Malloy Admin- Drops $2 million on consulting firm to micro-manage Alliance Districts then blames districts for program’s failures.

Here we go again…

Rather than properly fund Connecticut’s public schools, Governor Malloy has turned his back on the majority of Connecticut’s public schools and local property taxpayers by shifting almost all new state education funding to Connecticut’s so-called Alliance Districts.

Making matters far worse, rather than using the State Department of Education’s expert team of superintendents, principals and policy experts who had been working with Connecticut’s Priority Schools, Malloy’s first Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor,  laid off and reassigned these experienced Connecticut educators and handed their work over to Mass Insight, Inc., a politically-connected, out-of-state Corporate Education Reform consulting company.  Mass Insight then sent in a team of consultants, with little to no education experience, to manage the day to day work associated with the Alliance District and Turnaround Program.

And heading up the overall operation, which has spent more than $300 million in public funds, Commissioner Stefan Pryor recruited a school principal from Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that Pryor co-founded.

Lacking the certification necessary to teach or work in a Connecticut school, Morgan Barth had already spent eight years illegally teaching and working at Achievement First, Inc.  However, Barth’s claim to fame was that he was a close relative of Richard Barth, the CEO of the massive KIPP Charter School chain who, in turn, is married to Wendy Koop, the founder of Teach for America.

When it comes to actually overseeing Malloy’s Alliance District program, Barth and Mass Insight’s track record has been abysmal, but that didn’t stop Mass Insight from collecting at least $1,957,960 in consulting fees and Barth finding the time to head out to Storrs to get his superintendent’s certification via one of the short-cut training programs at UConn’s NEAG School of Education.

Of course, not surprisingly, when Stefan Pryor bailed to take a job in Rhode Island, Malloy’s new Commissioner of Education, Dianna Wentzell, continued to use Mass Insight to run the Alliance District Program.

But despite the State Department of Education’s record of failure, or perhaps because of their record of mismanagement, Commissioner Wentzell is now blaming the Alliance Districts themselves for problems that have developed with the program, rather than the inexperienced, but highly paid consultants that she and her predecessor hired and coddled.

The Hartford Courant covers the new development in an article entitled, Some Struggling Districts Using State Grant For Unintended Purposes while the CT Mirror’s story is entitled, Schools redirecting money intended for reforms, officials say.

As the Courant reports,

“The board is aware of a couple of examples that have been brought to our attention of extreme misuse as a result of carryover,” Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said. “This allows us to keep the Alliance District funds focused on the Alliance District plan.”

Extreme misuse?

Keep Alliance District funds focused on the Alliance District Plan?

Considering the way in which the out-of-state consultants coordinated the program, attacking the Alliance Districts is particularly revolting.

And let’s be clear, it’s not like Wentzell and her management team weren’t well aware of the problems associated with the way the Alliance District Program was being run because, as has been clear from the state, those problems started at the top and were a direct result of the policy decisions Pryor and Wentzell made.

The following 17 Wait, What. Blog posts are just a fraction of the reports about the way in which Mass Insight Inc. and the State Department of Education were managing the Alliance District program.

Connecticut legislators take note, before Malloy’s State Department of Education and State Board of Education start attacking Connecticut’s most challenged school districts, they should be required to come clean about myriad of problems that were caused by the way they “managed” the program.

The following are Wait, What? Posts on Connecticut’s Alliance District Program and the way in which Malloy’s own commissioners and consultants mismanaged and undermined the program. 

Mass Insight contract “magically extended” on its last day. Cost to taxpayers: $800,000 (2/3/14)

A plea to the public for help in tracking down the Malloy Administration’s effort to extend $1 million contract (1/28/14)

Pryor now using out-of-state company to recruit out-of-state school principals (12/23/13)

Are Alliance School Districts implementing their Turnaround Plans with “fidelity”? (12/4/13)

No Joke: Year 2 Alliance District “kickoff” tomorrow despite Pryor’s failure to get money to Alliance Districts (10/16/13)

Did Connecticut’s Director for School Turnaround illegally teach in the State of Connecticut? (10/8/13)

Malloy’s Education Commissioner prepares 2014 legislative agenda that increases his power and promotes charters (9/17/13)

Mass Insight swaps out more consultants: Further reducing experience for CT Alliance Districts (8/26/13)

Malloy/Pryor’s new “Turnaround Director” violated Connecticut law by failing to get proper teacher certification (8/20/13)

Just when Connecticut’s “Alliance” Districts thought it couldn’t get worse… (8/19/13)

Hello? It’s the 2nd week of August…where is the State’s Alliance District Funding? (8/8/13)

Malloy’s Commissioner of Education signs another $1 million contract with out-side consultants (7/20/13)

Warning! Warning! Alliance Districts Beware: (6/27/13)

Pay More, Get Less: The Malloy/Pryor Approach to Problem Solving: (6/5/13)

Layoffs for Connecticut Residents, Retainers for out-of-state consultants: The Malloy-Pryor-Mass Insight Contract (5/24/13)

The Malloy/Pryor Education Reform Consultant Full Employment Gravy Train (5/17/13)

Oh look, there goes more Connecticut taxpayer money to out-of-state “education reform” consultants (5/16/13)

Mass Insight contract “magically extended” on its last day. Cost to taxpayers: $800,000

Mass Insight Contract “magically extended” on its last day.  Cost to taxpayers: $800,000

The cornerstone of Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative is the concept of “turnaround schools” and the creation of the “Commissioner’s Network.”  Both strategies are part of Malloy’s broader effort to allow private entities to run public schools.

The task of implementing those outrageous policies rests with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and two members of his personal staff, Adam Goldfarb (Chief of Staff) and Morgan Barth (Director of the Office of School Turnaround).

Morgan Barth is the former Achievement First employee who illegally taught and worked in Achievement First schools for six years.

Last year, as part of their ongoing effort to undermine local control and privatize public education in Connecticut, Commissioner Pryor let go or re-assigned the extremely experienced team of State Department of Education experts who had been helping towns work through the challenges of educating students in Connecticut’s largest and poorest districts.

Pryor let go the four Leaders in Residence and three superintendents, each of whom had direct experience working with administrators and teachers in urban classrooms and school districts where the majority of students face the challenges of poverty, language barriers or special education needs.

Pryor also re-assigned the State Department of Education’s experts on bullying and improving school climates, multi-cultural education and bilingual and English language learning programs.

Instead of utilizing Connecticut experts, Pryor retained an out-of-state, politically-connected company called Mass Insight for nearly $1 million. 

To service the contract with Pryor, Mass Insight sent in a handful of inexperienced, out-of-state consultants.  In the first four months of the contract, Mass Insight replaced nearly every one of these out-of-state consultants with another inexperienced, out-of-state consultant.  In some cases the consultants lasted no more than a few weeks in the job. 

But as a group, Mass Insight’s consultants, with Morgan Barth at the helm, managed to alienate superintendents, principals and local boards of education in many of Connecticut’s thirty Alliance Districts.

The contract with Mass Insight was scheduled to end on January 31, 2014.

But with no public notice and no public participation, Stefan Pryor and the State Department of Education, along with the help of Malloy’s Budget Director and Attorney General George Jepsen’s Office quietly approved an $800,000 contract extension that is said to have gone into effect on JANUARY 31, 2014.

The last-minute $800,000 contract extension will allow Stefan Pryor, Morgan Barth and Mass Insight to continue to wreak havoc on Connecticut’s poorest public schools.

Hidden from public view, Stefan Pryor requested and obtained approval from Malloy’s Budget Chief and the Office of Policy and Management to extend Mass Insight’s contract and pay the out-of-state company the extra $800,000 on January 24, 2014.

According to documents related to the matter, the Mass Insight contract extension was finalized and sent to the company on January 30, 2014.

Under state law, as a check and balance on excessive agency actions, contract extensions of this nature require a sign off from the Office of the Attorney General.   

In this case, the Mass Insight contract was apparently forwarded to the Attorney General’s office on January 31, 2014. 

While it is unclear exactly when the Attorney General’s Office acted, it did approve the contract and Commissioner Pryor and the State Department of Education reported that they planned to have the contract amendment “fully executed by the end of business January 31, 2014.”

While it is beyond insulting to see the Malloy administration dump experienced Connecticut residents so it can out-source jobs to out-of-state consultants, it is even more absurd that Commissioner Pryor would seek to extend this contract and further undermine Connecticut’s poorest school districts. 

A plea to the public for help in tracking down the Malloy Administration’s effort to extend $1 million contract

An out-of-state company of consultants that have already collected $1 million in taxpayer funds wants even more.

Wait, What? needs your help in tracking down this travesty of justice.

The following link is to the $1 million contract between Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Mass Insight, the out-of-state company brought in help Commissioner Pryor with his plans to take over up to 25 public schools in Connecticut.

The link to the contract is:  http://www.biznet.ct.gov/SCP_Documents/Results/12064/12SDE0092AA%20-%20Massinsight%20Contract.pdf

This contract is scheduled to end later this week on January 31, 2014.

However, not only are the high cost, out-of-state consultants not leaving their state offices but they are moving to new offices in the State Department of Education.

These out-of-state consultants replaced dedicated, experienced, state employees who were let go or transferred to make room for this politically connected company so that it could come do the dirty work for Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Morgan Barth, his director of the School Turnaround Office.

Multiple FOI requests, media requests and nicely worded emails about whether there is a contract extension for Mass Insight have gone answered. 

The question is – if the contract with MassInsight was extended, how and when the extension was processed, considering there is no extension clause in the contract. 

Making the matter even more suspect, there was no information posted on the Department of Administrative Services website about a request to extend, a re-bidding process or the new contact.

Any information from the public about whether the MassInsight contract has been extended would be appreciated.  The questions include if the contract was extended, how was it extended, when was the extension signed and whether a copy of the extended contract can be obtained.

It is incredibly frustrating that the Malloy administration can extend a $1 million dollar contract without providing any transparency what-so-ever.

Wait, What? and the taxpayers of Connecticut thank any member of the public who can come forward and provide information about this latest outrage.

You can read more about MassInsight in these earlier Wait, What? posts;

Mass Insight swaps out more consultants: Further reducing experience for CT Alliance Districts

Layoffs for Connecticut Residents, Retainers for out-of-state consultants: The Malloy-Pryor-Mass Insight Contract

Pryor now using out-of-state company to recruit out-of-state school principals

No Joke: Year 2 Alliance District “kickoff” tomorrow despite Pryor’s failure to get money to Alliance Districts

Hello? It’s the 2nd week of August…where is the State’s Alliance District Funding?

Malloy’s Commissioner of Education signs another $1 million contract with out-side consultants

Warning! Warning! Alliance Districts Beware:

Pay More, Get Less: The Malloy/Pryor Approach to Problem Solving:

Are Alliance School Districts implementing their Turnaround Plans with “fidelity”?

The Malloy/Pryor Education Reform Consultant Full Employment Gravy Train

Oh look, there goes more Connecticut taxpayer money to out-of-state “education reform” consultants

Pryor now using out-of-state company to recruit out-of-state school principals

With just over a month left in Mass Insight’s $1 million contract with Stefan Pryor and the Connecticut State Department of Education, the out-of-state company hired to run much of Stefan Pryor’s “turnaround” operation is posting job advertisements to recruit out-of-state school principals to take jobs in Connecticut.

Mass Insight’s move comes despite the fact that Connecticut has hundreds of qualified candidates for school administrator positions, unemployment in the state remains at historic levels and a day doesn’t go by that Governor Malloy isn’t claiming that he is working to create jobs for Connecticut residents.

Even more to the point, the job of hiring a school principal is the exclusive responsibility of the local Board of Education in conjunction with the local school’s parent governance committee.

Neither Mass Insight nor Commissioner Pryor has the authority to hire local school principals.  Bridgeport is the only community where Pryor got special legislation passed that allows him to play a leadership role in picking a local school administrator and that is only for the position of superintendent of schools.

But perhaps the most incredible issue of all is the fact that the contract between Commissioner Pryor and Mass Insight DOESN’T provide Mass Insight with the authority to recruit principals or anyone else for local Connecticut’s local school districts.

But recruiting is exactly what Mass Insight is doing.

According to the on-line recruiting information posted by Mass Insight’s Boston-based human relations director;

“On behalf of the CSDE and Network schools and districts, Mass Insight Education Recruiting is supporting the recruitment of highly skilled and motivated school leaders to be a part of this local and national reform movement.  There are openings in several urban elementary, K-8, middle and high schools identified to begin full implementation as Network schools in Fall 2014. Principal candidates who are available for planning work in Spring 2014 are strongly preferred.”

The announcement adds…

“To apply for this position, please submit your resume and cover letter via the following link:  [email protected] In your cover letter, please indicate which level of school you feel most qualified to lead (elementary, K-8, middle or high school) and whether you have any geographical limitations or preferences.”

Are Alliance School Districts implementing their Turnaround Plans with “fidelity”?

That unbelievable question is what Morgan Barth; Malloy’s School Turnaround Director at the State Department of Education (and former Achievement First Inc. administrator) is asking Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts.

Are you implementing your plan with fidelity…?

At the direction of Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, the State Department of Education has managed to put together a “Turnaround Office” with virtually no teaching experience, no Connecticut experience and no real understanding of the challenges facing public education in Connecticut.

Instead of providing the real support Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts need, they are burdening districts with more paperwork; more data collection and absurd, even idiotic questions…like are you implementing your plan with fidelity?

Fidelity?  It must be one of those fancy corporate education reform terms, because in the real world fidelity means:

fi·del·i·ty: faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. “He sought only the strictest fidelity to justice” Synonyms:  loyalty, allegiance, obedience;

Over the past 18 months, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, co-founder of Achievement First, Inc. (the large charter school Management Company) and corporate education reform aficionado, has moved out all the professional expertise from the State Department of Education’s office that is responsible for what used to be called Priority School Districts but are now called Alliance Districts.

Instead of trained professionals with Connecticut experience, Pryor has handed the operation over to a former Achievement First, Inc. administrator Morgan Barth who managed to spend a number of years illegally teaching at a Achievement First school despite his lack of proper state certification.

Much of the rest of Pryor’s “turnaround” team is made up of young paid non-Connecticut consultants who are funded through a $1 million contract with an out-of-state company.

MassInsight, the out-of-state consulting company, “won” the one year contract after its CEO came to Connecticut to speak in favor of Malloy’s education reform legislation. 

Despite having little to no experience, the Commissioner and Governor committed $1 million in taxpayer funds to this out-of-state company ignoring the fact that the State Department of Education already had experienced staff who knew the school districts in Connecticut, understood the issues and were already making a positive impact.

Furthermore, any additional help that might have been needed could easily have been acquired from Connecticut’s regional service centers such as CREC, EastCONN, Project Learn, Etc.

But no, wasting precious public funds has been the hallmark of this administration and the State Department of Education has been a prime example.

The Malloy administration has consistently opted for more privatization and delegating decisions to more people who don’t come from Connecticut, don’t understand Connecticut and will be headed off to new consulting opportunities as soon as they arise.

In fact, in less than a year, more than half the MassInsight consultants have already left to be replaced by even less experienced people.

Now, virtually every day, Alliance Districts are reporting that the Malloy/Pryor bureaucracy of consultants is making more and more absurd demands.

Just last week an Alliance District administrator was sent the following…

“In response to some questions the Turnaround Office has received about the data dashboard section (first worksheet) of the AD Implementation Tracker, I wanted to share some additional information with you to assist you in your efforts to complete this portion. The data dashboard is intended to support conversations about district-wide and school-level performance over time based on leading and lagging indicators. We understand that districts calculate these numbers slightly differently and are not asking you to reinvent the wheel. While we recognize that districts report this information to the CSDE at the end of the year, we are asking for several key data points more frequently and in real time to support data-driven decision-making in Alliance Districts and identified schools.”

The out-of-state consultants at the State Department of Education went on to say;

“Math/Reading Achievement: We recognize that districts are administering different tests and the data coming from these tests may not line up exactly to the dashboard’s quarterly reporting structure. For example, if your district administers a trimester-based test, simply report the test results three times a year at the end of the quarter in which the test is administered. If the test does not generate a school-wide average, please pick a representative grade to report. In the header where you enter the name of the math/reading assessment, please simply state that grade level(s) reported.

Also, you can pull information for the ED114 tab of the Implementation Tracker from the CSDE’s online grants management system. We suggest using November 15, 2013 as the end date for reporting expenditures for Quarter 1. (However if 10/31 is the end of the quarter in your district you may use that date.)”

The Alliance District administrator reported that these types of requests come in every week and are often than diametrically opposed to previous requests sent by the State Department of Education’s Turnaround Office.

Week after week, month after month, the outside consultants disrupt the efforts to “turnaround” districts by demanding more and more “data” for some new software program they’ve purchased.

But hey…we’re only paying these out-of-state consultants a million dollars of our taxpayer money so maybe we deserve the “B” team.

If there is one constant in Malloy’s “education reform” initiative it is ongoing effort to put an end to jobs for Connecticut residents in order to “free-up” funds to hire outside consultants and companies.

First came the millions Pryor gave away in no-bid contracts when he arrived in Connecticut.  Almost all of those went to companies he had done business with in other states. 

Then came the contracts with companies like MassInsight.

Stefan Pryor expands his team of charter school advocates

As if Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts (the 30 poorest school districts in the state) weren’t having enough problems, Stefan Pryor has managed to pour even more salt into the wounds that are dragging down public education in Connecticut.

Over at the State Department of Education, Stefan Pryor got rid of Connecticut’s experienced Leaders in Residence and the team of experts who were dedicated to helping Connecticut’s Priority School Districts improve educational opportunities in the state’s poorest districts.

In addition to dumping the four Leaders in Residence, Pryor got rid of the three retired superintendents, all of whom had extraordinary, real world experience in Connecticut’s communities.

Malloy’s Commissioner of Education even transferred out the expert in English Language Learning and bilingual programs, the expert in helping schools create successful multi-cultural environments and the expert on reducing school bullying, making schools safer and improving school climates.

He replaced all of this expertise with a $1 million contract with an out-of-state corporate education reform company that sent in five inexperienced consultants to tell Connecticut’s education leaders what to do.

The result has been chaos with many Alliance Districts unable to get the money and help that Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature promised them.

To make matters worse, a majority of the MassInsight company consultants have left and been replaced by even less experienced individuals.

With Alliance Districts twisting in the wind, Stefan Pryor brought in a new Director for his “Turnaround Office,” a principal from one of Pryor’s Achievement First, Inc. charter schools.

Morgan Barth is noteworthy in his own right.  He says he worked as an Achievement First, Inc. teacher in Connecticut for six years.  However, it appears that he was in those classrooms illegally because despite a state law mandating that all teachers be certified by the State Department of Education, Barth never bothered to become a Connecticut certified teacher.

Ironic that Morgan Barth, who refused to follow the laws of the State Department of Education, is now a senior manager at that very state agency.

But if it wasn’t already clear enough, Stefan Pryor has now proven that he is completely and utterly tone-deaf to the anger and frustration that is building up around the Malloy administration’s handling of public education policy in the state.

This week Morgan Barth proudly pronounced that Nasir Qadree, an Education Pioneer Fellow, Class of 2013, has joined Pryor’s “Turnaround Office.”

Nasir Qadree is new to the education management industry.

According to his bio, Qadree has been working in the “Investment Manager Services sleeve” of State Street Corporation where he was “responsible for covering North American Business Development and Sales.”  Nasir worked with prospective clients to “review and align their current operations with State Street’s servicing model.”

Before that, “Nasir worked in the Institutional Equity Sales Research group of State Street Global Markets (SSGM). In this role, he introduced portfolio managers, analysts, and traders to SSGM’s proprietary macro and quantitative research.”

And “Prior to joining State Street, Nasir worked at Goldman Sachs in New York where he worked as an operations analyst on the Fixed Income Sales desk. At Goldman Sachs, he supported municipal bond and money market sales traders.”

Nasir Qadree received a B.S. from Hampton University in Marketing and reports that he did some tutoring in New York City.

It is unclear who is paying Nasir Qadree’s salary.  He doesn’t show up (yet) on the state’s payroll but State Department of Education hasn’t gone through the necessary steps to take him on as a non-paid employee.

According to Morgan Barth though he is a “New Team Member,” with Barth writing, “Please join me in welcoming Nasir Qadree to the turnaround team. Nasir joins the SDE as an Education Pioneer Fellow…Nasir will initially support several projects pertaining to the Commissioner’s Network and charter schools.”

And rest assured that Nasir Qadree likes charter schools and charter school advocates;

Among his recent social media texts and posts were the following;

“I love this. Tireless KIPP teachers showing how much they care for the future of their KIPPsters (students), all through Hip-Hop.” (KIPP being one of the biggest charter school chains in the country).

And

@CoryBooker excited to be begin working for your former colleague Stefan Pryor in CT, focusing tirelessly on #schoolturnaround.”  To which Cory Booker responded, “He is a great man.”

Last week Qadree also tweeted, “Excited to participate in the Northeast Charter School Conference. #StudentsFirst.”

In conclusion, it is certainly clear that Governor Malloy reiterates his commitment to undermining Connecticut’s teachers, schools and our state’s system of public education.

No Joke: Year 2 Alliance District “kickoff” tomorrow despite Pryor’s failure to get money to Alliance Districts

Although Connecticut’s school districts are over 100 days into the fiscal year and more than six weeks into the school year, a number of Connecticut’s Alliance Districts still haven’t heard whether their “grant applications” have been approved by Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his hapless Turnaround Office.

Other Alliance Districts have heard funding is coming but still await the actual funds they need to implement programs that were supposed have started weeks ago.

All this and more is a direct result of Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s unending effort to do away with the State Department of Education’s professional staff and replace them high-cost, out-of-state consultants.

As Wait, What? readers are well aware, Commissioner Pryor dumped the State Department’s Leaders in Residence and expert retired superintendents and replaced them with a contract costing taxpayers nearly $1 million.  In place of trained, Connecticut experts, Alliance Districts were given the “help” of a company called MassInsight and their string of young, inexperienced consultants who have been unwilling or unable to get the job done in a timely fashion.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that the MassInsight contract ends in just over four months, but watch for Pryor to try and sneak through a contract extension despite Malloy’s ongoing promise that he is actually committed to helping Connecticut’s thirty poorest school districts.

The next chance for Connecticut’s 30 Alliance Districts to watch the parade of consultants will come tomorrow when Commissioner Pryor and his uncertified Division Director for the Turnaround Office, Morgan Barth, “will welcome Alliance Districts to the Year 2 kickoff convening.”

The event is billed as an opportunity for the Connecticut State Department of Education to “provide a vision for the second year of the Alliance District program, including a description of Year 2 priorities and how the CSDE plans to support districts. We will also highlight and celebrate successful strategies and improved outcomes in several districts.”

Scheduled to take place tomorrow at New Britain’s Institute of Technology and Business Development, Alliance District superintendents and district leadership will be regaled by a variety of consultants and corporate education reformers.

Considering the catastrophic failures associated with the Common Core standards, Common Core curriculum and Common Core testing, one of the “not to be missed” sessions will certainly be the one called, “Aligning Curricula to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)” with presenter Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, the State Department of Education’s Chief Academic Officer.

Another session, entitled “Change Management Workshop,” will be run by Morgan Barth himself.  Barth is the former Achievement First teacher and principal who allegedly worked illegally as an uncertified school teacher for six years.

Other consultants participating tomorrow include individuals from the Connecticut Center for School Change, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Mass Insight – all of whom will explain to Connecticut superintendents, principals, teachers and others how to do their jobs

Meanwhile, word on the street is that Alliance Districts should NOT be expecting to see any checks tomorrow.  Funds that the consultants haven’t taken will be distributed at a later date.

 

Connecticut Charter School Front Drops $50,000 into Bridgeport Democratic Primary

A case study on how the Corporate Education Reform Industry is trying to buy up American Democracy

A Better Connecticut, the charter school advocacy group formed by the present and previous CEOs of ConnCAN, the charter school lobby group, has spent $50,708 so far in support of the endorsed slate of candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

The endorsed slate is the group loyal to Mayor Bill Finch, Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

A Better Connecticut’s “independent” expenditure is part of a broader $2 million plus public relations campaign designed to support Governor Malloy and his education reforms.  Earlier this year, A Better Connecticut and ConnCAN hired Malloy’s chief advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso and his campaign consulting firm, Global Strategy Group, to poll Connecticut voters about education reform issues and then conduct a multi-million dollar television advertising campaign to “thank” Governor Malloy for his education reforms.

With seven days to go in the Bridgeport Board of Education Democratic Primary, a portion of the $50,000 in expenditures that have been made by A Better Connecticut went to Occhiogrosso and Malloy’s campaign consulting company for what was euphemistically called an “Education Policy Survey.”

A recent public opinion poll conducted in Bridgeport included questions about Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Paul Vallas, members of the Working Family Party who serve as the outspoken minority on the Bridgeport Board of Education and Carmen Lopez, the former Connecticut superior court judge who brought the lawsuit that determined that Paul Vallas lacked the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent of schools in Connecticut.  That suit is presently before the Supreme Court for review.

The campaign finance report submitted by A Better Connecticut only reports an expenditure of $2,280 for the poll, but polls of this nature traditional cost in excess of $25,000 leaving one to question who may have actually paid for the poll and why it isn’t reported as an official expenditure in this report.

It appears that in addition to paying Global Strategy Group, A Better Connecticut’s money was used for mailings and voter contact efforts in support of the three endorsed Democratic candidates in the September 10th Democratic Primary; Simon Castillo, Brandon Clark and Kathryn Roach Bukorsky .

Although state laws shields organizations like A Better Connecticut from having to reveal the amount of money they have raised from individual donors, they are required to identify their top five funders.

In this case, A Better Connecticut is claiming that their five largest funders were Education Reform Now Advocacy of New York City, 50CAN Action Fund, Inc. of New York City, Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of Loudonville, New York, Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York City and Students for Education Reform (SFER- Action Network Inc.) of New York City.

A Better Connecticut was created at the beginning of this year by ConnCAN, which was created by the original funders behind Achievement First, Inc.

As readers know, Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor who served on Achievement First’s Board of Directors until he resigned to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Education Reform Now – Advocacy is the lobbying and political action arm of Education Reform Now.  Education Reform Now claims credit for New Jersey’s draconian anti-teacher tenure law that was designed to undermine the rights of teachers and the teaching profession.

Education Reform Now’s Board of Directors is made up of hedge fund managers Charles Ledley (Highfields Capital Management), John Petry (Sessa Capital), Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo (Covey Capital), Brian Zied (Charter Bridge Capital), John Sabat (SAC Capital).  John Petry is not only the former Chairman of Education Reform Now, but was co-founder of the right- wing Democrats for Education Reform and currently serves as a co-chair at the Success Academies network of charter schools.

50CAN Action Fund, Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of 50CAN.  50CAN was created by Jonathan Sackler who not only founded ConnCAN but has been a leading member of Achievement First, Inc. since Pryor and Dacia Toll founded the company.  Sackler chairs the 50CAN Board.  Other Board members include Dacia Toll (Co-CEO & President, Achievement First), Marc Porter Magee (former COO of ConnCAN), Rebeca Nieves Huffman (State Director, Democrats for Education Reform Illinois), and Richard Barth (CEO & President, KIPP Foundation).   Until recently Matthew Kramer, the President of Teach for America served as 50CAN’s Board Chair.

Students for Education Reform Action Network Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of Students for Education Reform.  SFER was created by 50CAN and its Board of Trustees includes April Chou (Chief Growth Officer, KIPP Bay Area Schools), Christy Chin, (Portfolio Director, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation), Adam Cioth (Rolling Hills Capital, Justin Cohen, (President, Mass Insight Education School Turnaround Group), Shavar Jeffries, (Newark Public Schools Advisory Board) and Jonathan Sackler (ConnCAN, 50CAN, Achievement First).

Readers will also note that the Board includes Mass Insight, the out-of-state consulting company that Stefan Pryor hired to run Connecticut’s Alliance District and Commissioner’s Network programs at the same time he let go the seven experienced State Department of Education experts including Connecticut four leaders in residence and three retired superintendents.

The other two primary funders of the A Better Connecticut’s Bridgeport campaign are Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc., the lobbying and political arm of Families for Excellent Schools.  Families for Excellent Schools is a charter school-funded organizing group that reports to have an organizer in Connecticut although they don’t appear to be registered.  Last but not least is a group called Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of New York which doesn’t appear to be registered anywhere but may be Real Reform Now Corporation which was a New York entity that lost its tax exempt status after failing to file the proper reports with the IRS for 3 consecutive years.

Oh, and lest readers forget.  Prosperity for Connecticut, a political action committee associated with Governor Malloy has held fifteen fundraisers in Connecticut, New York and Washington D.C.  since Malloy took office.  Malloy has attended all or nearly all of these events.  The most successful was held at the home of Jonathan Sackler who founded or helped create Achievement First, ConnCAN, 50CAN, and Students for Education Reform.  Sackler’s successful fundraiser featured contributions from John Petry and his wife (Education Reform Now, DFER, Success Academy Schools) as well as numerous other corporate education reform industry players.

In addition, in the closing days of Finch’s failed charter revision campaign, Sackler provided the charter revision campaign with a check for $50,000.

As we’ll see in the coming days, A Better Connecticut is NOT THE ONLY vehicle Sackler and his friends are using to try and influence the Bridgeport Democratic Primary.

But don’t worry, as the corporate education reform industry likes to explain…”It’s All About The Children.”

Mass Insight swaps out more consultants: Further reducing experience for CT Alliance Districts

As Connecticut’s Alliance Districts have become painfully aware, rather than utilize the tremendous expertise and experience within the Connecticut State Department of Education, Governor Malloy and his “Education Reform” Dream Team led by Commissioner Stefan Pryor decided to replace Connecticut experts with out-of-state, paid consultants to direct Connecticut’s “School Turnaround” program.

As Wait, What? readers and superintendents in Connecticut’s thirty Alliance Districts know, on March 28, 2013, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, signed a contract with Mass Insight, a relatively new Massachusetts company, to “develop the state’s turnaround strategy and improve the most struggling schools.”

Gone were the four Connecticut Leaders in Residence at the State Department of Education who had been helping priority school districts succeed.  Gone were the three retired superintendents, all with extensive experience helping larger, poorer school districts.  Pryor even transferred out the three experts who were leading the Turnaround Office’s work in English as a Second Language, expanding culturally appropriate school programs and developing safer school climates.

Instead taxpayers were told they would be shelling out $957,960 for a team of five young out-of-state consultants, three of whom have never taught in a public school, one of whom has two years teaching experience and one who apparently had three years of teaching experience.  Taken together, these paid consultants didn’t  even have the experience of one of the Connecticut experts who had been shown the door.

Leading the Mass Insight Team was Ron, a Senior Program Manager who had recently joined Mass Insight after serving as a School Turnaround Manager at the Indiana Department of Education.  But weeks later Ron he was gone and a New Mass Insight consultant was added to their Connecticut operation.

Now another Mass Insight consultant has left.   MaryAnn was responsible for supporting the company’s “district-level fieldwork” in Connecticut.  Before joining Mass Insight MaryAnn (surprise, surprise) had served as College Office Director at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, Connecticut. Her husband Chris was Achievement First Amistad’s principal.  (Amistad and Achievement First, of course, being the charter school and charter school management company co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor).

Now, only four months or so into Mass Insight’s million-dollar contract, two of the five Mass Insight consultants have left and all that remain from the original list is Michelle, Dipa and Emily.

The company did hire Hillary and sent her to Connecticut and word is that a new consultant named Rob has or will be joining the Connecticut team.

Meanwhile, with school starting in Connecticut, the state’s Alliance Districts STILL HAVEN’T been provided their new 2013-2014 Alliance District state funds.

In fact, in most cases, the school districts, all of which are facing the greatest challenges and in need of the additional funds, are being made to jump through additional hoops as they strive to get approval for their Year 2  Alliance District Plans.

As to Mass Insight’s background, Wait, What? readers may recall an earlier blog post that reported on the work of fellow education blogger Gary Rubinstein who has investigated Mass Insight’s activities in other states.   Rubinstein, a nationally-known blogger, wrote that Mass Insight’s track record is murky, at best. Continue reading “Mass Insight swaps out more consultants: Further reducing experience for CT Alliance Districts”

Hello? It’s the 2nd week of August…where is the State’s Alliance District Funding?

Although the amount of money was relatively small, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly made a big deal this year trying to persuade towns, schools, teachers, parents and the general public that they were increasing funding for Connecticut’s under-funded public schools.

While about $50 million was added to Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula for distribution to the state’s local public schools, the vast majority of those funds were targeted to a select group of the 30 poorest towns that are called “Alliance Districts” under Malloy’s education reform initiative.  These are the towns with the greatest poverty and have the largest number of students who face language barriers or need special education services.

But there was a huge catch.  Rather than give the towns flexibility to spend the money where it was needed most, in order for Alliance Districts to receive their funds, they were required to submit detailed “Year 2 Alliance District Plans” by Friday, June 28, at 5 p.m.

The promise was that the State Department of Education would quickly review those plans and release the funds so that towns could ramp-up their programs in time for the beginning of the school year.

But here we are, five weeks later, the new school year begins in just weeks and towns have not heard whether or when they will get any of the promised new money.

Without the funds, people can’t be hired, programs can’t be started and children won’t be getting the additional academic services they need.

The fundamental problem is that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has decimated the capabilities of the State Department of Education and has turned over much of the day to day operation of the agency to high-priced consultants who don’t know Connecticut, don’t have the expertise to do the jobs they’ve been assigned and are sucking scarce taxpayer dollars away from vital services.

Just this spring Stefan Pryor and his inner circle of advisors let go seven key experts in the State Department of Education who were helping Alliance Districts to develop and implement effective programs to improve academic performance.  Then, to make matters even worse, Pryor transferred the three key people who worked on improving English as a Second Language programs, provided technical support for towns so that they could do a better job developing culturally appropriate programing and also removed the staff expert in-charge of developing programs to reduce bullying and improve school climate.

Instead of relying on the dedicated, Connecticut based experts; Pryor hired an out-of-state company for nearly a million dollars.  That company, in turn, sent in five people with virtually no educational experience what-so-ever.

Now, with Year 2 Alliance District plans filed, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Thirty plans need to be reviewed and approved before the towns can get the money they were promised but Commissioner Pryor is either unwilling or unable to get the job done in a timely, efficient and effective way.

Left twisting in the wind —- the students, teachers and taxpayers of Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Derby, East Hartford, East Haven, East Windsor, Hamden, Hartford, Killingly, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Vernon, Waterbury, West Haven, Winchester, Windham, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

While Pryor’s operation has put together “teams” to review the plans, the majority of team members lack the experience necessary to get the job done right.

Although a few remaining Department of Education professional staff have been assigned to help with the review process, the bulk of the work is being done by the out-of-state consultants from Mass Insight.

One Mass Insight consultant’s real world experience was working with a major charter school chain and another worked for the corporate funded reform organization called New Visions for Public Schools.  A third worked for yet another corporate funded education reform entity called BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life.)  None of them have any experience working in Connecticut.

Of course, there is also the Mass Insight “project manager” whose experience was working in a non-classroom, management position for Commissioner Pryor’s charter school management company, Achievement First. Inc.  This is not the first consultant to have direct ties to the company Pryor set up and helped manage before coming Malloy’s commissioner of education.

Perhaps the most incredible development of all is that teams reviewing the Year 2 Alliance District Plans include Pryor’s two law school interns, who despite no experience at all, are helping to play a pivotal role in allocating tens of millions in taxpayer funds.

And meanwhile;

Thirty towns…

Thirty board of educations…

Thirty school superintendents…

Hundreds of schools…

And tens of thousands of students are all waiting for the Commissioner of Education and his operation to get their act together so students can actually access the programs and services they were promised.

Such incompetence would never, ever be deemed acceptable in any other setting.

It is sad and unsettling commentary that with only weeks to go until the new school year begins, the Malloy administration can’t even tell Connecticut towns and school districts how much money they will be getting this year.