Education reform should come from within by Wendy Lecker

In her latest Stamford Advocate commentary piece, education advocate Wendy Lecker observes, Education reform should come from within.  Wendy Lecker writes:

The State Board of Education’s recent rubber-stamping of Capital Prep Harbor charter school’s expansion in Bridgeport is yet another example of a common theme in education reform: trampling community will. Capital Prep, which opened in 2015 over the objection the Bridgeport’s Board of education and community members, does not reflect the community. The school serves no English Language Learners, though 15 percent of Bridgeport’s students are ELL. The school has a 37 percent out-of-school suspension rate, over twice the rate in Bridgeport’s public schools. Bridgeport’s Board of Education unanimously opposed the school’s expansion. Bridgeport already must pay several million dollars annually to charters. As the superintendent testified, the expansion will drain an additional $200,000 from Bridgeport’s budget; money it cannot afford. Last year, owing to decreased state funding, Bridgeport had to fill a $16 million budget gap. The state board ignored Bridgeport’s needs.

As recent education reform failures demonstrate, robbing local districts of decision-making power over education policies is a recipe for disaster. By contrast, reforms that emanate from the school districts themselves have shown success.

The ultimate in top-down reform for struggling districts is state takeover. Two much-hyped state takeovers occurred in Tennessee — the Achievement School District (“ASD”), and Detroit — the Educational Achievement Authority (“EAA”). After years of consistent failure, both recently closed, returning control of schools to the districts.

ASD and EAA employed reform’s “greatest hits.” Outside managers were hired to run the districts. Charter schools proliferated. They used ill-trained Teach for America recruits.

EAA also employed “student-centered” “personalized” computer-based learning, which caused 10,000 struggling students to fall further behind academically.

Both “reform districts” were plagued with high teacher turnover, a major factor in their failures, and rampant financial mismanagement.

State takeover made things worse for students in the ASD and EAA. In 2015, only one fourth-grader in Detroit’s EAA passed the state math test. After years of EAA control, only three of the 15 EAA schools moved off the list of the lowest 5 percent in the state. In Tennessee, the results were similar, with the ASD’s charter schools performing the worst.

After years of failure, both states admitted defeat. EAA was labeled a “train-wreck of educational policy.” Tennessee was recently ranked the worst in education, owing in large part to its severe shortage of trained teachers.

In a telling comment, one departing ASD chief, charter founder Chris Barbic, admitted that it is harder to succeed in “a zoned neighborhood school environment,” rather than when he was able to cherry-pick charter students.

Incredibly, other states replicate these failed ideas. Charter expansion, questionable teacher “licensing” and state-imposed receivers are still being pushed despite lackluster, if not failing, results.

At the same time, officials ignore the slow and steady progress made by districts that engage in home-grown educational improvement. Long Beach, California, and Union City, New Jersey, are good examples. Both districts are diverse and majority economically disadvantaged. Yet both have been able to sustain improvement by focusing on the unique needs and strengths of their communities.

As reported by journalist Jeff Bryant, Long Beach resists reform trends, instead focusing on time-tested educational policies. It increased resources in its schools. Instead of focusing on rooting out teacher incompetence, the district provides additional supports. The district forged strong relationships with local community colleges and universities. Long Beach State trains 70 percent of the district’s teachers, who student teach in the city’s schools. The district has a 92 percent teacher-retention rate. Years of focus on supporting teachers and children have paid off. The district’s graduation rate has climbed steadily, often beating the state average. District alumni who attend Long Beach City College graduate at higher rates than their classmates.

Union City, New Jersey, as chronicled in David Kirp’s book, “Improbable Scholars,” is a similar district-grown success story. The district received a sizable infusion of resources as a result of the Abbott school funding case. The money was spent on preschool, reducing class size and instructional initiatives that this majority Spanish-speaking population needed. The architect of much of the reform was a bilingual-teacher-turned-administrator who spent his career in the district. As in Long Beach, struggling teachers are provided support, rather than fired. Stability is a key to Union City’s steady progress.

In contrast to failed state takeovers, that leave children and communities behind in their wake, district-led improvement methods have staying power precisely because they use the needs of their children and communities as their starting point. It is a shame that Connecticut officials ignore our own local, well-informed voices.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Education-reform-should-come-from-11734462.php

Letter from a Teacher – “Ain’t We Got Fun?” by Jeannette Faber

As controversy swirls at the federal and state level, Connecticut educator Jeannette Faber challenges the status quo, writing;

One expectation that society/parents have of teachers is to help students “think outside of the box.” But what does this mean? It can mean a number of things, but as a veteran teacher, one way I try to help my students “think outside of the box” is by pushing them out if the “this or that” box.  Instead of “this or that,” it can be “this and that.” It seems paradoxical, but truth lies in paradox.

We also want our students to have a “first-rate intelligence.” American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

So, when it comes to solving our nation’s problems, maybe we need to step out of the “this or that” box and develop a “first-rate intelligence.”

Two major issues we as Americans care about, but are very polarized over, are health care and public education. Well, I have been a public school teacher for 21 years and am married to a physician who cares for a lot of Medicaid patients.

As a nation, we are trapped in the “this or that” binary when it comes to solving problems in these two sectors.

Capitalism OR socialism.  Compassion OR competition.

How do we step outside of these false choices and find better solutions?

I’d bet, like myself, that most Americans believe that capitalism is part of our national DNA. It is the force of our founding. It is captures and reflects the American spirit of individualism, entrepreneurship, and innovation.  But can capitalism left unchecked devolve to the point where the rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer? And the middle class increasingly squeezed? Or out of reach? Our history tells us “Yes.” Our present economic reality also tells us “Yes.” The reality is that income inequality is now where it was at the time of the Gilded Age. This brings me back to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

My juniors read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was originally published in 1922 in an American still economically divided from the Gilded Age, unknowingly headed just seven years later toward The Great Depression, and unaware that it would be another two decades before it would begin to build the great American middle class.  Since then, many forces have been at work over the last 30 years that are destroying that great middle class.

In chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, when Gatsby is showing his mansion to Daisy for the first time, he asks Klipspringer to play the piano. He plays and sings that 1921 iconic song, “Ain’t we got fun?”

Ain’t we got fun?
Times are so bad and getting badder,
Still we have fun.
There’s nothing surer,
The rich get richer and the poor get laid off!

Here is the question: Can we be a nation that holds capitalism near and dear AND also decide to have education and heath insurance be not for profit? Maybe it could be called “capitalism with a conscience.”

Blue Cross/Blue Shield was founded in 1929, the year of The Crash. And it was founded as a non-profit. It became a for-profit company in 1994.

Public education was made compulsory through elementary school in 1918. The hope for education a century ago was that it would be the great equalizer. However, we spend more money on students from affluent communities and less on those from poor communities. And now, there are powerful corporate and billionaires forces, led by Betsy DeVos, that want to privatize public education. Do we really want corporations to profit for our children’s education?  As a teacher, there are no meaningful endeavors from which to profit in education unless one thinks that incessant standardized testing is meaningful.

School privatization would result in tax dollars being diverted from creating small classes, hiring excellent teachers, offering comprehensive resources, and many, many more areas proven to improve student learning.

The Affordable Care Act instilled the 80/20 rule limiting healthcare profits to 20%. Meanwhile, CEO’s of the major health insurance companies make tens of millions each year in salaries alone.

Married to a physician, the insurance and drug companies have a stranglehold on healthcare. And Medicare-for-all is not the answer as physicians and hospitals are paid so little by Medicare that they actually cannot afford to treat Medicaid patients. The ones who should be making the money in health care and in education are the health care workers and the educators. That is where there is value added. Does a CEO of an insurance company making over 20 million a year add value? Does a testing company making profits from standardized tests that cannot measure real learning add value?

So, once more, can’t we love capitalism and also agree that we should not seek to profit from health care insurance and education? If we outlaw profiteering in these two sectors, my bet is that it will increase the quality of public education and decrease the cost of health care.

But where we are now, and where we are head, just “ain’t fun.”

Something Is Rotten In The State Of Connecticut by Ann Cronin

In her latest blog post, educator and education advocate Ann Cronin reports on Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and his administration’s loyalty to the charter school industry and their latest attack on public education.

Cronin writes;

On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.

GO FIGURE:

Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.

PLUS

The new seats will cost the beleaguered and impoverished Bridgeport Public Schools money it cannot afford and will strip them of much needed resources. The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against the expansion plan because the cost of adding grades to Capital Prep Harbor School requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay additional costs for transportation and other services at an additional location.

PLUS

The expansion plan for Capital Prep Harbor School, approved by the State Board of Education in 2014, called for three grades to be added in 2017-2018, but Capital Prep Harbor School requested and was granted the expansion to six new grades, which increased the costs of services from Bridgeport Public Schools from $200,000 to $400,000 for 2017-2018.

PLUS

Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.

PLUS

Capital Prep Harbor School was approved by the State Board of Education in April 2014 as a school with its stated mission to serve the “diverse communities of Bridgeport and surrounding communities”. Capital Prep Harbor School has failed to implement that mission because of its small percentage of Hispanic students and its total lack of students with English as their second language.

PLUS

Steve Perry, the founder of the Capital Prep Harbor School and its chief spokesperson at the July 19th hearing, has been found by state auditors to have violated the lottery system at his former school in Hartford, Capital Preparatory School. Instead of the students at Capital Prep being chosen by lottery, he, as principal, handpicked a significant number of students (131 in three years), chiefly for their athletic talents. When asked by a reporter at the July 19th hearing if he was using similar illegal practices at Capital Preparatory Harbor School, he refused to answer.

PLUS

After the revelations about the lottery violations at Capital Prep in Hartford, state education officials were asked if they intended to audit the lottery at Capital Prep Harbor School. A State Department of Education spokeswoman replied, “Not at this time.” The Connecticut Post surveyed enrollment practices in the six charter schools in Bridgeport. Five of the six schools explained the methods they used to insure the propriety of their lotteries. The sixth school, Capital Preparatory Harbor School, wouldn’t answer the newspaper’s questions.

PLUS

The State Board of Education scheduled the meeting to approve the new charter seats without informing the Superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools. The Superintendent, Aresta Johnson, was told by the State Department of Education that she had until August 4, 2017 to file a written reaction to the Capital Prep Harbor School plan to expand the number of charter school seats in  Bridgeport.  She found out about the July 19th meeting by chance. She attended that hearing and strongly opposed the expansion of charter school seats, stating that the costs would present a severe hardship to children in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

PLUS

Nationally, charter schools have no greater record of success than public schools although the student population of charter schools is more select than the population of traditional public schools. Charter schools have fewer special education students, fewer ELL students, and fewer students from unstable homes. A report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut compared student achievement in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and among those students bussed from urban areas to the suburbs and did not find evidence that students in charter schools had greater achievement than other students, even with their more select student body.

PLUS

Charter schools are not public schools although they call themselves that when it serves the purpose of getting public money but declare they are not public schools when there are requests for transparency in how the public tax money is spent. Charter schools violate the democratic principle that the people should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. In public school districts, the elected school boards provide that oversight. With charter schools, it is all secret, and the profit motive is evident as the numbers of criminal cases of fraud that have occurred in charter schools demonstrate.

PLUS

Charter schools promote segregation. The NAACP, in October 2016, recognized the racism inherent in the concept of charter schools and called for “ a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice”  because “the NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably funded public education for all children”.

ADD IT UP: There is, indeed, something rotten in the state of Connecticut.

Fighting it will be an uphill battle. Big money from the charter school industry funds political campaigns in our state. The State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education are not elected by us; they are appointed by the Governor. Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are money-making operations. So how do we citizens of Connecticut make a dent in this monied political structure?

Well, we take a deep breath and remember what Edmund Burke said: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Then, we call one another, start talking, and get busy.

You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/07/21/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-connecticut/

Contrary views of education collide in Chicago (By Wendy Lecker)

Writing in the Stamford Advocate, education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker writes, Chicago is this nation’s third largest city, and among its most segregated. Recently, several unrelated reports were released about education policy in Chicago that, together, provide a vivid picture of the divergent views policymakers of have of public education; depending on who is served.

As reported by researchers at Roosevelt University, between 2009-2015, Chicago permanently closed 125 neighborhood schools, ostensibly because of low enrollment or poor performance.

The standard Chicago used for low enrollment was 30 students to one elementary classroom — an excessively large class size, especially for disadvantaged children.

The school closures occurred disproportionately in neighborhoods serving African-American, Latino and economically disadvantaged students. Professors Jin Lee and Christopher Lubienski found that Chicago’s school closures had a markedly negative effect on accessibility to educational opportunities for these vulnerable populations. Students had to travel longer distances to new schools; often through more dangerous areas.

School closures harm entire communities. As Georgia State Law Professor Courtney Anderson found, where neighborhood schools were a hub for community activities, vacant schools become magnets for illegal activity. Moreover, buildings in disuse pose health and environmental dangers to the community. Vacant buildings depress the value of homes and businesses around them, increase insurance premiums and insurance policy cancellations. In addition, the school district must pay for maintenance of vacant buildings.

Although Chicago claimed to close schools to save money, the savings were minimal — at great cost to the communities affected.

At the same time Chicago leaders closed 125 neighborhood schools, they opened 41 selective public schools and 108 charter schools; more than they closed. Chicago charter schools underserve English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and have suspension and expulsion rates ten times greater than Chicago’s public schools. Even more astounding, despite the self-selecting and exclusive nature of charters, researcher Myron Orfield found that Chicago’s public schools outperform charters on standardized test passing and growth rates in both reading and math, and high school graduation rates.

The Roosevelt University researchers found that the expansion of Chicago charter schools devastated the public school budget, contributing to massive cuts of basic educational resources in Chicago’s public schools. Moreover, many of these new charters have remained open despite falling below the “ideal enrollment” standard used to close neighborhood public schools.

The education policies of Chicago’s leaders force its poor children and children of color to attend under-resourced schools, often at a great distance from their neighborhoods, on a pretext of under-enrollment and poor performance. Officials fail to consider the devastating effects school closures have on educational opportunities or on the health of entire communities.

Chicago promised to use the proceeds of the sales of vacant schools to improve those neighborhoods. Yet, city leaders instead used those funds for school capital projects. A WBEZ investigation found that Chicago’s new school construction and additions disproportionately benefit schools that serve white, middle class students, even though white students are far less likely to suffer overcrowded schools than Latino students, whose schools do not see the benefit of capital spending.

Often, costly new capital projects are near under-enrolled schools serving children of color. Rather than integrate the schools, or improve conditions in impoverished schools, officials spend money intended for poor neighborhoods on perpetuating racial and economic segregation.

Chicago officials claim they cannot force white students into schools with predominately poor and minority students, for fear that white affluent families will flee public schools.

Poor families and families of color can be forced to attend under-resourced public schools, often at a dangerous distance from their homes, or perhaps low-performing “no excuses” charter schools. However, the district will invest in neighborhood schools to appease white affluent families.

These divergent views of public education, investment for the white and wealthy, and “accountability” for the poor and minority, are not limited to Chicago. A recent Atlantic Magazine article chronicled the severe underfunding of East Hartford schools, where schools have to choose between a reading interventionist and an AP course, and they must photocopy textbooks because they don’t have enough. Connecticut’s wealthy towns need not make such stark choices. Nor do they have charter schools foisted upon them. Our affluent children can attend well-appointed public schools in their neighborhoods.

Segregated, unequal schools are the product of conscious policies. These policies result from a divisive vision of what some children deserve versus others. As, the philosopher John Dewey once admonished, “what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that the community must want for all its children”— not just its white and wealthy ones.

You can read and comment on the piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Contrary-views-of-education-collide-11259928.php

CT Voices for Children is absolutely right about CT budget situation

Statement from CT Voices June 30, 2017;

Connecticut Voices for Children strongly believes that a fiscally responsible and stable state budget is the cornerstone for equitable economic growth. The only way to build a strong foundation for long-term inclusive economic prosperity is having a state government with solid finances that is willing and able to support long-term strategies for economic growth and equitable opportunity.

Connecticut’s current fiscal crisis is the result of years of short-term budget thinking and a failure to address our state’s economic challenges. During the past few months, Connecticut policymakers have struggled with the daunting task of closing a budget gap not of their own making. After years of short-term fixes, they are now confronted with a harsh fiscal reality with no easy solutions.

As the Governor and the Legislature go back to the drawing board this special session, we urge them to ground their work in an understanding of the economic, demographic, and political changes which have created today’s ever-growing challenge.

The state budget is the clearest statement of Connecticut’s policy priorities. Working from our strengths, and with the courage to address our weaknesses, we can build a more inclusive economy that enables all families to thrive, provides quality education for all children from cradle to career, and provides the support services necessary to ensure that no child is left behind.

To achieve these priorities, the Governor and General Assembly must seek a balanced approach that combines smart, strategic spending in key budget priorities with tax reforms that assure fairness, stability, predictability, and adequacy. Connecticut needs a stable, responsible budget, with real structural reforms, rejecting the crisis-driven, short-term approach that has marked state fiscal policy for years. Legislators should create a stable revenue stream by modernizing Connecticut’s tax structure to reflect its changing economy, which is increasingly built on services rather than goods. This will require combining bold revenue reforms with a strategic rethinking of budget priorities that include a renewed willingness for forward-looking investments in education, workforce development, and health.

We understand that this shift will not be easy; Connecticut’s fiscal woes are deep, and fixing them will require making many hard decisions. Connecticut Voices for Children believes, however, that working together we can reach a balanced budget that ensures that our state is an attractive place to find a job, start a business, and raise a family. It is time for everyone that cares about the future of our state to set our differences aside and work towards this common goal.

LET’S DO EDUCATION FUNDING REFORM THE RIGHT WAY (BY JIM FINLEY)

Despite all the fiscal and other challenges paralyzing Connecticut, there is an opportunity in the 2017 special legislative session to take the first real step toward comprehensive, rational and constitutional education funding reform.  That first step is authorizing an education adequacy cost study be conducted in our state as called for in Substitute House Bill 7270 (File 511, House Calendar 351) of the regular legislative session.

Connecticut’s shame is to tolerate among the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation.  As pointed out in painful clarity by the plaintiffs in the historic CCJEF v. Rell case now under appeal to the CT Supreme Court, too many of our public school students are denied their state constitutional right to an adequate and equitable education.  Connecticut is failing our poor, special need and minority students.  The achievement gap between poor and minority students and other students in our state is among the worst in the country.  The socioeconomic consequences of such unconstitutional indifference are not only dire for the students affected but for our state as a whole.

Our education finance system is broken and needs to be fixed.  Everyone agrees on this.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Unfortunately, the wrong way is on full display in the 2017 legislative session.  There are currently at least four proposals to change the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant and special education funding, some public and some not, scurrying around the Capitol.  All repeat the mistakes of the past.

However well-intentioned they may be, all these proposals fail a fundamental test:  The proposals are not informed by up-to-date hard data on what it actually costs to provide an adequate and equitable educational opportunity across the diverse student-need spectrum in Connecticut.  Only an education adequacy cost study can provide such real-world data.  The proposals are a political and non-empirical response to the unconstitutional inequities that exist in our education finance system.  As has been done so many times over the last 40 years, these proposals are rush-to-judgment fixes masquerading as comprehensive reform.  None of these proposals will resolve the adequacy and equity constitutional issues raised in CCJEF v. Rell.

Education adequacy cost studies are the gold-standard prerequisite for education finance reform.  They have been performed with great success in over 30 other states to help effectuate education reforms.  The results of an education cost study formed the basis of education funding reform in Maryland that has resulted in a significant closing of their achievement gap.  Governor Malloy’s 2013 Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that a cost study be undertaken.  A 1991 cost study in Massachusetts laid the groundwork for their Education Reform Act of 1993.  This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.

An education adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than 1/10,000 of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education.  It is a great investment in Connecticut’s future and a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational and constitutional education funding formula that truly ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for ALL public school students.

Let’s not repeat the policy development mistakes of the past.  Let’s commission an education adequacy cost study so that we get education funding reform right.  Our public school students deserve nothing less.

Nothing abstract about the lessons of play By Wendy Lecker

Last week, The New York Times unwittingly provided an example of how bad education policy is made. A front-page article trumpeted “Free play or flashcards? A new study nods to more rigorous preschools.”

The study the article featured purportedly proved that frequent, direct instruction of “academic” content in preschool yielded more “cognitive gains” than play-based preschool. The study even contended that preschools that do not engage in enough direct academic instruction “may be doing their young charges a disservice.” The study’s author, Bruce Fuller, denigrated play, declaring that “(s)imply dressing up like a firefighter or building an exquisite Lego edifice may not be enough.”

However, Fuller’s study did not prove that “academically oriented” preschools help children learn better.

The study showed simply that children who were exposed to instruction regarding phonics, simple writing and counting manipulatives frequently in preschool, and then were tested on these discrete skills near the beginning of kindergarten, did better on those tests than children who were not exposed at all or as frequently to this instruction.

Of course if one instructs a child on something and tests her on it soon after, she will perform better on that test than a child who did not receive that instruction.

Does this obvious observation prove that “academic” preschool helps children learn better? No — as the authors themselves admit. They state that they did not follow children in this study past kindergarten, even though they acknowledge that previous preschool studies find that many effects fade by fifth grade.

To the contrary, decades of research demonstrate that an emphasis on play in the early years provides long-lasting academic and social benefits.

Young children’s brains are not ready for the abstract thinking that direct instruction of “academic” content requires. Children use play to establish the foundation for abstract learning. For example, socio-dramatic play enables children to understand sequencing essential to math and reading. Building with blocks enables children to understand that objects can represent other objects, so later they can comprehend that lines represent letters and words represent ideas. Contrary to the claims in The New York Times article, play is learning for young children.

Play builds a strong foundation for acquiring academic skills. As I have written (http://bit.ly/1blEzTj), children who learn to read at age seven, having engaged in play-based learning before, have better comprehension in middle school than those who learned to read at five.

The Fuller study did not follow the children who engaged in more play-based activities to test them on those math and literacy concepts, once they learned them at a developmentally-appropriate age. It is entirely possible that the children in Fuller’s study who did not score well at age five on concepts to which they were not exposed in preschool would, at a later age, outscore those children from “academically-oriented” preschools; precisely because they engaged in more play-based learning in their early years.

Forcing children to engage in age-inappropriate tasks in preschool instead of play creates a stressful environment that undermines learning and social development. Children who experience the “toxic stress” associated with living in poverty need play to develop crucial executive function and self-regulation skills, and to learn to form positive relationships. A curriculum comparison study that followed children to age 23 found that, as they grew, children who had direct instruction in preschool engaged in more misconduct than those who had more play-based curricula.

The Fuller study noted in passing that preschools serving advantaged children have more play-based activities than those serving poor children. In 2014, I wrote about the detrimental effects of making kindergarten the new first grade (http://bit.ly/1blEzT). Low-income children suffered the most, enduring more age-inappropriate instruction and being starved of a rich curriculum. Now The New York Times gives top billing to an inconclusive study advocating introducing developmentally inappropriate practices even earlier.

Public funding for preschool, especially for disadvantaged students, is gaining traction nationwide. Is it coincidental that an article pushing “academic” preschool, which produces immediate quantifiable, though questionable, results, without regard to long-term effects, appears on the front page of a national newspaper now?

Policy makers force many unproven and disproven reforms on schools educating our most vulnerable. As a condition of basic funding, they demand concrete results, like standardized test scores, that are often irrelevant to important educational and life outcomes; and that often force schools to deprive poor children of the types of learning that are most important in life.

Why, when it comes to poor kids, do we not have any stake in long-term outcomes?

To read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece go to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Nothing-abstract-about-the-lessons-11208722.php

 

Let’s Make History by Ann Cronin

Efforts to improve K-12 education over the past 30 years have produced a bipartisan mess. In the excerpt below, Diane Ravitch describes how Democrats have contributed in substantive ways to that mess.

“Listening to their cries of outrage, one might imagine that Democrats were America’s undisputed champions of public education. But the resistance to DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth: Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Part lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts, and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur. That year, when President George H.W. Bush convened an education summit of the nation’s governors, it was a little-known Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton who drafted a bipartisan set of national goals for the year 2000 (“first in the world” in mathematics, for starters). The ambitious benchmarks would be realized by creating, for the first time, national achievement standards and tests. Clinton ran on the issue, defeated Bush, and passed Goals 2000, which provided grants to states that implemented their own achievement metrics.

The Democrats had dipped a toe in “school reform.” Before long, they were completely immersed. After George W. Bush made the “Texas miracle” of improved schools a launching pad for the presidency, many Democrats swallowed his bogus claim that testing students every year had produced amazing results. In 2001, Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s liberal lion, teamed with Bush to pass No Child Left Behind. For the first time, the government was mandating not only “accountability” (code for punishing teachers and schools who fall short), but also “choice” (code for handing low-performing public schools over to charter operators).

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, educators hoped he would return the party to its public school roots. By then, even Bill Clinton was calling No Child Left Behind a “train wreck.” Instead, Obama and Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice. Their Race to the Top program was, in essence, No Child Left Behind II: It invited states to compete for $5 billion in funds by holding teachers accountable for test scores, adopting national standards, opening more charter schools, and closing low-scoring public schools.

The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Cory Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.

It’s fitting that Trump and DeVos rely on the same language to tout their vision of reform. They’re essentially taking Obama’s formula one step further: expanding “choice” to include vouchers, so parents can use public funding to pay for private and religious schools. Democrats are up in arms about the privatization scheme, as they should be: It’s a disaster for public schools. But if they’re serious about being the party that treats public education as a cornerstone of democracy, they need to do more than grandstand about the consequences they helped bring about. They need to follow the money—their own campaign money, that is.

As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union-busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools.

The money had its intended effect. When Andrew Cuomo decided to run for governor of New York, he learned that the way to raise cash was to go through the hedge funders at Democrats for Education Reform. They backed him lavishly, and Cuomo repaid them by becoming a hero of the charter movement. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, often celebrated for his unvarnished liberalism, is another champion of the charter industry; some of its biggest funders live in his state.

There are plenty of reasons that Democrats should steer clear of the charter industry. Charter corporations have been repeatedly charged with fraud, nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. Many charters make money on complex real-estate deals.

But it’s more than a matter of sleeping with the enemy. School choice doesn’t work, and “evidence-based” Democrats ought to acknowledge it. Charter schools are a failed experiment. Study after study has shown that they do not get better test scores than public schools unless they screen out English-language learners and students with profound disabilities. It’s well-established that school choice increases segregation, rather than giving low-income students better opportunities. And kids using vouchers actually lose ground in private schools. Support for charters is paving the way for a dual school system—one that is allowed to choose the students it wants, and another that is required to accept all who enroll.

This is what Democrats should be yelling about. And if there’s ever a moment for them to reclaim their mantle as the party of public education, it’s now. The misguided push for “reform” is currently being led not by Obama and Duncan, but by Trump and DeVos, giving Democrats an opening to shift their agenda on education.

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, ‘I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.’ There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.”

So what does that mean for us in Connecticut? 

There are two immediate actions we need to take: 

1.             We have to recognize that our political establishment has failed us. Our Democratic governor sold out for the money provided to him by the charter school industry. The Connecticut State Department of Education endorsed student and school accountability measured by the lowest level of intellectual endeavors: standardized tests. The Connecticut State Board of Education permitted profiteers in the form of the totally inadequate Relay Graduate School of Education to certify teachers for our neediest schools. Recognizing the vacuum of political leadership in K-12 education, we must search for and insist upon new political leadership – both from currently serving Democratic politicians and newcomers to politics. 

2.     We must use the innovative leadership we already have in our Connecticut schools. Three experiences I had just this week showed that leadership. First, I listened to students in a Hartford high school address an adult and student audience about their projects, such as starting and running a successful business, designing a mural to encompass major elements of African Americans history in this country, making music the center of their lives by creating and performing in a band, and making a documentary about a previously unrecognized medical researcher in order to give fellow students a sense of their own possibilities to achieve and change the world. Secondly, I listened to high school students in New Haven describe their social justice projects to political and business leaders. The students each identified a societal problem, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the lack of equitable funding of public schools in this country, researched it thoroughly, analyzed causes and possible solutions, and proposed a way to remedy the problem. Thirdly, I was inspired by a suburban middle school principal who described the school’s assessment practices. Teachers do not grade students on a one-time snapshot of their performance but rather work with the students to keep them engaged in rethinking, revising, trying again and again until the students do achieve the goals that the faculty has identified for them. 

We have the educational leadership we need for the schools in Connecticut. We just need to tap into it. Our politicians must honor the expertise of the educators who put together these three programs as well as other talented educators across the state. Then, we will move forward. 

Let’s do it. Let’s make history. 

 

Both Trump and Connecticut Democrats propose drastic cuts that would undermine higher education

While it should come as no surprise, President Donald Trump’s new federal budget proposal targets higher education for what would be unparalleled budget cuts.  Over the next ten years Trump’s budget plan would eliminate more than $143 billion in financial aid and federal support for students seeking a college education.

Trump’s budget ends the effective Perkins Loan program, eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, makes record cuts to Pell Grants, dumps the program to forgive student loan debts if a student works for at least 10 years in selected public sector jobs and ends a program that covers interest payments for low income students while they are enrolled in school.

But at the same time, in what can only be described as an incredibly insulting attack, Democratic legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly have proposed equally appalling budget cuts aimed at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.

In February, Governor Dannel Malloy targeted Connecticut’s public colleges and universities for nearly $50 million in budget cuts, these coming on top of the record cuts Malloy has already made to the University of Connecticut, to the Connecticut State Universities and to the state’s community college system.

But now, in a stunning development, the Democrats in the General Assembly have proposed an additional $135 million in cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, ensuring massive tuition increases and major reductions in programs and services at all public institutions of higher education in Connecticut.

While Trump’s cuts are to be expected from an unstable, right-wing “nut job,” the cuts being proposed by the Democrats would have a more immediate and devastating impact on public higher education in Connecticut.

The fact that Democratic legislators have proposed to destroy Connecticut’s public colleges and universities is a sad commentary about just how little they care about Connecticut’s middle income and poorer residents and how little they understand about meeting the future needs of Connecticut’s economy.

For more on the federal cuts go to: https://edsource.org/2017/white-house-seeks-billions-in-cuts-to-higher-education-spending/582316 and https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/19/reported-details-trump-budget-include-big-cuts-financial-aid

For more on the budget being proposed by the Democratic legislators go to: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3723660/May-16.pdf

Connecticut elected officials propose record budget cuts to public colleges and universities

While remaining dedicated to coddling the rich by refusing to require them to pay their fair share in taxes, Governor Malloy and members of the Connecticut General Assembly have offered up state budget plans that that will decimate Connecticut’s public colleges and universities and lead to significantly higher tuition at UConn, CSU and the state’s community colleges.

Governor Malloy has already presided over the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education but now he – and both parties in the legislature – are seeking truly unprecedented cuts in state funding levels for the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State Universities and Connecticut’s Community Colleges.

These cuts will lead to higher costs for Connecticut families and reduced offerings at Connecticut’s colleges and universities.  The proposals will lead to nothing more than students paying more and getting less.

Faced with a $5 billion projected budget shortfall, Malloy and the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the State Senate and State House of Representatives recently offered up revised budget proposals aimed at addressing Connecticut’s growing fiscal crisis.

The new proposed budgets rely heavily on cuts to education and human services.

In February, Governor Malloy proposed a $38 million in budget cuts to the CSU/Community College budget, a cut that would come on top of Malloy’s massive cuts over the last few years.

Then this past week, Malloy and the Republicans both proposed nearly $25 million more in cuts to CSU and the Community Colleges, while the incredibly outrageous proposal from the Democrats would actually cut off as much as $90 million in state aid to the schools.

As previously noted, in Connecticut, the poor pay about 12% of their income in state and local taxes, the Middle Class about 10% and the state’s wealthiest citizen’s only pay about 5.5% of their income in state and local taxes.

However, rather than require wealthy residents to pay their fair share in taxes, Democrats and Republicans are seeking to dump the state’s budget problems on those least able to pay more.

The cuts to public colleges and universities will certainly lead to massive increases in tuition – which is nothing short of a tax increase on those who are already paying more than their fair share.

As the CT Mirror reported on the Democratic Plan;

Public colleges and universities also face very deep cuts under the Democratic plan.

The University of Connecticut, which already faced a deep cut under the budget Malloy proposed back in February, would lose another $35 million over the next two fiscal years combined under the Democratic legislators’ proposal.

And the Board of Regents of Higher Education, which oversees the state universities and community colleges, would lose another $100 million over the biennium.

The Governor and legislature have no begun closed door negotiations over the budget plan and there appears to be no one in the room who is willing to stand up and speak out on behalf of adequate funding for Connecticut’s colleges and universities.