“I don’t need to respond to what Jonathan says,” Malloy told reporters.

Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is absolutely correct.  He doesn’t need to respond to what I say.

In fact, as is his style, Malloy doesn’t need to respond to what anyone says…at least not until the voters have had their say in November.

But that said, when it comes Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-corporate education reform industry record, the issues that we are raising are legitimate and the need for policy change is clear.

These education issues include;

  1. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his cadre of anti-teacher, pro-privatization staff and consultants must go.  Instead of out-of-state “reformers,” the management and staff of the Connecticut State Department of Education should be made up of professionals who have teaching and public education experience, understand the diversity that is Connecticut, respect local control and are committed to working on the real problems and challenges that limit academic achievement in our state.
  1. Quite simply, the Common Core is bad public policy.  The State of Connecticut must suspend and repeal its participation in the Common Core and Common Core testing fiasco.  While educational standards are an important part of a successful public education system and should be consistently reviewed and upgraded, the Common Core standards and testing scheme is a massive waste of scarce public resources and are turning our public schools into little more than testing factories.  More testing and less learning IS NOT the pathway to providing our children with the knowledge and skills they need to lead more fulfilling lives.
  1. Developing a fair and Constitutional state education funding formula must be of the highest priority.  Designing and implementing a state funding formula requires that Connecticut’s governor and General Assembly settle rather than try to dismiss the critically important CCEJF v. Rell school funding lawsuit.  By working together and settling the CCEJF case we can develop a long-term solution that reduces the pressure on local property taxes while providing communities with the resources they need to adequately fund their public schools.
  1. A strong teacher evaluation program is a vital part of strengthening the quality of our public education system, but tying teacher evaluations to unfair and inappropriate standardized test scores destroys the effectiveness and credibility of a proper teacher evaluation program.  Malloy’s absurd teacher evaluation system must be repealed and replaced with one of the many teacher evaluation models that do not rely on standardized tests scores and truly evaluate and improve teacher skills and performance.
  1. One of the most important elements of Malloy’s education reform agenda has been to expand the number and size of privately owned and operated charter schools. This major increase in funding for charters comes at the same time the state is failing to provide the funds necessary to maintain and expand Connecticut’s vibrant magnet school system.  Despite the dramatic increase in public funding, the corporate charter schools have systematically failed to fulfill their responsibilities and stated goals.  Rather than serve as laboratories for developing effective programs and providing parents with choices, Connecticut’s charter schools have consistently discriminated against students who need special education services and students who need extra help with the English language and come from households where English is not the primary spoken language.  Connecticut must implement a moratorium on any additional charter schools until the state properly funds its magnet schools.  At the same time, charter schools must be held accountable for their actions and unless they provide educational opportunities to the full array of students who reside in their communities they should be prohibited from receiving additional public funds.

If the corporate executives and hedge fund managers who support charter schools really want to create alternatives to the public schools system, then they should use their wealth to set up private schools and stop diverting taxpayer funds to schools that do not adhere to the standards and principles of our public schools.

But as Malloy told reporters yesterday, “I don’t need to respond to what Jonathan says.”

And that is exactly one of the reasons I’m taking my message directly to the voters of Connecticut.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

We know what limits educational achievement, Steve Perry doesn’t

Poverty, language barriers and failure to provide sufficient special education services are the primary factors the led to the educational achievement gap in this country.

In any place, including Connecticut, inadequate state funding for public schools makes it virtually impossible to adequately respond to the growing challenges associated with the factors the led to this lack of educational achievement.

The vital CCEJF v. Rell Connecticut school funding lawsuit is the mechanism state officials could be using to increase state support for our public schools and thereby shift some more of the burden off local property taxpayers.

A fair (and Constitutional) school funding system would be good for our schools, students, parents and teachers, as well as, fairer for our taxpayers.

But instead of working to resolve the CCEJF V. Rell lawsuit, Governor Dannel Malloy has been trying to get the case dismissed so he can sweep the problem under the rug.

And what do Malloy’s allies say?

Just look at one of the latest Tweets from Steve Perry, who, thanks to the Malloy administration, is giving up his role as principal of Capital Prep Magnet School to become a charter school operator.

Dr. Steve [email protected]

Watch this: Unions blame poverty of kids & the wealth of 1%ers for the failures of the schools they’re responsible for running. Bwaaahaaa!!

This comes from an “education reform” champion who has been running a public school in Hartford that refuses to take its fair share of special education, Latino and non-English speaking children. The man very same man who claims to be “The Most Trusted Educator in America” is also working diligently to become a member of the 1% by regularly leaving his job as a school principal to go on lucrative public speaking engagements throughout the country and creating a new charter school franchise.

But rather than holding Perry accountable for his failings, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has supported his taxpayer-supported entrepreneurial efforts by pushing through approval of a plan that would allow Perry to use his private company to a charter school in New Haven.

This year, Malloy’s budget underfunds Connecticut’s public magnet schools by $50 million dollars and yet provides more than enough money for Connecticut’s charter schools.

And next year, despite a $1.3 billion projected state deficit, Commissioner Pryor has promised Steve Perry new money to open a new school while Connecticut’s public schools go without the funds they need.

And what does Perry do?

He reverts into one of his Twitter tirades attacking teachers, unions and the notion that poverty is a factor in limiting academic achievement in Connecticut.

It would be a joke except thanks to Malloy and Pryor we taxpayers will be giving this guy $15 million dollars over the next five years unless we elected a new governor in November.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Malloy and Legislature turn their back on Public Magnet School students and their parents

Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his administration managed to deliver another “kick to the head” to Connecticut’s public school students, parents and teachers as the 2014 session of the Connecticut General Assembly came to an end at midnight last night.

While Connecticut’s privately owned charter schools left the legislative session with a higher reimbursement rate for each student, more money for school equipment, and funds to expand the number of charter schools, Governor Malloy and the legislature failed to come up with the money need to maintain existing services at Connecticut’s public magnet schools, let alone fill the extra magnet school classrooms that have been built and are ready to be used this coming September.

As the CT Mirror is reporting this morning, the bill to implement Malloy’s next state budget authorized “The Department of Education to limit enrollment in magnet schools across Connecticut.” The CT Mirror adds,

The budget actually allows Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor to “prioritize” which schools can increase enrollment, and limit state expenditures on magnet schools next academic year. Legislators largely ignored an estimated $50 million the nonpartisan analysts say is needed to maintain current services at magnet schools and the education commissioner say is needed to support previously scheduled enrollment increases.

Connecticut’s public school parents and their children will be shocked to find out that hundreds of students will be turned away at the doors of Connecticut public magnet schools despite the fact that classrooms are available and ready to go.

This latest action by the Malloy administration also explains why parents and students in the greater Hartford area are still waiting for the annual Regional School Choice Lottery to take place.  These parents followed the rules; they got their applications in on time, and yet have heard nothing about whether their children will be able to attend a magnet school in September.

Many of those children, along with others from around Connecticut, will soon learn the awful truth that the failure to adequately fund Connecticut’s magnet schools means they won’t be attending a magnet school in September.

It was only a few months ago (January 2014), that Malloy traveled to East Hartford to cut the ribbon for the state’s newest magnet school, the $57 million Connecticut River Academy that was scheduled to open this September.

At the announcement, Malloy bragged about fighting hard to open more magnet seats.

What he failed to explain at that big press conference was that while taxpayer are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in new borrowing to pay for the construction of new magnet schools, Malloy failed to provide the funding needed to actually open the school and fill the classrooms.

The failure to properly fund Connecticut’s public magnet schools is not only a travesty for the students who were looking forward to attending these schools, but it is nothing short of a disaster for Connecticut’s public education system.

Major new study finds Connecticut Charter Schools discriminate

Connecticut Voices for Children, the New-Haven based, nationally recognized policy research organization has issued a major new report entitled, “Choice Watch: Diversity and Access in Connecticut’s School Choice Programs.”

The CT Voices report is the most extensive, independent study that has been conducted about the performance of charter schools, magnet schools and other school choices options in Connecticut.

While the entire report is a “MUST READ” for those following the “school choice” debate, it is an especially important addition to the debate for those concerned about the Malloy administration’s commitment to expanding the number of charter schools in Connecticut and their on-going privatization efforts to turn public schools over to private charter school operators.

Among the key findings from the CT Voices study is that Connecticut’s Charter Schools are more segregated, systematically discriminate against Latinos and English Language Learners and fail to recruit, retain and serve their fair share of students who require special education services.

As the CT Voices study concludes,

Charter schools are typically hypersegregated by race/ethnicity and, in Connecticut’s four largest cities, actually offer students, on average, a learning environment that is more or equally segregated by race and ethnicity than local public schools.

Although Charter Schools serve just over 1% of the public school students in Connecticut, these privately run, publically funded schools have been receiving additional funds at a far greater rate than traditional public schools.

Governor Malloy and his administration are engaged in an unprecedented effort to increase the number of charter schools operating in the state.

However, the new CT Voices report re-confirms that when it comes to equity and fairness, the rush to divert public resources away from public schools and to charter schools is taking Connecticut in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to reducing racial isolation and providing quality services to students with special needs and those who require additional English language programs.

For example, according to the new report,

In 2011-12, a majority of magnet schools and technical schools were “integrated,” as measured by the standard set forth in the 2008 settlement agreement of the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case: a school with a student body composed of between 25% and 75% minority students…In contrast, only 18% of charter schools met the Sheff standard. The majority of charter schools were instead “hypersegregated,” with a student body composed of more than 90% minority students…”

The failure of charter schools to provide equal opportunity to students is even starker when it comes to their unwillingness to serve bi-lingual students, students who need additional English language services or students with special education needs.

When it comes to educating English Language Learners, the new study finds that 76% of all charter schools have substantially lower enrollment of ELL students then the community they are supposed to be serving.

The failure of charter schools to serve students with special education needs is equally troubling.  Although state law requires that Charter Schools “attract, enroll, and retain” children with disabilities, the report found that many charter schools are simply failing to fulfill this legal requirement.

The new report from Connecticut Voices for Children also sheds a powerful light on Connecticut’s magnet schools and the state’s technical high school system.

You can find the full CT Voices report here: http://www.ctvoices.org/sites/default/files/edu14choicewatchfull.pdf

You can also find a New Haven Independent news article about the report here: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/ct_voices_for_children_report/

And a CT News Junkie report about the report here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/report_claims_choice_schools_are_hyper-segregated/

A MUST WATCH Video of public school students, teacher and administrators fighting back

“No Mo Cuomo Music Video – New York Middletown High School”

In response to Coumo’s decision to fund charter schools while failing to provide money to public schools.

Swap Malloy for Coumo and you have the same thing in here in Connecticut!

Watch these amazing students, teachers and administrators fight back!

CLICK Here: http://youtu.be/7CKOJ6PzgCII  or here: No Mo Coumo (Malloy)

 

 

 

Malloy’s proposed budget underfunds public magnet schools while increasing money for charter schools

Although many parents, teachers and public school advocates already know that Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic Governor in the nation, Malloy’s proposed budget drives the message home in a very big way.

Last month Malloy proposed a new budget plan for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2015.

While the Governor used his annual budget speech to brag about his election year gimmick to provide a “sales and gas tax refund of $55 to single filers earning less than $200,000 and $110 to joint filers earning less than $400,000,” Malloy failed to explain that his budget DOES NOT INCLUDE the $18.8 million that is needed to keep Connecticut’s public magnet schools operating, nor does it provide the money needed for the new magnet schools that are opening.

Malloy’s failure to properly fund the state’s magnet schools didn’t stop him from attending the recent ribbon cutting at the new Connecticut River Academy Magnet School’s $57 million school building in East Hartford where he told students, “This is our gamble, our bet, our investment in your future, that is saying that we want Connecticut to be as successful as it ever was, in fact we want it to be more successful…You have the opportunity to see the tone, to make sure that each student that follows you understands how high the bar has been set.”

But the truth is that even though the Malloy administration knew the additional funds were needed, they failed to add the $18.8 million because it would have pushed Malloy’s budget plan over the state’s spending cap.

Although Malloy failed to properly fund Connecticut’s public the magnet schools, the avid disciple of the corporate education reform industry and their Common Core, Common Core Testing and pro-charter school agenda, had no problem adding money for Connecticut’s privately run charter schools.

As Governor Malloy has increased charter school funding from $65 million last year to $75.6 million this year.  He plans to spend an incredible $92 million on charter schools in the coming year.

When the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee approved Malloy’s proposed budget on March 28,2014 they also failed to include the money needed for the magnet schools and, like Malloy, failed to put in the  money that is needed for the magnet school expansion that has already been approved.

As reported by the CT Mirror,

“By capping magnet school funding, the committee also decided not to provide the $30 million needed to increase enrollment at 10 magnet schools that have already opened and that the state spent millions to build. Typically, when a new magnet schools opens, the state phases in funding for enrollment growth by opening a new grade or two each year until the school is at capacity. The 10 magnet schools that had been set to increase enrollment before this budget were in the Bridgeport, Hartford and Windham regions. Malloy’s proposal also did not fund the magnet expenses.”

Despite failing to put in the funds needed for the magnet schools, Democrats on the Appropriations Committee left Malloy’s addition $16.4 million for charter schools untouched.

The impact of Malloy’s budget plan means that Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education can go ahead with plans to approve new charter schools this year.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve at least two new charter schools.   Among those being considered is the charter school being proposed by Steve Perry, the principal of Hartford’s Capital Prep Magnet School.  Readers know that Perry, who has failed to show up for his City of Hartford principal’s job more than 20 percent of the time, has created his own charter school management company and is now trying to open a charter school in Bridgeport with the help of Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Finch’s disgraced campaign treasurer and former Bridgeport Board of  Education Char Reverend Kenneth Moales, Jr. Perry’s proposal is to have the state’s taxpayers pay for all the costs associated with the charter school that will be run by his private company.

And what will happen to the thousands of Connecticut children who are attending magnet schools when those schools run out of money part way through the year.

Not to worry;

Sources within the Malloy administration explained that Malloy’s plan is to go back to the General Assembly after the election to get approval for spending the extra funds needed to keep the magnet schools open.

Meanwhile, Pryor and his charter school operators will get their taxpayers funds up front.

Throughout Malloy’s tenure as governor he has utilized numerous budget gimmicks to make his spending plans appear balanced.  Malloy claims that his $19 billion proposed budget for this coming year includes a $22 million surplus and is under the state’s constitutional spending cap by $8 million.

Oh and for those who were wondering, Malloy’s new budget plan simply overlooks the $1.1 billion budget deficit that is projected for the year after this November’s gubernatorial election.

Hartford School Board vote reveals more about secret deal within Malloy administration

As reported by the Hartford Courant, “The city board of education reversed itself Monday night and approved two proposed magnet schools for the 2014-15 year, nearly a week after voting to reject the plans that were negotiated as part of a settlement in the Sheff v. O’Neill case.”

The Hartford Board of Education also approved a proposal to proceed with selecting a Hartford neighborhood school to become a “lighthouse” school which would, in turn, attract additional state funds for the school.

As the Courant noted, “School board members voted Monday to pursue a “lighthouse” school model — essentially, a neighborhood school that would be entitled to special state funding for improvements… A lighthouse school in Hartford would receive at least $750,000 annually for improvements over a minimum of three years, school officials said Monday. Poland said the pledged funding from the state was crucial for the board’s reconsideration of the magnet school proposals.”

As originally proposed to the Hartford Board of Education last week, the “lighthouse” school was targeted to be the SAND Elementary School and was part of a package that would have allowed Capital Preparatory Magnet School Principal Steve Perry to set up his own company and the Board would then have transferred control of both Capital Prep and SAND to that private entity.

The funds mentioned in today’s Courant article would have transferred to Perry’s company along with nearly $15 million-a-year in state funding for the 1,000 students that would have been under his control.

The resolutions approved by the Hartford Board of Education removed any direct reference to Perry, but as late as yesterday morning, Perry was still lobbying hard for the proposal.

Yesterday morning Perry’s operation was handing out a flyer at Capital Prep entitled “SAND Kids Can’t Wait” that instructed parents to attend the meeting and demand the “$3 million and Capital Prep Light House School.”

The powers that be must have gotten to Perry in the afternoon because no demonstration or “demand” by the Perry supporters took place.

Instead of granting Perry direct control of the schools and the corresponding funds, the Hartford Board adopted a process in which Superintendent Christina Kishimoto will form a four-member lighthouse school selection committee.

Critics of Steve Perry will note, however, that there is nothing in the Board’s language that suggests Perry can’t be selected by Kishimoto and her committee as the “turnaround entity” and the announcement yesterday that the eventual “lighthouse” plan must be approved by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, makes it that much clearer that the Malloy administration has played a major role throughout this policy fiasco.

Since the story first broke last week, participants in the Sheff negotiations have revealed that the Governor’s Office, OPM Secretary Ben Barns and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor played the lead role in the talks, rather than the Attorney General’s Office, which has traditionally played a more direct role in the lawsuit and its related negotiations.

In addition, a number of sources have explained that the Perry boondoggle was proposed and pushed by the Malloy administration as a requirement for Hartford getting any additional state funds at all.

The notion that Pryor will now be a key player in the approval process reiterates the odd role the Malloy Administration has played in the effort to turn Capital Prep and SAND over to Perry’s private company.

According to the Courant report, “the [lighthouse] panel will be asked to convene at least one community forum and identify three or more city schools as candidates for a turnaround plan… By April 1, 2014, the selection committee is expected to recommend a school and its improvement plan, which must ultimately be approved by state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.”

The entire “lighthouse” concept seems designed to get around the Connecticut General Assembly’s language which prohibits the Commissioner of Education from taking over more than two schools in a district via his “Commissioner’s Network” program.  Concerned about giving Pryor and the Malloy administration too much control over local communities, legislators added the “two-school limit” as a way to preserve local control of schools.  The “lighthouse” school proposal appears to provide the Malloy administration with yet another way to undermine that language and the authority of local communities.

As to the two “new” magnet schools, the Hartford Board of Education voted 6-1 to move forward with creating the Capital Community College Senior Academy which will be a magnet school for 11th and 12th graders.

The board also approved converting “High School Inc., one of Hartford’s specialized high school programs, to a Sheff magnet school beginning with ninth grade in 2014-15 and gradually expanding to 12th grade by 2017-18.”

You can read the Hartford Courant story at: http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-sheff-magnet-1126-20131125,0,3465187.story

And in Windham… Non-approved Operations Plan for the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy filed with the state

Two weeks have passed and the State Department of Education still hasn’t responded to a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the Operations Plan that Windham filed for the new Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy, but a staff person at the Department of Education has confirmed that the document filed IS NOT the version approved by the Windham Board of Trustees.

Wait, What? readers will remember the issues surrounding Windham’s new STEM Magnet School.

The Operations Plan approved by the Board of Education included a restriction limiting students from transferring into the new school if they were not reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

The policy would discriminate against English Language Learners and especially Windham’s large Latino community, as well as students with special education needs.

However, after that information was posted on the Wait, What? blog, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education wrote to clarify the situation saying,

“You are referring to an earlier draft of the operations plan than the one currently on file with the State Department of Education… A copy of the plan on file with the SDE has been placed on the Barrows Academy website: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf

As the Chairman observed, “You’ll note that the language on the qualifications of transfer students has been removed from plan.”

While it was good news that the unfair and inappropriate restriction on transferring into Windham’s new STEM Magnet school was no longer in place, the news raised a different issue; was the version of the Operations Plan on file the same one that was adopted by the Board of Education or an unapproved version of the plan?

Unfortunately, the State Department of Education has been unwilling to turn over a copy of the version on file at the Department so there is no way to know for sure, but a State Department of Education employee who claims to have seen the copy on file confirms that the restrictive language is gone, but also confirms that the copy that has been filed with the State Department of Education IS NOT the version approved by the Board of Education.

So we now have a situation in which the Operations Plan on file with the State does not include the offensive language but the version approved by the Board of Education does.

While that leaves the legal status of the plan in limbo, the best course of action is for the Windham Board of Education to approve a revised plan and re-submit it so that the version the Board has approved and the version filed with the state are the same.

UPDATED WITH IMPORTANT NEWS: What is the truth about the new Windham STEM Magnet?

A few hours ago I posted this blog entitled – “What is the truth about the new Windham STEM Magnet.”

Just a little while ago I received a response from the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education.  Since the entire Board was cc’d on the email, I am reprinting it below my original post.

Following that is a quick note that I sent back to the Chairman.

It would appear that the offensive language was, at some point, removed from the Windham STEM magnet operating agreement.

I’m glad the issues appears to be resolved, I apologize if, at any point, I provided the wrong information, and I especially want to thank all the people who took the time to learn more about this important issue.

jonathan

Original Post:

A major controversy is brewing about the operating agreement that will govern Windham’s new Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy.  Recruitment for the K-8 magnet school is beginning and the school will be opening in September 2013.

The Agreement, as proposed by Windham’s Special Master Steven Adamowski and approved by the Windham Board of Education, includes the concept that “New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level.”

As Windham’s Board of Education Chairman explained in a recent email, “That language is in a section referring to students who transfer into openings in an ongoing Magnet School class. It does not apply to ANY student applying to enroll in initial classes during the startup period nor to students applying to pre-school or kindergarden once the school is fully enrolled.”

However, to be clear, as described, the policy would prevent students who are not reading at grade level from transferring into the school, even if there were available seats and even though the school will already have reading and special education services to support those students who began attending the school in their kindergarten year.

There is no question that the members of the Windham Board are well-meaning, dedicated people, but the policy raises extraordinarily serious questions about whether they were misled and whether such a policy has any right to exist in a public school.

In his email, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education went on to note, “That provision is in the operating plan because reading at grade level for grades 4 to 8 is a requirement of the national STEM curriculum standards. Obviously, the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy is not going to achieve that standard in its early years, and reaching the standard will be one of the first challenges the faculty of the school faces.”

In a follow-up email, the Chairman reiterated his point saying, “My understanding is that reading at grade level is a standard component of the STEM curriculum. That’s why the language regarding transfer students exists.”

Apparently the Windham Board of Education adopted this policy based on the information that they were provided and that, I believe, is the crux of the problem.

In the last three days, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with STEM magnet school administrators in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

The administrator in Massachusetts said that they know of no program in that state that restricts the enrollment or transfer of students based on reading level.

In New York, where a group of the STEM magnets receive federal funding, the administrator said such a restriction would be illegal and violate the requirements of the federal grant.

And here in Connecticut, the answer was that they don’t know of any STEM Magnet where this type of restrictive provision was in place.

As a group, these STEM administrators condemned the wording of the Windham policy using terms like immoral, reprehensible, not in the best interest of children, discriminatory based on student’s  socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, probably illegal under federal special education statutes and would dramatically and disproportionately prevent Latino and other non-English speaking students from getting a high-quality STEM education.

To a person, they thought such a restriction was or should be illegal.

So what exactly is going on here?

In the summer of 2009, Windham’s local officials, school administrators, teachers and parents joined together to lay out a plan for a new magnet school to be built in the community.

After months of work, the group proposed the creation of a magnet school focused on Environmental Science and Cultural Studies.  The plan was designed to take advantage and celebrate “the unique character of the community: the natural history, cultural heritage, and ethnic diversity that characterize Windham.”

Then, fast forward to the summer of August 2011.

As a result of a special legislative changes, the State Department of Education named Steven Adamowski, Hartford’s former Superintendent of Schools, to the post of “Special Master” for Windham.

Within weeks, the Windham Magnet School Building Committee was persuaded to drop its idea of creating an Environmental and Cultural Magnet School and making Windham’s new magnet school at Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School.

The Norwich Bulletin covered the developments writing,

“Windham school’s Special Master Steven Adamowski has unveiled a plan to create the state’s second science, technology, engineering and math kindergarten through eighth grade school.

The first K-8 STEM school, as science-, technology-, engineering- and math-geared schools are known, is in Adamowski’s former district, Hartford.

Windham was building a magnet school before Adamowski’s arrival; however, it was slated to be an environmental sciences and culture magnet. He immediately changed the school’s direction, calling the original plan too soft.”

Adamowski said it would be better to model the new Magnet after the Annie Fisher STEM magnet school in Hartford and that he had already asked the principal there to consult on Windham’s project and she had agreed.

The Annie Fisher STEM magnet is certainly a school to admire.  Although it only opened in 2009, last year the school was named one of American’s 269 “National Blue Ribbon” schools.  As the Hartford Courant noted at the time, “The national award marks the school’s academic achievement and efforts to close the achievement gap…”

The Courant article went to quote Annie Fisher’s Principal, Melony M. Brady, as saying “Receiving the National Blue Ribbon Award is an honor that validates how a community, with one common vision, dream and belief that every single child deserves a phenomenal educational experience, will surpass academic expectations and beat the odds…It is without the shadow of a doubt that this acknowledgement recognizes the power of collaboration, partnership and educational autonomy that drives reform.”

But here is the kicker!

The Annie Fisher STEM Magnet DOES NOT HAVE the provision requiring students to be reading at grade level.  The successful Annie Fisher STEM magnet is doing what magnet schools are supposed to be doing – using a lottery to ensure fairness and then providing every child who access to a quality education.

As noted in a previous Wait, What? post, In Connecticut, interdistrict magnet schools receive special funding BECAUSE they are supposed to “reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that sup­ports educational improvement.”

Furthermore, According to state law and regulations, “All students in the school districts participating in the magnet school program are eligible. No student may be denied enrollment because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, genetics, age, religion or any other basis.”

Yet preventing students from transferring into the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy, if they aren’t reading a grade level, will effectively discriminate against students that are poorer, students who aren’t fluent in English and students who require special education services.

The policy is immoral, unethical, and unfair and will lead to real (defacto) discrimination which would violate Connecticut law and the Connecticut Constitution.

And yet, recruitment for the new Windham STEM Magnet is moving forward.

On Monday, February 11th, 2013 there will be a Windham STEM Magnet School Open House for Windham families at the Windham Middle School and applications for Windham families to attend the new STEM Magnet are due by Friday, March 1st, 2013.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, March 5th, 2013 there will be a Windham STEM Magnet School Open House for Out of District Families at the Mansfield Public Library and the deadline for Out of District Families to submit applications for the new STEM Magnet are Friday, March 29th, 2013.

Everyday that this issue goes unresolved is a day that the parents and students of Windham and the region are being misled.

Finally, one overriding question is why hasn’t the State Board of Education and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, engaged in this vital discussion?

Oh, and one additional note:   The new website for the Windham STEM Magnet is here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/schools/chbsa/index.html and that links to the Operations Plan for the new STEM Magnet which is here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf

Call it a strange coincidence, but the language revealing that any student beyond the 3rd grade must be reading at grade level in order to transfer into the Windham STEM Magnet is missing from the version of the document on the Windham STEM Magnet school website, even though the wording was adopted by the Windham Board of Education and is part of the Operations Plan available elsewhere on the Board’s website.

For the earlier Wait, What? blog posts on this issue read here: Windham’s Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy: The problem is even greater than it first appeared  and here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/06/what-are-windham-education-officials-hiding/.

 

Chairman’s response 2-10-13

Jonathan –

 

I disagree that there is even a minor controversy brewing. You are referring to an earlier draft of the the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy’s operations plan than the one currently on file with the State Department of Education. It happens, that until you raised the issue, I did not have a copy of the latest operations plan. A copy of the plan on file with the SDE has been placed on the Barrows Academy website <http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf>. We’ll do our best to make sure it remains current if it is edited in the future, as it may well be.

You’ll note that the language on the qualifications of transfer students has been removed from plan. However, I’m told that there are magnet schools in Connecticut that do have academic restrictions in their transfer policies, and we may ask our administration to document those IF the Board of Education ultimately decided to consider such restrictions.

This is NOT an urgent issue for Windham because we will not have any transfer students before the 2014-15 school year, and it will be several years after that before we have achieved the reading at grade level standard for the students attending the Barrows Academy. Hence, if academic restrictions on transfer admissions does make sense, it won’t be operative for some years in the future.

We do thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. We have asked the administration to include this issue among others in a presentation at a regular meeting after the close of the initial lotteries and decisions by potential partner districts (possibly on April 10). As I noted earlier, this question may be a total not-starter because our District’s commitment is that ALL of our students be reading at grade level by grade three, and our intent is that we maintain that standard through high school. So, when it comes to transfers into the Barrows Academy, the greater issue will be what is the most appropriate environment for students requiring remedial services to receive them.

While it is critical that the Barrows STEM Academy be a successful school, we do not intend that it become an elite school. We expect all of our schools to meet the same level of student performance. We will be selecting students to attend the Barrows STEM Academy by an entirely nondiscriminatory lottery; it follows that that students in any of our schools have the same ability to achieve success; therefore, performance standards will be the same for all.

My email back to the Chairman just now;

Murph,

Thank you for the update.

Odd that when I raised this very issue – repeatedly – with the State Department and the Windham School administration – no one bothered to respond that the final operating agreement didn’t include the offensive and inappropriate language.

I may very well have missed it, and if so, I apologize, but it appears that when the Windham Board of Education voted on the STEM Operating Plan, the reading at grade level for transfers was most definitely part of the plan.  In fact, the document the Board voted on included a number of changes in the plan (all in red) but NONE OF THEM related to the reading at grade level requirement.

Is it your understanding that the Board then voted again on the Operating Plan and this time removed that requirement?

Certainly neither the State Department nor the Windham Administration has the authority to file an operating plan that is different than the one approved by the Board.

Finally, I will respectfully disagree with you as to whether this is a pressing or controversial issue or not.  The initial marketing and discussion surrounding the STEM Magnet will create the image that the school will live with for years to come.  Even this provision didn’t “kick-in” until year two, parents considering sending their children to the new STEM and the taxpayers who pay for that have a right to know that a system was being considered that would have treated those students in a way they weren’t being treated at any other public school in northeastern, Connecticut.

The question is not whether children should be reading at grade level.  We all want all children to be reading at grade level and that should be the stated goal in every school, but the fact is, whatever the truth may be about how the policy was changed, the Windham STEM Magnet had language which turned that goal into a mandate – a mandate that would have kept talented students from trying to get a STEM based education simply because they weren’t, at that time, reading at grade level.

And we all know what that means, students from poorer background, those from non-English speaking families and those in need of special education services would have been turned away.

It begs the question – who would have put in such a horrendous proposal.

That said, I’m very glad to hear that the provision is gone and I appreciate all the time and effort you went through to set the record straight.

Jonathan

 

Windham’s Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy: The problem is even greater than it first appeared

As noted in previous Wait, What? posts, Windham, Connecticut’s Board of Education is building the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy.  Seventy percent of the students at the new K-8 STEM magnet school are scheduled to come from Windham and thirty percent from adjoining towns.

Over the past few days we’ve been on a mission to track down the source and meaning of a clause in the Magnet School’s Operating Agreement that says, “New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level.” 

The staff at the State Department of Education refused repeated requests to explain the source and meaning of that language.  Then, the staff at the Windham Schools refused to explain the source and meaning of that language.

Finally, in response to a letter I sent yesterday to a wide variety of Windham education officials, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education took the time to provide an answer to my question.

While I appreciate his willingness to respond to my request for public information, his answer highlights a situation that is even worse than I had originally imagined.

Connecticut’s education laws and policies state that, “No student may be denied enroll­ment because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, genetics, age, religion or any other basis.”

In addition, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Article eighth, § 1 of the State Constitution guarantees all students an adequate education.  As a plurality of the justices explained in the state’s most important education case, the state of Connecticut must provide “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting… [and] to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state’s economy.”

However, the response I received from the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education makes clear that the sign outside the Windham STEM Magnet will say, in essence, “The poor, minorities, non-English speaking students and students who need special education services need not apply.

How has this outrage come to pass?

The Windham Board Chairman’s letter explained that the language I quoted – New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level” – only applies to students who transfer into the STEM Magnet School after the 2nd Grade.

He wrote, “It does not apply to ANY student applying to enroll in initial classes during the startup period nor to students applying to pre-school or kindergarden once the school is fully enrolled.”

The Chairman added, “Once the school is fully enrolled, the only new students will be the annual entering pre-K class and children who transfer into openings that result from students who leave the district or choose to transfer to another school. Students who transfer into grades 4 to 8 will be expected to meet the required STEM standard; however, no admitted student will be dismissed from the school because they are not reading at grade level by the end of grade three or thereafter. Instead, resources will be directed as required to assist students to achieve and maintain reading at grade level.”

So as long as a parent with a child entering Pre-Kindergarten know that their child wants to attend a Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Magnet School, they will not have to prove that their child can read at grade level and will be provided support services if they have reading issues later in their school career.

In addition, if openings exist, children attending kindergarten or first through third grades can transfer into the school or move into the community and attend the school without proving they are at grade level.

However, after third grade the public school WILL NOT ALLOW any child to transfer into the program who doesn’t read at grade level.

Apparently, the reason this policy is in place is because someone has decided that reading at grade level is necessary to be successful at a Science, Technology, and Engineering & Math (STEM) Magnet School.

But of course, reading at grade level is a result of a wide variety of factors that don’t have anything to do with intelligence or future ability.

As with test scores, poverty, a lack of fluency in English and special education needs are the greatest predictors of test scores and those same factors correlate with the likelihood that a child may not be reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

These factors, and others, are not related to intelligence or an ability to succeed and to imply that they do is ridiculous and disgusting.  

But one thing we definitely know and that is that study after study reveals that those reading below grade level are overwhelmingly students who are poor, Black, Latino or those who have special education needs.

The people who inserted this language into the new Windham STEM operating agreement can say what they want, but a policy that prohibits children from transferring into this public school if they are not reading at grade level is defacto discrimination against the poor, minorities, those who aren’t fluent in English and those who need special education services.

As the Connecticut Supreme Court wrote in the Sheff decision, “Racial and ethnic segregation has a pervasive and invidious impact on schools, whether the segregation results from intentional conduct or from unorchestrated demographic factors.”

Whether intentional or not, the policy about the 3rd grade reading requirement at the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy forces a discriminatory outcome and has no place in the public education system of Connecticut.

More than 73 percent of Windham’s students receive free or subsidized lunches.  70 percent of Windham’s students are minorities, 35 percent of Windham’s students go home to households in which English is not the spoken language, 25 percent of the students are not fluent in English and 16 percent of students need special education services.

If the Windham STEM Magnet’s discriminatory policies are allowed to stand, the vast majority of Windham students will be prevented from attending the Magnet unless they happen to get in early enough to sidestep what amounts to an unfair and discriminatory regulation.

The impact of this policy is equally upsetting for parents in neighboring towns who might want to make use of this new STEM Magnet School. 

The policy ramification is clear.  No matter how interested you and your child may be in attending a Science, Technology, Engineering & Math program, they will be prohibited from transferring into the Windham STEM Magnet, even if there is room, if they aren’t reading at grade level.

They can get the support services they need, as long as they stay in their home district school, and give up their desire to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.

In Connecticut, interdistrict magnet schools receive special funding BECAUSE they are supposed to “reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that sup­ports educational improvement.”

The Windham STEM Magnet has begun to recruit students for next fall, and yet a discriminatory, outrageous, insulting and disgusting policy has been put in place.

The policy must be removed – immediately – and the question of who was behind this inappropriate effort must be investigated and appropriate action taken to ensure that the person or persons are not in a position to develop more policies of this nature.

The burden to act rests on the Governor, the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, Windham’s Special Master and the Windham Board of Education.

If they refuse to take any action, a lawsuit should be filed against these entities and their members to force the repeal of this discriminatory and outrageous policy.