Malloy and Legislative Democrats target Regional Vo-Tech high schools for devastating cuts

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Unable to get a budget agreement with Governor Dannel Malloy to the floor of the Connecticut House of Representative and State Senate in time, the Connecticut General Assembly crashed and burned last Wednesday night as the 2016 regular session came to the end.

Although a super-secret budget agreement had been reached between Governor “my way or no way” Malloy and the Democratic leaders of the legislature, various factors, including partisan politics and the political fallout from what is actually contained in the budget, resulted in the postponement of the debate and vote on a new state budget until a special session that will be held soon.

While some of the details about the budget agreement between Malloy and the Democratic legislative leadership have been revealed, much of it remains shrouded in secrecy.

According to budget documents that surfaced last week, the massive list of cuts to state programs and services includes an incredible $7.7 million cut to Connecticut’s Vocational-Technical high schools.

While Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and state legislators across the political spectrum brag about their commitment to preparing Connecticut’s children for the economy of the 21st Century, their actions fall far short of their rhetoric.

The state of Connecticut reports;

The Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS) is committed to providing quality and challenging academic and technical programs. Its mission is to ensure that students are successful in the workplace, take advantage of postsecondary educational opportunities, and secure advanced apprenticeship training that prepare them for the 21st century workplace. Therefore, the CTHSS has developed a challenging program of study for each of the 37 technical programs. These areas include: construction, manufacturing, electronics, information technology, culinary arts, health tech, and other service areas.

But the reality is that Malloy’s record, when it comes to support for the Vo-Tech high school system, waivers between benign negligence and an outright effort to completely destroy the successful education program.

At the beginning of his first term as governor, Malloy proposed disbanding the Vo-Tech high school system altogether.  When students, parents, teachers, the business community and legislators fought back, Malloy retreated and allowed the 18 schools and their nearly 11,000 students to exist.

However, the Malloy administration has consistently used the state budget to squeeze these important and valuable schools, a system of highs schools that are successfully helping thousands of students have more successful careers.

At last count, approximately 95 percent of Vo-Tech students graduate and almost half (45 percent) of those graduates go on to pursue higher education opportunities.

Others use their Vo-Tech training in one of the 30 occupational trade programs to enter the workforce with the skills needed to get and keep a job in these difficult economic times.

Yet, as Connecticut’s economy continues to lag, rather than invest in more vocational and technical programs, or at least provide the funds needed to maintain the level of services at the state’s existing schools, the budget that the Democrats are being instructed to support includes a record-breaking budget cut to the Vo-Tech high school system.

The budget the General Assembly passed last June and was signed into law by Governor Malloy provided almost $171 million dollars to fund the costs associated with Connecticut’s Vo-Tech high schools.

Although many, if not most, of the state legislators in Hartford are unaware of the impending disaster, the Malloy/Democratic leadership compromise budget would reduce funding to $163 million – a cut of nearly $8 million.  The new budget would also grant the governor with the power to reduce funding for the Vo-Tech high schools even more through layoffs and budget rescissions.

Once the legislature adopts a new state budget, Democrat and Republic incumbents will turn their time and attention to their re-election campaigns.

When you hear them on the campaign trail saying that they support programs to provide Connecticut’s children with the knowledge and skills to be “college and career” ready … just know …. They are lying.

CT Dem Legislators – Why the silence on the layoff of state employees

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Among the most disturbing elements of the debate surrounding Connecticut’s state budget crisis is the silence on the part of most Democratic state legislators about the ill-conceived layoffs being perpetrated by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and the their administration.

A “throw them to the wolves” mentality might not be surprising from those who hate public employees and the existence of public services, but the public, the people who rely on state services, the impacted state employees and their families deserve better from those who call themselves Democrats.

Hundreds of state employees have already been laid off.  When Team Malloy/Wyman are done with round #1, the families thrown onto the unemployment line and into chaos will exceed 2,500.

The new “super-secret” compromise budget agreement developed by legislative leaders and the governor that will be voted on in the upcoming special session will lead to hundreds and hundreds of additional layoffs of state employees.

And from the vast majority of Democratic state legislators we hear nothing but silence.

Laying off these more junior public employees is not good public policy, it is not a mechanism to bring about structural change in government and it certainly doesn’t help address Connecticut’s long-term state employee pension problem.

Real structural change comes from identifying more effective ways to deliver services, eliminating services that are not needed and implementing strategies to address unfunded pension and healthcare costs.

Malloy’s helter-skelter layoffs serve none of those solutions.

The state employee layoffs are NOT related to ensuring critical state services are provided more efficiently and effectively

The state employee layoffs are NOT related to eliminating services that are not needed

And the state employee layoffs are certainly NOT the mechanism for addressing the long-term obligations the state has due to it negligent failure to properly fund its long-term pension and health care costs.  In fact, laying off employees who belong to the Tier IIA and Tier III pension programs actually makes the funding of pension and healthcare costs even worse.

State legislators know – or better know – that more than 80% of the present pension fund crisis is the result of the unfunded costs for state employees who were enrolled in the Tier I pension program.  Enrollment in Tier I ended in 1985 and about 97% of Tier I employees have already retired.

Putting aside the reality that it is illegal to change the pension program for those who have already retired, laying off state employees who are paying into the pension and health care funds actually undermine the effort to put the pension and healthcare fund on proper financial footing.

No legislator, Democrat or Republican, who actually understands how services are provided and the massive fiscal challenges that face Connecticut should be supporting Malloy’s unstructured state employee layoff effort – even those who support reducing the number of state employees and the level of services provided in Connecticut.

But the burden to speak up, to tell the truth, and to address issues related to reducing the number of state employees falls heaviest on the Democrats.  Not only are the Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches of state government, but they have the historical and social relationship with public employees and their unions.

The failure of so many democratic legislators to publicly speak out about the Malloy/Wyman anti-public employee policies – policies that hurt Connecticut – is a sad commentary and one that voters should consider well when voting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A possible solution for Connecticut’s budget crisis – “Throw the bums out…”

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Watching a horrible car crash take place would be less traumatic than witnessing Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly careen toward their constitutionally mandated deadline of midnight tonight (May, 4, 2016.)

While a Special Session of the Connecticut Legislature will undoubtedly be needed to “clean up” a state budget plan that was developed behind closed doors and remains a mystery to the people of Connecticut, and most of the legislators who will be voting for or against it in the coming hours, the sad reality is that most of the Democratic members of the Connecticut State Senate and State House of Representatives appear to be willing to vote for a state spending plan that continues to coddle the rich while instituting unprecedented cuts to vital human services, Connecticut public schools and other critically important programs.

As Connecticut’s media outlets report, details about the budget are “scarce.”

In fact, it would be impossible for most legislators to have a real understanding of how the Democrat’s “compromise” budget will impact the state, their districts or the people they have sworn to represent.

The media headlines paint a disturbing picture of the mismanagement that continues to mark Dannel Malloy’s time in office.…

Democrats, governor strike budget deal, aim for Wednesday vote (CT Mirror)

Dems Get A Budget Deal, But Republicans Have To Let Them Pass It (CT Newsjunkie)

Malloy, Legislative Leaders Reach Deal On Deep Cuts, No Tax Increases (Hartford Courant)

A true snapshot of the problem becomes evident as the CT Mirror reports;

Democratic legislators ended a tense day of negotiations with the governor Tuesday by announcing a deal on a new state budget that the General Assembly will race to adopt Wednesday before the constitutional adjournment deadline of midnight.

Passage will require the cooperation of the Republican minority, an uncertain prospect after House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, exchanged insults outside the Capitol pressroom.

Sharkey and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, largely glossed over the spending cuts necessary to balance the budget, focusing instead on positive aspects: No tax increases, more money for transportation funding and revenue-sharing with towns, albeit at lesser amounts than originally planned. It also avoids tapping Connecticut’s emergency reserve.

[…]

The leaders said the package would close a nearly $1 billion gap in the fiscal year that begins July 1, but the line-by-line details would not be available until Wednesday.

The plan imposes deep cuts on salary accounts in most state departments and commissions that probably would require Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to reduce the state workforce beyond the nearly 2,600 jobs his administration is striving to eliminate through layoffs, retirements and attrition.

[…]

Though full details weren’t available, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, confirmed that this budget — similar to proposals from Malloy and from GOP legislators — probably reduces funding for agency and departmental salary accounts by hundreds of millions of dollars.

These cuts probably require more personnel savings than Malloy will be able to achieve through workforce reduction efforts currently underway.

The administration began serving layoff notices last month, and the governor said he expects about 1,900 to 2,000 workers will have received pink slips by mid-June.

The administration also expects to eliminate roughly 600 more jobs through retirements and attrition.

Bye said the budget also “sends signals” to state employee unions about another key area in which legislators hope to curb spending in the future: health care and retirement benefits.

As Malloy and legislative leaders prepare to jam through a vote on a new state budget, the bottom line appears to be that the Democrats intend to adopt a spending plan that is based on;

Deep cuts to vital services

An unprecedented attack on state employees

No effort to require the wealthy to pay their fair share

And a state budget that continues to rely on the use of one-time revenues and budget gimmicks.

The real question today is not so much whether the Republicans will allow the Democrats to pass a budget, but whether the voters will continue to put up with elected officials who are unwilling or unable to properly deal with the financial and policy challenges that face Connecticut.

To drive that point home, when asked about the rush to vote, Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano responded with what may very well be the quote of the year.  Fasano explained;

“Maybe they feel threatened by us. I don’t know. And I understand why they feel threatened.  They have screwed up this state so badly, I understand they are very nervous about November. I get that.”

But alas, what makes the entire situation even worse of the people of the Constitution State is that the Republicans have done just as bad a job when it comes to articulating a reasonable alternative to the Democrat’s crash and burn approach to governance.

Thus the best solution may be for the voters of the state to simply throw them all out and start anew.

Connecticut Legislators – Now is the time to act on the inappropriate SBAC testing program!

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Anne Manusky is a Connecticut parent, education advocate and trained academic researcher.  In this commentary piece she lays out why the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) testing system fails to provide accurate and useable information about student performance, why it should not be used as part of an effective teacher evaluation system and why Connecticut’s elected officials should defund the SBAC testing madness and use those funds to help address Connecticut’s budget crisis.

Anne Manusky writes;

As a parent and former psychological research assistant, I have had great concerns with education reform:  Common Core implementation and their reportedly ‘innovative’ tests – CT’s choice, the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

The concerns have become real, and as our elected officials review and make legislative decisions, a critical element must be reviewed: credibility of the state test, statutorily the “state Mastery test”, as well as the questionable Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s interstate compact.

Currently there are two CT General Assembly bills which consider the Smarter Balanced Assessments the state “Mastery Test” (requirement of state statute):

SB 380 ‘An Act Concerning the Exclusion of Student Performance Results on the Mastery Examination on Teacher Evaluations – https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/CGABillStatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=SB380

And,

HB 5555 ‘ An Act Concerning the Minimum Budget Requirement and Prohibiting the Inclusion of Participation Rates for the State Wide Mastery Examination in the Calculation of a School District’s Accountability Index Score – https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/CGABillStatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=HB5555

The Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) has no psychometric analyses providing the validity and reliability of the assessment; no independent verification of this assessment exists.

These analyses are necessary to determine credibility of this test.

An FOIA request was recently submitted to the CT State Department of Education for

1) Any and all materials providing validity and reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments; and 2) the “deep psychometric study” the State claims to have completed.

Commissioner Wentzel made a point to provide that the Smarter Balanced testing was being reduced due to a said “deep psychometric study”.  Top state officials lop off almost two hours off the ‘Smarter Balanced’ test. Hartford Courant   http://www.courant.com/education/hc-state-officials-cutback-smarter-balanced-test-20160225-story.html.

Materials provided from the State Department of Education to substantiate these questions did not provide validation or of further psychometric testing to determine a “deep psychometric study” had been conducted.

On the other hand, 100 education researchers from California provide “The assessments have been carefully examined by independent examiners of the test content who concluded that they lack validity, reliability, and fairness, and should not be administered, much less be considered a basis for high-stakes decision making.”  Common Core State Standards Assessments in California: Concerns and Recommendations, CARE-ED, Feb 2016,  (See http://media.wix.com/ugd/1e0c79_2718a7f68da642a09e9244d50c727e40.pdf)

Testing which has no credible basis should not be used to assess children in California, or anywhere else for that matter. It then becomes even more of an issue that these tests were believed to be suitable for assessing children, it has no credibility in use for the evaluation of classroom teachers.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Wentzel even acknowledges in her CGA HB 5555 Testimony:

“…Without reliable measurements….. it would be difficult to “measure improvement and growth among our students from one year to the next.”

Why wouldn’t the State Department of  Education’s highest officer and/or staff review the validity, reliability and construct validity of what is being considered the “state Mastery test”?

How much time have CT’s children wasted on taking this “test”?

At this time, the state of CT is under a 3-year SBAC compact. This compact was found in the state of Missouri to be an unlawful interstate compact, never was approved by Congress. .https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/26/judge-rules-missouris-membership-in-common-core-testing-group-is-illegal/

The current fiscal issues for the testing include the Smarter Balanced Consortium Membership fee is $8,080,331 for 3 years, as well as fees for the American Institutes of Research (AIR – which gives the Smarter Balanced) – $13,555,173 for 3 years.

These are serious issues which need to be addressed by our Connecticut Legislature.

Defund the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium compact, cut the unproven, invalid Smarter Balanced testing saving the CT taxpayers over 7 million in one year alone.

Also, an investigation into the State Department of Education as well as the State Board of Education’s decisions to use this “test” without review of basic statistical significance should be completed.

Anne Manusky is absolutely correct.  As Connecticut’s elected officials grapple with Connecticut’s ongoing budget crisis, they can make a significant and positive difference for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers by passing Senate Bill 380 and requiring that the Malloy administration stop using the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory SBAC test as part of the state’s mandated teacher evaluation program.

In addition, as Anne Manusky points out, the Connecticut legislature should stop funding the failed SBAC testing program and use those funds to preserve some of the vital services that Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens need and deserve.

If Connecticut’s state senators and state representatives are committed to doing the right thing for Connecticut, they should start by reading this commentary piece and acting on its recommendations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The charter school fan’s incredible statement speaks volumes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

For more on SFER read;

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

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

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

NOTE:  Who else has taken Walton money?

Governor Dannel Malloy and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Malloy and Wyman seek to turn their “Wisconsin Moment” into a Wisconsin Era

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Elected on a claim that he would stave off a “Wisconsin Moment,” Governor Dannel Malloy and his “policy partner” and side-kick Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, have not only ushered in Connecticut’s own anti-public employee, anti-government service and anti-middle class “moment,” but Malloy and Wyman are making it clear that nothing less than a Wisconsin Era.

Malloy is saying that the only budget that will get his signature is a full-fledged austerity budget; a spending plan that destroys vital state services and lays off public employees while coddling the rich and shifting even more of Connecticut’s already unfair and inequitable tax burden onto the back of Connecticut’s middle class.

In his latest diatribe, the ever smug, sanctimonious and thin-skinned bully of a governor has announced that he will veto any spending plan put forward by the General Assembly’s Democratic majority that reverses Malloy’s record-breaking, mean-spirited and draconian cuts to the critically important services that Connecticut residents need and deserve.

Pontificating that Democratic lawmakers won’t consider “enough spending cuts,” Malloy has – yet again – telegraphed that when it comes to the state’s revenue and expenditure plan it is  his way or no way.  It is a strategy that will require unprecedented state employee layoffs, will reduce the availability of critically important services for Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens, will mean less funding for Connecticut’s public schools and colleges, and will lead to higher local property taxes for Connecticut’s middle income families.

In addition to harming Connecticut residents, the Malloy-Wyman approach to governance leaves the leadership of Connecticut’s unions with egg on their faces and blood on their hands.

As many will recall, during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Connecticut’s union leaders were only too proud to hoist Dannel Malloy onto their shoulders with the false claim that Malloy, and Malloy alone, would protect Connecticut from following the dark and devastating tactics being implemented by Wisconsin’s right-wing, Tea Party governor and legislature.

As the media and union representatives reported in June 2014,

Preventing a “Wisconsin moment” from taking place in Connecticut was the prevailing theme of the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s 10th biennial political convention.

A union blog post at the time reported,

“AFSCME President Lee Saunders electrified the more than 300 union delegates to the convention with his keynote address on June 16” roaring, “We can’t afford Connecticut to become another Wisconsin.”

Saunders added,

“This election is in our hands. If we turn out the vote of people who share our values, who want to preserve the middle class, who care about quality public services, then we will win.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) leadership explained,

We have chosen to support candidates who will act to prevent a ‘Wisconsin moment’ here in Connecticut,”

And the President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO echoed the rhetoric at a press conference to announce labor’s support for Malloy saying,

“In recent weeks we’ve heard candidates talk about Connecticut having a ‘Wisconsin moment.’ Well let me say unequivocally — we are not Wisconsin.”  

In response Malloy bragged about his commitment to a Connecticut moment,” explaining that,

“A Connecticut moment is when you stand up for your fellow citizens.”

In the weeks that followed, AFSCME dumped $1.2 million into the Super PAC that was created to support Malloy and Wyman’s effort to spend four more years in office.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) added $600,000 and SEIU donated $550,000 to the same political committee.

Another $160,000 in union member funds was slid into the slush-fund that Malloy’s campaign operatives were using to get around Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.

Now, eighteen months later, Malloy and Wyman are standing up on these issues…

But rather than standing up for the People of Connecticut and doing their right thing, they are standing up, turning their backs and walking away from the very people who elected them.

To better understand the damage being wrought by Malloy, Wyman and their policies, one need only read some of the unsettling commentary pieces that have been published by many of Connecticut’s media outlets.  For example,

Connecticut must not balance budget by denying basic medical care

Looming Health Care Crisis Can Be Avoided by Restoring Funds to Community Health Centers

Connecticut position as leader in Children’s Dental Medicaid in jeopardy.

An aging Connecticut needs the Legislative Commission on Aging

Budget cuts threaten Connecticut’s progress in mental health

Governor puts low-income families at risk of losing health coverage

CJTS teachers lament ‘inhumanity’ of sudden staff layoffs

Short-sighted budget cuts undermine CT’s long-term prosperity

CSCU tuition increase no surprise, but is just as wrong

Are school administrators bullying and abusing your child over the SBAC testing frenzy?

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There is an extremely serious problem taking place in some school districts across Connecticut and parents, teachers, child advocates and elected officials must act immediately to protect our children from the corporate education reform industry and their lackeys.

With the state-sponsored Common Core SBAC testing scheme now in full-swing throughout the state, parents and guardians in numerous schools districts are reporting that Connecticut public school children continue to be abused by local school administrators, who are following orders from Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, Education Commissioner Wentzell and the State Department of Education.

In addition to lying and misleading parents about their fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC tests, a disturbing number of school districts are unethically and immorally punishing students who have been opted out of the tests, while some districts are ordering students to “log-in” to the SBAC tests before the schools will honor the parents’ directive that their child is not to participate in the tests.

As previously reported, some school districts are bullying children who have been opted out by forcing them to stay in the testing rooms despite the fact that the SBAC testing regulations clearly and strictly prohibit students who are not taking the test from remaining in the testing locations.

The practice of forcing students to stay in the testing room, despite having been opted out of the SBAC program by their parents, is an ugly strategy to embarrass, humiliate and ostracize children who are inappropriately being required to sit in the testing room for hours while their peers are taking the defective and high-stakes SBAC tests that are designed to unfairly fail a significant number of the state’s children.

School administrators who refuse to place children in an alternative safe and appropriate environment (such as the school library) during the testing period are not only engaging in an unethical form of bullying, but they are violating the State of Connecticut’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) regulations.

The SBAC protocol reads;

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

See:  Smarter Balanced: Summative Assessment Test Administration Manual English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics 2015–2016 Published January 3, 2016 (page 2-4) which notes;

Violation of test security is a serious matter with far-reaching consequences… A breach of test security may be dealt with as a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Teachers, as well as a violation of other pertinent state and federal law and regulation.

Under the law, regulations and SBAC protocol, the Connecticut State Department of Education is required to investigate all such matters and pursue appropriate follow-up action. Any person found to have intentionally breached the security of the test system may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, disciplinary action by a local board of education, the revocation of Connecticut teaching certification by the State Board of Education, and civil liability pursuant to federal copyright law.

In addition, superintendents, principals or other school administrators who require or permit students who have been opted out of the SBAC tests, to remain in the testing room risk not only losing their certification to work in Connecticut pursuant to Connecticut State Statute 10-145b(i)(1), but they have violated their duties under Connecticut State regulations that require school administrators to adhere to a Professional Code of Conduct.

As if forcing students who have been opted out to remain in the testing rooms during the testing period wasn’t serious enough, some school districts are actually using an additional technique to make it appear that they are achieving extremely high participation rates.  These school districts have taken the despicable step of telling children who have been opted out of the SBAC testing by their parents that they must first sign-in (log-in) to the SBAC test program before the school will honor their parent’s directive that they are not to take the SBAC test.

This strategy is a direct result of the Malloy administration threat that any school district that allows more than 5 percent of their parents to opt out, will lose money – in this case – federal funds that are supposed to be used to provide extra support to the poorest child in the local school system.

IMPORTANT:

If your child or a child that you know is being forced to remain in the testing room during the SBAC testing, you are asked to provide that information, as soon as possible, so that appropriate action can be taken to prevent the continuation of the child abuse and to hold local school officials accountable for their reprehensible actions.

Information about any abusive practices related to the SBAC testing should be sent to Wait, What? via [email protected]or mailed to Wait, What? at PO Box 400, Storrs, CT. 06268

Bullying and abuse have no place in Connecticut’s public schools.

Please help ensure that those engaged in these abusive tactics are held accountable.

CEA wrong to claim NWEA’s MAP test is an appropriate tool for evaluating teachers.

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In a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece entitled, ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Wrong Answer For Students, Teachers, Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen correctly explains that,

[The] Smarter Balanced and other high-stakes standardized tests are not useful measures of student success — and were not designed to evaluate teachers. Smarter Balanced is an invalid, unfair and unreliable test that does not measure student growth within a school year. Smarter Balanced does not assist teachers in measuring academic growth, takes away precious instruction time and resources from teaching and learning, and is not developmentally and age-appropriate for students.

Teachers, administrators and parents want an evaluation system that develops and sustains high-quality teaching and provides teachers with more time to collaborate on best practices that result in a better outcome for all students.

But then, in a bizarre move that appears to be yet another attempt to acquiesce to Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s ongoing education reform and anti-teacher agenda, the leader of the CEA claims that although the state should not use the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC test as part of the state’s teacher evaluation program, it is okay to use the NWEA’s MAP standardized test as a teacher evaluation tool.

The CEA’s President notes,

Teachers are evaluated appropriately by measurable results using:

  • Standardized progress monitoring tests like NWEA or STAR.

  • Progress on student performance rubrics tied to external standards in their evaluations.

  • District- and department-designed common assessments

When developed correctly, student performance rubrics and district and department designed common assessments can be useful tools when it comes to evaluating and improving teacher performance.

However, standardized tests like the SBAC or NWEA’s MAP are inherently unfair and inappropriate for use as part of a teacher evaluation system.  Period.  End of Story.

Education Advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, addressed this very point when she recently published, Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker.

One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.

Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.

Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.

If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.

As for the claim that the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) is a valid teacher evaluation tool, Wendy Lecker explains,

The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.

There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.

The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.

The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”

The truth is that the NWEA’s MAP standardized test is just as inappropriate a tool to evaluate teachers as is the SBAC and the unions that represent teachers have a fundamental obligation to ensure that public policy makers understand what are and what are not valid techniques for determining how well an individual teacher is doing in the classroom.

The CEA’s latest move to condemn the SBAC but endorse the MAP is an uncomfortable reminder that, over the past six years, teachers and other public employees have watched as their union leaders have engaged in an almost schizophrenic approach when it comes to dealing with Governor Malloy’s bully, while standing up for their members.

Wanting to be perceived as “insiders” for the purpose of “getting into the rooms of power,” some union leaders have consistently dismissed or tried to explain away Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman’s ongoing anti-teacher, anti-public employee agenda.

On the other hand, recognizing that their membership is getting angrier and angrier and that the Malloy/Wyman agenda is undermining public education, public services and is translating into public employee layoffs, some of these same unions have taken to running television advertisements urging citizens to stand up for the public servants who educate our children, provide critically important support for those in need and ensure that government programs are available to the people of Connecticut.

The CEA’s initial approach to the teacher evaluation issue was a case study in the strategy of trying to get-along to go-along.  But, after failing to successfully fight off Malloy’s inappropriate and unfair teacher evaluation initiative, the union changed course this past January.

As the January 5, 2016 Wait What? post,  4 years late[r] – The Connecticut Education Association may finally be standing up against Malloy and Wyman on their teacher evaluation disaster, reported,

According to a press advisory issued earlier today, the Connecticut Education Association will hold a press conference at 11am at the Legislative Office Building on Thursday, January 7, 2016 to call on Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to “join with the majority of states in the U.S. that have replaced the federally-sponsored SBAC or PARCC tests with better, more authentic and effective assessment programs.”

If the announcement is as impressive as suggested, it would mean that the leadership of Connecticut’s teacher unions have finally moved 180 degrees from the position they held on January 25, 2012 when the CEA and AFT joined with the other members of Governor Malloy’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) to approve the so-called “teacher evaluation framework” that inappropriately and unfairly mandates that student’s standardized test scores be a major factor in the teacher evaluation process.

In addition to reversing their position on the SBAC test, the CEA and AFT-CT have been working extremely hard to get the Connecticut General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 380 which would prohibit the state from using the results from the Connecticut’s Mastery Testing program in the state’s teacher evaluation program – a proposal that Malloy and his education reform allies strongly oppose.

And yet, as the CEA seriously – and finally – engages on this vital issue, along comes the claim that the NWEA MAP test is a valid mechanism for evaluating teachers – a claim that may please Governor Malloy and his anti-teacher friends but is absolutely and completely out of line with the academic evidence and good public policy.

Connecticut can and should have a strong and effective teacher evaluation system, but using standardized test results to evaluate teachers has no place in such a system.

It does a tremendous disservice for the CEA to suggest otherwise.

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