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

Another MUST READ column on Jumoke/FUSE by Sarah Darer Littman

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Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens.  She is also one of the most important voices on behalf of public education in Connecticut.

This week Sarah Darer Littman’s commentary piece on  CTNewsJunkie is a key addition to the discussion about the impact the corporate education reform industry is having in Connecticut and how key players in the Malloy administration, the City of Hartford and various pro-education reform entities are undermining Connecticut’s public education system.

In a piece entitled, “Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse,” Sarah Darer Littman writes,

“…I read the Hartford Courant report on the discovery that computers and equipment are missing from the Jumoke Academy at Milner…

[…]

Last year, Hartford received a “gift” in the form of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Hartford is a city where the Board of Education is under mayoral control — a situation the corporate education reformers in this state (and many forces from outside the state) tried extremely hard and spent a lot of money to try to replicate, unsuccessfully, in Bridgeport in 2012

This means that Mayor Pedro Segarra appoints five members of the Hartford Board of Education, and four are elected by the people of Hartford. However, according to its bylaws , the Board is meant to act as a whole.

But that’s not what happened in the case of the $5 million grant announced back in December 2012.

On June 29, 2012, staff members of the Gates Foundation came to Hartford for a meeting. According to a memo former Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto sent to the Board on October 12, 2012  — which was the first time the wider board knew of the meeting — “Participants included Board of Education Chair Matthew Poland, Mayor Segarra, Hartford Public Schools, Achievement First and Jumoke Academy senior staff members, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, ConnCAN, and other corporate, community and philanthropic partners.”

[…]

What’s really disturbing is that by funneling a grant through another foundation, a private foundation was able to impose public policy behind closed doors, and what’s more, impose policy that required taxpayer money — all without transparency or accountability.

I had to file a Freedom of Information request in order to get a copy of the paperwork on the Gates grant and what I received was only the partial information, because as Connecticut taxpayers will have learned from the Jumoke/FUSE fiasco, while charter schools consistently argue they are “public” when it comes to accepting money from the state, they are quick to claim that they are private institutions  when it comes to transparency and accountability.

But what is clear from the grant paperwork is that Hartford Public Schools committed to giving more schools to Achievement First and Jumoke Academy/Fuse, a commitment made by just some members of the Board of Education in applying for the grant, which appears to be a clear abrogation of the bylaws. Further, as a result of the commitment made by those board members, financial costs would accrue to Hartford Public Schools that were not covered by the grant — for example, the technology to administer the NWEA map tests, something I wrote about back in December 2012, just after the grant was announced.

One of the Gates Foundation grant’s four initiatives was to “Build the district’s capacity to retain quality school leaders through the transformation of low-performing schools, replicating Jumoke Academy’s successful model of a holistic education approach.”

And the stunning, disturbing and incredible story gets worse…. Much, much worse…

The entire “MUST READ” article can be found at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_dont_let_foundation_money_be_a_trojan_horse/

Sarah DarerLittman ends her piece with the observation,

That’s why we need transparency and accountability in our state, not backroom deals structured to avoid the public eye, but which still impact the public purse.

Editor’s Note:

While Sarah is absolutely right about the need for greater transparency and accountability, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that various players within the Malloy administration and the City of Hartford violated the spirit and the letter of Connecticut law.  While great transparency and accountability is vitally important, when it comes to the Jumoke/FUSE issue, indictments and convictions are also in order.

But please take the time to read the commentary piece – Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse.

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

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The observation comes from a member of the Varick Memorial A.M.E Church community as she explains why the State Board of Education should approve a “revised” charter for the Booker T. Washington Elementary School in New Haven.

The Board of Directors of the new Booker T. Washington School is led by Varick Memorial A.M.E. Church’s pastor, his assistant and his wife.  According to the proposal, his wife will serve on the board until she gets a job once the school is open.

The CT Newsjunkie story explains,

“The state Board of Education expressed skepticism Monday that a new charter school would be able to get up and running before the start of the school year, but nevertheless they unanimously approved the revised plan.”

Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education originally approved the Booker T. Washington Charter School based on the fact that it would be run by Jumoke/FUSE, but after the collapse of that company, the proponents of the Booker T. Washington School were allowed to find a new “management” operation.

The CT Newsjunkie story goes on to explain;

The school’s founder, Pastor Eldren Morrison, said they currently have eight board members, but intend to add an additional four members. At least one of the members will be a parent of a child attending the school, which will eventually serve pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade.

Theresa Hopkins-Staten, vice chairwoman of the board, cautioned the Booker T. Washington Academy and urged school officials to include a nepotism clause in its bylaws.

“You indicate that staff members, employees or relatives of staff members, as long as they’re qualified, can work there,” Hopkins-Staten pointed out. “I caution you against that. This board has seen situations where that has not worked out well.”

She said that while there might not be an actual conflict of interest, “perception becomes reality and you don’t want those types of issues early on as you get this school off the ground.”

Taylor told the board that they have not hired any relatives of board members.

[…]

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now CEO Jennifer Alexander said she supports the revised proposal.

“New Haven’s kids should not be denied the opportunity to attend this school because FUSE apparently proved to be a less-than-honest partner,” Alexander said. “The hundreds of children and parents who have already applied to attend Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA) should not be negatively impacted by the egregious and possibly illegal activities at FUSE.”

As part of its revised proposal, BTWA will lease space for $100,000 from Achievement First, a public charter school organization. Taylor said Mayo, who recently stepped forward to mentor Taylor , was instrumental in lowering the asking price for the sublease.

He said they are paying less on the lease than what Achievement First is paying the landlord for the space.

“It’s a fraction of what they’re paying,” Taylor said.

As Wait, What? readers know, Achievement First Inc. was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, and the office responsible for reviewing charter school operations is run by Morgan Barth, a former Achievement First, Inc. employee who taught and served as an administrator illegally during 6 of his years at Achievement First, Inc.

The State Board of Education did not address or produce any documentation about the potential conflict of interest now that Booker T Washington is now renting and renovating property owned by Achievement First, Inc.

You can read the full CT Newsjunkie article at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/board_of_education_approves_new_charter_school/?utm_source=CTNewsJunkie.com&utm_campaign=b40dcb2093-MCP_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a493d2308d-b40dcb2093-92878945

 

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CT Post Editorial: A long-overdue step on charters

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The Connecticut Post has published a powerful editorial about the Jumoke/FUSE charter school debacle and the Malloy Administration’s failure to properly oversee the growing charter school industry in Connecticut.

Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Pryor’s minions of charter school allies are diverting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to private companies that have been allowed to open up charter schools or have been given no-bid contracts to run local public schools in Connecticut’s poorest communities.

The editorial lays out the stark facts about the Jumoke/FUSE charter school company and its contract to run the Bridgeport neighborhood school known as Dunbar.

The CT Post doesn’t even get to the fact that Commissioner Pryor, Pryor’s Division Director in charge of turnaround schools, and their new Bureau Chief in the turnaround schools division all worked for Achievement First, Inc., Connecticut’s largest charter school management company, before getting their state jobs.

Together, Pryor and his two top charter school lieutenants are earning about $500,000 in salary and benefits, courtesy of Connecticut’s taxpayers.  And while we pay, they are spending their time undermining Connecticut’s public school system.

The Connecticut Post editorial does observe,

It is almost beyond belief that the state Department of Education, its hand finally forced, is just now ordering all charter schools and charter school management firms in Connecticut to conduct background checks on the people being entrusted with the care of children.

The department acted only after Michael P. Sharpe, director of a company the state picked to turn around Bridgeport’s Dunbar School, was discovered to have convictions for forgery and embezzlement, and no doctoral degree, as claimed.

So, in this case at least, with the horse long out of the barn, the department announced with a flourish that it will sic a special investigator on FUSE — Family Urban — and Jumoke Academy, a Hartford charter school that FUSE also runs.

The state department also said it will make charter schools and their management companies to adhere to anti-nepotism and conflict-of-interest policies established for public school districts.

Well, how about that?

“Today’s actions may not be the limit of what we undertake,” intoned Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.

What’s next? Triple secret double-dog probation?

[…]

FUSE, for one thing, received $435,000 from the state in so-called Commissioner’s Network money, money designed to help turn around particularly low-functioning schools in the state.

You can read the complete editorial at: http://www.ctpost.com/opinion/article/A-long-overdue-step-on-charters-5593806.php

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

News Flash:  Malloy/Pryor hand another top job to an Achievement First Inc. staffer

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The Malloy administration has given the one-hundred thousand-dollar-a-year-plus job of “Bureau Chief for District and School Transformation” to William (Billy) Johnson, a former employee of Achievement First Inc.

Of course, Achievement First, Inc. being the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Education Commissioner.   The company now operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island and has been the largest beneficiary of Malloy’s effort to shovel funds to the charter school industry.

The new “Bureau Chief” will report to Morgan Barth, the State Department of Education’s ‘Division Director.”  Before getting his lucrative management job in the Malloy administration, Barth also worked for Achievement First, Inc.

And Barth reports to Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.  Not only did Pryor play a key role in the creation of Achievement First, Inc., but he served on its Board of Directors until he resigned to become Malloy’s “education reform” point-person.

The timing of this hand-out to another Achievement First Inc. employee is particularly noteworthy since it takes place at the very moment that Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and Commissioner Pryor are circling the wagons in an attempt to deny any responsibility for the Jumoke Academy/FUSE Charter School Management Company debacle of the past few weeks.

Their claim that they didn’t know anything about the problems associated with Jumoke Academy/FUSE certainly lacks credibility since it was Pryor, Morgan Barth and Barth’s assistant, Andrew Ferguson, who worked directly with Jumoke Academy/FUSE to get them their two no-bid contracts – one to run the Milner School in Hartford and one to run the Dunbar School in Bridgeport.  In addition, it was the same cast of characters who successfully got Jumoke Academy/FUSE their new charter school in New Haven.

But as we’ve seen throughout Malloy’s tenure in office, the charter school industry is a priority.

And now another senior position is being given to someone affiliated with Achievement First, Inc. and charter schools.

Billy Johnson worked for Achievement First, Inc. from 2004 to June 2009 and returned to Achievement two years ago to become a consultant for Achievement First’s “AF Residency Program for School Leadership in July 2012.

Johnson has also worked for the Domus Academy, another charter school company and for the Stark Elementary School in Stamford, Connecticut.

And what is Johnson’s most recent academic achievement? A 2014 graduate of the UConn’s infamous 093-CT Superintendent Executive Leadership Certificate Program, the very program that Pryor and the State Department of Education sidestepped in granting Paul Vallas his “certification” to run Bridgeport’s schools.

Although Johnson’s salary has not been released yet, the position was advertised for $102,546 – $131,539 per year plus benefits.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Charter School champion, “OxyContin producer” gives Malloy operation over $200,000  

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This month Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy will be getting a check for $6.2 million in public funds through the Connecticut Public Financing Program to pay for part of his campaign for governor.

But Malloy’s fundraising operation goes far beyond that money.  Malloy and his political operatives are raising millions through various loopholes in Connecticut law.

Take for example, the following;

Jonathan Sackler helped Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, create Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that owns and operates schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Jonathan Sackler created ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that led the record breaking $6 million lobbying campaign to pass Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative in 2012.  The bill made Malloy the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with teacher tenure and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining for teachers in so-called “turnaround schools.”

Jonathan Sackler founded 50CAN, the ConnCAN knockoff, which is attempting to spread the charter school lobbying effort across the country.  Sackler is also a member of the board of directors of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a national hedge fund industry-funded organization that is promoting the corporate education reform industry’s activities.

Jonathan Sackler and his family also own a significant share of Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company made famous due to their product known as OxyContin.

In a stunning investigative report by the Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender, we now learn that Sackler and his family have given $91,000 to Malloy’s political operation while Sackler’s company has given another $106,000.

In the article entitled, Democrats Reap $91,000 From Charter Schools Advocate And His Family, Jon Lender explains,

There may be no better illustration of state Democrats‘ massive fundraising efforts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election year than the political donations of Jonathan Sackler and his extended family.

A total of $91,000 in donations has rolled into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers in 2013 and 2014 from four people: Sackler, a Greenwich businessman, investment executive and charter schools advocate; his wife; mother and father.

Lender adds,

Also, a privately held pharmaceutical company in Stamford with which Sackler family members have long been associated — Purdue Pharma — contributed $56,050 in 2013 and $50,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, a national group that spends its money to help elect Democratic governors across the country.

Lender lays out in stark detail the flow of money from the Sacklers to Governor Malloy’s political operation.  Donations that include,

•$55,000 to one of the two Connecticut Democratic Party’s accounts.

Jonathan Sackler and his wife, Mary Corson, each gave a maximum $10,000 donation to the Democratic Party’s state account in 2013 and already have given the same amount in 2014, for a total of $40,000 between them. Also, Sackler’s mother and father, Raymond and Beverly Sackler, have given $15,000 — $10,000 and $5,000, respectively — to that same party account this year.”

•$36,000 to the other Connecticut Democratic Party account

“Jonathan Sackler and Mary Corson each have given $10,000 to that account in 2014, and each gave $8,000 in 2013.

As Wait, What? readers may recall Jonathan Sackler also hosted a fundraiser for a political action committee associated with Malloy the day that Malloy’s “education reform” bill became a public act.  That fundraising netted more than $40,000 making it the most successful of the 14 fundraisers the Prosperity for Connecticut PAC held with Malloy and Wyman.

Sackler’s fundraiser was a “who’s who” in the corporate education reform industry including many of the board members of Achievement First, Inc. and ConnCAN as well as representatives of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy.

You can find Jon Lender’s MUST READ article at:  http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-lender-major-givers-0622-20140621,0,3261788.column

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