The lies in the new SAT (by Wendy Lecker)

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Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and his State Department of Education are engaged in an unethical effort to spin their new “mandate” that every Connecticut High School Junior (11th grader) MUST take the NEW SAT test on March 2, 2016.

Driven by their support for the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and their desire to use the test scores to rate students and evaluate teachers, the state is on a mission.

However, parents, students, teachers and the public should be aware that their effort is a disgrace and that their lies will not go unchallenged.

To repeat a common refrain here at Wait, What? – There is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prohibits parents from opting their children out of the unfair, discriminatory and inappropriate Common Core testing program – and that includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests for grades 3-8 and the new SAT for grade 11.

Even Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman has admitted to parents that they have the right to opt their children out of the test, although she remains silent in public about this fundamental issue.

Local school superintendents and school administrators also know the truth.  If they are telling students and parents that children must take the SBAC or SAT in order to graduate or move on to the next grade they are lying!

The SBAC test is designed to fail students, in part because it includes content that the majority of students have not be taught.  Proponents of the NEW SAT claim that it too is aligned to the Common Core, but it isn’t even being released until March 2016 so those Connecticut students who do take it on March 2, 2016 are nothing short of guinea pigs for the corporate testing industry.

It is parents – not the state – that have the inalienable right to decide whether their child should take a test that is designed to label tens of thousands of students as failures when they are not failing by any honest definition of that word.

My next Wait, What? column here will be entitled;

 “Why my daughter will not be taking the NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016.”

As a prerequisite to that piece and to better understand the under-handed action that is being taken by the Malloy administration, please take the time to read fellow education advocate Wendy Lecker’s expose entitled, The lies in the new SAT.

This article was first published in this past weekend’s Stamford Advocate.

Wendy Lecker writes;

Connecticut’s political and educational leaders have sold us a bill of goods with the new SAT. Last spring the legislature and the State Board of Education hastily decided to replace the 11th-grade SBAC with the newly designed SAT. The move was in response to outcry about the invalidity of the SBAC and about the addition of another standardized test for juniors.

As I wrote previously (http://bit.ly/1Kv8TXk), our leaders did not wait for the SAT to be validated, nor did they validate any accommodations that English Language Learners (ELL) or students with disabilities would need.

Instead, they misrepresented the facts to parents and students.

In December, the State Department of Education (SDE) sent districts a sample letter intended for parents. In it, SDE claimed that “(b) y adopting the SAT, we are eliminating duplicate testing.”

That assertion is false for many Connecticut students and SDE knew that when it wrote this letter. In a separate document sent at the same time but addressed to district leaders, not parents, SDE acknowledged that the vast majority of ELL students taking the SAT with accommodations will be unable to report their scores to colleges, because the College Board does not accept ELL accommodations. Similarly, many students with disabilities using accommodations will not be able to report scores either, as the College Board has more stringent criteria for disability accommodations. For those students, the SAT will only count for state accountability purposes.

In other words, for thousands of students, the state-mandated SAT will not count for college applications and they will have to take another test — either the SAT or ACT without accommodations.

Our state leaders also misled us by claiming that the new SAT is appropriate as an accountability exam aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements. Connecticut law requires that, for the current graduating class until the class of 2020, students must complete three credits of mathematics. Algebra II is not required nor is trigonometry or precalculus. Beginning with the class of 2021, the law specifies that students must take Algebra I and geometry, and either Algebra II or probability and statistics. Algebra II is not a requirement and trigonometry and precalculus are not even mentioned.

Yet the new SAT has a significant amount of Algebra II, and has trigonometry and precalculus. Almost half the math SAT is composed of “advanced math” and “additional topics” both of which have these advanced subjects. By contrast, there is very little geometry.

The new SAT is not aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements. Moreover, choosing this test sets students who have not taken Algebra II before 11th grade up for failure, along with their districts.

The SAT is designed to be a test with winners and losers. It is a comparative, scaled test. As one top SAT tutor recently wrote to the Business Insider, “(i) f everyone got a 1,600, there would be no point to this test at all. This test is designed to show colleges who is better and who is worse — not who is good.” A test with this goal should not be used as an accountability test, which is supposed to confirm who has met state academic goals for high school — i.e. who is “good.”

The final lie our state leaders are selling is that the new SAT will tell us who is ready for college success. As I have written before, the evidence — something our leaders rarely examine — shows that the best predictor of college cumulative GPA and graduation, i.e. college success, is the high school GPA. This is true over time, across the entire nation, in all types of colleges and universities. By contrast neither the SAT nor the ACT is a good predictor of college success.

The same top SAT tutor notes that the College Board’s claim that the new SAT will accurately reflect the demands of the American high school curriculum has a major flaw, namely “this is exactly what they said about the last version that they launched”— the one the College Board has now abandoned. He declared that anyone who takes the new SAT is merely “a guinea pig for the College Board’s marketing machine.” He recommends that none of his students take the new SAT until other guinea pigs prove its validity.

Those other guinea pigs? Connecticut’s students, thanks to our political leaders, who served them up merely to satisfy College Board’s data needs. It is time that parents demand that leaders make education policy that is in the best interests of students, not testing companies.  

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-lies-in-the-new-SAT-6777613.php

Wendy Lecker is absolutely right!

 Parents and students;

 Do not be bullied by the Malloy administration or your local school administrators.

 If our other elected officials, state legislators and board of education members, were really committed to the well-being of the parents, students, teachers and residents of their communities they would be taking action – now – to stop this abuse of power.

For more about the NEW SAT read;

Once again Connecticut elected officials are wrong to mandate the SAT for all 11th graders

More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT

Big Changes with the SAT and why juniors should take the old SAT at least once before March 2016

PSAT score delay spells more bad news for Connecticut SAT mandate

Connecticut’s historic school funding trial finally begins this week

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As Connecticut education advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, reports in her latest commentary piece in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut’s children finally get day in court.

Of the many disappointments that have arisen since Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman were sworn in to office in January 2011, few, if any, is greater than their immoral efforts to dismiss, derail and delay what may be the most important Connecticut court case in our lifetime – the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit.

The truth is that Connecticut’s school funding formula is not only illegal, it is unconstitutional. 

Inadequate funding is robbing Connecticut’s public schoolchildren of their constitutional right to a quality education, while placing an unfair burden on Connecticut’s local property taxpayers.

A new funding formula is needed.  But Connecticut politicians lack the will to adopt one, so the responsibility to act has fallen on the courts.

Despite having been supporters of the lawsuits prior to taking office, Malloy, Wyman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen have wasted five years and massive amounts of taxpayer funds trying to stop Connecticut’s judicial branch from even hearing the critically important court case.

As mayor of Stamford, Dan Malloy was actually one of the original sponsors and plaintiffs of the CCJEF V. Rell School Funding lawsuit.

Running for office in 2010, Dan Malloy bragged about his role in pushing the CCJEF lawsuit, telling the Hartford Courant on March 23, 2010;

“I think in the long run it is very important to the state of Connecticut,” said Malloy, who was among the group that launched the coalition that brought the lawsuit. “I began these efforts years ago because I firmly believed that the state was not honoring its constitutional requirement and the funding formula for education in poor and urban communities was not fair to those communities.”

Nancy Wyman and George Jepsen were also strong advocates for addressing Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding system.

And then, when they were finally in a position to make a real difference, these three “leaders” turned their backs on Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, schools and taxpayers.

While the Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen were able to delay the day of reckoning, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell school funding lawsuit is finally set to begin on January 12, 2016 in a Hartford courtroom.

Wendy Lecker explains;

On Jan. 12, Connecticut’s school funding trial, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell, will finally begin. The plaintiffs include a statewide coalition of parents, municipalities, local boards of education, and organizations, and individual parents in districts across the state. They began the case in 2005. Since then, the state has waged a costly, failed crusade to keep the plaintiffs from having their day in court.

The plaintiffs claim that the state’s flawed school funding system provides inadequate resources to schools, thereby depriving Connecticut’s public school children of their rights under the Education Article of Connecticut’s constitution.

Under Connecticut’s Constitution, the state is responsible for providing children with a “suitable” public education. In 2010, when Connecticut’s Supreme Court denied the state’s first attempt to dismiss the case, it defined a “suitable” education as one that enables graduates to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment, or progress to higher education. The court ruled that the state must provide sufficient resources to enable students to obtain this level of education.

The CCJEF plaintiffs contend that for children to have a constitutionally “suitable” education, schools must have certain essential resources:

  • high quality preschool;
  • appropriate class size;
  • programs and services for at-risk students;
  • high quality administrators and teachers;
  • modern and adequate library facilities;
  • modern technology and appropriate instruction;
  • an adequate number of hours of instruction;
  • a rigorous curriculum with a wide breadth of courses;
  • modern and appropriate textbooks;
  • a healthy, safe, well-maintained school environment conducive to learning;
  • adequate special needs services;
  • appropriate career and academic counseling; and
  • suitably run extra-curricular activities

This list of essential resources is consistent with what courts across the nation deem necessary for a constitutionally adequate education.

In the state’s last attempt to dismiss the case, in 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration claimed that its 2012 reforms, including yearly common core standardized testing of students, evaluating teachers by students’ standardized test scores and a system of ranking, shaming and punishing districts with low test scores, would solve all the state’s education woes.

This failed tactic was attempted by states in other school funding cases, such as Kansas. The Kansas court declared that relying on similar unproven reforms rather than adequate funding was “experimenting with our children (who) have no recourse from a failure of the experiment.”

The CCJEF court ruled that there is no evidence that Malloy’s reforms would redress the constitutional inadequacies and ordered that the state prove it at trial.

The state has known all along that the plaintiffs are right — that schools need the essential resources the CCJEF plaintiffs demand. In 2005, Connecticut’s top education official, Commissioner Betty Sternberg, wrote to then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and told her so.

In the letter, Commissioner Sternberg requested permission to continue testing children only in grades 4,6, 8 and 10. She stated that adding standardized tests in the other grades “will cost millions of dollars and will tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students’ achievement and what we must do to improve it.”

Sternberg maintained that high-needs schools needed support to improve and set forth proven strategies to improve education, including:

  • High quality preschool;
  • School based health centers/family resource centers;
  • Small class size;
  • Adequate support staff, such as nurses, social workers, psychologists, reading specialists and guidance counselors;
  • Incentives to retain experienced teachers;
  • Adequate technology, curriculum, supplies and professional development;
  • Adequate learning time;
  • Adequate space for learning.

In 2005, Connecticut’s top education official enumerated almost the exact same list of resources that the CCJEF plaintiffs seek. Moreover, Commissioner Sternberg maintained that these resources “are not a buffet,” but rather a “full-course meal.” “If we want to see significant improvement in student achievement, all of these areas should move ahead in concert,” she wrote.

Despite this admission by the state that schools need these essential resources, the state did nothing over the past 10 years to try to ensure every Connecticut school be properly equipped. Rather, the state chose to waste millions of taxpayer dollars in a futile attempt to keep the facts about its failure to fund schools from coming out in court. During that time, a generation of Connecticut children passed through the educational system deprived of basic educational resources they needed to succeed in school and life.

The governor, legislature and state education officials knowingly and repeatedly disregarded their duty to our children. One hopes that when the facts finally emerge, the court will grant our children the justice Connecticut politicians consistently denied them.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s column which first appeared in the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Connecticut-s-children-finally-6745644.php

Wendy Lecker explains – Again – Why the Malloy-Wyman teacher evaluation system is a terrible farce

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In her commentary piece last week, public education advocate Wendy Lecker returned to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s unfair, inappropriate and fundamentally flawed teacher evaluation system.   Her article, entitled Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul, first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.

While Wendy Lecker has pounded away about the problems associated with Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system for four years, the good news is that it seems that some of the power-elite are finally listening.

Having helped craft and usher in the absurd and destructive teacher evaluation system, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) will be holding a press conference later today, January 7, 2016, in which they will apparently stand up for Connecticut educators and take a strong stand against Malloy and Wyman’s anti-teacher and anti-public school, teacher evaluation program.

The problem with the existing teacher evaluation system could not be any clearer.  As Wendy Lecker explains – Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul;

With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system.

In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating.

Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

Connecticut’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (“PEAC”), the body that oversees the teacher and principal evaluation system, will next meet in January. Since PEAC last met, the notion that one can rate teacher’s effectiveness based on student standardized test scores has been thoroughly debunked.

As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors. A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid.

Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches. They cannot be jury-rigged after the fact to be.

In light of the ESSA, some PEAC members, notably the Connecticut Education Association, now indicate they would advocate decoupling statewide standardized tests from evaluations. Indeed, why continue such a demonstrably invalid practice?

Other members, including Connecticut’s superintendents’ and boards of education associations (CAPSS and CABE), maintain that standardized test scores must still be included because they show “student achievement growth.”

What does that mean?

Learning is a complex process. Even if one focuses only on cognitive skills, different grades teach different content and different skills. Each standardized test measures skills that supposedly correspond to that grade level. Comparing one grade level test to another is comparing apples to oranges.

As I wrote in an earlier column (bit.ly/1sOOxFc), in constructing “growth scales” for standardized tests, statisticians make a fictional assumption that learning in math and reading is linear and can actually be compared from year to year. To make this work, they can only focus on a limited universe of skills that might be subject to such a rough comparison.

Measuring growth through standardized tests is, at best, looking at a tiny fraction of cognitive skills.

When we construct an evaluation system based on that tiny universe of disjointed skills, all the components in that system will be equally narrow. Any observations of and conclusions about teachers will center only on how those teachers are teaching those particular skills.

Why do we want to know so little about a teacher?

I want much more for my son. I want my son’s teachers to help him learn skills, but I also want them to help him apply those skills to other subjects and in life. I want them to help him make sense of the world. I want them to help him ask better questions, so he can become a more critical thinker. I want them to help him be a better member of his school community so he can learn to become a good citizen. I want teachers who can assess my child with tools they developed based on their teaching.

None of these teaching skills can be measured with a test.

However test scores are simple, readily available measures; so policy-makers embrace them, even when they are inappropriate.

Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t PEAC start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?

Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.

The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers.

Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students. All eyes will be on the PEAC members to see if they have the courage and wisdom to do so.

For more about Connecticut’s flawed teacher evaluation policies check out the following Wait, What? posts;

Malloy’s Teacher evaluation system is fundamentally and fatally flawed

Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan – even worse than we thought

Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured

Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program

Will Malloy decouple Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system from the unfair Common Core SBAC Test?

Teacher Evaluations At The Heart Of Education Reform Are Flawed (By Jonathan Kantrowitz)

Evaluate Teachers based on Standardized Test Scores? Can an “education reformer” please answer the following question?

Teacher Evaluation Program: Malloy, Pryor and General Assembly slam door on a locally developed plans

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluations – But Wait – That’s Like Comparing Apples and Tomatoes

Leaving math standards to politicians doesn’t add up (By Wendy Lecker)

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The Corporate Education Reform Industry and its allies say the Common Core, Common Core testing mania and their agenda to privatize public education in the United States is necessary in order to ensure children are college and career ready.

However, as parents, students, teachers and the public are learning, the effort to disrupt and undermine public schools is having a very negative impact on the quality of education many students are receiving.

In her latest column in the Stamford Advocate, fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the notion that the “new” math being pushed by those focused on selling new textbooks, computer programs and curriculum is pushing children in the wrong direction.

Wendy Lecker writes;

At parents’ night this fall, a high school math teacher I know begged parents to teach their children long division “the old-fashioned way.” She explained that the new way students had learned long division impedes their ability to understand algebraic factoring. She lamented that students hadn’t been taught certain rote skills, like multiplication tables, that would enable them to perform more complex math operations efficiently.

It turns out that brain science supports this math teacher’s impressions. Rote learning and memorization at an early age are critical in developing math skills.

A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.

The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.

The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.

Those who developed the Common Core State Standards clearly ignored brain research in math, as they did in reading (http://bit.ly/1IeIgKm); The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding at every phase of math instruction. So, even young children are required not only to conduct a simple math procedure, but to also explain and justify every answer.

As education professor Katherine Beals and math teacher Barry Garelick wrote recently in the Atlantic, when certain mathematical procedures become automatic, it frees up the brain to progress to more difficult math concepts. Forcing children to explain every simple procedure distracts students from this vital transition. In a Wall Street Journal article last year, engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained that much like focusing on every aspect of a golf swing impedes the development of the swing, forcing children to stop and continually prove their understanding can actually impede their understanding. Mandatory explaining of math impedes the doing of math. The Stanford brain study indicates that it also inhibits brain development.

Moreover, as Beals and Garelick point out, some students, particularly English Language Learners and those on the autism spectrum, cannot easily explain their answers, even though they understand the concept and procedure. Thus these students would be penalized even though they may be strong math students.

Professor Oakley noted that just because a student understands a concept does not mean that she has mastered it. Expertise comes with repetition. True mastery, she explains, is the ability to pull out a chunk of knowledge quickly and use it. And expertise builds profound conceptual understanding, not the reverse.

Maybe the fad to force kids to explain every simple math procedure grew out of our selfie and Facebook culture; that tendency to document every mundane life experience. It certainly did not emanate from a true understanding or concern for how math skills develop.

Beals and Garelick observe that it is as if the architects of the Common Core thought that if students just act like mathematicians, they would magically become them. As they note, this approach may be an interesting behavioral experiment, but it is not mathematical development.

The goal of public education is to provide children with an education, not to use children as unwitting subjects in experiments. Our children only go through school once. Their brains only develop once. To jeopardize their growth because of some unfounded idea a policy maker thought might be neat is criminal.

Our children would be best served if politicians leave the experimenting to scientists, then pay attention to the findings.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s latest column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Leaving-math-standards-to-6660194.php

NEWS FLASH:  Vermont State Board of Education Trashes Common Core SBAC Test

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Yesterday the Vermont State Board of Education approved a letter that is being sent out to parents of public school students in that state.  Their honest and hard-hitting assessment that the Common Core SBAC test inappropriately labels children as failures and undermines public education is a message that all children, parents, teachers and policymakers need to hear.  By telling the truth and essentially trashing the SBAC test results, the Vermont Board is a shining example that we can fight back against the Corporate Education Reform Industry and its political allies. – Jonathan Pelto

A MUST READ NEWS FLASH – From fellow Connecticut public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker;

“Do not let the results wrongly discourage your child from pursuing his or her talents, ambitions, hopes or dreams.

These tests are based on a narrow definition of “college and career ready.” In truth, there are many different careers and colleges, and there are just as many different definitions of essential skills. In fact, many (if not most) successful adults fail to score well on standardized tests. If your child’s scores show that they are not yet proficient, this does not mean that they are not doing well or will not do well in the future.”  Vermont State Board of Education 11-4-2015

Wendy Lecker explains,

Once again, Vermont’s education officials are leading the way and, frankly, putting all other education officials, state and federal, to shame. These leaders understand the proper place standardized tests should occupy in the educational landscape, and they understand the purpose of education.

With the release of the 2015 test scores, Vermont’s State Board, of which Education Secretary, Rebecca Holcombe, is a member, issued a letter essentially telling parents that tests have limited value in describing the education their children are receiving or the type of students they are.

Here is the letter. It should be sent to every parent and guardian across the country: More

We lose Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, A True Public Education Hero

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Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, a dear friend and extraordinarily powerful champion for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools died on Sunday after a battle with cancer.

Although her legacy is yet to be fully written and those who will benefit the most from her incredible work may never know her name, as the leading force behind the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne has been and will remain the most vital force behind the historic effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public schools are adequately and fairly funded and that every Connecticut child is provided with the education, knowledge and skills they need to live more fulfilling lives.

J.R.R. Tolkien whose work is categorized as fiction rather than non-fiction, and therefore cast aside by the Common Core and Common Cores testing enthusiasts wisely noted that,

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit” – J.R.R. Tolkien

With that knowledge and in that light there are few who have been as courageous and dedicated as Diane Kaplan deVries and fewer still whose lifetime of work has been as important to the future of our children.

Incredible in life, perhaps the most disturbing truth of all about Diane Kaplan Devries’ work is the uncomfortable fact that so many elected officials, often led by so-called Democrats, immorally and unethically sought to throw up barriers to stop Diane’s critical effort to make sure that Connecticut’s children got the education they needed, while ensuring that Connecticut’s middle income property taxpayers were treated more fairly.

It was a topic that many education advocates including Wendy Lecker and I wrote about often.  To fully understand the meaning of losing Diane Kaplan DeVries and the way in which some worked so hard to undermined her efforts, I respectfully request that you click on the links and read some of the following articles;

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime; (2/7/2012)

It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it (by Wendy Lecker) (3/23/13)

The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history (4/5/2013)

The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen (9/16/2013)

Malloy can tell it to the judge (By Wendy Lecker) (12/14/2013)

Whatever you do, don’t mention school funding and the school funding lawsuit! (1/15/2014)

NEWS FLASH: Kids win, Malloy/Jepsen lose as judge rules school funding trial to begin this summer (1/16/2014)

As CCJEF (www.ccjef.org) reported in the press released that they issued last Monday night,

For the past 17 years Dianne has been the leading champion in the battle to force long-needed school finance reform here in Connecticut. Here dedication to overturning Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula began with the case of Johnson V. Rowland which lasted from 1998 to 2003.

When that case was dropped, Diane built a much larger statewide coalition that led to the filing of the CCJEF V. Rell lawsuit.  In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that “under the education clause of the state constitution, public school children are entitled not just to a free and equal education but also to an adequate (quality) education, and the state must pay for it.”  Although the court’s determination remains unfulfilled five years later, the finding was the turning point in how Connecticut will fund its schools.

While Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, upon being sworn in as Governor Dannel Malloy, the self-described education proponent completely reversed his position and has spent that last five years wasting precious time and taxpayer funds in his concerted effort o delay, derail and destroy what is probably the most important Connecticut legal case in our lifetimes.

But despite Malloy’s effort and that of his administration and other key Democrats, the CCJEF v. Rell will come to trial in January 2015 in Hartford Superior Court.

In the CCJEF press release, Herbert C. Rosenthal, the CCJEF President said,

 “Dianne Kaplan deVries was a tireless advocate for the rights of all Connecticut public schoolchildren — regardless of economic background, race or town of residence — to receive the quality education our state constitution promises and requires.  The passion, intelligence and commitment that Dianne brought to educational equity and adequacy is unsurpassed.  Our friend and colleague will be sorely missed. In this sad time, all of us in CCJEF rededicate ourselves to ensuring that her dream of equal educational opportunity is realized.”

And CCJEF consultant and fellow education advocate James J. Finley added,

“Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries will be in the forefront when the history of equal educational opportunity in Connecticut is written.  At great personal sacrifice, Dianne dedicated over 17 years of her life to righting the wrongs of our state’s PK-12 education finance system.  It is because of her singular and indefatigable efforts that the work of CCJEF will continue.”

Additional media reports on losing Diane can be found in the following recent news stories.

CT Newsjunkie – School Funding Advocate Dianne Kaplan deVries Dies of Cancer

Hartford Courant – Education Activists Say Director’s Death Won’t Stop Funding Lawsuit

CT Mirror – Kaplan deVries, leader of school-funding coalition, dies

Wendy Lecker’s latest column – The importance of listening to students

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In a commentary piece entitled Heeding the lessons of teenagers, fellow Education Advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker used her latest article in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets to remind us that when it comes to the so-called “education reform” agenda it is critically important that student voices be heard above the din of politics and the greed of the corporate education reform industry.

The Corporate Education Reformers and their allies in the charter school industry are so desperate to hijack the voices of public schools students that they actually create front groups with names like Students For Education Reform.

Calling themselves SFER, the group claims to be a “student run” organization but turns to the power elite for money and guidance.  An early member of the SFER Board of Directors was none other than Connecticut’s own Jonathan Sackler, the man behind the education reform groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN, as well as a key funder in the large charter school chain, Achievement First, Inc.  Sacker is also among the largest funders of Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election.

Present members of SFER’s Board of Directors includes a Chief Growth Officer from the  gigantic KIPP charter school chain, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, a major hedge fund, the Deputy General Counsel of Unilever, the President of the major education reform consulting company called Mass Insight Education, that got a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration,  and the list goes on.

Although Students For Education Reform has yet to file their IRS forms for this past tax year, in their first three years of business the group collected at least $6 million from corporate education reform groups, including a major start up grant form Democrats For Education Reform, an anti-union, anti-teacher, pro-charter group that have run attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups speaking out for the rights of teachers and students.

Claiming to have chapters on 100 college campuses, SFER is among the organizations that joined in the record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform agenda.

In 2012 the group dropped $15,000 in support of a pro-Malloy student rally.  However, following an ethics complaint it was later revealed that the money appeared to actually come from StudentsFirst, a national corporate education reform group that was headed, at the time, by Michelle Rhee.

By comparison there are the very real and very genuine voices of students, students who aren’t being paid to parrot the phrases of corporate executives like Jonathan Sackler.

And when you listen to real students, you hear a very different set of opinions and concerns.

As Wendy Lecker writes;

Although reformers and pundits like to pretend the interests of teachers are at odds with children’s best interests, those who know understand that their interests are aligned. Teachers know teaching conditions are learning conditions. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for, among other things, smaller class size, art, music and wraparound services for children. In their recent victorious strike, Seattle teachers won mandatory recess for elementary school children.

Students also know that they and teachers want the same things. A fine example is the recent, unprecedented filing by Houston high school students of an amicus brief in the Texas school funding case now on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

In researching their brief, written entirely by them, the students visited schools across Houston, and spoke to students, teachers and administrators. They also drew on their own experience. As they point out, by the time they graduate, they will have spent 16,000 hours in public school. These kids are the experts.

Their research and experience led them to the same conclusions that courts across the country found: Schools need certain essential resources for kids to succeed, including: small class size, teacher training and support, extra-curricular activities and a rich curriculum.

The students stressed the need for small class size to help English Language Learners (“ELL”), a large population in Texas. The authors point out that individualized attention is necessary because for these students, “every class is a language class.”

Small class size is vital for all students. The authors remark that in large classes, teachers cannot provide feedback that is essential so students learn from their mistakes. As one student said, “it’s demotivating for us to spend hours on an assignment knowing that the teacher can only afford to spend a few minutes (if even that) checking for completion before putting a grade on it. It’s also demotivating for teachers to spend hours grading assignments that don’t require any of their expertise.”

Small class size is also essential to develop a personal bond with a teacher. This need is especially strong for disadvantaged students who face trauma in their daily lives. The personal connection prevents “children from falling through the cracks.”

The students note that private schools advertise their small classes. “This factor is a selling point for well-off parents who want the best for their kids, but isn’t available for those less fortunate.”

The authors stress that they need trained teachers, not novices. They show how teacher training is vital to help ELL teachers navigate the different cultures they encounter, and how the lack of funds for training hurts students and teachers alike.

Enrichment activities are often the first resources to be cut in a budget crunch, as they are viewed as extra. The authors here provide real-life examples of how these “extras” provided a vital outlet for students experiencing personal crises, enabling them to stay in school and focus on their studies.

The students’ authentic voice shines through in their writing. They confess:

“Most of us do not wake up in the morning excited to attend school and learn math. Many of us attend school because we look forward to ROTC, band, or orchestra, and while we’re there, we might as well learn math too. That mindset is useful to understand arts education as a pragmatic method of retaining students, boosting grades, and improving education for all.”

The students recognize how the absence of support services affects the futures of disadvantaged children. They note that the lack of guidance counselors deprives impoverished students of information about “four-year residential colleges, two-year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps.”

These students illustrate with real-life examples how teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that cannot be reduced to one data point. Thus, schools need comprehensive services and programs.

The authors do not blame teachers. They know that school personnel care about them. Rather, they call out the state, which communicates to children that it does not care by ignoring the severe lack of resources in schools.

The brief is also remarkable for what it omits. These students do not ask for choice. They do not want teachers to be rated on their standardized test scores, or replaced by untrained recent college graduates, a la Teach for America. Current fashionable education reforms are irrelevant to these real students.

Politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of these teenage experts, who know what’s best for them and their teachers.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  You can read and comment on her full piece via: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Heeding-the-lessons-of-teenagers-6545659.php

Adequate resources, not more testing, is the way to improve public schools

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The challenges associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are the factors leading to the educational achievement gap between the haves and have nots.  The Corporate Education Reform Industry, with the help of elected officials likes of Dannel Malloy, Andrew Cuomo, Jeb Bush and others, have used the problems facing public schools in poorer communities to institute an agenda of more standardized testing, inappropriate teacher evaluation programs and the privatization of public education through the creation of privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

In yet another powerful commentary piece, Wendy Lecker goes to the root of the problem with the Common Core SBAC testing scheme and strategies being foisted on public school children, parents and teachers.

Wendy Lecker writes;

The SBAC results are out. With them will come recriminations about how our students, teachers and public schools are failing. Those who make these accusations hope the public has a short memory. They do not want us to remember that the SBAC has not been externally validated and therefore, according to the Vermont State Board of Education, does “not support valid and reliable inferences about student performance.” They hope we forget that the arbitrary SBAC proficiency levels set in Washington, D.C., guaranteed ahead of time that the majority of Connecticut students would fail.

Standardized tests are universally recognized to be unreliable and unhelpful in determining how well students learn. Experts routinely caution to therefore never use test results for any consequential decisions about schools, teachers or students.

Decades of testing evidence show that the only stable correlation that exists, whether it is the CMTs or the SATs and likely the SBACs, is between test scores and wealth. Researchers such as Sean Reardon at Stanford note that wealthy parents not only can provide basic stability, nutrition and health care for their children, but also tutoring and enrichment that gives affluent children an edge over poorer children.

The wealth advantage extends beyond test scores. Two studies, by St. Louis Federal Reserve and by the Boston Federal Reserve, demonstrate that family wealth is a determining factor in life success. The St. Louis report, published in August, revealed a racial wealth gap among college graduates. A college degree does not protect African-Americans and Latinos from economic crises as it does for whites and Asians. Employment discrimination figures into the disparity, but a major role is played by family wealth. Without a safety net of family assets, graduates of color must make more risky loan and other financial decisions. Last year’s Boston Fed study noted that wealthy high school drop-outs stay in the top economic rung as often as poor college graduates remain in the bottom economic rung. As a Washington Post article put it, rich kids who do everything wrong are better off than poor kids who do everything right. These reports, coupled with the fact that most job openings in the United States are for low-skilled workers, expose the uncomfortable truth that education is not the great equalizer.

These truths should inform education policy. To attempt to level the playing field, we should at least be equipping schools to provide supports to needy children that affluent parents provide their children.

Instead we spend billions on testing that tells us what we already know — rich kids are better off than poor kids; without addressing that inequality. Education reformers deflect attention from the supports poor kids need and tell us that all kids have to do is develop some “grit” to succeed. In his best-selling book, “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough claims there is “no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths” like grit. Connecticut policy makers are trying to develop tests to measure the degree of “grit” our kids have. We are even told that if students have enough “grit” to get high test scores, our economy will be more competitive.

This is American individualism taken to its absurd extreme. Not only are children supposed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they have to bootstrap the entire national economy. The Fed studies show us that grit does not determine success in today’s highly stratified society — privilege does. And our nation’s economic health — surprise! — does not depend on test scores. The United States has remained competitive while our international tests scores have always been middling. Moreover, former U.S. Department of Education analyst Keith Baker compared 40 years’ worth of nations’ per capita gross domestic product and international test scores and found that test scores actually dropped as the rate of economic growth improved.

Those who push this false narrative of individualism also fight efforts to fund schools in order to give poor kids the support they need. Last month, the Washington Supreme Court held the state’s legislature in contempt, fining it $100,000 a day, for failing to adequately fund the state’s schools. Interestingly Microsoft, whose chief Bill Gates is a major player in test-based education reform, lobbied heavily against state taxes that would have helped finance the public schools.

Robber-baron education reformers such as Gates fight to protect their wealth to pass on their success to their children. For other people’s children their message is clear, as teacher/blogger Joe Bower remarked: “Let ’em eat grit.”

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her complete commentary piece can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Education-is-not-the-great-6487019.php

State’s most vulnerable children get their day in court by Wendy Lecker

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Wendy Lecker is one of Connecticut’s most outspoken education advocates.  As senior attorney at the Education Law Center, she has helped lead critically important school finance lawsuits.  Wendy Lecker is also a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.  This week she reports on Connecticut’s vital CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit.

Once supporters for ensuring Connecticut has a fair and equitable school funding formula, Governor Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepson are now leading the effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public school students and Connecticut’s local property taxpayers don’t get the help they need and deserve.

Wendy Lecker explains,

Connecticut’s elected officials have steadfastly refused to fix our school finance system, which leaves schools underfunded and local property taxpayers overburdened. Public school students and local property taxpayers will finally have their day in court when Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, starts trial in October. It is now important to understand some of the basic tenets in school finance.

First, all children have the constitutional right to school resources sufficient for an education enabling them to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment, or progress to higher education.

Second, it costs more to educate some children than others. Children living in poverty often require more services than children who do not. The stresses associated with poverty affect brain development, often leaving children with behavioral and cognitive difficulties. As a result, schools serving poor children need specific resources, such as: social workers, behavioral therapists, psychologists, learning specialists, small classes.

Children learning English require more services than those already proficient. The services necessary to help a child learn English are different than those needed to support a child who lives in poverty. Similarly, children with disabilities require additional services.

Third, some municipalities cannot raise as much revenue as others, and therefore need more state school aid. Often, those municipalities serve the highest concentration of the neediest — and therefore most expensive to educate — children.

These cornerstones of school finance are universally accepted and understood. They form the bases of school funding systems across the nation. They undergird the CCJEF plaintiffs’ case. Essentially, the plaintiffs claim Connecticut has underfunded its public schools in large part because the state school finance system does not accurately account for the cost of education in general, the cost of educating students with additional needs or a municipality’s capacity to raise revenue.

CCJEF’s school finance experts calculated the gap between what the state provides in school aid and what our schools and children need to be about $2 billion; based on 2004 standards, costs and demographics.

What does this massive school funding shortfall mean? Schools serving our neediest children lack essential academic resources: teachers, reading specialists, guidance counselors, social workers, reasonable class size, well-equipped libraries, academic intervention services, computers, preschool, etc.

Connecticut’s leaders have gone to great effort — and expense — to ignore these three basic tenets of school finance.

Since the CCJEF case was filed in 2005 — when then-Mayor Dannel Malloy of Stamford was a plaintiff — our leaders have convened commissions, task forces and ad hoc committees ostensibly to study school funding. They did this without consulting real school finance experts. These gimmicks provided the appearance politicians were doing something to fix the problem.

In reality, our leaders have done next to nothing. The state owes our neediest districts up to $7,000 dollars per pupil. However, from 2012-13 to 2014-15, the average increase in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) aid to our neediest received was $642 per pupil.

The only recent change politicians made to our ECS formula undermined fair funding. The legislature removed from the ECS formula the ELL weight: i.e. the adjustment in the formula that attempted to account for the cost of educating ELL students. This move is contrary to sound education finance policy and is particularly absurd in a state with a growing ELL population.

Connecticut’s inaction on school finance is why our small wealthy state figures prominently in a national report on financially disadvantaged districts. Connecticut is ranked fifth in the nation in the percentage of children enrolled in financially disadvantaged districts, with more than 13 percent of our children in these districts. The state with the highest concentration, Illinois, has 25 percent.

At the same time the state has done nothing to help poor districts, it has spent millions on unsuccessful attempts to have the CCJEF case dismissed.

In the latest budget season, the state made matters worse. State figures reveal that the largest increase our financially distressed districts will receive in 2016 is about $100 per pupil. Windham will receive an increase of only $19 per pupil. Most needy districts will get no increase for 2017.

At this pathetic rate, it will take more than 20 years before the state makes up the gap in school funding.

In human terms, that means two generations of children will go through school without adequate resources to help them learn, losing years of learning they cannot recapture.

Year after year Connecticut’s elected officials have been unresponsive to the educational needs of our most vulnerable children. In October, they will have to answer for that in court.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s original piece at: http://m.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-s-most-vulnerable-children-6378743.php?utm_content=buffer47d00&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

When an Education Reformer says “Turnaround” — Don’t!

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Education Advocate Wendy Lecker has another column out and it is once again in the “MUST READ” category.

Her latest piece is part one of a multi-series takedown of those who use fiction rather than facts to fancifully present the term “school turnaround” as if it was a magic bullet.

This particular chapter begins with the Can Can Team from ConnCAN who recently performed a dog and pony show for Connecticut state legislators where they crowed about the “success” of various “school turnaround” projects.

Using their traditional corporate education reform rhetoric, rather than facts, the charter school front group performed magic that would have made a “three card Monte” aficionado proud. [Three card Monte being a card trick in which the mark can’t win because trick cards are used.]

The well-documented corporate education reform failures of New Orleans and Philadelphia were incredibly heralded as successes and that was before they got out their shovels and really started throwing IT around.

Here is Wendy Lecker’s latest MUST READ commentary piece, which first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.   

Failure as a model for Connecticut (By Wendy Lecker)

A recent large-scale federal study revealed that most states lack expertise to turn around struggling schools and are rarely successful. It’s no wonder. Legislators who write turnaround laws never turn to the experts: educators. Connecticut is no exception. Last month, the General Assembly’s Education Committee held a day-long session on school turnarounds. Instead of relying on education experts, it turned to ConnCan, the charter lobby known for its evidence-free reports that push one agenda: Taking power away from school districts to pave the way for privatization.

ConnCan brought in three examples of turnaround to push the idea that the key to success is handing schools or entire districts over to outside operators.

The most startling choice for a presentation was Hartford’s Milner school. Recall that Milner was one of the first commissioner’s network schools. Milner suffered through a failed turnaround in 2008 under then-Superintendent Steven Adamowski. It also had a persistent and severe lack of resources. Rather than providing Milner the necessary resources, the State Board of Education decided to turn it around again in 2012, handing it over to Michael Sharpe’s FUSE/Jumoke charter chain. FUSE/Jumoke had no experience educating ELL students, which made up a large part of Milner’s population. After the revelations of Sharpe’s criminal record and falsified academic credentials, it came to light that FUSE/Jumoke ran Milner school into the ground, hiring ex-convicts, relatives and “winging” the takeover, as Sharpe admitted — all while supposedly under heightened scrutiny by state officials.

Milner’s principal under this takeover, Karen Lott, told Milner’s story. She admitted that this fall, only 13 percent of Milner’s students scored proficient in ELA and an even more shocking 7 percent were proficient in math. She said although they are in the fourth year of the Commissioner’s Network, she is treating this as the first year. Amazing! No public school would be allowed to fail for three years, then magically erase its poor track record.

She blamed the school’s poor performance on several things. First, there was high staff turnover at the school: 85 percent of teachers now have 0-3 years’ experience teaching. This is mind-boggling, as staff turnover was not only the result of the state takeover but one of its goals. Lott spoke of the need now to “aggressively recruit” veteran teachers. Like the ones Jumoke-Milner pushed out in the first place? She also stated that now she is relying on teacher training and mentoring from Hartford Public Schools.

Lott further explained that under Jumoke there was no curriculum. She is now using the Hartford Public Schools curriculum and assessments.

Lott also emphasized that community supports are necessary for children to achieve. She said families need stable housing and mental health services, parents need job training and the neighborhood needs to be safe and clean. Imagine that — poverty affects learning. If this were a public school educator saying these things, ConnCan would condemn her for using poverty as an excuse.

Lott detailed the steps she was now taking beyond the Hartford curriculum, assessments, training and mentoring. She acknowledged that a centerpiece of her efforts is a large increase in resources. Milner now has a full-time therapeutic clinician and after-school programs. Hartford Public Schools re-opened its budget to provide the school will more computers. Central office also allowed Milner to have two half-days a month, so teachers get additional professional development. Lott also said she now implements Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a system used by many public schools.

To her credit, Lott seems to be focusing on proven methods of helping students: extra academic and social support for at-risk children, training, mentoring and support for teachers, and adequate school resources. What must be stressed is that none of these ideas are innovative. Nor do any of these resources require takeover by an outside operator. They are tools schools either already use or have been pleading for. The lack of these resources is a basis for Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell.

Lott contended that what she needed is more time, more resources and more autonomy. Schools need time and resources to improve. The claim for autonomy, however, is puzzling, given she is relying on central office for curriculum, assessments, training, mentoring and special treatment so she can get resources other schools do not have.

Lott’s message is — perhaps unintentionally — the opposite of the one ConnCan is pushing. Schools do not need takeover or turnaround. Just give struggling schools time, support and resources to do what everyone already knows helps kids learn.

You can read and comment on Wendy’s original piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failure-as-a-model-for-Connecticut-6267220.php

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