A Clarion Call for Action – Superintendent Scarice speaks out for students, parents, teachers and Connecticut

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Madison, Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has been named a public education champion by Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading education advocate.  His willingness to stand up and speak out on behalf of students, parents, teachers and public schools has earned him accolades and praise from the Washington Post to the Wait, What Blog and from many others.

In his latest piece, which first appeared in the CT Mirror, Thomas Scarice lays down the gauntlet saying, An education revolution beckons. In Connecticut, who will lead?.

Superintendent Scarice writes;

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before the Education Committee of the Connecticut Legislature.  I commented that education policy in our state sadly resembles the phenomenon of the “Macarena.”

Play along for a moment.  Let your mind drift back 20 years or so to any random wedding.  When the “Rent a DJ” wanted to get the dance floor moving you could hear the drumbeat and the lyrics, “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.” Suddenly, the house was jumping, hips were swaying, hands were clapping, and everyone from your 5-year-old nephew to your great aunt were doing the Macarena.

Now fast forward to present day.  The same stale “Rent a DJ” reaches back and tries to conjure up some dance magic.  You hear that familiar drumbeat.  But, instead of filling up the dance floor, all that is left are two embarrassing guys, hips swaying and hands clapping, all alone on the floor, while family and friends shuffle uncomfortably in their seats trying not to make eye contact.

Sadly, this metaphor is an illustration of education policy in Connecticut.  We are the state left on the dance floor with tired policies, while other states are running away.  We are overdue for a bold statewide vision that matches the uncertain and ever-changing world our students will enter when they graduate.  But who will lead?

Codified by state law, and enforced by a bureaucracy utterly consumed by compliance, tens of thousands of educators across the state are suffocating, desperate to be exhumed.  Consequently, this suffocation is stifling the young, inquisitive minds of children from all backgrounds and colors.

Have we seen the types of educational changes we want for our kids in the past 10-15 years, particularly as the world endures revolutionary changes?  If not, why continue the same ineffectual practices?  Can Connecticut jump to the forefront and lead in innovation, or do we stand on the dance floor with the two embarrassing guys clapping and swaying?

As we careen through rapid global changes that have profound implications for the worlds of work, citizenship, and lifelong learning, it is safe to assume that the traditional promise of “go to school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job” no longer applies.  If you are clinging to that promise, you are probably still searching for your music at Tower Records.

The world continues to decentralize its economy, and the flow of information, at an unprecedented rate.  The “sharing economy” rewards innovators and diversity of thought.  Yet, Connecticut clings to a command-and-control educational approach destined to homogenize children.

Either directly through prescriptive laws, such as ones that mandate precisely how local boards of education must evaluate their employees, or indirectly through schemes and mechanisms that place high stakes on invalid and unreliable tests such as the SBAC, we rank and sort kids, schools, and teachers based on test scores. Our 8-year-old students take more state tests than what is required to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer.  All the while we are missing the point.

We are educating our children for the wrong era.

So, how is this era different?  The list is endless.

Our kids must be able to think analytically through incomparable volumes of information, to imagine, to work effectively with others, to find their voice in a sea of noise, to tell a compelling story, and to ask incisive questions to name just a few.  Getting better at taking tests, answering mind-numbing “text-dependent questions” by finding facts in non-fiction texts, and limiting opportunities for original thought will only serve to further divorce important authentic learning from schooling.

Sudden, almost instantaneous changes are reshaping our democracy and the global economy.  Will Uber, with a valuation about to surpass the levels of GM, DuPont, and Time Warner, evolve beyond online transportation and be the standard business model that will employ the next generation of professionals?  Might patients someday demand the attentive droid instead of the human doctor for time sensitive procedures, such as keyhole kidney surgery?  What about entry level or service jobs?  iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn, has already replaced 60,000 workers with robots, and Royal Caribbean’s luxury cruise line now uses a robotic bar, Shakr Makr, developed at MIT, to serve customers.

What does the automated car mean for the insurance industry?  What about the “sharing economy”?  Airbnb is now the biggest hotel chain in the world.  What happens if the startup company, Otto, with engineers from Google, Apple and Tesla, perfects technology that enables fleets of robotic self-driving trucks?  Have you noticed that a multi-billion dollar industry has been reduced to a red tin box of DVDs outside of gas stations in the matter of a few years?   Couple all of these rapid transformations with an increasingly polarized interpersonal climate across the nation and an imposing landscape emerges for this and future generations.

And our response in Connecticut?  We cling to a flawed test (i.e. the SBAC), conflating measures with goals, while other states, and organizations in private industry leave the dance floor and run in the opposite direction.

Over half of the states that initially adopted the SBAC have dropped it, and the remaining states inevitably will in due time, including Connecticut, but by then how many more students will have been harmed?

Oklahoma and Hawaii have removed the coupling of student test scores from the evaluations of individual teachers.  Massachusetts is the next state to follow suit, interestingly enough, led by a coalition of superintendents and teachers.  A recent New York court decision invalidated the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations due to the arbitrary and capricious nature of the process.

Even outside of education, private industry behemoths such as, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, Google, and Accenture have eliminated the use of numerical ratings for employees, an immovable piece of the Connecticut evaluation scheme.  And finally, there’s New Hampshire, which has aggressively pursued a statewide assessment model that put teachers in the position of creating tasks where students apply their learning in real world situations, rather than flawed standardized tests.

Could Connecticut innovate on the same level?  Of course.  Will we?  Listen closely…”Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.

In Connecticut we will commission a “study” of the practice of assessing teachers’ performance on student test scores even though the actual makers of the test, and mountains of literature, warn against the practice.  We’ll grade schools and districts on a 1-5 rating scale, although that practice failed miserably across the nation.  We will count on the SBAC to predict career readiness… quite a miraculous endeavor given that the World Economic Forum recently predicted that 65 percent of the jobs our children will occupy do not even exist yet.

We will base 80 percent of elementary and middle school performance on a singular, flawed test, thus distorting the perception of schools.  We’ll place the SAT at the center of high school accountability with more than half of a school’s performance rating based on SAT scores, while a growing number of colleges and universities recognize that the SAT fails to properly predict college success and move to drop the testing requirement.

Worse yet, we apply the greatest pressure to districts with the greatest challenges, plagued with economic disadvantages and generational poverty.    Can you hear it?  “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.”

And how do we justify such practices?  Perhaps most offensive of all, we equate the need for high stakes testing , and command-and-control policies, with the obligation to ensure the protection of the civil rights for our most at-risk children without any conversation about the funding, or even more necessary, accountability for those holding others accountable.

The obsession with dehumanizing students and equating them with data points has muted any discussion about inputs into the system (e.g. funding, class size, innovative curricular and professional development).  One need to go no farther than a short drive down the turnpike to civil rights expert, Dr. Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University, who has demonstrated with thunderous authority, through the actual words and sayings of Dr. Martin Luther King, that the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement would have never stood beside those who seek to privatize and monetize public education, nor would he have supported the high stakes testing obsession that has crippled the promise of public education, dehumanized children, and driven countless educators out of the profession.

If that is not enough, perhaps civil rights icon James Meredith’s most recent comments criticizing these same intellectually and morally bankrupt practices will finally put this myth to bed.

And yet, in Connecticut, we remain on the dance floor.  Our dance partners are dwindling, running in the opposite direction.  An education revolution beckons.  One that engages, imagines, inspires, and personalizes.

Soon, it will just be us and the two embarrassing guys.  Who will lead?

To read and comment on Thomas Scarice’s commentary piece go to the CTMirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/06/09/an-education-revolution-beckons-in-connecticut-who-will-lead/

 

BREAKING NEWS – Common Core PARCC tests gets an “F” for Failure

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Stunning assessment of the data reveals Common Core test not a successful predictor of college success.

What does this mean for Connecticut and other SBAC states?

Common Core PARCC tests gets an “F” for Failure – By Wendy Lecker and Jonathan Pelto

The entire premise behind the Common Core and the related Common Core PARCC and SBAC testing programs was that it would provide a clear cut assessment of whether children were “college and career ready.”

In the most significant academic study to date, the answer appears to be that the PARCC version the massive and expensive test is that it is an utter failure.

William Mathis, Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center and member of the Vermont State Board of Education, has just published an astonishing piece in the Washington Post. (Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid? In it, Mathis demonstrates that the PARCC test, one of two national common core tests (the other being the SBAC), cannot predict college readiness; and that a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education demonstrated the PARCC’s lack of validity.

This revelation is huge and needs to be repeated. PARCC, the common core standardized test sold as predicting college-readiness, cannot predict college readiness. The foundation upon which the Common Core and its standardized tests were imposed on this nation has just been revealed to be an artifice.

As Mathis wrote, the Massachusetts study found the following: the correlations between PARCC ELA tests and freshman GPA ranges from 0.13-0.26, and for PARCC Math tests, the range is between 0.37 and 0.40. Mathis explains that the correlation coefficients “run from zero (no relationship) to 1.0 (perfect relationship). How much one measure predicts another is the square of the correlation coefficient. For instance, taking the highest coefficient (0.40), and squaring it gives us .16. “

This means the variance in PARCC test scores, at their best, predicts only 16% of the variance in first year college GPA.  SIXTEEN PERCENT!  And that was the most highly correlated aspect of PARCC.  PARCC’s ELA tests have a correlation coefficient of 0.17, which squared is .02. This number means that the variance in PARCC ELA scores can predict only 2% of the variance in freshman GPA!

Dr. Mathis notes that the PARCC test-takers in this study were college freshman, not high school students. As he observes, the correlations for high school students taking the test would no doubt be even lower. (Dr. Mathis’ entire piece is a must-read. Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid?)

Dr. Mathis is not an anti-testing advocate. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, Director of its Educational Assessment program, a design consultant for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and for six states.   As managing director for NEPC, Dr. Mathis produces and reviews research on a wide variety of educational policy issues. Previously, he was Vermont Superintendent of the Year and a National Superintendent of the Year finalist before being appointed to the state board of education. He brings expertise to the topic.

As Mathis points out, these invalid tests have human costs:

“With such low predictability, you have huge numbers of false positives and false negatives. When connected to consequences, these misses have a human price. This goes further than being a validity question. It misleads young adults, wastes resources and misjudges schools.  It’s not just a technical issue, it is a moral question. Until proven to be valid for the intended purpose, using these tests in a high stakes context should not be done.”

PARCC is used in  New Jersey, Maryland and other states, not Connecticut. So why write about this here, where we use the SBAC?

The SBAC has yet to be subjected to a similar validity study.  This raises several questions.  First and most important, why has the SBAC not be subjected to a similar study? Why are our children being told to take an unvalidated test?

Second, do we have any doubt that the correlations between SBAC and freshman college GPA will be similarly low?  No- it is more than likely that the SBAC is also a poor predictor of college readiness.

How do we know this? The authors of the PARCC study shrugged off the almost non-existent correlation between PARCC and college GPA by saying the literature shows that most standardized tests have low predictive validity.

This also bears repeating: it is common knowledge that most standardized tests cannot predict academic performance in college.  Why , then, is our nation spending billions developing and administering new tests, replacing curricula, buying technology, text books and test materials, retraining teachers and administrators, and misleading the public by claiming that these changes will assure us that we are preparing our children for college?

And where is the accountability of these test makers, who have been raking in billions, knowing all the while that their “product” would never deliver what they promised, because they knew ahead of time that the tests would not be able to predict college-readiness?

When then-Secretary Arne Duncan was pushing the Common Core State Standards and their tests on the American public, he maligned our public schools by declaring: “For far too long,” 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.” He proclaimed that with Common Core and the accompanying standardized tests, “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.”

Mr. Duncan made this accusation even though there was a mountain of evidence proving that the best predictor of college success, before the Common Core, was an American high school GPA.  In other words, high schools were already preparing kids for college quite well.

With the revelations in this PARCC study and the admissions of its authors, we know now that it was Mr. Duncan and his administration who were lying to parents, educators, children and taxpayers. Politicians shoved the Common Core down the throat of public schools with the false claim that this regime would improve education.  They forced teachers and schools to be judged and punished based on these tests.  They told millions of children they were academically unfit based on these tests. And now we have proof positive that these standardized tests are just as weak as their predecessors, and cannot in any way measure whether our children are “college-ready.”

The time is now for policymakers to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of school hours, on a useless standardized testing scheme;   and to instead invest our scarce public dollars in programs that actually ensure that public schools are have the capacity to support and prepare students to have more fulfilling and successful lives.

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Yesterday, CNBC reported that with more than $100 billion under management, Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates is once again the world’s largest hedge fund.   .

Tomorrow, Governor Dannel Malloy and his appointees on the Connecticut Bond Commission will approve a corporate welfare package for Bridgeport Associates that will cost taxpayers $22 million plus.  The plus “part” is due to the fact that Malloy is actually borrowing the money to give to the giant hedge fund, meaning Connecticut taxpayers must pay back the money, along with the associated interest.

As for the plan, long-time Wait, What? readers will remember that this is actually Plan B of Malloy’s effort to subsidize one of the most successful companies in the world.

 

The Connecticut Bond Commission agenda explains the latest plan as follows:

These funds are requested to provide a grant-in-aid and loan, under the First Five Program, to Bridgewater Associates, LP to assist with expansion of its facilities in Westport, Wilton and Norwalk. The company will retain 1,402 jobs and create 750 new jobs. The loan will be provided at an interest rate of 1% for ten years with principal deferred for five years. The company will be eligible for loan forgiveness if it creates the 750 jobs and retains the existing jobs by the end of 2021. Also included are a $2 million grant to assist with training and a $3 million grant for installation of alternative energy systems.

Last year, Dalio’s pay dropped to $1.6 billion, down from $2.3 billion a year a couple of years ago.

Things are tough all over…

Malloy’s solution;

While middle class families across the state struggle with massive costs, such as student loans with rates of 8% or more, not to mention rising energy costs, as a result of Malloy’s economic development strategy, Connecticut taxpayer will be loaning one of the 1%’s most elite members with a $17 million dollar loan at 1% [go –figure] with no payments due for five years  – and, should the company stick to its present business trajectory – they don’t have to pay back the loan at all.  In addition to the $17 million, Dalio and his company will get $2 million to help subsidize their worker training program and $3 so that they can install some “alternative energy systems.”

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s state budget deficit is about $250 million and growing, The Malloy administration has laid off about 1,000 state employees in the last few weeks and Malloy’s new budget counts on his ability to ax as many as 3,000 more state employees in the coming couple of months.

Called by some, the Reverse Robin Hood Strategy, where in Connecticut we know it as Dannel Malloy’s approach to the advanced capitalist system in which taxpayers work extra hard so their government can give money to successful businesses.

For those who want to know more about Malloy’s horrendous Bridgewater give-a-way program, some of the details can be found in previous Wait, What? posts on this issue.

Yes, you heard right…CT taxpayers give $115 million to Bridgewater, world’s biggest hedge fund (8/19/2012)

Slam-Dunk! Touch-down! Goal!!!! Taxpayers come through for American’s highest paid CEO (1/11/2013)

Damn process gets in the way of the Bridgewater Associates corporate welfare give-a-way (10/2/2013)

“This is stealing from the poor and middle class to make a billionaire even richer” (Pelto, August 2012) (6/27/14)

To Hell with Connecticut’s Middle Class – Someone needs to subsidize the Billionaires (9/16/2015)

Oh, and as for the $2 million Connecticut taxpayers are giving to help Bridgewater Associates train their staff?  Check out,

Bridgewater’s Co-CEO Once “Supervised Subordinates Stripping Off Articles Of Clothing And Setting Them On Fire During A Team-Building Exercise”

As long-time Dealbreaker readers know, we have been writing about the slightly unorthodox culture at Bridgewater Associates since 2010, when we received a spiral-bound copy of Principles, the hedge fund’s unofficial company handbook penned by founder Ray Dalio. At the time, it was surprising to learn of an asset management firm that explained its reasoning for why employees shouldn’t hesitate to identify and eliminate weak colleagues via a discussion about “a pack of hyenas [taking] down a young wildebeest”; told them that failing to confront a person about their shortcomings to their face made you “a slimy weasel”; pushed them to ask themselves if they’d “earned the right to have an opinion”; insisted that “firing people is not a big deal”; and quizzed them on all of the above and more.

Amazingly, though, the Westport-based hedge fund continues to surprise us with the new and innovative ways it conducts its business, many of which are on display in Wall Street Journal article today, examining life under the Tao of Dalio..

[…]

Trustfalls…ON STEROIDS: “Mr. Jensen also cut a distinctive path as a manager. About three years ago, he supervised subordinates stripping off articles of clothing and setting them on fire during a team-building exercise at an official company retreat.

Bridgeport’s Former “Deputy Mayor” Josh Thompson running for Mayor of New York City

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Although it is undoubtedly purely coincidental, with fans eagerly awaiting the much anticipated release this Friday of “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” along comes the news that Joshua Thompson, former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s former aide, who claimed on his on-line biography that he was actually Bridgeport’s “Deputy Mayor,” is now focusing his attention on defeating New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

No, Josh Thompson isn’t working for one of the potential candidates who are considering challenging de Blasio in the November 2017 election.  Mayor Bill Finch’s former aide is running to BECOME New York’s next mayor.

Josh Thompson’s time as a member of Bill Finch’s Brain Trust highlight the recent challenges that have been dragging down Connecticut’s charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies who continue to undermine public education in Connecticut.

As some readers may remember, in March 2013, Wait, What? reported that Joshua Thompson was garnering media attention when he updated his on-line biography to read:

Joshua Thompson is the Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT. Prior to this position, he was the Program Analyst and Projects Manager for the Deputy Mayor for Education in the Executive Office of the Mayor in Washington, DC.

In this capacity, he served in a direct oversight role in the District’s schools, working in partnership with charter schools, as well as the federal government on policies such as Race to the Top and other major initiatives that impact the District at large.

But, of course, few of the claims made by the 20-something political operative were true.

At the time Josh Thompson was hired in August 2012 to join Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s staff, the Connecticut Post wrote that the newcomer would be working as Finch’s education aide.  The paper explained,

“Joshua Thompson will develop and carry out public education policy and shape new initiatives. He will earn $102,000 as an at-will employee of the mayor. Funds for the salary were approved by the City Council and come from a dedicated line in the budget, said Adam Wood, Finch’s chief of staff.”

However, neither Mayor Finch nor his Chief of Staff, Adam Wood, bothered to explain to the City Council that the “dedicated line” they were referring to was actually the City’s education budget and their tactic meant money intended for educating Bridgeport’s children would, instead, be used to expand Finch’s political operation.

While Thompson’s official position remained that of a deputy chief administrative officer, the Finch Administration started referring to Thompson as the Mayor’s “Director for Education and Youth.”

Initially, Director of Education and Youth is how Thompson referred to himself on his LinkedIn social networking account, although he bulked up his title a bit more on his  twitter account, calling himself, “Director of Education in Bridgeport, CT.”

But Thompson’s amazing, meteoric, self-promotion was most evident when it came to his biography on The Council of Urban Professionals’ website.  The CUP is a New York City based entity that claims to be, “an energetic 21st century leadership development organization that molds diverse business and civic leaders, and empowers them to exert influence, achieve their individual goals and create collective impact through a range of programs and initiative.”

After Thompson was done doctoring his biography on the site it read;

“Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT.”

Of course, the claim was more than a little far-fetched considering Bridgeport City Charter doesn’t even allow the use of the title, Deputy Mayor.  After Thompson’s enhanced biography was published on Wait, What? he modified it to remove his status as the Park City’s self-appointed Deputy Mayor.

Meanwhile, back in Bridgeport, Thompson’s first task was to help pass Mayor Finch’s plan to do away with the city’s democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.  The Mayor’s charter referendum initiative went down in a stunning defeat.

Undaunted by the will of the people, Finch then had Thompson take on the role of bullying the Bridgeport Board of Education into extending the contract of education reformer extraordinaire, Paul Vallas, who had arrived in Bridgeport after successfully undermining and the public school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Thompson’s role as Finch’s education reform enforcer was covered in a number of Wait, What? blog posts, including, Bridgeport: Finch puts Deputy Mayor Thompson in attack mode to protect Paul Vallas…Mayor Finch and Bridgeport City Council move to cut education funding? And  last but not least, in Finch/Vallas land…

Leading the Custer-like effort to defend Vallas, Thompson issued a threatening statement to the members of the Bridgeport Board of Education that appeared in the Only in Bridgeport” blog.  Thompson opined;

“I want to make something 100-percent clear…I am very concerned that we have elected board members whose values are tied to that of the Working Families Party…. With Superintendent Vallas’ evaluation coming up this Monday, it is clear that anyone who is part of the Working Families Party did not objectively evaluate the Superintendent’s performance…”

Finch also gave Thompson the task of helping make sure that only pro-charter school Finch loyalists were elected to the Bridgeport school board, an effort that also ended in failure.

Failure was also the outcome of Finch’s re-election plans, when the incumbent mayor was defeated in November 2015 by former Bridgeport mayor, Joe Ganim, who had returned to Bridgeport after serving seven years in federal prison for corruption.

But by then, Thompson’s dreams of glory had taken him back down the road to New York City.

As Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll noted (purportedly while on drugs);

alice quote

As for his time in Bridgeport, Thompson explains on his new campaign website;

In 2012, as I was finishing up in DC, I received a call that Bridgeport’s education system was in crisis and drove straight there. When I arrived in Bridgeport, there was a $13 million education budget deficit, a dropout rate of nearly 50%, and textbooks that still said George H. W. Bush was president. During my tenure, we eliminated the deficit without letting go of a single teacher or closing a single school. In fact, we opened 9 schools, some of which are now among the highest performing schools in Connecticut. Instead of outdated textbooks, every high school student in Bridgeport now has a tablet….

As an aside, the tablet statement isn’t true and the $10 million no-bid contract to purchase new textbooks not only ended up with “new” books that are not Common Core complaint but the outrageous and lucrative payment schedule ended up diverting scarce dollars from critically needed instructional costs for years after Vallas and Thompson left town.

But none of the uncomfortable details matter to Connecticut’s charter school industry and those associated with the anti-teacher, anti-public school education reform agenda.

Annoyed with New York Mayor de Blasio, the moneyed interests associated with Connecticut’s charter schools are stepping up to help their guy “challenge” New York’s Mayor..

According to Thompson’s first campaign finance report, Bridgeport’s former “Deputy Mayor” raised a total of about $15,000 during his first reporting period.

Thompson’s largest donor, of course, is none-other-than Jonathan Sackler, the multi-millionaire pharmaceutical executive who was also Governor Dannel Malloy’s largest campaign contributor.

Thompson’s other donors include;

Jennifer Alexander (CEO, ConnCAN)

Andrew Boas (Achievement First, Inc. Board of Directors)

Adam Goldfarb (Former Chief of Staff to Former CT Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor)

Jeremiah Grace (Director of the NY based charter school front called Families for Excellent Schools)

Alex Johnson (Former CEO, ConnCAN)

Megan Lowney (Co-founder of the charter school advocacy group Excel Bridgeport)

Adam Wood (Former Chief of Staff to Former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch)

And others who names appear regularly here at Wait, What?

It just goes to show you…. Although what exactly is goes to show is a bit of mystery.

A lesson about Garbage In, Garbage Out and turning classrooms into testing factories

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Fellow columnist and public education advocate Sarah Darer Littman left Governor Dannel Malloy, the corporate education reform industry and their obsession with standardized testing no room to hide in her latest MUST READ article in CT Newsjunkie entitled, Garbage In, Garbage Out: A Reminder for PEAC and the State Board of Education

Using the adage that “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” or “GIGO” as it is known, leads to useless or even dangerous outcomes, Littman highlights a series of recent examples that reveal the very real and serious ramifications that result from the corporate greed and testing mania that is being pushed by Malloy and other “education reform” allies.

While the corporations win and the politicians collect big campaign donations, our children, teachers and public schools lose … along with the taxpayers whose scarce resources get diverted from educating children to pumping up profits for the testing companies.

In one example she explains;

Justice Roger D. McDonough of the N.Y. Supreme Court’s 3rd District provided a reminder of this on Tuesday when he ruled in the case of Sheri G. Lederman that the N.Y. Education Department’s growth score and rating of her as “ineffective” for the 2013-14 school year was “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.”

Lederman is a fourth-grade teacher in Great Neck, Long Island. Great Neck’s Superintendent of Schools at the time she filed the lawsuit, Thomas Dolan, described her as a “highly regarded as an educator” with “a flawless record,” whose students consistently scored above the state average on standardized math and English tests. In 2012-13, more than two-thirds of her students scored as proficient or advanced. Yet in 2013-14, despite a similar percentage of students meeting or exceeding the standards, Lederman was rated “ineffective” as a teacher.

The problem with the testing program in New York parallels the problem in Connecticut.

Despite the massive expenditure of public dollars, including more than $20 million a year in Connecticut state funds, the SBAC test and its sister version which is called the PARCC test, fail to adequately measure student achievement and have no appropriate role in the teacher evaluation process.

But the truth is irrelevant when it comes to Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, his political appointees on the State Board of Education or, for that matter, the members of the Connecticut General Assembly.

For them, the perceived value of looking “tough” on teachers and schools is more important than the reality of doing what it takes to actually ensure that every child gets the quality education they need and deserve.

As Sarah Darer Littman explains,

Four years ago, in a meeting with the CTNewsJunkie editorial board, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the outrageous, nonsensical claim that teachers leaving the profession had nothing to do with such punitive policies, and when provided with research to the contrary his reply was silence and a determination to stay his clearly detrimental course.

And there is more, much more.

Sarah Darer Littman’s Garbage In, Garbage Out: A Reminder for PEAC and the State Board of Education is an extremely powerful piece.

Go read it at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_garbage_in_garbage_out_a_reminder_for_peac_and_the_state_board_of_ed/

Legislature FAILS to decouple SBAC test results from Malloy’s unfair teacher evaluation system

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Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and corporate education reformers will be crowing this morning on their successful campaign to defeat Senate Bill 380, legislation that would have forced the Malloy administration to stop using the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC test results as part of Connecticut’s flawed Teacher Evaluation Program.

Given the opportunity to do the right thing and stand with Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools by deemphasizing the destructive SBAC testing scam and ensuring that Connecticut’s public school teachers are evaluated using a system that actually measures their effectiveness, Connecticut’s legislators – once again – turned their backs and walked away.

For those who support public education and believe in creating better, healthier and more productive learning environments … The November Election can’t come soon enough.

The Common Core SBAC Test is a poor measure for kids and teachers alike

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Mia Dimbo is a Connecticut educator and public school advocate.  As a teacher in the Bridgeport, Connecticut Public School System, Ms. Dimbo works in an environment in which many of her students face the significant challenges associated with poverty, a lack of proficiency in the English Language and unmet special education needs.

In this powerful commentary piece she explains why the simplistic “test and punish” strategies espoused by the corporate education reformers are failing to have a positive impact on students, parents, teachers and public schools in Connecticut and across the nation.

The 2016 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly is coming to a close today, but Connecticut’s state legislators still have time to approve legislation reducing Connecticut’s overemphasis on standardized testing, legislation that would require Dannel Malloy and his administration to set aside their disastrous teacher evaluation program and develop one tha tis not dependent on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

If any elected official is uncertain how to proceed on this important issue they should read Mia Dimbo’s, Test a poor measure for kids and teachers alike.  The courageous teacher writes;

When I sit at dinner with my family, I often think about my students. I have been a teacher in Bridgeport for many years and have seen the disparities between my own son, who lives in a suburban home and attends a suburban school, and the challenges my students face in a high-poverty, urban community.

I know my students have the potential to succeed. I also know that my students go home praying that no bullets will pass through their windows, and hoping they will have food to eat. I understand that it is often a world of “haves and have nots.” So I work hard to provide the education and knowledge they will need to grow and achieve. My students deserve an academic experience that lifts them up and helps them overcome the obstacles they face.

Respecting the potential and humanity of each student should be at the heart of our public school education system. Far too often, however, students in high-poverty schools must confront not only the challenges in their community, but also the burden of an impersonal, standardized testing scheme that too often results in the wrong priorities and fails to identify and address their needs.

My students deserve assessments that are free from bias and are designed to benefit them — not testing corporations. That’s why the idea of linking the state mastery exam, the Smarter Balanced or SBAC test to teacher evaluation is wrong for both teachers and students. The State Department of Education admits that SBAC “is not meant as a diagnostic measure to directly inform a teacher’s classroom instruction on a daily or weekly basis.” It in no way helps inform the instruction of my students.

A mastery exam is supposed to measure knowledge in a uniform and fair manner, and not discriminate against students on the basis of income or whether they have desktops, laptops and computer tablets at home. It is especially punishing and developmentally inappropriate for special-education students, English language learners, students below grade level, and younger students, as they must stare into a computer screen for many hours and become discouraged and frustrated with a test that does not accommodate their needs. For some, it is a crushing experience.

This is an important civil rights issue. I recently joined several of my urban teacher colleagues, who are members of the Connecticut Education Association’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission, and met with representatives of the Connecticut African-American Affairs Commission and state lawmakers who are members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

We explained the harmful effects of SBAC on all students, but especially on students in low-income districts like ours. We discussed the research that shows how the awkward, computerized format of the SBAC test creates a significant technology gap for students in high-poverty schools.

We talked about the unintended consequence of linking this unfair and biased test to a teacher’s evaluation, especially for urban teachers. There are much better, more accurate tools to measure the effectiveness of teachers. Urban districts like mine are often training grounds for talented, beginning educators who leave urban schools for jobs in the suburbs, where resources and learning conditions are more conductive to school success.

My colleagues and I told the legislators that the state requirement linking the invalid SBAC test and teacher evaluations is a disincentive to committed educators who want to stay in city schools. We urged them to focus their energies on enabling our cities to retain these educators, and develop innovations for cities seeking to attract and retain high-quality teachers, especially minority teachers.

Teachers know what matters most: providing engaging instruction and promoting skills that lead to lifelong learning such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. These skills are not measured well or at all by standardized tests. Connecticut should join the majority of states that have already rejected the SBAC test, and refuse to undermine the integrity of teacher evaluations. Senate Bill 380, currently before the state legislature would do just that.

Eliminating SBAC from teacher evaluation will increase reliability and validity. Evaluations currently include the review of multiple measures of student performance, growth and development, including tests that are designed specifically to measure the progress of classroom learning. I assess my students using classroom-based projects, assignments and tests that give me immediate feedback so that I can target my instruction to help them achieve at the highest levels. I want to be evaluated based on the growth of my students during the course of the school year, in the subjects and skills that I teach.

As a teacher, I have chosen to dedicate my life to helping my students achieve within and outside of the classroom. There is nothing more important than the education of our children, and we owe it to our students to assess that education in a manner that is honest, valid and fair.

It’s what we should all want. Legislators must reach this same conclusion for the sake of our children and our future.

This commentary piece first appeared in the CT Post on May 2, 2016.  You can read and comment on Mia Dimbo’s article at: http://m.ctpost.com/opinion/article/Test-a-poor-measure-for-kids-and-teachers-alike-7388492.php

With money from Walmart’s Walton Foundation – They call themselves Democrats for Education Reform

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Today’s CT Mirror includes a deceitful and extraordinarily misleading commentary piece entitled, “This legislative session, let Connecticut children win for a change.”

Shavar Jeffries, the mouthpiece for a corporate funded, New York based, charter school advocacy group that calls itself “Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)” uses the space to urge Connecticut legislators to DEFEAT a bill that, if passed, would require Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration to develop an honest and effective teacher evaluation system rather than continue with Malloy’s present program that is dependent on the results of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Jeffries, who is the founding Board President of Newark’s Team Academy Charter Schools, a board member of the charter school front called Students for Education Reform (SFER) and a Director for Eva Moskowitz’s infamous Success Academy charter school chain, instructs Connecticut’s elected officials to “stay the course” with Dannel Malloy’s failed anti-student, anti-parent, anti-teacher and anti-public school agenda.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that reveals that the SBAC testing scam is not an appropriate measure of student academic achievement or an effective tool for evaluating teachers, the highly paid spokesman for the charter school industry opines,

“Will Connecticut beat back the progress it made in adopting a modern educator evaluation system in 2012? That system recognizes great teachers for a job well done, while providing support to struggling teachers. Or will lawmakers cave to a power structure that wants to keep things the same?”

The charter school fan’s incredible statement speaks volumes. 

The truth is that it is Malloy’s shameful corporate education reform initiative of 2012, and his utter failure to properly fund public education that is taking Connecticut in the wrong direction.

Malloy, who has proposed record-breaking cuts to Connecticut’s public schools while diverting more and more scarce taxpayer funds to privately owned and operated charter schools has become a poster-boy for the insidious and devastating impact that the education reform and privatization effort is having on public education in Connecticut.

The negative consequences of Malloy’s actions are particularly evident when it comes to the absurd teacher evaluation system that he has championed.  To better understand the problems with Malloy’s teacher evaluation program start with the following Wait, What? posts;

Wendy Lecker explains – Again – Why the Malloy-Wyman teacher evaluation system is a terrible farce

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

Why Common Core SBAC results SHOULD NOT be part of the teacher evaluation process

New York Superintendents call for an end to evaluating teachers on standardized test results

However, when it comes to DFER and its allies, the truth has no value.

In fact, it is the truth that serves as the most serious impediment to their goals.

DFER and their plan to “transform” public education by handing it over to Wall Street investors, the elite hedge fund owners, and the private companies that seek to make money off the backs of our children, teachers and public schools require a political and public policy environment in which the truth is not allowed to get in the way.

Speaking of that dystopian approach to governance, George Orwell summed it up sixty-seven years ago writing in his once fiction – now non-fiction – epic titled 1984;

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Of course, when it comes to the real actors behind the effort to undermine public education, Shavar Jeffries is but a two-bit player.  His commentary piece in today’s CTMirror is a reminder that he is just someone who will carry the water for those that would prefer to remain hidden in the dark.

It is the dark and it’s associated “dark-money” where DFER flourishes.

Much has been written here at Wait, What? and elsewhere about DFER and those behind the charter industry.

An early description of the group appeared in December 2010, when the UFT’s Michael Hisrch wrote;

Among the group’s eight-person board is hedge-fund manager John Petry of Gotham Capital, who with Eva Moskowitz co-founded the Harlem Success Academy Charter School. The board also includes Tony Davis of Anchorage Capital, the board chair of Brooklyn’s Achievement First East New York school; Charles Ledley of Highfields Capital Management; and Whitney Tilson, chief of T2 Partners and Tilson Funds and vice chairman of New York’s KIPP Academy Charter Schools.

[…]

Of DFER’s seven-person advisory board, five manage hedge funds: David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, LLC; Joel Greenblatt, founder and managing partner of Gotham Capital and past protégé of fallen junk-bond icon Michael Milliken; Vincent Mai, who chairs AEA Investors, LP; Michael Novogratz, president of Fortress Investment Group; and Rafael Mayer, the Khronos LLC managing partner and KIPP AMP charter school director.

Orbiting the group is billionaire “venture philanthropist” and charter school funder Eli Broad, whose foundation gave upwards of $500,000 to plug advocacy related to the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” and another charter-touting film, “The Lottery.” Though not himself a DFER board member, Broad is a major funder of Education Reform Now, DFER’s nonprofit sister organization, also headed by Joe Williams.

Meanwhile, Andrew Rotherman, recently retired DFER director and EduWonk blogger, is co-founder of and a partner in for-profit Bellwether Education, described as “offering specialized professional services and thoughtful leadership to the entrepreneurial education reform field.” Rotherman sits on the Broad Prize Review Board, while DFER board member Sara Mead is a senior associate partner at his Bellwether Education and sits on the Washington, D.C., Public Charter School Board.

DFER is actually part of a much larger multi-headed beast that also includes Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now Advocacy, two tax-exempt entities that allow the billionaires and corporate elite behind the charter school industry to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into political, lobbying and advocacy efforts.  (For an example of their approach see Wait What? post, Figures that the super-rich would turn privatization of public schools into a game)

As noted previously, DFER is also a key player behind SFER – Students for Education Reform.  The SFER story explains a lot about just how far the corporate education reformers are willing to go to corrupt the system.

For more on SFER read;

SFER – The $7 million+ “student run” Corporate Education Reform Industry Front Group

MORE ON SFER – Corporate Money in the 2015 Denver Board of Education Election

Perhaps most telling of all is that when it comes to Malloy’s disastrous SBAC tests and his dangerously warped teacher evaluation program, the only entities supporting it are the groups and individuals funded, directed or at the beckon call of these hedge fund managers and corporate elite.

NOTE:  Who else has taken Walton money?

Governor Dannel Malloy and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’

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In a commentary piece entitled, No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’, and first published in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator and public education advocate James Mulholland took on the absurd rhetoric that is being spewed by the corporate funded education reform industry.

Collecting their six figure incomes, these lobbyists for the Common Core, Common Core testing scam and the effort to privatize public education in the United States claim that more standardized testing is the key to improving educational achievement.

Rather than focus on poverty, language barriers, unmet special education needs and inadequate funding of public schools, the charter school proponents and Malloy apologists want students, parents, teachers and the public to believe that a pre-occupation with standardized testing, a focus on math and English, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies for students and undermining the teaching profession will force students to “succeed” while solving society’s problems.

Rather than rely on evidence, or even the truth, these mouthpieces for the ongoing corporatization of public education are convinced that if they simply say an untruth long enough, it will become the truth.

In his recent article, James Mullholland takes them on – writing;

In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He claims, “The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability.” He further contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.”

Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.

In some ways, it is a solution looking for a problem. Mr. Villar writes, “recently released evaluation results rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense.”

Other education reform groups express similar disbelief that there are so many good teachers in the state. In her public testimony during Connecticut’s 2012 education reform bill, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN testified that too few teachers were being dismissed for poor performance: “When you look at the distribution of ratings in those systems, you again see only about two percent of teachers, maybe five max, falling at that bottom rating category.” (Transcript of legislative testimony, March 21, 2012, p. 178.)

Education reform groups seem dismayed that they have been unable to uncover an adequate number of teachers who are bad at their jobs and continue to search for a method that exposes the boogeyman of bad teachers. But that’s exactly what it is: a boogeyman that simply doesn’t exist.

Regardless of the methodology that’s used, the number of incompetent teachers never satisfies education reform groups. They see this as a flaw in the evaluation system rather than a confirmation of the competency of Connecticut’s teachers.

However, Connecticut isn’t alone. After both Tennessee and Michigan overhauled their teacher evaluation systems, 98 percent of teachers were found to be effective or better; in Florida it was 97 percent. The changes yielded only nominal differences from previous years.

Mr. Vallar believes that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will decrease the achievement gap. There is no evidence to support the belief that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will lessen the differences in learning outcomes between the state’s wealthier and less-advantaged students.

In 2012, the federal Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, granted Connecticut a waiver from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind. To qualify for the waiver, the results of standardized tests were to be included in teacher evaluations.

However, the policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that, “One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Most striking is a letter to President Obama signed by 500 education researchers in 2015, urging Congress and the President to stop test-based reforms. In it, the researchers argue that this approach hasn’t worked. “We strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

Using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness reminds me of the time I saw a friend at the bookstore. “What are you getting?” I asked. “About 14 pounds worth,” he joked. Judging books by their weight is a measurement, but it doesn’t measure what is valuable in a book. Standardized tests measure something, but it’s not the effectiveness of a teacher.

To read and comment on James Mulholland’s commentary piece go to:  http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/04/20/opinion-james-mulholland/

OPT OUT: What would Kurt Vonnegut do? By Ken Previti

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Ken Previti is a retired Illinois teacher, public education advocate and a fellow education blogger.

Among the most outspoken education advocates in the nation, Ken Previti is known for his hard-hitting, truth-telling blog posts about the ongoing efforts to undermine public education and the issues surrounding the legal and contractual rights of active and retired teachers.

Ken’s blog is titled, “Reclaim Reform,” because, as he puts it, we must “’Reclaim Reform’ from the Corporate Industrial Education Complex which is attempting to dismantle public education and attempting to raid public pension (deferred income) funds for the profits of multinational investors.”

His blog posts are always informative, witty and powerful.  His latest is entitled, OPT OUT: What would Kurt Vonnegut do?.  Ken writes,

Kurt Vonnegut, the writer and seer, was famous for seeing right through the fallacy of blind acceptance. Anything presented as progress that wasn’t actual progress was repeatedly exposed by Vonnegut for the destructive stuff it actually was.

State mandated high stakes tests for children are the latest for-profit craze that monetizes and dehumanizes children.

But, hey, that’s progress and we can’t go backwards, can we?

UnitedOptOut Vonnegut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”  Kurt Vonnegut

How can you opt out for your child?

Go to United Opt Out for sample letters for each state. The letters work, but it’s up to you to take “a step backward, after making a wrong turn” to make “a step in the right direction.” Your children will know that that is true progress for children.

A previous piece Ken asked, Does Don DeLillo support Opting Out ?

You can read Ken Previti’s work at: https://reclaimreform.com/

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