Yes we are failing our children…especially here in Connecticut

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When Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy took to the podium in February 2015 to announce his proposed austerity budget for the State of Connecticut he announced a plan in which more than half (54%) of his proposed budget cuts came from children’s programs.

More than half of Malloy’s total cuts aimed at programs to support children when, “spending on the ‘Children’s Budget’ – state government spending that directly benefits young people – makes up only a third of the overall state budget.”  [CT Voices]

In response to the criticism leveled at Malloy, a recent CTNewJunkie headline explained, “Malloy Administration Pitches ‘Lean’ Government, Denies Being Heavy Handed.”

Lean government, not being heavy handed?

According to recent economic data, the nation’s wealth grew by 60 percent over the past six years.  That translates into about $30 trillion of additional wealth, with the overwhelming majority of that money going to the country’s super rich.

During the same period, the number of homeless children grew by 60 percent. “For Every Two Homeless Children in 2006, There Are Now Three.” During this past winter approximately 138,000 children were defined as homeless by the US Department of Housing.

Children now account for nearly 50 percent the country’s food stamp recipients.  More than 16 million children get about $5 a day to pay for their meals, but that was before Congress and the President cut $8.6 billion from the food stamp program over the next ten years.

In 2007 about 12 in every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today that number stands at 20 in every 100 children.

According to UNICEF, the UN’s agency for children, the United States has one of the highest  child poverty rates in the developed world.  The report explains, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”

And Here in Connecticut… 

About 113,000 Connecticut children live in the lowest levels of poverty, or about 14.5 percent of all the state’s children…nearly one in every six children.

Connecticut’s child poverty rate is up nearly 50 percent from 2000 when the number of Connecticut children living in poverty was just over 10 percent.  At the time, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to adopt an official policy stating its goal was to reduce poverty by fifty percent by 2010.  Connecticut failed.  Rather than reducing child poverty by 50 percent, the level of child poverty has increased by 50 percent since we entered the 21st Century.

Today the level of child poverty is more than 47% in Hartford; 40% in Waterbury; and over 32% in Bridgeport, New Britain and New Haven.

Using a more appropriate definition of poverty, living under 200% of the federal poverty level, the harsh reality is that almost 1 in 3 Connecticut children are growing up at unacceptable levels of poverty.

Yet in the face of the mounting levels of child poverty, Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy proposed more cuts to a variety of vital programs including those that are aimed at helping the state’s poorest children.

And is budget slashing comes despite the fact that Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers pay a far lower percent of their income in state and local taxes than the middle class and the poor and the rich are charged a much lower income tax rate then their brethren pay in New York and New Jersey.  The problem is that Malloy refuses to raise the income tax rate on the wealthy because, as he said before, he doesn’t want to “punish success.”

Connecticut’s elected officials can and must face the reality that we are failing our children.  They can start by requiring the state’s wealthiest residents to pay their fair share in taxes – thereby eliminating the need for cuts to children’s programs.  See – Democrats – Time to stop coddling the rich.

And as for Malloy, one wonders if his only defense is the fact that he is not alone in his disdain for truly putting children first on the political agenda…

What is perhaps the most telling point of all is that there are two nations in the World who have refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — South Sudan and the United States. 

[Numbers about child poverty at the federal level come from A Nation’s Shame: Trillions in New Wealth, Millions of Children in Poverty.]

Democrats – Time to stop coddling the rich

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As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s failure to get Connecticut’s fiscal house in order, his proposed state budget includes disastrous cuts to vital state services and programs while continuing the policy of coddling the rich and unfairly burdening the middle class. While Malloy’s state budget proposal includes tens of millions more for wasteful and destructive programs like the Common Core, the Common Core SBAC testing and charter schools, Malloy put forward a budget that reduces funding for education and cuts deeply into programs that directly benefit Connecticut’s children. According to CT Voices for Children, a Connecticut based research organization, more than half of Malloy’s budget cuts (54%) are aimed at Connecticut’s children.  Add in the cuts for those with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and the other budget cuts aimed at the state’s other vulnerable citizens and the legislature is forced to deal with a budget that Malloy and his administration should be ashamed of. At the same time, Malloy’s plan demands that the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly continue to undermine the state’s middle class and the economic well-being of their own constituents in order to “protect” Connecticut’s wealthiest residents. The data highlighting Connecticut’s regressive tax system is clear, concise and extremely disturbing. After federal income tax deductions, Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers pay an average of 5.5 percent for their income in state and local taxes, compared to 10.5 percent for middle-class families and more than 11.0 percent for the state’s poor. Rather than a progressive tax system, or even a flat tax system, Connecticut has developed a state and local tax system that allows the rich to skate free, while leaving the burden of balancing state and local budgets onto those who make far less. Keith Phaneuf reported the situation accurately when he wrote in today’s CT Mirror,

“Just before the income tax’s enactment (1991), the state taxed capital gains at 7 percent, and dividends and major interest income at rates as high as 14 percent. Those rates went away when the income tax was enacted. Earnings from these sources instead were subject to the top income tax rate, which stood in 1991 at 4.5 percent. The top rate has risen just three times in the 24 years since then – to 5 percent in 2003, 6.5 percent in 2009 and 6.7 percent in 2011 – and still remains below the old capital gains and dividends rates.”

The harsh reality is that Connecticut’s state and local tax system is designed to punish middle and lower income families. But Democratic legislators could push back against Malloy’s unfair budget policies. Connecticut’s top “marginal income tax rate” is 6.7 percent, a rate that is much lower than that in New York (8.82%) or New Jersey (8.97%).  Increasing the marginal income tax rate on Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers (those making more than $1 million) to bring it in line with New York State would bring in over $400 million a year. Eliminating a number of the useless sales tax exemptions that lobbyists have pushed through for their clients would raise another $400 million a year and ending some of the corporate welfare (tax expenditures) that Malloy has been doling out would mean that Connecticut could have a balanced budget that doesn’t destroy vital state services. The solution to Connecticut’s budget crisis is actually not hard to identify, but it does require conviction and honesty on the part of Connecticut’s elected officials…and that apparently is exactly what they are lacking. The next six weeks will determine what side of the battle the members of the Connecticut General Assembly will take.  The choice is simple.  Continue to follow Governor Malloy’s disastrous policies or actually come down on the side of their constituents and make the rich pay their fair share.

CT Teacher Unions – Please stand up for CT Parents and their right to opt out

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On behalf of parents, students and teachers across Connecticut, we are publicly asking the Connecticut Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter and local teacher union chapters to end their silence and take immediate steps to speak out and support the growing effort by Connecticut parents to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC test.

While the leadership of the Connecticut teachers unions have said they want to phase out the destructive Common Core SBAC testing, they have failed, to date, to join their colleagues in other states and at the national level in speaking out, passing resolutions and engaging in political action on behalf of parents and their fundamental, inalienable and constitutionally protected right to opt their children out of Connecticut’s Common Core testing scheme.

In New York State, NYSUT – a federation of more than 1,200 local unions representing more than 600,000 members – a union that is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) has become a leading example of the critically important role that teachers and their unions can play in supporting parents, students and public education.

NYSUT and dozens and dozens of local teacher unions across New York are taking strong, principled action in opposition to the Common Core testing program and the right of parents to refuse to have their children bullied, abused, tormented or labeled by the disastrous Common Core tests.

NYSUT writes;

“Parents and teachers share deep concerns about over-testing resulting from the state’s botched implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). Concerns include: stress on students, appropriateness of tests, erosion of learning time and lack of state transparency on test content.

Parents who decide it is not in their children’s best interests to take these assessments are part of an “Opt-Out” movement that is growing nationally and in New York state.

NYSUT fully supports parents’ right to choose what is best for their children – including NYSUT members who decide as parents to opt their child out of state tests.

In addition, NYSUT encourages members to exercise their rights as professionals to speak out against the harmful effects of high-stakes tests – and will vigorously defend members if a district brings disciplinary charges in that event.”

Not only is the New York Teachers’ union speaking out, but they are putting their words into action.

As the Wall Street Journal reported on April 10, 2015, NYSUT is calling on its members to remind them that students can opt out of the Common Core tests.  The Wall Street Journal explains,

“In an aggressive move against testing, the New York State United Teachers union started robocalling members Thursday with a reminder they can have their children refuse next week’s state exams.

“This is insanity,” says the robocall’s recording of union President Karen Magee. “

The massive common core testing, a program designed to fail the vast majority of students is absolutely the definition of insanity and NYSUT’s President Karen Magee is absolutely right when she urges parents to consider opting their children out of these Common Core tests.

American Federation of Teachers National President, Randi Weingarten, has done the same.

And National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has written,

“Parents don’t want their children to be treated with a one-size-fits-all education approach. And educators know that students are more than a test score, so let educators teach and put an end the toxic practice of punishing students, schools and educators based on test results.”

In Connecticut the Common Core SBAC test is designed (rigged) to label more than 60 percent of all public school students as failures and the way the test is scored will mean the failure rate will likely exceed 90 percent for students who need special education services or aren’t fluent in the English language.  Governor Malloy’s administration approved “cut scores” that will discriminate against African American and Latino children pegging as many as 75 percent as failures.

But while New York teachers, along with teachers in Massachusetts, Chicago, Washington State, Oregon and dozens of other locations join parents in support of the opt out movement, neither the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) nor the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter (AFT-CT) have taken any meaningful action in support of parents who are opting their children, or trying to opt their children, out of the Common Core SBAC test.

The candidates challenging the leadership of the CEA in this spring’s union election, Martin Walsh (President) and Scott Minnick (Vice President) have been very strong supporters of the opt out effort.  Both have written commentary pieces in support of parents and their right to opt out and Scott Minnick’s decision to opt his own children even made the front page of the Hartford Courant.

But at the very moment when parents need support, the present leaders of the CEA and AFT-CT have remained silent about the opt-out movement.

Now is the time for Connecticut’s teacher unions to step up and speak out in support of the opt-out effort.

The following is just a partial list of New York teacher union chapters who have officially endorsed the opt-out movement. Connecticut’s state and local unions need to do the same thing.

Amityville Teachers’ Association
Amsterdam Teachers’ Association
Associated Teachers of Huntington
Babylon Teachers’ Association
Baldwin Teachers Association
Bay Shore Classroom Teachers Association
Bayport- Blue Point Teachers’ Association
Bellmore Faculty Organizaton
Bellmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers
Bellmore Teachers’ Organization
Bellport Teachers Association
Bethpage Congress of Teachers
Brentwood Teachers Association
Brockport Teachers Association
Buffalo Teachers Federation (a variation of the I Refuse resolution)
Carmel Teachers’ Association
Camden Teachers Association
Center Moriches Teachers’ Association
Central Islip Teachers Association
Clarkstown Teachers Association
Commack Teachers Association
Connetquot Teachers Association
Cortland United Teachers
Deer Park Teachers’ Association
East Aurora Faculty Association
Eastport/South Manor Teachers’ Association
East Williston Teachers’ Association
Elwood Teachers Alliance
Farmingdale Federation of Teachers
Freeport Teachers Association
Fulton Teachers Association
Garden City Teachers’Association
Garrison Teachers Association
Glen Cove Teachers’ Association
Half Hollow Hills Teachers’ Association
Hamburg Teachers Association
Hauppauge Teachers Association
Hastings Teachers Association
Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association
Hicksville Congress of Teachers
Holley Teachers’ Association
Ichabod Crane Teachers Association
Islip Teachers Association
Kingston Teachers Federation
Lancaster Central Teachers Association
Lake Shore Central Teachers’ Association
Lakeland Federation of Teachers
Lawrence Teachers’ Association
Levittown Teachers Union
Lindenhurst Teachers Association
Little Flower Teachers Association
Locust Valley School Employees Association
Lynbrook Teachers Association
Mahopac Teachers’ Association (adopted a variation of resolution)
Malverne Teachers’ Association
Merrick Faculty Association
Middle Country Teachers Association
Middle Island Teachers Association
Miller Place Teachers Association
MORE Caucus (NYC)
New Hartford Teachers Association
New Paltz United Teachers
New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees
New York Mills Teachers’ Association
Newburgh Teachers’ Association
North Babylon Teachers’ Organization
North Bellmore Teachers Association
North Merrick Faculty Association
North Rockland Teachers Association
North Shore Schools Federated Employees
North Syracuse Education Association
Oceanside Federation of Teachers
Oneonta Teachers’ Association
Orchard Park Teachers Association
Ossining Teachers Association
Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers
Plainedge Federation of Teachers
Plainview-Old Beth Page Congress of Teachers
Port Jefferson Teachers Association
Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association
Ramapo Teachers Association
Rocky Point Teachers Association
Rockville Centre Teachers’ Association
Rome Teachers Association
Sauquoit Valley Teachers Association
Sherburne-Earlville Teachers’ Association
Smithtown Teachers Association
Spencerport Teachers Association
Springville Faculty Association
Shoreham Wading River Teachers Association
Somers Education Association
Teachers Association of Sag Harbor
Three Village Teachers Association
Troy Teachers Association
United Teachers of Harborfields
United Teachers of Northport
United Teachers of Seaford
Valley Central Teachers’ Association
Valley Stream Teachers Association
Wallkill Teachers Association
Wappingers Congress of Teachers
Waterville Teachers Association
West Babylon Teachers Association
West Canada Valley Teachers Association
West Genesee Teachers’ Association
West Hempstead Education Association
West Islip Teachers’ Association
West Seneca Teachers Association
– See more at: http://www.nysape.org/resolution-to-support-the-ldquoi-refuserdquo-movement.html#sthash.JSmjdUJA.dpuf

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

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The first in series about the lack of adequate protections related to student data and privacy

Over recent weeks the focus of this blog has been on parental right and the importance of opting out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, but that issue is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the unprecedented activities of the Corporate Education Reform Industry and their supporters like Governor Dannel Malloy.

While the vast majority of parents are blind to the issue, one of the most serious problems associated with the transformation of the nation’s education system is the creation of massive databases that track a broad array of data about children and how a variety of public and private entities mine that data for various uses including marketing to children and parents.

Just as troubling is the fact that few school administrators seem to understand the extent of these recent developments.

State and local school officials continue to tell parents that their child’s data is safe as a result of the federal government’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was originally designed to protect students and ensure that parents knew what data was being collected on their children and how that data was being used.

But even a basic review of the communications being sent out by Connecticut’s Department of Education and local superintendents reveal that these officials either don’t know about the massive changes that have been made to the FERPA law or are intentionally misleading and lying to parents.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was designed to control the use of “educational records” and any agency or institution that violates the FERPA law and its regulations can be denied funding. As the law is written, school officials cannot share student data with outside entities without parental consent.

However massive changes to the FERPA privacy law in 2008 and 2011 undermined the most important elements of the nation’s student privacy law.  The United States Department of Education now defines “school officials” to include “contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions it would otherwise use employees to perform.”

This means the nation’s federal student privacy law allows schools to provide the data it collects on students to private companies, without parental consent, if the contract is related, in some way, to educational activities.

In addition, revisions to the FERPA privacy regulations, “removed limitations prohibiting educational institutions and agencies from disclosing student personally identifiable information, without first obtaining student or parental consent,” a change that now gives private companies access to data that specifically identifies each student.

The changes in the nation’s student privacy laws were pushed by the Corporate Education Reform Industry and companies that are financially benefiting from getting access to student data.

As Politco.com observed at the time, the private sector was overjoyed.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

Politico went on to report,

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

And we’re not talking about just a few companies using a few limited databases.

Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service),  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and dozens of other companies have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to weaken privacy laws or stop the federal and state governments from reducing their access to student data.

Just this week, The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado released a major report entitled, ON THE BLOCK: STUDENT DATA AND PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE.  The report references a 2013 study conducted by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School which looked into how California school districts were handling student data.  The report found that;

“[In California] 95% of school districts now rely on cloud-services providers for a wide variety of services, such as data mining for student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, and data hosting.

However, fewer than 25% of the agreements specify the permitted purposes for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to unilaterally change the terms. Many also allow vendors to retain student data into perpetuity.”

After reviewing federal and state laws, the new NEPC report makes it extremely clear that while more than 20 states have passed their own student privacy laws to fill in gaps in the federal laws, Connecticut is one of the states that has completely failed to develop appropriate student privacy laws designed to protect the state’s children.

In Connecticut, for example, there is no requirement that contracts with vendors:

Restrict the use of data collection for advertising and marketing purposes

Require that parents are notified and have an unlimited right to review data that is being handed over to third parties

Require that third parties have and maintain appropriate data security procedures.

Require that data must be destroyed following intended use.

Require parents be notified about breaches or that third parties be held accountable for breaches. (In fact, when it comes to protecting student data, Connecticut actually has a statute that provides for immunity of liability for data breach and NO notice to parents that a breach has occurred.) 

This year a group of Republican legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly introduced H.B. No. 7017, an Act Concerning Student Data Privacy, but following a public hearing, the Education Committee passed an extremely weak version of what might be called an attempt at beginning to address the student privacy problem.

As the proposed legislation now stands, Connecticut parents would continue to have virtually no meaningful protections when it comes to the use of data collected about their children.

Check back for much more on the key issues surrounding student data and privacy, the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s efforts and the failure of public officials to address this growing problem.

Malloy’s Education Commissioner says Common Core SBAC Test Protocol “discretionary.”

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The good news is that school administrators in Hamden, Connecticut have written to say that students who have been opted out of the Common Core SBAC tests in their town are being move to an alternative location during testing periods.

The bad news is that the ongoing battle to stop the Malloy administration and a handful of remaining school superintendents from undermining the fundamental rights of Connecticut parents continues and, in fact, took an absolutely bizarre turn this week.

After weeks of misleading and lying to Connecticut parents, every Connecticut school district has finally recognized that they do not have the authority to prevent a parent from opting their child out of the Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

The vast majority of school districts are appropriately relocating students who have been opted out to an alternative location, such as the school library, where they can read, do homework or engage in some other educational activity during the SBAC testing periods.

However, a handful of school districts including Fairfield, Watertown, New Fairfield , Coventry, Enfield, Portland, Shelton, Wethersfield and Woodstock are seeking to punish children who have been opted out by forcing those students to sit and remain in the testing rooms during the testing periods.

The practice is not only an immoral and unethical form of bullying since it seeks to humiliate students and creates resentment among those students who haven’t been opted out, the sit and stay tactic also violates the Common Core SBAC Test Protocol which prohibits anyone who is not taking the test from being in the testing room while the tests are taking place.

But earlier this week, Governor Malloy’s interim Commissioner of Education, Dianna Wentzell, told the Hartford Courant’s Kathy Megan that the decision about whether to follow the SBAC Test Protocol when it comes to whether children who have been opted out are required to remain in the testing room is a “local management decision.”

Connecticut’s Education Commissioner actually dismissed the issue by saying that whether a town must follow the SBAC Testing Protocol is a “local management decision?”

Absurd and bizarre are just a few of the words that come to mind.

As Connecticut parents are slowly beginning to understand, thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s love for the Common Core and the Common Core SBAC testing program, Connecticut taxpayers are dumping $100 million or more a year into the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing program.

In addition to the massive waste of public dollars, the Common Core SBAC system is wasting thousands of hours of instructional time and, perhaps worst of all, the SBAC test is designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut children

While the Common Core SBAC testing program is “managed” by Malloy’s Department of Education, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an entity that was originally based in Washington State but has since been moved to UCLA.

Every aspect of the SBAC testing process is strictly controlled to ensure the “integrity” of the testing system and there are specific manuals that the state, districts, administrators, teachers, test coordinators and test administrators must follow.

Among the long list of mandatory manuals are the following; The Classroom Activity Administration Guidelines, the CSDE Assessment Guidelines, the Online Reporting System (ORS) User Guide, the Practice and Training Test User Guide, the Test Administrator (TA) User Guide,  the Test Administration Quick Guide, the Test Administration Manual (TAM), the Addendum A: Test Administration Manual – Assessment Participation, the Teacher Hand Scoring System (THSS) User Guide, Test Information Distribution Engine (TIDE) User Guide, Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines, the Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Implementation Guide to name a few.

And when it comes to the instructions within these manuals there is absolutely nothing discretionary about the language.

See, for example, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC Test Administration Manual which guides the actual testing process.  Section 3.0 lays out the rules for ENSURING TEST SECURITY (Test Administration Manual Page 10), while Section 3.1 covers SECURITY OF THE TEST ENVIRONMENT (Test Administration Manual Page 11.)

The Manual states,

“Students who are not being tested or unauthorized staff or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.”

The requirement is re-stated in the Test Coordinator Manual, which explains,

“This manual provides Test Coordinators with information needed to complete specific tasks before, during, and after the administration of the Smarter Balanced assessments…”

And then on Page 25 repeats the requirement,

“Students who are not being tested or unauthorized staff or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.”

But despite the obvious meaning of the language, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education refused to instruct local superintendents to stop harassing and punishing students.

And how did the Malloy administration explain away the unexplainable?

As the Courant article noted,

“However, Kelly Donnelly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said that statement refers to students who are not being tested that day. For instance, if third graders are not being tested on a given day, then they would not be allowed in the testing room.

She said the decision on what to do about a student refusing to take the test is a local one.”

Wait, What?

The Malloy administration’s spokesperson is actually trying to claim that where the SBAC manual requires that only students taking the test are allowed in testing room, it actually means that children from other grade levels can’t hang out in the testing room, but children who are not taking the test, but are in the grade being tested, are allowed to be in the room?

Wait, What?

So now the question is… What are citizens to do when their government lies and promotes policies that allow for the bullying and mistreatment of children?

And how is it possible that there is not a single government officials who will step forward?

It is not like any of this is secret.

In fact, some school officials seem to be taking great pride in their unethical, immoral and inappropriate actions.

As Fairfield Superintendent David Title recently wrote in an email to Fairfield Parents,

“Students who choose not to participate will be marked present and will be required to remain with their class in the test room.  There will be no alternate instructional activity provided for students assigned to the test session who refuse to participate.”

Is there truly no elected or appointed official who will stand up for Connecticut’s students and parents?

Anyone?

Hello?

The full Hartford Courant story can be found here: http://www.courant.com/education/hc-for-students-who-opt-out-of-sbac-some-allowed-to-leave-testing-area-others-not-20150407-story.html

 

Governor Malloy Administration’s Gag Order is nothing short of Putinesque

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For even to the most cynical, the recent CT Mirror’s story entitled, “Is it a gag order or the Malloy administration speaking with one voice?” is utterly shocking and should make Connecticut residents extremely uncomfortable and very queasy.

The CTMirror article reiterates the reality that Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy is not the Dan Malloy who asked voters to make him Connecticut’s governor in the 2010 election.

Dan Malloy, the candidate, ran on a platform that he would be the “most transparent governor in history.”  He claimed that he supported Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance reform law, that he wanted stronger, not weaker, state ethics laws and that he believed that an honest, just and open government required strong Freedom of Information laws.

But since being sworn in as governor in January 2011, Dannel Malloy has become the least transparent governor in modern history, has consistently undermined and destroyed Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, made a mockery of the state’s ethics laws and has engaged in an unprecedented assault on the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

But his most anti-open government maneuver may very well be the news that Governor Malloy has allowed a directive to go out that prohibits his commissioners and other public employees from talking to legislators (or anyone else) about Malloy’s fraudulent state budget proposal.

As the CT Mirror reports;

Key legislators say a directive restricting what agency heads can tell legislators about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal is hindering lawmakers in doing their jobs and will push more of the budget-writing process behind closed doors.

“Our job is to negotiate and evaluate and build the best budget possible for the 3.5 million people of Connecticut,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, House chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Denying us the ability to do that is denying us our responsibility and our authority as the legislature.”

“I think this is a politically correct gag order,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam, ranking House Republican on the committee. “If we can’t get full answers to our questions, we can’t serve our residents and the state of Connecticut well.”

At issue is a memo Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget chief, sent last month to Executive Branch agency heads.”

In a stunningly inappropriate, unethical, immoral and arrogant demand, Malloy’s budget director writes, “Requests for new ideas, alternative reduction proposals, or for the agency’s priorities in restoring or cutting funds should be referred to OPM…Agencies are expected to support the Governor’s budget rather than providing alternatives to that budget.”

While there has always long been an unwritten guideline that political appointees try to defend their boss’ proposals, the notion that Malloy, through  his budget director, would direct public servants, who are paid with public dollars, whose statutory duty is to run a state agency and provide public services,  not to speak with legislators or others about, “new ideas, alternative reduction proposals, or for the agency’s priorities in restoring or cutting funds” is nothing short of Putinesque.

As for reaction from legislators, the CT Mirror adds,

“Referring to Barnes’ memo, Bye told The Mirror this week that she’s not surprised, “in tough fiscal times, that a chief executive wants to keep as much control as he can.”

But Bye added that the administration must appreciate that the legislature has its own constitutional charge to adopt a budget, and it must have more than just facts and data.

For example, if the Appropriations Committee is considering restoring two programs cut in the governor’s plan, but ultimately decides Connecticut only can afford one, members normally would ask officials in the affected agency which program might provide the most public benefit.

“If we are trying to choose between funding programs, it would be better if commissioners could offer us their thoughts on those alternatives,” Bye said. “I think it would make for a better process.”

While State Senator Beth Bye’s conclusion that it would “be better if commissioners could offer us their thoughts on those alternatives” is absolutely true, her comment that is a forgone conclusion that “a chief executive wants to keep as much control,” provides cover for Malloy’s reprehensible action.

Wanting to “control the dialogue” is a long way from interfering with the Constitutionally mandated role of the Connecticut General Assembly.

The CTMirror article concludes;

“Barnes wrote Tuesday in a statement to The Mirror that, “We work together, as one administration, with all our commissioners and agency heads. This is a budget filled with tough choices, but they are the best ones to keep Connecticut on a path towards a brighter future. The Governor, through his office and through OPM, remains willing to discuss his budget proposals, or any other specific proposals legislators make, at any time. Executive branch employees are professionals who can’t be expected to publicly advocate for positions at odds with the Governor as a part of their job.”

Barnes statement is a bizarre and weak excuse for a policy approach that promotes secrecy and violates the most basic tenets of an open and transparent government.

The Democratic majority in the Connecticut House of Representatives should put down their budget pens, set aside their budget calculators and tell a governor and an administration that has gone amok that no further action will be taken on Malloy’s proposed budget until this outrageous memo is rescinded and Connecticut’s state commissioners and agency heads are instructed to be open and honest with all of the members of the legislative branch of government whose obligation is to review, revise a governor’s proposed budget and eventually adopt a budget that carries the weight of law.

CT Teacher unions still silent on opt out as NY teachers and NY Working Families Party join the fight!

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Last week Karen Magee, the President of the New York State United Teachers(NYSUT), joined the growing opt out movement saying, “I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing.”

The national president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, followed up by endorsing the right of parents to opt out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests.

Yesterday, the Working Families Party of New York and two other major New York citizen groups added their support in the battle to protect the rights of parents and students and against the effort to turn schools into little more than testing factories.

But Connecticut’s two teachers unions, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter remain silent on the vital opt out effort.  Both unions say they oppose the overuse of testing and have proposed “phasing out” the Common Core SBAC test, but both unions have utterly failed to speak out against the Malloy administration’s ongoing efforts to mislead and harass Connecticut parents who want to opt their children out of the destructive SBAC tests.

The Working Families Party of Connecticut, a long-time and powerful supporter of Governor Malloy, has also failed to use its voice and muscle to support Connecticut’s opt out movement.

But the situation is very different in New York.

According to media reports over the past twenty-four hours, the New York Working Families Party, Citizen Action of New York and the Alliance for Quality of Education (AQE) all sent out emails and statements yesterday urging New York parents to opt their children out of the Common Core PARCC test, New York’s equivalent of Connecticut’s SBAC testing.

New York Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton said;

 “For parents concerned about the harm being caused by this increasing focus on testing, ‘opting out’ is a powerful option – a kind of civil disobedience in response to a testing regime imposed by politicians, many of whom haven’t spent any significant time in a public school classroom.”

Citizen Action Executive Director Karen Scharff wrote;

“Last year, over 60,000 parents opted out of testing for their students. It’s one strong way to show Governor Cuomo, the legislature and the Board of Regents that it’s time to stop over testing students, demonizing teachers and undermining our public education system…It’s time for a teacher evaluation system that is based on sound research, not soundbites.”

And AQE – the Alliance for Quality Education added;

“There is too much emphasis on high stakes testing, which results in too much teaching to the tests. There are serious questions about the educational validity of the state tests. Testing has always been a part of education, but its purpose should be to assess students’ learning and diagnose where they need help. Instead, these tests are focused on shaming schools and teachers and imposing negative consequences that impact our students. These consequences, including school closings, loss of local control and the potential firing of teachers, have damaging impact.”

It would be nice to think that Connecticut’s unions and “progressive” organizations would be stepping up to fight for Connecticut’s parents and students and against the corporate education reform industry and the Malloy administration.

Opt Out – Montclair New Jersey Style

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Like Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, Republican Governor Chris Christie and his administration have been engaged in an unending campaign to mislead parents into believing that they could not opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests.

New Jersey’s version of the Common Core test is called the PARCC test, while in Connecticut it is known as the SBAC.  Both tests are designed to fail the vast majority of children and are particularly discriminatory to children who face challenges such as those who come from poorer families, those who are not fluent in the English language and those who need special education services.

And in New Jersey, as in Connecticut, school districts have not only tried to stop parents from opting their children out of the tests but have then withheld information about how many parents are actually refusing to allow their children to take the destructive Common Core tests.

Yesterday the Montclair, New Jersey School District was forced to release the data about the number of opt outs in that suburban community.

According to media reports a total of 42.6 percent of Montclair’s public school students were opted out of the “controversial standardized test, which is intended to align with the Common Core State Standards.”

The opt out numbers were particularly impressive at Montclair’s high school.

New Jersey, like Connecticut, claims that high school juniors must take the Common Core test despite the fact that college bound high school juniors should really be focusing on getting their grades up and taking the SATs, ACTs, and AP tests, all of which will actually impact their ability to get into the college of their choice.

But while the “education reformers” say their goal is to get all children “college and career ready,” they are trying to force high school juniors to take a Common Core test that is purposely designed to label the majority of juniors as failures.

Montclair High School’s parents and juniors didn’t fall for the lies and absurd rhetoric coming from those education reformers – in fact – 68 percent of the students there actually refused to take the Common Core test.

As the Connecticut Common Core SBAC testing disaster continues to disrupt schools across the state over the next two months, parents here should look to the example set by parents in Montclair, New Jersey and opt their children out of the Common Core testing scheme.

The BIG LIE – What happens if schools don’t get 95% to participate in Common Core Testing

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Yesterday another Connecticut parent received a letter from their school district that claimed, “Both the State Department of Education and local school districts could jeopardize federal funding if we do not abide by the law.”

The “law” they are talking about is the notion that schools will lose money if 95% of the students don’t take the  Common Core SBAC test.

In Connecticut, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy has echoed that very point, as has the leadership of his State Department of Education.  Most Connecticut school superintendents have tried to use that claim to try and dissuade parents from utilizing their fundamental parental rights and opting their children out of the Common Core SBAC test.

But these officials, including the governor of the State of Connecticut are absolutely wrong.

These officials either know, or should know, that such a statement is not accurate.

Their reference is to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.  However, according to FairTest, a nationally respected organization working to ensure the development of fairer testing systems, “The penalties apply only to schools receiving Title I funds. Nothing in the law authorizes withholding of federal aid, though up to 20 percent may be required to be diverted to other uses, including tutoring or transporting students to different schools.”

Secondly, more than 40 states, including Connecticut, have been given waivers by the Federal Department of Education.  As FairTest explains, “waivers remove NCLB punishments from all but the lowest-scoring (“priority”) schools in a state.” 

And finally and perhaps most importantly FairTest, explains that it is, “not aware of a single school that lost federal Title I funds due to low test-taking rates, including many in New York that had large numbers of opt outs last year.”

So Connecticut is not going to lose money, and even if there was a requirement that a small portion of federal Title I funds were diverted to helping individual students, most Connecticut towns would not be impacted in any way whatsoever.

Does Connecticut’s Governor Malloy and the array of state and local officials who are saying that schools will lose money really not know what the federal law is or are their intentionally misleading, even lying, as a way to keep parents and the public from knowing the truth?

The actual truth about the 95 percent issue was clearly reported in a recent column by the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss that highlighted the fact that many school administrators continue to mislead parents into thinking that there will be dire consequences if parents opt their children out of the unfair inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing program.

Strauss used the words of Monty Neill, the executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as  FairTest, to set the record straight about the implications to a school, school district or state for failing to get at least 95 percent of the students to take the Common Core test.

Monty Neill wrote;

Across the nation, tens of thousands of parents opted their children out of standardized tests in 2014, and this year, many more have or will do so. The testing resistance and reform movement is shaking up supporters of the test-and-punish status quo, who are fighting back.

Defenders of excessive and high-stakes testing rely on two major arguments: frequent testing is good for children and schools, and too many refusals will lead to a loss of federal funds for the students’ district.

The first claim is increasingly ineffective. Growing numbers of parents recognize that standardized exam overkill does not improve educational quality or equity. On the contrary, it pushes schools into incessant test prep mode and emotionally damages many children. Each week, more and more parents choose to protect their children and schools by refusing the tests. They don’t buy the argument that a small reduction in testing volume will solve the problem. Instead, they demand a fundamental overhaul of federal, state and district policies.

With the testing-is-good-for-you argument failing, authorities are turning to threats and bullying, often using the claim that schools will lose federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Title I funds. That threat is not based on any legal language in NCLB or in waivers states have received to avoid sanctions under the federal law. To understand why, consider the following.

The original text of NCLB, under its section on state plans, says that to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) a school must test 95 percent of its students. In the improvement section, the law establishes sanctions for not making AYP. The penalties apply only to schools receiving Title I funds. Nothing in the law authorizes withholding of federal aid, though up to 20 percent may be required to be diverted to other uses, including tutoring or transporting students to different schools.

However, AYP requirements are now irrelevant. More than 40 states have been given waivers by the Obama administration from the most onerous NCLB sanctions. While AYP reporting requirements remain, waivers remove NCLB punishments from all but the lowest-scoring (“priority”) schools in a state. Thus, schools in waiver states no longer must transport or tutor. As a result, the only federal funding penalties specified in the original NCLB law have been suspended.

In states that do not have waivers, few if any schools report 100 percent of students scoring “proficient,” NCLB’s current requirement for making AYP. Since that means almost all schools face sanctions, it hardly matters if fewer than 95 percent of the students take the state exam.

FairTest is not aware of a single school that lost federal Title I funds due to low test-taking rates, including many in New York that had large numbers of opt outs last year. However, officials in a number of states still aggressively attack the opt out movement claiming that refusing to take the test puts federal aid at risk. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education  joined the battle by suggesting there is a danger of funding loss and threatening states, districts and schools.

The Department of Education’s statements appear deliberately misleading. They confound the law’s requirement that states administer a testing system that covers all children with the non-existent requirement that all children take the test. They imply that a state that allows opting out is at risk of violating NCLB, even though seven states (Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California) already have such provisions and none has lost a penny in federal funding due to these provisions.

Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle recently indicated she expected state superintendents to pressure parents to comply. She added that the Education Department could consider other federal education requirements to use against schools that do not receive Title I. But she also acknowledged the U.S. government does not intend to take funding away from programs that serve children!

Clearly, some government officials are trying to bully parents into submission (see, for example,  IllinoisNew Jersey and New York). By muddying the water with inaccurate statements about the intricacies of federal law and waivers, these officials seek to reduce opt-out numbers and buy time for discredited test-and-punish schemes. Overall, however, this tactic is failing as opt-out numbers increase and more parents and students get involved in the resistance movement.

Legislation allowing parents the right to opt their children out of state and district tests is moving ahead in at least 10 states, though none are likely to pass in time to affect this spring’s testing season. Activists must continue to educate parents, the media, and officials about false federal funding cut-off claims. As public school stakeholders become more aware of disinformation campaigns, they are likely to grow angrier and more willing to fight the tests.

PS: Local advocates need to check the details of their state’s NCLB waiver, if only to combat misinformation. Parents and students must consider potentially real sanctions in those states and districts that require students to pass a test to be promoted to the next grade or graduate. In addition, schools labeled “priority” under waiver provisions do have to meet the 95 percent test participation requirement to escape that category.

FYI:

▪ The NCLB law is at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/index.html; specific points include:

  • 95% requirement is at Sec. 1111(a)(2)(I)(2)(ii);*
  • exempt from the sanctions under NCLB is at Sec. 1116(b)(2)(A)(ii).
  • escalating sanctions are specified at Sec. 1116 for schools (b) and districts (c).

▪ For a FairTest fact sheet, see http://www.fairtest.org/why-you-can-boycott-testing-without-fear.

But the question remains, is Governor Malloy and school officials in Connecticut ignorant of the truth or are they intentionally failing to tell the truth?

And when it comes to overseeing public policy, which is worse?

ALERT – State Board of Education Fails to stand up for parents and students

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ALSO:  Add New Fairfield to school districts engaging in the inappropriate and abusive “Sit and Stay” bullying policies, but West Haven comes off the list after deciding to do the right thing and move students who have been opted out of the Common Core SBAC testing program out of the testing rooms

But in a sadly predictable move, Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education continued their incredible record of failure by refusing to step at today’s State Board of Education meeting to protect Connecticut’s public school parents and children.

Despite repeated requests that they use today’s State Board of Education meeting to instruct Interim Commissioner of Education Wentzell and her senior staff to stop misleading parents about their fundamental right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC Test, the state board failed to address the issue in any way what-so-ever.

In addition, the State Board failed to use their meeting as a venue to instruct a group of local school superintendents to stop forcing children who have been opted out of the test from being required to stay in the SBAC testing rooms during the testing periods.

As has been reported here at Wait, What? over the past few weeks, a handful of superintendents continue to bully and punish children and violate the SBAC testing protocol by failing to move children who have been opted out of the SBAC test to an alternative location where they can read or do homework.

According to information provided by parents, New Fairfield has now joined the list of towns engaging in bullying and violating the SBAC testing protocol, although parents also report that West Haven has decided to back-off of their indefensible position and are now moving opted out children to an alternative location.

As explained in the following Wait, What? post, the request for action by the State Board was simple and straight forward.  See: – Hey – State Board of Education – Tell them to treat parents and students with respect.

The Connecticut State Board of Education, as the state’s primary education policy entity, has the responsibility to ensure that children and parents are treated with the respect and dignity that deserve.

But instead of fulfilling that responsibility, the State Board ducked the issue and turned their backs – again – on Connecticut’s parents and students.

It has become increasingly clear that the members of the State Board of Education lack the commitment and honor necessary to perform their jobs and should be removed and replaced with Connecticut citizens who are actually dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing Connecticut public schools.

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