Charter lobby chases cut of public funds (By Wendy Lecker)

Beware parents, teachers, school administrators, local education officials and Connecticut taxpayers! 

Not satisfied with diverting more than $110 million a year to privately owned, but publicly funded, charter school companies in Connecticut, the charter school industry is about to make a massive grab for even more public funds via a gimmick called “Money Follows the Child.”

Counting on the support from the ally, Governor Dannel Malloy, the charter school industry is intent on leaving Connecticut public schools will fewer resources and Connecticut residents with higher tax bills.

In her latest commentary piece entitled, Charter lobby chases cut of public funds, and first published in the Stamford Advocate, public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, lays out the issue.

As soon as Connecticut’s school funding decision in the CCJEF case was rendered, charter lobbyists in Connecticut began salivating at the prospect of using their political influence to craft a new school funding system that would benefit charter schools. Families for Excellent schools planned a rally for “fair funding” for charter schools and ConnCAN kicked its propaganda machine into high gear with polls and statements about the horrors of inequitable funding in Connecticut. The case is now on appeal, but the charter lobby is pressing its agenda now.

The embrace of the CCJEF decision by the charter lobby was extremely disingenuous, given that since the case was filed in 2005, neither ConnCAN nor any of the charter advocates even acknowledged the existence of CCJEF.

CCJEF was never about funding privately managed charter schools serving 1 percent of Connecticut students. The CCJEF plaintiffs seek adequate and equitable funding for the vast majority of children who attend Connecticut’s public schools — particularly in Connecticut’s poorest school districts.

However, ConnCAN, Families for Excellent Schools and Northeast Charter Network now see their opportunity to use the language of equity to serve their interests.

If you think it is illogical to call diverting public money intended for poor school districts serving the many to privately managed schools that serve the few “equity,” you are not alone.

In a growing body of case law, courts across the country are rejecting attempts to use their state constitutions to obtain equal funding for charter schools.

The most recent loss was suffered this month in New York by Northeast Charter Network — a well-funded lobby active in Connecticut — where an appellate court dismissed its attempt to get equal facilities funding for charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester.

New York’s decision is consistent with decisions in Arizona and New Jersey, where charter advocates sued for equal funding, and in Massachusetts, where charter advocates attempted to force the state to lift the charter cap. Washington State’s Supreme Court also ruled that charter schools are not entitled to equal funding, though on different grounds.

Charter advocates used similar arguments in these cases. They claimed that poor school districts have low student outcomes, so if a child chooses to go to a charter school they claim has better outcomes, that charter school has the right to equal funding.

In deciding these cases, courts have exposed the claims of charter schools as being at odds with the nature and purpose of the constitutional right to an adequate education.

First and foremost, these courts point out, charter schools do not have a constitutional right to anything. State constitutions protect children, not schools.

Choice is not a constitutional right, either. As the Massachusetts court explained, while the state must educate all children, there is no “constitutional right to choose a particular flavor of education.” Charters are the prime example of how school “choice” undermines constitutional notions of equality, as they often increase segregation, fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and other vulnerable children, and impose disproportionately harsh discipline on children of color.

The courts also note that while a state must adequately fund public education, there is no right to two parallel public school systems. They ruled that if a child can attend a district public school that is fully funded, then her right to an education is sufficiently safeguarded.

The courts emphasize that if the public school is not fully funded, the solution is certainly not to divert public funds to a charter school. As the New York court observed, funneling public dollars into a charter school is inconsistent with the State’s constitutional obligation, because “to divert public education funds away from the traditional public schools and toward charter schools would benefit a select few at the expense of” the majority of students in public schools.

These courts also note that charter schools are not like public schools. They are exempt from requirements that traditional public schools must follow. Most notably, they do not have to serve all children in a district nor provide all programs that public schools must provide. They were always envisioned as transitory, and can have their charter revoked if authorizing agencies conduct proper oversight.

Connecticut must reform its school funding system. But it cannot be misled by the charter lobby’s warped “save a few, forget the rest” mentality. Our leaders must ensure a well-funded public school system that serves all children, no matter what their needs. True equity means an adequate education for all.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-lobby-chases-cut-of-public-10594980.php

Speaking out for decoupling Common Core testing from the teacher evaluation process

In 2012, Governor Dannel Malloy’s “Education Reform” initiative included a destructive provision requiring that 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be dependent on how well students did on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme, despite the fact that every major academic study across the nation has proven that standardized test scores are not a proper, accurate or even useful tool for measuring a particular teacher’s effectiveness.

Over the past four years, the Malloy administration, in conjunction with the testing industry and the corporate funded “education reform” front groups, have spent thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying legislators to keep Malloy’s irresponsible teacher evaluation program unchanged rather than adopt one that uses criteria that actually determines whether a teacher is or is not doing a satisfactory job in the classroom.

On March 7, 2016 one of the bills that the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on was  Senate Bill 380, AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCLUSION OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE RESULTS ON THE MASTERY EXAMINATION FROM TEACHER EVALUATIONS.  The bill would “exclude student performance data on the Smarter Balanced Assessment from teacher performance evaluations.”

Among those speaking in favor of decoupling student’s standardized testing scores from the teacher evaluation process was Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice.

As a result of Superintendent Scarice’s leadership, the democratically elected members of the Madison School board, with the participation of teachers, parents and the community, developed a model teacher evaluation system that did not include the use of standardized tests scores.

However, rather than embrace a teacher evaluation program based on best practices, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education torpedoed the proposal.

Superintendent Scarice used his testimony at the Education Committee Public Hearing to lay out the reality about why the SBAC Common Core test is not an appropriate measure for evaluating teachers.

While Scarice’s testimony was short in length, its honest approach to the issue was in stark contrast to the “know-nothing” approach being spewed by the corporate education reform industry, their lobbyists and their allies.

Legislators, along with parents, teachers and Connecticut citizens should take the time to watch Superintendent Scarice’s testimony which can be found via the following link:

Video Testimony by Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice

http://ct-n.com/ctnplayer.asp?odID=12572&jump=7:42:53

Look Out Parents – Malloy’s State Department of Education is ramping up Pro-Common Core Testing Campaign

If you weren’t at the “Special” Sherman Board of Education meeting last Thursday you missed the “show.”

Big Brother is Watching and Big Brother is not Happy!

As Connecticut is swamped by yet another state budget crisis and Democrat Governor Dannel Malloy unilaterally makes deep cuts to some of State Government’s most vital services, the Governor’s Education Commissioner is finding the resources to engage in a campaign to persuade parents that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scheme is good and they should not be opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory tests.

Last week began with the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner, Ellen Cohn, telling school superintendents that “correction action plans” will be implemented in towns where too many parents opted their children out the tests and that the Malloy administration would be mobilizing to “help educate” parents and communities where parents had stood up against the SBAC testing program.

Later in the week, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Diane Wentzell, focused the state’s bullseye on the small town of Sherman, Connecticut with its 380 or so elementary school students.

Although Malloy and the Department of Education spent nearly two years lying and misleading Connecticut parents about their fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing madness, nearly half of the students in Sherman’s school were opted out of the SBAC testing last spring, making it the elementary school with the highest opt out rates in the state and among Connecticut’s 25 top schools when it came to the percent of students being opted out.

The notion that parents understand that Common Core SBAC testing is undermining public education was just too much for the State to handle and last Thursday, after communications that the State Department of Education has yet to release a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Sherman Board of Education held a “special meeting” to “focus solely on a presentation to the Board of Education by our superintendent, Don Fiftal, and a panel of educational experts to provide direct and up-to-date information about the Connecticut Common Core Standards and the SBAC Assessments.”

Headlining the panel was Commissioner Dianna Wentzell and the Chief Counsel for the Connecticut Boards of Education and former State Board of Education member, Patrice McCarthy, as well as others.  Wentzell and McCarthy are among the state’s strongest proponents of the Common Core, Common Core testing and Governor Malloy’s other “education reforms.”

The “panel” to “educate” Sherman about the Common Core tests did not include an opponent of the testing mandate and parents and public education advocates from out-of-town were instructed that they were not allowed to speak or ask questions at the “special meeting.”

With no mass media coverage of the event in Sherman, Connecticut parents might never have even known about the Malloy’s administration growing PR campaign in favor of the SBAC tests, but thankfully a number of public education advocates attended the meeting and in a piece entitled, “A Different Perspective on the 9/24/15 Sherman “Special” BOE Meeting,” Jack Bestor, a recently retired and award winning school psychologist who worked for 41 years with students, parents, and teachers in the Westport Public Schools has provided us with a summary of what the authorities said in Sherman last week.

In addition to receiving the CT Association of School Psychologists Life-Time Achievement Award, Jack Bestor has written numerous commentary pieces about the dangers associated with corporate education reform for the CT Mirror, CT Newsjunkie and Wait, What?  Bestor also wrote an opinion piece in the March/April 2014 NASP Communique (the newspaper of the National Association of School Psychologists) entitled: “Common Core Standards Do Not Serve the Educational Needs of Children.”

A Different Perspective on the 9/24/15 Sherman “Special” BOE Meeting.  By Jack Bestor

The Sherman BOE did itself and the citizens of Sherman a huge disservice at its “special meeting” on September 24, 2015, to discuss the recent SBAC test results.  In the bucolic atmosphere of this beautiful country town on the western edge of the State, all the Governor’s horses and all the Governor’s men (and women) assembled to present a one-sided view on the many attributes of the Common Core and the improved new-generation, computer-adaptive SBAC test.  Or, so their propaganda would suggest.

In a highly controlled informational meeting, it was made clear from the beginning that only Sherman residents would be allowed to speak.  As a result, the BOE and public in attendance were presented with lengthy series of misleading statements that were marked by their omissions, partial truths that were delivered with a smile and disarming reassurance.  The State Education Commissioner (Dr. Dianna Wentzell), RÈSC (Regional Educational Service Center) administrator, and an attorney from CABE (CT Association of Boards of Education) – all steadfast promoters of the education reform agenda in CT – were joined on a panel by two district administrators and a classroom teacher, moderated by the district school Superintendent.  Since a large percentage (48% overall, 57% of middle school group, the largest percentage in the State) of Sherman students across this small district refused to take last Spring’s SBAC test, it was incumbent on the State Department of Education to convince the parents of these students and the older students themselves that they should comply with federal test accountability requirements.  Their presentation was startlingly disingenuous: never referencing the nationwide controversy associated with this testing, misleading those listening as to transparency of privacy policies, and implying that there could be serious financial consequences for future test refusals.

The series of prepared questions presented by the Superintendent to the “expert panel” included how to explain the newly-named CT Core Standards and how they would be evaluated; the legal grounds of local BOEs relative to test compliance mandates; what was the “actual origin” of the Common Core Standards; who stands to profit from testing; and what about privacy and data-mining.  The panelists responded with partial truths that displayed their compliant acceptance of the unsubstantiated underlying premises promoted by the education reform industry.  In claiming that the Common Core was developed by thousands of persons (though admittedly “not enough K-3 representation”), Dr. Wentzell misrepresented the universal understanding of the test industry’s lead role in developing the Standards, after all, that’s “not unusual in Standards development actually” she said.   Further claiming that the SBAC tests were developed with hundreds of CT educators working with the SBAC development team was undoubtedly exaggerated.  Fortunately, she did not attempt to claim the SBAC test results as “valid, reliable, and fair” as she had told the school superintendents in August.  She must have received the memo that such a claim had been thrown out by a Missouri judge in a Summary Judgment against the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.

Soon thereafter, the attorney for CABE advised the Sherman BOE that there was no legal requirement to implement the Common Core Standards, although she claimed the majority of local districts found the Standards appropriate and were implementing them.  The testing requirement, however, was a federal mandate demanding that the State administer an “approved exam” to 95% of all public school students.  The implication was that, although students would be tested on the Common Core Standards, a BOE would not have to adopt those standards.  Don’t need to adopt, but if your students perform poorly, the district could be taken over by the State.  Definitely a Catch-22.   Bottom line, even though there is technically no State-required curriculum because those are “local decisions”, there is certainly pressure on BOEs and school administrators to comply.

As the evening wore on, the State Department representatives and the local educators did their best to re-assure the BOE and audience that their students were protected and well-served.  The district curricula specialist repeated the established “talking point” that the test score is “only one small part” of a student’s performance profile.  The local school personnel were, as would be expected, very positive about new curricular initiatives, the technological support provided during test administration, and the “relaxed atmosphere” in which the students took the untimed, computer adaptive SBAC test.  No mention of the psychometric inadequacies of the SBAC or whether it even measures what the test company (for confusion’s sake, let’s call it a consortium) claims to measure.

A more tricky discussion ensued on student privacy and possible data-mining.  Dr. Wentzell indicated that the CT student data system is no different than it had been during CMT administrations which may well be true, but doesn’t really answer the question or reflect the need for any adjustments relative to increased technological capabilities and expectations.  She went on to say that – in her opinion – the State Department is “extremely conservative” in protecting data privacy, even “more so than is required by law” she reported.  Of course, that is because there is no law protecting student data privacy in CT.  The presiding attorney indicated that, in CT, students had “double protection” by “specific statutory language” and because student data is “not public information under FOI” [Freedom of Information Act].  Without saying it, they both seemed to feel that adequate protections were in place despite no changes since the CMT days relative to today’s highly “hacked” technological climate.  They admitted that, though they felt confident SBAC test results could not be data-mined, schools and parents had to be careful in protecting students from many other software programs that did not have such protections.

As for teacher evaluations tied to student test results, the state does not require a certain percentage at this time, but that does not mean local districts can’t require it if they so choose.  For now, the federal government has “delayed that requirement”, but we will have to wait on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) re-authorization – currently known as No Child Left Behind – before  we will know how to move forward.  “Teachers can trust us,” stated a local administrator.  No discussion of the research-based inadequacies of the widely discredited VAM (value-added model) algorithms.  No professional opinions put forth.  Implication is that, if required to comply, we will certainly acquiesce.

When asked about potential consequences of a low participation rate, Dr. Wentzell expressed relief that the State average met the 95% federal requirement.  Her presence was intended to convince parents to allow their students to take the SBAC test next year.  Although the Superintendent informed Sherman residents that this meeting was intended to educate the BOE, Dr. Wentzell addressed the audience all night.  She implied that a “pattern of low participation” could result in withholding of Title 1 funding.  She did not, however, tell parents that they could not refuse to have their children take the test; she simply did not address the issue.

As designed, public participation was limited to three minutes for Sherman residents only.  First up, a school administrator from a neighboring district sang the praises of the Common Core Standards and the aligned testing.  A resident asked about upcoming 11th-grade use of the SAT and the panel was unwilling to inform the audience that David Coleman, the renowned “architect of the Common Core Standards”, was now leading the College Board which oversees not only the newly-designed SAT, but all Advanced Placement tests, the PSAT/NMSQT (for qualifying as a National Merit Scholar), the traditional PSAT, and more.  He had been hired, of course, to improve the College Board’s diminishing market share as more and more colleges and universities are no longer requiring test information because they know it is least revealing of how a student will perform in college.  As so eloquently expressed in the movie All the Presidents Men: “Follow the money” … just follow the money, folks, it bears repeating.   A student from neighboring New Milford High School was allowed to speak on behalf of her Sherman classmates and expressed the frustration that students were having with instructional lessons geared toward telling them what to think rather than encouraging them to think for themselves.  Another parent asked specifically about the loss of privacy protections; she had been particularly alarmed to learn that parents were unaware “that twenty-two private companies as subcontractors to AIR” (American Institutes of Research) had access to “enormous amounts of student data” without parental notification or disclosure.  Even though Dr. Wentzell attempted to refute that point, it is truly hard to know where the truth lies on these contentious issues, but clearly the bully pulpit belonged to the forces of education reform this evening.

Partial Truths.  Half Truths. Three-quarter Truths.  No Truth.  Who is to say?  The whole truth was not in evidence tonight.  Good people, informed people can disagree.  However, it seems to me that those professionals charged with leading our State educators and elected BOE members should give all sides of such a contentious debate, not simply sell a predetermined message.  No mention of the raging controversy surrounding the SBAC test.  Not the kind of professional leadership I expect from my State education leaders.  Lots said, more left out.  Their disingenuousness lies in what was not said.  Sad night for full and honest disclosure.  Hopefully their mission was not accomplished.

Since the courageous parents and students of the Sherman Public Schools pushed-back against the unproven and invalid SBAC tests in ways comparable to our determined ancestors at Lexington and Concord 240 years ago, the proverbial shots have been heard around the State.  As government forces double-down by misleading, exaggerating, and blindly promoting misguided public policies, think biblically of David against Goliath, think cinematically of Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader and the Evil Empire.  Our history abounds with examples of individual’s protecting their rights for freedom and liberty against the forces of greed, corruption, and the arrogance of entrenched power.

Here is a prime example of why the Common Core is just plain wrong

As has been noted here on at Wait, What? on a regular basis, there is nothing inherently wrong with seeking to improve academic standards and phasing in greater expectations for our children’s educational achievement.

While the fundamental concept of local control remains critically important, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with seeking to align standards across political boundaries so that all of the nation’s children are provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to live their lives to the fullest and be capable of becoming active participants in our egalitarian society.

What is unproductive, even immoral, is to promote the notion that we can increase academic achievement without recognizing that the greatest barriers to academic success are poverty, language challenges and a failure to provide the extra or special educational services that individual child need in order to grow and prosper.

The Corporate Education Reform Industry and its allies like Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama, along with Governors including Connecticut Democrat Dannel Malloy, New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo and former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush, would have us believe that the Common Core and the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme will produce a better educated citizenry, or at least one that will be more “college and career ready.”

But of course, the more we learn about the Common Core and its related Common Core testing system the clearer it gets that the path they are promoting is leading us quickly and steadily away from what our children need and deserve in order to be prepared to face the challenges of today’s world.

The nation’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, along with a host of teachers, parents, academics and public education advocates have been heroic in their efforts to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry and its truly un-American political agenda.

Today Diane Ravitch posted a series of article on her blog that highlight the very problem associated with the Common Core and Common Core Testing.  If you don’t read Diane’s blog you are missing out.  It can be found at http://dianeravitch.net/.

In one post Diane reports on a piece by fellow education blogger Peter Greene who responds to the Common Core’s requirement that:

“All students must demonstrate the ability to read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding by the last day of kindergarten.”

Peter Greene takes on the Common Core proponents by saying

“There is a world of difference between saying, “It’s a good idea for children to proceed as quickly as they can toward reading skills” and “All students must demonstrate the ability to read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding by the last day of kindergarten.”

“The development of reading skills, like the development of speech, height, weight, hair and potty training, is a developmental landmark that each child will reach on his or her own schedule.

“We would like all children to grow up to be tall and strong. It does not automatically follow that we should therefore set a height standard that all children must meet by their fifth birthday– especially if we are going to label all those who come up short as failures or slow or developmentally disabled, and then use those labels in turn to label their schools and their teachers failures as well. These standards demand that students develop at a time we’ve set for them. Trying to force, pressure and coerce them to mature or grow or develop sooner so that they don’t “fail”– how can that be a benefit to the child.

“And these are five year olds in kindergarten. On top of the developmental differences that naturally occur among baby humans, we’ve also got the arbitrary age requirements of the kindergarten system itself, meaning that there can be as much as a six-month age difference (10% of their lives so far) between the students.”

Peter Greene goes on to note,

“Children’s development is highly variable, making it impossible to set a hard and fast deadline, such as, they must be able to read at the end of kindergarten. My own children learned to read before they started kindergarten (I read to them and with them daily), but others in their class started reading in first grade; a few became readers as late as second grade.”

And as someone who also read to their children on a daily basis from their earliest days, I can certainly attest to the notion that the developmental issues related to become readers is highly variable.  Both of my daughters excelled at comprehension at an early age but neither became “successful” readers until first grade, at best.

In my younger daughter’s kindergarten class, one of her best friends was actually eight months younger than she was.  I don’t know whether her friend was able to read by the end of kindergarten or not, but both are now in high school and their grades and test scores define them as being extremely academically “successful.”

In the real world, there is simply no useful place for a Common Core Standard that requires that, “All students must demonstrate the ability to read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding by the last day of kindergarten.”

But equally bad, or perhaps even worse, is the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s insistence that the only way to determine who is winning and who is losing is through a system of unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Cores standardized tests.

Diane Ravitch raises this very issue in a second post which begins by noting,

“High-stakes testing has reached down into kindergarten, where it is developmentally inappropriate. Kindergarten is supposed to be the children’s garden. It is supposed to be a time for learning to socialize with others, to work and play with others, to engage in imaginative activities, to plan with building blocks and games. It is a time when little children learn letters and numbers as part of their activities. They listen as the teacher reads stories, and they want to learn to read.

But in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, kindergarten has changed. Little children must be tested. The great data monster needs data. How can their teachers be evaluated if there are no standardized tests and no data?”

Ravitch then introduces us to an article in Slate by Alexandria Neason where she describes the kindergarten classroom of Molly Mansel, a New Orleans teacher.

Remember this is kindergarten – 4 and 5 year olds!

“Mansel’s students started taking tests just three weeks into the 2014–15 school year. They began with a state-required early childhood exam in August, which covered everything from basic math to letter identification. Mansel estimates that it took between four and five weeks for the teachers to test all 58 kindergarten students—and that was with the help of the prekindergarten team. The test requires an adult to sit individually with each student, reading questions and asking them to perform various tasks. The test is 11 pages long and “it’s very time-consuming,” according to Mansel, who is 24 and in her third year of teaching (her first in kindergarten).

The rest of the demanding testing schedule involves repeated administrations of two different school-mandated tests. The first, Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, is used to measure how students are doing compared with their peers nationally—and to evaluate teachers’ performance. The students take the test in both reading and math three times a year. They have about an hour to complete the test, and slower test takers are pulled from class to finish.

The second test, called Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress, or STEP, is a literacy assessment that measures and ranks children’s progress as they learn letters, words, sentences, and, eventually, how to read. Mansel gives the test individually to students four times throughout the year. It takes several days to administer as Mansel progresses through a series of tasks: asking the students to write their names, to point to uppercase and lowercase versions of letters, and to identify words that rhyme, for example.

Although more informal, the students also take about four quizzes per week in writing, English, math, science, and social studies. The school’s other kindergarten teacher designs most of the quizzes, which might ask students to draw a picture describing what they learned, or write about it in a journal.

“By the end of the school year, Mansel estimates that she’ll have lost about 95 hours of class time to test administration—a number inconceivable to her when she reflects on her own kindergarten experience. She doesn’t remember taking any tests at all until she was in at least second grade. And she’s probably right.”

Whoever made this happen should be arrested for child abuse and theft of childhood.

And if there is anyone who thinks this doesn’t or can’t happen here in Connecticut…Watch for the Wait,What? series of articles this week reporting on the testing madness associated with Governor Malloy’s K-3 reading mandates.

The Common Core, Common Core testing program and the related efforts to “reform education” are turning our schools into little more than testing factories.  These forces are on track to undermine and destroy Connecticut’s public schools.

Every parent should consider taking immediately steps to protect their children from this inappropriate, unfair and discriminatory testing system.

For parents with children in grades 3-8 and 11 that starts by opting them out of the Common Core SBAC tests.

For parents with younger children, it means telling their local superintendent and board of education that they must take immediate steps to distance schools from the harmful effects of the testing and assessment frenzy.

For a draft opt out letter click on: Sample opt out letter for Connecticut parents

Time for CT Boards of Education to step up as San Diego School Board Votes 5-0 to End Annual Testing mandate

At a meeting this past Tuesday (February 10, 2015) the Board of Education for the San Diego Unified School District voted 5-0 in favor of a resolution urging Congress to eliminate the federal mandate that schools be required to conduct annual standardized testing.  (See resolution below)

As Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate, noted on one of her blog posts today, “one of the crucial elements in the grassroots movement to roll back the tide of high-stakes testing started in Texas, when school board after school board voted to oppose high-stakes testing, and eventually more than 80% of the state’s school boards voted against high-stakes testing.”

In New York State, entire school districts are saying no to the Common Core Testing Scheme…

But in Connecticut, except for a handful of courageous superintendents, principals and school board members, the very individuals who should be fighting to protect our children from the discriminatory, unfair and inappropriate Common Core testing madness remain silent despite the growing recognition that the Corporate Education Reform Industry, with the support of elected officials like Governor Dannel Malloy, are turning our public schools into little more than testing factories.

Instead of fighting on behalf of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) are actually working hand-in-glove with the corporate education reform industry to move public policy in exactly the wrong direction.

Examine CABE’s 2015 Legislative Priorities and you won’t find a single word of opposition to the testing frenzy that  is undermining public education or any comment whatsoever that it is absolutely wrong that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test is rigged to ensure that up to 70 percent of our children are deemed failures.

And when it comes to CABE and CAPSS’ broader public policy agendas, their position statements concerning the insidious and destructive nature of standardized tests is pitifully weak, if it exists at all.

While the school board in San Diego has stepped up and joined boards, superintendents and principals around the nation in condemning the annual standardized testing system, CABE and CAPPS are busy using their taxpayer-funded budgets in support of their “ Big Six” lobbying agenda.

The “Big Six” is a cheer leading group for the corporate education reform industry and is made up of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

Just last month the “The Big Six” released their Statement of Principles and Policy Recommendations for 2015.

Rather than use that vehicle to speak out about the misuse of standardized testing, CABE and CAPPS signed onto a political agenda that failed to even mention the word testing let alone articulate a position about why the overuse of standardized testing is unfair, discriminatory and is damaging our children and our system of public education.

Rather than aligning themselves with the foes of public education, CABE and CAPPS should be working on behalf of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers by urging superintendents and school boards to do what the San Diego school board did this week and push back against the massive testing requirements and activities at the federal, state and local level.

But their failure to do the right thing shouldn’t stop Connecticut’s local boards of education from standing up and speaking out the travesty being forced upon us by the overuse of standardized testing.

Local board of education can begin to fulfill their duties by adopting a resolution similar to the one passed unanimously by the school board of the San Diego Unified School District on February 10, 2015.

SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

RESOLUTION IN THE MATTER OF SUPPORT TO REMOVE THE ANNUAL TESTING REQUIREMENT FROM THE ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT (ESEA) AND MAKE OTHER MODIFICATIONS AS CONGRESS CONSIDERS REAUTHORIZATION OF ESEA (NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND)

RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,” was due for reauthorization in 2007, and the U.S. Congress has not reached a bipartisan agreement that will ensure passage to streamline existing federal requirements and allow states and local educational agencies to develop and implement policies that will best support students; and

WHEREAS, there are several significant aspects of ESEA that should be amended during the Act’s reauthorization, including the elimination of sanctions and unintended consequences; granting states and local educational agencies greater local flexibility; the elimination of federally mandated, annual standardized testing; and maintaining provisions of ESEA that support its original intent of supporting students with the greatest needs; and

WHEREAS, the nation’s future, social well-being and economic competitiveness relies on a high- quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship, and lifelong learning; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to contribute and thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that high-stakes standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness, and the over-reliance on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing student’s love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, the San Diego Unified Vision 2020, long-term strategic plan, Quality Schools in Every Neighborhood, supports and provides for quality teaching, access to broad and challenging curriculum for all students, closing the achievement gap with high expectations for all, and is committed to using multiple formative measures of success that go beyond standardized achievement tests; and

WHEREAS, the ESEA Discussion Draft repeals the long-standing Title I Maintenance of Effort (MOE) and the Title IX General Provisions MOE requirement, and without them, state and local education funding could be lowered by states with no consequences to the state’s ongoing receipt of federal aid; and

WHEREAS, the ESEA Discussion Draft freezes funding for reauthorized programs for Fiscal Year 2016 through Fiscal Year 2021, eroding the investment of federal funding for public education that would result in reductions in services to student subgroups that require additional investments and support systems, including low-income, English learners, and students of color; and

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District calls on the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” eliminate the federally- mandated, annual testing requirement in each of Grades 3 through 9, and at least once in Grades 9 through 12; promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability; and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District calls on the U.S. Congress to reinstate the current Maintenance of Effort requirements in ESEA to protect the integrity and benefits of federal ESEA programs; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District supports a ESEA reauthorization bill that provides states and local educational agencies with additional flexibility to design their own accountability systems, including how states identify schools that are under-performing and determine appropriate interventions or technical assistance to support student growth and achievement, and support the use of multiple measures and growth models of academic achievement that reflect a well-rounded education necessary for success in the 21st century; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District supports a ESEA reauthorization bill that provides school districts the flexibility and resources needed to respond to the educational challenges in local communities, and provides greater local flexibility in the use of ESEA funding for Titles I, II and III as states and school districts are in the best position to make spending decisions to facilitate local innovation and student achievement, without placing undue burdens on districts that would adversely impact effective governance; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District supports an ESEA reauthorization bill that eliminates the inflexible sanctions and prescriptive actions that currently result in more schools being identified as Program Improvement if one or more student subgroup misses Annual Yearly Progress, as without the sanctions, districts would have more flexibility to use Title I funds to develop and/or implement programs and services that have evidence of improving student outcomes and advancing academic progress of all student subgroups; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District calls on the U.S. Congress to remove the funding freeze for reauthorized ESEA programs that would severely cut services over the next six years, and urges the passage of a modernized version of ESEA that is fully supported by federal investments in Title I, which has been woefully underfunded for decades.

Adopted and approved by the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District at the regular meeting held on the 10th day of February 2015.

When THEY say “personalized learning” it is time to be afraid, very afraid

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) are among the most vocal Connecticut champions of the Common Core and the unfair, discriminatory and expensive Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Although the three organizations are funded primarily from local taxpayer funds and are supposed to be advocating for local public schools, all three have spent the last three years lobbying for Governor Malloy’s restrictive, centralized and top-down Corporate Education Reform Industry agenda… An agenda that undermines local control of education, seeks to limit the rights of parents, denigrates teachers and turns Connecticut’s public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories.

In fact, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), perhaps more than any other entity in Connecticut other than the Malloy administration itself, has been promoting the “big lie” that parents cannot opt their children out of the absurd Common Core SBAC tests.

But yesterday, in a moment of supreme – (ah) – irony – representatives of these three entities held a press conference at the Legislative Office Building to announce that the solution to Connecticut’s educational achievement gap is “personalized learning.”

And what pray-tell is “personalized learning?’

Thanks to an article in CTNewsJunkie entitled, “Education Organizations Tout ‘Personalized’ Learning,” we learn that according to the representative of the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), personalized learning is,

“recognizing that all children learn differently and it’s about helping them learn the way they learn best. For example, if a grade schooler is interested in dinosaurs, it’s giving him an assignment related to dinosaurs that allows him to demonstrate his abilities.”

Now who would have ever thought of that idea?????

And the director of the Superintendent’s organization added, “Everybody wants to have the time they need to learn something and everybody wants to be taught in the way that they learn.”

Truer words have never been spoken, but the concept of true personalized learning is about as far from the Common Core and Common Core SBAC testing system as one can get.

And as if to prove the hypocrisy of their commitment to true personalized learning, the “White Paper” the group of Common Core advocates released reiterated their support for Governor Malloy’s inappropriate Teacher Evaluation System, a system that relies on the test results of the unfair and discriminatory Common Core SBAC Test.

Out of one side of their mouths the education reformers claimed they were holding their press conference to promote a more individualized approach to learning, while out of the other side of their mouths they were re-dedicating themselves to a teacher evaluation system that seeks to rank order teachers based on a Common Core SBAC test program that is purposely designed to make sure that 6 in 10 children are deemed failures.

So what exactly is this concept of “personalized learning” that these education reformers are talking about?

Interestingly, not one of the spokespeople at the press conference explained what “personalized learning” really means in today’s world of education reform.

The harsh reality is that “personalized learning” has become a buzzword of the corporate education reformer industry.

About four years ago media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced that he was splitting his massive multi-national corporation into two pieces.

One company would seek to continue to buy up and dominate the world’s mainstream media outlets and the other would focus on what Murdoch famously described as the $500 billion untapped market called America’s Public Education System.

To head the new operation, Murdoch hired Joel Klein, the former NYC Education Chancellor who had done so much damage to New York City’s public schools.

They named their new company Amplify and claimed that it would serve as the foundation for a new education system based on “personalized learning.”

As reported at the time, the new company was developed around the concept of the Amplify tablet, a mini-computer that would provide students from kindergarten through the 12th grade with “personalized learning.”

According to the company’s marketing propaganda Amplify would serve as a “student’s centralized education hub.”

Amplify and its products would not only take the place of textbooks but it would also provide games, simulations, “and even a curated library tailored to each student.”

In an interview with WiredAcademic.com in 2013, Joel Klein laid out the fundamental concepts behind Amplify and their strategy of promoting “personalized learning.”

As the article explained,

“These tablets come pre-loaded with curriculum from Amplify, the education company Klein leads. The company wants every student in every K-12 school to use a tablet. It also provides data services to schools to help them track student progress in coursework.

Many school districts that have the money and will to buy tablets for students are currently buying iPads from Apple or Android devices, which they customize for their students. Amplify says it has created a more education-focused tablet than tech rivals such as Apple or Google are currently offering.

“We work with special development people who work with teachers hand in glove,” Klein said, noting that his company sold 20,000 devices to schools in Guilford County, NC, rolling out a system there this Fall. Amplify has also piloted the tablets with a dozen school districts. “It’s about the software we are putting on there that makes this a really optimal learning platform.”

[…]

At the same time, Murdoch hopes Amplify buoys News Corp.’s journalistic holdings such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post by creating a hybrid news and education business model on par with Pearson PLC, which owns The Financial Times, and The Washington Post Co., which owns education company Kaplan (but recently sold the namesake Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos).

Klein says Amplify’s strategy fits in well with the newly launched Common Core education standards that are going into use in more than 40 states. They “enable you to align your curriculum across the country,” he said. “Because we don’t have a legacy publishing business, we can align our curriculum right away with the Common Core. It gives us an advantage.”

We asked him his views on some states such as Indiana that are bucking against the Common Core and whether that could potentially set back his business. “I don’t think it is consequential. Some states might come off the Common Core… There were never 100% that were part of the Common Core (there were 45 state to begin with). Most states that aren’t on the Common Core may still require the curriculum we are building,” he said. “You make some differences for Texas. But the students in Texas will want the good curriculum we are developing.”

Klein’s impact on education reform in New York had ripple effects around the country. He’s helped mold and select several new superintendents in other cities ranging from Baltimore to New Orleans. He’s involved with the Broad Center, funded by L.A. billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, which aims (among its other projects) to train and place reform-minded superintendents in the education sector.

[…]

Amplify acquired its way into the education business, buying up Brooklyn-based education data systems Wireless Generation for $360 million in 2010. It also provided professional development training to teachers. Klein hopes to sell news content and educational curriculum on the tablets and to disrupt the textbook market at the same time, posing a huge risk to other large textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, and Pearson, which together have $2.6 billion in annual revenue. “I think the printed textbook should be given a respectful and decent burial,” Klein said, during a recent interview with THE Journal. “I think it should be gone.”

[…]

“It’s not about tech for tech sake,” Klein says, about putting tablets into the hands of every student at every school. “It is about facilitating the learning process. If it doesn’t do that, it is not succeeding. I’ve had teachers in many places who say kids who were not engaged are now engaged and writing on the tablet. It gives them a feeling of responsibility.”

All of this brings us back to The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS).

When they say “personalized learning,” do they mean the “personalized learning” that is being forced upon our children by companies like Amplify, Pearson and the other corporations and corporate executives behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry?

If that is what they are saying, then they need to stand down and back off before they do any more damage to Connecticut’s public schools.

You can read the CTNewsjunkie article about yesterday’s press conference at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/education_organizations_tout_personalized_learning/