Corporate Education Reform Industry group starts radio campaign in support of new charter schools

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Surprise, surprise… An out-of-State charter school advocacy group has started an advertising campaign to support the Malloy administration’s decision to give Steve Perry his own privately run, but taxpayer funded, charter school in Bridgeport.

According to a reports from the CT Mirror and Hartford Courant, Families for Excellent Schools, Inc., a charter school advocacy group based in New York, has begun a Connecticut radio advertising campaign in support of the Malloy administration’s decision to approve two new charter schools in Bridgeport.

Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. is running the radio spots to defend Commissioner Stefan Pryor and State Board of Education’s underhanded effort to approve the proposed charter schools.  One of the charter schools will be run by the out-of-state Great Oaks charter school chain while the other is Steve Perry’s Capitol Preparatory Harbor school.

The advocacy and lobbying group is also behind the multi-million dollar advertising campaign to undermine New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to make New York City’s public schools a high priority compared to the Bloomberg administration’s approach that diverted tens of millions in public resources away from the public schools and to the city’s privately run charter schools. In New York, the Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. campaign pushed to allow privately run charter schools virtually unlimited and free access to public school space.    

The group’s New York advertising campaign is designed to help New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Like Malloy, Cuomo has received more than $100,000 in campaign donations from charter-school supporters in recent months.

Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. was formed by corporate education reform industry allies in 2011 and has recently expanded into Connecticut. Four of the organization’s five founding board members are Wall Street hedge fund executives.  The group also shares space in New York City with the New York chapter of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Inc.

As one would expect, the corporate education reform industry has been dumping millions of dollars into Families for Excellent Schools, Inc.

Among its biggest donors is the Walton Family Foundation (the Wal-Mart Family’s Foundation) which has given the charter school group more than $700,000 in start-up funds.  The organization has also received at least $200,000 from the Eli Broad Foundation during that same period.

Here in Connecticut, the Wal-Mart Political Action Committee gave Governor Malloy’s political operation a check for $5,000 and Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad chipped in another $8,000 for Malloy.  

One of the other foundations that have given Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. is none other than the Ray Dalio Family Foundation.

As Forbes Magazine explains, Ray Dalio is the “king of the rich hedge fund industry.”  Forbes adds that Dalio, “lords over the world’s biggest hedge fund firm, Bridgewater Associates, with about $150 billion in assets.”

Ray Dalio is the individual who was paid $2.3 billion last year.

Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates is the company that Governor Dan Malloy rewarded with more than $120 million in Connecticut taxpayer funded tax breaks in return for moving Bridgewater’s “world headquarters” from Westport to Stamford.

In addition to giving money to the charter school advocacy group now running advertisements in Connecticut, Dalio’s foundation is also a major donor to Teach for America.

For public school teachers, parents and advocates it is becoming even clear is that with the 2014 gubernatorial election less than seven months away, Dannel “Dan” Malloy is using every opportunity to show his unending support for expanding charter schools at the expense of Connecticut’s public schools.

You can also read more about this story at CT Mirror: http://ctmirror.org/up-next-charter-group-that-battled-nyc-mayor-comes-to-ct/

How can we tell if we’re moving forward if our eyes are closed? (by Ed McKeon)

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Ed McKeon is a member of the Middletown Board of Education. The following letter to the editor was published in the Middletown Press and related papers. (See: http://www.middletownpress.com/opinion/20140327/ed-mckeon-how-can-we-tell-if-were-moving-forward-if-our-eyes-are-closed.)

It is another “MUST READ” for the students, parents, teachers and public school advocates fighting to take by out public education system.

How can we tell if we’re moving forward if our eyes are closed? (by Ed McKeon)

Tuesday’s editorial in the Register chain claims that delaying implementation of the Common Core standards would be a step backwards. Considering that the editorial offers no substantiation about what Common Core will accomplish, it’s nothing more than an uninformed suggestion.

The reason the editorial writers, and Common Core supporters themselves, aren’t able to offer evidence that Common Core standards will somehow miraculously raise the achievement levels of American students is that there is no evidence.

Common Core standards were written in secrecy and in a vacuum. These standards have never been used, or tested anywhere.

The authors of Common Core were largely business leaders and textbook and test manufacturers. In fact, two of the most credible, and the only student-learning experts of the Common Core Validation Committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky (Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas and the author of the Massachusetts k-12 academic standards) and Dr. James Milgram (Professor Emeritus Stanford University) refused to sign off on the standards. They were outvoted by other members of a committee, many of whom were associates of testing companies.

And the secrecy prevails. Members of the Common Core committees were asked to sign non-disclosure statements, so that the deliberations were not, and are not, open to public inspection or deliberation.

The Register editorial was correct in saying that information about Common Core was unavailable early on, and incomplete or confusing when it finally was released. The Connecticut Department of Education website only became available last month, nearly four years after the state signed onto standards.

The editorial also hints that the backlash to Common Core is some kind of conspiracy fueled by political fury, and fanned by misinformation.

As much as it hurts me to be on the same side of an argument as Glenn Beck, the truth is that the backlash comes as a result of teachers, administrators, students and parents finally getting their hands on the standards, and the testing materials, textbooks and teacher evaluations that go hand-in-hand with Common Core. The backlash comes not from the right, or the left, or Republicans, it comes from teachers, parents and taxpayers who are really concerned that they are being sold a bill of goods.

Before any of us blithely accept the notion that the Common Core rollout continue unabated consider the following:

Common Core is an industry. Advocates will repeat the mantra over and over: “Common Core is not curriculum. It’s a set of standards.” What they won’t admit to is that most school districts do not have the luxury or the money to design custom curricula, create custom learning materials or formulate testing which would be accepted by the national standard-bearers. So, schools will have to pay for off-the-shelf curricula, text books, technology, learning materials and tests. Common Core is not just a set of standards, it’s everything that goes with it.

Common Core, for all it’s demands as an evidence-based system, offers no evidence of it’s efficacy. Common Core has not been vetted, tested, benchmarked, offered for academic review or scrutiny. It has been shoved down the throats of state educators who understood that if you didn’t swallow hard and accept the standards, you were less likely to receive federal dollars. Connecticut has received no Federal Race to the Top Dollars as a result of accepting the standards.

Common Core is going to make some people very, very rich. Because of the demands of the new standards, all new teaching and testing material will have to be created, and then purchased by hard-pressed school districts. But in the process, textbook publishers, test-manufacturers, technology creators are going to make lots of money. What’s more, because Common Core is predicted to show that most public schools are below standard, the Charter School industry, which is working hard to privatize public education, will be working diligently to pry public education dollars from the public schools where those dollars belong.

Common Core, like many state mandates, has not been fully funded. Much of the expense of paying for Common Core, and the tests and materials it has spawned will fall upon the shoulders of city taxpayers. As usual, the state and federal government comes up with a brilliant idea, and expects us to pick up the tab,

We respectfully ask that any editorial writer suggesting that Common Core is the cure for all the problems of public education, spend a few hours trying to figure out what Common Core is, and alleges to do, and then spend another day or two standing in a classroom next to a public school teacher.

Even more students lose as the “cost” of the Common Core Testing grows

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The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test means more testing and less learning.

The Common Core test will cost Connecticut’s students and teachers hundreds of hours of lost instructional time.

The Common Core test will cost schools and taxpayers tens of millions in computer and internet upgrades so that students can take the inappropriate computer-based test.

And reports are coming in from around the state that another major problem is undermining our students, teachers and public schools.

As schools divert their computers and internet to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test of a test, students who take computer related courses are being pushed aside, unable to even complete the courses that require access to those computers.

As everyone but the proponents of the Common Core Smarter Assessment Field Test scheme understand, there are literally dozens of courses that require access to computers.

In addition to classes that teach an array of computer skills, there are a wide variety of business and art classes that require daily access to the computer.

But in the name of getting students “college and career ready,” Connecticut’s school systems are being forced to commandeer the schools’ computers for the Common Core testing; leaving students without the equipment they literally need to become “college and career ready.”

Business teachers, art teachers, and computer teachers have all written to say that access to their computers has been restricted for weeks at a time.  Teachers are being prevented from teaching course content and students are being prevented from completing their coursework.

Teachers report that as computer labs and classrooms with computers have been converted to testing factories, students taking courses that require access to those computers have been sent to the library, cafeteria or hallways to wait for the testing periods to come to an end.

As the end of the school year comes into sight, one school reports that rather than having fifteen class periods to work on their semester projects and prepare for their required presentations, students will have less than half that number.

Another school is reporting that as result of the Common Core testing frenzy, business and graphic art students have been prohibited from using their classroom computers for more than a month during the spring Common Core testing period.

As a result of the massive standardized testing program, students are losing out.

College and career skills are NOT being developed, knowledge is NOT being acquired, and precious opportunities ARE being lost.

The Common Core testing debacle is truly undermining our public schools and the students they serve.

It leaves parents, teachers and taxpayers asking… Why won’t Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, or the General Assembly stand up, step forward and put an end to this travesty.

Foul shots in the classroom: A Fable (By Ann Policelli Cronin)

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As we celebrate UCONN’S [Remember it is not UConn] double national championships, it seems particularly appropriate to look back on a great commentary piece written by fellow columnist and pro-education advocate, Ann Policelli Cronin.  Here piece entitle, “Foul shots in the Classroom:  A Fable” first appeared in the CT Mirror.

Ann Policelli Cronin writes,

Imagine…

The NCAA Basketball Championship is based solely on free-throw shooting. Team practices are spent doing repetitive exercises of shooting from the foul line. All college players take the same free-throw shooting test. Their scores determine the excellence of the team, expertise of the coach and quality of the school. The team with the highest score becomes the national champion.

As a result of this new competition, the game of basketball is lost. The game, in which quick thinking, collaborative efforts and a whole array of athletic abilities are integral to the success of a team, is not played. The players begin to forget what it was to play 40 minutes of basketball. The coaches stop thinking about ways to develop talents of individual players and stop strategizing about how to make the team as a whole more successful. The fans forget about that long-ago game of basketball and enthusiastically cheer for their favorite foul shooters and compare them to foul shooters on other teams and in other countries.

Critics say that free-throw shooting is a simple skill and won’t prepare the college players for the basketball played in the NBA or WNBA. They also say that free-throw testing was chosen to replace playing games because the NCAA commissioned people in the test-making business to make that decision.

Common Core emphasizes authentic comprehension. In the past, students could depend on memorization to pass an upcoming test, then forget the procedures afterwards; yet they’d need to relearn the material in the following years.

Legislators will get to hear feedback on the rollout of the Common Core Curriculum Wednesday during a public hearing at the state Capitol complex. The noon event is the result of a move by Republican minority legislators to force the reluctant leaders of the Education Committee to hold a hearing on the bill that would put implementation of the state’s new academic standards on hold.

If this scenario were real, there would be quite an outcry…

But something scarier is happening in public school classrooms due to the Common Core State Standards. At stake there is not the game of basketball, but the development of students as thoughtful, engaged readers and effective writers. The Common Core requires the teaching of 200 narrow skills each year. Such skills will never foster students’ growth as readers and writers. The Common Core keeps students on the foul line, practicing limited skills.

In high school English classes, teaching Common Core skills in preparation for the accompanying test means that students are not asked to create meaning as they read, to think divergently and innovatively, nor learn a variety of ways to express their ideas orally and in writing. Instead, learning the isolated skills of the Common Core will keep students at the rudimentary level of simply finding information as they read and writing in a prescribed formula without any personal investment or even their personal voice.

Teachers of literature in love with ideas must be quiet. Teachers whose satisfaction is helping their students grow as thinkers by immersing them in reading and writing must be quiet. They must spend time at the foul line, urging their students to sink more shots, urging them to get higher and higher scores on tests that classify and rank them compared to other test-takers.

Executives of testing companies designed the Common Core. They wrote standards with skills that are measurable on computerized tests. Those skills are far too small a definition of literacy just as free-throw shooting is far too small a definition of playing basketball. We could benefit from authentic standards, written by those who know how to teach and not measured by computerized tests. Unfortunately, the Common Core committee didn’t have one English teacher in love with ideas on it, not one coach who knows the game.

A foul shooting test will never determine the NCAA championship because of the reality facing college players: The NBA and WNBA await. That world of professional sports demands experience in playing the whole game of basketball. Similarly, the world of higher education and the global workplace await current public school students. That world demands that graduates excel in the complex thinking that a rich literacy environment teaches.

College basketball players certainly will not spend the season just practicing free-throw shooting; instead, they will work at becoming accomplished and strategic basketball players. How our children, our students, our future citizens and leaders, spend their season, their school year, however, is up for grabs. They will spend it either preparing for Common Core tests or spend it becoming thoughtful readers, effective writers and complex thinkers. They can’t have it both ways.

What will we as parents, educators and taxpayers choose for them? It is our call. The time for our voice and our action in opposition to the Common Core is now.

You can find the full commentary piece here: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-foul-shots-in-the-classroom-a-fable/

Malloy’s public school privatization effort hits Stamford

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Malloy administration gives Bronx charter school chain a green-light to “save” Stamford.

The Malloy administration’s extraordinary efforts to increase the number of charter schools and privatize even more of the state’s public education system took a giant leap forward at the last State Board of Education meeting.

In a farce that included Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, just happening to have a written resolution approving four new charters rather than the promised two, the corporate education reform industry drive to undermine Connecticut’s public schools surged forward.

Malloy’s “hometown” of Stamford was one of the latest victims in the inappropriate and under-handed strategy that has been displayed by Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education.

When it comes to “education reform” the Malloy administration’s watchwords seems to be, “grab the candy before you are thrown out of the shop.”

The following piece was written by Stamford Board of Education members Jackie Heftman and Polly Rauh.  It was first published in last Friday’s Stamford Advocate.

Democracy loses in charter school fight

On April 2, we went to a show trial in Hartford. Actually it was a meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Sitting in the audience and later watching it on CT-N, we were reminded of the trials held in places with authoritarian dictatorships, where the outcome is decided long before the meeting begins.

The resolution that the SBOE was considering was for one more state charter school in New Haven and Bridgeport. The public agenda listed a discussion item of an additional charter school in Stamford and one more for Bridgeport. We were there to speak in opposition to another state charter school in Stamford. The Stamford Board of Education had passed a resolution at its March meeting not supporting the charter school application.

The SBOE approved the two charters in New Haven and Bridgeport, and then Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor magically produced a resolution for approval of another charter school in Bridgeport and Stamford. Both were unanimously approved. Indeed a sad day for democracy in Connecticut.

Some of the things that were put on the record were simply wrong and some were outright lies, and they should not go undisputed. If Stamford is going to be dragged into a fight over a charter school, we should begin with an understanding of the facts.

Pryor was adamant that the funding for charter schools is a separate stream of money and does not take funding away from the traditional public schools. In fact he proudly asserted that more money has been allocated to the Alliance Districts. Alliance Districts are the 30 lowest performing districts in the state. Stamford, New Haven and Bridgeport are Alliance Districts. For Stamford the allocated amount is less than $3 million dollars which is less than 1 percent of our budget. Is he kidding? What is there to be proud of? That money will get eaten up in additional transportation and special education costs for the new charter school.

The money that comes to cities and towns to help fund public schools is based on an Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula which is grossly underfunded to the tune of almost $700 million dollars this year.

[A Wait, What? note to readers:  According to the CCEJF school funding lawsuit and other experts, Connecticut’s school funding formula is actually $1.5 to $2 billion underfunded leaving an unfair and disproportionate burden on local property tax payers and severely limiting resource in many Connecticut school districts].

But there seems to be money to fund state charter schools. Between Fiscal Year 2013 and Fiscal Year 2015, $233 million has been set aside to fund state charter schools. That money could have been added to the ECS stream bringing it closer to what the formula requires.

The second sad occurrence that afternoon was when Charlene Reid, head of the state charter school that wants to open here, told the SBOE that in her meetings with Stamford BOE members over the past couple of months it was suggested that because she was black she was incapable of writing the application. She also said she was accused of being a racist because she wants to open a segregated school and had experienced “micro aggression” during her time in Stamford.

We have neither met Ms. Reid nor been asked to attend a meeting with her and could find only one board member who did meet with her. No one who spoke at the public hearing in Stamford maligned Ms. Reid. Our opposition to the charter school has never been personal. She also said parents were “petrified” to publicly state their support, but when parents had the opportunity to speak at the SBOE meeting, where there is obvious support for charter schools, no one spoke. No one from Stamford said they wanted this option for their children. In fact Stamford Parent Teacher Council members came to the SBOE meeting with more than 700 petition signatures in opposition to the charter school.

Ms. Reid accused unnamed Stamford officials of having no plan to address inequities and only wanting to ignore the problem. That flies in the face of our Alliance District Improvement Plan, approved by the SBOE, which directly addresses the closing of the achievement gap. In fact in the past six years the achievement gap in the Stamford Public Schools has been reduced by 13.5 percent. Ms. Reid says the Bronx Charter School for Excellence has closed the achievement gap for all subgroups. The achievement gap is the difference between the standardized test scores for White students vs. Black and Hispanic students.

Her claim that the gap has been closed at her school is meaningless when there are no white students attending. She can claim that she has boosted the achievement of her students, but she can’t claim she has closed the achievement gap. She also belittled Stamford Superintendent Winifred Hamilton’s commitment to diversity in spite of the fact that our schools are balanced to within 10 percent of the district average, 31 percent of our administrators are minorities and we are constantly working to increase our minority teaching staff. It is obvious that she hasn’t visited any of our schools. Ms. Reid told the SBOE that she is looking forward to a collaborative relationship with SPS and our superintendent! Really?

Ms. Reid acknowledged that her school in the Bronx is 100 percent minority and 85 percent economically disadvantaged and this is the model she would bring to Stamford. If for no other reasons, we oppose this charter school coming to Stamford.

We care about all public school students receiving a high quality education in a diverse setting of students of all colors and socioeconomic backgrounds. All Stamford students deserve no less.

The growing list of reasons to vote against Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s re-election

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The growing list of reasons to vote against Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s re-election

  • Malloy’s “education reform” legislation has earned him the title of the most anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school Democratic governor in the nation.  Malloy’s decision to hand Connecticut’s public education system over to Charter School advocate, now Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor has ushered in an unprecedented attack on teachers, students, parents, local school districts and the professionalism of the State Department of Education.  As long as Pryor and his allies are running the State Department of Education, Malloy deserves to lose.
  • As if Malloy’s corporate education reform industry agenda wasn’t bad enough, the Governor and his administration has displayed the height of arrogance and dishonesty in his flip flopping about Connecticut’s inadequate school funding formula.  Although Dan Malloy ran on a platform of confronting Connecticut’s unfair and inappropriate school funding system and settling the historic CCEJF School funding lawsuit, Malloy has not only used his power to try and dismiss the vital lawsuit, but has implemented policies that place an even greater financial burden on Connecticut’s local property taxpayers when it comes to funding public schools.
  • As governor, Malloy has also instituted the largest budget cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.  Malloy’s unwillingness to fund public higher education has translated into massive tuition increase, which in turn, disproportionately hurt working and middle-income families.
  • At the same time, under the guise of “shared sacrifice,” Malloy pushed through tax policies that also unfairly targeted middle income families while coddling the wealthy.  Those making more than $1 million a year saw absolutely NO INCREASE in their income tax rates while middle income families were hit with higher incomes tax rates and a reduction in their property tax credit.  Taxpayers were also confronted with a variety of new and expanded tax increases, most of which place the greatest burden on middle income families.  Malloy’s tax program also included the largest gas tax increase in Connecticut history and, incredibly, the revenues collected from that higher gas tax wasn’t even used to pay for programs to improve Connecticut’s transportation systems.
  • When it comes to the issue of economic development, Malloy’s rhetoric about creating jobs has been little more than a cover for a massive corporate welfare program that gave hundreds of millions of dollars to extremely profitable companies.  Billion dollar companies literally walked away with hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds.  Making matters worse, Malloy charged his corporate give-a-way program to the state’s credit card meaning taxpayers will not only be picking up the entire cost of those corporate welfare checks but are now going to have to pay tens of millions more in interest to pay for Malloy’s irresponsible borrowing.
  • The growth of government secrecy, the loss of public accountability, and the inappropriate role of campaign contributions donated from state contractors and lobbyists may well be the Malloy administration’s worst “accomplishment.”  As a result of Malloy successful efforts to limit the powers and resources of the State Ethics Commission, the State Freedom of Information Commission and the State Elections Enforcement Commission, and create new loopholes in Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, Malloy will go down in history as the governor who turned back the clock on openness, accountability and the public’s right to know what its elected and appointed government officials are doing.
  • Furthermore, despite running on a platform in honest budgeting, the Malloy administration has made constant use of budget gimmicks and the inappropriate use of one-time revenues.  Malloy’s failure to be honest about Connecticut’s state budgets will leave the taxpayers of Connecticut with $1 billion budget deficit in each of the three years following the election.
  • And while teachers and Connecticut’s public schools have borne the brunt of Malloy’s attacks over the past two years, few will forgot his 2011 war on state employees.  His disrespect and unfair treatment of state employees continues to this day with his unwillingness to provide agencies with adequate staffing.  While state employees stepped up and did their fair share to help solve Connecticut’s budget crisis, Malloy’s contempt has not only undermined state employees and state agencies, but has resulted in a system in which Connecticut taxpayers are paying more while getting less.

Sadly, this is but a partial list.

Feel free add or expand as warranted…

Politicians pushing corporate education reform should be ashamed

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In her latest blog post, Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate provides us with yet another reminder about why politicians like Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy should should be ashamed of what he has done to our public school teachers and our public schools…

Florida Teacher Donates $400 Bonus to NPE to Fight VAM and Ither Failed Reforms!

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

In Florida, as in Connecticut, politicians have tied teacher evaluation programs to standardized test scores and inappropriate and fault assessment schemes.

Take a moment to read the Florida teacher’s story because it is system that is pretty similar to one Governor Malloy pushed through here in Connecticut.  In fact, a strong argument could be made that the Connecticut’s system is even worse.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/12/03/a-value-added-travesty-for-an-award-winning-teacher/

Here’s the crazy story of Kim Cook, a teacher at Irby Elementary, a K-2 school which feeds into Alachua Elementary, for grades 3-5, just down the road in Alachua, Fla. She was recently chosen by the teachers at her school as their Teacher of the Year.

Her plight stems back to last spring when the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 736, which mandates that 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on student scores on the state’s standardized tests, a method known as the value-added model, or VAM. It is essentially a formula that supposedly tells how much “value” a teacher has added to a student’s test score. Assessment experts say it is a terrible way to evaluate teachers but it has still been adopted by many states with the support of the Obama administration.

Since Cook’s school only goes through second grade, her school district is using the FCAT scores from the third graders at Alachua Elementary School to determine the VAM score for every teacher at her school.

Alachua Elementary School did not do well in 2011-12 evaluations that just came out; it received a D. Under the VAM model, the state awarded that school — and Cook’s school, by default — 10 points out of 100 for their D.

In this school district, there are three components to teacher evaluations:

1. A lesson study worth 20 percent. In the lesson study, small groups of teachers work together to create an exemplary lesson, observe one of the teachers implement it, critique the teacher’s performance and discuss improvement.

2. Principal appraisal worth 40 percent of overall score.

3. VAM data (scores from the standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores for elementary schools) worth 40 percent of the overall score.

Cook received full points on her lesson study: 100 x .20 (20%) = 20 points
Cook received an 88/100 from her former principal: 88/100 x .40  (40%) = 35.2 points
On VAM data — points awarded by the state for the FCAT scores at Alachua Elementary School: 10/100 x .40 (40%) = 4 points

Total points that she received: 59.2 (Unsatisfactory)

This is her second year at Irby Elementary, where she teaches first grade. She never taught a single student who took the FCAT at Alachua Elementary last spring. The same will hold true for this year’s evaluation; 40 percent of her appraisal will be based on the scores of students she has never taught.

The Florida Education Association’s Web site says:

Every teacher will be evaluated using the new evaluation criteria and student learning growth. Veteran teachers must demonstrate Highly Effective or Effective performance; if they are rated unsatisfactory two consecutive or two out of three years, they will be placed on an annual contract then, if there is no improvement, terminated.

Here’s what Cook wrote to me in an e-mail:

I have almost 25 years of experience as a teacher. I JUST got my 2011-2012 evaluation on Friday. There is a real possibility that I will receive an unsatisfactory evaluation for this school year. I may go up to “needs improvement”, but either way, my job is in jeopardy.

Last month, the faculty and staff at my school voted for me as Irby Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year. I am so honored to have been chosen. I work with an amazing group of teachers. They are the most hardworking and talented group of women I have had the privilege to know. Yet every single teacher at my school received an evaluation of “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” because of this insane system that the Republican state legislators and Gov. [Rick] Scott dreamed up at the beckoning of Jeb Bush and ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council]. My colleagues and I deserve better than this.”

Malloy brags about his support for $10.10 minimum wage, but takes campaign money from Wal-Mart

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If you’ve been getting Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s recent campaign emails you know that the incumbent Governor is using his recent support for a higher minimum wage to raise money for his re-election campaign.

What doesn’t show up in those emails is the fact that the Malloy campaign operation accepted a $5,000 check, last October, from WAL-MART STORES INC. PAC FOR RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT.

The check was deposited into one of the Democratic State Central Committee’s checking account on October 9, 2013.  This is the account Malloy and his campaign are using to side-step Connecticut law that restricts candidates from accepting political action committee money if they are participating in Connecticut’s public financing system.

Taking $5,000 in blood money from the Wal-Mart PAC is in stark contrast to Malloy’s orchestrated “campaign photo op.” a few weeks ago.  As CT Mirror reported on March 26, 2014,

With partisan votes on a pocketbook issue that the White House and Connecticut Democrats hope will mobilize voters this fall, the General Assembly voted Wednesday for legislation that would raise the state’s $8.70 minimum wage to $10.10 by January 2017.

The bill, which was approved 21-14 in the Senate and 87-54 in the House, became an instant political talking point for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and President Obama. Malloy is to sign the bill Thursday evening at Cafe Beauregard, the New Britain restaurant where Obama dined before a minimum-wage rally three weeks ago.

[…]

“I am proud that Connecticut is once again a leader on an issue of national importance. Increasing the minimum wage is not just good for workers, it’s also good for business,” said Malloy, a first-term Democrat facing re-election.

And in an email the Malloy campaign sent out yesterday, Malloy writes,

“Together, we have created new private sector jobs and we became the first state in the nation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. The progress we’ve made for the people of Connecticut has been great, but there is more to do. We cannot afford to turn back now!

To win, we need to hit certain fundraising benchmarks and the next one is to raise $20,000 by midnight on Monday.  Your gift goes directly toward helping us qualify for public financing. Chip in $5 or more right now >>

There is still so much more work to do if we’re going to secure Connecticut’s future.

I am counting on you to help me qualify for public financing. Then the fundraising emails stop and we move on to the next phase of our campaign: grassroots organizing.

In other words, all is well… donations from Connecticut voters who support the minimum wage in one pocket, a check for $5,000 from Wal-Mart in the other.

Still more standardized testing? Listen to the youth by Jacob Werblow

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Jacob Werblow, Ph.D., is a former standardized test developer and urban classroom teacher. He is an associate professor of Teacher Education at Central Connecticut State University. Jacob lives in New Britain with his wife and two girls, who will be opting out of high-stakes standardized tests.

Jacob Werblow has a great commentary piece in CTMirror entitled, Op-ed: Still more standardized testing? Listen to the youth.

Werblow concludes his piece with,

Over 30 years of research supports these students’ views that increased standardization of the curriculum decreases a teacher’s ability to meet the needs of diverse learners. Recent research shows that even the SAT is not a good predictor of college success. Students’ high school GPA is a much better predictor.

Parents do have the right to have their children opt out of standardized testing. A growing number of school boards around the country (including several in Massachusetts) have voted to no longer participate in the new high-stakes standardized tests. A new wave is building, one that needs to include youths’ voices about how students learn best.

You can read his entire commentary piece at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-still-more-standardized-testing-listen-to-the-youth/

Test Season Reveals America’s Biggest Failures (By Jeff Bryant)

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Fellow pro-public education advocate and blogger Jeff Bryant runs  the Education Opportunity Network, one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups in the battle to beat back the corporate education reform industry and take back control of our public education system.  By signing up on the Education Opportunity Network’s website will not only be adding your voice to the effort but will be getting access to critically important information about the battles around the country.  You can sign up at: http://educationopportunitynetwork.org.

In the meantime, here is a very timely piece that Jeff Bryant wrote,

Test Season Reveals America’s Biggest Failures (By Jeff Bryant)

It’s testing season in America, and regardless of how the students do, it’s clear who is already flunking the exams.

Last week in New York, new standardized tests began rolling out across the state, and tens of thousands of families said “no dice.”

According to local news sources, over 33,000 students skipped the tests – a figure “that will probably rise.”

At one Brooklyn school, so many parents opted their students out of the tests the teachers were told they were no longer needed to proctor the exams. At another Brooklyn school, 80 percent of the students opted out.Elsewhere in Long Island, 41 school districts in Nassau and Suffolk reported thousands of students refusing to take the test, and an additional district reported hundreds more.

Reflecting how the testing rebellion may affect upcoming elections, the Republican opponent to New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rob Astorino, announced his intention to opt his children out of state tests.

What is happening in New York is indicative of a groundswell of popular dissent – what Peter Rothberg, a journalist for The Nation and a New York City parent, called a “nationwide movement” – against the over-use and abuse of standardized testing in public schools.

One would think all this consternation begs some response from people whose job it is to react when the populace is enraged. But so far, major media outlets and an entrenched education regime that’s prevailed in policy making for over 30 years are proving they’re not up to the task.

A Storm Surge Out Of Texas Sweeps The Nation

Growing resistance to testing in New York follows a similar popular rebellion in Texas, where a grassroots movement led by parents abruptly undid over 30 years of test supremacy in the state’s education system, according to a new series in The Dallas Morning News.

“No state has been more important than Texas in the growth of standardized testing,” the News reporter noted. “And not just here. Gov. George W. Bush took the model and his education advisers to Washington when he became president. The Texas system provided the scaffolding for No Child Left Behind – and the seed of the new Common Core program that calls for even more testing. In Texas and across the nation, the push for more testing seemed unstoppable. Until it was stopped.”

Despite their success in thwarting the testing juggernaut, more Texas parents are still opting out, the News reported in another article. These parents claim, “An unhealthy focus on test scores has warped what happens in the classroom, so that too much time is spent on testing strategy and on drills that are designed to maximize test scores at the expense of other valuable skills.”

In Massachusetts, school districts that had been warned by the state not to allow parents to withhold their children from new state tests have been caving to demands and give parents permission to opt their children out.

In Connecticut, resistance to the state tests is growing so rapidly that “the state Department of Education released guidelines telling school districts just how to deal with parents who want to opt out.”

In Pittsburgh, hundreds of Pennsylvania parents who had opted their children out of state tests caught the attention of a local news outlet that interviewed one of the mothers leading the fight.

In Colorado, “a growing cacophony of assessment protests” has prompted public school officials to release new guidelines for opting out of tests because of so many “teachersparentsschool leaders and school boards have increasingly raised questions over the merit and amount of testing.” Dozens of activists in the nationwide test resistance movement gathered at an event in Denver to listen to speakers, conduct panels, and share strategies on resisting the tests. A report on the meeting noted that while only 1 percent of parents in Colorado opt their children out of tests, “the movement appears to be gaining traction.”

On the west coast, anticipating the rising test rebellion in Washington, thestate’s largest teachers’ union just “passed a motion to support parents and students who opt out of statewide standardized tests.”

At The Lost Angeles Times, one of the paper’s top editorial writers Karen Klein declared, “My family is opting out” of new tests in California. ” I’m not one for whining about standardized tests,” Klein wrote. “I had gone along with the mind-numbing academic program for far too long.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch called Klein’s column an important “defection” because of LAT’s previous editorial support of high-stakes testing and other features of the current education establishment. This turnaround “suggests,” Ravitch concluded, “that the patina of certitude attached to the standardized testing regime may in time crumble as more parents realize how flawed, how subjective, and how limited these tests really are.”

Media Either Mute Or Misrepresent

Outside of local news and blogs, the nation’s test rebellion has garnered little notice from major broadcast outlets, and when it has, the reporting has misrepresented the movement.

In reporting about the tests in New York, a reporter for The New York Times managed to find a few students who claimed the tests were easier – a claim not supported by any other accounts, anywhere, and refuted by the reporter’s own quote from a state official who said the tests were designed to be “more challenging.”

The reporter, Al Baker, minimalized opposition to the tests as “a growing, albeit relatively small, number of parents.” Rather than interviewing any of those parents, he chose to include a quote from a parent who said she was “she was eager to see” how her son did. Hey, too bad the only “results” she’ll see are a relatively meaningless score and percentile rank many months down the road rather than any item-by-item account that could revel something about her son’s abilities.

In its coverage, NPR chose to run an op ed equating parents who were opting out of tests to parents who refused to allow their children to be vaccinated for infectious diseases. For sure, withholding your children from vaccinations runs the risk of spreading whooping cough or measles. But the writer, Alan Greenblatt, never explained what the “risks” are to withholding students from tests. If he took the time to listen to the people opting out, he might learn that what’s posing the most “risk” to children and education is the tests themselves.

As The Nation’s Michelle Chen explained, there are very specific reasons for wanting to ditch the tests. “There’s something to hate for everyone in these standardized tests,” she wrote. “Students become miserable and bored with constant test-prep; parents and caregivers grow frustrated with curricula that seem to be failing their children … and teachers have raged against the imposition of formulaic, stress-inducing reading and math drills.”

In New York City, three teachers supporting parents opting their children out of tests wrote a letter to NYC school chief Carmen Farina explaining their decision. In the letter, posted at the Answer Sheet blogsite (not part of the paper’s printed editions) at The Washington Post, the teachers called their support “clear acts of conscience” to protest tests that lead to “ranking and sorting of children … encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking,” and “push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation.”

But the media outlet that scored an A for most tone-deaf coverage was the Beacon of the Beltway, The Washington Post. Choosing to completely ignore the rising chorus of teachers, parents, and students opting out, the Post instead chose to feature an op-ed by Michelle Rhee, the founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, a lobbying group and prodigious donor to political campaigns.

Rhee stated that refusing the tests “makes no sense” because “all parents want to know how their children are progressing and how good the teachers are in the classroom.”

Too bad these tests don’t really do that. Responding to Rhee from her blogsite at The Washington Post (again, not part of the paper’s printed editions) Valerie Strauss wrote, “Parents who want to know how their children are doing can know — from grades and non-standardized tests their children take in class. The scores of the most important end-of-year standardized tests don’t actually come back to the districts until the summer, making it impossible for teachers to use the results to help tailor instruction to a particular child — if in fact the tests actually gave important information to the teacher. Which by and large they don’t because so many of the tests are badly drawn. Even Rhee admits this in her op-ed.”

The Education Establishment Pushes Back

While the media generally ignore or misrepresent what the testing resistance is all about, an education establishment long used to enforcing top-down mandates is resorting to misinformation and intimidation.

In New York, some school administrators discouraged parents from opting their children out, told them their children would be penalized, or made children not taking the test “sit and stare” rather than reading and drawing quietly.

In Connecticut, state leaders and school district officials have become so alarmed at the growing number of parents opting their children out of tests that they have resorted to misinformation and punishments, according to local blogger Jonathan Pelto, that include denying any “accommodations” for students opting out and withholding use of laptops or other electronic devices, something normally allowed.

Similarly in Chicago, when parents declared their intentions to opt their children out of tests, and teachers refused to administer tests, school officials responded by pulling school children as young as eight out of class and interrogating them about their parents and teachers who had opted them out.

The campaign of misinformation and intimidation goes all the way up the line to the halls of the Department of Education in Washington, DC.

Although the objects of scorn for these parents and educators are state required tests, their anger is not addressed at their state capitals alone. Parents understand that the tests are products of years of top-down mandates imposed from Washington, DC. Most states have competed for federal dollars from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. And practically all states have been granted waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind law. These federal grants and waivers required states to institute vast testing regimes for the purpose of evaluating teachers and rating school performance. So states are intent on enforcing the tests so as not to lose their federal grants or the waivers that protect them from federal sanctions.

One of the states in danger of losing its federal waiver is Washington, where state lawmakers have yet to believe there is a valid reason to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. Few states are willing to run this risk – only Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon so far – so most other states are intent on imposing the tests.

Also, the new tests are alleged to align to new Common Core Standards, which have now become so hugely controversial that two states – Indiana and Oklahoma – have reneged on their pledges to impose them, and many other states are scrambling to rebrand the Standards as something other than a federal mandate.

This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did all he could in front of a U.S. House committee to back away from the federal government’s link to the Common Core and its aligned tests, stating, “I’m just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they’re common or not is secondary.”

But crack reporter Michele McNeil at Education Week was quick to point out, “The administration’s original $4 billion Race to the Top program awarded 40 points to states for developing and adopting common standards. All 12 of those winners have adopted the standards, and have not backed off. What’s more, a separate, $360 million Race to the Top contest to fund common tests was based on the premise that states needed help developing such assessments based on the common standards. But technically, aligning to the common core wasn’t required (you just probably weren’t going to win without it).”

Proponents of the Common Core now may want to decouple the standards from the tests that parents and teachers are increasingly rebelling against. But that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do. And misinforming – misleading, actually – people about how the two are so entangled is not going to be effective.

How About A Little Honesty?

What’s called for is an honest debate about the tests – how good or bad they are, what are the real limits to their usefulness, and whose ends are being served here (certainly, it doesn’t seem to be the students).

So far, only parents and teachers engaged in opting out seem to be having that debate while an entrenched education establishment does all it can to stifle opposition, and an apathetic media either misses the story or looks the other way.

One of those teachers Elizabeth Phillips, from PS 321 in Brooklyn, New York, wrote in an op-ed at The New York Times, “We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools … We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.”

Phillips called for some transparency in a debate where the people in authority want to hold all the cards and the media act as indifferent bystanders. She suggested, “The commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests,” then explain why “these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.”

That might be a pretty good start, but why stop there? One wonders how Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan would do.

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