Another effort to stamp out democracy in Bridgeport – What is it with Mayor Finch and the Charter School Industry?

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What is it with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Connecticut’s Charter School Industry?

We already know these people have a problem with democracy, but here we go again!

First Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and his Corporate Education Reform Industry allies persuaded Governor Malloy’s administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport School System.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ended up intervening and forcing the state of Connecticut to hand Bridgeport’s Schools back to the voters of Bridgeport.

As a result of Malloy’s illegal action, the Supreme Court even had to order a new election to fill the seats on Bridgeport’s democratically elected Board of Education.

But not to let a little thing like the law stand in the way, Bridgeport Mayor Finch and his supporters then tried to jam through a change in Bridgeport’s City Charter that would have completely eliminated a democratically elected Board of Education.

Mayor Finch’s solution was to replace democracy with a board of education appointed by him.

The Charter Revision campaign failed, but not before Finch and his Charter School buddies spent a record breaking amount of money.

Political Action Committees affiliated with the Corporate Education Reform Industry spent over $560,000 trying to convince Bridgeport voters to give up their democratic rights.

Major contributors to the anti-democracy campaign included the Charter School front group Excel Bridgeport ($101,803); Michele Rhee and the charter school advocacy group StudentsFirst ($185,480); Achievement First Bridgeport Chairman Andy Boas’ personal foundation ($14,000); ConnCAN ($14,000); Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment ($14,442); Pullman & Comely law firm ($7,000); Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($25,000); Achievement First and ConnCAN founder Jonathan Sackler ($50,000); and a who’s who of the Bridgeport’s business community.

After failing to persuade Bridgeport voters to hand their schools over to a non-elected Board of Education, Charter School Team Finch went on to lose both a Democratic Primary and the General Election for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

But apparently Finch and the Charter School elite that have been targeting Bridgeport over the past few years just won’t rest until they actually destroy democracy in Bridgeport

Their next target appears to be Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council, an organization that has been around for 45 years and has become a strong and effective voice for Bridgeport’s parents and students.

And an effective voice for parents is apparently just too much democracy and power for the Finch loyalists who are now engaged in an undemocratic strategy to derail this important vehicle for parent involvement in Bridgeport’s schools.

Late last Friday a “special notice” was sent out announcing that the Bridgeport Board of Education would be holding a “Special Meeting” to deal with the Bridgeport Parent Advisory Council tomorrow – Monday, February 23, 2015.

The notice for a special meeting comes despite the fact that the Bridgeport Board of Education already has a regular meeting scheduled for 6:30 P.M.

Issuing an updated agenda would have been easy enough, but the pro-charter school, anti-democracy crowd went with the “Special Meeting” tactic.

Why would they want a “Special Meeting” instead of taking up whatever clandestine effort they are going to attempt at the Bridgeport Board of Education’s regular Monday Meeting an hour and a half later?

Because under their rules, the public is not allowed an opportunity to speak to the Board of Education at Special Meetings, whereas at regular meetings public input is allowed.

No really…

While it appears true that we are called the United States of America where the notion of freedom and democracy is supposed to be among our most cherished fundamental and inalienable rights, but when it comes to the Charter School Industry’s agenda and tactics, nothing is sacred.

Apparently “simply” undermining democracy isn’t enough for the charter school advocates.

They are not only engaged in a strategy to undermine Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council, but they want to do it in a way that completely and utterly destroys the notion that Bridgeport’s parents even have Freedom of Speech or the right to be heard before their government takes action against them.

Adding further insult to the already absurd farce is that the “Special meeting” is scheduled for 5:00 PM, a time many parents and community members are still working or are busy fulfilling child raising duties and unable to make it to a hastily scheduled Board of Education Meeting.

The agenda for the “Special Meeting” is ominously entitled, “Discussion and Possible Action on District PAC Leadership.”

The agenda item being a not so hidden reference that the Board of Education may take “action” against Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council.

The entire development is just one more disgusting reminder that while we claim to be fighting the enemies of freedom abroad, some of the most serious threats to our American principles can be found right here at home.

If you happen to know Mayor Finch or his Charter School Allies…

Oh, never mind, it is no use talking to them, they simply don’t care about notions like democracy and Freedom of Speech.

And tomorrow they will try to prove that point yet again.

To them, the end always justifies the means and the Corporate Education Reform Industry won’t stop until they truly destroy public education in our country.

Here is to the hope that our fellow citizens in Bridgeport can fight back against the anti-democracy movement that is out to get them.

Forces behind effort to eliminate democratically elected Bridgeport Board of Education donate to Kenneth Moales Jr.

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Let’s hear it for less democracy!

Just days before the voters of Bridgeport overwhelmingly defeated Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s bizarre 2012 proposal to eliminate the democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the Mayor, millionaire charter school champion Jonathan Sackler quietly wrote a personal check for $50,000 to help pay for the final set of mailings and advertisements designed to persuade Bridgeport voters to give up their right to vote for those who oversee their City’s public schools.

Now Jonathan Sackler and many of the same pro-charter, anti-public education, pro-corporate elite are pumping money into Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr.’s campaign for State Senate with the goal of helping Moales qualify for a taxpayer-funded state campaign grant that he would use to pay for his campaign in the February 24th 2015 state senate special election.

It won’t come as any surprise to those who have watched the ongoing effort to undermine and denigrate the people of Bridgeport that the very same individuals and groups that worked so hard to take away democracy in Bridgeport and keep Paul Vallas in charge of Bridgeport’s schools are now working overtime to put Moales – a Malloy/Finch ally and disgraced former chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education – into the Connecticut State Senate.

The corporate elite, education reform industry and charter school advocates know that Kenneth Moales Jr. will be a safe vote for their anti-public education agenda, even if it means hurting the people of Bridgeport.

Jonathan Sackler, whose pharmaceutical company makes OxyContin, is a founding member of Achievement First, Inc., the large Charter School Management Company with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Sacker is also the corporate education reform industry advocate who formed ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group.  Sackler was one of the largest donors to Finch’s anti-democracy effort and now he tops the list for Moales as well.

Another key player for Moales is Andy Boas, the Chairman of the Board for Achievement First – Bridgeport, a member of the ConnCAN Board of Directors and the founder of The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation.  In 2012 Boa was also one of the largest contributors to Finch’s campaign to do away with an elected school board in Bridgeport.

And now Boas and his wife, like Sacker and his wife, have both donated the maximum amount to Moales’ campaign.

In total, more than half a dozen of Moales’ largest campaign contributions have come from members of the Achievement First, Inc. or ConnCAN Boards of Directors.

Yet another major player in Finch’s failed charter revision effort was Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform group that lobbied for the illegal state takeover of Bridgeport’s schools and then dumped more than $101,000 to support of Finch’s charter revision effort to do away with a democratically elected board of education.  Excel Bridgeport’s founder, Megan Lowney, who is also one of Malloy’s political appointees, recently gave Moales the maximum donation allowed under law.

Others who helped pay for Finch’s failed anti-democracy campaign and are now stepping up with donations for Moales’ campaign include;

Paul Vallas and his wife (now re-located back to Illinois)

Robert Trefrey

Trefrey is the former President/CEO of Bridgeport Hospital.  Trefrey chaired the illegal board that was handed control of Bridgeport’s schools by Governor Malloy’s administration.  When the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Malloy’s attempt to take over the Bridgeport Schools was illegal, Malloy appointed Trefrey to the State Board of Education’s Committee that oversees the state’s technical high schools.  Bridgeport Hospital gave Finch’s charter revision campaign the maximum allowable donation, even at a time it was laying off staff.  Trefrey has not given Moales the maximum allowable contribution.

Jeremiah Grace

Grace is the Connecticut State Director of the Northeast Charter School Network.  The organization not only lobbies for more charter schools but helps private charter school management companies develop applications to get public funds.

Lee Bollert

Bollert was an education advisor to Mayor Bill Finch and helped create Excel Bridgeport, Inc.

William McCullough

McCullough serves with Moales on the Board of Directors of Steve Perry’s proposed Bridgeport charter school.

Kadisha Coates 

Coates is a charter school advocate, member of Families for Excellent Schools and is the newest member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. Coates and her husband are both donors to Moales.

Liz Torres

Torres is a member of the Great Oaks Charter School Board of Directors.

Joshua Thompson

Thompson is the former Finch aide and Vallas assistant who posted on his on-line resume that he was the Deputy Mayor for Education in Bridgeport, even though he was no such thing. Thomson is now an executive New Leaders Fund, a corporate education reform advocacy group in New York City.  Brandon Clark, who ran on the Finch slate for Board of Education with Moales in 2013 but lost, also works with the New Leaders Fund with Thompson and also recently donated to Moales’ campaign.

Other Moales donors include a number of employees, lobbyists and consultants associated with ConnCAN, Achievement First, Inc. and other charter schools organizations in Hartford, New Haven and out-of state.

In order to get the full taxpayer funded grant of Moales has filed the paperwork to get a state taxpayer funded grant.  In order to get the money he must raise a total of $11,250, of which 225 must come from people living in Bridgeport or Stratford.  Depending on the number of signatures collected, Moales could receive a public grant of up to $71,000

Although Moales submitted the paperwork to get a grant last Friday, a review of his public financing report reveals a variety of problems and suspicious donations that could prevent him from qualifying for the public funding.

Note:  A special thanks to Maria Pereira who also researched Moales’ recent campaign finance report and provided her findings to the “Only in Bridgeport” blog.

When the Corporate Education Reform Industry tramples the 1st Amendment

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Fellow Education Blogger and Public Education advocate Marie Corfield (From New Jersey) has a blog today that will concern everyone in the battle to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

Marie is a mother, artist, teacher, education activist, former NJ State Legislature candidate and is “that” teacher in the infamous Chris Christie You-Tube video of the thug bashing teachers.

Her blog is about the incredible maneuver being taken by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association and it highlights the despicable and UnAmerican actions being taken by the charter school industry and the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

Here in Connecticut there are a number of charter school front groups including ConnCAN, Northeast Charter Schools Network, Families for Excellent Schools, the Coalition for Every Child, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), Excel Bridgeport, Achieve Hartford and others.

Marie Corfield writes;

When the facts aren’t on your side…

When you’re up against the wall…

When you’ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar…

You take the cheap shot.

That’s what the New Jersey Charter Schools Association did last week when they filed ethics charges against Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin who, along with doctoral student Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman) published this study on the segregationist practices of the state’s charter schools which concludes what we already knew (from JJ’s post):

New Jersey’s charter schools do not serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage, who have special education needs, or who are English language learners as their host districts’ schools. 

Here’s the crux of the NJCSA’s complaint:

As an association of educators [more on this below], the NJCSA embraces the right of all educators to speak on matters of public debate. But the NJCSA and its members will not stand by as Dr. Sass Rubin devalues the reputation of our State University, a reputation that has been earned over years of excellence in research and academic achievement, to endorse her personal opinions and advance her personal advocacy interests. Because Dr. Sass Rubin has promised two further ‘studies,’ the NJCSA has filed this complaint today to ensure appropriate corrective action is taken before Dr. Sass Rubin releases her personal views as Rutgers research and creates further embarrassment for Rutgers University. (emphasis mine)

Does anyone besides me find it interesting that this press release is not on the NJCSA’s website? I mean c’mon, this is big ‘reformy’ news! Sadly, I found it on the uber-‘reformy’ and always entertaining (for its sheer lack of veracity) NJ Left Behind blog.

Why? Maybe because the NJCSA knows it got caught red handed. Maybe because they know these are not Julia and JJ’s personal opinions. The data they presented is right out there for the whole world to see on the NJ DOE website—data that the charter schools themselves reported. There was nothing to OPRA. Any 5th grader who knows how to do a simple web search can easily find it.

Ooops.

They’re backed into a corner and have nothing left to do but pull a trick out of the bag of their biggest cheerleader: Gov Christie. They launched a personal attack. They skirted the real issues and went for the low-blow. Educator/blogger Peter Greene reports

The NJCSA is behaving like a punk, and like a weak punk at that who lacks the tools or the skills to come at Rubin and Weber directly. And they have more work to do, because as Weber points out on his own blog, the conclusions have already been acknowledged as the truth by [‘reformy’ Newark Superintendent] Cami Anderson and [‘reformy’ Camden Superintendent] Paymon Rouhanifard, so NJCSA better start ginning up a full scale job-threatening division for the entire state.

You should read Marie’s full post.  It can be found at: http://mcorfield.blogspot.com/2015/01/njcsa-attacks-1st-amendment-rights.html

Will State Board of Education over look conflicts of interest to approve more charter schools

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While Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s budget fails to properly fund public schools in Connecticut it does provide for an increase in the number of privately run charter schools.

This Wednesday, April 2, 2014, the Connecticut State Board of Education will meet to consider applications for new charter schools in Connecticut.

The list of applicants includes,

  • Steve Perry’s Capital Prep Harbor School (Bridgeport) – See Application [PDF] 
  • Jumoke Academy Michael Sharpe’s Booker T. Washington Academy (New Haven) – See Application [PDF]
  • Stamford Charter School for Excellence (Stamford) – See Application [PDF] 
  • Great Oaks Charter School  (Bridgeport) – See Application [PDF]

Morgan Barth, an aide to Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is the individual who is responsible for the State Department of Education Charter School review process and will be leading the discussion during the State Board of Education’s agenda item entitled, “Consideration of Charter School Applications.”

What isn’t clear is whether the members of the State Board of Education understand, appreciate or have even been informed about the significant conflicts of interest that exist with some of these applicants.

One of the leading applications for approval at Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting is a new publicly funded charter school that is being proposed by Steve Perry.

As readers know, Steve Perry currently serves as the principal of Capital Prep Magnet School, a public school within the Hartford School System.

While failing to show up for his public school job  more than 20 percent of the time, Perry spent his time creating his own private company called Capital Preparatory Schools Incorporated.

It is that private company that is now trying to open a new charter school in Bridgeport.

According to Perry’s application, the “founding members” of his charter school are all full-time employees of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford although the application doesn’t explain how Perry and the other full-time employees of the City of Hartford will have the time to open and run a privately owned charter school in Bridgeport.

Leading Perry’s proposed “governing board” are Bridgeport’s Reverend Kenneth M. Moales, Jr. (Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and Love Christian Academy), Pastor Carl McCluster (Shiloh Baptist Church), and Reverend William McCollough  (Russell Temple CME Church).

Moales, of course, is the campaign treasurer for Mayor Bill Finch, the disgraced former Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education and a member of the illegally appointed Board Education that was struck down and disbanded by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Kenneth Moales was originally appointed to Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education by the Malloy administration’s Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education.

Perry’s application includes a letter of support from Mayor Bill Finch and Finch has been lobbying for the approval of Perry’s charter school.

The other primary proponent for Perry’s new school is Excel Bridgeport, Inc., the corporate funded education reform lobbying group that was created by Meghan Lowney and Nate Snow.

Snow serves as the director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America and Lowney works for Steve Mandel, the billionaire corporate education reform industry leader who is also one of Governor Malloy’s biggest campaign contributors.

Nate Snow also serves as the Chairman of Excel Bridgeport Inc. and has worked closely with Pryor, Barth and senior staff at the State Department of Education to expand the TFA’s reach into Connecticut;s urban school districts.

However, the conflicts of interest and the perceived conflicts of interest associated with Steve Perry’s charter school and the other charter school applications go well beyond the information above.

Although it fails to show up in any of the documents associated with Steve Perry’s application, before becoming Pryor’s aide at the State Department of Education, Morgan Barth served as the principal for Achievement First Inc.’s Bridgeport Academy, another charter school in Bridgeport.

At the same time Morgan Barth also served on Excel Bridgeport Inc.’s Board of Directors.  Barth quietly resigned last year.

As part of its pro-charter school lobbing effort, Excel Bridgeport Inc. even featured its board member on their website:  See Excel Bridgeport Board Member Morgan Barth tonight on your TV.

During Barth’s tenure as a member of Excel Bridgeport’s Board of Directors, the corporate funded education lobbying group led the charge in favor of Mayor Bill Finch’s efforts to do away with Bridgeport’s elected Board of Education and replace it with one appointed by Finch.  Excel Bridgeport Inc. also lobbied extensively in support of Paul Vallas, Board Chairman Kenneth Moales, Jr. and the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport, including the very charter school that Barth was running.

As Excel Bridgeport wrote at the time, “ It’s amazing how high expectations can change the life path of a child. Keep up the good work AFBA!” [Achievement First Bridgeport Academy].

But Barth’s connection with charter schools and the expansion of charter schools goes well beyond his direct connection with those pushing Steve Perry’s Bridgeport charter school proposal.

Barth worked for Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s charter school management company, Achievement First, Inc., for more than a decade before becoming the Director of Pryor’s Office of School Turnaround.

For at least six of those years Barth taught illegally at Achievement First, Inc.

Despite repeated warnings from the State Department of Education that Barth was not certified and could not legally work in a Connecticut public school, Barth continued to teach and serve as an administrator for Achievement First, Inc.

Fortunately for Barth and Pryor in 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly changed the law and allowed charter schools to have up to 30 percent of their staff un-certified.  Barth was one of those un-certified individuals who continued to work for Achievement First, Inc. until he joined Pryor at the State Department of Education.

In addition to those issues, the complex interrelationships between Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Morgan Barth, Steve Perry, Michael Sharpe (Sharpe’s application to open the New Haven Booker T. Washington Charter School is also up for a vote on Wednesday) and other charter school proponents is extensive and far-reaching.

Just last month, Stefan Pryor, Steve Perry and Michael Sharpe were part of the Love Christian Academy’s annual education conference.  The conference is sponsored by none-other-than Kenneth Moales and held at Moales’ church in Bridgeport.

While Moales was unsuccessful in trying to get approval to turn his private religious school into an all-boys publicly funded charter school last year he has, as noted, returned this year as the founding member of the “Governing Board” that will oversee Steve Perry’s new Bridgeport Charter Schools.

The advertising for last month’s conference read, “This year’s theme is educational leadership and will feature Rev. Al Sharpton, Capital Prep’s Founder Steve Perry and State Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.”

One of the highlights of the conference was advertised as the parent workshops put on by Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the very group that is now advocating for Perry’s new school and the group that had Morgan Barth as one of its Directors.

Further blurring the lines, Steve Perry’s Hartford lawyer has recently become Kenneth Moales’ attorney as Moales tries to fight off a foreclosure action that seeks to take his church, home and cars for his failure to pay his mortgages.

And back in Hartford, after spending nearly four years pushing his corporate education reform industry agenda, Governor Malloy has decided to seek re-election and is now trying to persuade teachers, parents and public school advocates that he is going to transform himself into a supporter of public schools.

But the truth paints a very different picture.

When the State Board of Education meets this week to consider diverting even more taxpayer funds to charter schools the public will see, yet again, why Malloy is considered the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the  nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back in Hartford, the Hartford Courant explains,

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office

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Don Michak of the Journal Inquirer newspaper has a blockbuster story on the way Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the corporate education reform industry have contaminated the public policy making process in Connecticut.

The JI story, entitled, Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office, raises extraordinary legal and ethical issues about the possibility of illegal lobbying and ethics violations, as well as shines a light on how a billionaire Malloy donor is not only giving the Governor campaign cash but paying for Malloy staff who are in the unique position to help push the corporate education reform industry’s agenda.

Don Michak explains:,

“A hedge fund billionaire’s private foundation is paying three “fellows” to develop public policy in the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and two state departments.

The arrangement is eye-catching because the foundation is bankrolled by Stephen F. Mandel Jr., the founder of the Lone Pine Capital hedge fund in Greenwich and one of the biggest financial backers of Malloy’s Democratic Party.

But it also is extraordinary because of the controversial role Mandel’s foundation and its executive director, Meghan K. Lowney, played in Connecticut’s education policy — particularly in the state’s failed takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Asked if those developments pose conflicts or, more simply, the potential for political backlash, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded that the program sponsored by Mandel’s Zoom Foundation is “a learning opportunity for aspiring leaders and public servants to get a unique view at the executive level of state government.”

“Outside of recruiting great fellows and providing outside leadership training to the fellows, Zoom has no influence on the fellows’ work with the state,” he said. “As a foundation, there is a prohibition of advocacy and lobbying for the fellows which is made abundantly clear from the start and reinforced through the yearlong fellowship.”

Doba compared the governor’s arrangement with Zoom to that of “several similar learning opportunities in other states, cities, and at the federal level like the White House Fellows Program.” He said Malloy’s office previously hosted a fellow from the Dukakis Governor’s Summer Fellows Program through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, “which is funded privately.”

Reminded of the role played in Bridgeport by Mandel’s second “charitable trust,” the Lone Pine Foundation, Doba said the governor’s office works only with Zoom.

“The fellows do a variety of work from staffing task forces, research, grants management, project coordination, among many other assignments with a view to ‘executive experience,”’ he said. “They do not replace a job that would normally be done by a state employee, whether in our office or an agency.”

As Wait What? readers will recall, Mandel and his aide, Meghan Lowney, played the pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform advocacy group that supported Malloy’s education reform bill, worked to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s failed charter revision proposal to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport and has been the biggest boosters for Paul Vallas and Kenneth Moales Jr, the disgraced former chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Excel Bridgeport’s incorporation papers revealed that the lobby group was formed by Meghan Lowney and that its corporate address was also Lowney’s address.  Since then, Nate Snow, the Director of the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America has become Excel Bridgeport’s President, although Lowney remains on the board of directors.

Billionaire Steve Mandel is also on the Teach for America’s  Board of Directors and helped finance Finch’s failed charter revision campaign.

As reported here at Wait, What? and in the Journal Inquirer, Mandel has also donated the maximum allowable amount ($10,000) to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

In addition, as the JI goes on to explain;

“Lowney was a key figure in the brouhaha over public schools in Bridgeport in 2011 and 2012. Basically, the city’s Board of Education, stalemated and facing an $18 million budget shortfall, voted to dissolve itself, backed by what the Wall Street Journal called “well-funded outside interests.” A state-appointed board subsequently brought in a new superintendent, but the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the state’s takeover was illegal and ordered a special election.

Lowney, together with Nate Snow, the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Teach for America, had founded Excel Bridgeport, a proponent of the state takeover. One of the biggest opponents of that move, retired state Superior Court Judge Carmen L. Lopez, dubbed Lowney “the conspirator in chief”’ of the “coup that led to the illegal removal of a democratically elected Board of Education by the state.”

Moreover, the Connecticut Post reported that emails showed that Lowney initially introduced herself to state education officials as an agent of the Mandels, saying they had joined with other funders to revise the city’s education charter to give control to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a political ally of Malloy.

Although there were numerous emails between Lowney and officials within the Malloy administration, Meghan Lowney never registered as a lobbyist nor filed the required lobbying reports.

You can read Don Michak’s story at: http://www.journalinquirer.com/page_one/hedge-fund-founder-buys-leadership-pipeline-in-malloy-s-office/article_3994ac24-8cf9-11e3-949d-001a4bcf887a.html

Check back for updates because there is MUCH MORE to this story than has been revealed so far.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor gets an “A” for stacking the deck (By Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

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Pryor packs Connecticut’s Comprehensive Education Plan Advisory Committee with charter school and corporate reform advocates.

As mandated by Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-4(c), every five years the Connecticut State Board of Education must develop a new five-year Comprehensive Plan for Elementary, Secondary, Vocational, Career and Adult Education in Connecticut. Upon adoption by the State Board of Education, the plan is submitted to the Governor and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

In the past, this process has been developed with the broad-based consensus of public educators from throughout Connecticut.

In December 2005, the State Board of Education appointed an advisory committee that included a broad array of organizations and individuals engaged in promoting public education in the state.  Narrowly focused special interest lobbying groups such as the Connecticut Charter Schools Network (CCSN) were allowed to present testimony but were not put on the Advisory Committee.

The 2005 committee represented the wide spectrum of Connecticut’s public education community:  teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, public school students, Connecticut’s technical schools and institutions of higher education made up the core of the committee along with some representatives of Connecticut’s business community.

Advisory committee members had a long track-record of expertise in Connecticut public schools working with a diverse population of Connecticut students.  This is just the type of group we would want to determine the long-term vision for our school districts.

A comprehensive plan requires a broad thinking group that looks out for the interests of all our children.

But now that Governor Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have taken the helm, those days are gone. Instead of appointing members dedicated to the long-term development of quality public education in Connecticut, they have poisoned the Advisory Committee and the process for developing the new five-year comprehensive plan by packing it with corporate education reform groups that have consistently revealed their narrow political agendas.

Public education has been a primary target of America’s growing corporate education reform industry.  Over the past three years, these so-called reformers have spent a record breaking $6 million plus lobbying on behalf of Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives, many of which have been aimed at promoting the privatization of public education in the state.

The corporate reformers also dumped record amounts into elections in Bridgeport, first in a failed effort to change the City’s charter to do away with a democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor and then in a failed effort to elect members of the board of education who support Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas.

Now it has become painfully clear that all that money has paid off, at least when it comes to trying to control the discussion around Connecticut’s Comprehensive Education Plan for 2013-2018.

The new Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee has been packed with pro-corporate reform organizations.

When the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee meets for the first time tomorrow from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Legislative Office Building many of the seats will be filled with corporate education reform industry representatives.

New members of the State Board of Education’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee include representatives from:

  • Achieve Hartford!
  • Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
  • Connecticut Council on Education Reform
  • Excel Bridgeport
  • Northeast Charter Schools Network
  • Students for Education Reform – Connecticut
  • Teach for America – Connecticut

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), the charter school lobby group formed by the board members of Achievement First, Inc. has spent more than any other organization lobbying for Malloy’s Education Reform bills. Of course, ConnCAN’s relationship with Achievement First, Inc. is especially noteworthy since Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company was co-founded by Stefan Pryor.

Connecticut Council on Education Reform is the New Haven-based, corporate-funded education reform organization that joined ConnCAN and Michelle Rhee’s Students First/GNEPSA in running television ads supporting Malloy’s reforms.

The Northeast Charter School Network is the New York based charter school advocacy group that recently merged with the Connecticut Charter School Network.

Students for Education Reform – is the quintessential corporate “astro turf” lobbying organization bankrolled by a variety of education reform groups. Recall that in 2012, Students for Education Reform  organized a “ student demonstration” in favor of Malloy’s reforms on the Capitol steps but when students at the demonstration were questioned about why they were there, they had no idea what they were demonstrating about.

Students for Education Reform’s Board of Directors includes Jonathan Sackler who is also on the Boards of Achievement First, Inc. and ConnCAN.  Another one of Students for Education Reform Directors is Justin Cohen.  Cohen is the President of MassInsight, the out-of-state consulting company that recently received a $1 million contract from Pryor.  Cohen also served as a moderator for Malloy’s education reform conference before Governor Malloy introduced his reform bill and Cohen traveled to Connecticut to submit testimony in support of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill when it was first introduced.

Prior to becoming President of Mass Insight Education’s School Turnaround Group, Justin Cohen was the Director of the Office of Portfolio Management and senior advisor to Chancellor Michelle Rhee at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

Excel Bridgeport and Achieve Hartford! are two corporate affiliated organizations that have worked toward expanding charter schools.

And Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter is the vendor that is making millions of dollars thanks to contracts in Bridgeport, Hartford, New London, New Haven, Windham and elsewhere to place minimally trained recent college graduates to fill jobs that should be held by certified Connecticut school teachers who have graduated from Connecticut’s college and universities.  It should be noted that the Chairman of Excel Bridgeport’s Board of Directors is none other than the Executive Director of Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter.

Perhaps even more disturbing, Teach for America, along with ConnCAN, Excel’s leadership and State Board of Education President Allan Taylor, were the behind-the-scenes architects of the secret and illegal 2011 state takeover of Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education

Many of these groups, like Teach for America and the charter lobbies, have been singularly focused on using public funds to expand their businesses in Connecticut.

Charter schools serve 1% of Connecticut’s students. Yet they have been given SEVEN seats on the new Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee

Although some of these corporate education reform organizations have been plaguing our state for several years, others have absolutely no history in Connecticut.

All of these groups are primarily funded by national networks.  Why should these narrow groups, dedicated to serving outside interests, be determining the future of Connecticut’s public education system?

Why should groups standing to gain contracts with the State Department of Education even be allowed to serve on this committee?

When it comes to pushing their pro corporate education reform industry agenda, there has been no doubt where Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor stand, but this latest move to ensure their agenda becomes part of Connecticut’s five year comprehensive education plan is perhaps their most offensive move yet.

Commissioner Pryor, can you tell us which laws are “laws” and which are “bureaucratic technicalities”?

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It looked pretty simple.   Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, wrote up a special law to allow Paul Vallas to serve as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools, despite the fact that Vallas wasn’t certified to hold the position nor has he ever taken an education course.

The law required that Vallas works as an acting superintendent for one year and complete a “school leadership program” at a Connecticut university or college.

Instead of enrolling and completing a school leadership program, Paul Vallas took a single independent study course and pretended it was a program.

Last Friday, when Connecticut Judge Bellis ruled that Paul Vallas and Stefan Pryor had violated Connecticut law and that Paul Vallas did not have the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent in Connecticut; Commissioner Pryor was one of the first to blast the judge and the ruling.

Pryor told the media “We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision…”

Although the law that Pryor helped write said “school leadership program” apparently in Pryor’s mind it meant an” independent study course” and rather than a school leadership program.

So clearly, some laws are meant to be laws and therefore, as a nation of laws, they must be followed while other laws are apparently more like technicalities or optional guidelines.

Since Stefan Pryor graduated from both Yale University and Yale’s Law School, perhaps he could shed some light on the issue for the rest of us.

Which laws are laws and which are bureaucratic technicalities.

For guidance he might want to rely on the pronouncements of other “education reformers.”

Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of the charter school advocacy group called the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) issued the following statement after the court ruling.

“Today’s ruling is unfortunate…it was made based on a bureaucratic technicality…We’re hopeful that in the end, justice will prevail and Superintendent Vallas will be able to continue his work to help ensure a better future for kids in Bridgeport.”

Maria Zambrano, the executive director of Excel Bridgeport, a corporate-funded Vallas fan club also released a comment after the ruling.

“This is an unfortunate ruling… As a community, we also need to have a conversation about what qualifications are necessary to lead a struggling urban school district. Is it a piece of paper declaring someone “certified?” Or is it a track record of results for improving the educational outcomes of students? We believe it to be the latter.”

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform wrote, “That’s why CCER advocates for changing Connecticut’s law to allow the Commissioner of Education to waive the statutory requirements for superintendent certification to allow people like Mr. Vallas to help turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing school districts. The current statutory scheme serves to protect the interests of adults in our state, instead of prioritizing the interests of 200,000 children who attend schools in Connecticut’s lowest performing districts.”

The renowned chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Kenneth Moales, told the media;

“Only in Bridgeport would the likes of Mr. Paul Vallas not be qualified to serve as superintendent… This ruling crosses the line;”

And Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who described Vallas as a knight on a white horse and complained that people were throwing mud on the horse explained;

“We disagree entirely with the substance of the judge’s decision. We believe it goes against the great weight of facts presented at trial and the applicable law.”

So Commissioner Pryor, you testified at the trial.  You know the facts.  You know the applicable law because you helped to write it.

What again makes this law not a law?

And for those who want to read a bit about Vallas’ real “record of success,” check out some of the following links

Uh-Oh. New Orleans “Miracle” Crumbles

The Vallas Record in Philadelphia, Revisited

Why Is Philadelphia in Crisis?

Insiders’ Report on History of Chicago Teachers Union

Is Chicago a National Model for School Reform?

UPDATE – Bridgeport Bd. Of Ed. may postpone vote on Charter Proposal

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A late report is that the Board may postpone vote on new Montessori Charter School…

check back for additional details.

 

Corporate Education Reform Industry spends nearly $4.7 million on Connecticut lobbying, little of it telling the truth.

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Pro-public education commentator Wendy Lecker has written another “must read” piece, this time pointing out the fact that corporate education reformers are either unwilling or unable to tell the truth as the spin their political stories to try and convince elected officials and the public to support their “education reform” agenda.

Lecker, like many of us, has heard the latest round of ads that side-step the truth in a politically self-righteous attempt to convince us that we can improve out public education system by handing it over to private corporations and charter schools.

This new $1.5 million advertising campaign by a front organization called, ironically enough, A Better Connecticut, is just one more step in the most expensive lobbying effort in Connecticut history.

Here are the latest numbers;

To date, since Governor Malloy took office, the corporate education reform industry has spent at least $4,650,721.54 on lobbying, breaking all Connecticut records for the most expensive effort in history to buy up Connecticut Public Policy.

The following chart reveals the players in this scheme.

Following the chart is a link to Wendy Lecker’s latest piece in the Stamford Advocate, Bridgeport Post and other Hearst media outlets.

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $1,121,672.17
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD) $758,969.00
   
A Better Connecticut $1,490,000.00
   
Students First/GNEPSA (Michelle Rhee) $876,602.08
   
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $237,504.22
   
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $126,559.85
   
Students for Education Reform (Michelle Rhee) $15,714.22
   
Connecticut Charter School Association/N.E. Charter School Network $22,000.00
   
Excel Bridgeport $515.00
   
Teach For America $1,185.00
   
EDUCATON REFORM LOBBYING EXPENDITURES $4,650,721.54

 

Wendy Lecker: Imagining where all that money could have gone

“Proponents of corporate-driven education reforms seem to believe that the notion of telling the truth is a low priority. Take for example the false claims being made by charter school advocates about the size of waiting lists for charter schools.

In as diverse locations as Massachusetts and Chicago, charter lobbyists having been pushing charter school expansion by claiming lengthy waiting lists. In both locations, investigations by journalists at the Boston Globe and WBEZ revealed that the waiting list numbers were grossly exaggerated, often counting the same students multiple times. As a Massachusetts legislator noted, raising the charter cap based on artificial numbers “doesn’t make sense.” Unless, of course, your main goal is charter expansion rather than sound educational policy

Another common theme promoted by charter schools is the questionable claim of amazing success. Recently, Geoffrey Canada of the famed Harlem Children’s Zone gave an online seminar in which he boasted a 100 percent graduation rate at his schools. However, if one looks at HCZ’s attrition rate, the true graduation rate is 64 percent. Many have also noted that Canada kicked out two entire grades of children because of sub-par test scores.

Here in Connecticut, ConnCAN, the charter school lobby, is the prominent peddler of shaky claims and half-truths about charter schools.

Recently, in an effort to promote the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport, Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of ConnCAN, Inc. declared that nearly 80 percent of charters outperform their host districts. However, data from the State Department of Education reveals that about 90 percent of Connecticut’s charters serve a less needy population than their host districts: fewer poor children, fewer English Language Learners or fewer students with disabilities, with most having a combination of two or three of these categories.

Considering poverty, language barriers and special education needs are the prominent factors influencing standardized test scores, it is not much a feat to have higher test scores with a less challenging population. ConnCAN’s claim is hardly an indication of success or innovation.”

Read the rest of Lecker’s commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Imagining-where-all-that-money-4526450.php#ixzz2TlStOU64

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