It is the unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence!

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Jonathan Kantrowitz, is a public education advocate, political activist and blogger.  His blog appears on the Connecticut Post website and the sites operated by the Hearst Media Group.  In a post entitled, “U.S. has the world’s most educated workforce—but students face unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence,” Jonathan Kantrowitz has written an extraordinary and profound piece about the real problems that are causing the growing educational achievement gap in the United States.

This article should be mandatory reading for the President of the United States, every member of Congress, every state governor and every state legislator.

At the very least, Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo should read it and be required to respond  – in writing – as to why they are promoting policies that take our public education policies in exactly the wrong direction.

The following is Jonathan Kantrowitz’s post;

Source: Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable

A new study released today challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores and questions conventional wisdom that the U.S.educational system has fallen badly behind school systems abroad.

In their report, School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect, the Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable examined six dimensions related to student performance—equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes—in the G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Finland and China. They then examined 24 “indicators” within those dimensions.

Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.

“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.

Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. Measures included rates of childhood poverty, income inequality and violence. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”

The study is a unique analysis, which for the first time compares K-12 education internationally on an array of social and economic indicators, not just test scores. The goal was to look at the whole iceberg, not just the tip—and provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools.

Some key findings:

 Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.

 Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. The U.S.is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.

 Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.

 Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.

 Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.

 System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.

“Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. To avoid that scoreboard mentality, we need to look at many measures important to shaping our future citizens. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.

A call for more nuanced assessments

American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ performance in education. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment—called the Program for International Student Assessment—PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.

“We don’t oppose using international assessments as one measure of performance. But as educators and policymakers, we need to compare ourselves with similar nations and on a broader set of indicators that put school performance in context—not just a single number in an international ranking,” said Harvey.

“Our study suggests the U.S. has the most educated workforce, yet students confront shockingly high rates of poverty and violence. Research shows that those larger issues, outside the classroom, are serious threats to student learning,” noted HML Executive Director Jack McKay.

For more of his posts, go to; http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/

Race to the Bottom: A story about the strings attached to federal funding;

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On any given day, Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and other “education reformers” including superintendents in Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere are racing around – often in circles – in pursuit of some of the money that is being handed out by the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program.

Applications and waivers are the terms of the day as more and more states and cities promise to implement reforms in return for more federal funding.

In the rush, some elected and appointed officials forget that while the preamble of a bill or program may sound great, you’d better read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

That message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the Malloy Administration quietly submitted Senate Resolution No. 14.  With no press release or even an explanation, the language of the bill reads;

January Session, 2013 of the Connecticut General Assembly

Senate Resolution No.14

RESOLUTION APPROVING THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THE CONNECTICUT STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.

Resolved by the Senate:

That the provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2013, between the United States of America, acting through the United States Department of Justice and on behalf of the United States Department of Education, and the State of Connecticut, acting through the office of the Attorney General and on behalf of the Connecticut State Department of Education, requiring an expenditure from the General Fund budget in excess of two million five hundred thousand dollars and submitted by the Attorney General to this Assembly for approval in accordance with section 3-125a of the general statutes, are approved

Not the easiest piece of legislation to decipher, but in essence is says that on January 30, 2013, an agreement was signed between the federal government and the state of Connecticut dealing with some problem between the United States Department of Education and the Connecticut State Department of Education, and to resolve that problem, Connecticut will be issuing a check to the federal government for an amount in excess of $2.5 million.

So what is the story?

It turns out that in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Connecticut State Department of Education applied for and was granted funds from the United States Department of Education’s National Initiative to Ensure Child Eligibility for Title I, Part C, Migrant Education Program.

The state spent those funds on various education programs that it believed met the rules and regulations of the program.

However, the federal government charged that the Connecticut State Department of Education “submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for payment or approval by misrepresenting the number of children in Connecticut who qualified for federal MEP funding.”

It is not that the federal government was saying the Connecticut’s State Department of Education stole the funds or spent them on non-education expenses; the problem appears to be the programs being funded may have helped children other than just the children of migrant workers.

In any case, after nearly a decade of investigations and negotiations, costing untold amounts of money, the federal government and the State of Connecticut recently signed an agreement that the State of Connecticut will pay back a portion of the funds….about $4.5 million.

However, as the agreement makes clear, “This Agreement is neither an admission of liability by the State, nor a concession by the United States that its claims are not well-founded.”

Bottom line – Connecticut agrees to pay back the funds but everyone agrees that the agreement does not imply that we were guilty of anything.

So in the coming years, Connecticut taxpayers will pay the United States government the sum of $4,500,000 with  non-Federal funds .  It actually starts with an initial payment of $1,500.000 within forty-five calendar days after the approval of the agreement by the Connecticut General Assembly, with annual payments due until the full amount has been paid).

In addition, the state will pay interest on the unpaid portion of the stipulated amount.

And, if for some reason the General Assembly rejects the agreement, bad things will happen that will undoubtedly cost the state even more.

So all in favor, say yes…

Case closed.

Connecticut asked for the money, it spent the money, it probably even thought it was spending the money in the right way, but the federal government said Connecticut failed to spend the money correctly and we now have to pay it back, with interest.

Of course, this migrant education program was minor compared to the amount of funds and the level of federal rules and restrictions associated with the federal government’s massive No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding.

And yet just the other day, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education were talking about changes and flexibility associated with Connecticut’s absurd teacher evaluation system, but there was virtually no mention that the federal waiver Malloy, Pryor and the state requested and received puts severe limitations on just how much “flexibility” Connecticut has in some of these areas.

We took the money but the rules we have to spend it under will actually do severe harm to many of our public schools.

Remember, when the “education reformers” tell us not to worry about the restrictive rules concerning No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the federal government will let us do whatever we want as long as we adopt some education reforms, remind them about this new Senate Resolution 14 that will cost us $4.5 million, plus interest.

It is a question every legislator should be asked.

And while you’re doing that, ask them why the Malloy administration is providing so little information about this settlement.

Waivers intensify injustice of No Child Left Behind (Another must read column by Wendy Lecker)

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My colleague, fellow public education advocate and commentator, Wendy Lecker, had another “must read” column in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut Post and the other papers that make up the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

While many readers know about the problems associated with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, many may not fully appreciated why a federal waiver doesn’t solve the problem.  In her column, Lecker explains why the Malloy Administration’s unquestioning commitment to getting a federal waiver is not the right solution.

Wendy writes;

“If education is supposed to be the civil rights issue of this era, why does Connecticut’s new system for rating schools and districts discriminate against our most vulnerable students? Connecticut instituted the new system in order to obtain a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). NCLB mandated that states judge schools and districts, and impose punishments, based on test scores of the entire school and district and of subgroups of students: different ethnic groups, English language learners, children living in poverty and students with disabilities. One claimed benefit of reporting scores by subgroups is that this revealed which groups of children tended to score poorly on standardized tests.

However, under NCLB, schools serving a more heterogeneous population were more likely to be punished. Not only did entire schools and districts have to pass the testing goal for a year, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), but each subgroup had to pass the goal as well. Thus, a school or district with fewer subgroups had a better chance of making AYP than a diverse one.

Since the ultimate goal of NCLB, that 100 percent of students would be proficient on state tests by 2014, was widely acknowledged as unattainable, more and more schools were failing to make AYP as we approached that deadline. Even homogeneous, affluent districts were bound to fail. Sanctions under NCLB ranged from mandating unregulated tutoring and allowing students to transfer out, to more serious interventions such as firing all staff and/or handing schools over to private operators. None of these sanctions have proven effective at improving schools.”

Read the rest at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Waivers-intensify-injustice-of-No-4004364.php#ixzz2BeV8i2CU