CT School Finance Project – Here we again – Another education reform front group

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Like some type of gigantic octopus, the pro-charter school, pro-common core, pro-SBAC testing scheme and anti-teacher corporate education reform industry has set up multiple front groups while dumping more than $7.9 million dollars into their lobbying effort on behalf of Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy’s “education reform” initiatives.

By now you’d think these hedge-fund managers and corporate executives would have created enough different groups to create the impression that they are more than what they seem.

But that’s just not the way it works…

Connecticut’s education policy arena is being honored with the presence of yet another “reform” front group.

And as with their earlier pronouncements, the charter school and education reform industry is claiming that their latest front group is an “independent source of accurate data and information that transcends special interests.”

The newest corporate funded education reform group to invade Connecticut’s education policy debate is called the Connecticut School Finance Project and according to its PR;

“Founded in 2015, the nonprofit Connecticut School Finance Project strives to be a trusted, nonpartisan, and independent source of accurate data and information that transcends special interests.”

Independent?

Transcends special interests?

File this one under – There is truly no lie that is too big for the charter school industry and its corporate education reform associates.

Earlier this year, the so-called “independent” Connecticut School Finance Project posted an advertisement that it was hiring a “Communications Manager.” Applicants were instructed to send their resume and cover letter to Katie Roy at [email protected].

At the time Katie Roy was actually serving as the Chief Operating Officer for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, one of the leading entities lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s anti-public education policies.

According to CCER,

“Katie Roy is responsible for the organization’s day-to-day operations, finance, and human resources.  She also works on organizational strategy and leads CCER’s education finance work.”

Now with their own website, the self-described, non-profit, “independent” Connecticut School Finance Project has three employees, although it is yet to reveal where it is getting is money.

Katie Roy (Director & Founder) is the former COO of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

Patrick Gibson (Data & Policy Analyst) is a former employee of CCER, who, the site claims, “worked in close collaboration with Education Resource Strategies and three Connecticut public school districts to improve student learning outcomes and better align allocated resources with district strategy through an understanding of people, time, and money utilization”

Michael Morton – the new Communications Manager who recently transferred from Texas to take on the task of explaining to Connecticut voters why charter schools, privatization and Malloy’s damaging education reform strategies are what Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools need to ensure a better future.

CT School Finance Project asserts,

“The goal of the Connecticut School Finance Project is to collaborate with everyone who is impacted by this problem to find solutions that are fair to kids and taxpayers, and work better for schools, towns and cities.”

And yet, although they claim to be engaged in addressing Connecticut’s education funding issues, they fail to make any mention of the critically important CCJEF v. Rell School Funding lawsuit, a case that will go to trial this fall… A case that is finally forcing the State of Connecticut and the Malloy administration to address that fact that Connecticut’s school funding formula is not only unfair, discriminatory and hurts Connecticut’s students and property tax payers, but is blatantly unconstitutional.

Connecticut School Finance Project states that, “The way that Connecticut funds its schools is broken. It’s unfair to kids and taxpayers, and it doesn’t work for many schools, towns and cities.”

Yet this corporate education reform front group FAILS to even mention the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit.

They fail to mention that their hero, Dannel Malloy, was an initial sponsor and plaintiff  of the CCJEF lawsuit when he was Mayor of Stamford but turned tail when he became governor and actually had chance to do something about the way Connecticut’s public schools are funded.

They fail to mention that Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen, a former state representative and state senator from Stamford, is fully aware of the problems with Connecticut’s school funding formula and yet is spending massive amounts of public funds and staff time in an immoral and unethical fight against the interests of Connecticut’s children and property taxpayers.

Proving just how much of a farce this new Connecticut School Finance Project is, the group doesn’t even address the State of Connecticut’s historic under-funding of Connecticut’s schools or the battle to dramatically increase the amount of state funding for public schools as the only fair and constitutional method for reduce the unfair burden on local property taxpayers while ensuring all Connecticut’s public schools students get the support they need and deserve.

But that is because the Connecticut School Finance Project is most definitely not a “trusted, nonpartisan, and independent source of accurate data and information that transcends special interests.”

One need only look at its origin and its employees to know that the corporate education reform industry has rolled out yet another front group in their effort to undermine Connecticut’s public schools.

When it comes to the “NEW” Connecticut School Finance Project, remember the wise words of Matthew who warned;

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening and ferocious wolves.”

CT Educator Terry Marselle writes a “MUST READ” compendium on the Common Core

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Fellow education advocate and Connecticut high school teacher, Terry Marselle, has published an extremely important book on the Common Core and you can get it on Kindle this week for free!

Diane Ravitch and other leading academics and public education activists across the country agree that Terry Marselle has done a great job researching the fundamental issues and problems associated with the Common Core and the way it is being rolled-out by the corporate education reform industry and its allies.

As the publisher explains,

“Not to be confused with the Common Core itself – which has no science behind it – this book screams research. If one is looking for a go-to, desk-check reference for literally every topic beneath the Common Core umbrella, this book comes close.

While some school reform critics engage in sweeping generalizations, the author, Terry Marselle, does the opposite.

[…]

Marselle meticulously documents how the Common Core’s authors and supporters have a fundamental non-understanding of how students of various ages think and learn.

Of particular interest is the scholarly manner in which the author lays out the alarming developmental inappropriateness the Common Core in grades K-3.

For example, under the Common Core, play-based Kindergarten has disappeared and formal instruction, which used to start in Grade One, has taken its place. This is despite the fact that in the earliest of years, compelling research points toward play-based education as not being a soft option.

If you act fast, you can get this valuable book for free on Kindle.  Otherwise it is a bargain at only $4.95.

To order the book on Kindle (free this week) go to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y7BM2OA

For more about the book go to: http://www.commoncorenot.com/

For anyone and everyone engaged in the battle to re-take control of public education, the book will be an enormously helpful companion.

CT Dem Governor Malloy says no state budget without new charter schools

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With the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2015 Legislative Session coming to an end, it was only a matter of time before Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy was forced to show his hand in the debate about the next state budget.

The candidate who falsely claimed that the state budget was balanced and that, if re-elected, he wouldn’t make cuts to social services or raise taxes is now instructing his Democratic colleagues in the State Senate and State House of Representatives that not only must they make historic cuts to vital health and human services, while raising tax on the middle class, but that he will only accept a budget that includes funding for two new charter schools while the new budget cuts funding for the state’s public schools.

In a blockbuster breaking news story written by the CTMirror’s Jacqueline Rabe and Keith Phaneuf, the reporters reveal what has really been going on behind closed doors in the all-night budget negotiations that have been taking place between Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders.

In a news article entitled, Could Malloy’s push to fund charter schools jeopardize budget approval?, the CT Mirror reports,

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s insistence on increasing funding for charter schools has more than a dozen Democratic legislators questioning whether they can support the next state budget if it means their neighborhood public schools are flat-funded or cut.

[…]

On Wednesday, a dozen House Democrats met with Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, to share their concerns with the Democratic governor’s determination to spend $4.6 million in the upcoming fiscal year to open a new charter school in Bridgeport and another in Stamford

A group of Democratic senators also met with their leadership this week to share similar concerns.

The CT Mirror goes on to explain,

Malloy met twice with Democratic legislative leaders overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, and sources said the governor indicated he would not accept anything less than the funding level he proposed for charter schools.

The governor has been a major proponent of expanding charter school enrollment. His budget proposes expanding enrollment in existing and new charter schools by 1,446 students next school year, a move that would cost the state $15.9 million. His budget cuts millions in funding the state currently provides the state’s lowest-performing neighborhood schools.

Earlier this month, he rallied with charter school advocates at the Capitol.

“Let me be very clear, we also have to understand that we are going to have charter schools in Connecticut,” Malloy said during the rally.

Democrat Malloy, along with Democrats New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have become the poster boys for the anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school corporate education reform industry and their unprecedented effort to privatize public education in the United States.

In 2012 Malloy rolled out his “education reform” initiative becoming the first Democratic governor in history to call for eliminating teacher tenure for all public school teachers and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining rights for teachers in the state’s poorest schools.

Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy groups have since pumped more than $7.5 million into their record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Malloy’s efforts to denigrate teachers, radically reduce local control of education and turn the state’s public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories.

When presenting his proposed state budget earlier this year, Malloy called for record cuts to Connecticut’s public schools while demanding that Connecticut’s legislators divert scarce public funds so that Malloy’s charter school allies could open two more charter schools in the state.

Under Malloy’s plan, Steve Perry, the infamous opponent of teacher unions, is slated to get funding for his privately owned but publicly funded charter school in Bridgeport.

The Governor’s plan also calls for funding a charter school company from the Bronx that says it will save Stamford, Connecticut by opening a sister school there.

In both cases, the local Boards of Education voted against the charter school proposals and testified in opposition to the charter schools before the State Board of Education and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

The governor and his administration have refused to take the local opposition into consideration.

But in a humorous end note, the CT Mirror story quotes an executive from one of the corporate funded charter advocacy groups who says,

Charter advocates are glad the governor is being so persistent.

“We’re grateful that the majority of legislators are bucking the special interests and listening to the pleas of parents who want a great school for their children,” said Kara Neidhardt, a spokesperson for Families for Excellent Schools, a charter advocacy group.

Families for Excellent Schools not only bused in parents from New York and Boston for the Hartford pro-charter school rally at which Malloy spoke a few weeks ago but the group is running millions of dollars in television ads in New York in support of NY Governor Cuomo’s plan to use more than $150 million in tax credits to subsidize students attending religious schools in New York.

The MUST READ CT Mirror story can be found here:  http://ctmirror.org/2015/05/29/could-malloys-push-to-fund-charter-schools-jeopardize-budget-approval/

You can read a recent Wait, What? blog about Steve Perry’s charter school plans here: Charter School Mogul Steve Perry owns it all – even without legislative approval

And be sure to check back as this breaking story develops.

UConn’s Neag School of Education aligns with faux “Educators 4 Excellence” reform group

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A couple of weeks ago nearly 500 students were handed diplomas from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education.  Most were Connecticut residents and after spending years studying and paying tens of thousands of dollars to get a comprehensive education from a premier teacher preparation program, many are now out looking for teaching jobs in an incredibly difficult job market.

So whatever you do, don’t tell these new UConn graduates that rather than promoting the need for teachers who have acquired the depth of knowledge and skills that comes from attending a true teacher preparation program, their university has aligned itself with a corporate funded education reform front group that is overwhelming made up of teachers who have bypassed all that “teacher prep stuff.”

Although UConn’s Neag School of Education graduation ceremonies were held with great pomp and circumstance, the Neag School’s most profound message to its students and graduates actually came a couple of weeks before graduation day when the Neag School of Education hosted the following;

@NeagSchool alums/school teachers are working together with Educators for Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization that works to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the creation of policies that shape our classrooms and careers. They are having a happy hour to discuss the organization and to get feedback from current Hartford teachers. Share your feedback at the discussion: Hartford @WoodNTap, 4/23, 5 p.m.

Neag School and Educators 4 Excellence…

Wait, What?

Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) is the corporate funded education reform advocacy group that purports to be “working across the state to provide a more elevated teaching profession and improved student outcomes.”

With chapters in Connecticut, New York, California, Minnesota, New Jersey and Chicago, E4E has collected and spent approximately $20 million over the past three years, money it received from the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation (Walmart) and other major anti-teacher education reform groups.  E4E’s mission is to make it seem like real teachers support the corporate education reform industry’s agenda that includes repealing teaching tenure, eliminating the teacher seniority process and promoting the use of the unfair and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme.

In fact, E4E is one of the leading organizations behind the push to use the unfair Common Core tests as part of the teacher evaluation system.

And perhaps most incredible of all, Educators 4 Excellence is primarily made up of people who simply sidestepped an undergraduate teacher training programing, choosing instead to grab a quick alternative certification before entering the classroom.

In Connecticut, E4E claims to have five teachers staffing their advocacy operation.

However, not a single one of the E4E “educators” attended an undergraduate teacher training program in Connecticut or in any other state.  Rather than actually take the time to attend a comprehensive teacher training programs these individuals used the five week Teach For America program to get their teaching certificates.

E4E’s operatives in other states followed a similar path.  While a couple picked up a Master’s degree in some education related field, few did the heaving lifting that provides the depth of knowledge that comes with attending a teacher preparation program.

Of the Educators 4 Excellence staff in New York, only two of thirteen bothered to attend an undergraduate teacher training programs.

In Minnesota, the number is zero out of seven.

In Chicago only one of the four E4E staffers attended a teacher training program and in Los Angeles none of the group’s ten staffers attended an undergraduate teacher preparation program.

The E4E message is that “excellence” does not require going to school to become a teacher.

And that is who UConn’s School of Education is joining with…

Yet according to 2016 U.S. News & World Report rankings, the Neag School ranks among the top 25 public graduate schools of education in the nation and has three specialty programs ranked in the top 20 nationally: Special Education, Educational Psychology, and Educational Administration & Supervision.

As one of the nation’s “premier education programs,” you’d think UConn would be sending a clear and powerful message that while there is a time and place of alternative routes to certification, students who want to be teachers in the United States should attend a true teacher preparation program in order to get the comprehensive education they will need to succeed in today’s classrooms.

But no, for reasons beyond comprehension, while their own students were busy focused on their studies and taking exams to finish up the semester, UConn’s Neag School of Education was off sponsoring a “happy hour” with a corporate front group whose employees didn’t even bother to attend a teacher preparation program.

For more about E4E and this “work,” check out the following Wait, What? posts;

Educators 4 Excellence – Because teachers NEED their own “Education Reform” front group (4/22/15)

Teacher-led organization that gives teachers a meaningful voice in policy is expanding in CT! (5/23/13)

and Another faux pro-public education group targets Connecticut (12/18/12)

Stunning Charter School take down by Robert Cotto Jr.

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Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money!

Robert Cotto Jr. is one of Connecticut’s leading educate advocates, an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education and part of the Educational Studies program at Trinity College.

In his recent CT Newsjunkie commentary piece entitled, Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money! Cotto lays bare the truth about the charter school industry is taking Connecticut’s taxpayers for a ride while diverting scarce public funds from Connecticut’s real public education system.

Robert Cotto writes;

When traditional schools pay their bills to educate kids, they usually don’t have much money, if any, remaining. When charter schools pay their bills, they often have money left over to spend. How much? It depends on the school. For a number of charter schools, roughly 10 percent of all of public dollars meant for educating children in these schools go to pay fees for private companies called “charter management organizations.” That’s a problem.

Connecticut law states that a charter management organization (CMO), “means any entity that a charter school contracts with for educational design, implementation or whole school management services.” These CMOs claim that they are private corporations, not public agencies. Organizations that claim to be CMOs in Connecticut include Achievement First; Capital Preparatory Schools; DOMUS, and Jumoke/FUSE, which is now defunct. It’s often hard to tell the difference between the CMO and the charter schools they manage.

[…]

Roughly 10 percent of a charter school’s budget can go toward management fees. For example, the New Haven-based CMO called Achievement First charged Achievement First-Hartford Charter School a $1.14 million management fee in 2013-14. The state provided Achievement First-Hartford charter schools more than $11 million to operate. So about 10 percent of that state funding went to Achievement First the CMO, not the charter school in Hartford, which ended the year with a surplus.

For every $100 dollars the public spends on this charter school, the CMO called Achievement First gets $10 off the top.

Multiply this fee by the four Achievement First charter schools in Connecticut, and Achievement First Inc., the CMO, walks away with about $4.45 million in fees.

[…]

Instead of operating schools as public responsibilities, CMOs operate charter schools as moneymaking arrangements, almost like fast-food franchises. Companies like Subway Inc. charge local franchises a fee for services ranging from start-up, food supplies, to signage. This is how Subway makes a profit.

The CMOs could be spending this money on millions of dollars in No. 2 pencils, helping to buy foot-long Subway sandwiches at lobbying events, or paying for student field trips to rally for more charter school money. It’s just unclear.

To fully appreciate how Connecticut’s taxpayers are being ripped off by charter school companies, read Robert Cotto’s entire article at:

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_show_me_the_charter_management_fee_money/

When an Education Reformer says “Turnaround” — Don’t!

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Education Advocate Wendy Lecker has another column out and it is once again in the “MUST READ” category.

Her latest piece is part one of a multi-series takedown of those who use fiction rather than facts to fancifully present the term “school turnaround” as if it was a magic bullet.

This particular chapter begins with the Can Can Team from ConnCAN who recently performed a dog and pony show for Connecticut state legislators where they crowed about the “success” of various “school turnaround” projects.

Using their traditional corporate education reform rhetoric, rather than facts, the charter school front group performed magic that would have made a “three card Monte” aficionado proud. [Three card Monte being a card trick in which the mark can’t win because trick cards are used.]

The well-documented corporate education reform failures of New Orleans and Philadelphia were incredibly heralded as successes and that was before they got out their shovels and really started throwing IT around.

Here is Wendy Lecker’s latest MUST READ commentary piece, which first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.   

Failure as a model for Connecticut (By Wendy Lecker)

A recent large-scale federal study revealed that most states lack expertise to turn around struggling schools and are rarely successful. It’s no wonder. Legislators who write turnaround laws never turn to the experts: educators. Connecticut is no exception. Last month, the General Assembly’s Education Committee held a day-long session on school turnarounds. Instead of relying on education experts, it turned to ConnCan, the charter lobby known for its evidence-free reports that push one agenda: Taking power away from school districts to pave the way for privatization.

ConnCan brought in three examples of turnaround to push the idea that the key to success is handing schools or entire districts over to outside operators.

The most startling choice for a presentation was Hartford’s Milner school. Recall that Milner was one of the first commissioner’s network schools. Milner suffered through a failed turnaround in 2008 under then-Superintendent Steven Adamowski. It also had a persistent and severe lack of resources. Rather than providing Milner the necessary resources, the State Board of Education decided to turn it around again in 2012, handing it over to Michael Sharpe’s FUSE/Jumoke charter chain. FUSE/Jumoke had no experience educating ELL students, which made up a large part of Milner’s population. After the revelations of Sharpe’s criminal record and falsified academic credentials, it came to light that FUSE/Jumoke ran Milner school into the ground, hiring ex-convicts, relatives and “winging” the takeover, as Sharpe admitted — all while supposedly under heightened scrutiny by state officials.

Milner’s principal under this takeover, Karen Lott, told Milner’s story. She admitted that this fall, only 13 percent of Milner’s students scored proficient in ELA and an even more shocking 7 percent were proficient in math. She said although they are in the fourth year of the Commissioner’s Network, she is treating this as the first year. Amazing! No public school would be allowed to fail for three years, then magically erase its poor track record.

She blamed the school’s poor performance on several things. First, there was high staff turnover at the school: 85 percent of teachers now have 0-3 years’ experience teaching. This is mind-boggling, as staff turnover was not only the result of the state takeover but one of its goals. Lott spoke of the need now to “aggressively recruit” veteran teachers. Like the ones Jumoke-Milner pushed out in the first place? She also stated that now she is relying on teacher training and mentoring from Hartford Public Schools.

Lott further explained that under Jumoke there was no curriculum. She is now using the Hartford Public Schools curriculum and assessments.

Lott also emphasized that community supports are necessary for children to achieve. She said families need stable housing and mental health services, parents need job training and the neighborhood needs to be safe and clean. Imagine that — poverty affects learning. If this were a public school educator saying these things, ConnCan would condemn her for using poverty as an excuse.

Lott detailed the steps she was now taking beyond the Hartford curriculum, assessments, training and mentoring. She acknowledged that a centerpiece of her efforts is a large increase in resources. Milner now has a full-time therapeutic clinician and after-school programs. Hartford Public Schools re-opened its budget to provide the school will more computers. Central office also allowed Milner to have two half-days a month, so teachers get additional professional development. Lott also said she now implements Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a system used by many public schools.

To her credit, Lott seems to be focusing on proven methods of helping students: extra academic and social support for at-risk children, training, mentoring and support for teachers, and adequate school resources. What must be stressed is that none of these ideas are innovative. Nor do any of these resources require takeover by an outside operator. They are tools schools either already use or have been pleading for. The lack of these resources is a basis for Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell.

Lott contended that what she needed is more time, more resources and more autonomy. Schools need time and resources to improve. The claim for autonomy, however, is puzzling, given she is relying on central office for curriculum, assessments, training, mentoring and special treatment so she can get resources other schools do not have.

Lott’s message is — perhaps unintentionally — the opposite of the one ConnCan is pushing. Schools do not need takeover or turnaround. Just give struggling schools time, support and resources to do what everyone already knows helps kids learn.

You can read and comment on Wendy’s original piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failure-as-a-model-for-Connecticut-6267220.php

Another Charter School Front Group – More apparent ethics law violations (Re-post)

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Here we go again… Yet another faux education advocacy group appears unwilling or unable to follow Connecticut’s ethics laws.

The number of corporate funded education reform and charter school front groups in Connecticut is popping up faster than the buds appear during a warm spring week and these groups seem virtually incapable of adhering to Connecticut’s ethics and lobbying laws.

You may need to read this post a few times to follow the bouncing ball…

It was just a few weeks ago that CT News Junkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman wrote a scathing column on the ethics problems associated with the New York based corporate education reform industry group called Families for Excellent Schools and its subsidiary, and entity called the Coalition for Every Child.

In the piece entitled, Are Charter Advocacy Groups Skirting CT Ethics Laws?, Darer Littman laid out the facts surrounding the Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child controversy.

The well-financed charter school advocacy group is the organization that is paying for the television ads promoting Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget that makes historic cuts to public education while dramatically increasing funding for charter schools.

The group was also one of the sponsors of this week’s pro-charter school rally at the State Capitol that featured Malloy.

As the Hartford Courant reported, charter school students and parents were bused in to Hartford from as far away as Boston and New York City in an attempt to persuade Connecticut legislators to divert even more money so that Steve Perry could open a charter school in Bridgeport and a Bronx charter school chain could open up a charter school in Stamford.

As Sarah Darer Littman explained, not only had Families for Excellent Schools run into ethics issues in New York, but they were failing to report activities and expenditures here in Connecticut.

Now it looks like another new charter school advocacy group called “FaithActs for Education” is failing to report its lobbying related activities as required under state law – violations that should be met with thousands of dollars in fines.

Although FaithActs for Education was rolled out on February 15, 2015 in a well-scripted press conference featuring Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and a number of Bridgeport ministers, the corporation called FaithActs for Education was actually formed in October 2014.

As the Connecticut Post reported in February, “With the public backing of Mayor Bill Finch, a faith-based education advocacy group, FaithActs for Education, conducted its first meeting on Monday declaring a dedication ‘to improving education for all children in Bridgeport, no matter what type of school they attend.’”

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who participated in the event said,

“We know where we are and where we need to go. FaithActs for Education will help us to become even more of a force to be reckoned with.”

In addition to supporting Governor Malloy’s education reform agenda and Mayor Bill Finch, as he faces a difficult re-election campaign, FaithActs for Education’s immediate work has been to support Steve Perry’s plan to open a publicly funded, but privately owned and operated charter school in Bridgeport.

According to a press release issued by FaithActs for Education, the entity is led by,

  • Reverend William McCullough, Pastor, Russell Temple CME Church
  • Bishop John P. Diamond, Senior Pastor, Cathedral of Faith,
  • Reverend Janene Hawkins, Pastor, Walters Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church,
  • Reverend Carl McCluster, Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church,
  • Reverend Cass Shaw, President & CEO, Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport,
  • Reverend Jeremy L. Williams, Pastor, West End Tabernacle CME Church.
  • In addition, the infamous Reverend Kenneth Moales, Pastor, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is also playing a role with the group.

The organization’s chairman, Reverend McCullough, along with Reverend Moales and Reverend McCluster are all listed as original members of the Governing Council of Steve Perry’s new charter school in Bridgeport and all have been engaged in lobbying the State Board of Education and the General Assembly on Perry’s behalf.

Although we’re led to believe that FaithActs for Education is a homegrown group of religious leaders working to promote educational opportunities for all of Bridgeport’s children, the real story is very different.

According to the incorporation papers filed with the Secretary of the State, FaithActs for Education Inc. was created by Jamilah Prince-Stewart, who now serves as the entity’s Executive Director.

At the time of incorporation she served as the Director of Community Engagement for ConnCAN, Connecticut’s leading charter school lobby group.  In addition, FaithActs’ Director of Operations and Programs left her position as Special Projects Manager at ConnCAN to join the new advocacy group.

At the February 2015 press conference to roll out FaithActs for Education, both ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander and former ConnCAN CEO Alex Johnson were in attendance.

In addition to their lobbying work with ConnCAN, Alexander and Johnson were the individuals who formed A Better Connecticut, Inc. yet another education reform industry front group that spent more than $2 million on television ads during the year before the last gubernatorial election to “thank” Governor Malloy for his “leadership” on behalf of the corporate education reform agenda.

FaithActs’ initial press conference was orchestrated by the new group’s spokesman, Bob Bellafiore.

As public education advocate Maria Pereira noted at the time, Bellafiore is the founder of Stanhope Partners, an Albany PR firm that works for the charter school industry.

Before setting up his own company, he served as a Vice President of National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter chain that owns and operates 75 charter schools in nine states, making it the third largest for-profit charter school company in the United States.

Just last year, National Heritage Academies made national news when it was discovered that it was charging one of its’ Brooklyn charter schools $2.3 million in rent per year even though it was leasing the property for much less.

Meanwhile, back in Bridgeport, FaithActs for Education purports to be a, “grassroots organizing nonprofit based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. We exist to help faith leaders and their congregations step outside their place of worship to advocate for improved educational opportunities for their own children and the children of Bridgeport.”

The organization’s rhetoric goes on to say that, “created as a 501(c)3 Foundation,” FaithActs receives funding from various foundations and individuals, although, to date, it has failed to reveal which foundations or individuals are underwriting the organization’s lobbying and advocacy activities.

FaithActs for Education also shares an address with Educators 4 Excellence, another corporate funded advocacy group that claims to speak for teachers who are opposed to tenure and other collective bargaining rights.  (See Wait, What? Post Educators 4 Excellence – Because teachers NEED their own “Education Reform” front group)

But even if all of that wasn’t indicative enough of the power and inter-relationship of the corporate education reform industry, there is more….

According to the incorporation papers filed with the Secretary of the State’s Office, FaithActs for Education’s agent of service is its Executive Director, Jamilah Prince-Stewart.

However, rather than recording the organization’s actual physical office in Bridgeport for corporate related service issues, the official corporate filing lists the following;

FAITHACTS FOR EDUCATION,

C/O PUBLIC SQUARE PARTNERSHIP,

1730 COMMERCE DRIVE #706 SUITE C,

BRIDGEPORT, CT, 06605

Public Square Partnerships is a relatively new company whose agent of service is none-other-than Nate Snow, the Director of Teach for America’s Connecticut Chapter.  Snow also serves as President of Excel Bridgeport Inc., another Bridgeport based charter school advocacy group that had its own run-in with the Connecticut Ethics Commission when it failed to register with the Office of State Ethics despite the fact that it was lobbying state government in favor of Governor Malloy’s illegal takeover of the Bridgeport School System.

Excel Bridgeport, Inc., along with Steve Perry supporter, Reverend Kenneth Moales, were the biggest supporters of education reform guru Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s inappropriately certified superintendent who was forced to leave after two years.  Vallas being best known for “charterizing” the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans schools system before being recruited by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, to “save” Bridgeport.

Although based in Bridgeport, Public Square Partnership not only lists TFA Director Nate Snow as its agent, but they use Teach for America’s New Haven office address as their official agent of service.

According to their website, Public Square Partnerships “focuses its investments on innovative change efforts that have attained tangible results for children attending schools in high-need communities or that have the potential to do so for sustainable and scalable impact.”

The company adds, “We partner with education organizations that develop educators, schools, and engage parents and community members in creating high-quality schools.”

Public Square Partnerships further reports that in its first year of operation, the company had contracts to help five schools in Bridgeport and New Haven, three of which were public schools and two were charter schools.

Among its clients, we are told, are the new Booker T. Washington Charter School Academy in New Haven and the Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport.

While Nate Snow serves as the Agent of Service for Public Square Partnerships, the President and CEO of the company is Diane Robinson who has spent the last twenty years working for the massive KIPP Charter School chain and Teacher for America.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer most recently worked as a Deputy Chief Portfolio Officer with the New York City Department of Education and before that was with the Washington DC Public Schools system.

The company’s third employee comes to Connecticut via the large education reform industry consulting firm called Schoolworks.

While more and more of the pieces of the puzzle come into view, the one thing that is absolutely clear is that there are a whole lot of organizations, spending a whole lot of money to further Governor Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school and anti-teacher education reform agenda.

Education Blog got $12 million to promote message…ps…it’s not Wait, What?

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Yesterday a number of corporate funded charter school advocacy groups joined Governor Dannel Malloy in support of his plan to dramatically increase charter school funding while making historic cuts to funding for public schools.

For coverage see: The Hartford Courant’s Charter School Lobbying: Where Is Money Coming From?  and CT Mirror’s Aggressive charter school campaign descends on the Capitol.

Anyway you look at it, the corporate education reform industry has deep pockets.

Just last September, Peter Cunningham, the former PR guy for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, rolled out a new organization called Education Post.

The cornerstone of the project is a pro-corporate education reform industry blog called The Conversation, its purpose being to counter the work of Diane Ravitch and the more than 230 other pro-public education bloggers around the nation.

The initial grants to get the new pro-common core, pro-charter school, pro-education reform effort off the ground totaled at least $12 million.  The money came from the Eli Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and a generous anonymous donor.

At the time, the president of the Broad Foundation, Richard Reed, explained to the Washington Post that,

“The idea for Education Post originated with his organization but that other philanthropic groups had recognized the need years ago.

‘We had a shared disappointment in the tenor of the debate,’ said Reed, a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden and former chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council.”

Reed went on to add that the new blog was stepping in to help support the discussion surrounding education policy because,

 “Administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this…This is an effort to help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside.”

Howard Wolfson, who served as a co-chief strategist to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and a senior adviser to Ned Lamont’ senate campaign in Connecticut is also an adviser to Bloomberg Philanthropies.  Discussing the purpose of the new education reform blog, Wolfson said,

“There hasn’t really been an organization dedicated to sharing the successes of education reform around the country…You have local success, but it isn’t amplified elsewhere. And there is a lot of success. There is also an awful lot of misperception around what ed reform is, and there hasn’t been an organization . . . focused on correcting those misimpressions.”

Here in Connecticut, charter school advocates have, from time to time, raised the questions about who funds Wait, What?

Last year a pro-charter school blogger wrote, “How Much Money Does Jon Pelto Really Make for Attacking School Principals?”  The blogger added,

“Who does Jon Pelto think he’s kidding?

When Rick Green over at the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Watch blog asked Pelto who pays the bills, the not-precisely-accurate ex-politician’s response was laughable.

“Pelto said he raises about $7,000 annually to pay for his blog,” Green wrote.

Don’t believe it for a second. No fewer than three times a day, seven days a week, Pelto posts haranguing attacks on our governor, education commissioner, school superintendents and principals.

Each one of those posts is hundreds, sometimes thousands of words in length.

And he does it for free? Yeah, excuse me while I have a laughing fit in the corner.

For example, when Pelto was lamely and ineffectually attacking principal and magnet school founder Steve Perry for sending tweets, he decided that Perry’s tweeting had cost the city “well in excess of $10,000.”

How he arrived at that figure, no one knows. But now that he’s made it up, he repeats it as fact every chance he gets.”

Now that it turns out that a blog dedicated to promoting the education reform industry received $12 million in grants just to get going, I can certainly appreciate the Connecticut bloggers disbelief that there are people out here who actually care enough to write about education policy and politics without making hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the truth is that Wait, What? – like all the individual pro-public education blogs that I know of –  receive no funding at all, or, at best, collect small contributions from readers.

Over the past year, Wait, What? has received about $10,000 and, for the record, none of that money came from unions, political action committees or other advocacy groups.

Not that I would turn down contributions from people who like and support the blog and its mission, but truth be told, the anti-common core, anti-common core testing and anti-Governor Malloy posts have apparently made the blog somewhat of a pariah when it comes to the attitude of the national and state teachers’ unions.

Note to self: “If you want to collect donations from teachers’ unions, don’t criticize them and definitely don’t criticize the candidates they support.”

That said, towing the “party line” probably wouldn’t have resulted in a $12 million donation.

In any case, although the notion of making big bucks is very tempting, if readers ever type in the Wait, What? website url and the site is shut down, you still probably won’t find me writing for the education reform industry’s blog — The Conversation — although even a fraction of that $12 million would go a long way toward paying the bills.

Happy Friday!

And remember, As George Orwell said,

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Oh and if you do want to contribute to Wait, What? click on the following link;

Spring 2015 Wait, What? Fundraising Request

 

What is the story with the disastrous Foundations of Reading Survey

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If you are a K-3 teacher who has taken Connecticut’s new Foundations of Reading test you know something has gone very wrong.

The new Foundations of Reading test is made up of 85 multiple choice questions addressing “3 subareas and 9 objectives.”  The Connecticut State Department of Education writes that the goal of the test is to measure where K-3 teachers are properly prepared in “(I) Foundations of Reading Development, (2) Development of Reading Comprehension and (3) Reading Assessment and Instruction.

The monstrous Pearson Education Inc. was hired by Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education to design a Connecticut specific test so that the state could measure and determine the capabilities of all Kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers.

However, according to a significant number of people who have taken or seen Pearson’s Connecticut “Foundations of Reading” test many of the questions relate to teaching children older than third grade or children who require English Language assistance.  If true, this is a perplexing and jarring development considering the state law was only intended to measure the practices directly related to teaching reaching in K-3.

In addition, many of those taking the new K-3 reading test report that the actual “ready survey” is completely different than the practice tests that the State Department of Education had been urging teachers to take in preparation for taking the new exam.

As more and more reports come from teachers who have actually taken the test, the question now arises as to whether the state paid the Pearson Company for a Connecticut specific test, but has been given something completely different.

Since corporate education reform industry groupie Dannel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut, Pearson Inc. has collected just over $3 million and counting from the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut.

Some of those funds were specifically used to develop and administer Malloy’s new reading exam.

The mandate requiring that teachers take the new exam was part of Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-public school education reform initiative of 2012.

The law states that teachers in Kindergarten through 3rd grade must “take a survey on reading instruction, developed by the Department of Education.”

Pearson Inc. and its affiliate, the Evaluation Systems Group, was apparently hired by the State Department of Education to modify their Foundations of Reading test to be used in Connecticut.

According to the company, the Foundations of Reading test “assesses proficiency in and depth of understanding of the subject of reading and writing development. The test reflects scientifically based reading research and is aligned with the Common Core State Standards.”

Pearson, of course, is the “global leader in educational publishing, assessment, information, and services and Pearson is committed to innovative print and digital educational materials for pre-kindergarten through professional learning. The resources of Pearson span the breadth and depth of its internationally successful brands, including Addison Wesley, Allyn & Bacon/Merrill, Benjamin Cummings, the Stanford Achievement Test Series, the Wechsler family of assessments, SuccessNet, MyLabs, Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall, AGS, PowerSchool, SuccessMaker, TeacherVision, and many others.”

Pearson goes on to brag that it is, “renowned for its student information systems and learning management systems, teacher development programs, and testing and assessment products that set the standard for the industry through a combination of research, technology, and expertise.”

For state governments, Pearson advertises, ““Our custom evaluation services represent a full range of services for creating and administering teacher certification tests that align 100 percent with the teacher certification requirements and student academic standards of an individual state. Our programs span the country and include such states as Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. We have the people, experience, and technology to tailor our services to a state’s most exacting needs.”

So now the question is —- what exactly did the state of Connecticut get for its money and what are Connecticut K-3 teachers being tested on.

According to the law, the “survey” must “identify strengths and weaknesses of the teachers’ reading instruction, practice and knowledge on an individual, school, and district level.”

While the law states that the “survey” results will not be used as part of a teacher’s “summative performance evaluation rating under the new teacher evaluation program,” the results will be used, “in developing the professional development plans for the individual teacher.”

But if it is true that many of the questions included in the survey don’t actually relate to the work these teachers are doing or aren’t even appropriate for the age group these teachers are educating, then how are local districts supposed to interpret and use the results?

Anyone with information about the test is welcome to post their comments here or send them along to [email protected] where they will be collected, synthesized and posted in a future article.

Common Core jeopardizes foundation of learning (By Wendy Lecker)

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Fellow Connecticut educate advocate Wendy Lecker has been one of the most powerful and important voices on behalf of public education and against the corporate education reform industry’s unending assault of public school teachers, public schools and the rights of students and parents.  While many policymakers, education administrators and even the organizations responsible for protecting and promoting public education have turned a blind eye or engaged in the politics of appeasement, Wendy Lecker has continued to speak the truth and promote the notion that a just society strengthens not undermines its commitment to a comprehensive public education system.

In her latest piece entitled, Core jeopardizes foundation of learning, and initially published in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker takes down the claim that the “Common Core” is the “Solution” to the challenges facing the nation’s public schools.

Core jeopardizes foundation of learning (By Wendy Lecker)

This spring, parents and students across the country led a massive movement to refuse Common Core tests to protest over-testing and the changes in education wrought by the new standards. In the face of this revolt, supporters are attempting to salvage the Common Core by claiming that while testing may be a problem, the standards themselves are educationally superior. Moreover, they assert, the standards do not dictate what is to be taught in school. These claims are false: many of the standards are bad for education and demand developmentally inappropriate educational practices in schools.

Recently, experts at the organization Defending the Early Years issued a report focusing on one of these bad standards: the standard calling for kindergartners to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” Translation: children must learn to read in kindergarten.

This mandate contradicts everything we know about child development and forces kindergarten teachers to engage in damaging practices. Play has been severely reduced or eliminated in favor of direct instruction, worksheets and frequent testing.

As I have written before (The disturbing transformation of kindergarten), the milestones of child development have not changed in a century. While there is a wide range of development at this age, most children in kindergarten are not ready to read. Reading requires understanding that symbols, letters, represent sounds and put together, in words, represent ideas or objects. Kindergartners’ brains cannot comprehend that kind of abstraction. They also typically do not recognize certain shapes and lines that are essential to understanding letters. This “lack” is normal, and it explains why play is essential in kindergarten.

As child development expert Diane Levin of Wheelock College told me, through play, children develop the foundation for reading. When a child builds with blocks or engages in socio-dramatic play, s/he is making a representation of something in a different form — a step toward abstract thought. By painting and drawing, a child begins to understand that two-dimensional lines can represent three dimensional objects — a precursor to comprehending that letters can represent sounds and words can represent objects or ideas. By telling stories or putting on plays, a child understands sequencing. In playing with objects, s/he learns to categorize. These activities are intentionally designed to help children build a strong foundation for the kind of skills required for formal reading instruction later on. Children need to first build this foundation experientially, in the concrete world in which they live, in order for the skills to have meaning for them.

During the above-described play, children may start to recognize letters and words. However, for most children, formal reading instruction at this age is not meaningful or engaging. They may learn to mimic and comply with instructions, but without the necessary foundation, they will not integrate the lessons. In fact, studies show that children who begin formal reading instruction at age seven, having first developed strong oral language skills in a play-based environment, catch up to children who learn to read earlier and have better comprehension skills by middle school.

Emphasizing formal reading instruction in kindergarten has crowded out the play-based, child-directed activities essential to building a strong foundation for successful academic learning. Teaching reading earlier does not give children get a “head start” on academic learning; it is a roadblock.

Losing play-based kindergarten also deprives us of a vital tool to help children’s social and emotional development. The majority of American public school students live in poverty. Brain experts have shown that many of the factors associated with living in poverty cause “toxic stress;” which impairs, among other things, the development of their executive function, making it difficult for children to concentrate, remember and control impulses. This impairment has a lifelong impact, impeding the ability to sustain relationships, cope with stress, make healthy life choices and learn successfully.

Play helps develop executive function, coping mechanisms, and problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills. Through play, children also learn to build social supports with peers — a key to resilience. Eliminating play robs children of an opportunity to develop these skills. Replacing play with developmentally inappropriate, frustrating and meaningless demands heightens children’s stress levels and destroys their trust in the adults charged with their welfare — the exact opposite of the type of environment our most vulnerable children need. It can also make young children hate school from the start.

The Common Core reading standards have forced schools to discard all that we have learned about child development. How many young futures are we willing to sacrifice before we return education policy to those who know something about children?

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