Politicians pushing corporate education reform should be ashamed

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In her latest blog post, Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate provides us with yet another reminder about why politicians like Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy should should be ashamed of what he has done to our public school teachers and our public schools…

Florida Teacher Donates $400 Bonus to NPE to Fight VAM and Ither Failed Reforms!

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

In Florida, as in Connecticut, politicians have tied teacher evaluation programs to standardized test scores and inappropriate and fault assessment schemes.

Take a moment to read the Florida teacher’s story because it is system that is pretty similar to one Governor Malloy pushed through here in Connecticut.  In fact, a strong argument could be made that the Connecticut’s system is even worse.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/12/03/a-value-added-travesty-for-an-award-winning-teacher/

Here’s the crazy story of Kim Cook, a teacher at Irby Elementary, a K-2 school which feeds into Alachua Elementary, for grades 3-5, just down the road in Alachua, Fla. She was recently chosen by the teachers at her school as their Teacher of the Year.

Her plight stems back to last spring when the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 736, which mandates that 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on student scores on the state’s standardized tests, a method known as the value-added model, or VAM. It is essentially a formula that supposedly tells how much “value” a teacher has added to a student’s test score. Assessment experts say it is a terrible way to evaluate teachers but it has still been adopted by many states with the support of the Obama administration.

Since Cook’s school only goes through second grade, her school district is using the FCAT scores from the third graders at Alachua Elementary School to determine the VAM score for every teacher at her school.

Alachua Elementary School did not do well in 2011-12 evaluations that just came out; it received a D. Under the VAM model, the state awarded that school — and Cook’s school, by default — 10 points out of 100 for their D.

In this school district, there are three components to teacher evaluations:

1. A lesson study worth 20 percent. In the lesson study, small groups of teachers work together to create an exemplary lesson, observe one of the teachers implement it, critique the teacher’s performance and discuss improvement.

2. Principal appraisal worth 40 percent of overall score.

3. VAM data (scores from the standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores for elementary schools) worth 40 percent of the overall score.

Cook received full points on her lesson study: 100 x .20 (20%) = 20 points
Cook received an 88/100 from her former principal: 88/100 x .40  (40%) = 35.2 points
On VAM data — points awarded by the state for the FCAT scores at Alachua Elementary School: 10/100 x .40 (40%) = 4 points

Total points that she received: 59.2 (Unsatisfactory)

This is her second year at Irby Elementary, where she teaches first grade. She never taught a single student who took the FCAT at Alachua Elementary last spring. The same will hold true for this year’s evaluation; 40 percent of her appraisal will be based on the scores of students she has never taught.

The Florida Education Association’s Web site says:

Every teacher will be evaluated using the new evaluation criteria and student learning growth. Veteran teachers must demonstrate Highly Effective or Effective performance; if they are rated unsatisfactory two consecutive or two out of three years, they will be placed on an annual contract then, if there is no improvement, terminated.

Here’s what Cook wrote to me in an e-mail:

I have almost 25 years of experience as a teacher. I JUST got my 2011-2012 evaluation on Friday. There is a real possibility that I will receive an unsatisfactory evaluation for this school year. I may go up to “needs improvement”, but either way, my job is in jeopardy.

Last month, the faculty and staff at my school voted for me as Irby Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year. I am so honored to have been chosen. I work with an amazing group of teachers. They are the most hardworking and talented group of women I have had the privilege to know. Yet every single teacher at my school received an evaluation of “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” because of this insane system that the Republican state legislators and Gov. [Rick] Scott dreamed up at the beckoning of Jeb Bush and ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council]. My colleagues and I deserve better than this.”

Corporate Education Reform Industry pours money into Malloy campaign operation

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Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the nation…And to see how appreciative the corporate education reform industry is, one need only look at Malloy’s campaign fundraising program which has already raised more than $100,000 from the anti-public education industry.

As a participant in Connecticut’s public financing system, candidate Malloy is only supposed to rely on the taxpayer dollars that he will receive as a qualified candidate for governor.  But thanks to a gigantic loophole in the law, the Malloy political operation has been raising money for the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee in order to augment the millions in public funds he will get to pay his campaign expenses.

By the end of February 2014, Malloy’s fundraising program had already collected more than $2.4 million into just one of the two accounts managed by the Connecticut Democratic Party.

Not surprisingly, Malloy has turned to the corporate funded pro-charter school, anti-teacher, anti-public education forces to help him raise record amounts of money.

The infamous Democrats for Education Reform, an anti-public education political action committee based in Washington D.C., has already provided Malloy with a check for $5,000.

Jonathan Sackler and his wife have donated a total of $36,000 to Malloy’s operation in just the past six months.  Sackler is the one who helped Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, create and expand Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company.  Sackler was also a co-founder of the Connecticut charter school advocacy group ConnCAN and went on to create the national charter school advocacy group called 50 CAN.  When Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch tried to eliminate the democratically-elected board of education in that city, he turned to Sackler for a last-minute campaign donation of $50,000 to help pay for what proved to be his failed effort to undermine democracy.

Another nationally-recognized corporate education reform advocate to pour money into Malloy’s campaign is billionaire Stephen Mandel Jr.  Mandel, who was behind the creation of the corporate-funded education reform advocacy group, Excel Bridgeport, Inc., has already written two $10,000 checks for Malloy’s political activities.

Los Angeles, anti-public education billionaire Eli Broad has also gotten in on the act donating $8,000 to Malloy so far in this campaign cycle. Broad’s foundation is one of the three major national foundations funding the corporate education reform effort across the country.

And Sackler isn’t the only member of Achievement First Inc. and ConnCAN’s Board of Directors to have ponied up for Malloy.

To date, board members of these two Connecticut-based education reform groups have donated well in excess of $50,000 to Malloy’s political aspirations and that doesn’t even count another $50,000 that these same people dumped into another political action committee affiliated with Malloy.

So much for campaign contribution limits…and with Election Day still seven months away, we can be sure that Malloy will continue to cash in on his anti-public education agenda.

History Repeats Itself (Guest post by Alyce Roberts, Ed.D)

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One of the primary benefits of having an extraordinary group of readers is that they bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding to the debate. 

A growing number are stepping forward to comment on blog posts or offering up their own guest posts in the on-going effort to educate, persuade and mobilize teachers, parents, public school advocates and others to join us in our battle to push back the corporate education reform industry and take back control of our system of public education.

The following is just such a post.  In it, educator Alyce Roberts helps put the “Debate on National Standards and Standardized Testing in to context.”

History Repeats Itself: Context for the Current Debate on National Standards and Standardized Testing (By Alyce Roberts)

The Achievement Gap

The underachievement of minority adolescents remains one of the most discussed and studied phenomena in education.  According to a NAEP long-term trends report, the literacy achievement gap has been apparent since at least 1971, shortly after data collection began.  Black and Hispanic students in grade 12, on average, have the reading skills of 13-year-old White students.  Half of incoming 9th graders in urban, high-poverty schools read three years or more below grade level.  Without question, minority adolescents’ literacy needs are complex and demand attention.   One reason for the rise in literacy demands is globalization.

A Social/Political Response

The American educational system has a long history of neglecting to meet the needs of many of its students of diverse backgrounds.  Some contend that the primary purpose of school, as a social institution, has never been to provide a quality education to all.  (Until the 20th century, high school was mostly attended by a small number of White middle class and upper-middle class men.) 

Brown decision.  Efforts to bring equity into the education of minorities have not always turned out as anticipated.  The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, for example, reversed a long-standing policy of separate but equal public schools.  Instead, schools reacted by putting a disproportionately high number of the nation’s minority children in special education.  Others were suspended, expelled, or attended public schools where teachers and the curriculum reflected a Eurocentric perspective.  Later, the social movements in the 1960s and 1970s raised awareness of the multicultural nature of American society.  Yet, despite protests, schools resisted and continued to impose the dominant culture on students, through teachers, curriculum, and daily school routines, showing little regard for differences in language or cultures.  Public schools traditionally have failed to meet the needs of many marginalized low income and minority students.

Neoliberal backlash.  Neoliberalism rose in the mid-twentieth century in an attempt to regain some of the power the ruling class lost to the working class, African Americans, and women during the rise of social democratic liberalism.  Neoliberalism contends that society works when individuals choose within competitive markets (like charter schools).  Further, it contends that social institutions, like schools, should exist to promote economic growth.  In practice, neoliberal policies often result in increased inequality with few provisions for public welfare.  The poor and working classes are often highly regulated, but corporations are only loosely regulated with conditions for accumulating wealth ensured.  For neoliberals, those in society who do not succeed are viewed as having made poor choices, which means society is not at fault and people have only themselves to blame.  Many assert that neoliberal political theory increasingly is influencing education policies.   

We have an educational system of testing and accountability whereby: (a) the curriculum is simplified and narrowed, (b) poorly devised tests lead to huge failure, and (c) students who score low are abandoned or pushed out of school.  Thus, it is not surprising the achievement gap for minority students has not only not narrowed, but, in fact, has grown since NCLB.  One must question whether reforms that emphasize high-stakes tests and accountability actually increase fairness and equality or, instead, use testing and accountability to portray public schools as failing and to push for privatizing education provided through competitive markets.  Evidence suggests that our education system is becoming more, not less unequal.    

Backlash Pedagogy.  Some have termed these neoliberal educational policies “backlash pedagogy,” arguing that it threatens the chances of educational achievement and social equity for large numbers of public school students of diverse backgrounds.  Historically, backlash practices have used race as a way to categorize and marginalize groups within the population.  White privilege and control are maintained through racial subjugation and inequality.  The status quo becomes a baseline for educational reform disguised as color-blindness.  The current educational backlash blames the educational crisis on teachers and on linguistically and culturally diverse and poor children.  Specifically, this backlash not only ignores the historical disparity people of color have experienced in our country; it preserves it.   

Educational policies derive from backlash politics and ideological and institutional structures that legitimize and maintain privilege, access, and control over the society, politics, and economics.  Backlash politics can be deliberate attempts to prevent changes in society or deceptive practices cloaked in the language of progress.  Backlash pedagogy attempts to erase differences that are known to affect learning and makes it more difficult for educators to implement what they know to be effective, culturally responsive practices.  Over the last 20 years, culturally responsive approaches to teaching have been marginalized and, instead, standardized curricula and teaching practices along with standardized testing have been put in place.  These neoliberal reforms are counter to culturally relevant and responsive instruction. 

Equity in Education

The current preoccupation with standardizing curricula and measuring output will have further negative consequences for students of diverse backgrounds who are already seriously cheated by the system.  These standards and assessments put pressure on school districts to standardize and emphasize prescribed content at the expense of other concerns.  Among the consequences of NCLB are a narrowed curriculum, a focus on low-level skills, inappropriate assessment of students with special needs and ELLs, and incentives to exclude low-scoring students to meet test score targets.  

Education should not allow the demands of globalization or the drive for a standardized curriculum and testing to derail efforts in how minority students are taught.  Moreover, education cannot allow the lure of a global society and global citizenship to diminish the need to take care of social justice issues closer to home that, to date, have never been adequately addressed.  It is imperative that schools provide equity in education for all students.  A hundred years ago, Helen Todd, a child- labor inspector in Chicago, wrote, “Would it not be possible to adapt this child . . . less to education, and to adapt education more to the child?”  For our students of diverse backgrounds, it is time we did.

Alyce Roberts, Ed.D has served as an English teacher in the Hartford Public school system for 13 years.    Before that Alyce had a successful career in the insurance field working for four major insurance companies in the Northeast.

Charter Company: We’re from the Bronx, NY and we are here to help

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When it comes to Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry, perhaps the most absurd, inappropriate, insulting, and anti-local control privatization scheme is playing itself out in Stamford, Connecticut.

Fellow pro-public education advocate columnist Wendy Lecker lays out the facts about Bronx Charter School for Excellence effort to open a charter school in Stamford and the help they are getting from Commissioner Pryor’s office and Connecticut’s lobbying group dedicated to privatizing Connecticut’s system of public education.

As parents, teachers and pro-public education allies have learned, these ongoing efforts to undermine public education are not coming from some wing-nut Teabag Republican but from Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and his band of corporate education reform industry supporters.

This week Wendy Lecker lays out the stunning facts in a Stamford Advocate column entitled, Charter school pitch not about helping community.

Wendy Lecker’s MUST READ piece follows,

Since my column appears in several papers, I was asked, when I started, not to write about Stamford. This week, I am writing about an application by Bronx Charter School for Excellence (BSCE) to open a school in Stamford.

But this is not about Stamford.

If this were about Stamford, BCSE would have taken care to describe Stamford in its application. Instead, it describes a city where, compared to its neighbors Darien, New Canaan, Westport and Greenwich, “racial isolation prevails.” You read that right — the application claims that compared to those predominately wealthy, white towns, Stamford is racially and economically isolated.

Not only is Stamford wonderfully diverse, our community has a proud commitment to integrated schools. For more than 40 years, Stamford has maintained its “10 percent rule,” requiring that our schools reflect the demographics of the community, plus or minus 10 percent. When our schools fall out of balance, we redistrict — a public and sometimes painful process. For our magnet schools, we long ago abandoned a “blind lottery” because we found that a lottery without demographic controls segregates. Decades of research and experience in schools across the nation confirm our experience.

BCSE plans to specifically target our children of color and low-income children and insists on admission by blind lottery. It completely discounts the research and Stamford’s experience, which almost guarantees that this school will be segregated.

But this is not about Stamford.

Stamford strives to serve all its more than 16,000 children — with little help from the state, which owes Stamford’s children millions of dollars in state education aid. Stamford’s school budget is almost 90 percent local money.

BCSE seeks about $4 million in state taxpayer dollars to serve at most 392 children, from pre-K through fifth grade. If this had been about Stamford, someone might have asked what Stamford needs.

But this is not about Stamford.

If this were about Stamford, BSCE would realize that its claim it will “eradicate” our achievement gap is empty. BCSE struggles with a large achievement gap in its own small school, and offers no educational practices that Stamford does not already do. The difference is that Stamford serves all children — not just a handful.

It is no wonder BCSE gets it all wrong. No one in BCSE bothered to learn about Stamford before completing the application. The entire process was conducted without consultation with or even notice to anyone in Stamford.

In November 2013, without informing Stamford, charter school chain founder and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor directed former charter school principal and State Department of Education “turnaround” director Morgan Barth to solicit charter applications targeting Stamford and select other cities.

BCSE prepared its application without contacting the superintendent, mayor or parent groups, and without visiting Stamford public schools. SDE scheduled a local hearing about this application with no notice to Stamford, during Stamford’s school vacation.

When the superintendent received the application, in February, she, the mayor and members of the Board of Education protested SDE’s lack of notice. In response, SDE postponed the hearing by three weeks. Only then did BCSE reach out to Stamford officials.

BCSE also held a well-advertised dinner the Saturday before the hearing. About five people showed up, three of whom were not supporters of the charter application. Had this been about Stamford, BCSE would have understood that Stamford parents are not interested in their version of “choice.”

But this is not about Stamford.

So, BCSE bused in parents, teachers and students from the Bronx to tell the state representatives at a local hearing that Stamford parents “need” this school.

Of the more than 50 people who spoke at the hearing, only one resident of Stamford spoke in favor of the application. A charter lobbyist read a supportive statement from another absent resident. The rest, Stamford parents, Board of Education members, community leaders and the mayor spoke in opposition to the application. The diverse Stamford community explained that this school is not what we need nor want.

But this is not about what Stamford needs or wants. This is about a charter school setting itself up to look good — receiving a hefty sum of state dollars for classes of 16 children, starting in pre-K, so it does not have to submit to state testing until 2018, well after it will be a “done deal.”

This is about ignoring community needs, community experience and community values.

When someone comes here pushing a school that does not reflect our commitment to equity and integration, we know — it is not about Stamford.

You can read column and Wendy Lecker’s other pieces via http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Charter-school-pitch-not-about-helping-5338987.php and by searhing www.stamfordadvocate.com

 

Malloy full steam ahead on Common Core, Common Core Testing and “education reforms”

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Just over a month ago, Governor Malloy took the the microphone to announce his election year effort to persuade teachers, parents and public school advocates to overlook his three years of failed education policies and throw their support behind his re-election aspirations.

In essence, Malloy said, “I hear you and we’ll wait until after I’m re-elected” to proceed with some of our efforts to undermine Connecticut’s public education system.

But proving, yet again, that action speaks louder than words, Malloy has been pushing full steam ahead with some of the worst aspects of  his corporate education reform industry agenda.

A re-cap of Wait, What? posts from the weekend are a shocking reminder that Malloy has the habit of saying one thing and doing another.

Posts to read include,

Malloy Administration: Clark Elementary Parents – You must accept Friendship Charter School or else

Parents, teachers and the community that makes up Hartford’s Clark Elementary School in Hartford are still reeling from the Malloy Administration’s threat that the Clark “Turnaround Committee” must agree to turn their local Hartford neighborhood school over to Washington D.C.’s Friendship Charter School Inc or else they won’t get the funds necessary to improve their school.

But there is much that Clark School parents and the Clark School community have not been told.

This development comes despite a state law that requires an inclusive “turnaround” process in which parents, teachers, school officials and community members are supposed to play the primary role in deciding the future of their local school.

The Malloy Administration’s plan to force the “Clark School Turnaround Plan” to hand the day-to-day operation of the Hartford elementary school over to Friendship Public Charter School Inc. first came to light in a February 10, 2014 Wait, What? article entitled, “NEWS FLASH: Pryor reportedly giving Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to Washington D.C. Charter School Chain (2/10/14).

 

The Brave New World of being ‘College and Career Ready (By Sarah Darer Littman)

One of the oft-stated goals of education reform is to ensure that students are “college and career ready.” Like “excellence,” it’s probably one of the most over-used phrases in the education reform movement.

But as I’ve asked before,  what does this phrase really mean? Do our policy makers even know?

Judging by their actions of late, I’m starting to think they don’t.

On March 18, the window opens for field tests of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the computer-based adaptive test that will go live next year to replace the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

SBAC, or the Smarter Balanced Consortium, is one of the two consortiums that states have signed up with to develop new assessment systems for the Common Core State Standards. Funded by a four-year, $175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (which runs out in September of this year), SBAC claims its system “will measure mastery of the Common Core State Standards and provide timely information about student achievement and progress toward college and career readiness.”

But there’s a slight catch. They haven’t yet defined “college and career ready.”

“The Consortium also will establish performance benchmarks that define the level of content and skill mastery that marks students as college- and career-ready. These performance benchmarks will be determined through a deliberative and evidence-based standard-setting process, which will include input from K-12 educators and college and university faculty,” the website says. “Preliminary performance standards will be established in 2014 after student data have been collected through pilot and field testing. Following the Field Test in spring 2014, the Consortium will conduct standard setting for the summative assessments in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in ELA/literacy and mathematics. These performance standards will be validated in July/August 2015 using spring 2015 operational data.”

So basically the people who are pushing Common Core — Mssrs. Gates, Obama, Duncan et al, need our kids to be lab rats for this project, while their kids are safely ensconced in private schools, immune from such pedestrian concerns.

What does being an unpaid test subject for SBAC entail exactly?

Sarah Darer Littman’s entire piece can be found at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/the_brave_new_world_of_being_college_and_career_ready/

 

A crisis of low standards” (By Wendy Lecker)

Not poverty. Not inadequate resources. Not toxic stress. Not segregation. According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, low standards are the cause of America’s educational disparities.

The solution, he maintains, is national standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the accompanying national tests.

“For far too long,” Duncan declared, “our school systems lied to kids, to families, and to communities.

They said the kids were all right — that they were on track to being successful — when in reality they were not even close.” Duncan claimed states’ low standards made “educators, administrators and especially politicians” look good but did not prepare students for the rigors of college work.

Before the Common Core, according to Duncan, high school success was a “lie” — it certainly did not mean that students were “college ready.”

What a compelling, but false, narrative. A new peer-reviewed longitudinal nationwide study confirmed that the most reliable predictor of cumulative college GPA and college graduation is a student’s high school GPA.

Read the Wendy Lecker’s entire piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-A-crisis-of-low-standards-5298374.php

Who is behind the effort to destroy Hartford’s Clark Elementary School?

Clark Elementary School’s parents, teachers and community have a right to know what is really going on behind the scenes in the ongoing effort to stifle parental involvement and hand Clark over to an out-of-state charter school company.

The corporate education reform industry has targeted Clark, but who exactly is pushing these unfair, discriminatory proposals that seek to take over the school, fire all the teachers and hand control of the school over to those who have no understanding of the community?

It is time to find out,

Pursuant to  the Connecticut Freedom of Information act, the proponents of this Clark takeover need to produce any and all memos, documents, notes, emails and attachments that have been sent, received or produced over the last 60 days and relate to the Clark Elementary School.

If elected and appointed officials won’t do the right thing for the Clark community then at least the community deserves to know the deals that have been cut behind the scenes.

This Freedom of Information request will cover Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Morgan Barth, Pryor “Turnaround Director” and Andrew Ferguson, Pryor and Barth’s point person on the effort to destroy Clark.

In addition FOI requests are being submitted for the same information from Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Hartford Portfolio Director Oliver Barton.

Clark parents should refuse to engage in further discussion until these materials are handed over.

The request for these documents are being submitted today, it will be noteworthy to see if Malloy administration and the City of Hartford fulfill their legal duty and hand over the requested information in a timely fashion.

The two “MUST READ” columns of the weekend

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Fellow pro-pubic education advocates and commentators have done it again – with two more MUST READ pieces.

Sarah Darer Littman with “The Brave New World of being ‘College and Career Ready

and

Wendy Lecker with “A crisis of low standards

Wendy Lecker writes,

Not poverty. Not inadequate resources. Not toxic stress. Not segregation. According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, low standards are the cause of America’s educational disparities. The solution, he maintains, is national standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the accompanying national tests.

“For far too long,” Duncan declared, “our school systems lied to kids, to families, and to communities. They said the kids were all right — that they were on track to being successful — when in reality they were not even close.” Duncan claimed states’ low standards made “educators, administrators and especially politicians” look good but did not prepare students for the rigors of college work.

Before the Common Core, according to Duncan, high school success was a “lie” — it certainly did not mean that students were “college ready.”

What a compelling, but false, narrative. A new peer-reviewed longitudinal nationwide study confirmed that the most reliable predictor of cumulative college GPA and college graduation is a student’s high school GPA.

Read the Wendy Lecker’s entire piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-A-crisis-of-low-standards-5298374.php

 

Sarah Darer Littman writes;

One of the oft-stated goals of education reform is to ensure that students are “college and career ready.” Like “excellence,” it’s probably one of the most over-used phrases in the education reform movement.

But as I’ve asked before,  what does this phrase really mean? Do our policy makers even know? Judging by their actions of late, I’m starting to think they don’t.

On March 18, the window opens for field tests of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the computer-based adaptive test that will go live next year to replace the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

SBAC, or the Smarter Balanced Consortium, is one of the two consortiums that states have signed up with to develop new assessment systems for the Common Core State Standards. Funded by a four-year, $175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (which runs out in September of this year), SBAC claims its system “will measure mastery of the Common Core State Standards and provide timely information about student achievement and progress toward college and career readiness.”

But there’s a slight catch. They haven’t yet defined “college and career ready.”

“The Consortium also will establish performance benchmarks that define the level of content and skill mastery that marks students as college- and career-ready. These performance benchmarks will be determined through a deliberative and evidence-based standard-setting process, which will include input from K-12 educators and college and university faculty,” the website says. “Preliminary performance standards will be established in 2014 after student data have been collected through pilot and field testing. Following the Field Test in spring 2014, the Consortium will conduct standard setting for the summative assessments in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in ELA/literacy and mathematics. These performance standards will be validated in July/August 2015 using spring 2015 operational data.”

So basically the people who are pushing Common Core — Mssrs. Gates, Obama, Duncan et al, need our kids to be lab rats for this project, while their kids are safely ensconced in private schools, immune from such pedestrian concerns.

What does being an unpaid test subject for SBAC entail, exactly?

Sarah Darer Littman’s entire piece can be found at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/the_brave_new_world_of_being_college_and_career_ready/

As Wait, What? readers know, Wendy and Sarah are playing the pivotal role in the battle against the corporate education reform industry and in the on-going effort to re-take control of our public education system.

Please take the time to read these two key commentary pieces.

Connecticut to end non-credit remedial courses at public colleges

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No really….  A Connecticut law passed in 2012 made it illegal for Connecticut public colleges to provide non-credit remedial courses starting in 2014.

Long time Wait, What? readers may remember the discussion on the blog.

Led by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly, Connecticut adopted a corporate education reform initiatives aimed at ensuring that all students were “college and career ready,” while at the same time passed legislation that prohibits public colleges and universities from providing non-credit remedial courses.

Among other things, it was sold as a way to reduce the state budget.

The irony, of course, goes without saying.

The same individuals who were willing undermine Connecticut’s public education system by pushing the Common Core, the Common Core testing frenzy and the unfair teacher evaluation system all in an effort to prepare children for college were reducing the budgets for Connecticut’s public colleges and universities by record amounts.

But by prohibiting public colleges from providing courses for students who needed extra help, Malloy et. al. could simply remove a significant cost those colleges were facing.

The issues has remained in the background until now, when students, their families and the public are  finally learning about this incredibly bad policy.

As the New Haven Register recently wrote,

About 10,000 incoming freshmen at state colleges enroll in no-credit remedial courses across the state every year.  This year, that number will drop to zero.

The courses will no longer be offered at state colleges once Public Act 12-40 goes into effect this fall semester.

Signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2012, the act requires colleges to abandon lower-level, no-credit remedial courses and embed support into entry-level courses or a college-readiness program.

High school graduates who do not place into entry-level courses by way of adequate SAT scores or college entry exams will be out of luck.

The urgency of the act going into effect this year has sparked strong reactions from state legislators, community colleges and high school educators.

Strong reaction from state legislators?

Who by the way passed the bill, after heavy lobbying from the Malloy administration and over the objections of the House Chair of the Education Committee who made it very clear what the ramifications of the legislation would be.

Instead of taking the non-credit remedial courses, students are expected to turn to local public schools and community based adult education programs.  The original argument was that this would save the state and students money.

But due to an insufficient number of programs, many students who were college bound will be discovering college, even Connecticut’s community colleges, are beyond reach.

Welcome to the Malloy Administration’s definition of college and career ready.

And the problems will be evident across the state of Connecticut.

As the New Haven Register goes on to report,

“At Northwestern Community College in Winsted, Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Patricia Bouffard said she anticipates there will be students who fall below the level of remediation community colleges can now offer. Based on test scores from fall 2013, about 15 percent of entering students at NCC would not have been eligible for remedial courses if the requirements were already in place.”

While Northwestern serves a significantly smaller population than Gateway [Community College in New Haven] — about 1,700 students — Bouffard said about the same percentage of students fall into the developmental level.”

[...]

The college is in the process of developing appropriate programs in reaction to the legislation but doesn’t yet have a partnership with nearby high schools. Bouffard said the college is in the second run of an 11-week, college-math proficiency program offered to students who are below the remedial course. 

The program is computer-based with faculty in attendance. Bouffard said English is a little more difficult in terms of developing a computer-based program.

Opponents of the corporate education reform industry will recognize the pattern.  Set standards that limit a cohort of students and then buy more technology and software to deal with the problem.

In Connecticut, this policy will mean that some of the students who need the most hands-on help will be provided programs that require them to “learn” what they need to know by sitting in front of a computer.

The New Haven Register article quotes State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who was just elected to the Connecticut State Senate in a Special Election.

Holder-Winfield’s comments represent the thinking of many  legislators who voted in favor of the original proposal.  The New Haven Register story explains that Holder-Winfield said that we was not, “’a fan of doing away with remedial courses’ but understood the logic behind it: ‘Many of our young people who go to college don’t graduate within the four to six years that we would think is normal.”

The New Haven Register reports that “Holder-Winfield understood that the bill would be rolled out and then legislators would determine if they were doing what was needed. Now, he said he isn’t sure it worked the way it was intended to work.”  He concluded, ”I’m a fan of taking another look at what we have done and maybe pulling back off it. I don’t think that that was the solution.”

There are legislative proposals to  modify Malloy’s plan to end non-credit remedial courses at Connecticut’s public colleges.

Check back for updates.

You can also read the New Haven Register article here:  http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20140222/concern-grows-as-connecticut-colleges-to-drop-no-credit-remedial-courses

 

Mayor Segarra and Matt Poland lead 6-2 vote to give TFA $650,000

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There will be 210 fewer job openings in the Hartford School System for Connecticut residents thanks to Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Matt Poland and their allies on the Hartford Board of Education.

While hundreds of qualified, certified Connecticut teachers are unemployed and hundreds of additional Connecticut residents will be seeking teaching jobs after graduating from Connecticut institutions of higher education and completely comprehensive teacher training programs, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra led his political appointees in a 6-2 vote to give Teach for America another three-year contract with the City of Hartford..  In exchange for the $650,000 finder’s fee, Teach for America will send 210 new recruits to teach in Hartford Schools.

Mayor Segarra appoints the majority of members to the Hartford Board of Education.  All of his appointees, including out-going Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland, voted in favor of the TFA contract.

In this case the actual deciding vote came from the Hartford Board of Education’s one elected Republican who, “coincidently,” was “elected” chairman of the Hartford Board of Education last night as Segarra’s choice for the position.

Only Working Families Party member Robert Cotto and Michael Brescia, a former Buckley High School teacher, voted against the TFA contract.

Although the TFA recruits only get five weeks of training, they are paid the same salary and given the same benefits as teachers who already hold teacher certification in Connecticut and who have gone through a full college-level teacher training program.

The Hartford Courant update on the vote is below, but for background purposes,

According to Forbes Magazine, as of 2012, Teach for America collects in excess of $318 million a year to enlist recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities throughout the United States.

Wendy Kopp is the Founder and Chair of TFA’s Board of Directors.  Until recently she was Co-CEO of Teach For America.  Now, in addition to being the Chair of TFA’s Board of Directors, Kopp serves as Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Teach For All, a new TFA spin-off company that is trying to recreate TFA in the global marketplace.

Connecticut billionaire Steven Mandel Jr. is the Treasurer of Teach For America’s Board of Directors.  Mandel is not only a major campaign contributor to Governor Malloy but has donated tens of millions to support the corporate education reform industry.  Mandel played a pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport Inc. and the related ongoing effort to privatize public education in Bridgeport.

In addition to her TFA work, Wendy Kopp is married to Richard Barth, Jr.  Barth serves as the CEO of the KIPP charter school chain.  KIPP is one of the biggest players in the corporate education reform industry with 141 charter schools in 20 states.

Interestingly, Morgan Barth, who illegally taught and served as an administrator at Achievement First, Inc. for six years before becoming Commissioner Pryor’s “Turnaround Director” is a close relative of Barth and Kopp.

Of course, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor is the co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.  Achievement First Inc. is the charter school management company with schools in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island.  Achievement First Inc. has also been the charter school company that has received the most financial benefit from Malloy and Pryor’s pro-charter school policies.

Not long ago Achievement First, Inc. added Elisa Villanueva Beard to their Board of Directors.  Elisa Villanueva Beard is a long time TFA senior executive and became TFA’s Co-CEO when Kopp left to become CEO of that new TFA spin off company.

Jonathan Sackler, a leading corporate education reform advocate in Connecticut and another major Malloy donor has been part of the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors since it was co-founded by Stefan Pryor.  Sacker also formed ConnCAN and ConnAD, which is now called A Better Connecticut.

ConnCAN, ConnAD and A Better Connecticut led the record-breaking $6 million dollar lobbying effort in support of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” initiative.  These groups, along with Steve Mandel and Excel Bridgeport Inc., played the key role in support of Mayor Bill Finch’s failed effort to eliminate an elected board of education in Bridgeport.  They also pumped a significant amount of money into Fich’s failed effort to elect Bridgeport Board of Education candidates who would support Paul Vallas.  (They failed Vallas leaves his post in Bridgeport this coming Friday).  Finch is a leading supporter of Achievement First’s Bridgeport Charter School and is lobbying on behalf of Capital Prep Steve Perry’s attempt to use his own private company to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

Jonathan Sackler also created 50CAN, a company dedicated to spreading the ConnCAN model across the country.  Sackler formed 50CAN and serves on its Board of Directors.  50CAN’s Board includes Dacia Toll who not only co-founded Achievement First Inc. with Stefan Pryor, but presently serves as Co-CEO & President of Achievement First, Inc.

Another 50CAN Board Member is none-other-than KIPP Charter School’s Richard Barth Jr.  That being the same Richard Barth Jr. who is Wendy Kopp’s husband and Morgan Barth’s relative.

Meanwhile, back in Hartford, the Hartford Courant explains,

“The board voted 6-2 to approve a three-year, $650,940 contract extension between the city schools and Teach For America, a proposal that drew critics and supporters of TFA who addressed the board for more than an hour during public comments.

Teach For America recruits and trains recent college graduates who pledge to teach for at least two years in mostly low-income public schools across the country. The agreement calls for Hartford to pay Teach For America about $3,000 per recruit, with up to 60 TFA hires in 2014-15, up to 70 in 2015-16 and as many as 80 in 2016-17.

[…]

Since 2007, the first year of Hartford’s partnership with Teach For America, the district has hired 1,477 new teachers, 14 percent of whom are TFA recruits, said Jennifer Allen, the school system’s chief talent officer.

Rather than graduating from a traditional teacher preparation college, TFA recruits complete five weeks of training and become certified through the state’s Alternate Route to Certification program, administrators said. They also receive ongoing professional development through TFA that Allen called “a remarkable model for supporting new teachers.”

While several Hartford students spoke in support of their TFA teachers, many of the critics Monday, including Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, described the contract as paying a “headhunters fee” and argued that the money should be spent on improving school programs. Board member Robert Cotto Jr., who voted against the extension, also criticized the retention rate.

Among the 22 TFA hires in 2007, three remain in the school system. And of the 31 TFA teachers in the 2011-12 year, 13 still teach in Hartford schools, district data show.

Those numbers reveal that only 13 percent of the 2007 TFA recruits are still teaching in Hartford after six years and 58 percent of the 2011 TFA recruits have already bailed.

Of course, the contract states that TFA keeps its $3,000 per recruit even if the teacher quits during the first week of school.

WNPR’s John Dankosky to host panel with real educators – Liz Natale and Ebony Murphy-Root

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WNPR’s John Dankosky to host panel with hero teachers Liz Natale and Ebony Murphy-Root

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha

Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry should be worried because teacher’s voices will finally be heard when WNPR’s Where We Live will record and then broadcast a panel discussion with real teachers.

Here is the notice from WNPR:

Calling All Connecticut Teachers! Evening Panel Discussion With WNPR

Here’s the problem with covering education issues on Where We Live: We broadcast live at 9:00 am on weekdays. If you’re a middle school or high school teacher, you might know that time as second or third period.

Our discussions on education frequently lack one key voice: teachers. On February 25, we fix that. Join us for an evening panel discussion in WNPR’s building.

Liz Natale joins us, a West Hartford teacher who wrote a popular op-ed for The Hartford Courant in January called, “Why I Want To Give Up Teaching.”

Ebony Murphy-Root will also be on the panel. She is a lifelong Nutmegger and middle school humanities teacher on the faculty of a private school in New York City. She’s owned a home in Hartford since 2008 and has taught in the capital city. She recently wrote for EduShyster.com, “‘Did You Grow Up Around Black People?’ My Year Working for ‘America’s Most Trusted Educator.’”

What’s it like to be a Connecticut educator in 2014?

How do teachers think we can make schools better?

We want you to join us, too. The event is free, but please email Tucker Ives ([email protected]) to let him know if you plan to attend. There is plenty of parking available behind the building.

WHEN: February 25, 2014, 6:30 pm

WHERE: CPBN’s Learning Lab, 1049 Asylum Avenue in Hartford, 4th floor

Can’t make it? Follow us on Twitter at @wherewelive and join the conversation as it happens

People interested in attending should probably sign up soon since my guess is seats will fill up fast.

 

Connecticut Education Committee members hear from a CT educator

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A number of Connecticut legislators have told constituents that Governor Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor are implementing education policies that are very different from what they were told during the 2012 debate that led up to the passage of Malloy’s “education reform” legislation.

Here is a letter that James D. Trifone recently sent to the members of Connecticut’s Education Committee.  James Trifone is a teacher at Cheshire High School.  Like his colleagues across Connecticut, he is a first-hand witness to the damage Malloy and Pryor are doing to Connecticut’s students, teachers and to our public schools.

If Connecticut legislators really care about their communities, they need to read this letter and others like this one, and act quickly to stop Malloy’s initiatives before even more damage is done.

A Letter to Members of the Connecticut Education Committee by James D. Trifone

As a young man I was encouraged by my father−an inspirational and masterful educator−who instilled in me a desire to share my passion and enthusiasm for learning with others. As my role model he further inspired me to follow in his footsteps as a public school educator. I have been a dedicated and impassioned educator for thirty-eight years. However, for the first time in my career I am disheartened with the current reform efforts that have been foisted upon public schools by education outsiders−businessmen and politicians. As a classroom teacher, I have been an educational innovator for over three decades in bringing about real and effective change in enhancing my teaching and learning.  Therefore, change is no stranger to me.  Today’s global society leaves the American student at a disadvantage that can only be remedied by a significant change in the way we structure and approach teaching and learning. Nonetheless, I believe the recent nationally inspired education reform efforts from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to the most recent iteration of them−the Common Core State Standards−are leading American schools down the wrong path. Collectively these reform efforts have been regressive, repressive and oppressive, as well as dismissive of educators, who as highly educated professionals, are trained to know how best to develop young minds.  The tragic irony of these reform efforts is based on a 19th century mindset that is intended to prepare students for success in the 21st century!  However, to paraphrase Einstein “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. The current reform efforts are designed to systematize, standardize and align the learning process using a “factory” model of “one size fits all”.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s (SBAC) assessment of the Common Core State Standards is flawed in many ways.

First of all, it assumes that the learning process can be distilled to a few objective and quantitative measures. Moreover, these measures exclude those due to socioeconomic inequities, which cannot be remedied from within the educational system.  Nonetheless, what matters most to fostering the learning process are intangibles that are not easily quantified.  Einstein stated it more eloquently as “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Secondly, using the CCSS to assess student learning is a misguided approach that is not supported by any empirical studies that validate their use as substantive to measuring the skill and knowledge base proficiency requisite to be deemed “educated”. Moreover, the test is designed so that only 35-40% of students can pass it!

Thirdly, mandating the use of CCSS is insidiously undermining the development of imagination, creativity and innovation that made this nation a leading world power.

Lastly, linking student performance on the SBAC assessment to evaluating teachers is not only educationally unsound, but counterproductive to improving education in the first place. The major flaw inherent to this reform initiative is that it assumes that excellence in teaching and learning can be objectively measured. If we, as a society are going to survive, we need to embrace the emerging learning paradigm that views the mind, learning and thinking in a more holistic and integrated framework. What is needed, now more than ever, is a paradigm shift in what this country’s leaders recognize as the skill-set of thinking and learning processes requisite for success in the 21st century. 

In the July 10, 2010 Newsweek article: “The Creativity Crisis,” the point is made that while America is moving more towards high stake testing, and away from the teaching of creativity and problem solving, the rest of the world is moving in the other direction, away from testing and increasing their emphasis on creativity and “whole-brain” real world skills. We need to promote a systemic change requisite to restore American educational praxis to the vanguard that other nations aspired to for much of the last century. The modern world is a very different place than the one in which previous generations of students were prepared to enter following their secondary or post-secondary educational schooling. With the advent of computers, podcasts, webinars and other technologies, today’s learners have access to the World Wide Web, social media, constant communication and global interaction, and through this, a myriad number of libraries, museums and informational sources of information across the globe.

Today’s learners have instant access to virtually millions of other learners throughout the world.  Additionally, today’s learners are expected to be adept in accessing these resources and working collaboratively with others electronically. In his bestselling book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman attributes the Internet as one of many technologies that has changed the way we communicate, learn and do business. Thus today’s classroom is not exclusively confined to one inside a school or even a classroom.  Rather virtual classrooms exist in the form of online cohorts, chat rooms etc. Furthermore, as Daniel Pink (Pink, 2005) discusses in his acclaimed book A Whole New Mind, the skills needed to survive in the 21st century workplace are no longer being developed in our classrooms.  He suggests that the future depends on fostering a new set of creative and empathic “right-brain” skills to augment the “left-brain” dominant ones advocated and emphasized in the past two centuries. Howard Gardner offers similar notions in his book 5 Minds or the Future (Gardner, 2008).

Instead of relying on high stakes testing to help us assess and develop ways to improve learning in American classrooms, it is my contention that policy makers need to include professional educators in the dialogue. Government officials and corporate leaders may have the best of intentions in attempting to reform American education. However, authentic educational reform can only arise from professional educators whose honed skill-base, expertise, dedication and passion provides them with the ability to fully understand and respond to the needs and challenges of effectively educating children for success in the 21st century.

Teaching is an art that involves responding authentically to the needs of children, curriculum and the culture without rigidly adhering to a specific methodology.  Characteristics such as: authenticity, empathy, mindfulness, and sensitivity to each unfolding moment in a child’s learning process, are qualities one might find in educators operating within what David Sobel and his colleagues at Antioch New England Graduate School calls “authentic curriculum”. Teaching from this perspective means being mindful to the myriad learning opportunities that typically occur during the day and employing them to foster students’ recognition and appreciation of learning as real-life and ubiquitous phenomena rather than a contrived process, whose content is driven by the intentional and manipulative designs of the teacher, or worse yet-the learning assumptions of high stakes standardized test designers.  Students learning in authentic contexts begin to view nature as alive with potential opportunities to learn and grow and construct meaning.  Taking time to momentarily follow the students’, rather than teacher’s, interests also promotes a stronger sense of self-worth and confidence in students’ ability to recognize and seize a learning opportunity and participate in the creation of their own personal meaning.  Ken Robinson, internationally recognized expert on the nature of creativity and outspoken critic of the current educational reform efforts, succinctly summarizes this as follows: “The task of education is not to teach subjects: it is to teach students.  No school is better than its teachers”(Robinson, 2011,p. 267).

Meaningful learning and thinking consists of integrating “hands-on” and “minds-on” real-life experiences that challenge learners’ preconceived assumptions and level of conceptual understanding. It is here that the 21st century educator can capitalize on the learners’ state of cognitive dissonance (confusion) to make a real difference in motivating them to transform misconceptions into valid conceptions. The 21st century educator embraces the notion that any individual can learn a given subject as long as he/she is provided with the opportunity to learn in a conducive (read as: loving and supportive) environment with experienced mentors willing in spirit to identify what they currently know and scaffold their conceptual development to a higher level of understanding. Meaningful learning and thinking processes foster the development of a unique and personalized relationship between the learner and the ideas and information under consideration.

In conclusion, the progressive educator, with a vested interest in educational reform that includes enhancing the way children are prepared for life in the 21st century, needs to integrate pedagogical strategies and practices into their classroom that foster learners in adopting more meaningful approaches to learning and thinking, rather than a scripted, linear and “conveyor belt” approach designed to produce more “widgets”. Our “products” are impressionable children and young adults who will be the workforce, as well as the captains of industry, and statesmen of the future. We have a moral, ethical and civic responsibility to do now what is in their best interests. In summary, please consider my plea to work with, not against, Connecticut educators to co-create a renewed vision of our mission−one that fosters the growth and development of authentic learners.

Respectfully Submitted,

James D. Trifone Ph.D.
Educator 
Cheshire High School

Cheshire, CT 06410

References

Gardner, H. (2008). 5 Minds for the future. Harvard Business Press, Boston, MA.

Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Riverhead Books, Penguin Group NY, NY.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative, Capstone Publishing Ltd, West Sussex, UK.

 

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