Top Utah Republicans join corporate education reform groups to attack anti-Common Core school board candidates

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In May 2016 Utah’s Republican Governor, Gary Herbert, called on the Utah Board of Education to, “move past Common Core standards and get rid of mandatory SAGE testing for high school students.”

Governor Herbert wrote,

“I am asking the State Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Utah Governor’s strong action in opposition to the Common Core standards and its related Common Core testing scheme won him praise from conservatives and educators, but some of the state’s top Republicans are now joining the Utah business community and the state’s corporate education reform allies to try and keep pro-Common Core incumbents on the Utah Board of Education.

Following the loss of some pro-Common Core incumbents during the state’s summer primary, corporate education reform allies are now raising money to defend the remaining pro-Common Core, pro-corporate education reform candidates on the Utah School Board.

Earlier this month, Utah Policy.com, a Utah based political blog reported,

“Get ready for partisan, big money, races for the Utah State School Board…

[…]

[T]the primary race this year caught some GOP leaders off guard, as several well-liked (at least on Capitol Hill) incumbents were beaten June 28.

And now a “last ditch” effort is being made to save a few of the other incumbents as a group of business/reform groups are looking to raise money and set up PACs to help those endangered school board members.

Utah Policy.com added;

Over the weekend a quickly-formed school board candidate fund-raiser was put together by the Utah Technology Council, among others, with House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called in to help raise money for some of the remaining school board incumbents feeling the heat from the Utah Education Association – the main teacher union in the state.

For Hughes it is an old battle – remember the failed private school voucher fight of 2007?

There are eight seats on the Utah School Board this year.  The Utah Education Association, which endorsed Republican Governor Gary Herbert against his Democratic rival Mike Weinholtz, this year, is supporting candidates in six of those races.

Rather than find common ground with the teacher’s union over support for the governor and opposition to the Common Core, the Republican elected officials and corporate education reform advocacy groups are now targeting the union endorsed candidates for defeat, including those that are running on an anti-Common core agenda.

As one Utah based anti-Common Core group posted, Common Core’s Role in Hot State School Board Race,

The State School Board race has never drawn much attention before. But this year, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, businesses and even top-tier elected officials are personally campaigning and fundraising for and against certain candidates.

Yesterday’s headline was: “Niederhauser and Hughes ask Business Leaders to Help Defeat UEA-Backed School Board Candidates“.  Yesterday, too, business organizations such as the Utah Technology Council and the School Improvement Association joined Niederhauser and Hughes in a fundraising webinar that promoted a slate of pro-Common Core candidates who happen to be not favored by or funded by national teacher’s unions.

The anti-common Core blogger added,

“…I don’t understand why these groups have chosen to campaign against both the anti-Common Core candidates as well as against the UEA-backed candidates…

[…]

Nor do I understand why our House Speaker and Senate President don’t see the hypocrisy in speaking against big money buying votes (NEA) while both of them are personally funded by big business money (Education First).

But my bigger questions are: how do the Speaker and the Senate President dare to campaign for Common Core candidates, thus going directly against Governor Herbert’s call to end Common Core alignment in Utah?

How do they dare campaign against the resolution of their own Utah Republican Party that called for the repeal of the Common Core Initiative?

Have they forgotten the reasons that their party is strongly opposed to all that the Common Core Initiative entails?

Have they forgotten Governor Herbert’s letter that called for an end to Common Core and SAGE testing just four months ago? (See letter here.)  For all the talk about wanting to move toward local control and to move against the status quo, this seems odd.

Of course, the answer to the anti-Common Core blogger’s lament is that the Common Core has always had strong support from mainstream Republicans.  In fact, it was George W. Bush’s administration that helped foist the Common Core and Common Core testing program upon the nation.

It should come as no surprise to the education advocates in Utah that even when their Republican governor calls for an end to the Common Core, there will be some top Republican leaders, along with the business community and pro-corporate education reform groups, that would seek to undermine his position.

The sad reality is that when it comes to the federalization and privatization of public education, many Republican and Democratic elected officials have no problem undermining their local students, parents, teachers and public schools.

A back-to-school wish for Connecticut (Guest Post)

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Education advocates Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme were teachers in the Ridgefield Public Schools.  In this commentary piece that first appeared in the Danbury News-Times, they lay out their wish for Connecticut’s public schools.

Connecticut public schools are becoming unrecognizable.

Common Core top-down mandates and pedagogy are ingrained and embedded into the classroom and have infected all our public schools. TheFederal Government and large publishing companies have taken control of our schools, impacting every district in the state. And the taxpayer shouldn’t be fooled by the new “law.”

“The Every Student Succeeds Act” did not do away with the failed Common Core, and does not insure quality education for all our students because of its inflexibility. Common Core still exists in Connecticut, along with the federal government top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates which are destroying public education throughout our country. Connecticut is a state with diverse communities and students. We need to serve all our students.

The Connecticut State Department of Education and our local districts need to take control, decide standards, and write appropriate curriculum now. With the new school year starting, we have a chance to begin fixing the problems and issues facing our public schools. Elected boards of education need to do their homework, and be continuous learners on how to meet the needs of the students in their districts. They need to meet with staff and students, and engage in conversations that will have concrete results and not just rubber-stamp administrative requests. They need to follow the money spent on district initiatives and assessments carefully to be sure their budgets reflect informed decisions.

Our schools do not need more management, mid-level consultants and coaches. This overflow is creating mediocre rigid school systems and infers a lack of confidence in the teaching staff. Schools need administrators who are truly educational leaders who understand the truth about how students learn. They need administrators who care and have the courage and integrity to evaluate and support effective teachers who have the expertise to create a supportive environment for learning, and a commitment to quality education.

Unfortunately, the morale in many districts is low and teachers are uninspired with scripted lessons. Teachers need to sit through redundant professional development seminars trying to reinvent the wheel, and documentaries on what good education looks like in unconventional charter schools. Yet they are locked into rigid scheduling and told that their test scores must be even better. Teaching to the test has become an accepted practice. To reach this testing goal our young children are put into developmentally inappropriate programs with expectations that are known inhibitors to providing a quality education. This defies the research on how young children learn. If this trend continues public education as we know it will be gone.

We need right now a redirection for our schools, where Connecticut educators lead, decide, and create their own developmentally appropriate standards, meeting the diverse needs of the students. This is our wish for the new school year:

  1. Allow high-performing districts to keep the exemplary public schools they have by giving outstanding teachers a voice and the support to bring autonomy back into the classrooms.
  2. Empower at-risk districts to design and choose programs that work for them and meet their needs. We need to increase their funding and add more diverse magnet public schools, regional schools, and vocational technical schools to give students and parents opportunities and choices. Top down Common Core regulations are strangling our inner city schools, not serving at-risk students, and they are suffering the most.
  3. Celebrate excellence and an inventive spirit. Encourage projects that are designed to be knowledge based, hooked to the curriculum and embedding multiple disciplines, including writing, within the classroom structure. They must also make allowances for individual learning styles, opportunities to work alone or in partnerships, and time to share and articulate the research and the projects with classmates.
  4. Promote parent and community partnerships — parents, students and community coming together via conferences, science fairs, productions, apprenticeships, community service, etc.
  5. Get rid of block scheduling which is problematic and limiting especially at the elementary level. It fails all our students, especially those at-risk.
  6. Provide integrated school programs that promote supportive mentorships and long-term connections with students. These programs encourage the development of educational and social values.
  7. Change the current teaching trajectory immediately and begin again to value innovation, creativity, and classroom experience.

In Connecticut, we need a public school system of, by, and for the children it serves. Communities need to be engaged education advocates. Administrators need to stand up and do the right thing for children and teachers.

If we don’t act now, then the 21st Century may prove to be the demise of our Connecticut Public Schools, and a direct route to private and unaccountable charter schools.

You can read and comment on the original commentary piece at: http://www.newstimes.com/opinion/article/Op-ed-A-back-to-school-wish-for-Connecticut-9200717.php

Charter School Industry targets Massachusetts

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A group of billionaires and corporate executives are using a front group called Great Schools Massachusetts and the New York based charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, to pour an unprecedented  amount of money into a campaign to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

According to published reports, the charter school industry is on track to dump up to $18 million into a record-breaking campaign in support of Massachusetts Question 2, a referendum question on this year’s ballot that would effectively lift the legislative mandated cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school, pro-Governor Andrew Cuomo, anti-teacher group has led a series of expensive advocacy campaigns in New York State and Connecticut on behalf of the charter school industry.

Expanding first to Connecticut and then to Massachusetts, Families for Excellent School has become the preferred money pipeline of choice for a group of corporate elite who seek to anonymously fund the effort to privatize public education in the United States.

Thanks to the demise of campaign finance laws at the federal and state level, Families for Excellent Schools can accept unlimited donations from those who profit from or support the rise of charter schools, the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme.

While most of the money flowing into the Massachusetts Question 2 campaign can’t be traced, public documents reveal that a handful of hedge fund managers and corporate executives donated $40,000 each to kick start the campaign aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds from public schools to charter schools.

Most of the key players in the Question 2 operation are directly or indirectly associated with a handful of hedge fund companies including, Bain Capital, the Baupost Group and Highfields Capital Management.

Leading the effort from Bain Capital is Josh Bekenstein, the managing partner at the infamous company.  Bekenstein is a long-time charter supporter having donated massive amounts of money to pro-voucher, anti-teacher, pro-charter school groups including Stand for Children, Teach for America, and the KIPP and Citizen charter school chains.

In addition, Bekenstein has played an instrumental role for both New Profit, Inc. and the NewSchools Venture Fund, two of the major funders behind the charter school movement in Massachusetts and across the nation.

New Profit, Inc.’s “investments” include major donations to underwrite the faux teacher advocacy group called Educators 4 Excellence, which is actually another New York based, anti-union front group.  New Profit, Inc. also funds Achievement First, Inc., a charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Achievement Network and Turnaround for Children, two more pro-charter school lobby and public relations organizations.

Through Bain Capital, and on his own, Bekenstein’s has also helped fund and lead Bright Horizons, yet another charter school chain with operations in multiple states.

Another Bain executive helping to fund Question 2 is Paul Edgerley, Bain Capital’s former managing director.  Edgerley has also donated millions in support of the privatization of public education, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to New Profit, Inc. and Strategic Grant Partners, a Massachusetts based foundation that has been funding the expansion of charter schools and charter school advocacy groups in that state.

Edgerly has also donated heavily to the Excel Academy Charter School system, which is managed by the for-profit National Heritage Academies.

Seth Klarman, President of the Baupost Group is a major Republican campaign donor at national level, and yet another key player in the Massachusetts pro-charter school campaign.  Klarman, who gave in excess of $3 million during the 2014 federal elections cycle, was also a major donor to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee created to benefit Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and ensure Republican control of the New York State Senate.

Klarman has close ties to Eli Broad, serving with the billionaire on the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In addition, Klarman has been a major source of cash for a series of charter schools and pro-charter school sponsors including EdVestors, a Boston-based operation that, in turn, has funneled millions to a variety of charter school chains including the KIPP charter school chain.

Brian Spector, like Klarman, heralds from the Baupost Group and is another major Republican donor.  Spector’s involvement includes a leadership position with The Boston Foundation, an entity that funds a variety of charter schools in Massachusetts including Excel Charter Academy.

Charles Ledley, of Highfields Capital Management, is the groups token Democrat, having served as key donor and operative with Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now and Students for Education Reform, Ledley also provided funding for the successful effort to pass a major anti-teacher evaluation law in New Jersey, a law that requires that teacher evaluations in the Garden State be based on the results their students get on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory common-core standardized tests.

Using Education Reform Now as his funding vehicle, Ledley played a pivotal role in providing the money that Families for Excellent Schools needed to set up its operation in Massachusetts.  In addition to a six figure donation to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Ledley loaned Education Reform Now $250,000 to subsidize Family for Excellent School’s operating expenses in Massachusetts.

In addition to his own involvement in the charter school industry, Ledley’s wife, Rebecca Ledley, served as a board member of Students for Education Reform and the UP Academy Charter School chain.  She was also a director for K12, Inc., the major on-line, for-profit education company that has made millions from the corporate education reform movement.

Another $40,000 contributor to the Question 2 campaign in Massachusetts is Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners.  Like the Boston Foundation, Strategic Grant Partners is a leading pro-charter school foundation that has provided funding to charter schools and advocacy groups supporting charter schools.  The entity has donated to Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, Educators 4 Excellence and Teach for America’s Leadership for Educational Equity.

Jacobson is married to Jonathan Jacobson, the founder of Highfields Capital Management.  She also serves on the board of directors of the Brooke charter schools, a position she shares with Charles Ledley.

Meanwhile, billionaire Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments, also provided a $40,000 check to the Question 2 campaign.   Johnson, yet another major Republican donor, has also donated to a variety of charter schools including the Steppingstone Foundation, which operates College Success Academy. A fellow member of her family, Allison Johnson, serves on the Steppingstone board, while Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners serves on the charter school’s advisory board.

Finally, yet another player in the Question 2 campaign is Paul Severino, , a major Republican donor who also matched the original $40,000 donation to kick off the Question 2 operation.

Together these corporate elite are part of an unprecedented effort to privatize public education at the state level.

Gates funded “independent” media cheers Gates plan to privatize public education in Liberia

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In stunning expose written by Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), it becomes undeniably clear that Bill Gates has reached the point where his billions not only fund the myriad of corporate education reform initiatives that are sweeping the country and the world, but his investment in the media taints much of the coverage of these developments.

In an article entitled, This Guardian Piece Touting Bill Gates’ Education Investment Brought to You by Bill Gates, FAIR’s Adam Johnson explains;

The Guardian (8/31/16) published a broadly positive report on Liberian education, which is handing over the reins of 120 primary schools to a consortium of private education companies and NGOs in a pilot program exploring privatization of the West African nation’s schools. One passage in particular was especially glowing:

The deputy minister [of Education], Aagon Tingba, is reading The Bee Eater, a biography of Michele Rhee, a polarizing educational reformist and former chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools.

“She changed the lives of children in Washington, but people complained her methods were controversial. But she made a difference. So why can’t we do that here?”

What the piece failed to note—other than the fact that Rhee’s tenure left DC’s schools “worse by almost every conceivable measure” (Truthout, 10/23/13)—is that multi-billionaire Bill Gates is both the major investor of the company administering the Liberian education overhaul and the principal of the Gates Foundation, sponsor of the Guardian’s Global Development vertical, where the story appeared.

The story clearly labels the Gates Foundation as its sponsor. What it never mentioned is that Bill Gates is a major investor of the firm at the heart of the story, Bridge Academies International, having pitched in, along with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar, $100 million for the “education startup.”

Making the conflict more glaring is the fact that this is a personal, for-profit investment for Gates, not a charitable donation.

The Guardian claims its Global Development vertical, launched in 2011, is “editorially independent of any sponsorship.” According to its most recent tax filings in 2014, the Gates Foundation has an on-going $5.69 million grant to Guardian News Media Limited.

This is hardly the first time that the Gates subsidized coverage of himself has led to a positive news angle.  Adam Johnson adds,

The Guardian has run other puff pieces on the Gates Foundation in this vertical, such as “Gates Foundation Annual Letter: What Do You Think of Their Vision?” (1/22/15), which is basically an investment letter, along with “Melinda Gates Hits Out at ‘War on Women’ on Eve of Summit” (7/7/12) and “Bill Gates: Digital Learning Will Revolutionize Education in Global South” (1/22/15).

Johnson goes on to point out that,

FAIR has written for years about how Gates’ investment tentacles influence the media. He’s done softball interviews pushing common core with ABC (3/18/14), helped bankroll charter school reporting at the LA Times(8/24/15), funded the talking heads behind Race to the Top (9/1/10).

The Gates Foundation gives grants in the hundreds of thousands and often millions to such media organizations as NBCUniversal, Al Jazeera, BBC, Viacom (CBS) and Participant Media (the producer of pro-charter school documentary Waiting for Superman). Both Gates and the Gates Foundation are sizable shareholders in Comcast, which is the primary investor in Buzzfeed and Vox, as well the parent corporation of MSNBC and NBC News–the latter of which teamed up with Gates and other noted education experts like Exxon and University of Phoenix Online for the week-long charter school commercial “Education Week”.

And Johnson properly concludes;

In the case of the Guardian, Gates effectively owns an entire vertical, so when one of his investments is written up, one doesn’t notice the conflict of interest—like a fish doesn’t notice water. Because his influence is everywhere, it appears to be nowhere.

You can read and comment on Adam Johnson’s entire piece at: http://fair.org/home/this-guardian-piece-touting-bill-gates-education-investment-brought-to-you-by-bill-gates/

FYI – The following is background about Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting;

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints. As an anti-censorship organization, we expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.

You can contribute to FAIR via the following link: https://www.cambeywest.com/subscribe2/?p=EXT&f=donate

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

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With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

The corporate education reform industry “thinking” behind privatization

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Privitization Infor #1

Washington – First mandate annual testing, then allocate $9 Million to reduce the “Assessment Burden.”

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Call it the American Way!

President Obama and a bi-partisan coalition of Republican and Democratic members of Congress used the Every Child Succeeds Act to mandated that no child go untested each and every year, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Common Core standardized testing scheme is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory, not to mention a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars.

But now, in a yet another blatant effort to be as two-faced as possible, the Obama administration has announced a new $9 million “Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant program” to assist states in efforts to “reduce the assessment burden.”

Mandate everyone gets tested, then allocate a few dollars to promote alternatives…

The school technology publication called, The Journal, reports that,

The Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant program is the next step in the president’s action plan to improve the quality of academic assessments.”

The article adds;

The grant program builds on President Obama’s Testing Action Plan released last year. The plan aims to reform redundant standardized tests that are administered too frequently and fail to effectively measure student outcomes. As the next step in the plan, the Enhanced Assessment Instruments grant program, also called the Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAG) program, offers financial support for states to develop and use more effective assessments.

“The President’s Testing Action Plan encourages thoughtful approaches to assessments that will help to restore the balance on testing in America’s classrooms by reducing unnecessary assessments while promoting equity and innovation,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a news release. “This grant competition is the next step as part of that plan, and will help states and districts improve tests to allow for better depiction of student and school progress so that parents, teachers and communities have the vital information they need on academic achievement.”

The press release goes on to inform State education agencies and state education consortiums that;

Applicants that address these program objectives “by producing significant research methodologies products or tools, regarding assessment systems, or assessments,” will be chosen to receive funding for their projects, according to the department’s website.

Applications are available on Aug. 8. Applicants must submit proposals for the EAG competition by Sept. 22 and winners will be announced in January.

Chauk one more up for the greed and deceptiveness of the education testing industry and their corporate education reform allies in and of government.

The Malloy administration’s failed “school turnaround” program

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Since taking office, Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-teacher, anti-public education initiatives have done tremendous damage to Connecticut public education system.  Few governors in the United States have implemented such a short-sighted, mean-spirited and down right stupid approach to education.

Among Malloy’s worst “accomplishments” has been his “school turnaround” program that has undermined the local involvement of students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Not only has the Malloy administration undermined the very people public schools were created to help, his efforts have cut deep into the fabric of Connecticut’s historic system of local control.

In her

latest column, education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the Malloy administration’s failure school turnaround strategies.  In Policy can foster positive relationships for kids, a commentary piece that first appeared in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker writes;

Current education policy focuses on a failed strategy of school and district “turnarounds;” characterized by staff shake-ups and pedagogical practices that focus narrowly on raising test scores. This reform has been the Malloy Administration’s approach to school “improvement” since 2012. The evidence demonstrates that turnarounds produce at best temporary small increases in test scores, but at the high cost of destabilizing schools and communities in the long run.

While policymakers stubbornly pursue this dead end, they ignore evidence from science and educational practice pointing to methods that result in long-lasting improvements in both academic and life outcomes, especially for at-risk children.

A recent article in the science magazine, Mosaic, described a longitudinal study of children in Hawaii that examined why some at-risk children develop significant problems while others do not. The researchers found that for the one-third of at-risk children who did not develop problems, positive relationships, whether in the context of a community or one adult, were key. Even those who engaged in risky behavior as teens were able to turn their lives around with the help of a personal connection.

One of the researchers observed that resilience, often described as a trait, is instead an adaptive process; one that is helped by relationships.

Education reformers misread resilience as a trait they like to call “grit,” and consequently develop misguided policies such as the recent announcement by the federal government that the National Assessment of Educational Progress will create a standardized test to determine whether children have “grit.”

Understanding resilience the way these scientists have come to understand it would lead to a focus on more successful educational policies. Consistent with what science has discovered, it turns out that school programs and policies that promote the development of relationships are the ones that provide long-term educational and life benefits, especially to disadvantaged children.

It stands to reason that school mechanisms promoting a personal connection improve learning as well as social development. Neuroscientists have found that the brain does not recognize a sharp distinction between cognitive, social and motor functions. Consequently, research has shown that feelings of social isolation impair key cognitive abilities involved in learning.

Though they require substantial initial investments, educational policies that foster relationships save money in the long run.

Developmentally-appropriate preschool, with an emphasis on play, enables children to acquire the skills necessary to form healthy relationships. There is near universal consensus that quality preschool benefits children, increasing the chance of graduation, higher earnings, and decreasing placement in special education, involvement in the criminal justice system and the need for other social services. It also can save society as much as $16 for every dollar spent on preschool, by avoiding the costs of these later interventions.

Small class size, which fosters closer relationships between children and their teachers, has been proven to provide similar benefits, increasing graduation rates and earning potential, and decreasing the likelihood and cost to society of risky behavior. Research also shows that increasing class size has detrimental and costly long-term effects on at-risk children.

Now, new evidence from the Colorado Department of Education shows that increasing guidance counselors in secondary schools saved $20 for every dollar spent. Colorado implemented a grant program enabling 255 high schools across the state to hire more counselors and reduce their student-counselor ratio to a ratio of 216:1; a level below the 250:1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselors Association. As a result, the schools’ drop-out rates decreased, saving the state over $319 million dollars.

The program benefited low-income students of color the most. This result is consistent with research examining why students leave high school. As detailed in an earlier column, many students at-risk of dropping out or who have already left high school are more likely to remain or return if they can develop a relationship with a caring adult. Increasing the number of counselors increases the likelihood that at-risk high school students develop a relationship with such an adult.

Preschool, small class size and counselors are among the educational resources the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s pending school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, seek for Connecticut’s most disadvantaged children. Educational programs and services that foster positive relationships are proven to pay off for society, by preventing more costly social and academic interventions later on; and most importantly for our children, by increasing the chance that they develop into capable and productive adults.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Policy-can-foster-positive-9125538.php 

 

Charter School Political Action Committees target Connecticut legislative races

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Look out, here they come again…

Outside groups have begun a campaign to persuade voters in New London and Bridgeport to support Democratic candidates committed to diverting even more scarce public funds to privately owned and operated charter schools.

As a result of Governor Malloy’s budget and corporate education reform agenda, while Connecticut public school students, teachers and schools are reeling from their deepest cuts in state history, charter school companies in the state will collect more than $110 million from Connecticut taxpayers, this year.

A massive amount of money considering these entities refuse to educate their fair share of students who face English Language challenges, children who need special education services, and students who have disciplinary issues.

But these schools simply aren’t satisfied with skimming off more than $110 million that should be going to help fund public schools and keep a lid on property taxes.  Charter schools want more and now they are trying to buy up candidates who will be loyal to their cause.

A national, pro-charter school, anti-teacher, corporate-funded group called Democrats for Education Reform has formed a new political action committee in Connecticut called Change Course CT.

Another New York based pro-charter group called Northeast Charter Schools Network has formed a second political action committee in Connecticut called Charters Care.

And these two big money groups are coming into Connecticut to add even more fire power to the existing pro-charter, anti-teacher groups that are already trying to influence public policy and elections.  ConnCAN, New York based Families for Excellent Schools and their political action committee, Connecticut Forward, are only three of a growing number of groups that are spending millions of dollars to persuade Connecticut legislators and candidates to turn their backs on Connecticut’s real public schools.

According to the CT Mirror’s story entitled, Charter school advocates playing in General Assembly primaries;

Change Course CT, a PAC associated with Democrats for Education Reform, a national group Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addressed during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week, has polled voters on two primaries in Bridgeport and one in New London.

“We just want to know what the dynamics of the races are,” said Amy Selib Dowell, the Connecticut director of Democrats for Education Reform.

She declined to say what they are doing with the polling data gathered in three districts: the 39th House, where Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London is challenged by Chris Soto; the 23rd Senate, where Sen. Ed Gomes of Bridgeport is challenged by Dennis Bradley; and the 126th House, where Rep. Charlie L. Stallworth of Bridgeport is challenged by Maria Pereira.

Charters Care is spending their money on “literature and T-shirts promoting Stallworth over Pereira, an outspoken opponent of charter schools, and Rep. Terry Adams of Bridgeport over Dan Dauplaise.”

As noted, these pro-charter groups are closely aligned to Governor Dannel Malloy’s and his anti-public school agenda.  The groups have spent more than $9 million lobbying Connecticut public officials since Malloy rolled out his corporate education reform agenda in 2012.

The timing could not be more suspicious.

Malloy may be on his way out, but one of his key life lines for his aspirations in Washington D.C. is the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies.

Or, as the CT Mirror noted;

Malloy, the co-chair of the DNC’s Platform Committee, was a featured speaker at a Democrats for Education Reform event in Philadelphia…”

“Payment” to be collected later…

For additional background on these groups and their antics in Connecticut read the following Wait, What? posts;

Connecticut Charter School Industry spends another half a million dollars on lobbying elected officials

The Bevy of Billionaires undermining public education

Charter School Industry “invests” more than $9 million in Connecticut lobbying

Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers by Ann Policelli Cronin 

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Educator, public education advocate and fellow education blogger takes on the notion that the Common Core is good for children in her blog entitled, P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers.  She writes;

The New York Times, whose writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published, ”The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Error, pointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them.

I would like to add a P.S.

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences.

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.

You can read and comment on her commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/07/29/p-s-how-the-common-core-hurts-kids-as-readers-and-writers/

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator. She currently is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education.

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