Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst “education reform” group gives Louisiana a B-, Connecticut a D+

Michele Rhee and her corporate education reform industry advocacy group are back with their annual “report card.”

Over the last three years Rhee and StudentsFirst (called GNEPSA here in Connecticut) have been one of Governor Malloy’s strongest supporters, helping to fund the most expensive lobbying campaign in Connecticut history.  To date, Rhee and her fellow corporate education reform industry advocates have spent over $6 million to push Malloy’s “education reform” initiatives.

This week Rhee and StudentsFirst issued their 2013 report card on schools.

Louisiana, once again, comes in first in the nation.  Connecticut pops up far down the list.

Rhee gives Louisiana a 2013 grade of B- and Connecticut a grade of D+.

Is the report card based on how students perform?

Nope, as the following chart indicates, Connecticut students easily outperform Louisiana students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.

Reading Connecticut Louisiana
Percent at Goal 83% 68%
Percent at Proficient 45% 24%


Is it that Louisiana does better with select populations?

Nope, same result.  Connecticut does better.

Reading (Percent at goal) Connecticut Louisiana
White 89% 81%
Black 68% 54%
Hispanic 67% 69%
Low income/poverty 67% 60%


Is it that Louisiana does a better job closing the Achievement Gap between student populations?

Nope, here is the data about the gap in scores between higher performing students (those at the 75th percentile) and lower performing students (those at the 25 percentile).

Reading Connecticut Louisiana
 Achievement Gap 45 points 44 points


So what is it that Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst are measuring?

As StudentsFirst explains, “Unlike most report cards, ours doesn’t look at test scores. Instead, it focuses on whether each state’s laws prioritize the interests of students and families.”

By Rhee’s definition, Louisiana is best in the nation because it has the strongest anti-teacher, anti-union and charter school laws and Louisiana does the best job diverting public funds to charter schools and other privatization efforts.

According to StudentsFirst;

“Louisiana has established itself as a national leader for creating innovative and important student-centered education policies. The state has adopted meaningful educator evaluations, and it requires districts to base all personnel decisions, as well as compensation structures, on classroom effectiveness. Louisiana is also a leader for empowering parents with choice and information. The state provides parents with useful and easy-to-understand information regarding school performance in the form of an A-F school report card. In addition to their traditional neighborhood schools, parents can choose from a robust network of public charter schools or take advantage of an opportunity scholarship program that prioritizes low-income students stuck in low-performing schools. The state also has some policies that promote better use of resources, but could improve fiscal transparency by linking student outcomes and taxpayer dollars spent and provide greater staffing flexibility to school leaders. Finally, the state has created an innovative alternative governance structure to turn around failing schools through the Recovery School District, which serves as a model for governance intervention across the nation.”
When it comes to elevating the “Teaching Profession,” Louisiana gets an A- (Connecticut gets a C)

On “Empowering Parents,’ Louisiana gets a C+ (Connecticut gets an F)

And when it comes to the concept of “Spend Wisely and Govern Well,” Louisiana gets a C- (Connecticut gets a C)

Michelle Rhee’s message to Connecticut students, parents, teachers and citizens is that when it comes to educational achievement, even though Connecticut does better across the board, the state should follow the lead of Louisiana and continue to undermine its public education system.

The sad reality is that Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, are actually following Michelle Rhee’s advice.

Here is Diane Ravitch’s post on the Michelle Rhee “Report Card” http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/14/studentsfirst-issues-another-ludicrous-state-report-card/

Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst rally to support Steve Perry; Board fails to take up Perry’s threatening tweet

At last night’s Hartford Board of Education meeting Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Hartford Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland failed to address the status of the promised investigation into Capital Prep Steve Perry’s threatening email rant or the growing controversy surrounding the Capital Prep Scholarship Fund.

Instead the meeting was dominated by a lobbying effort pushed by Michelle Rhee’s national corporate education reform group, StudentsFirst.  The goal of the effort appears to be to resurrect Steve Perry’s attempt to take over two Hartford Schools and transfer them to a private company that he owns.

The involvement of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is an impressive indication of the corporate education reform industry’s commitment to Perry and his tactics.

Michelle Rhee is infamous for pouring tens of millions of dollars money into the local political process to try and force local officials to shift scarce public funds from their public schools to the  privatized corporate education reform model.

In Connecticut, Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst have set up a front group called GNEPSA (The Greater New England Public School Alliance).

Although it claims to be the New England Public School Alliance, the direct connection with StudentsFirst becomes obvious when looking at the organization’s Connecticut Ethics Reports, Connecticut Campaign Finance Reports and even their website – http://www.gnepsa.org/state/connecticut .

For example, Jeri Powell, who submits her testimony to the Connecticut General Assembly and authors commentary pieces by listing her title as GNEPSA’s Connecticut state director, has an official bio that reads:

“Jeri Powell has worked as a State Director for StudentsFirst since March 2011 and was the founding State Director for Florida, Georgia and Minnesota, guiding StudentsFirst’s policy efforts in those states over two legislative sessions… She currently sits on the Board of Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of high performing charter schools based in Harlem, NY.”

Since Governor Malloy introduced the most anti-teacher, anti-union “education reform” legislation of any Democratic governor in the nation in 2012, Michelle Rhee and StudentFirst (AKA GNEPSA) has become a leading sources of money in the effort to lobby and support Malloy and his education policies.

In less than two years, GNEPSA has spent over $889,604 lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s legislation, another $150,554 in “independent” expenditures to try and influence two legislative races and hundreds of thousands in support of Mayor Bill Finch’s failed effort to do away with a democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed exclusively by the mayor.

Now Rhee’s organization has apparently dived into the controversy surrounding Steve Perry and Capital Prep Magnet School by joining organizations like Achieve Hartford, Inc. and HART to try and force the Hartford Board of Education to reverse its previous action and give Perry and his private company control of Capital Prep Magnet School and at least one other Hartford elementary school.

In their propaganda and rhetoric to date, neither StudentsFirst nor their allies have explained to Hartford or Connecticut taxpayers that Perry’s plan would shift approximately $15 million a year in public funds to Perry’s company.

With no public hearing and no competitive bidding process, StudentsFirst wants the Hartford Board of Education to simply transfer the schools and the related funding to Perry with some type of “MOU” to be worked out later to determine the level of public oversight over those funds.

Despite all the controversy surrounding Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry, perhaps the single greatest indicator of what Perry is really trying to pull off can be seen by the arrival and involvement of Michelle Perry and StudentsFirst —- the leading purveyors of the modern corporate education reform industry.

Hartford and Connecticut taxpayers need to keep a special grip on their wallets if Michelle Rhee and her ilk are coming to the aid of Capital Prep’s Steve Perry.

Wendy Lecker – “Common Core using children as guinea pigs”

Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, Barak Obama, Arne Duncan and the entire Corporate Education Reform Industry is busy selling the American people on the notion that without the full and complete adoption of the Common Core Standards, Common Core Curriculum and Common Core Testing Scheme, America’s best days are behind us.

Jeb Bush Defends Common Core At ALEC Meeting and Jeb Bush defends Common Core and Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush warn Michigan legislators against abandoning Common Core standards and JEB BUSH AND JOEL KLEIN:  The Case for Common Educational Standards and Arne Duncan tells newspaper editors how to report on Common Core and Arne Duncan: Beating Up on Common Core Is ‘Political Silliness’ and Arne Duncan Defends Common Core, Ridicules Critics and Obama quietly implements Common Core.

Their message seems to come down to the false rhetoric and hyperbole that the choice facing American education is the adoption of “The Common Core Standards” or nothing.

They’d have us believe that one path would lead our nation and its children to success, the other to ruin and failure.

It is almost as if they take great pride in the fact that the simplistic arguments have no academic basis in fact.

The truth is that these corporate education reformers have become the living, breathing example of those who live by the creed, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Well the facts are exactly what pro-public education advocate and fellow blogger, Wendy Lecker, has been bringing to the discussion over and over again.

In here latest column, entitled “Common Core using children as guinea pigs” uses the truth to condemn the incredible lies the corporate reformers are trying to force upon public education in America.

As usual, Wendy Lecker’s latest piece published in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group newspapers is a “Must Read.”

Common Core using children as guinea pigs (By Wendy Lecker)

The nationwide rollout of the Common Core standards is an experiment on our children that violates all standards of human subject research.

The Common Core was rushed into schools before the curricula were developed and aligned to the standards, and before the tests were finalized and aligned to the curricula. Alignment is independent verification that a curriculum addresses standards, and that tests assess what the curriculum teaches; and is particularly necessary when high stakes are attached to tests. Those who insist that test scores should determine teacher effectiveness, school quality and whether a student is ready to graduate have a responsibility to guarantee that the tests actually measure what teachers teach and students learn.

The Common Core is being implemented not only before the curricula and tests are independently deemed valid. The curriculum in many cases is not even written. New York’s Education Commissioner admitted that the Common Core curriculum modules are being written as the school year unfolds. A curriculum not yet written cannot be aligned. Likewise, the Common Core tests are not finalized. The tests are being developed independently of the states and school districts; by contractors hired by two multi-state consortia. It is impossible that these unfinished tests are aligned to curricula now being taught.

This type of experimentation would never be allowed in research. Human subject research must adhere to three basic principles: (1) respect for individuals; respecting their autonomy; (2) beneficence; doing no harm and maximizing possible benefits while minimizing risks; and (3) justice; taking special care not to exploit vulnerable groups.

Ethics requires that subjects participate in an experiment knowingly and voluntarily. A recent poll revealed that the majority of Americans know nothing about the Common Core. Moreover, parents, children and teachers had no choice but to comply with the standards and tests.

The most glaring ethical violation concerns the prohibition against doing harm. The focal point of the Common Core is high-stakes standardized testing. We now know that education based on high-stakes tests not only fails to raise achievement but also harms learning, by narrowing the curriculum, increasing anxiety and diverting resources from methods that actually improve achievement. Officials imposing the Common Core knowingly embarked on a course that hurts students. At public hearings, parent after parent told New York’s Education Commissioner King that their children now hate school, and children testified about their anxiety and despair. A Greenwich, Connecticut official acknowledged that Common Core testing in 11th grade, when students take AP tests, SATs, SAT subject tests and ACTs, will cause undue stress. Parents and teachers report that the Common Core makes no adjustments for children learning English or students with disabilities.

In rolling out this untested program, officials jeopardize valuable learning time. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even 10 days of lost learning is a significant deprivation. The Common Core tests are much longer than previous tests. The high stakes attached pressure school districts to spend inordinate amounts of time on test prep. If it turns out that these standards were not a success, our children will be unable to recapture the years lost to an ineffective testing regime.

The Common Core requires massive investments in textbooks, tests, training, and technology. Money is spent on the Common Core experiment at the expense of strategies with a long track record of success, such as high-quality preschool, small class size, wraparound services and extra help for at-risk children.

The benefits of the Common Core are speculative at best. A New York comparison of the 2013 Common Core tests, the previous standards and college completion rates, revealed that the previous standards were better predictors of college readiness. Moreover, the evidence is clear that neither tests nor standards raise achievement. Countries with national standards fare no better than those without, and states with higher standards do no better than states with lower ones. In states with consistent standards, achievement varies widely. The difference in achievement lies in those resources that states are now foregoing to pay for the Common Core.

As for justice, schools serving our most vulnerable students suffer most from a narrow test-based curriculum. A new report in New York reveals that poor children and children of color are least likely to be in schools with libraries, art and music rooms, science, and AP classes. Expanded Common Core testing will disproportionately harm our neediest children.

It is time to ask policy-makers why they made our children guinea pigs in the rush to impose the not-ready-for-prime-time Common Core.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s full column at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Common-Core-using-children-as-guinea-pigs-4907921.php

[Brownie,] I mean Congressman Jared Polis you’re doing a heck of a job

Colorado’s Democratic Congressman has earned his place in the corporate education reform industry’s Hall of Shame by calling Diane Ravitch an “evil woman” and claiming that he couldn’t “think of anybody else who has caused more harm to public schools, except maybe Koch brothers.”

Congressman Polis, who has set up charter schools in Colorado and other western states, is also a foot solider for the conservative, education reform political action group called Democrats for Education Reform.”

Now, thanks to a great piece written by fellow pro-public education blogger Jason Stamford, whose blog is called “Behind Frenemy Lines,” we learn that Congressman Jared Polis has a history of fawning over Michelle Rhee, the head of the corporate education industry movement.

Jason Stamford writes;

Does Rep. Jared Polis really support public schools, or just his corporate-driven view of privatization and reform? A year ago, Rep. Polis, a Democrat on the House Education Committee, did an AMA on Reddit in which he clearly endorsed Michelle Rhee’s reign of error in Washington, D.C. which has since been discredited as largely the product of upper-middle class white people putting their kids back into the school system and a whole lot of cheating. (Read more about that here.)

In any case, here’s Polis, who is currently helping rewrite the federal education code, writing that Rhee “did a great job in DC”. At least he didn’t say she did a heckuva job.

That Polis considers himself a fellow-traveler of Rhee explains why he called Ravitch, a plain-spoken grandma, education historian and former senior official at the Department of Education under two presidents, is an “evil woman.” And given the pass that most of the media give to education reformers such as Rhee, it explains why Polis got so prickly when challenged about his name-calling.

In fact, on the same day Rep. Polis was touring flood damage in his district with the Vice President (you know, of the United States of America, not the local Rotary Club), he still found time to email me. As I told him, I appreciate his transparency, but isn’t there something more important for a congressman to do when his district is flooded and the vice president is in town?”

You can read the full Behind Fremeny Lines post here:  http://jasonstanford.org/2013/09/polis-michelle-rhee-did-a-great-job-in-dc/

Who is this thug…also known as… Democratic Congressman Jared Polis?

Last week, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado, who purports to be a “a progressive,” called Diane Ravitch an “evil woman” and compared her to the Koch Brothers tweeting ,“Can’t think of anybody else who has caused more harm to public schools, except maybe Koch brothers.”

As we are learning, Polis failed to reveal that not only is he a charter school advocate but his foundation, with the help of his company, actually formed a charter school or two in his home state of Colorado.

As we know, charter schools like to brag about their higher test scores, but traditionally use their recruitment process and “out migration” policies to push out less academically proficient students and, almost across the board, fail to take their fair share of non-English speaking students and students who require special education services.

More to the point, while this “neo-liberal” Congressman is pushing his new FEARLESS PAC, he also serves as the treasurer of the NEW DEMOCRAT COALITION PAC, an organization that is a far cry from being part of the progressive movement.

As a member of the “New Democratic Coalition,” Polis has consistently pushed an agenda that is as anti-teacher, anti-union and anti-public education as any group of Democrats in the nation.

This past summer Polis was pushing language to amend the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization Act (ESEA).  But rather than correct the worst elements of the bills, Polis was pushing the corporate education reformer’s agenda.

In one release, Congressman Jared Polis bragged, “We need an entrepreneurial approach to encourage high-quality, proven models of success in education.”

One of Polis’ proposed amendments would have required local schools “make progress towards the goal of cutting achievement gaps in half in 6 years or towards 100% proficiency, or face interventions including transformation, turnaround, restart and closure.”

Another Polis amendment would have provided, “more flexibility for charter schools to use Charter Schools Program grants” and require states and schools to “allow per-pupil revenue to be split across districts.”  [Rather self-serving coming from someone who is tapping into public funds for a charter school he himself set up].

Yet another amendment Polis co-sponsored would provide that “district and non-statewide charter authorizers as eligible entities, increase the authorization level to 330 million, and will increase the percentage of funds for expansion and replication to 20% of the overall funding.”  [Polis’ proposal being that in the face of scarce public funds, more and more taxpayer dollars should get diverted away from the public schools, and instead be used to subsidize schools like the ones he is involved in].

And where are these ideas coming from?

As the New Democrat Coalition began to prepare their amendments they proudly met with Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst, former Washington, D.C. Schools chief and confidant to non-other-than, Jeb Bush.

Few true public education advocates will forget the joint party Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush hosted for Republican delegates at the last Republican National Convention.

As Congressman Jared Polis crowed in a press release at the time, the meeting with Rhee was “an opportunity for Members to hear first-hand Rhee’s experiences implementing reforms at the local level, discuss priorities moving forward, and collaborate on ways to better incentivize innovation and excellence in our schools to prepare students for college and jobs in the 21st century global economy.”

In the press release, Polis said, “”As those who advocate education reform, we must insist on making student achievement the top priority…”In order to ensure that every child attends an excellent school, we must challenge the status quo to ensure innovative choices, demand teacher effectiveness, and use data to drive instruction. That must be the test for education proposals from the local level all the way to the U.S. Congress.”

America’s standardized testing industry could not have been happier.  Here is a Democratic Congressman, who calls himself a progressive, echoing their leave no child un-tested mentality.

In response to Polis’ ringing endorsement of the failed policies of the education reform industry, Michelle Rhee, the Patron Saint of the effort to privatize public education said, “I am honored to stand with the New Democrats as we seek to build a better educational system for America’s children.”

Perhaps the single most telling statement about why Congressman Jared Pollis’ would say such insulting, inappropriate and asinine things about America’s leading public school advocate can be found in his rhetoric in support of the  passage of the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act(H.R. 2218).

When the bill passed, Jared Polis, in his capacity as the co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition Education Task Force, released a statement that read;

“The bipartisan Quality Charter School Act will spread the most successful charter school practices across America, strengthen school management, and ensure that every school is increasing student achievement.  This is the first step toward the broader education reform that New Democrats want to see Congress achieve this year.”

No supporter of public education in America should be mistaken.

Congressman Jared Polis can call himself a progressive, a liberal or anything  else he thinks will persuade targeted audiences to support him and his fundraising efforts but the so-called “Progressive” Congressman is among the most anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education Democrats in the nation.

Proponents of public education in the United States…beware of the name Jared Polis.

There is a reason that he thinks it is okay to call Diane Ravitch an evil woman.

It is because Diane is leading our historic crusade to call these people out for who they really are.

And not surprisingly, they don’t want the truth to be known.

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

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

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

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

Here are the latest numbers;

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

The following chart reveals the players in this scheme.

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

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


Wendy Lecker: Imagining where all that money could have gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible stupidity, stunning arrogance or both…

Earlier today, the Global Strategy Group, a political consulting and public relations company released a memo about a public opinion survey that it had conducted for the “education reform” advocacy group, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.

According to a Global Strategy Group memo, the poll found that, “Voters see the Governor [Malloy] as a strong advocate for education reform.  Voters give the Governor favorable ratings (54% favorable/36% unfavorable) and believe he is doing a good job when it comes to education.  A majority of voters (54%) approve of the job he is doing when it comes to Connecticut’s public schools.  Parents are especially supportive of the Governor’s efforts and rate his performance on schools favorably by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 (60% approve/31% disapprove).

The Global Strategy Group is where Roy Occhiogrosso landed after leaving the Governor’s Office six weeks ago.  After serving for two years as Governor Malloy’s chief advisor and spokesman, Roy Occhiogrosso recently returned to Global Strategies Group to serve as its Managing Director. 

Occhiogrosso had previously served as a partner at Global Strategies from 2003 to 2010.  During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign, much of it funded through the State’s publicly funded campaign finance system, paid Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies a total of $669,105.87.

According to the memo, the ConnCAN opinion survey was conducted between January 23 and January 27, 2013, just a couple of weeks after Occhiogrosso rejoined Global Strategies. 

Although neither ConnCAN nor Global Strategies released the questionnaire that served as the survey instrument, it is clear from today’s memo that the poll was designed to collect valuable political information, as well as perspectives on policy issues.

When an organization conducts a survey with a larger sample size, only interviews voters and includes questions to determine the respondents’ party affiliation, their goal is generally to collect information about how key political sub-constituencies respond to potential voting issues.

It is particularly suspicious that ConnCAN and Global Strategies decided to conduct the survey at the end of January, prior to the Governor’s Budget speech, but held the results until after the speech was completed. A poll of this nature would be of tremendous political value to the Malloy Administration if they had access to the data prior to putting together his budget speech.

ConnCAN’s political support for Governor Malloy is well known.  Last Spring, within 24 hours of Malloy’s “education reform” bill becoming a Public Act, one of ConnCAN’s founders held an extremely lucrative fundraiser for a political action committee called Prosperity for Connecticut.  The PAC appears to be affiliated with Governor Malloy and the Governor has attended all, or most, of the PAC’s fundraising events, including a series of fundraising parties in Washington D.C. and New York City. 

Jonathan Sackler, who hosted the event for education reform supporters, is not only one of the original founders of ConnCAN, but he also formed ConnAD, the organization that spent record amounts lobbying for Malloy’s “education reform bill.  Furthermore, he is also the founder of 50-CAN, a national education reform advocacy group.  National officials from Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America and other national education reform groups donated to the Sackler fundraiser.

The May 30, 2012 fundraiser at Sackler’s $8.5 million home raised over $41,000 for the Prosperity for Connecticut PAC, making it the most successful of the 15 fundraisers the PAC has had since being formed two years ago. 

At the Sackler event, significantly more than half of the money raised came directly from members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, ConnCAN’s Advisory Board or family members of the individuals who serve on the two boards.

The decision to conduct this poll raises numerous serious issues. 

Did Occhiogrosso know about the poll before he left state service and did he spend any state time or resources communicating with ConnCAN or Global Strategies about the poll? 

Were any other members of Malloy’s Administration, such as OPM Secretary Barnes, Education Commissioner Pryor or Chief of Staff Ojakian aware of the poll?  Did any of these public officials offer information that impacted the questions being asked?

Equally important is whether the Malloy Administration received any information about the survey’s finding prior to the poll’s public release and most importantly, prior to the Governor’s budget speech.

Depending on what information was provided and who did the communicating, there are potential violations of Connecticut’s ethics laws, let alone the possibility that public employees used state resources to further their political agenda.

The issue is particularly relevant because leading up to the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, I filed a complaint against Governor Rell, her chief of staff and key members of her administration for using state resources to support public opinion polling that was designed to have political benefits for Rell.  The complaint eventually led to major fines for some of the individuals involved in the effort.

While in this case the poll was conducted by a private entity, was not done at state expense and Malloy has yet to form a campaign committee, ConnCAN is a registered lobbyist and that brings a whole series of ethics issues into play.  In addition, it is conceivable that if state employees were involved in the development of the survey, other laws may have been violated.

Anyone aware of Connecticut’s ethics laws and the laws prohibiting the use of state resources for political purposes would instantly recognize that a poll of this nature, especially conducted at this time, would raise a wide variety of questions.

It is for that reason that this post is entitled, “Incredible stupidity, stunning arrogance or both…”

Rest assured that this is not the last time we will hear about this incredible and stunningly stupid move by ConnCAN and Global Strategies.

News coverage of this event has been extremely limited to date.  Here is the first article on the poll.  Advocates Say Survey Shows Support For Education Reforms.

Coincidentally – here is a Wait, What? post from earlier today entitled; Malloy says: I know, let’s finish off the effectiveness of the government watchdog agencies…

Beware! Education Reformers Are Coming for Your School Board (cross-posted from Diane Ravitch)

(Cross-posted from http://dianeravitch.net)

A big thank you to the nation’s leading pro-public education blogger Diane Ravitch for allowing me to write a guest post for her daily blog.  I’m re-posting it here on Wait, What? or you can read it here: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/02/02/beware-education-reformers-are-coming-for-your-school-board/

During the 2012 election cycle, we saw the corporate “education reform” lobby begin to play their hand when it comes to the notion of local control of public education.  Their approach is a simple one.  If you don’t agree with our position, we’ll simply change the rules or work to defeat your local elected board of education.

As far as the corporate education reformers are concerned, the end justifies the means and if the cost of getting what you want requires destroying our nation’s age-old commitment to local control of education, so be it.

And we certainly aren’t talking about local parents banding together to ensure that their voices are heard.  We are talking about billionaires and millionaires and the major education reform companies, organizations and foundations dumping tens of millions of dollars into state and local efforts to elect handpicked accomplices or even, where necessary, changing the rules to make it easier to open charter schools and dismantle the core elements of a broad-based public education system.

Take for example the political involvement of education reformer and New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.  Mayor Bloomberg has been a very busy guy.  Not only is he the Chief Executive Officer of New York City where he is leading a successful effort to privatize much of that city’s public education system, but he has become a leading example of this “my way or the highway” approach to destroying local public education.

In Bloomberg’s case there was his $20,000 check for Residents for a Better Bridgeport, a political action committee seeking to do away with the democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the local pro-education reform mayor.  There was also the $75,000 check to California Charter Schools Association Independent Expenditure Committee, and on the same day in October, Bloomberg wrote a check for $10,000 to Neighbors for School Board 2012 (Oakland). The three “education reform” candidates that the group was supporting in Oakland also received checks from Bloomberg for the maximum allowable amount.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg dropped a check to Education Voters of Idaho for $200,000 to defend a set of reform proposals and $80,000 to Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, reformer Tony Bennett, who has now moved his destructive activities to the State of Florida.

In state after state, the super-rich, corporate executives and education reform entities spent millions to influence local elections.  When the final reports were filed in Bridgeport, the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent more than $560,000, a state record, in their effort to take away the right of local citizens to elect their own board of education.  In that case, they failed, but they are already moving forward on efforts to undermine what’s left of the democratically-elected board.

In “So You Wanna Buy a School Board Seat…,” fellow pro-public education blogger, Edushyster, wrote about the situation in Minneapolis, Minnesota while another pro-public education blogger Jersey Jazzman wrote “How To Buy a School Board Race 3000 Miles Away,” about the same thing happening in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

In Minnesota, the push to elect a pro-charter school, TFA alumnus came from Teach for America and 50CAN, a national charter school lobbying group, as well as, other corporate executives.  50CAN was set up by Connecticut resident and education reform activists Jonathan Sackler, a corporate director of Purdue Pharma. The present Chairman of 50CAN is Mathew Kramer, the President of Teach for America. 

It will come as no surprise, but Sackler, with a check for $50,000, was also the largest donor to the Bridgeport effort that is mentioned above.

And in New Jersey, Jersey Jazzman asked, “Why would California multi-millionaires be interested in a school board race in the small city of Perth Amboy, NJ?

It seems absurd, and yet it’s true: four wealthy Californians and one wealthy Coloradan – heavy hitters in the tech, financial, and health care sectors – have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a slate of candidates running for the school board in Perth Amboy, a city of 50,000 with a majority Hispanic population.

From Connecticut to California and New Jersey to Idaho, the story is the same.  The charter school industry is spending record amounts to lobby government officials and buy local boards of education. 

But their tactics are very clear.   Backing up their lobbying effort is a broader strategy to change the rules and change the players as a way of ensuring they can build their charter schools and further privatize America’s public education system.

If General Eisenhower were alive today, it wouldn’t simply be the military-industrial complex he’d be warning us about, it would be the even more devious and dangerous education-industrial complex.

Keep your eyes open and don’t be surprised to find these corporate reformers playing their politics with your local boards of education.

News Flash: Corporate Education Reformers Spend $563,000 and counting in Bridgeport loss

The final reports from Bridgeport’s November 2012 education reform referendum are in and it turns out that the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent at least $562,955.16 in their effort to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s anti-democracy initiative, a proposal that would have eliminated the City’s democratically elected board of education and replaced it with one appointed by the mayor.

In the end, Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee formed by Mayor Finch and his supporters, spent a total of $275,671.80 in the November 2012 referendum campaign that ended with Mayor Finch’s plan going down to defeat by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.

Excel Bridgeport, the corporate funded education reform group that has been lobbying for Bridgeport’s public school privatization efforts reported spending $101,803.36.

And when the dust settled, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (which goes by the name of Great New England Public School Alliance) spent a total of $185,480.

Organization Reported Total Spending
Residents for a Better Bridgeport $275,671.80
Excel Bridgeport $101,803.36
StudentsFirst/GNEPSA $185,480
TOTAL $562,955.16


Taken together, the level of spending by the education reformers broke all Connecticut records for a referendum vote.

Residents for a Better Bridgeport:

In their final campaign finance report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport reported raising another $94,444 in the final week of the campaign, bringing the total amount the group raised (and spent) to over $275,000.

Late corporate campaign donations came in from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation; Bridgeport based Enviro Express Inc., Mellon Bank, Danbury’s Morganti Group Inc., Bridgeport’s Trefz Corporation and Webster Bank, as well as a number of smaller corporate donations.

Webster Bank’s contribution was for $10,000, Mellon Bank put in $5,000 and the Trefz Corporation added $7,000 to the campaign effort.

The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation, which was created by Andy Boas, the Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport’s Board of Directors, gave the anti-democracy political action committee $14,000.

According to the Charter Oak Challenge Foundation’s website, the charity “was founded to help children and families who have the ability to succeed but need financial support to realize their potential. Its founder, Andy Boas, wanted to improve the languishing conditions in Bridgeport by funding a meaningful program for children’s education.”

The final report also revealed that Jonathan Sackler gave the PAC a check for $50,000 just after the last pre-election report was due.

Sackler was the early funder behind Stefan Pryor’s creation of Achievement First, Inc., the larger charter school management company that owns 20 schools in New York and Connecticut and is working to get approval to expand their present schools as well as build new schools in Connecticut. Stefan Pryor is now Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Sackler was also the funding force behind the corporate education reform advocacy groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, and the national education reform advocacy group 50-CAN.

Most recently, it came to light that Sackler hosted a major fundraiser for Prosperity for Connecticut, the political action committee affiliated with Governor Malloy.  Collecting over $42,000, Sackler’s May 2012 fundraiser was the most successful event Malloy’s political action committee has had to date.

What is particularly noteworthy about Sackler $50,000 donation is that since Residents for a Better Bridgeport was registered as a “Referendum PAC,” the maximum allowable donation under Connecticut law was $14,442.90.

How Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC believes it could legally accept Sackler’s $50,000 donation is not clear.

Finally, the Residents for a Better Bridgeport final report included a $1,000 contribution from Connecticut Future PAC, Inc.  Connecticut Future PAC, Inc. was the independent “super-PAC” created to support Chris Murphy’s campaign for the United States Senate.  The PAC, which spent over $485,000 to support Murphy’s campaign, donated $1,000, after Election Day, to the Finch referendum effort.

According to the final report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC spent about $55,000 more on direct mail, $57,000 for phone banking services and $25,000 more for polling.  Much of the remaining funding went to at least 132 campaign workers, who in the case of the Residents for a Better Bridgeport were labeled “consultants.”

Excel Bridgeport, Inc:

In its final report of the campaign, Excel Bridgeport reported that they spent a total of $101,803.36, of which $66,900 went for direct mail.

Excel Bridgeport’s direct mail vendor was a company called Campaignswon.   According to the company’s website, one of the firm’s partners is Bridgeport’s Jorge Cabrera.

Cabrera is also Excel Bridgeport’s “Community Organizer” and while the Excel Bridgeport campaign finance reports show various reimbursements to Cabrera for supplies, they do not report any in-kind contribution of time.  Failure to report direct or in-kind expenditures is a violation of Connecticut campaign finance law.

Much of Excel Bridgeport’s remaining expenditures went to cover the costs of more than two dozen field staff who were paid for services described as “direct outreach and/or holding signs.”

StudentsFirst/Greater New England Public School Alliance (GNEPSA):

In an earlier report, StudentsFirst/Great New England Public School Alliance reported paying $97,000 to a company called FieldWins for door-to-door canvassers.  FieldWins is a New York company that formed a parallel entity in Connecticut.  The final set of reports from Michelle Rhee’s organization indicated that later in the campaign she paid $35,000 to a company named SKD Knickerbocker for television ads and another $53,480 to FieldWins for additional canvassing services.

And $700 for Vallas’ Haitian Activities:

And one of the strangest twists, after spending nearly $563,000 in their failed attempt to persuade Bridgeport voters to undermine their own democratic rights, Residents for a Better Bridgeport ended the campaign with surplus funds of $702.79.  The political action committee donated the $700 to Los Angeles based J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

In February 2011, Bridgeport Superintendent of School, Paul Vallas, joined the J/P Haitian Relief Organization’s Board of Directors.


It has remained unclear what compensation or benefits, if any, Vallas receives from his work in Haiti but the Foundation’s annual report indicates that last year they provided over $60,000 in “in-kind” services for that education program.

Campaign Finance Violations:

As Wait, What? readers know, following complaints I filed with the Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Commission voted to authorize individual investigations into alleged campaign finance violations by Residents for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport and Michelle Rhee and her Great New England Public Schools Alliance.  These most recent reports reveal a number of other apparent violations of Connecticut law.

Future posts will outline these myriad of campaign finance issues.

Readers will also recall that these latest donations come on top of tens of thousands of dollars in previous donations from companies and individuals that do business with the Finch Administration or rely on Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport Democrats for support.

Earlier contributions to Finch’s referendum efforts included;

Aquarion Water Company which donated $14,000

Bridgeport Hospital which donated $14,422.90

Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Company $14,000

CT Coalition for Advancement Now (ConnAD) $14,000

Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment which donated $14,442.90

Jarvis Group LLC, NY (in-kind video) $14,376.40

Pullman and Comeley law firm $7,000

St. Vincent Medical Center which donated $14,400

United Illuminating which donated $10,000

In addition, there were some large individual contributions including one for $25,000 from Bradford Evans, a Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley and a $25,000 contribution from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Stay tuned for more about the legal troubles facing Bridgeport’s education reformers.

Education Reformer Michelle Rhee tells Connecticut: You Suck!

First Governor Malloy proposed the most anti-teacher, anti- union “education reform” bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.

While minor changes were made, the final bill was touted as a major victory for the corporate reformers.  It promoted the expansion of charter schools and took a major step forward in the effort to turn our public schools into testing factories.

The day after the bill became a public act, Governor Malloy was the guest of honor at the home of Jonathan Sackler, Connecticut’s leading financial backer of “education reform” advocacy efforts in the state.

Sackler and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education formed Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that owns twenty charter schools in Connecticut and New York. Sackler then went on to form a variety of state and national education reform organizations.

The event, a fundraiser for Malloy’s Prosperity for Connecticut political action committee was the largest grossing event Malloy has had to date, bringing in over $41,000.

Nearly all the donors were connected to Achievement First, ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN or one of the national charter school organizations.  The Chief Operating Officer of Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst, was among the donors.

See the Wait, What? post on Malloy’s “Education Reform” fundraiser here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/02/malloy-affiliated-political-action-committee-cashes-in-on-education-reform-bill/

Now, StudentsFirst has released what they are calling their “first-ever State Policy Report Card.”

And Rhee and her organization have given Connecticut a grade of D+

Despite having one of the finest public education systems in the nation, Rhee says Connecticut should follow the lead of states like Louisiana and Florida which got grades of B.


Pick any indicator and THE LAST THING CONNECTICUT should want to do is follow the lead of Louisiana

How about 8th Grade Reading?

Take a look at the NAEP National Test results:

Connecticut’s low income students score higher than the state-wide average for all students in Louisiana. 

Percent of Connecticut students at Goal 8th Grade Reading
ALL 83%


Percent of Louisiana students at Goal 8th Grade Reading
ALL 66%


We want to follow the lead of Louisiana?

StudentsFirst brags, “Unlike other education report cards, ours doesn’t look at test scores or teacher performance, but focuses solely on whether state laws are giving schools the tools to do the best job for our kids.”

The best laws that give our schools the tools to do the best job for our students?

Michele Rhee and StudentsFirst have FINALLY taken off their masks and are showing themselves for who they are.

This isn’t about our students!

This is about destroying unions, promoting charter schools and privatizing public education in the United States.

You can find Rhee’s “Connecticut Policy Report Card” here:  http://reportcard.studentsfirst.org/state-detail?state=Connecticut&utm_medium=email&utm_source=StudentsFirst&utm_content=Get+the+grade+Find+out+how+well+STATENAMEyour+state+is+doing+on+everything+from+education+spending+to+school+choice&utm_campaign=20130107ReportCardLaunch&source=20130107ReportCardLaunch

And the full report here:


And for two very different views of Michele Rhee, compare this New York Times piece to this PBS-Frontline piece: