When you ask the wrong questions, you can’t possibly get the right answers. (By Ann P. Cronin)

The Mastery Examination Task Force, whose report about student assessment in our public schools is due to come out soon, has asked all the wrong questions. We, therefore, can’t have any confidence in the findings of the Task Force.

Questions that the Task Force never asked are:

  • Are the tests that we now use, the SBAC and the SAT, reliable, valid, and fair?
  • What kind of learning do we want to measure and why?
  • How can we assess students so that the assessment itself is a learning experience for them?

The first question is a meat-and-potatoes no brainer. If the SBAC and the SAT lack reliability, validity, or fairness, we shouldn’t keep spending time and money on junk.

The second and third questions tell us about the quality of the education we are giving to our students here in Connecticut.

A fourth question is: Why didn’t the Mastery Examination Task Force ask Questions 1, 2, and 3?

For an answer to that question, see Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’ by John Bestor, written by veteran Connecticut educator, Jack Bestor, and first published in CT Mirror where it can also be read at . http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/04/mastery-exam-task-force-report-due-soon-its-findings-predetermined/

You can read Ann Cronin’s blog at: https://reallearningct.com/

Malloy’s austerity budget strategies are hurting Connecticut

  • Record cuts to Connecticut’s public schools and institutions of higher education.
  • Drastic and devastating cuts to vital human services
  • Continuation of corporate welfare programs and efforts to coddle the rich.

Governor Dannel Malloy, with the help of the Connecticut General Assembly, is destroying core government programs and undermining Connecticut’s economic path.

This legislative session, the Democrats in the Connecticut legislature will be faced with a choice – continue Malloy’s disastrous policies – or stand up to the bully and pass a fair and honest state budget.

In order to adopt a better budget solution legislators will need to identify new sources of revenue to pay for vital state services and programs.

To that end, Connecticut Voices for Children has released a major report – today – on Revenue Options to deal with Connecticut’s Fiscal Crisis

Providing a light for Connecticut legislators should they decided to do their job and resolve Connecticut’s massive budget crisis, Connecticut Voices for Children released a report today entitled, Revenue Options are Key to Tackling Budget Shortfalls and Supporting Thriving Communities

CT Voices writes;

In confronting budget deficits of more than $3 billion in the upcoming biennial budget, the commonsense choice for Connecticut should be a balanced approach that includes revenue, rather than a cuts-only approach that threatens an already fragile recovery. Last year, lawmakers chose an “austerity” approach, balancing the budget with $850 million in spending cuts. As a result, the Children’s Budget—a measure of the state’s investments in children and families—fell to a record low 29.5 percent of total General Fund spending.

While such cuts may offer a short-term solution, they do so at a significant cost to the long-term economic structure of the state. 

On the revenue side, there are opportunities to invest in Connecticut’s future by modernizing an outdated sales tax system, strengthening taxes on corporations, and reforming wealth and income taxes. This brief highlights revenue options discussed and/or recommended by the State Tax Panel– –a body of experts who met over the course of two years to evaluate Connecticut’s state and local taxes. While the Panel’s final recommendations were required to be revenue neutral, the policies themselves can be adapted to yield new revenue to support essential investments in our future.

 By combining increased revenue, new strategic investments, and smaller budget cuts, the Governor and the Legislature can both balance the budget and position the state for a more prosperous future. 

 

One of the key elements of the report is an effort to explore a variety of options to ensure that the state’s wealthiest residents start paying their fair share.

Looking to reform wealth and income taxes in Connecticut, CT Voices observes;

A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that Connecticut’s income distribution is the third most unequal state in the nation.7 The report cites upside down total state and local tax systems (which impose a higher effective rate on lower income taxpayers) and the growth in the share of investment income (from dividends, capital gains, and interest) to total income that goes primarily to high-income households, as contributing factors 

Indeed, Connecticut’s overall tax system (including income, property, and sales and excise taxes, minus federal deductions) allows the most powerful among us to pay a much lower percentage of their income in taxes. For example, a family making less than $25,000 a year pays an estimated 11 percent in state and local taxes while a family making over $1,331,000––the top 1 percent––pays 5.5 percent.8 If the top 5 percent of Connecticut households paid the same effective tax rate as the remaining 95 percent of households, the state could raise more than $2 billion in state revenue annually.  

Combined, the listed changes could raise more than $1 billion while also creating a fairer tax system and reducing wealth inequality: 

Increase Top Tax Rate for Top Two Tax Groups ($238 million):     A half percentage point increase on the top two personal income tax brackets would result in an estimated $283.1 million in new state revenue—more than 82 percent of which would fall on the top 1 percent of taxpayers. Over a third of this tax increase would be offset by larger federal income tax deductions typically available to high-income earners, meaning that of the $238 million in new revenue, the state would raise $150.4 million from taxpayers, while the other $87.6 million would be picked up by the federal government.   

Increase Capital Gains and Dividends Taxes for Top Three Tax Groups ($134.6 million):     Carried interest is the share of earnings that investment managers receive from a profitable return of their client’s investment. The federal government treats carried interest as investment income, or capital gains, rather than as wages or commissions. This preferential treatment results in a federal tax liability that is 50 percent less than it would be for ordinary income. This is known as the carried interest loophole. Despite bipartisan support, little hope exists that Congress will take action. By increasing the tax on capital gains and dividends at the state level, Connecticut could redress the large preferences these two types of income enjoy in the federal tax code and raise $134.6 million.

Taxing capital gains and dividends would represent a return to historical treatment of unearned income. When Connecticut’s income tax was enacted in 1991, taxes were also cut for higher-income earners by eliminating a 7 percent tax on capital gains and a 14 percent tax on dividends and interest. Thereafter, investment incomes were subjected to the state income tax at a much lower rate of 4.5 percent. While the top income tax rate has increased to 6.99 percent, it is still below pre-1991 levels for unearned income. Moreover, any increased taxes on unearned income, like any increase on earned income, would be offset in part by larger federal income tax deductions. 

Millionaires Thrive in Connecticut Thanks to Public Investments Anti-tax advocates have been inaccurately citing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data in an effort to convince their audience that higher taxes have resulted in a “mass exodus” of residents seeking low tax states.9 They assert that the income of residents who moved out of the state is income lost to another state, therefore depleting Connecticut’s finances. It is a claim that former Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone has written rests “on an egregiously wrong use of the data” by analysts who “have either failed to perform the most basic due diligence…or else actively mislead their readers.” In other words, the vast majority of people who leave a state hold jobs that will be filled by people joining the labor force from within the state or moving in, resulting in no “loss of income” at all.   

Indeed, a 2016 study found that millionaires were much less likely to move than the rest of the population and that there was only a very small influence of income tax rates on the probability of moving. This study, based on 13 years of IRS tax data from all millionaires in the U.S., found that millionaire mobility and the low levels of responsiveness of millionaires to taxes meant that top tax rates would only start to decrease revenue if they were significantly higher than the single digit rates of Connecticut. A half percent, one percent, or two percent increase in the top tax bracket would not have a negative impact on revenue due to migration.  

Join Regional Compact to Close Carried Interest Loophole ($535 million):  Another way in which states could act to close the carried interest loophole in light of inaction in Washington D.C. would be to form a regional compact. Already raised by the New York and New Jersey legislatures, the proposed legislation calls for Northeastern states to impose a tax rate on carried interest sufficient to capture each state’s share of the increased federal income tax liability that would be incurred if the loophole were closed at the federal level. Both states’ proposals call for a 19 percent “carried interest fairness fee” until the loophole is closed at the federal level. By definition, the compact would not go into effect until all states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) enacted the same provisions. It is estimated that Connecticut could raise $535 million by doing so.

And the Connecticut Voices report outlined a number of other steps that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly could take to deal with Connecticut’s fiscal crisis.  The full report can be found at:  http://www.ctvoices.org/sites/default/files/Revenue%20Options%202017_0.pdf

Martin Luther King Day – As growing inequality sinks our nation

Connecticut’s wealthiest residents pay about 5.5% of their income in state and local taxes.  The middle class pay about 10%, while the poor pay about 12% of their income in state and local taxes.

But Governor Dannel Malloy will continue to fight any and all proposals to require the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes.  In his now infamous speech to the Connecticut legislature in 2011, Malloy said he would fight a tax increase on the wealthy because he didn’t want to punish success?

And even if Connecticut raised the income tax rate significantly on Connecticut’s wealthiest, they would still be paying far less in state and local taxes than they would if they lived in New York, New York City, New Jersey or Massachusetts.

So what is the truth about inequality in the United States?

According to the Institute for Policy Studies,

Income disparities have become so pronounced that America’s top 10 percent now average nearly nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent. Americans in the top 1 percent tower stunningly higher. They average over 38 times more income than the bottom 90 percent.

In the United States, wealth inequality runs even more pronounced than income inequality

Over the past century, the share of America’s wealth held by the nation’s wealthiest has changed markedly. That share peaked in the late 1920s, right before the Great Depression, then fell by more than half over the next three decades [When tax rates were progressive to ensure the wealth paid their fair share]. But the equalizing trends of the mid 20th century have now been almost completely undone. At the top of the American economic summit, the richest of the nation’s rich now hold as large a wealth share as they did in the 1920s.

The 21st century has not been kind to average American families. The net worth — assets minus debts — of most U.S. households fell between 2000 and 2011

The rich don’t just have more wealth than everyone else. The bulk of their wealth comes from different — and more lucrative — asset sources. America’s top 1 percent, for instance, holds nearly half the national wealth invested in stocks and mutual funds.

Most of the wealth of Americans in the bottom 90 percent comes from their principal residences, the asset category that took the biggest hit during the Great Recession. These Americans also hold almost three-quarters of America’s debt.

The billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as all African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households.

The Great Recession deepened the longstanding racial and ethnic wealth divide in the United States. The typical white family held a net worth six times greater than the typical black family at the end of the 20th century. That gap has now doubled. The wealth gap between white and Hispanic households has widened as well.

So the rich get richer and the rest of us continue to lose ground, with the hardest hit being those who come from the Nation’s communities of color

But do Americans even begin to understand this depth of the problem?

The answer appears to be a resounding NO!

For example, a study entitled, “How Much (More) Should CEOs Make? A Universal Desire for More Equal Pay” discovered that Americans are clueless about how bad the situation is when it comes to the gap between CEO and worker pay.  Analyzing a 2009 international survey of 55,187 people from 40 countries the study found that when it comes to understanding the severity of inequality, “we’re the most clueless of all.”

Writing in Alternet, Les Leopold, the author of Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice observed,

Americans are virtually blind to the growing gap between CEO pay and the pay of the average worker… In 1965, for every dollar earned by the average worker, CEOs earned $20. By 2012, that gap mushroomed to 354 to one.

But, when asked in the survey, Americans grossly underestimated this gap. Instead of 354 to 1, the Americans in representative survey think it is only 30 to 1. When asked what the ideal pay gap should be, Americans say that a fair gap would be about 7 to 1.

More amazing still, the survey results, combined for all countries, show that the misperception of inequality doesn’t significantly vary by age, gender, income, political leanings or education.

That is right, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, those with more education and those with less education, all we almost equally misinformed about the difference between CEO pay and that of the average worker.

Strong Democrats” estimated that the actual ratio between a CEO of a large corporation and an unskilled factory worker was about 36 to 1. “Strong Republicans” said it was 40 to 1. A difference without a distinction.

When it comes to offering opinions about what the wage gap should be, the Strong Democrats thought 5 to 1 was about right, while the Strong Republicans thought it should be about 12 to 1. The two political extremes obviously are much closer to each other than to the current reality of 354 to 1.

Billionaire Donald Trump and his Billionaire cabinet speak volumes about just how out of touch Americans are and further portend the continued destruction of an egalitarian society.

The notion that,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

…is becoming a distant dream of a long-lost fantasy.

Child Poverty – America and Connecticut are failing our youngest…

In 2001, a Connecticut Commission set the goal of reducing child poverty by 50% over the next decade.  Ten years later, the poverty rate hadn’t gone down, in fact it had doubled.

And the problem remains as severe today, a decade and a half after the state of Connecticut committed to make a profound impact on the level of child poverty in the state.

As Connecticut Voices for Children recently reported,

In Connecticut today, child poverty for non-Hispanic white children is 6 percent, compared to 33 percent for Latino children and 28 for black children. The child poverty rate in Stamford (6.7 percent) contrasts dramatically with that in New Haven (46.6 percent).

In 2015, 14.5 percent of the state’s children (more than 100,000) lived in poverty, more than three percentage points higher than pre-recession levels.

Child poverty rates across many cities and counties are more than double the statewide average and 25 times more than in the state’s wealthiest towns

But as CT Voices goes on to explain,

Over the past twenty-five years, the share of our budget dedicated to children has fallen by a quarter, from 40 to 29.5 percent. It should come as no surprise that as state policy priorities have moved away from children and families, the existing disparities in wellbeing and opportunity have only grown.

Failing our children is not only a Connecticut legacy, it has become the American Way.

In an Alternet article entitled, The Numbers Are Staggering: U.S. Is ‘World Leader’ in Child Poverty, college educator and activist Paul Buchheit wrote,

America’s wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent.

Buchheit noted that, “The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world,” adding,

Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about $5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program.

In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100.

For Every 2 Homeless Children in 2006, There Are Now 3

On a typical frigid night in January, 138,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing, were without a place to call home.

That’s about the same number of households that have each increased their wealth by $10 million per year since the recession.

Of course, as some already know, The United States is one of only two nations that have refused to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The other failed state is South Sudan, a location on the verge of a major genocide.

As the leaders of the country and Connecticut go back to work on the federal and state budget, it would do well them to remember, when it comes to child poverty, the United States and Connecticut are failing the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

Charter School Industry’s reach expanding even before Trump…

President-elect Donald Trump is a HUGE fan of charter schools.  His nominee for Secretary of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, is even more supportive of the privately owned but publicly funded corporate entities that run charter schools.  DeVos has spent hundreds of millions of dollars championing charter schools, public funded vouchers for private and religious education and the inappropriate Common Core standards.

Charter schools are counting on the Trump administration to dramatically accelerate to privatization of public education in the United States.

But even before Trump and DeVos take office, the charter school industry has been enjoying unprecedented growth thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama and their corporate education reform allies like governors Dannel Malloy and Andrew Cuomo.

In a report issued late last year by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the charter school industry bragged that as of 2014-2015 there were 17 U.S. cities in which charter schools controlled at least 30% of all students.

While there were more than 6,700 charter schools in the country enrolling approximately 3 million students (about 6% of all students), the charter school industry’s saturation rate is much higher in a group of poorer urban areas.  While charter school reached was 30% in 17 school districts in the United States, the percent of students attending charter schools was more than 50% in three school districts, New Orleans, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan

According to their report,

“The districts across the country where at least 30 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools are: New Orleans (92 percent); Detroit (53 percent); Flint, MI (53 percent); Washington, D.C. (45 percent); Gary, IN (43 percent); Kansas City, MO (40 percent); Camden, NJ (34 percent); Philadelphia (34 percent); Indianapolis (31 percent); Dayton, OH (31 percent); Cleveland, OH (31 percent); Grand Rapids, MI (31 percent); Victor Valley, CA (31 percent); San Antonio, TX (30 percent); Natomas, CA (30 percent); Newark, NJ (30 percent); and St. Louis (30 percent).

The charter school industry also explained that that,

“Los Angeles has the highest overall number of students enrolled in charter schools, with more than 156,000. During the 2015-16 school year, Los Angeles charter schools enrolled an additional 4,700 students over the previous year. New York City is second with almost 100,000 charter school students last year, nearly double its enrollment five years ago. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of charter school students in New York City has increased from nearly 39,000, to nearly 94,000 – an increase of more than 54,000 students. Rounding out the top 10 districts in charter school enrollment are: Philadelphia (63,520); Chicago (59,060); Miami-Dade (58,280); Houston (55,710); Detroit (51,240); Broward County, FL (44,320); New Orleans (44,190); and Washington, D.C. (38,910). These top 10 districts serve nearly a quarter of all charter school students in the country.”

And the reported concluded that, “there are six districts in which about 40 percent of the students are enrolled in charter schools; 17 school districts have 30 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools and 44 districts have 20 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools.”

Overall, there are now at least 190 districts that have at 10 percent or more of their students enrolled in charter schools, according to the national association that represents charter schools.

In state after state, district after district, charter schools discriminate against students who require special education services, students who need help learning the English language and students who have disciplinary issues.  Yet despite that record of failures, charter schools are collecting billions in taxpayer funds.

Worse, they are now planning for a windfall of riches thanks to Donald Trump and his administration.

Friends – Please Do What You Can To Support Wait, What?

Now, more than ever, truth-tellers are needed for as George Orwell so wisely observed, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

For six years, Wait, What? has been dedicated to educating, persuading, engaging and mobilizing readers about the important issues of our time including the Charter School Industry’s ongoing effort to  privatize public education.

Thanks to the incredible support of its readers, Wait What? has attracted well over 2 million hits and produced nearly 30,000 comments since its inception in January 2011.

Wait, What? commentary pieces have regularly appeared on Diane Ravitch’s blog, as well as, in the Washington Post, Progressive Magazine, Truthout and other national, regional and state publications.

Wait, What? has also served as an important platform for other education advocates to add their voices to the battle to promote public education and fight for our students, parents, teachers and public schools.

At a time when many in the media and politics run and hide from the serious problems and challenges that face Connecticut and our nation, Wait, What? serves as a vital vehicle in the effort to speak the truth and hold our elected officials accountable.

Please take a moment today and make as generous a contribution as you can afford to Wait, What?

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Connecticut’s outstanding public education system is undermined by its achievement gap crisis.

Many of Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but the massive achievement gap between wealthy and poor towns is a crisis of epic proportions in this state and across the country.

However, the corporate education reform movement would have us believe that America’s education system is failing.  In fact, here in Connecticut, corporate funded charter school front groups are quick to condemn Connecticut’s public schools en masse.

Their false news rhetoric is beyond inaccurate, it is downright disgraceful and misleading.

Connecticut does have a severe academic achievement gap which is a result of the extreme poverty that is preventing many children from reaching their potential.

But by nearly every measure, Connecticut’s public schools excel compared to those in most other states.

The scores Connecticut’s students received on the 2015 NAEP scores tell the story.

As the United States government explains, the “National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”

While the absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is a “high-stakes” test designed to fail students, the NAEP has sought to reflect whether a random group of students have a basic understanding of the key concepts that are actually being taught at each appropriate grade level.

When it comes to the NAEP scores, Connecticut has always been among the highest scoring states in the United States.

In 2015, for example, more than 8 in 10 Connecticut students who took the NAEP test scored at or above the goal level.  By comparison, only about 60% of the students in Louisiana scored at or above the goal level.

2015 NAEP – Percent of students scoring at or above goal

Connecticut   82% at or above goal

Louisiana        63% at or above goal.

The detailed results from the Connecticut NAEP testing reveal just how successful that state’s public schools are and where the problems exist.

Connecticut NAEP Results (2015)

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Percent at or above Goal Level
Connecticut Students 82%
Connecticut – White Students 89%
Connecticut – African American Students 60%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69%
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67%

Compare and contrast Connecticut to Louisiana.  Nearly all of Connecticut’s lowest performing cohorts score at or above the average student in Louisiana and all student sub-groups do significantly better in Connecticut than they do in Louisiana.

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Connecticut

Percent at or above Goal Level

Louisiana

Percent at or above Goal Level

All Students 82% 63%
White Students 89% 79%
African American Students 60% 49%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69% n/a
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67% 55%

 

The data from the NAEP test reiterates the core reality that Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but that poverty remains the most insidious barrier to academic achievement.  Since poverty and race are closely tied in the United States, African-American and Latino students are at a significant disadvantage to the White students who tend to live in more affluent communities.

That said, the truth is hardly a concern when it comes to the slick marketing and public relations tactics of the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement who consistently – and wrongly – claim that American public education is a failure.

Rather than allow them to hide behind their false news efforts, elected and appointed officials should be clear about the problems facing public schools in Connecticut and the United States.

The real and substantive answer is not more privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools, corporate entities that refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students who face additional challenges.

The correct policy is for Connecticut officials to step up and address the growing impact of inequity, poverty and a lack of resources that are limiting the success in many of Connecticut’s schools.

The factors undermining public education in the United States can be dealt with but it will take a level of commitment and responsibility that many officials have yet to display.

Two critical education issues for the Connecticut legislature By Anne Manusky

Education advocate Anne Manusky weighs in in two extremely important issues that the Connecticut General Assembly should address this legislative session.  Her commentary piece originally appeared in the CT Mirror.  You can read and comment on the column at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/10/two-critical-education-issues-for-the-connecticut-legislature/

Two critical education issues for the Connecticut legislature By Anne Manusky

From my perspective we have two critical points in the current Connecticut education crisis that must be dealt with first during the General Assembly’s 2017 session: One, the Common Core State Standards – they are developmentally inappropriate for many of our children, especially those in the elementary years. And Two: Measuring our children using the new state mastery test, which lacks psychometric test validation and reliability.

It takes time for children to reach certain levels of development  (i.e. vision development is not typically fully acquired until between the age of 8 and 10; and a child’s first baby tooth will typically fall out about the age of 6 or 7). Years of child development theorists’ research,  seem to have been thrown aside when children’s education standards were proposed to be redrawn by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers.

Why this “education” without allowing for typical development? Pushing children to mentally do things they are incapable of is a form of child abuse.  The Connecticut Core Standards are in need of major overhaul and return to developmental appropriateness.

As for measuring academic progress, the Smarter Balanced Assessments are purported to use the Connecticut Core Standards to determine academic mastery levels of our public school children.  So where would factual information be on the analysis of the Smarter Balanced Assessments for Connecticut?

I submitted a freedom of information request in March, 2016, to Commissioner Dianna Wentzel and the State Department of Education for documentation of the validity and reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, as well as for the facts behind Commissioner Wentzel’s statement in a Hartford paper on the “…deep psychometric study…” done to remove a portion of the test to reduce test time.

Staff of the SDE provided Smarter Balanced Field Test materials from 2013, yet did not provide validity or reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) for Connecticut.   Assistant Attorney General Ralph Urban for Commissioner Wentzel and the State Department of Education said at the FOIA hearing they “can’t prove the existence of a negative” and “they don’t exist.”  How did Commissioner Wentzel and her staff make any valid decisions on this without this psychometric testing of the SBA for Connecticut?

The financial cost of this “test?”  It is in the neighborhood of $21 million over three years in Smarter Balanced testing and data collection through the American Institutes for Research.

This is a worrisome concern.  White papers such as Dr. Mary Byrne’s  regarding the validity of the Smarter Balanced Assessments  for Missouri, and the 100 California Education Researchers study (2016) provide details of what is missing to make the Smarter Balanced Assessments valid tests. This information was provided to Commissioner Wentzel, the SDE and the SBE, without response.

Connecticut’s General Assembly, especially the Education Committee, has very serious issues besetting it come this session — the future of our children’s public education.

Connecticut is obligated to its childrens’ public education and to provide developmentally appropriate, valid, and reliable academic testing.  Public education is not an enumerated right of the federal government, as provided in Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution.  Also, the fact the Smarter Balanced Consortium is an interstate compact which was never approved by Congress is another troubling point.

The “work” of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education bring a great deal into question.

It is time for our state to return to local school district control and have parents and residents involved in education. Cut the CT Core Standards and fraudulent Smarter Balanced tests, which our state cannot afford financially or ethically.

Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Despite the political rhetoric coming out of ConnCAN and other charter school industry front groups, Trinity’s Robert Cotto reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools do not outperform local public schools.

 Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

 

A few weeks ago, attorney Wendy Lecker asked me in an interview for the Stamford Advocate, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?” My answer was, “Not exactly”.

As my Choice Watch report (Cotto & Feder, 2014) demonstrated, charter schools in Connecticut tend to serve a relatively more advantaged group of (mostly) Black and Latinx children including fewer children with disabilities, emerging bilingual children, and children eligible for free and reduced priced meals compared to the students in local public schools in the same cities as the charter schools. As a result, comparing the test results of charter schools with local public schools is like comparing “apples to oranges” because they often serve very different groups of children.

However, using a simple scatterplot chart, it is fairly easy to show that charter schools’ mean test results are not overwhelmingly better when compared with public school districts that have similarly-situated students in terms of a rough income indicator. Other scholars, such as Bruce Baker (2012) at Rutgers University, have constructed scatterplots of income vs. 7th grade math test results to demonstrate similar observations about charter and public schools.

For example, below I constructed an interactive scatterplot that compares 6th grade average scale scores on the CMT reading (2012) versus percentage of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (FRPM) at the district level (Google sheet data here). This scatterplot data visualization has three major data points. First, each public district and charter school is positioned by the the overall percent FRPM (x-axis). Second, each district is positioned on the y-axis by its mean scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. Third, the size of the dots correspond to the percentage of emerging bilingual children (crudely labeled as “English Language Learners” by the State).

You can scroll over the dots to see the public school district or charter school name and their demographics and test data. Public school districts are in blue dots and charter schools are in red dots. By placing these data points on a scatterplot, we can more easily compare the average test results of districts and charter schools that are similar in terms of district-wide free and reduced meal eligibility. (See the end for notes on limitations of this data and method.)

For the interactive chart Comparing Average Scale Score & Free/Reduced Meal Eligibility in CT School Districts 2012 go to:  http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

So what does this scatterplot show? Here are some observations:

  • There is a strong negative linear relationship (r= -.869) between this rough income indicator (eligibility for free and reduced priced meals) and average scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. (i.e. as free and reduced priced meal eligibility increases, average reading scores decrease)
  • When compared to similar districts by income, some (4) charter schools appear to have higher than average test results, some (4) have lower than average test results, and some (4) are right in the middle of the pack, or near the average.
  • If charter schools (red dots) had overwhelmingly higher test results, then we would expect more of their average scores to be above the majority of blue dots at their % FRPM level.

Want a closer look?

This second scatterplot chart only compares charter schools with the public school districts where they are located. The same pattern appears.

For example, Bridgeport Public Schools enrolled children that were 99% eligible for FRPM and 12.6% emerging bilingual (ELL). By comparison, all Bridgeport charter schools had higher average scale scores in reading, but lower rates of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (68-85%) and emerging bilingual students (0-4%). There are exceptions, of course, such as Amistad Academy, which often appears comparable to New Haven Public Schools in terms of %FRPM, %ELL, and higher in average scale score.

And there are examples on the other end of the spectrum. The hypersegregated Stamford charter schools contain larger proportions of Black and Latinx students, those eligible for free/reduced price meals, and those with disabilities compared to the local Stamford public school district. They also appear to be outliers in terms of having very low average scale scores.

For the interactive chart comparing Avg. Scale Score CMT Read & District & District Demographics go to: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

This test result (“performance”) question is important because it is at the center of claims made about charter schools in Connecticut. The claim that charter schools achieve superior test results as a result of effort, choice, accountability, educational program, governance structure, or some other reason, is frequently cited by charter school lobbyists at the legislature and the CT State Department of Education. 

The simple claim hinges on a statement like this one from a presentation on charter schools by the CT SDE: “Of the 14 charter schools that administered the spring 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, 12 schools (or 86%) outperformed their host district with their overall SPI.” (CT SDE, 2015) With this statistic, we are left to conclude (or told by the charter school lobby) that charter schools are supposedly excelling compared to local public schools.

The CT SDE presentation (below) offers similar statistics and a chart highlighting some demographics of charter schools versus “alliance” and all other districts, but it does not caution the reader these characteristics could impact test results and comparisons. What the CT SDE and charter school lobbyists are not explicitly telling you in these claims is that charter schools often serve a relatively more advantaged group of Black and Latinx children compared to the local public schools where they are located and these children are likely to do relatively better on standardized tests because standardized tests favor more advantaged groups of people. Therefore, it is not a fair comparison to directly compare charter schools test results to those in local public school districts without some sort of modification (e.g. compare districts similar in income levels and/or other characteristics).

Charter Renewal Process, SBE Overview | April 6, 2015

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

The State is comparing “apples (public schools) to oranges (charter schools)” on test results, despite knowing (it’s their data!) that the massive demographic differences that make these simple comparisons very misleading. To be sure, the CT SDE assists in making these same simplistic comparisons of test results between urban and suburban schools districts as well. This type of misleading comparison of test results persists and is now baked into the CT State Department of Education policy on reviewing and renewing charter schools.

All of this is meant to say that using blunt comparisons of test results does not prove that charter schools or public schools are any better or worse than each other in terms of academic performance, or any other characteristic. Instead, I am arguing that comparisons of test results must account for often massive demographic differences. This was a major recommendation of the Choice Watch (2014) report. I would also add, as I’ve written elsewhere, that school performance should be thought of in broader terms than standardized tests. Simple comparisons of standardized test results will always favor schools with barriers to entry and participation (e.g. charter, magnet, vocational technical schools) and advantaged districts where families must buy or rent homes to attend local schools (affluent, suburban).

So when somebody asks the question, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform public school districts?”, how will you answer?

Notes: 1. There are many other and better ways of analyzing this question about charter and public schools. My observations above are based on scatterplot charts that crudely “account” for income (FRPM). 2. The data above comes from 2012, the most recent data in which average scale score on State tests can be compared to other demographic information. 3. Finally, the %FRPM applies to all grades in the district, while the average scale score applies to all students in a district in the 6th grade taking the standard version of the test. The State does not share %FRPM data at the grade level. 4. Average scale scores are a better measure of central tendency compared to percent of students at proficient or goal because scale scores do not lump students status levels at arbitrary cut points.

Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

Columnist and education advocate Wendy Lecker writes about Governor Dannel Malloy’s attack on Connecticut’s public schools and his ongoing effort to privatize public education in Connecticut.

In Draining dollars from our students, Wendy Lecker writes;

Though the CCJEF v. Rell trial, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that the Connecticut provides more than adequate school funding, his actual findings of fact, found in the Appendix to his decision, confirm CCJEF’s claims that public schools are woefully under-resourced.

The judge found that CCJEF districts had severe deficiencies in special education teachers, interventionists for reading and math, social workers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, and services for English Language Learners. Bridgeport was forced to cut 73.5 teachers, including special education teachers, social workers and psychologists in one year, even as the population grew. New Britain had to make similar cuts.

Adequate funding for all means that children who need extra support to learn get it. As the New York court said, the opportunity for an adequate education “must be placed within reach of all students.”

Moukawsher found that CCJEF districts lacked resources to provide their most vulnerable students with the extra help and support they need to access basic educational opportunities. Therefore, his conclusion that the state is providing more than adequate funding is astounding.

Because of Moukawsher’s ruling, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy felt free to cut $20 million in school aid from the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) school funding formula last week.

Districts that cannot afford teachers must scramble to fill a quarter-of-a-million-dollar hole halfway through the school year.

Simultaneously, the Malloy administration announced plans to expand publicly funded, privately managed charter schools. Austerity is only imposed on district public schools, apparently.

Compounding the damage to public school funding, Malloy’s allies intend to “reform” Connecticut’s school funding formula to drain more public dollars from public schools — toward privately run charter schools.

As the Malloy administration recently acknowledged, district public schools are the vehicle the state chose to discharge its constitutional responsibility to educate children. Although the state must ensure adequate funding, in reality the state and municipalities share the financial burden. State education funding never covers the full cost of education. The state provides a portion and the local municipality fills in the rest, with the federal government contributing a small amount. When the state fails to pay its fair share, municipalities must to make up the gap.

Successful school funding reforms start with an analysis of what it costs to educate children. Once the cost is determined, states find they must increase school spending. Those increases have been proven to improve educational and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

To begin serious reform, Connecticut must assess what it costs today to bring an adequate education within the reach of all students.

However, Malloy’s charter allies do not want to discuss the cost of education. Their agenda is to simply to get the legislature to include charter schools in any new school funding formula. Why? So local districts would be required to fund charters from local budgets.

State charter schools are considered independent districts. Local districts do not receive state allocations for students attending charter schools nor are they required pay the local contribution for children in charter schools. The host district has no say over the charter schools located within its borders. State law does require local school districts to pay for transportation and special education costs for children attending charter schools. Aside from that, charters are funded by state allocations, federal funds and private donations.

Charters are not funded like district public schools because they differ from public schools. They are statutorily created and can be discontinued anytime. They need not serve all grade levels nor provide the same services as public schools, and do not have to hire certified teachers. They are also exempt from other state mandates and accountability.

The charter lobby’s proposal would require local districts to pay for any costs for charters not covered by the state. Local taxpayers would now pay for charters like they pay for their own schools; without having any voice in charter schools and without charters following the same rules as public schools. As the state decides to expand charters, more local dollars will be drained from public schools toward these independent schools. In Rhode Island, where this system exists, districts lose tens of millions of dollars annually to charters.

Draining more money from impoverished school districts will not improve education for Connecticut’s neediest children. If our leaders are serious about school funding reform, they must start with assessing the true cost of providing every child with an adequate education. Only then can we have an honest discussion about how we can serve the educational needs of all our children.

Wendy Lecker’s column first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on it at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Draining-dollars-from-our-students-10840529.php