Confronting the Scheme to Gamble With Connecticut Special Education Funds by Robert Cotto Jr.

In a MUST READ commentary piece published in the CTNewsjunkie, Robert Cotto Jr. reviews the flawed special education proposal submitted by The Connecticut School Finance Project, a corporate education reform group that has apparently violated state law by illegally engaging in lobbying activities with Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration. (See: In violation of state lobbying laws, corporate education reform group develops Malloy’s disastrous special education funding proposal.)

Cotto begins by explaining,

As the state considers the risk of adding a new casino, Connecticut must beware of another plan to gamble with funds for students with disabilities. Based on its flawed analysis of special education, the plan could be a jackpot for profiteers and charter school entrepreneurs. We must stop this scheme and consider better alternatives.

[…]

Initially proposed by the Connecticut School Finance Project to help districts face the “ups” and “downs” of special education costs, the governor’s administration, as well as other education reformers, have now endorsed the plan. Yet, as Deborah Richards from the Capitol Region Education Council stated, “the primary issue is cost” of special education, not volatility.

Cotto adds;

If this plan sounds like a scam to you, then you are not alone. Special education advocate Dianne Willcutts, stated that it, “does not ensure that Districts will be in compliance” with special education law. Attorney Andrew Feinstein warned“this bill (SB 542) does nothing to help children with disabilities” and voiced concern that it would “actually harm children with disabilities.”

Even potential supporters were unsure. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education called for more details. Others called the plan “unclear.” Two parents claimed this offers more equity, but shared only personal anecdotes.

So who benefits?

The State: By moving money around and adding some dollars in the first year, the administration will claim in public and court that it has an “innovative” method of funding special education.

Profiteers: The plan creates a “captive insurance company” to insure the state against future special education costs (e.g. Step 3). The fund would pay salaries and fees to manage the plan. Because captive insurance companies are often misused, the American Bar Association and U.S. Department of the Treasury have raised concerns and the FBI includes “captives” on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scam list.

Charter school entrepreneurs: One of the barriers to a school voucher system, supported by charter lobbyists, is that public districts must pay for all students, including those with disabilities. Per-pupil vouchers do not cover all costs.

With local and state funds, public-school districts pay special education costs for their own districts and at charter schools. This cost-sharing system makes it difficult to implement vouchers or similar plans (e.g. money follows child, weighted student funding, student-based budgeting).

You can read and comment on this vitally important article via – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_confronting_the_scheme_to_gamble_with_connecticut_special_education_f/

Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Despite the political rhetoric coming out of ConnCAN and other charter school industry front groups, Trinity’s Robert Cotto reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools do not outperform local public schools.

 Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

 

A few weeks ago, attorney Wendy Lecker asked me in an interview for the Stamford Advocate, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?” My answer was, “Not exactly”.

As my Choice Watch report (Cotto & Feder, 2014) demonstrated, charter schools in Connecticut tend to serve a relatively more advantaged group of (mostly) Black and Latinx children including fewer children with disabilities, emerging bilingual children, and children eligible for free and reduced priced meals compared to the students in local public schools in the same cities as the charter schools. As a result, comparing the test results of charter schools with local public schools is like comparing “apples to oranges” because they often serve very different groups of children.

However, using a simple scatterplot chart, it is fairly easy to show that charter schools’ mean test results are not overwhelmingly better when compared with public school districts that have similarly-situated students in terms of a rough income indicator. Other scholars, such as Bruce Baker (2012) at Rutgers University, have constructed scatterplots of income vs. 7th grade math test results to demonstrate similar observations about charter and public schools.

For example, below I constructed an interactive scatterplot that compares 6th grade average scale scores on the CMT reading (2012) versus percentage of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (FRPM) at the district level (Google sheet data here). This scatterplot data visualization has three major data points. First, each public district and charter school is positioned by the the overall percent FRPM (x-axis). Second, each district is positioned on the y-axis by its mean scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. Third, the size of the dots correspond to the percentage of emerging bilingual children (crudely labeled as “English Language Learners” by the State).

You can scroll over the dots to see the public school district or charter school name and their demographics and test data. Public school districts are in blue dots and charter schools are in red dots. By placing these data points on a scatterplot, we can more easily compare the average test results of districts and charter schools that are similar in terms of district-wide free and reduced meal eligibility. (See the end for notes on limitations of this data and method.)

For the interactive chart Comparing Average Scale Score & Free/Reduced Meal Eligibility in CT School Districts 2012 go to:  http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

So what does this scatterplot show? Here are some observations:

  • There is a strong negative linear relationship (r= -.869) between this rough income indicator (eligibility for free and reduced priced meals) and average scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. (i.e. as free and reduced priced meal eligibility increases, average reading scores decrease)
  • When compared to similar districts by income, some (4) charter schools appear to have higher than average test results, some (4) have lower than average test results, and some (4) are right in the middle of the pack, or near the average.
  • If charter schools (red dots) had overwhelmingly higher test results, then we would expect more of their average scores to be above the majority of blue dots at their % FRPM level.

Want a closer look?

This second scatterplot chart only compares charter schools with the public school districts where they are located. The same pattern appears.

For example, Bridgeport Public Schools enrolled children that were 99% eligible for FRPM and 12.6% emerging bilingual (ELL). By comparison, all Bridgeport charter schools had higher average scale scores in reading, but lower rates of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (68-85%) and emerging bilingual students (0-4%). There are exceptions, of course, such as Amistad Academy, which often appears comparable to New Haven Public Schools in terms of %FRPM, %ELL, and higher in average scale score.

And there are examples on the other end of the spectrum. The hypersegregated Stamford charter schools contain larger proportions of Black and Latinx students, those eligible for free/reduced price meals, and those with disabilities compared to the local Stamford public school district. They also appear to be outliers in terms of having very low average scale scores.

For the interactive chart comparing Avg. Scale Score CMT Read & District & District Demographics go to: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

This test result (“performance”) question is important because it is at the center of claims made about charter schools in Connecticut. The claim that charter schools achieve superior test results as a result of effort, choice, accountability, educational program, governance structure, or some other reason, is frequently cited by charter school lobbyists at the legislature and the CT State Department of Education. 

The simple claim hinges on a statement like this one from a presentation on charter schools by the CT SDE: “Of the 14 charter schools that administered the spring 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, 12 schools (or 86%) outperformed their host district with their overall SPI.” (CT SDE, 2015) With this statistic, we are left to conclude (or told by the charter school lobby) that charter schools are supposedly excelling compared to local public schools.

The CT SDE presentation (below) offers similar statistics and a chart highlighting some demographics of charter schools versus “alliance” and all other districts, but it does not caution the reader these characteristics could impact test results and comparisons. What the CT SDE and charter school lobbyists are not explicitly telling you in these claims is that charter schools often serve a relatively more advantaged group of Black and Latinx children compared to the local public schools where they are located and these children are likely to do relatively better on standardized tests because standardized tests favor more advantaged groups of people. Therefore, it is not a fair comparison to directly compare charter schools test results to those in local public school districts without some sort of modification (e.g. compare districts similar in income levels and/or other characteristics).

Charter Renewal Process, SBE Overview | April 6, 2015

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

The State is comparing “apples (public schools) to oranges (charter schools)” on test results, despite knowing (it’s their data!) that the massive demographic differences that make these simple comparisons very misleading. To be sure, the CT SDE assists in making these same simplistic comparisons of test results between urban and suburban schools districts as well. This type of misleading comparison of test results persists and is now baked into the CT State Department of Education policy on reviewing and renewing charter schools.

All of this is meant to say that using blunt comparisons of test results does not prove that charter schools or public schools are any better or worse than each other in terms of academic performance, or any other characteristic. Instead, I am arguing that comparisons of test results must account for often massive demographic differences. This was a major recommendation of the Choice Watch (2014) report. I would also add, as I’ve written elsewhere, that school performance should be thought of in broader terms than standardized tests. Simple comparisons of standardized test results will always favor schools with barriers to entry and participation (e.g. charter, magnet, vocational technical schools) and advantaged districts where families must buy or rent homes to attend local schools (affluent, suburban).

So when somebody asks the question, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform public school districts?”, how will you answer?

Notes: 1. There are many other and better ways of analyzing this question about charter and public schools. My observations above are based on scatterplot charts that crudely “account” for income (FRPM). 2. The data above comes from 2012, the most recent data in which average scale score on State tests can be compared to other demographic information. 3. Finally, the %FRPM applies to all grades in the district, while the average scale score applies to all students in a district in the 6th grade taking the standard version of the test. The State does not share %FRPM data at the grade level. 4. Average scale scores are a better measure of central tendency compared to percent of students at proficient or goal because scale scores do not lump students status levels at arbitrary cut points.

Robert Cotto Jr. – Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case

Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case – by Robert Cotto Jr. – 

“If the emperor was a weak man, the sight of his mark would evoke laughter and contempt, but if he was a stern and powerful ruler, his mark would instill fear and obedience.”

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, p. 213.

In the book Lords of Discipline, based on the Citadel military college, the general offered his cadets words of advice at their ring ceremony: be the powerful ruler that instills obedience and fear, otherwise suffer defeat. When I first read the judge’s decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case, it struck me as similarly militaristic. Judge Moukawsher, a lawyer and graduate of the Citadel military college, ruled that his problem with Connecticut public education was an issue of discipline, not necessarily a lack of resources. Rather than declaring a war on inequality or inadequacy, the judge declared war on a “slack system”. While news accounts called the judge’s decision an “overhaul”, the ruling was more of a directive to continue public education’s most regressive tendencies.

The valiant CCJEF argument against the State relied on a common-sense idea: every child has a right to a rich, well-rounded education for all children that is adequately funded by the State. Advocates and parents in towns and cities brought the case forward as a Constitutional challenge more than a decade ago believing that public education was inadequately funded, particularly in less wealthy towns and cities. Past court cases, such as the Horton case, argued that Connecticut’s method of funding schools mainly through local property taxes was unfair to towns and cities with a limited ability to pay for public schools. The CCJEF case made a different argument.

There were three parts of the CCJEF argument. First, Connecticut has broad goals for public education such as ensuring that kids become productive members of society and engaged citizens. Second, the State needs to provide adequate or enough funding to accomplish those goals. Third, funding must be equitably distributed, or the funds needed to reach those goals might differ from town to town because students might require more or less help to reach the same goals depending on where they live and other characteristics like poverty, town wealth, language status, and racial identification.

The CCJEF plaintiffs acknowledged that Connecticut’s current method of funding schools was progressive, but inadequate and increasingly inequitable. Over the last thirty years, Connecticut supplemented local education funds from property taxes with State funds in order to create a progressive funding system. That system eventually became called the “Educational Cost Sharing” (ECS) grant and it has produced a certain degree of equity in educational funding. (e.g. Less wealthy towns get more State funding; wealthier towns get less State funding). But the State was underfunding that ECS fund and increasingly favoring wealthier towns by never taking away funds. In some cases, wealthier towns got even more funding as poorer districts lost state funds, a point made painfully clear by the judge.

As a fight for resources towards these broad goals, the CCJEF paralleled past fights for the educational rights of Black and Latinx children, children living in poverty, bilingual children, as well as children with disabilities. However, these civil rights battles also included claims for greater control over the resources and type of education provided to Black and Latinx students. The CCJEF plaintfiffs, the State, nor the judge deliberated these issues.

Still, after years of hearings and testimony that documented public schools without sufficient resources (and funding) to provide an education worth its name, the CCJEF finally had its days in court over the last year. This year’s legislative session might also feature some response to the judge’s orders.

Watch a video version of this lecture here.

Contrary to the argument presented by the CCJEF plaintiffs, the judge found that Connecticut already, “spends more than the bare minimum on schools” (Moukawsher, 2016, p.23). The judge dismissed evidence from teachers and parents that their schools lacked adequate resources as “anecdotal” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). According to the judge’s reading of the law, as long as public school students got classrooms with desks, chairs, air to breathe, a teacher, textbooks, and a curriculum, the State had fulfilled most of its obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity. He concluded that, “there is no proof of a statewide problem caused by the state sending school district too little money” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). The CCJEF plaintiffs lost this major part of their argument. At that point, the judge could have stopped his ruling, but he went further.

Going further than the initial lawsuit required, the Judge redefined an adequate education to mean one that could be measured through “objective” tests in elementary and high school. When all kids passed standardized tests that would mean that there was a rational and adequate education. And if kids did not pass the tests, then they should not be able to just “pass” to the next grade. To that end, the judge ordered the State and its subordinates to “define” education by using “exit exams” for students to leave the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade. Here, the battle turned against the plaintiffs. The judge outflanked the plaintiffs by conflating standardized testing with equal educational opportunity.

For the judge, the State spent enough money on schools, but the State failed to compel everybody to implement the basic goals of education: kids passing basic reading and math tests. He stated his reasoning here:

…the state must propose a definition of what it means to have an elementary school education that is rationally and primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school. No definition without force behind it can be rational, especially since the state would already say that is has amply laid out what elementary schools should achieve by adopting common core standards. Here the difference between a definition and a constitutionally adequate definition is that the former may have no real consequence while the latter requires substantial consequences. (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 59-60)

For the judge, third grade and high school students in the State’s resource-poor cities could not read at the “basic” level because their basic training had failed. Education, like the military, requires authorities to provide orders to their subordinates, who must follow. Although the state already has content standards and standardized tests connected to graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school ratings, and so on, the judge believed that these tools were not wielded with sufficient authority and discipline by the State. If kids were not passing basic standardized tests, then somebody must suffer negative consequences. As the judge stated, “There is no room for a slack system to support cities like Bridgeport” (Moukawsher, 2016, 37). Poor student test results must mean somebody is slacking off and should be removed, fired, or dismissed. For the court, the educational system would only be rational and adequate when the State removed the weakest links, or the people and funding that don’t raise test results. This sweeping social analysis of Connecticut’s education system came as a surprise to those that have experienced the blunt force of the No Child Left Behind Act or Race to The Top, or other educational reforms that do, in fact, target various people to punish.

This vision for an educational system was Spartan and contradictory. It hinged on ranking kids, teachers, schools, and districts, then removing the weakest links. In the case of special education, the judge argued that, “school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from elementary or secondary school education” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 76). Presumably, money could be saved by cutting services for these students with disabilities to save the funds for the kids that “can learn”.

Somebody should be punished when “objective” tests showed that kids could not read at basic level. Only when kids passed tests and moved onto the next grade or graduation, then they could be said to have an “adequate” education. If they didn’t pass, then they couldn’t move forward. Showing a misunderstanding of standardized test results, the judge did not see much value in measures in which everybody could pass. He stated, “An inflated teacher evaluation system, like a graduation or graduation system where everyone succeeds, is virtually useless (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 63).” Useful tests and standards rate people and some people must fail by design. But the judge did not take up the question of what happens when kids and adults are punished for never passing tests and evaluations that fail people by design. As Wendy Lecker and other lawyers suggested, this ruling emboldened past and current corporate education reform initiatives. Rather than an overhaul of education, the judge ordered schools to escalate their most regressive tendencies such as testing, sorting people, removing “weak” links, and punishing non-conformists.

In terms of educational leadership, the judge wanted public schools to be more “tightly coupled”. In other words, schools must pick a goal, measure the goal, meet the goal or suffer consequences. It either did not matter or did not occur to the judge that schools might require “loose coupling”, or a set of broad goals implemented with a different type of leadership and management given the complexity of American schooling (Weick, 1976; Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

A positive aspect of the judge’s order for the plaintiffs was that it allowed the State to provide more funding for schools if schools wished to provide these opportunities, but it was not required to spend any more because it was already funding the bare minimum it needed. Redistribution of state funds was also possible, but not required under this ruling. Sadly, the things we find help kids in schools such as support professionals, arts, music, health, computers, recess, and fun were just irrational “extras” for this judge (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 40). Rich districts might be able to offer these opportunities through their own local funding, but the State is not required to fund these opportunities in middle and working class schools where the majority of Black and Latinx students reside.

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that economic status, targeted school funding, and other factors can influence academic success. Connecticut only needed to make a funding formula, connect it to test results and evaluations, then stick to it and deliver punishments for not complying and performing.  By radically redefining adequacy to “rational” discipline as measured by test scores, the ruling was a regressive departure from the idea of a rich, well-rounded public education for children, particularly for Black, Latinx, and children of all ethnic groups living in poverty.

With his Citadel ring on his finger as he read the ruling from the bench, the Judge told the State of Connecticut, be the stern and powerful school emperor that instills fear and obedience through tests and punishments. Only that would be a “rational, substantial, and verifiable” public education, even if it’s not adequately or equitably funded by the State.

Note: The State of Connecticut (defendants) and CCJEF (plaintiffs) have appealed the decisions and the Supreme Court has allowed that appeal to move forward.

You can read and comment on Robert Cotto Jr’s commentary piece at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2017/01/02/disciplining-connecticuts-schools/

You can see Robert Cotto’s lecture on the topic at: https://vimeo.com/184936476

 

When it comes to charter schools, facts matter (By Wendy Lecker)

Below is Wendy Lecker’s interview with Robert Cotto, Jr. about recent claims made by charter school advocates. It was first published in the Stamford Advocate.  Robert Cotto Jr. is a veteran Hartford Board of Education member, director of Urban Initiatives at Trinity College and a doctoral student at UConn’s NEAG School of Education. He has researched Connecticut charter schools for Connecticut Voices for Children and Trinity.

Lecker: Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?

Cotto: Connecticut charter schools were supposed to raise achievement, innovate, and reduce racial isolation. In terms of achievement, charter schools do not serve similar proportions of students living in poverty, bilingual children, and children with disabilities when compared to the local districts where they are located. Charter schools serve a more advantaged group of Black and Latino students in our cities. Therefore, simple comparisons of test results are like comparing “apples to oranges” and do not really tell us much about academic improvement. The state has never evaluated charter innovation. While some charters may innovate, the majority of charters operate like traditional schools. Most Connecticut charter schools are highly segregated by race (mostly Black students).

Lecker: A writer claimed that if Connecticut charters fail to perform, they are shut down, but that you cannot do that to a district school. True?

Cotto: The state almost never closes charter schools because of poor academic performance or financial mismanagement. According to State Department of Education reports, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999. Three closed because of insufficient funds, one charter school was closed for health/safety violations, and one charter school closed because of lack of academic progress.

Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools in the state were renewed by the state, despite very low overall test results for some, including Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy. Additionally, the state did not shut down Jumoke/FUSE Academy charter school despite a massive corruption scandal that invited an FBI investigation.

On the other hand, many public schools in Connecticut have closed and been reconstituted for not meeting test score targets. At least a dozen schools in Hartford have been closed and reconstituted in the last decade.

Lecker: Can you describe what happened to Milner school in Hartford?

Cotto: In 2008, Milner school was “reconstituted” under the No Child Left Behind law for not meeting test score targets. The non-magnet/non-charter school was in one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Hartford’s North End. In 2012, Milner school was selected by the Commissioner of Education for a second “turnaround” under the management of a private charter company, Jumoke/FUSE, which would be paid a management fee of around $350,000 a year. The idea was that this private charter company could do a better job operating a public school. Jumoke/FUSE hired convicted felons and engaged in financial improprieties. Academic performance of students at the school did not improve under Jumoke/FUSE. In 2014, Jumoke/FUSE ceased running Milner school and Hartford Public Schools regained control.

Lecker: Have charter schools helped Hartford public schools?

Cotto: While individual students and families may be satisfied with charter schools in Hartford, they pose more challenges for our district. The two charter schools in Hartford — Jumoke Academy and Achievement First — are separate districts not under community control. These schools serve far fewer numbers of bilingual students and children with disabilities when compared to Hartford schools only a few blocks away. As a result, they do not help Hartford Public Schools’ mandated desegregation goals. Additionally, parents have sued about and reported excessively brutal disciplinary practices at Achievement First schools. I have begun gathering stories of former charter school parents at my website, the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project at Trinity College (http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/). Given the data and stories, it’s hard to tell how these charter schools help the Hartford Public Schools or the families in Hartford Public Schools.

Lecker: Can you compare charter and district school spending?

Cotto: Straight spending comparisons ignore the fact that by law, public school districts pay for all transportation and special education costs of students in charter schools. Taking into consideration these factors, Connecticut charters often spend the same or more as their host district schools on a per pupil basis.

Charter schools receive state, private and federal funds; district schools receive state, local and federal funds. Charter schools in Connecticut get a basic state per-pupil grant of $11,000, while the state allocation for districts vary. The basic per-pupil state grant for Hartford schools is around $9,500. In Stamford, the basic state per-pupil grant is around $700.

You can read and comment on the original interview at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-When-it-comes-to-charter-schools-10801031.php

Robert Cotto Jr. on why Relay Graduate School of Education should have been rejected

The following is the testimony provided to the State Board of Education by Robert Cotto Jr. on  November 2, 2016.   The State Board of Education went on to approve the poorly designed Relay Graduate School of Education proposal, thereby undermining Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs and the value of Connecticut’s teacher certification requirements.

Robert Cotto Jr.

Dear members of the State Board of Education,

Thank you for your service and the chance speak to this morning. My name is Robert Cotto, Jr. and I am a certified teacher in Connecticut, educational researcher, and resident of the City of Hartford. Based on the evidence and my experience, I have deep concerns about the Relay program proposal. I come today to ask that you reject the Relay proposal and explore new and existing alternatives to diversifying the teacher force.

Relay is an inferior teacher training program compared to existing university-based and alternative teacher certification programs. As a certified teacher, I can remember the hours of fieldwork, lesson planning, student-teaching, and reflection with mentor teachers and university professors that had decades of K-12 experience. This experience in MA allowed me to earn my CT teacher certification. Relay deviates wildly from the structure and guidance required of other programs in CT that educate and certify new teachers. Created by the charter school industry and venture capitalists, Relay places its students into classrooms before extensive preparation, provides online modules in place of coursework, and assigns a teacher partner to supplement this “on-the-job” training. Relay calls this inferior preparation “a graduate school” and says it is for the good of Black and Latino students. As Ken Zeichner and other scholars have noted, there is no rigorous evidence to suggest this approach as an improvement or innovation to teacher and public education. By comparison, imagine that another white entrepreneur offered Black and Latinx communities similarly trained novices for performing surgery in hospitals or practicing law in courthouses. The program would be called exactly what is: racial discrimination.

By delivering an inferior program, Relay exploits the hopes of prospective Black and Latinx educators. Despite the lack of program approval, the State Department of Education reports that Relay recruited 70 students for its program, 50 of whom are self-identified as people of color. These people are eager to enter the teacher profession and should be commended. Relay exploits that desire by selling a subpar training program as a “graduate school” despite lacking real professors, courses, accreditation, or even State approval as a school or program. The combination of limited training and placement into primarily charter schools with high teacher turnover nearly assures that Relay students will leave the teaching profession quickly. When this happens, Relay will not hold any responsibility since they are not accountable in the same ways as other teacher education programs in Connecticut. Instead, the Relay teachers and their students will be left to pay the debt for this ill-planned venture. This approach simply exacerbates the national and local trend of healthy numbers of Black and Latinx teachers entering, but quickly exiting the profession because of poor working conditions and compensation, and other forms of discrimination.

There are alternatives that the State could consider for diversifying the teaching force. The State could restore and expand its Alternative Route to Certification and Minority Teacher Incentive Programs. The latter offers grants to prospective teachers of color already in Connecticut teacher education programs. However, the Governor and Legislature cut these grants by about $50,000 and $80,000 this year respectively. The State Board could also use its authority to encourage efforts to diversify students and faculty in the existing teacher education pipeline and to ensure that approved programs respond and adapt to the needs of our diversifying K-12 student body. Finally, whatever intervention this Board takes, it must do so with actual evidence of the issues, concerns, and needs of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American educators and students rather than with the clever marketing and weak evidence provided by the charter school industry. Connecticut can and must do better for teachers of color. Please reject Relay.

Thank you,

Robert Cotto, Jr., Ed.M., M.A.
Member, Hartford Board of Education

 

Robert Cotto Jr.

Robert Cotto, Jr. is currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department. Before his work at Trinity, he was a Senior Policy Fellow in K-12 Education for CT Voices for Children where he published reports on Connecticut’s testing system, public school choice, and K-12 education data and policy. He taught for seven years as a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center for Global and International Studies (MLC), an interdistrict magnet school intended to provide a high-quality education and promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration. Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Cotto was the first in his family to go to college and he earned his B.A. degree in sociology at Dartmouth College, his Ed.M. at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity College. He is serving his second term on the Hartford Board of Education and in the past has served as Secretary and Policy Committee Chair. Since returning back home to CT from college, Robert has lived in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and he recently moved to the Forster Heights area of the Southwest neighborhood. View all posts by Robert Cotto Jr.

Education advocates and experts Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto Jr. discuss Historic CCJEF lawsuit

With the final arguments now completed in the school funding case of CCJEF v. Rell, the judge has five months’ worth of testimony to use when making the critically important decision about whether Connecticut’s school funding formula is unconstitutional.

While the parties will undoubtedly appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court, this case is the pivotal step to force the state of Connecticut to adopt a state education cost sharing formula that ensures that all Connecticut children have access to a quality education.

Click on the video for a 15 minute wrap up of the key issues of the case by education advocates Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto Jr.

https://youtu.be/kPosbOwofxE

Additional media coverage can be found at:

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Malloy (and Rell) (Wait, what?)

As Decade-Old Lawsuit Winds Down, Plaintiffs Say Education Is Path to Cure (WNPR)

Lawsuit alleges disparity in school funding (CT Post)

In Closing Arguments, State Acknowledges Challenges But Defends School Financing System (Courant)

CT school funding on trial: 5 key questions facing the judge (CT Mirror)

As Malloy calls for record cuts to minority teacher programs – Robert Cotto Jr. asks – Where did Black & Latin teachers in Hartford go?

Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and their administration are proposing record budget cuts to Connecticut’s Minority Teacher Incentive Program, as well as, to the state’s institutions of higher education – which include Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs.

As Connecticut faces the need for additional talented, dedicated and prepared public school teachers, Malloy and his advisers are cutting vital teacher training programs while promoting the use of inexperienced, unprepared and transient Teacher For America recruits.

Meanwhile, Robert Cotto, Jr, the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department highlights the very real problem facing Connecticut’s school districts as he investigates the disturbing failure to recruit and retain Latino and African-American teachers in Hartford.

In Where did Black & Latin@ teachers in Hartford go?, Robert Cotto Jr. writes;

Several months ago, former Hartford school board member Dr. Shelley Best posted a photo of herself with a handful of white teachers and an administrator in the background. Dr. Best, a Black woman, took the “selfie” photo at a district workshop about the “achievement gap”. In the caption of her Facebook post with the photo, she commented, “In a room full of folks talking about us (and the educational achievement gap) that don’t look like us … hmmmm …”

The Hartford Courant wrote a story months after the event and focused on one of the white teacher’s hurt feelings about being captured in the photo frame and Dr. Best’s protest. This led to a brief, but intense, flurry of essays about teacher diversitywhite folks missing the pointpersonal defenses, and a reprimand of Dr. Best. Looking at some basic staffing data, an important question adds to Dr. Best’s concern – where did the Black and Latino/a teachers in Hartford go?

When Dr. Shelley Best wondered where all the Black educators were during the workshop several months ago, she was on to something troubling. The Hartford Public Schools has steadily lost Black and Latino/a teachers over the last decade, while adding white teachers during the same period.

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Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015

Public staffing data provided by the State Department of Education (CEDAR) shows that the Hartford Public Schools lost a substantial percentage and number of Black and Latino/a teachers from 2004-12. In 2004-05, 15% of all Hartford teachers were Latino/a and 15% were Black. In 2012-13, roughly 10% of all Hartford teachers were Latino/a and 10% Black. In other words, a net total of 155 Black and Latino teachers disappeared from HPS, while the district added 95 new white teachers. As a result, the proportion of white teachers in the whole district rose from 68% to 77% from 2004-12.

With this limited information, it’s not entirely clear why HPS has lost so many Black and Latino/a teachers. The state’s public staffing data does not tell us about the on-the-ground factors that might “push” and “pull” teachers of color into and out of the profession (Irizarry & Donaldson, 2012). The public staffing data doesn’t reveal whether these Black and Latino/a teachers in Hartford experienced layoffs, were pushed out/fired, retired, found other more lucrative or fulfilling work, or were promoted to other positions in Hartford or elsewhere.

In the case of the Hartford area schools during this period (2004-12), there were also unusual policies and factors that could have led to this steep disappearance of teachers of color. These unusual events and policies included the great recession, expanded public school choice programs in the Hartford region, and assorted neoliberal education reforms. These factors could have impacted the entry and exit of Black and Latino/a teachers from the Hartford Public Schools.

The great recession, caused by the near collapse of the banking industry, resulted in teacher layoffs/reductions in force through the capitol region. These school districts in the capitol region included 35 town-operated school districts around the City of Hartford, which is associated with the Hartford Public Schools. The largest declines in the number of teachers of all racial/ethnic groups in these districts happened from 2008-09 to 2009-10 and from 2009-10 to 2010-11.

Interestingly, the capitol region school districts never rebounded in terms of adding back lost teachers (from 2004-12), but Hartford did rebound and in a very different way. After the banking collapse, HPS added white teachers even as it continued to lose Black and Latino/a teachers. On the other hand, the other 35 capitol region districts added a smaller number of Black and Latino/a teachers (mostly the latter) even while continuing to decline in overall, particularly in the number of white teachers after the great recession. Despite adding a small number of Black and Latino/a teachers; the 35 capitol region districts’ percentage of Black and Latino/a teachers remained level from 2004-12. (See chart at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/02/23/where-did-all-the-black-and-latinoa-teachers-in-hartford-go/)

As the enrollment of students in public school choice programs has increased, so has the number of teachers working in interdistrict magnet and charter schools. (See chart below) This rapid growth is one clear result of State policy increasing funds and policy supports for public school choice programs that are operated by separate, non-traditional school districts such as CREC and charter districts. In the case of magnet schools, the growth has come as a result of implementing the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation settlement.

The Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), a regional district that operates interdistrict magnet schools, and the Hartford-area charter school districts added to their numbers of teachers in all race/ethnicity categories from 2004-12. In fact, the CREC magnet school district and Jumoke, Odyssey, and Achievement First – Hartford charter school districts more than doubled their (general education) teacher force from 2004-12. In addition to white teachers, the racially segregated Jumoke Academy and Achievement First-Hartford added several Black and Latino/a teachers over the last decade, thus increasing their combined proportion of these groups of teachers. (See chart at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/02/23/where-did-all-the-black-and-latinoa-teachers-in-hartford-go/)

Over the last decade, Hartford started (and ended) programs and neoliberal policies such as school closures, staff reconstitution, principal “autonomy”, privatization, hyper-accountability, reduced economic security for teachers, preferential hiring for inexperienced and mostly white Teach for America participants, intradistrict and interdistrict school choice. Any number of these initiatives could have impacted have impacted the hiring and retention of teachers of color during these years.

Final Thoughts

At this point, and with the limited data available, it’s hard to untangle which single policy or event made the most impact. Did Black and Latino teachers in the Hartford Public Schools quit, retire, leave to other schools, or get forced out? If so, why? The short answer is that we don’t know.

The idea that some Black and Latino/a teachers left HPS (for currently unknown reasons) and took up work in other school districts in the region as HPS faced layoffs and other districts, magnets, and charters added staff is one possible explanation of where they went. The numbers invite this explanation as a possibility, but the data does not entirely confirm or explain what’s going on. We don’t have enough information yet to make a conclusion.

Combining the losses and additions of Black and Latino/a teachers for all public school districts (capital region, CREC, Hartford, charter schools), there is still a net loss of 27 Latino/a teachers and 39 Black teachers from 2004-12 within the capitol region. In other words, the Hartford Public Schools lost more Black and Latino/a teachers than were added in other local districts, including the magnet (CREC) and charter schools during this period.

Where did the Black and Latino/a teachers in Hartford go?  Hmmmm…

More of Robert Cotto Jr.’s articles can be found at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/category/blog/

Please Note:  Comment function is not presently working – trying to get it fixed ASAP

Op-Ed: Why Joel Cruz Is Best Candidate For Hartford Mayor By Robert Cotto, Jr.

Robert Cotto Jr. is one of the most important public education advocates in Connecticut.  In Hartford, where the majority of Board of Education members are appointed by the City’s Mayor, Cotto is not only one of the few elected members of the Hartford Board of Education, but is widely recognized as one of the most important voices for Hartford’s students, parents, teachers and schools.

In this piece, Robert Cotto Jr. weighs in on next week’s election for Hartford Mayor.  This commentary piece first appeared in CT Latino News.  If others would like to weigh in on this election feel free to send in a commentary piece or comment below. 

Op-Ed: Why Joel Cruz Is Best Candidate For Hartford Mayor By Robert Cotto, Jr.

When I vote for Joel Cruz, Jr. on Tuesday, November 3rd, I will be voting for him and his message: one Hartford. That’s what Joel Cruz will work for as Mayor of Hartford.

Like my own family, Joel’s came to Hartford as newcomers from Puerto Rico and settled in Hartford’s North End. When our families arrived in Hartford, the city was changing quickly.

White families increasingly left, while Black, West Indian, and Puerto Rican folks moved into the city. Finance and industry abandoned or took advantage of the city when it could. Federal and State policy facilitated this flight.

As kids, Joel and I grew up in this Hartford. When I met Joel a few years ago, I learned we had similar childhoods in the city. We bought penny candies, played in the same streets and parks, and, over the years, lost loved ones to drugs, guns, and poverty. Through the difficulties, he is more hopeful than ever about the city.

My family left to the suburbs for a time, but Joel and his family stayed. He graduated from Hartford Public High School at a time when it almost lost accreditation. He joined the U.S. Marines Corps, got himself through college, married, and started a family.

Today he helps men become better fathers to their children. Both his children attend the Hartford Public Schools despite the challenges of the system. And, like his father, he also works as a pastor. His time in the city matters, but what he’s done during that time matters even more. He understands what it’s like to live in Hartford, has made meaningful contributions, and is personally committed to its future.

Hartford is changing again. State government and private finance want to use Hartford as a way to make new profits. Although investment can be helpful, the current plans are very limited. The main plan is simple: use public funds to reinforce downtown as an exclusive playground for high-income people. Although the plan is “colorblind”, it implicitly means a playground for primarily white folks and the handful of Black and Latino people that can pay to play. In short, this vision is of two separate Hartford’s.

That plan might have some benefits, particularly for the elite and well connected. But it’s unlikely that real benefits will spread to everyday people throughout the city. During this year’s debates, the candidates for Mayor were rarely asked about how they would confront this problem. Why didn’t anybody address or ask about this issue?

Well, it’s simple. The very same people that intend to profit from “two Hartford’s” have spent roughly one million dollars so their candidate can implement the elite plan.

But when I hear Joel Cruz talk, I hear an inclusive message when it comes to jobs, housing, health, culture, or education. Joel’s logic is common sense: If we are going to invest into the city, then we must all benefit, not only the well off and well connected. This is a better vision for all of Hartford.

Serving on the Hartford City Council, he has experience with inclusive change. He believes we need to bring out the best of people in our city, rather than discipline, over-police, or contain less fortunate people. Based on these beliefs, he worked for agreements that require new development to include jobs for Hartford residents. He also worked to make the city more accommodating for new immigrants. For Joel, Hartford’s residents are assets, not deficits.

As we gathered several weeks ago on Capen Street, new and long-time residents came to support Cruz. His supporters came from all races, walks of life, and neighborhoods in the City. At the press conference, Cruz powerfully noted that all the neighborhoods of Hartford face similar challenges. Most importantly, he said that all of our neighborhoods – North, West, and South – have been neglected for a long time.

I know Joel Cruz, Jr. will remember Hartford residents as mayor. All of us.

#onehartford #JoelCruzforMayor #Row2E

Robert Cotto, Jr. lives in Hartford and is an elected member of Hartford’s Board of Education serving his second term. He is an educator and holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and Trinity College. His views are his own.

You can read and comment on this commentary piece at: http://ctlatinonews.com/2015/10/28/op-ed-why-joel-cruz-is-best-candidate-for-hartford-mayor/

Setting the record straight on Adamowski and Hartford

Robert Cotto Jr. is a member of the Hartford Board of Education.  He is also a leading academic expert on education policy in Connecticut.  His articles have appeared in numerous publications and his writing and work can be regularly found in the Hartford Courant, CT Mirror and CT NewsJunkie.

Having seen witnessed Mr. Adamowski’s time in Hartford first-hand and written extensively about the challenges facing Hartford’s public school system, Robert Cotto Jr. sent the following letter to the Norwalk Board of Education today.

Letter to Norwalk Board of Education (By Robert Cotto, Jr. June 16, 2015)

This letter is sent in my capacity as an individual and do not represent the views of any organization I am involved in.  The views are my own.

Dear members of the Norwalk Board of Education,

Several newspapers recently reported that the Norwalk Board of Education would be hiring a former Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools (HPS). As a Hartford Board of Education member since 2010 and an educational researcher, I write to raise concerns about claims made about the Hartford Public Schools between 2006 and 2011.

A press release from the Norwalk Board of Education suggests that HPS improved test results and graduation rates because of a change in policies and a new superintendent in 2006. It is true that HPS embarked on a policy of expanded school choice and hyper-accountability. This included closing schools and reopening them as themed academies.

However, there is little evidence that these policies alone resulted in improved achievement and graduation rates. As I wrote in The Hartford Courant in 2011, there was a mixed result from these policies – at best. Most importantly, the apparent “increases” only began when testing and graduation policies changed to artificially inflate this data.

Hartford’s “historic” test result increases only began when low-income, Black, and Latino students with disabilities were removed from regular tests and allowed to participate in a separate modified assessment in 2009. By 2011, 10% or more of all Hartford students, all with disabilities, were selected for a separate test. While this was happening, the HPS superintendent and administrators took credit. They also took bonus money for the subsequent increases, caused in large part by removing these kids.

I have written extensively on this issue. You can read my Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant, my report for CT Voices for Children, and my TEDx Talk at Central CT State University on the issue. This is not speculation, but fact.

Hartford’s graduation rate also has a number of question marks. Between 2006 and 2011, several policies changed that inflated graduation rates. First, the formula changed to calculate graduation rates. This new formula has excluded hundreds of Black and Latino students. They have been transferred out of their cohorts, and effectively removed from all calculations.

Second, online credit recovery and the policy of mandatory minimum grade of 55% inflated graduation rates. Online credit recovery, required by State law in 2010, meant that students that did not pass a course the first time were allowed to take the course online instead.

Hartford’s “F-55″ rule mandated that a student failing a quarter or semester would get a 55% percent. With this rule, a student could earn a 75% in one quarter and pass the rest of the course, even without doing any work or even showing up to class. The Hartford Board of Education never approved these changes for online credit recovery and the “F-55” policy.

The information is not new, but ignored. Elected board members in Hartford raised concerns about both the test scores and graduation rates with little response from the Superintendent or his successor. Interestingly, the video of the meeting in early 2011 where Board members confronted the superintendent about the test inflation was reported as “damaged”. This was the only missing or damaged meeting video in my six years of service.

Rather than outright success, much of what happened in Hartford can be explained by these data illusions. Also, the tremendous State investment in school choice, particularly magnet schools, under the Sheff v. O’Neill agreement has played a major role.

The Hartford Public Schools are still trying to recover from the considerable damage caused by the school “turnarounds” started in 2006 and the unregulated school choice system. Our district is in as much or more financial distress with the expansion of school choice programs beyond our ability to support them. Many of the “turnaround” schools have experienced their second closure and reopening. In many of the Sheff magnet schools and most of our non-magnet schools, our staff still struggles to meet the needs of all children. Even former proponents of these policies have come to question their viability and performance.

I believe deeply in the ability of our city’s children and families, mostly Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino folk, to succeed academically and thrive in life. That is what we have been doing for hundreds of years with substantially unequal and separate opportunities in education and the economy. Yet, the limited resources that sustained our Black and Latino communities are now diminished, dismantled, privatized, or provided to only selected students. These resources included broad academic curriculum offerings, sports, special education services, bilingual education, and libraries.

While you are free to make the decision that is best for Norwalk, I would recommend not to make that decision based on discredited claims about Hartford. What happened from 2006-11 in Hartford may have helped some kids, but came along with further marginalization of the most vulnerable children and families in our city. In Hartford, we are still working for equitable opportunity.

Sincerely
Robert Cotto, Jr.

Member, Hartford Board of Education

– See more at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2015/06/16/letter-to-norwalk-board-of-education/#sthash.6WmgJGGa.dpuf

Stunning Charter School take down by Robert Cotto Jr.

Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money!

Robert Cotto Jr. is one of Connecticut’s leading educate advocates, an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education and part of the Educational Studies program at Trinity College.

In his recent CT Newsjunkie commentary piece entitled, Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money! Cotto lays bare the truth about the charter school industry is taking Connecticut’s taxpayers for a ride while diverting scarce public funds from Connecticut’s real public education system.

Robert Cotto writes;

When traditional schools pay their bills to educate kids, they usually don’t have much money, if any, remaining. When charter schools pay their bills, they often have money left over to spend. How much? It depends on the school. For a number of charter schools, roughly 10 percent of all of public dollars meant for educating children in these schools go to pay fees for private companies called “charter management organizations.” That’s a problem.

Connecticut law states that a charter management organization (CMO), “means any entity that a charter school contracts with for educational design, implementation or whole school management services.” These CMOs claim that they are private corporations, not public agencies. Organizations that claim to be CMOs in Connecticut include Achievement First; Capital Preparatory Schools; DOMUS, and Jumoke/FUSE, which is now defunct. It’s often hard to tell the difference between the CMO and the charter schools they manage.

[…]

Roughly 10 percent of a charter school’s budget can go toward management fees. For example, the New Haven-based CMO called Achievement First charged Achievement First-Hartford Charter School a $1.14 million management fee in 2013-14. The state provided Achievement First-Hartford charter schools more than $11 million to operate. So about 10 percent of that state funding went to Achievement First the CMO, not the charter school in Hartford, which ended the year with a surplus.

For every $100 dollars the public spends on this charter school, the CMO called Achievement First gets $10 off the top.

Multiply this fee by the four Achievement First charter schools in Connecticut, and Achievement First Inc., the CMO, walks away with about $4.45 million in fees.

[…]

Instead of operating schools as public responsibilities, CMOs operate charter schools as moneymaking arrangements, almost like fast-food franchises. Companies like Subway Inc. charge local franchises a fee for services ranging from start-up, food supplies, to signage. This is how Subway makes a profit.

The CMOs could be spending this money on millions of dollars in No. 2 pencils, helping to buy foot-long Subway sandwiches at lobbying events, or paying for student field trips to rally for more charter school money. It’s just unclear.

To fully appreciate how Connecticut’s taxpayers are being ripped off by charter school companies, read Robert Cotto’s entire article at:

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_show_me_the_charter_management_fee_money/