Teacher Barth Keck adds his voice to the debate about the Common Core and related testing


As Connecticut’s public school students begin taking the Common Core Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test this week, more and more serious questions are being raised about the Common Core and its associated testing charade.

As evidenced during the recent public hearing held by the General Assembly’s Education Committee, apologists for the Common Core and Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiatives desperately defend the indefensible policies related to the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test and the absurd teacher evaluation system.

At the recent hearing, the most irrational support for Malloy’s education reforms came from Malloy’s own Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

CABE and CAPSS are two examples of groups that are funded in large part by taxpayer funds but rather than spend their resources protecting Connecticut’s public school students, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers they are kowtowing to an increasingly unpopular governor and his increasingly unpopular so-called “education reforms.”

This weekend’s trifecta of columns about the failures of Malloy’s education reforms include Wendy Lecker’s “Charter school pitch not about helping community,” Sarah Darer Littman’s “Politicians Underestimate Common Core Opposition at Their Peril” and Connecticut teacher Barth Keck’s column entitled, Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?.”  

The commentary piece Barth Keck wrote in this week’s CT NewsJunkie lays out some of the most profound issues.

Keck writes,

“To listen to the leaders of the leaders of Connecticut public schools, the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards is merely a misunderstanding that will be clarified once the standards are adopted.

Bob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “there’s a lot of misinformation about the teacher evaluation system and how it’s going to work together with the Common Core,” according to a CTNewsJunkie report.

“What we’re trying to do is give a little cooling off period so we can implement Common Core,” Rader said during the legislature’s hearing on March 12. “Then I think you’ll see this all dissipate.”

Regarding a survey that found 97 percent of Connecticut teachers “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he didn’t know where “the approximately 1,500 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association came from because that’s not what he’s hearing from the leaders of school districts.”

Note to Mr. Cirasuolo: I know where at least one of them came from.

What we have here is a classic case of “decoupling.” That is, proponents of the Common Core have separated themselves from the pushback simply because it’s an impediment to their agenda.

“Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

Cirasuolo’s attitude is mirrored at the national level.

“The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly represented of beliefs in the educational community,” writes respected author and literacy expert Thomas Newkirk in a must-read essay, “that they cease to be even debatable.”

Problem is, adds Newkirk, these bold attitudes “hide their controversial edges.”

Newkirk outlines multiple reasons why — despite the self-assurance of Common Core supporters — the current resistance should not be so readily dismissed.

For one, many standards are “developmentally inappropriate.”

“[T]he CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm,” writes Newkirk. “What had once been an expectation for fourth graders [has] become the standard for second graders, as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement.

“Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.”

Newkirk also has concerns about the connection between standardized testing and the Common Core, a situation that ultimately limits what is taught: “These tests will give operational reality to the standards — in effect they will become the standards; there will be little incentive to teach to skills that are not tested.”

Perhaps most significantly, the full-speed-ahead attitude of the CCSS proponents “drowns out” all other educational discussions.

Explains Newkirk: “The principle of opportunity costs prompts us to ask: ‘What conversations won’t we be having?’ Since the CCSS virtually ignore poetry, will we cease to speak about it? What about character education, service learning? What about fiction writing in the upper high school grades? What about the arts that are not amenable to standardized testing? What about collaborative learning, an obvious twenty-first-century skill? We lose opportunities when we cease to discuss these issues and allow the CCSS to completely set the agenda, when the only map is the one it creates.”

The history of our country is filled with examples of cognitive dissonance created by people who question the so-called “conventional wisdom.” Newkirk cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that it is never “untimely” in a democracy to scrutinize policies.

The leaders of the leaders of our public schools would do well to remember this lesson. King’s “Letter,” after all, is included in Common Core Standard 10 as a “Text Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12.”

You can read Barth Keck’s full column at CT NewsJunkie by clicking here:  Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?

Another MUST READ comment from the Wait,What? reader known as jrp1900


One of yesterday’s Wait,What? posts was entitled, “Election Year: Incumbent or challenger – You MUST READ this column.” The article re-posted a column written by Sarah Darer Littman and began with the statement.

In a stunning piece written by pro-public education advocate and CT Newsjunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman, Connecticut’s elected officials and anyone considering running for office are provided with a MUST READ substantive, educational and powerful piece entitled, “Politicians Underestimate Common Core Opposition at Their Peril (by Sarah Darer Littman).

Sarah Darer Littman’s piece generated a number of incredibly thoughtful comments both on CT Newsjunkie and here at Wait, What?

One of the most powerful came from jrp1900, an extraordinarily articulate parent whose children attend one of Connecticut’s urban school districts.

jp1900 wrote,

It was Alexander Pope who said: “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” The truth of Pope’s observation can be seen in certain aspects of the Common Core ELA standards.

To be fair, the standards are not uniformly bad: the authors recognize that text complexity is a crucial matter and that it has to be approached in grade-specific ways, as a child’s mind is constantly developing.

The unfortunate thing about the ELA standards is that they are too heavily weighted towards non-fiction, and thus they give short shrift to more imaginative literary creations.

And it may well be that in the lower grades, the standards are too exacting, asking for certain kinds of knowledge that a child is unlikely to have under any circumstance. In this regard, some of the standards are open to the charge of being developmentally inappropriate.

It seems that the authors of the Common Core (leaving aside the politics for a moment) were moved by a scientific model of educational psychology. In the background to the standards are certain assumptions about cognitive and emotional development in growing children.

And here is where we run into the dangers of a “little learning”; it is assumed that the prototypical child develops “naturally,” and not socially, and that, in principle, what works in the Upper West Side should also work in East Harlem.

But as pointed out by Sarah Darer Littman in her powerful essay, real children in the real world face very different challenges. In the context of social inequality, common standards are insidious precisely to the degree that they lead away from thinking about social matters.

Once you have common standards, you have to have a “no excuses” philosophy of the school, because the very idea of the common standards supposes that there are no real uncommon differences worth talking about.

As Sarah Darer Littman notes, this kind of wishful thinking is preposterous and, more to the point, it is devastating to the well-being of poor children, who end up being labeled (by educational science!) as “failing students.”

I am convinced that while education theory may have scientific moments, and while it might well be able to draw upon some scientific methods, at bottom, in terms of an essential significance, education theory is closer to the humanities than to the social sciences. For Plato, for John Locke, for Bertrand Russell and Maria Montessori, education theory was a branch of moral philosophy, because its central concern is the developing human person. Today, this insight has been lost.

The Common Core authors pay some respect to the humanistic tradition of education, but they are ready to sacrifice it for a science of learning wherein all children can be accurately–meaning mathematically–assessed. They seem not to realize that a standard approach implies that you are dealing with standardized children. This is surely the biggest flaw of the whole scientific outlook.

When Ms. Littman writes of the “qualitative difference” in instructional time after the advent of the Common Core, it is not by chance that her complaint centers on quality. The scientism embraced by the corporate reformers knows nothing of quality. Quality is about value, taste, feel, experience, aesthetics.

None of this can be quantified. None of this can measured. The corporate reformers therefore assume that quality is meaningless or even unreal. But to abolish quality, or even to assault it, is to rob education of its very humanistic aspects. No wonder children are bored to tears by quantitative standardized tests!

The triumph of quantity over quality, of “facts” over value, of “science” over poetry, is comically revealed in Ms. Littman’s discussion of the Lexile Framework for Reading. The Lexile model is explicitly (notoriously?) quantitative. It is not an instrument that is very useful for talking about quality.

Thus, it may not be all that surprising that “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” has a higher lexile rating than Ray Bradbury. Apparently, Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” scores higher than Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” Such ridiculous results are a direct outcome of ignoring quality–that is to say, questions of content, context, meaning and significance. For example, it’s well known that Hemingway deliberately sought to limit his diction in texts for specific aesthetic and philosophical purposes.

The lexile computer can do nothing with, because it does not even recognize that such a choice has been made, let alone the reasons behind it. All the computer can do is read the words and sentences “on the page.” Obviously, this is not REAL reading. As Ms. Littman says, by basing their notion of text complexity on the lexile framework, the Common Core authors court utter absurdity.

For me, the following is the most important observation in Ms. Littman’s essay: the Common Core standards are largely about “testing for a benefit that accrues to testing companies rather than our children.”


The two “MUST READ” columns of the weekend


Fellow pro-pubic education advocates and commentators have done it again – with two more MUST READ pieces.

Sarah Darer Littman with “The Brave New World of being ‘College and Career Ready


Wendy Lecker with “A crisis of low standards

Wendy Lecker writes,

Not poverty. Not inadequate resources. Not toxic stress. Not segregation. According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, low standards are the cause of America’s educational disparities. The solution, he maintains, is national standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the accompanying national tests.

“For far too long,” Duncan declared, “our school systems lied to kids, to families, and to communities. They said the kids were all right — that they were on track to being successful — when in reality they were not even close.” Duncan claimed states’ low standards made “educators, administrators and especially politicians” look good but did not prepare students for the rigors of college work.

Before the Common Core, according to Duncan, high school success was a “lie” — it certainly did not mean that students were “college ready.”

What a compelling, but false, narrative. A new peer-reviewed longitudinal nationwide study confirmed that the most reliable predictor of cumulative college GPA and college graduation is a student’s high school GPA.

Read the Wendy Lecker’s entire piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-A-crisis-of-low-standards-5298374.php


Sarah Darer Littman writes;

One of the oft-stated goals of education reform is to ensure that students are “college and career ready.” Like “excellence,” it’s probably one of the most over-used phrases in the education reform movement.

But as I’ve asked before,  what does this phrase really mean? Do our policy makers even know? Judging by their actions of late, I’m starting to think they don’t.

On March 18, the window opens for field tests of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the computer-based adaptive test that will go live next year to replace the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

SBAC, or the Smarter Balanced Consortium, is one of the two consortiums that states have signed up with to develop new assessment systems for the Common Core State Standards. Funded by a four-year, $175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (which runs out in September of this year), SBAC claims its system “will measure mastery of the Common Core State Standards and provide timely information about student achievement and progress toward college and career readiness.”

But there’s a slight catch. They haven’t yet defined “college and career ready.”

“The Consortium also will establish performance benchmarks that define the level of content and skill mastery that marks students as college- and career-ready. These performance benchmarks will be determined through a deliberative and evidence-based standard-setting process, which will include input from K-12 educators and college and university faculty,” the website says. “Preliminary performance standards will be established in 2014 after student data have been collected through pilot and field testing. Following the Field Test in spring 2014, the Consortium will conduct standard setting for the summative assessments in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in ELA/literacy and mathematics. These performance standards will be validated in July/August 2015 using spring 2015 operational data.”

So basically the people who are pushing Common Core — Mssrs. Gates, Obama, Duncan et al, need our kids to be lab rats for this project, while their kids are safely ensconced in private schools, immune from such pedestrian concerns.

What does being an unpaid test subject for SBAC entail, exactly?

Sarah Darer Littman’s entire piece can be found at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/the_brave_new_world_of_being_college_and_career_ready/

As Wait, What? readers know, Wendy and Sarah are playing the pivotal role in the battle against the corporate education reform industry and in the on-going effort to re-take control of our public education system.

Please take the time to read these two key commentary pieces.

The sickness that has crept into Connecticut politics and government (Part II)


Last week, there was a Wait, What? blog post was entitled, “The sickness that has crept into Connecticut politics and government.”

The blog post was an effort to highlight another “MUST READ” commentary piece that fellow public education advocate and blogger, Sarah Darer Littman wrote for the opinion section of CT Newsjunkie.  Her piece was an explosive investigation into environmental justice, racism, political corruption and how many policy decisions are made in Connecticut.

But it turns out that what followed the publication of Sarah Darer Littman’s piece was even more telling when it comes to the state of the state of Connecticut politics, and the political elite’s dedication to misleading the public.

By reading Littman’s commentary piece and Mayor Bill Finch’s response to that piece, we get a first-hand view of the arrogance, greed and entitlement that permeates government today.

Start with Sarah Darer Littman’s column entitled “The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruption.”   Then read Mayor Bill Finch’s response which is entitled “Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way of a ‘Good’ Op-Ed.”

As noted in the previous Wait, What? post, the actual issue relates to a complex deal in which Bridgeport’s political and corporate leaders are conspiring to move Bridgeport’s Harding High School on to a severely polluted superfund site in order to make room for Bridgeport Hospital’s expansion plans.

The political wheeling and dealing stretches from Bridgeport to Hartford and back again.

While the actual cost to Connecticut taxpayers will exceed $100 million or more, the story is really about power politics and how public relations and rhetoric have become more important to politicians than substance.

In this case, Bridgeport’s public school students, teachers and parents, as well as Connecticut taxpayers, are nothing but pawns in the deceit that has become the hallmark of Connecticut’s political environment.

But the truly important aspect of the debate is the way Mayor Finch responded to the concerns raised in Littman’s column.

Again, start with Sarah Darer Littman’s “The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruption” and then read Mayor Bill Finch’s, “Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way of a ‘Good’ Op-Ed.”

The irony in the title of Finch’s commentary piece is reason enough to read it beginning to end.

The sickness that has crept into Connecticut politics and government


As measured by the number of college graduates Connecticut is among the most educated states in the nation.  As measured by per capital income Connecticut is wealthiest state in country, and if we were our own country we’d be one of the wealthiest and best educated countries in the world.

And yet there is a sickness that is increasingly evident in Connecticut politics.  It takes the form of elected and appointed officials who display a level of arrogance, greed, entitlement, and what appears to be an growing level of outright corruption…in both political parties.

In Sarah Darer Littman’s latest MUST READ column entitled “The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruptionin this weekend’s CT Newsjunkie, Sarah Darer Littman shines the bright light of truth on a complex deal in which Bridgeport ’s political and corporate leaders are conspiring to move Bridgeport’s Harding High School on to a severely polluted superfund site in order to make room for Bridgeport Hospital’s expansion plans.

The political wheeling and dealing stretches from Bridgeport to Hartford and back again.

By the time their effort is over, the cost to Connecticut taxpayers will exceed $100 million or more, and that doesn’t even begin to count the cost to Bridgeport’s public school students, teachers and parents who are but pawns in the deceit that has become the hallmark of Connecticut’s political environment.

Sarah Darer Littman introduces her piece with the following,

If the window of government transparency in Connecticut has become foggy lately, in Bridgeport it’s turned into a funhouse mirror.

The latest to come from Mayor Bill Finch’s Carnival of Corruption was a vote Thursday evening to proceed with phase one of a deal to build a new Harding High School on 17.2 acres of a 78-acre brownfield site on Boston Avenue, currently owned by General Electric. This would enable Finch and his allies to sell the current Harding High site to Bridgeport Hospital.

According to federal law, a brownfield site refers to “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The aforementioned brownfield site is, according to a piece in the CT Post, “contaminated with lead, arsenic, petroleum hydrocarbons and volatile compounds.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers helpful information about School Siting Guidelines, and why they are so important:

“Children, particularly younger children, are uniquely at risk from environmental hazards. They eat, drink and breathe more in proportion to their body size than adults. In addition, environmental contaminants may affect children disproportionately because their immune, respiratory and other systems are not fully developed, and their growing organs are more easily harmed. This means they are more at risk for exposure to harmful chemicals found outside where they play and in the environment where they spend most of their time — school and home.”

As might be expected, parents and those representing the community have concerns — especially since most of the process for this deal (like so much of what goes on in Bridgeport) has taken place behind closed doors. Indeed, in the minutes from the Bridgeport School Building Committee meeting on January 3, 2013, Finch Deputy Chief of Staff Ruben Felipe reports that GE asked the administration to keep their conversations confidential. Thus both the sunlight and the community were kept out. Helping to keep things under wraps was the fact that the School Building Committee failed to file their statutory notices with the town clerk’s office until February 2014, evidenced by this email from Frances Ortiz, assistant City Clerk.

There’s been some gob smacking chicanery involved, because, let’s face it, this wouldn’t be Bridgeport if there weren’t.

A petition to the City of Bridgeport Planning and Zoning Commission was filed in the name of the City of Bridgeport Board of Education (File 13-74). It was signed on Dec. 3, 2013, by John Eberle of Stantec Consulting Services and on Dec. 18, 2013, by Marian Whiteman, executive counsel for Transactions & Brownfields at General Electric.

On Jan. 13, 2014, Sauda Baraka, chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education (in whose name the Planning Petition was apparently being made) wrote to Melville T. Riley, Jr, the acting chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, asking that the item not go forward with a public hearing for the application because the education board hadn’t voted to approve a site plan nor a special permit concerning that property. In what is a reflection of the incredibly sad state of affairs in Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport, she was forced to ask the Planning Commission for copies of any application filed on the behalf of the Board of Education. How ridiculous is it that an elected Board of Education should have to ask another city body for copies of planning applications being filed in its name?

Probably as a result of Baraka’s letter, the planning application was withdrawn from the Jan. 13 meeting.

But by Jan. 16, the Finch administration was able to work magic with fairy dust — or White Out — and Lo! The exact same application with the exact same signatures (on the original you can see the correction fluid) and now guess what? It reads “City of Bridgeport School Building Committee”!  Suggested new campaign slogan for Bill Finch: “If you can’t beat ‘em, erase them!”

And Sarah Darer Littman’s column goes on from there with some of the most disturbing elements of the story yet to come.

You can read her whole column at via the following link,


As you read the piece ask yourself, is this Connecticut our citizens deserve?

Speaking of Bullying and Safe School Climates – Another MUST READ piece by Sarah Darer Littman


Sarah Darer Littman is back writing columns for CT Newsjunkie! 

A pro-public education advocate, Sarah Darer Littman is also an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens.

In a weekend commentary piece for CT Newsjunkie entitled, When Adults – and Politicians – Are Bystanders to Bullying, she has produced another MUST READ column.

While Hartford Capital Prep Magnet School Principal Steve Perry, the infamous master of bullying seeks to open a new charter school in Bridgeport and Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, fails to produce a required report on bullying, Sarah Darer Littman lays out the truth in a stark reminder of how adults fail our children when they allow themselves to be nothing more than bystanders to bullying.

In the CT Newsjunkie commentary piece, Sarah Darer Littman writes:

On Tuesday evening, I attended a screening in Greenwich of two documentaries about bullying: “The Bully Effect” and “Bystanders: Ending Bullying.” The panel discussion afterward was long overdue, and it’s tragic that it took the suicide of a Greenwich High sophomore, Bart Palosz, on the first day of school, to finally get this conversation to happen.

Palosz’ sister Beata, told the Greenwich Times about the relentless bullying her brother suffered and how it was ignored by the school system.

Watching assistant principal Kim Lockwood’s insensitive dismissal of the parents who came to discuss their son’s treatment gave me a PTSD reaction. It reminded me of how I was fobbed off by the assistant principal at Western Middle School in Greenwich when I went to complain about bullying my son was experiencing.

Western is the same school that Bart Palosz attended. Sadly, it seems that despite the anti-bullying statutes, signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011, not enough has changed.

But it takes more than signing legislation. It takes willingness to act — consistently. It’s about modeling behavior. This was rightly pointed out by panelist Ed Moran, senior social worker and community educator at Family Centers.

I think this is best summed up by a Dorothy Law Nolte poem my parents had on the wall in my childhood home, “Children Learn What They Live.

The obvious lesson is that “Do as I say, but not as I do” is not an effective parenting strategy; nor is it effective school leadership.

Being a bystander to bullying is what enables it to continue. As Barbara Coloroso defines them in her book, The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander, bystanders “aid and abet the bully, by acts of omission and commission.”

When the bystanders are adults in the administrative and political infrastructure, as they were in my son’s case and appear to be in Hartford, it is all the more disturbing.

In September 2012, the state Education Department made a site visit to Capital Prep Magnet School as a result of a parent complaint dated May 2012 that had gone unaddressed by Capital Prep administrators and Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto’s office for months.

The Education Department laid out steps that Capital Prep needed to take to comply with state laws and regulations. Despite this, Capital Prep didn’t file a Corrective Action Plan on its bullying policies until October 2013, some 13 months after the site visit. Not only that, but as has been reported by Jonathan Pelto based on documents obtained through an FOI request, as of Dec. 23, 2013, even after the long delay, Capital Prep still wasn’t in compliance on its Corrective Action Plan.

Let’s reiterate for the sake of clarity: 19 months after parents filed a complaint with the Education Department regarding the bullying experienced by their child at the school, Capital Prep still wasn’t in compliance.

Yet, Kishimoto appears to be doing nothing about it. Even more astonishing, the Hartford Board of Education was ready to reward Perry for his negligence and non-compliance with another school.

Even more disturbing is that State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is seriously considering rewarding Perry with a charter school in Bridgeport. There are several ethical issues in need of investigation surrounding the formation of Perry’s charter company, but that is fodder for another column. It’s gotten to the point where I’m starting to wonder whether Perry has photos of all these people in compromising positions, because it seems to be the only rational explanation for continuing to ignore, condone, and reward his behavior.

That’s all before I’ve even mentioned Perry’s conduct on the Internet. We all know about the infamous “Strap up, there will be head injuries” tweet, which the principal then claimed was a “metaphor,” suggesting that perhaps he needs a remedial English class to learn the actual meaning and use of metaphor.

You can find this rest of this Must Read piece at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/when_adults_-_and_politicians_-_are_bystanders_to_bullying/


A Model to Replicate? (A must read by Sarah Darer Littman)


Fellow public education advocate and blogger Sarah Darer Littman has produced another “must read” commentary piece.  This time posted on her blog: TYPE A LITTLE FASTER

Sarah begins with the observation:

“One of the phrases we hear constantly in the debate about education reform, particularly with regard to privatizing public education, is “replicating successful models.”

Those of us who went to business school recognize the lingo. And those of us who studied statistics (instead of the calculus that the edreformers want to foist on every single child today because STEM! STEM! STEM!) also recognize that the “success” of such models usually are the result of significantly lower percentage of ELL and SPED students served. In some cases the “successful” models are the subject of lawsuits because they are failing to follow the law regarding special education services.”

After introducing the importance of modeling behavior she adds:

“Which is why I am completely and utterly gobsmacked that anyone on the Hartford Board of Education would even consider putting another educational institution in the hands of a man like Steven Perry. He has a long history of reprehensible behavior: comparing teachers to roaches, calling noted education historian Diane Ravitch a racist, and last night, after the Hartford Board of Education thankfully voted against taking the Sand School away from the parents and students and giving it to Perry to manage under a private company he set up to profit from public funds, he resorted to issuing threats. “

Be sure to read the whole piece at:  http://sarahdlittman.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-model-to-replicate.html

Sarah Darer Littman among renowned authors to call out Obama on failure of corporate education reform laws


Sarah Darer Littman, a fellow public education advocate, blogger and regular commentator here at Wait,What? is also an award-winning author of books for young people.

Last week she and a number of other leading authors and illustrators wrote a powerful letter to President Obama about the inappropriate use of standardized testing and the failings of the corporate education reform movement.

In a commentary piece that appeared in the Connecticut Post and Stamford Advocate, Sarah Darer Littman explains why she and the authors took this important step;

“I am proud to have been a signatory to a letter sent to President Obama last week, along with over 120 authors and illustrators of books for children — including luminaries of the field such as Maya Angelou, Judy Blume and Jane Yolen.

We signed on to the letter because we know that lighting the fire of literacy is critical to our nation’s future, and we’re deeply concerned that current educational policy is dousing that fire. When one receives letters from young people telling them how reading your book has changed their life, it creates a special responsibility to advocate for change.

As you ponder who to vote for in your local Board of Education elections, please consider carefully each candidate’s position on excessive standardized testing.

Party label is no indication of position, alas — over-testing insanity might have started under a Republican administration with No Child Left Behind, but rather than correcting the problem, the Obama administration’s policies have reinforced it. Here in Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy even went so far as to state that he’d “settle for teaching to the test” as long as it meant raising test scores.

In many of the schools in Connecticut that need them the most, we don’t have full-time librarians, or libraries filled with books that appeal to young people. Yet we’re spending a fortune on consultants, and on technology to implement what — more testing. Author Neil Gaiman summed it up in a recent lecture, “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”:

“The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.”

Test scores don’t matter as much as raising a nation of life-long readers — because reading fiction is a key to imagination and creativity. It is both a mirror, where we can see that we are not alone in our experiences, and a window, where we can learn to empathize with the experiences of others whose lives might be very different from our own.

A friend of mine in New York state called me, upset, after receiving the results of the tests this fall. Her son’s reading scores weren’t what she’d expected, and she wondered if she should worry. I know her son well — he loves reading and we have lively discussions about the latest book. I sent her links to numerous articles about the flawed Pearson ELA tests and told her that there was nothing the matter with her son — that he’s a bright kid who loves reading and that it borders on criminal that these tests would even create a doubt in her mind about the truth of this.

Please consider this carefully when voting for Board of Education. Vote for literacy, not test score-driven “readicide.”

You can read Sarah Darer Littman’s piece at: http://www.ctpost.com/opinion/article/A-vote-for-literacy-not-testing-4933218.php.

You can read the author’s letter to Obama and additional background on Valerie Strauss’ blog at the Washington Post:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/22/top-authors-including-maya-angelou-urge-obama-to-curb-standardized-testing/

“Accountability”… Another “must read” piece from Sarah Darer Littman


Connecticut is quickly getting the message.

As far as the education reform industry is concerned, there are two standards of Accountability.  There is one standard for teachers and a very different, much lower standard of accountability for the professional education reformers and their corporate entities.

Call it yet another example of the Great American Corporate Accountability System, otherwise known as laws and rules are only for the rank and file, not for the elite.

Sarah Darer Littman has yet another “must read” piece that appeared in this past weekend’s CT Newsjunkie entitled, Is Accountability Only For Teachers?

In it she observes;

“Accountability. It’s the No. 1 buzzword of corporate education reform. Teachers must be held can countable based on their students’ performance on standardized tests, even though the method is deeply flawed.

Students must also be held accountable. Poverty is no excuse. Who cares if you’ve experienced early childhood trauma, if your parents aren’t native English speakers, or if you have a learning disability. No excuses, no compassion. Toe the line, Bucko.

As Achievement First Hartford Academy stated in its 2007 charter application: “Excuses will not be tolerated. Mediocrity will not be good enough.”

Yet when it comes to the education reformers themselves there is little or no accountability and there are plenty of excuses — even to measures they have set for themselves. Take the aforementioned Achievement First Academy Hartford, which just had its charter renewed for three years in a shameful act of cronyism by the state Board of Education.

Here are some of the goals Achievement First Hartford set in its 2007 charter application:

-p.12 - “The AF Hartford approach to student behavior will be overwhelmingly positive. While there will be clear, strict consequences for poor behavior at AF Hartford, research finds that positive recognition of good behavior is more likely to fundamentally improve student behavior.”

-p.41 - Special Needs Populations: “All students with disabilities attending AF Hartford will be accorded a free, appropriate and public education. Disability will not be used as a criterion for non-eligibility for admissions or enrollment . . . AF will comply with all regulatory special education requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Likewise, AF Hartford will fully comply with additional regulations and policies of the State of Connecticut.”

Under “Charter Self-Evaluation and Accountability,” Achievement First Hartford listed the following:

-p.65 - Suspensions: “We will have an average of 5 or fewer suspensions for the months of January to June (or a total of 30 or fewer suspensions during this six month period).

-p.66 - Student Retention: “Student attrition will be less than 5 percent (other than students moving out of the district) during our first year and less than 3 percent in each successive year.

-p.68 - Staff Turnover: “There will be low rates of administrative and teacher turnover. Our targets for annual teacher turnover will be less than 25% in the first two years and less than 15 percent after that.”

Yet how did Achievement First Hartford measure up? We know their “positive recognition of good behavior” methods resulted inthe highest number of suspensions of any school in the state, with 32.5 percent of elementary school students and 49.4 percent of middle school students having at least one in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion.

Clearly their model — and their leadership across the board — is flawed, because in the elementary school category, the top four slots in the suspension leaderboard were held by Achievement First schools: Hartford Academy, 32.5 percent; Elm City College Prep, 26 percent; Bridgeport Achievement First, 20 percent; and Amistad Academy, 13.8 percent.

In the middle school category, Achievement First dominates again, with three of the top four slots: AF Hartford Academy, 49.4 percent; Bridgeport Achievement First, 43.7 percent; and Amistad Academy, 41.9 percent.

High school? Achievement First had two schools in the top six, with Elm City Prep ranked second at 40 percent and Bridgeport Achievement First sixth at 35.9 percent.

The recent voluntary resolution agreement of a civil rights complaint filed on the behalf of six AF Hartford students by Greater Hartford Legal Aid is proof-positive that AF failed their special needs students.”

Everyone tracking the education reform corporate movement should take the time to read this informative and disturbing piece.

By understanding the real “achievements” of organizations like Achievement First, Inc. readers will have a much better understanding of the notion that the best way to describe these education reforms is to start by saying…”don’t look at the man behind the curtain.”

You can find Sarah Darer Littman’s full commentary piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/sboe_is_accountability_is_only_for_teachers/

Political Science 101: Today’s Lesson: Some politicians lie…


Last week, the Secretary of Education for the United States of America, Arne Duncan, joined by Governor Dannel P. Malloy, held at a “town hall meeting” at one of Hartford’s magnet schools.

In response to a question from a high school student in attendance, Duncan taught the students an extremely valuable lesson…some politicians lie.  In fact, in an attempt to “bond” with the students, Duncan lied through his teeth.

In this case, America’s Patron Saint of Standardized Testing claimed that when he was the CEO of the Chicago School System he cut the amount of standardized testing by 50%.  Of course, that statement isn’t close to the truth.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by the likes of the U.S. Secretary of Education, Governor Malloy weighed in on the issue of the overuse of standardized testing by saying, “We need a multifaceted approach which doesn’t overemphasize [testing],”

A particularly funny, if not ironic statement, considering over Malloy’s term in office we will be seeing a 50 percent to 100 percent increase in the use of standardized testing in Connecticut’s public schools.

Fellow columnist, Sarah Darer Littman, dug into the Duncan/Malloy extravaganza with her usual depth of research, humor and outrage.  The product is an absolute “MUST READ” piece that appears on the CTNewsjunkie website.

An Open Letter to Connecticut Students (by Sarah Darer Littman)

Last Friday, during a town hall meeting at the Classical Magnet School in Hartford with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and assorted other luminaries of the Connecticut political firmament, one of you — Justin Vega — raised a great point with Secretary Duncan.

According to a CT Mirror report, Vega told Duncan that he felt “as if all the time and money spent on standardized testing has compromised the quality of his education.”

The responses given by both Governor Malloy and Secretary Duncan provided us all with a teachable moment in politics, critical thinking, research, statistics, and media literacy.

Malloy warned Vega that Hartford schools could potentially have a 40 percent dropout rate and said:  “We have to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need a multifaceted approach which doesn’t overemphasize [testing],” the CT Mirror reported.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from parenting my own kids is that they learn as much from what I do as from what I say. They don’t hesitate to point out when there is a discrepancy between my words and my actions. I ask them to do it politely. It’s important they respect my authority, but in order to maintain a healthy relationship, it’s equally as important that they question it, particularly if my words and actions don’t ring true. The same is true of democracy.

So ask yourselves — is this the same Governor Malloy who said, “I’ll settle for teaching to the test” if it means raising test scores? Note that he didn’t say he would strive for you to have a meaningful learning experience and develop critical thinking skills. He made it all about your test scores.

Despite Malloy’s assertion that we need a “multifaceted approach which doesn’t over-emphasize” testing, his policies do the opposite.

You can find this absolutely must read piece at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/op-ed_an_open_letter_to_connecticut_students/

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