As Connecticut’s Alliance Districts have become painfully aware, rather than utilize the tremendous expertise and experience within the Connecticut State Department of Education, Governor Malloy and his “Education Reform” Dream Team led by Commissioner Stefan Pryor decided to replace Connecticut experts with out-of-state, paid consultants to direct Connecticut’s “School Turnaround” program.
As Wait, What? readers and superintendents in Connecticut’s thirty Alliance Districts know, on March 28, 2013, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, signed a contract with Mass Insight, a relatively new Massachusetts company, to “develop the state’s turnaround strategy and improve the most struggling schools.”
Gone were the four Connecticut Leaders in Residence at the State Department of Education who had been helping priority school districts succeed. Gone were the three retired superintendents, all with extensive experience helping larger, poorer school districts. Pryor even transferred out the three experts who were leading the Turnaround Office’s work in English as a Second Language, expanding culturally appropriate school programs and developing safer school climates.
Instead taxpayers were told they would be shelling out $957,960 for a team of five young out-of-state consultants, three of whom have never taught in a public school, one of whom has two years teaching experience and one who apparently had three years of teaching experience. Taken together, these paid consultants didn’t even have the experience of one of the Connecticut experts who had been shown the door.
Leading the Mass Insight Team was Ron, a Senior Program Manager who had recently joined Mass Insight after serving as a School Turnaround Manager at the Indiana Department of Education. But weeks later Ron he was gone and a New Mass Insight consultant was added to their Connecticut operation.
Now another Mass Insight consultant has left. MaryAnn was responsible for supporting the company’s “district-level fieldwork” in Connecticut. Before joining Mass Insight MaryAnn (surprise, surprise) had served as College Office Director at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, Connecticut. Her husband Chris was Achievement First Amistad’s principal. (Amistad and Achievement First, of course, being the charter school and charter school management company co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor).
Now, only four months or so into Mass Insight’s million-dollar contract, two of the five Mass Insight consultants have left and all that remain from the original list is Michelle, Dipa and Emily.
The company did hire Hillary and sent her to Connecticut and word is that a new consultant named Rob has or will be joining the Connecticut team.
Meanwhile, with school starting in Connecticut, the state’s Alliance Districts STILL HAVEN’T been provided their new 2013-2014 Alliance District state funds.
In fact, in most cases, the school districts, all of which are facing the greatest challenges and in need of the additional funds, are being made to jump through additional hoops as they strive to get approval for their Year 2 Alliance District Plans.
As to Mass Insight’s background, Wait, What? readers may recall an earlier blog post that reported on the work of fellow education blogger Gary Rubinstein who has investigated Mass Insight’s activities in other states. Rubinstein, a nationally-known blogger, wrote that Mass Insight’s track record is murky, at best.
As Rubinstein explained, “On their School Turnaround Group [website] they list eight successful ‘turnarounds’ from around the country. Ironically, these eight ‘turnarounds’ were led by companies other than Mass Insight, but as Mass Insight doesn’t seem to want to put its own record up to scrutiny, they use these case studies to show the sorts of strategies that Mass Insight employs in its own turnarounds.”
Rubinstein discovered that the examples that Mass Insight Education relied upon are similar to what charter school companies here in Connecticut have been doing. The “improved test results” that they tout are simply the result of policy changes that allowed these schools to skim off students that are less poor, have fewer language barriers, need fewer special education services or display fewer behavioral problems. As usual, the “miracle turnaround” was a product of comparing apples to oranges, not comparing real “turnaround” in the existing population of students.
Meanwhile, Mass Insight has been raking in the money. According to research conducted by EduShyster, a public education blogger with extensive experience in Massachusetts, “In 2009, [Mass Insight] CEO William Guenther reported earning a cool $370,000–for 30 hours per week work. That works out to roughly $237 per hour.”
By 2011, Guenther, the Mass Insight CEO, was making $450,000.
Despite being an out-of-state education reform operative, Guenther testified in favor of Malloy’s education reform initiative when it was proposed in 2012.
Nearly two years later, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly have promised Connecticut’s Alliance Districts more support and more finance resources for this new school year.
But instead, what Malloy and Pryor have provided is an inexperienced team of out-of-state consultants, a new bureaucracy, and an autocratic, top-down decision-making process that is costing Connecticut’s taxpayers a million dollars a year.
If you want to know more, just ask your local Alliance District superintendent.