Malloy hands Charter Schools even more taxpayer funds

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Despite the controversies surrounding Connecticut’s charter school industry and the growing level of state debt, Governor Dannel Malloy’s Connecticut Bond Commission, with the support of the Republican members of that Commission, allocated an additional $5 million earlier this week to, “assist charter schools with capital expenses.”

Adding to the cost to taxpayers is the fact that Malloy is using the state’s already over-extended credit card to make these generous payments.  The technique will dramatically increase the long-term cost for taxpayers since the total burden will now include the $5 million in grants PLUS the associated interest and expenses related to borrowing the money.

The latest $5 million in construction grant funds for charter schools comes on top of $20 million that the Bond Commission has already handed out to Connecticut’s charter schools.

Not surprisingly, heading the list of beneficiaries is Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s (now former) Commissioner of Education.

While the City of Bridgeport’s public education budget faced additional cuts this school year, Achievement First Inc.’s charter school in Bridgeport will be getting a free $850,000 in public funds to construct a new cafeteria, classrooms and gymnasium space.

And in the small world department;

One of the two principals at Achievement First – Bridgeport is Katherine Baker, who is married to Morgan Barth, the Director of the State Department of Education’s Turnaround Office.

Morgan Barth, a former long-time employee of Achievement First Inc., was recruited by Commissioner Pryor in 2013 to leave Achievement First and join him at the State Department of Education.  Before joining Pryor at the State Department, Barth served as the other principal at Achievement First Bridgeport. Barth also has the dubious distinction of having illegally taught and worked for Achievement First Inc. from 2004 until 2010.

Making the whole situation even more “complex,” in addition to running Pryor’s “turnaround” operation, Morgan Barth also heads up the State Department of Education’s “Charter School Accountability” program.

When Commissioner Pryor announced Barth’s appointment he wrote, “Mr. Barth will serve as the Division Director for Turnaround in the Turnaround Office.  He will guide all of the work of the division.  Mr. Barth brings a wealth of experience as an educator and school leader – particularly in school environments that are in need of intensive intervention.  Before coming to the SDE, he led improvement efforts at two of the lowest performing schools in the Achievement First Network, first at Elm City College Prep and most recently at Achievement First Bridgeport’s middle school.  At Elm City, he taught fifth and sixth grade reading for four years before becoming the principal and taught fourth grade in Arkansas before coming to Connecticut in 2004.” Barth was a TFA teacher in Arkansas].

But what Pryor did not explain was that Barth was unable to acquire certification under Connecticut’s teacher and administrator certification law, meaning that despite repeated warnings from the State Department of Education’s Certification Division, Achievement First, Inc. allowed Barth to teach and serve as an administrator from 2004 to 2010, despite his total lack of certification to work in a Connecticut public school.

Luckily for Barth, and thanks in part to a $100,000-a-year lobbying contract with one of Connecticut’s most influential lobbying firms, Achievement First, Inc. (and its associated organizations ConnCAN and ConnAD) were able to convince the Connecticut General Assembly to pass a law in 2010 that exempted Connecticut’s charter schools from Connecticut’s mandatory teacher and administrator certification requirements.

As a result of that law, starting on July 1, 2010, Connecticut’s charter schools could have up to 30% of their staff be uncertified.  The law was particularly important for Achievement First Bridgeport since they had in excess of 36 percent of their staff uncertified at the time.

The law meant that while Barth worked illegally from 2004 to 2010, he could legally serve as Achievement First Bridgeport’s principal until he joined Pryor at the State Department of Education.

How Barth got away with teaching illegally for six years remains somewhat of mystery, although it may have helped him that he is related to Richard Barth, the head of the massive KIPP charter school chain, who in turn, is married to Wendy Koop, the founder of Teach For America.

In any case, back to this week’s State Bond Commission meeting.

The $5 million in grant funds were allocated to a total of five charter schools.  At least three of the charter schools will be using the taxpayer money to pay down debt on buildings that these private charter school companies own.

No… you read that correctly…

Malloy and his administration, in this case with the support of the Republican members of the Bond Commission, are borrowing money to give to privately owned, but publicly funded charter school companies so that they can pay down mortgages on buildings that they own and will be able to keep even if they decide to close their charter schools.

The cost to taxpayers for this corporate welfare program will be the $5 million plus interest, while the benefit to the private charter school company will be less debt and lower debt payments, therefore giving them the ability to keep (or use) more of the taxpayer funding they get from their annual charter school operating grant that they also receive from the state.

According to the State Department of Education, Charter Schools may request up to $850,000 from this particular charter school grant program.

While the primary purpose of the program is to help charter schools, “Finance school building projects, including the construction, purchase, extension, replacement, renovation or major alteration of a building to be used for public school purposes,” the law does allow charter school companies to seek grants to, “Repay debt incurred for school building projects, including paying outstanding principal on loans which have been incurred for school building projects.”

Now, next time you hear the Malloy administration talk about charter school accountability, you’ll know a bit more of the back story.

When the Corporate Education Reform Industry tramples the 1st Amendment

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Fellow Education Blogger and Public Education advocate Marie Corfield (From New Jersey) has a blog today that will concern everyone in the battle to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

Marie is a mother, artist, teacher, education activist, former NJ State Legislature candidate and is “that” teacher in the infamous Chris Christie You-Tube video of the thug bashing teachers.

Her blog is about the incredible maneuver being taken by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association and it highlights the despicable and UnAmerican actions being taken by the charter school industry and the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

Here in Connecticut there are a number of charter school front groups including ConnCAN, Northeast Charter Schools Network, Families for Excellent Schools, the Coalition for Every Child, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), Excel Bridgeport, Achieve Hartford and others.

Marie Corfield writes;

When the facts aren’t on your side…

When you’re up against the wall…

When you’ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar…

You take the cheap shot.

That’s what the New Jersey Charter Schools Association did last week when they filed ethics charges against Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin who, along with doctoral student Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman) published this study on the segregationist practices of the state’s charter schools which concludes what we already knew (from JJ’s post):

New Jersey’s charter schools do not serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage, who have special education needs, or who are English language learners as their host districts’ schools. 

Here’s the crux of the NJCSA’s complaint:

As an association of educators [more on this below], the NJCSA embraces the right of all educators to speak on matters of public debate. But the NJCSA and its members will not stand by as Dr. Sass Rubin devalues the reputation of our State University, a reputation that has been earned over years of excellence in research and academic achievement, to endorse her personal opinions and advance her personal advocacy interests. Because Dr. Sass Rubin has promised two further ‘studies,’ the NJCSA has filed this complaint today to ensure appropriate corrective action is taken before Dr. Sass Rubin releases her personal views as Rutgers research and creates further embarrassment for Rutgers University. (emphasis mine)

Does anyone besides me find it interesting that this press release is not on the NJCSA’s website? I mean c’mon, this is big ‘reformy’ news! Sadly, I found it on the uber-‘reformy’ and always entertaining (for its sheer lack of veracity) NJ Left Behind blog.

Why? Maybe because the NJCSA knows it got caught red handed. Maybe because they know these are not Julia and JJ’s personal opinions. The data they presented is right out there for the whole world to see on the NJ DOE website—data that the charter schools themselves reported. There was nothing to OPRA. Any 5th grader who knows how to do a simple web search can easily find it.

Ooops.

They’re backed into a corner and have nothing left to do but pull a trick out of the bag of their biggest cheerleader: Gov Christie. They launched a personal attack. They skirted the real issues and went for the low-blow. Educator/blogger Peter Greene reports

The NJCSA is behaving like a punk, and like a weak punk at that who lacks the tools or the skills to come at Rubin and Weber directly. And they have more work to do, because as Weber points out on his own blog, the conclusions have already been acknowledged as the truth by [‘reformy’ Newark Superintendent] Cami Anderson and [‘reformy’ Camden Superintendent] Paymon Rouhanifard, so NJCSA better start ginning up a full scale job-threatening division for the entire state.

You should read Marie’s full post.  It can be found at: http://mcorfield.blogspot.com/2015/01/njcsa-attacks-1st-amendment-rights.html

Today’s MUST READ PIECE – Where’s the Accountability? Anyone? By Sarah Darer Littman

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Quite simply it is the single best assessment of the issues surrounding the Jumoke/FUSE charter school scandal.

The article, written by Sarah Darer Littman is called, “Where’s the Accountability? Anyone?” and it can be found in its entirety on the CTNewsJunkie website – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_wheres_the_accountability_anyone/

Read it and ask yourself…. Where is the accountability?

Sarah Darer Littman open with;

Dumping embarrassing news on the eve of a holiday is becoming a habit for the Malloy’s administration — and there’s been plenty of it to ring in the inauguration of his second term.

Late last Friday it was the release of the FUSE/Jumoke investigation report, which revealed financial mismanagement, nepotism, and misuse of public funds by a charter operator lauded by the Malloy administration. But the most disturbing part of this whole affair is that it reveals how millions of our taxpayer dollars are being handed out to private entities with little or no due diligence based on the recommendation of a closed, closely entwined loop of foundations, political allies, and corporate beneficiaries.

What investigating attorney Frederick L. Dorsey left out of his report, perhaps because he was hired by the state Department of Education, is how the department and the state Board of Education and so many others enabled Michael Sharpe in his unethical endeavors.

Take for instance, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appointed former FUSE Chief Operating Office Andrea Comer to the state Board of Education. Or the state Ethics Commission, which ruled that there was no conflict in having Comer, the chief operating officer of a charter management company benefiting from millions of dollars of public funds, serving on the board that grants them. Then we have our state legislators, who unanimously confirmed Comer to the position. Maybe they were too busy playing solitaire when the vote was taken.

What about Stephen Adamowski, Paul Vallas, and the members of the Bridgeport Board of Education who voted to bring FUSE to Bridgeport as part of the Commissoner’s Network? The Rev. Kenneth Moales Jr. said he was “honored” to have Sharpe and FUSE in the district. Moales, of course, has — according to education reform critic Jonathan Pelto — had his own ethical challenges when it came to overbilling the state for daycare slots.

And she then closes with;

Last April, the state Board of Education voted to authorize the Booker T. Washington/FUSE charter school in New Haven. Perhaps they were influenced by glowing letters of recommendation from well-known political figures in the state: New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, and ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander, to name a few.

With messaging consistency that would make Republican pollster and messaging guru Frank Luntz proud, both Mayors DeStefano and Harp opened with exactly the same phrase: “I enthusiastically support the application for the Booker T. Washington Charter School, here in New Haven, CT. The proposed school will teach our young moral character, self advocacy, and common core standards, in order to impact their success in our diverse global environment.”

Having read Attorney Dorsey’s report on what took place at Jumoke Academy, there are definitely lessons to teach our young, but “moral character” isn’t the one that springs to mind.

Here’s ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander: “Two key reasons for my support for the Booker T. Washington [school] is its collaboration with a proven high-quality provider, Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) . . . FUSE has a track record of success.”

That depends on your definition of “success,” doesn’t it? If “success” constitutes feathering your own nest at the expense of taxpayers, behaving unethically, and acting in such a way that even the parents at your own school “have questions about accountability for the financial piece,” as stated in the FUSE Board of Trustees minutes dated Oct. 10, 2013,  I guess FUSE did have that track record.

Listening to these same enablers say that “it’s for the kids” while they fleece the public purse is infuriating. But what really enrages me is knowing that there are so many fine educators in classrooms across this state trying to teach and help children day in and day out while being deprived of basic resources, while politicians are allowing our taxpayer dollars to be siphoned off by crooks.

The commentary piece written by Sarah Darer Littman is, as they say, “on point.”

Go to CT Newsjunkie right now and read the complete article at http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_wheres_the_accountability_anyone/

 

Malloy brags about raising test scores in his Inaugural Speech

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During his 2015 inaugural address, Governor Malloy gives himself credit for rising standardized test scores. But the 2nd term governor fails to address the oncoming Common Core Testing debacle, commit to holding charter schools more accountable or announce that he will fix his unfair Teacher Evaluation program by decoupling it from the unless Common Core Test scores.

Yesterday, after being sworn in to a second term as Connecticut’s Governor, Dannel Malloy gave his State of the State Address to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Malloy outlined what he deemed to be his accomplishments to date and spoke of plans for the next four years, much of which appears to be focused around improving Connecticut’s deteriorating transportation system.

Interestingly, considering how much attention public education issues received during the recent gubernatorial campaign, this vital topic did not get much play in Malloy’s speech, although the governor – who once said that he didn’t mind schools teach to the test, “as long as test scores went up,” – did proudly proclaim that his first term accomplishments include that fact that his administration had “raised test scores” in Connecticut.

Considering the turmoil caused by Malloy’s corporate education reform industry agenda, Malloy’s comment was a rather callous reminder that the governor and his pro-charter school allies remain fixated on producing an education system driven by test scores.

Other than announcing that “We’ve built better schools, raised test scores, made college more affordable, and put Connecticut on a path toward universal pre-kindergarten,” Malloy made no mention of the massive Common Core testing scheme that will be swamping Connecticut’s public schools this year, neither did he explain why his administration supported the Common Core “cut scores” that are designed to ensure that the vast majority of public school students and teachers are deemed failures.

See:  Beware the Coming Common Core Testing Disaster

For parents, teachers and public school advocates who were looking to see if Malloy was going to soften his pro-corporate education reform industry agenda, there was no sign that the governor intended to hold Connecticut’s charter schools accountable for their use of public funds nor was there a suggestion that the Malloy administration was going to fix their unfair “Teacher Evaluation” program by decoupling the inappropriate Common Core Test scores from the evaluation process for Connecticut’s public school teachers.

While Malloy shied away from talking about education, his corporate-funded education reform supporters were much more vocal, holding a press conference yesterday calling for, among other things, more charter schools.

The press conference was organized by a new education reform front group called, “For Every Child.”  The new lobbying entity includes most of the same groups that spent in excess of $6 million lobbying for Malloy’s initial education reform initiative, including ConnCAN, the Achievement First, Inc. charter school management company, the Northeast Charter School Network and Families for Excellent Schools, another pro-charter group entity.

As reported in a New Haven Register article entitled, Connecticut education activists continue push to address ‘failing’ schools,” the group will be using their resources to push for more charter schools.

According to the Register’s article, the Rev. Eldren Morrison of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, who received permission last year from the Malloy administration to open the Booker T. Washington charter school in New Haven, said, “The problem is that there are not enough (charters).”

And in what can only be considered an absolutely incredible moment of irony, the new charter school operator went on to complain about the “’grueling’ process for charter schools to open.”

Grueling process for charter schools to open?

As Wait, What? readers will undoubtedly recall, [now former] Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Malloy’s appointees quickly and easily approved the application for The Booker T. Washington Charter School after Commissioner Pryor and his staff wrote an April 2, 2014 announcement that it was the highest rated charter school application.

How did Pryor and his staff determine that Booker T Washington Charter School should be approved?

Because in their words, the Booker T Washington Charter School was going to be managed and run by the Jumoke/FUES charterer school company.

The same Jumoke/FUSE charter school company that was given two no-bid contracts to run neighborhood schools in Hartford and Bridgeport.

The same Jumoke/FUSE that has now been disgraced, along with its charlatan CEO, the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe.”

Even a modicum of investigation on the part of Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education would have led to the denial of the Booker T. Washington Charter School, yet Rev. Morrison, who now has a lucrative five-year charter to run a private school with public funds has the audacity to claim that Connecticut’s charter school application process is “grueling.”

For more on Booker T. Washington Charter School read;

Malloy’s new charter schools – 1st up the Booker T. Washington Charter School in New Haven

Merging Church and State – The Booker T. Washington Charter School

“We need a school that’s going to promote God’s principles”  

 

Hartford Courant Editorial just plain wrong on Charter Schools

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Late last week the Hartford Courant began their annual series of recommendations about what our government must confront in the coming year.  The Courant’s observations are usually well thought out and on-track, but in their first piece entitled, “Agenda 2015: Ambitious Goals For The State,” they mistakenly bought into the rhetoric espoused by Governor Malloy, the corporate education reform industry and the spin coming out of Connecticut’s charter schools and their lobbyists.

In their editorial, the Courant wrote,

It became clear in 2014 that the state wasn’t good at checking on the people running charter schools. That’s changed, with new rules on criminal background checks and barring nepotism. But it took a few embarrassments. Schools need better vetting of those entrusted with young minds.

Most charters, however, are outperforming other schools in their districts. The state must carry on with the plan laid out in the 2012 education reform act to intervene in low-performing public schools

First off, the truth is that the state has done virtually nothing to hold Connecticut’s charter schools accountable for their use of taxpayer funds and rather than develop and implement a new set of accountability standards, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees to the State Board of Education recently recommended the state fund eight new charters despite the projected $1.4 billion deficit in next year’s budget.

Even more offensive was the Courant editorial’s claim that, “Most charters, however, are outperforming other schools in their districts.”

The claim is just plain wrong when one considers that these privately-owned, but publicly-funded schools are consistently “creaming off” selected students from their communities and openly discriminating against Latinos, student who face English language barriers and students who require special education services.

That State Department of Education’s own data provides a stark assessment of how Connecticut’s charter schools are doctoring their test results by refusing to accept the diversity of students who make up the communities that these schools are supposed to be serving.

As the Courant editorial board should know by now, when it comes to opening their doors to the full breadth of their communities, Connecticut charter schools are truly failing.

If real public schools discriminated against students based on their ethnicity, language skills or special education needs, the Courant and every other respectable media outlet, as well as every education and community advocacy organization would be calling for investigations and prosecutions.

But since Connecticut’s charter schools have convinced policymakers and the media that they have better results, their discriminatory, and I would argue illegal, practices are going unchallenged and unaddressed.

The truth is that the real barriers to educational achievement are primarily due to poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs and a look at the tables below reveal just how the charter schools are able to corrupt their test results by refusing to take their fair share of the students who face the greatest challenges.

Charter schools are notorious for bragging about their test scores, but as the evidence proves, the tests themselves are designed to fail students who don’t speak English and students who have more severe special education needs.

By refusing to admit students who would score lower on standardized tests, Connecticut’s charter schools, and most charter schools across the country, artificially create the impression that they do significantly better.

For example, take a look at the infamous Jumoke Academy Charter School in Hartford.

According to the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Tests, only 5.6% of Hartford’s non-English speaking students (categorized as English Language Learners),who took the 4th grade CMT reading test scored at or above goal… 94% of Hartford’s 4th grade ELL students scored below goal on Connecticut’s mastery test.

With absolutely no non-English speaking students, Jumoke Academy doesn’t have to face the reality of those students “pulling down” their artificially enhanced image when it comes to getting better test scores.

The same pattern is true when it comes to students needing special education services.  While upwards toward 1 in 6 Hartford students require some form of special education services, Jumoke Academy’s special education population is just over 3% and most of those have relatively minimal special education needs.

When explaining how Jumoke Academy managed to have such low numbers of special education students, “Dr.” Michael Sharpe, the charter school’s disgraced former CEO explained to a Connecticut legislative committee that he had a “secret program” that intervened at the kindergarten level and cured students of their special education needs.

But seriously, why would a school fail to take their share of special education students when the host city is obligated to pay for 100% of the costs related to providing special education students, above and beyond the generous grant the charter schools already receive?

Because, if you are a charter school and you want to appear successful, you don’t want to risk taking on the special education students since they will inevitably lower the school’s average Connecticut Mastery Test scores.

As the 2013 CMT results show, once again, only 14% of the special educations students in Hartford who took the 4th grade reading CMT test scored at or above goal.  So, of course, any school that is all about producing higher test scores will do all they can to duck their responsibility to special education students who need and deserve the same educational opportunities as every other child.

Rather than claim that “Most charters, however, are outperforming other schools in their districts,”  the Hartford Courant should have demanded that Connecticut state government  place a moratorium on any additional charter schools until the state’s existing charters stop trying to game the system and provide open and accessible education opportunities to all of their community’s students and families.

The following charts highlight how Connecticut’s charter schools discriminate against Latinos, students who face language barriers and students who require special education services.

Hartford Public Schools vs. Jumoke and Achievement First – Hartford Charters

2012-2103

English Language Learners Students from Non-English Speaking Homes Students with Special Education Needs Students who received Reduced/Free lunches
Hartford Schools 18% 40% 13.5% 85+%
Jumoke Charter School 0% 0% 3.2% 58%
Achievement First – Hartford 5.1% 7.3% 7.8% 68%

 

New Haven Public Schools vs. Achievement First -Amistad and Elm City – Charters

2012-2103

English Language Learners Students from Non-English Speaking Homes Students with Special Education Needs Students who received Reduced/Free lunches
New Haven Schools 13.8% 26% 11.1% 78+%
Achievement First  – Amistad 8.2% 19% 5% 82%
Achievement First – Elm City 5.1% 10% 6.5% 74%

 

Bridgeport Public Schools vs. Achievement First – Bridgeport Charter Schools

2012-2103

English Language Learners Students from Non-English Speaking Homes Students with Special Education Needs Students who received Reduced/Free lunches
Bridgeport Schools 14% 41% 13% 95+%
Achievement First – Bridgeport 11% 18% 8% 82%

The Charter School Hoax

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They call themselves “public schools” when they want to collect nearly $100 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds each year, but refuse to come clean about how they spend that money pointing out that they are “private companies.”

Furthermore, here in Connecticut, they predominately refuse to educate Latinos, bi-lingual students and students who have special education needs.

And when they do happen to get students they don’t want through their so-called “open lottery” system they have a sophisticated operation for “counselling” or pushing out students who have behavior issues or otherwise don’t meet their limited “criteria” for the type of student they want in their school.

In fact, according to the most recent data available on the State Department of Education website, Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, manages to “lose” about 50% of its high school students over the course of four years.

In her latest, “MUST READ” commentary piece, public school advocate Wendy Lecker writes in the Stamford Advocate that it’s time to confront the truth about the charter movement.

Wendy Lecker writes;

Almost daily, headlines are filled with stories of charter school fraud or mismanagement. Recent revelations about possible illegal practices in charter schools in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have led even charter supporters to try to distance themselves from the “crony capitalism” fueling this sector.

It is cold comfort that Connecticut officials are not alone in allowing unscrupulous charter operators to bilk taxpayers. It is time to reassess the entire charter movement in Connecticut.

Recall the original promises made by charter proponents: that they would benefit all public schools — showing public schools the way by using “innovative” methods to deliver a better education to struggling students in an efficient, less expensive manner.

None of those promises have been kept. Charters cannot point to any “innovations” that lead to better achievement. Smaller classes and wraparound services are not innovations — public schools have been begging for these resources for years. Charter practices such as failing to serve our neediest children, e.g., English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and “counseling out” children who cannot adhere to overly strict disciplinary policies, are not “innovations” — and should be prohibited.

Charters often spend more than public schools. Charters in Bridgeport and Stamford spend more per pupil than their host districts. And while it appears that charters in New Haven and Hartford spend comparable amounts, they serve a less needy, and less expensive, population. Moreover, Connecticut charters need not pay for special education services, transportation, or, if they serve fewer than 20 ELL students, ELL services.

While Connecticut owes billions of dollars to our neediest districts, officials provide higher per-pupil allocations to charters. For example charter schools receive $11,500 per pupil from the state, but Bridgeport’s ECS allocation is only $8,662 per pupil. Bridgeport is owed an additional $5,446 according to the CCJEF plaintiffs, not including the cost of teacher evaluations, the Common Core, and other unfunded mandates imposed over the years.

Connecticut increased charter funding over the past three years by $2,100 per pupil, while our poorest school districts received an average increase of only $642 per pupil.

As former New York charter authorizer Pedro Noguera lamented recently, charter schools are a “black box”; fighting transparency in enrollment, educational, managerial and financial practices. It is time for taxpayers force the black box open. Charters receive billions of public dollars. We must ensure that these funds are spent to improve education for all children.

Connecticut officials do not help matters with their almost nonexistent oversight of charter schools. Our State Board of Education’s shocking blindness in the Jumoke scandal is only one example. In their rush to approve any new charter, the board fails to verify charter claims, ignores community opposition and disregards its own rules against segregation in and over-concentration of charter schools. While punishing poor school districts, SBE routinely reauthorizes charters with poor records, excusing their failure to meet academic targets. Connecticut’s state education officials clearly need a scripted curriculum.

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s “Public Accountability for Charter Schools,” is a good starting point. The report outlines areas that demand equity, accountability and transparency: such as enrollment, governance, contracts, and management.

Connecticut must require, as a condition of continued authorization, that charters serve the same demographics as their host districts, through clearly delineated controlled choice policies.

Charter schools must maintain transparent and publicly available annual records and policies regarding enrollment, discipline and attrition. Charters must ensure that they do not employ subtle barriers to enrollment, such as strict disciplinary policies or requirements for parent participation as a condition of attendance. No such barriers exist in public schools.

Charters must prove that they meet the specific needs of the host community in a way the public schools do not. Charters must not be imposed over community opposition. State officials must assess the negative impact of charters on a district, including segregation and funding effects.

Charters must post all contracts and fully disclose revenues and expenditures. Charter officials, board members and employees must undergo background checks and disclose any relationships with contractors, state officials and others dealing with their school. Parents in charter schools must be allowed to elect charter board members.

Charters must show evidence annually that their unique educational methods improve achievement.

These are only some of the reforms that must be enacted — and enforced — for all charters, to ensure that these privately run schools are not shortchanging taxpayers, parents or children. In the meantime, Connecticut needs a moratorium on any new charter schools until this sector gets its house in order.

You can read the full commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Reassess-the-charter-movement-5830482.php

IS THE TIDE TURNING FOR COMMON CORE? (Guest Post by Joseph Ricciotti)

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On October 6, 2014 retired educator Joseph Ricciotti had a commentary piece in the CT Mirror entitled, “Common Core takes the joy out of teaching.”

ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander, the paid spokesperson for Connecticut’s charter school industry, responded with a lame defense of the Common Core in yesterday’s CTMirror under the title of “Don’t let misinformation destroy the promise of Common Core.”

After reading ConnCAN’s corporate education reform rhetoric, I wrote “Connecticut – Our children are not stupid” for Wait, What?

Now Joseph Ricciotti takes on ConnCAN’s position even more directly in a thoughtful response called, “Is the tide turning for Common Core?”

Joseph Ricciotti writes;

I am pleased that my recent op-ed piece “Common Core Does Not Treat Teachers or Students with Dignity” has provoked the ire of Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCAN, as I strongly believe what is needed in Connecticut is an honest debate concerning whether Common Core is appropriate for Connecticut students. It appears obvious that the corporate education reform advocates in Connecticut which includes Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN as well as Governor Malloy and his outgoing Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, are truly dismayed and rattled with the fact that Common Core throughout the country is a slowly sinking ship ready to join the failed corporate reform programs of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT).

What Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN has neglected to mention in her rebuttal concerning Common Core is the fact that parents have yet to be exposed to the devastating impact of numerous failures when the Common Core Smarter Balanced Consortium (SBAC) tests will be administered to Connecticut students, especially children in our urban school districts. As Jonathan Pelto cited with his insightful analysis in his op-ed commentary, “Connecticut – Our Children are not Stupid” that parents will “discover that approximately 70% of the states children are failing.” Hence, what is in store for Connecticut parents, according to Pelto, is what has already occurred in New York State where Pelto indicates “that only 31 percent of all public school students in New York State got a “passing score” on the math and English language arts Common Core tests.”

What corporate reformers such as Jennifer Alexander and Stefan Pryor apparently do not understand is what it means to a young child who fails one of the Common Core tests. What should be required reading of all corporate reformers is the recent New York Times article published this past June “ Common Core, In 9 – Year Old Eyes” in which the heartbreaking story of young Crispin Alcindor is told. Crispin attends P.S. 397 in Brooklyn, NY, a school of 350 students and a school where more than 70 per cent of the students did not pass the Common Core tests. ConnCAN would deem this a “failing school” and designate an “F”grade  as part of its ranking as what Common Core will  basically do is to rank schools and students. With this ranking, would Ms. Alexander like to see the school closed and replaced with one of ConnCAN’s so-called high achieving charter schools? However, the fact that 90 per cent of the children in P.S. 397 come from low income families would never be taken into consideration as the corporate reformers would have you believe that poverty is never a factor for low achievement.

The New York Times account of Crispin Alcindor is the story of a child who had been a model student in his school and at the top of his class until he had to take the Common Core state exams which placed him near the bottom of his class. Needless to say, his failure on the Common Core tests shattered him as failure was the catalyst that led the boy to cite, “If I don’t pass the test, I will feel miserable and never come out of my room.” Moreover, how many children in Connecticut schools destined to fail the SBAC will have similar feelings of failure as Common Core takes the joy out of learning for many Connecticut children?

Jennifer Alexander also cites in her commentary that most teachers in Connecticut support the Common Core but that is not the feedback I have received from teachers involved with implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The various surveys that Alexander cites concerning the popularity of Common Core with teachers are dubious to say the least, especially surveys conducted by the Gates Foundation. The recent election of Barbara Madeloni as president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association is symptomatic of teachers’ disenchantment with Common Core. A fierce opponent of neoliberal education reform, Madeloni believes that teachers today are “in an enormous amount of pain and that the joy in human relationships and the possibilities of teaching have been foreclosed by the “education deform” (Common Core) project.” Also, according to Madeloni, the use of SBAC test scores for the purpose of evaluating teacher effectiveness strips away what little remains of teachers dignity.

As Joe Ricciotti proves, yet again, the talking heads of the corporate education reform industry are no match for the educators who actually devote their lives to the well-being of our children.

Connecticut – Our children are not stupid

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However, that is EXACTLY what the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test is designed to tell us.

The shocking, truth is that parents who do not opt their child out of the unfair, inappropriate and expensive Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing regime this year will “discover” that approximately 70% of the state’s children are failing.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In a CT Mirror commentary piece entitled “Don’t let misinformation destroy the promise of Common Core,” Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of ConnCAN, Connecticut’s charter school lobbying group goes to great length to actually MISLEAD Connecticut’s parents about the false promise of the Common Core.

This pro-Common Core cheerleader and leading apologist for Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform industry agenda claims that,

…we must continue to implement consistent high standards like the Common Core across every classroom, every school, and every district in our state. It is a necessary step toward our goal of providing a high-quality education for every Connecticut child.

But what Jennifer Alexander, Governor Malloy and the other proponents of the Common Core fail to tell parents, and the public, is that the Common Core SBAC Test is designed in such a way as to ensure that only about one-third of our state’s public school students get passing marks.

How is that possible?

Because the Common Core Test uses what is called the NAEP “proficient” level as its passing grade.  NAEP is The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a national testing entity.

According to NAEP, the “proficient” level is a standard that is equivalent to what is deemed “high performance,” rather than what would be considered grade-level performance.

So, in reality, the Common Core Test is not designed to determine whether our children are learning what is expected at that grade level, but is purposely designed to pretend that all students should be “higher performers.”

Of course, as every parent knows, while all children can learn and thrive with the right support, not all students are academic “high performers” each step of the way.

But proponents of the Common Core testing system like Jennifer Alexander and Governor Malloy won’t tell parents that their children will be deemed failing if they don’t score at the “high performer” level.

When New York State implemented the Common Core Test, student scores across the state dropped by nearly 50 percent from the scores those same students had received in previous, more grade level-oriented, standardized tests.

The result of the Common Core Test was that only 31 percent of all public school students in New York State got a “passing score” on the math and English language arts  Common Core tests.

Did New York students suddenly become stupid?

No, of course not!

Even worse, the Common Core Test design is particularly unfair to African American and Latino American students.  In New York State, only about one in five Black and Latino students “passed’ and the Common Core test design ensured that only 3% of the English Language Learners achieved passing scores under the new Common Core scheme.

To put it bluntly, the Common Core Test is designed to send students of color, students who have English Language barriers and students with special education needs home with a report that indicates that they are failing.

The underlying problem with the Common Core Testing is not a secret, although many politicians wish that it was.  As has been widely reported, the Common Core Test gives fifth graders questions that are written at an 8th grade level.

The harsh reality is that the “cut score” or passing number on the Common Core Test has been purposely set so that approximately 30 percent of the test takers pass and 70 percent fail.

Jennifer Alexander, who is paid a six-figure income to speak for the charter school industry, doesn’t reveal that the real reason the corporate education reform industry loves the Common Core Testing is because it produces an almost unlimited list of failing schools.

And thanks to Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama, federal law provides that failing schools can be handed over to charter school management companies…and with it hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds going to private charter school corporations to run public schools.

For the truth about the Common Core Testing system one need only go back to a 2011 article in the Washington Post in which James Harvey, the executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, explains what the NAEP proficient level really means.

Harvey says,

“Proficiency remains a tough nut to crack for most students, in all subjects, at all grade levels. NAEP reports that only one third of American students are proficient or better, no matter the subject, the age of the students, or their grade level

[…]

NAEP’s benchmarks, including the proficiency standard, evolved out of a process only marginally better than throwing darts at the wall.

That’s a troubling conclusion to reach in light of the expenditure of more than a billion dollars on NAEP over 40-odd years by the U.S. Department of Education and its predecessors. For all that money, one would expect that NAEP could defend its benchmarks of Basic, Proficient, and Advanced by pointing to rock-solid studies of the validity of its benchmarks and the science underlying them. But it can’t.

Instead, NAEP and the National Assessment Governing Board that promulgated the benchmarks have spent the better part of 20 years fending off a consensus in the scientific community that the benchmarks lack validity and don’t make sense. Indeed, the science behind these benchmarks is so weak that Congress insists that every NAEP report include the following disclaimer: “NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] has determined that NAEP achievement levels should continue to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution”

So the Common Core score is tied to a system that even the United States Congress admits should be “used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution”

Harvey goes on to explain,

“Proficient Doesn’t Mean Proficient.

Oddly, NAEP’s definition of proficiency has little or nothing to do with proficiency as most people understand the term. NAEP experts think of NAEP’s standard as “aspirational.” In 2001, two experts associated with NAEP’s National Assessment Governing…made it clear that:

“[T]he proficient achievement level does not refer to “at grade” performance. Nor is performance at the Proficient level synonymous with ‘proficiency’ in the subject. That is, students who may be considered proficient in a subject, given the common usage of the term, might not satisfy the requirements for performance at the NAEP achievement level.”

Despite the mountains of evidence about the problems with the Common Core and Common Core testing, corporate elitists like ConnCAN have the chutzpah to say we should implement the Common Core and the unfair Common Cores tests because, “many national studies that show wide support for clear, high standards to help ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, are ready for the challenges of college and career.”

As parents of public school children, we all recognize that there is nothing wrong having “clear, high standards.” Standards are good and Connecticut has its own process for updating and enhancing our state’s academic standards.

Yet rather than using Connecticut’s process and respecting the values inherent in the local control of education, the Common Core was developed using a system that did not include the full involvement of teachers, parents and the community.

Governor Malloy, ConnCAN and the corporate education reform industry have thrown their support behind an inappropriate set of national standards that were not developed by teachers, parents or those who know what is developmentally appropriate for children.

Furthermore, had the proponents of the Common Core been genuinely interested in enhancing educational standards in the United States they would have developed those standards using the appropriate people and then phased in those goals over a period of ten years, thereby allowing our schools to ramp up what we expect of our children and our public education system.

Instead, in a grotesque effort to grab as much public funding as possible for the testing companies and the rest of the education reform industry, these people, with the help of our government officials, mandated the Common Core standards and then mandated that our children be tested against those standards immediately.

So what have we been given?

Connecticut has been served up a system that is designed to tell 70 percent of our students that they are failures.

And that is nothing short of child abuse.

Rather than pushing the flawed Common Core testing program on our students, teachers and public schools, Governor Malloy, Education Commissioner Pryor, and Connecticut’s public school superintendents and principals should be standing up and protecting our children from this unwarranted abuse.

But since they won’t, it is up to parents to take on the task of stopping this abuse by opting our children out of the absurd Common Core Standardized Testing program.

And if your school district tells you that you can’t opt out your child, remind them that this is America and that there is absolutely no federal or state law that revokes your parental rights when it comes to standardized testing in our public schools!

The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them.

In this case, the Malloy administration and the proponents of the Common Core and its related testing apparatus are nothing short of bullies —– and they must be stopped before they do any more damage to our children and our public schools.

The charter school industry’s commentary piece in today’s CTMirror is a clear reminder.

The time is now to tell your school district that your children will not be participating in this year’s Common Core Testing.

Malloy’s administration to tout Corporate Education Reform Industry Agenda at National Conference

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While wooing teachers with false promises of a change in policy here at home, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his administration continue to trumpet their Corporate Education Reform Industry Agenda far from the gaze of Connecticut voters.

Next month Connecticut taxpayers will pick up the tab to send the Connecticut delegation to the annual meeting of the National Association of State Boards of Education annual meeting in Colorado. Of course, ever year, the taxpayers also pick up the tab for Connecticut’s membership in the organization.

The National Association of State Board of Education (NASBE) claims that it “exists to serve and strengthen State Boards of Education in their pursuit of high levels of academic achievement for all students.”

How do they go about doing that? Well just last year the NASBE accepted an $800,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to spend the next two years pushing the Common Core with state boards of education and other “stakeholders” involved with running public education around the country.

So while Malloy will spend his October trying to persuade Connecticut teachers, parents and public school advocates that he is “softening” his pro-corporate education reform stance, his delegation will be jetting off to Colorado to showcase Malloy’s “record of success” when it comes to dramatically increasing the use of standardized tests, expanding the role of charter schools and undermining the role and rights of parents, teachers and school boards.

One session at the NASBE national conference is entitled “State Policy and Practice for Turnaround Schools.” Lead presenters include Morgan Barth, one of Stefan Pryor’s top appointees at the State Department of Education and State Board of Education member Stephen Wright.

Barth is the former Achievement First Inc. employee who, with no state certification, illegally taught and worked at Achievement First for at least six years before Achievement First’s lobbyists managed to get the law changed to allow charter schools to have up to 30% of their teaching and administrative staff be non-certified.

Although repeatedly warned by the State Department of Education that Barth’s lack of appropriate certification meant he was teaching illegally, Achievement First, Inc. kept him on the payroll and in the classroom the entire time.

When Stefan Pryor, the co-founder of Achievement First, Inc. became Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Pryor hired Barth to play the key role in the SDE’s “turnaround office” where he has spent his time getting Alliance Districts to turn over their schools to charter companies, most notably, to the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain.

Connecticut’s other representative at the National Association of State Boards of Education annual meeting is Steven Wright, a Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education who served as chairman of the Trumbull Board of Education.

Wright has been one of Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s strongest allies and safest votes on the State Board of Education.  Reporting on another national conference earlier this year, the conference wrote,

“Wright hailed the state’s work to adopt Common Core standards, saying the standards are the best thing for students and teachers…’They are empirically superior and age-appropriate — developed by educators,’”

And in 2012 when the Trumbull Education Association refused to accept an “award” from ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, Wright, in his role as Chairman of the Trumbull Board of Education, attacked the union saying,

“I read with no small measure of disappointment the letter of the Trumbull Teacher’s Association rejecting the prestigious recognition the high school received from ConnCAN… through an obvious display of ignorance of the goals of ConnCAN and an undertone of an elitist attitude, the authors of the letter have managed to alienate trusted allies and provided the missing ingredients that will sway those who were on the fence with the education reform legislation to side with the Governor and give wholesale support to the reforms proposed in Senate Bill #24.”

And if Barth and Wright’s participation wasn’t telling enough, another speaker at the October National Association of State Boards of Education will be a senior corporate officer from Global Strategies Group, the political consulting group that serves as Malloy’s lead campaign consultant while running the public relations program for Connecticut’s corporate education reform groups.

In the past year or so, Global Strategies Group has collected at least $297,000 from the Malloy campaign and his shadow political operation at the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

During the same period, Global Strategies Group has billed ConnCAN and A Better Connecticut, Connecticut’s two leading education reform groups, more than $2.5 million for consulting services and media costs.  Global Strategies produced and broadcast nearly $2 million in television advertisements “thanking Governor Malloy” for his leadership on the education reform effort.

And what will the Global Strategies Group representative be speaking about?

“What’s in Store on Election Day and What Does It Mean for Education?”

One wonders how many times he’ll mention Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, the most pro-education reform, anti-teacher Democratic governor in the nation.

But one thing will be certain — While Malloy’s operatives will be singing his praises at the NASBE meeting in Colorado, Malloy himself will be here, at home, telling teachers, parents and public education advocates that he has “seen the light” and will spend his second term supporting teachers and Connecticut’s public education system.

ConnCAN yelps response to Sarah Darer Littman’s Commentary piece

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Provides stunning argument as to why Malloy does not deserve four more years! Over this past weekend, public education advocate and CT NewsJunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman published a scathing commentary piece on the Malloy administration, the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain and the tens of millions of taxpayer funds being wasted on charter schools in Connecticut. You can read Sarah Darer Littman’s CTNewsJunkie column here – Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse and the Wait, What? re-post and assessment of the piece here - Another MUST READ column on Jumoke/FUSE by Sarah Darer Littman. But as incredible as Sarah Darer Littman’s original piece is, the response from the CEO of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, is even more telling. Wait, What? readers will recall that ConnCAN led the $6 million, record breaking, lobbying effort on behalf of Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform bill that undermined local control and attempted to do away with tenure for all public school teachers, while repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest school districts. ConnCAN also played a pivotal role in the failed attempt to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport, their campaign becoming the most expensive charter revision effort in history. And more recently, ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, and their immediate family members, have funneled more than $100,000 into Malloy’s re-election campaign operation — despite the fact that Malloy has taken $6.2 million in public funds to pay for his re-election effort. Normally, when presenting an attack piece by the corporate education reform industry, some critique is required, but not in this case. In this case, the response from Jennifer Alexander, ConnCAN’s CEO, is so absurd that it stands on its own without any introduction or review… You can read ConnCAN’s full response here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_lets_develop_solutions_to_connecticuts_toughest_problems/ Alexander writes,

Regarding Sarah Darer Littman’s Sept. 19, 2014, op-ed, “Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse,” the egregious twisting of facts and history buries the important message at the core of Littman’s argument. Sadly, the piece is also a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is improving schools for all children in our state. […] I encourage her to join a real dialogue about how best to achieve these goals. It’s time to move away from tired personal attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories, roll up our sleeves and get to the real work of improving public education. Our kids are counting on it. It is, after all, our responsibility to ensure all kids have the opportunity to achieve their goals. Together, with hard work, dedication, and a bit of creativity, we can ensure Connecticut remains a place where people want to live, work, and invest in their future.

This from the individual and organization that recently sang the praises of Jumoke/FUSE and the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe.  Not to mention their unending efforts to divert taxpayer funds to privately run schools that consistently discriminate against those who don’t speak English and those who need special education services. The message from ConnCAN is loud and clear…..their message is – If you are satisfied with Malloy’s corporate education reform policies, then go ahead and vote for him. If, on the other hand, you are tired of charter schools wasting millions of dollars of our scarce public funds, then Malloy is definitely not the one you want to vote for. Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

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