s State Department of Education is ramping up Pro-Common Core Testing Campaign, Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education trooped off to little Sherman, Connecticut last week to berate the community for its high opt-out numbers, while the Deputy Commissioner of Education told school superintendents that “correction action plans” will be implemented in towns where too many parents opted their children out of the tests and that the Malloy administration would be mobilizing to “help educate” parents and communities where parents had the gall to stand up against the SBAC testing program.

As the nation’s leading public school advocate, Diane Ravitch reports today, in actions similar to those of Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is equally unwilling to recognize that in a representative democracy, parents have a right to be heard. In a civil society parents also have a fundamental right to opt their children out of the destructive Common Core testing program.

Diane Ravitch reports,

Governor Cuomo announced his commission to revise the Common Core standards and it includes not a single parent leader of the opt out movement. The reason for the commission was to respond to the opt out movement, but no one on the commission speaks for the parents and guardians of the 220,000 students who did not take the test.

If you look at the members of the commission, you will see MaryEllen Elia, the state commissioner, plus the chair of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee. The commission will be chaired by Richard Parsons, a respected banker. The commission includes some educators, but they all have day jobs.

Read the responsibilities of the commission. It is supposed to review the standards and the tests, among many other assignments. Here is the title of the press release:

Task Force to Perform Comprehensive Review of Learning Standards, Instructional Guidance and Curricula, and Tests to Improve Implementation and Reduce Testing Anxiety

Does anyone seriously believe that this commission has the expertise or the time to do what they are supposed to do?

Can anyone explain why there is no one on the commission to speak for the parents who opted their children out of the state testing?

In Connecticut, as in New York, the state’s chief elected official continues to display an extraordinarily level of arrogance and disdain for the hard-working parents who are striving to ensure their children get a good education and that our public schools and public school teachers aren’t undermined by the corporate education reform industry and the carrion birds that travel with it.

Look Out Parents – Malloy’s State Department of Education is ramping up Pro-Common Core Testing Campaign

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If you weren’t at the “Special” Sherman Board of Education meeting last Thursday you missed the “show.”

Big Brother is Watching and Big Brother is not Happy!

As Connecticut is swamped by yet another state budget crisis and Democrat Governor Dannel Malloy unilaterally makes deep cuts to some of State Government’s most vital services, the Governor’s Education Commissioner is finding the resources to engage in a campaign to persuade parents that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scheme is good and they should not be opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory tests.

Last week began with the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner, Ellen Cohn, telling school superintendents that “correction action plans” will be implemented in towns where too many parents opted their children out the tests and that the Malloy administration would be mobilizing to “help educate” parents and communities where parents had stood up against the SBAC testing program.

Later in the week, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Diane Wentzell, focused the state’s bullseye on the small town of Sherman, Connecticut with its 380 or so elementary school students.

Although Malloy and the Department of Education spent nearly two years lying and misleading Connecticut parents about their fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing madness, nearly half of the students in Sherman’s school were opted out of the SBAC testing last spring, making it the elementary school with the highest opt out rates in the state and among Connecticut’s 25 top schools when it came to the percent of students being opted out.

The notion that parents understand that Common Core SBAC testing is undermining public education was just too much for the State to handle and last Thursday, after communications that the State Department of Education has yet to release a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Sherman Board of Education held a “special meeting” to “focus solely on a presentation to the Board of Education by our superintendent, Don Fiftal, and a panel of educational experts to provide direct and up-to-date information about the Connecticut Common Core Standards and the SBAC Assessments.”

Headlining the panel was Commissioner Dianna Wentzell and the Chief Counsel for the Connecticut Boards of Education and former State Board of Education member, Patrice McCarthy, as well as others.  Wentzell and McCarthy are among the state’s strongest proponents of the Common Core, Common Core testing and Governor Malloy’s other “education reforms.”

The “panel” to “educate” Sherman about the Common Core tests did not include an opponent of the testing mandate and parents and public education advocates from out-of-town were instructed that they were not allowed to speak or ask questions at the “special meeting.”

With no mass media coverage of the event in Sherman, Connecticut parents might never have even known about the Malloy’s administration growing PR campaign in favor of the SBAC tests, but thankfully a number of public education advocates attended the meeting and in a piece entitled, “A Different Perspective on the 9/24/15 Sherman “Special” BOE Meeting,” Jack Bestor, a recently retired and award winning school psychologist who worked for 41 years with students, parents, and teachers in the Westport Public Schools has provided us with a summary of what the authorities said in Sherman last week.

In addition to receiving the CT Association of School Psychologists Life-Time Achievement Award, Jack Bestor has written numerous commentary pieces about the dangers associated with corporate education reform for the CT Mirror, CT Newsjunkie and Wait, What?  Bestor also wrote an opinion piece in the March/April 2014 NASP Communique (the newspaper of the National Association of School Psychologists) entitled: “Common Core Standards Do Not Serve the Educational Needs of Children.”

A Different Perspective on the 9/24/15 Sherman “Special” BOE Meeting.  By Jack Bestor

The Sherman BOE did itself and the citizens of Sherman a huge disservice at its “special meeting” on September 24, 2015, to discuss the recent SBAC test results.  In the bucolic atmosphere of this beautiful country town on the western edge of the State, all the Governor’s horses and all the Governor’s men (and women) assembled to present a one-sided view on the many attributes of the Common Core and the improved new-generation, computer-adaptive SBAC test.  Or, so their propaganda would suggest.

In a highly controlled informational meeting, it was made clear from the beginning that only Sherman residents would be allowed to speak.  As a result, the BOE and public in attendance were presented with lengthy series of misleading statements that were marked by their omissions, partial truths that were delivered with a smile and disarming reassurance.  The State Education Commissioner (Dr. Dianna Wentzell), RÈSC (Regional Educational Service Center) administrator, and an attorney from CABE (CT Association of Boards of Education) – all steadfast promoters of the education reform agenda in CT – were joined on a panel by two district administrators and a classroom teacher, moderated by the district school Superintendent.  Since a large percentage (48% overall, 57% of middle school group, the largest percentage in the State) of Sherman students across this small district refused to take last Spring’s SBAC test, it was incumbent on the State Department of Education to convince the parents of these students and the older students themselves that they should comply with federal test accountability requirements.  Their presentation was startlingly disingenuous: never referencing the nationwide controversy associated with this testing, misleading those listening as to transparency of privacy policies, and implying that there could be serious financial consequences for future test refusals.

The series of prepared questions presented by the Superintendent to the “expert panel” included how to explain the newly-named CT Core Standards and how they would be evaluated; the legal grounds of local BOEs relative to test compliance mandates; what was the “actual origin” of the Common Core Standards; who stands to profit from testing; and what about privacy and data-mining.  The panelists responded with partial truths that displayed their compliant acceptance of the unsubstantiated underlying premises promoted by the education reform industry.  In claiming that the Common Core was developed by thousands of persons (though admittedly “not enough K-3 representation”), Dr. Wentzell misrepresented the universal understanding of the test industry’s lead role in developing the Standards, after all, that’s “not unusual in Standards development actually” she said.   Further claiming that the SBAC tests were developed with hundreds of CT educators working with the SBAC development team was undoubtedly exaggerated.  Fortunately, she did not attempt to claim the SBAC test results as “valid, reliable, and fair” as she had told the school superintendents in August.  She must have received the memo that such a claim had been thrown out by a Missouri judge in a Summary Judgment against the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.

Soon thereafter, the attorney for CABE advised the Sherman BOE that there was no legal requirement to implement the Common Core Standards, although she claimed the majority of local districts found the Standards appropriate and were implementing them.  The testing requirement, however, was a federal mandate demanding that the State administer an “approved exam” to 95% of all public school students.  The implication was that, although students would be tested on the Common Core Standards, a BOE would not have to adopt those standards.  Don’t need to adopt, but if your students perform poorly, the district could be taken over by the State.  Definitely a Catch-22.   Bottom line, even though there is technically no State-required curriculum because those are “local decisions”, there is certainly pressure on BOEs and school administrators to comply.

As the evening wore on, the State Department representatives and the local educators did their best to re-assure the BOE and audience that their students were protected and well-served.  The district curricula specialist repeated the established “talking point” that the test score is “only one small part” of a student’s performance profile.  The local school personnel were, as would be expected, very positive about new curricular initiatives, the technological support provided during test administration, and the “relaxed atmosphere” in which the students took the untimed, computer adaptive SBAC test.  No mention of the psychometric inadequacies of the SBAC or whether it even measures what the test company (for confusion’s sake, let’s call it a consortium) claims to measure.

A more tricky discussion ensued on student privacy and possible data-mining.  Dr. Wentzell indicated that the CT student data system is no different than it had been during CMT administrations which may well be true, but doesn’t really answer the question or reflect the need for any adjustments relative to increased technological capabilities and expectations.  She went on to say that – in her opinion – the State Department is “extremely conservative” in protecting data privacy, even “more so than is required by law” she reported.  Of course, that is because there is no law protecting student data privacy in CT.  The presiding attorney indicated that, in CT, students had “double protection” by “specific statutory language” and because student data is “not public information under FOI” [Freedom of Information Act].  Without saying it, they both seemed to feel that adequate protections were in place despite no changes since the CMT days relative to today’s highly “hacked” technological climate.  They admitted that, though they felt confident SBAC test results could not be data-mined, schools and parents had to be careful in protecting students from many other software programs that did not have such protections.

As for teacher evaluations tied to student test results, the state does not require a certain percentage at this time, but that does not mean local districts can’t require it if they so choose.  For now, the federal government has “delayed that requirement”, but we will have to wait on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) re-authorization – currently known as No Child Left Behind – before  we will know how to move forward.  “Teachers can trust us,” stated a local administrator.  No discussion of the research-based inadequacies of the widely discredited VAM (value-added model) algorithms.  No professional opinions put forth.  Implication is that, if required to comply, we will certainly acquiesce.

When asked about potential consequences of a low participation rate, Dr. Wentzell expressed relief that the State average met the 95% federal requirement.  Her presence was intended to convince parents to allow their students to take the SBAC test next year.  Although the Superintendent informed Sherman residents that this meeting was intended to educate the BOE, Dr. Wentzell addressed the audience all night.  She implied that a “pattern of low participation” could result in withholding of Title 1 funding.  She did not, however, tell parents that they could not refuse to have their children take the test; she simply did not address the issue.

As designed, public participation was limited to three minutes for Sherman residents only.  First up, a school administrator from a neighboring district sang the praises of the Common Core Standards and the aligned testing.  A resident asked about upcoming 11th-grade use of the SAT and the panel was unwilling to inform the audience that David Coleman, the renowned “architect of the Common Core Standards”, was now leading the College Board which oversees not only the newly-designed SAT, but all Advanced Placement tests, the PSAT/NMSQT (for qualifying as a National Merit Scholar), the traditional PSAT, and more.  He had been hired, of course, to improve the College Board’s diminishing market share as more and more colleges and universities are no longer requiring test information because they know it is least revealing of how a student will perform in college.  As so eloquently expressed in the movie All the Presidents Men: “Follow the money” … just follow the money, folks, it bears repeating.   A student from neighboring New Milford High School was allowed to speak on behalf of her Sherman classmates and expressed the frustration that students were having with instructional lessons geared toward telling them what to think rather than encouraging them to think for themselves.  Another parent asked specifically about the loss of privacy protections; she had been particularly alarmed to learn that parents were unaware “that twenty-two private companies as subcontractors to AIR” (American Institutes of Research) had access to “enormous amounts of student data” without parental notification or disclosure.  Even though Dr. Wentzell attempted to refute that point, it is truly hard to know where the truth lies on these contentious issues, but clearly the bully pulpit belonged to the forces of education reform this evening.

Partial Truths.  Half Truths. Three-quarter Truths.  No Truth.  Who is to say?  The whole truth was not in evidence tonight.  Good people, informed people can disagree.  However, it seems to me that those professionals charged with leading our State educators and elected BOE members should give all sides of such a contentious debate, not simply sell a predetermined message.  No mention of the raging controversy surrounding the SBAC test.  Not the kind of professional leadership I expect from my State education leaders.  Lots said, more left out.  Their disingenuousness lies in what was not said.  Sad night for full and honest disclosure.  Hopefully their mission was not accomplished.

Since the courageous parents and students of the Sherman Public Schools pushed-back against the unproven and invalid SBAC tests in ways comparable to our determined ancestors at Lexington and Concord 240 years ago, the proverbial shots have been heard around the State.  As government forces double-down by misleading, exaggerating, and blindly promoting misguided public policies, think biblically of David against Goliath, think cinematically of Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader and the Evil Empire.  Our history abounds with examples of individual’s protecting their rights for freedom and liberty against the forces of greed, corruption, and the arrogance of entrenched power.

Families for Excellent Schools, Luke Bronin and the expansion of the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry in Hartford Connecticut.


Families for Excellent Schools (FES) is a major New York City based, corporate funded, charter school and education reform advocacy group.

In recent months the group and its allies have played an increasingly powerful role on behalf of Greenwich native and political newcomer Luke Bronin’s campaign for mayor of Hartford.

The work for Bronin is only part of the organization’s effort to expand into Connecticut.

So far this year FES has spent well in excess of a $1.5 million to push Governor Malloy’s successful effort to divert scarce public funds to charter schools rather than adequately funding Connecticut’s public schools.  The net effect of Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher agenda is that charter schools are getting even more public funds while local Connecticut communities are being forced to raise property taxes and cut public school programs just to balance local budgets.

Families for Excellent Schools also have their hand in Luke Bronin’s recent win in the Democratic Primary for Mayor of Hartford and a recent job post announces that the group is also hiring a Hartford, Connecticut organizer “to work with its Connecticut team.”

Andrew Doba, Governor Dannel Malloy’s former mouthpiece, who also served as Hartford mayoral candidate Luke Bronin’s spokesman, is the lead consultant for Families for Excellent Schools in Connecticut.  Doba works for a New York based public relations group that is headed by the former spokesperson for Michael Bloomberg.

Not only has Families for Excellent Schools been paying Malloy/Bronin’s spokesperson but the organization has also handed hundreds of thousands of dollars over to Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s top advisor and the managing director in Connecticut for another New York-based public relations firm called Global Strategies.

Occhiogrosso, who played a key role in Malloy’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns and worked in the Governor’s Office during Malloy’s first term, collected millions from Malloy’s various re-election campaign accounts in 2014. Occhiogrosso and his firm are also one of the highest paid consultants to Luke Bronin during his recent campaign for Mayor.

Formed in 2011, the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group Families for Excellent School’s fundraising has skyrocketed from $642,042 in 2011 to $1,000,053 in 2012 to $12,264,668 in 2013.  The entity’s IRS 2014 filing is not yet available.

According to a recent article in the Nation magazine entitled, 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story, both the Chair and Vice Chair of the Families for Excellent Schools Board of Directors are among the super elite that are funding the extraordinary effort to undermine public education in the United States.

Though Families for Excellent Schools presents itself as a grassroots parent education reform organization, four of its five original board members are Wall Street titans like Bryan Lawrence and Paul Appelbaum, who made their millions in the hedge fund and private equity worlds respectively.

Other FES Board members also come to the table having made millions as hedge fund and private equity managers.

Of the $12.3 million that Families for Excellent Schools collected in 2013, $9.1 million was spent on television, radio and direct mail campaigns in support of pro-charter school initiatives like those proposed by Democrat Governors Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy.

Since its inception, Families for Excellent Schools has been involved in some of the most controversial pro-charter lobbying efforts in recent years.

As part of its 2015 effort to support Governor Malloy’s charter school funding initiative, the group bussed in charter school parents and students from as far away as New York and Boston for a rally on the lawn of the State Capitol in Hartford.  More recently, the group sent out glossy mailings to voters in a number of Connecticut legislative districts “thanking them” for their pro-charter school vote – a vote that will actually end up costing state and local property taxpayers even more money.

Families for Excellent Schools also spent approximately $6 million in 2014 to “prevent Mayor Bill de Blasio from regulating the charter school sector and won passage of a law that forces the city to pay the rent of charters “not located on public school grounds.”

Like many of the leading Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry front groups, the organization uses a series of loopholes to keep from having to divulge its list of donors.  In addition, these groups often set up more than one corporate entity to hide donations, reduce the potential to track funds or use the tax code to get around restrictions on lobbying.

In the case of Families for Excellent Schools, they actually have two different entities; Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc.

In Connecticut, both organizations have filed with the Office of State Ethics as lobbying entities, although the two groups are used very differently under the law.

According to research conducted by fellow education blogger and activist Mercedes Schneider, some of the biggest donors to Families for Excellent Schools are:

The Walton Family Foundation, Inc.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

StudentsFirst New York, Inc.

Tapestry Project, Inc.

Moriah Fund, Inc.

Hertog Foundation, Inc.

Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Inc.

Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program

You can find out  more about FES’s fundraising operation via a WNYC story by reporter Robert Lewis – WNYC March 2014 report:

WNYC’s Robert Lewis determined that The Walton Family Foundation provided much of the early start up money for Families for Excellent Schools.

Even Connecticut’s richest billionaire and recipient of well over $50 million from Governor Dannel Malloy’s taxpayer funded corporate welfare program, Ray Dalio, is a donor to Families for Excellent Schools.

While it is difficult to determine where Families for Excellent Schools and other Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry groups get all their funding, some of the major players behind the organization are much easier to identify.

For example, as WNYC reported, the Tapestry Project is one of the organization’s major donors.  As Mercedes Schneider noted in her research, the Tapestry Project’s Executive Director is Eric Grannis who is the husband of the infamous charter school operator, Eva Moskowitz.

The Tapestry Project’s Board of Directors also includes Gideon Stein, who is a member of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy board. Stein is also a member of the Moriah Fund Board of Directors, another major contributor to Families for Excellent Schools.

And not only is Students First NY a donor to Families for Excellent Schools but the group shares an office with Families for Excellent Schools and Eva Moskowitz is a member of the Board of Directors for Student’s First NY.

A number of the other Board members of Families for Excellent Schools have equally incestuous relationships with other entities in the charter school industry and the corporate education reform effort.


Look out Hartford, not only is the newly crowned Democratic Mayoral nominee Luke Bronin basking in the sunshine thanks to the money and players behind Families for Excellent Schools, but the charter school lobbying group is now hiring political operatives to “organize” in Hartford.

Seattle – What happens when teacher union leaders step up to support teachers, students, parents and public schools


For those union members, education advocates and parents who are consistently frustrated by the fact that some union leaders spend more time maintaining their close relationship with the power elite than fighting for their members and public education, the recent teacher strike in Seattle, Washington is proof that real champions have been stepping up in Seattle, Chicago, at the state level in New York and Massachusetts, and elsewhere.  These teacher union leaders are making a fundamental difference in the fight to improve public schools and provide greater support for teachers, students and parents.

For an update on the Seattle Teacher Strike check out, The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking.

The post appears on Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet.  Strauss is a reporter with the Washington Post and her bog is one of the most important resources in the nation for information about education policy and the unprecedented assault on public schools and public school teachers by the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry.

If you don’t read Strauss’ blog you should book mark it and sign up for her regulator updates at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/

In The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking, Strauss writes;

Seattle teachers went on strike for a week this month with a list of goals for a new contract. By the time the strike officially ended this week, teachers had won some of the usual stuff of contract negotiations — for example, the first cost-of-living raises in six years — but also some less standard objectives.

For one thing, teachers demanded, and won, guaranteed daily recess for all elementary school students — 30 minutes each day. In an era when recess for many students has become limited or even non-existent despite the known benefits of physical activity for children, this is a big deal, and something parents had sought.

What’s more, the union and school officials agreed to create committees at 30 schools to look at equity issues, including disciplinary measures that disproportionately affect minorities. Several days after the end of the strike, the Seattle School Board voted for a one-year ban on end suspensions of elementary students who commit specific nonviolent offenses, and called for a plan that could eliminate all elementary school suspensions.

Other wins for students in Seattle’s nearly 100 traditional public schools include:

Teachers won an end to the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate them — and now, teachers will be included in decisions on the amount of standardized testing for students. This evaluation practice has been slammed by assessment experts as invalid and unreliable, and has led to the narrowing of curriculum, with emphasis on the two subjects for which there are standardized tests, math and English Language arts.

Special education teachers will have fewer students to work with at a time. What’s more there will be caseload limits for other specialists, including psychologists and occupational therapists.

Seattle teachers had said they were not only fighting for pay raises but to make the system better for students. It sounds like they did.

Every teacher union leader in the country should be looking to Seattle for guidance on how to fight back against the forces seeking to destroy public education in the United States.

Connecticut Ed Reform Leader urges business leaders to say something when poor have too many children


“Speak your mind, if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four – right –speak it …”

 – Paul Diego Holzer, Executive Director of Achieve Hartford! Achieve Hartford! is the leading corporate education reform and charter school advocacy group in Connecticut’s capital city.

The well-paid spokespeople for the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry are usually pretty good at staying on “message.”  Surrounded by public relations staff and consultants and aided by “media training” sessions, the proponents of charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core Testing scam and various anti-teacher initiatives exude the aura of well-prepared snake oil salesman.

But from time to time, they drop their guard and their true opinions, philosophies, arrogance and ignorance come shining through loud and clear.

One of the most recent examples occurred last week, on September 17, 2015, when the Hartford Metro Alliance, which serves as the Hartford region’s major chamber of commerce, held their annual “Hartford Metro Rising Star Education Breakfast.”

The event was moderated by Oz Griebel, a one-time gubernatorial candidate and the President & CEO of the Hartford Metro Alliance.  The event featured a presentation by Hartford Superintendent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, followed by a discussion with the superintendent and Paul Diego Holzer, the Executive Director of Achieve Hartford!, the Connecticut‘s Capital City’s leading corporate funded education reform advocacy group.

As Paul Diego Holzer addressed the status of Hartford’s public schools he began by complimenting Superintendent Schiavino-Narvaez, decried and then mislead the audience about value of the recent Common Core SBAC results and then turned his attention to the issue of poverty.  A partial transcript of the comments follows, the full video can been seen via the link below;

On the problem of poverty, Paul Diego Holzer explained;

I think there is a question that comes up often about poverty which is are we really going to fix this if you know the situations at home are what they are and I challenge us to think about our own expectations of families in poverty


If you don’t speak your mind on to this issue of poverty and on families and where responsibility lies –right – you’re not helping.

Speak your mind – right – if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support 1 through four – right –speak it – we have to come together on this issue, but also at the same time think about what we are going to do for that family…

Putting aside the reality that the actual number of poor parents with four or five children in the school system is extremely low, the stunningly ignorant and disturbing approach to “doing something” about the crippling impact of poverty in Hartford is a stark reflection about how out-of-touch many in the Corporate Education Reform Industry actually approach the real issues that are limiting educational achievement in Hartford and other poor communities across Connecticut and the nation.

We know one overriding truth – poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are what limit educational achievement.

Anyone who would suggest that the problem is that people need to speak up, “if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four,” should not be part of any discussion about public education, poverty, children and American society.

Additional Background;

Achieve Hartford! is the corporate funded charter school and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group that spends more than $1 million a year lobbying and advocating for more charter schools and the implementation of Governor Dannel Malloy’s “education reforms” in Hartford.

Achieve Hartford! even has a Chief Branding Officer.

The organization’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer collects upwards towards $150,000 to coordinate the organization’s activities. Holzer and Achieve Hartford! have been among the most vocal proponents of diverting scarce public taxpayer funds to Achievement First, Inc, the large charter school management company, to former charter school operator Dr.” Michael Sharpe and his disgraced FUSE charter school chain and Steve Perry, the controversial anti-teacher former Hartford school administrator and  self-described “most trusted educator in America,” who, thanks to Governor Malloy is opening his own privately owned but publicly funded “boutique” charter school company.

With an MBA in Education Management from Yale, Paul Diego Holzer, served as Achieve Hartford!’s Director of Education Programs where he managed the organization’s research and community engagement programs, before becoming the organization’s Executive Director.  Holzer was a founding board member of the YouthBuild Public Charter School in Washington DC

Achieve Hartford!’s Board of Directors is made up of corporate executives and business leaders heralding from the biggest corporations in the greater Hartford area including Travelers, New York Life Retirement Services, Hartford Healthcare, Prudential, Webster Bank, The Hartford Financial Services Group, MetroHartford Alliance, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As stunningly disgusting and inappropriate as Holzer’s comments were, equally telling is that neither Oz Griebel, the moderator, nor Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez made any attempt to challenge Holzer’s outrageous comment or even sought to set the record straight about the poor families or that telling poor women not to have “too many” children is not a useful, meaningful or appropriate way to go about dealing with Hartford’s extraordinary poverty problem.

You can see Achieve Hartford!’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer’s comments via the following YouTube link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV4siK2XNtI  The Achieve Hartford! portion begins about 47 minutes into the video.

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