Friend, parent activist and fellow pro-public education blogger Wendy Lecker’s letter to President Obama.

Yesterday, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, Wendy Lecker sent the following letter to President Obama.

Her letter was posted on the Parents Across America website and as reprinted on Diane Ravitch’s site.

Here is a link to Ravitch’s site:

And here is the letter as printed on the Parents Across America site:

Parents Across America grieves with the community of Newtown, Connecticut over the loss of their precious children and educators. The following letter, sent yesterday to President Obama from the founder of Parents Across America-CT, expresses some aspects of what many of our members are feeling at this difficult time.

Hon. President Barack Obama

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

As a public school parent of three in Stamford, Connecticut, I wanted to thank you for lending your support to the devastated community of Newtown. I listened intently to your remarks at the memorial service last night, especially to the questions you raised: “Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?”

You indicated that you were reflecting on these questions, alluding to the issue of gun control. I hope also, that these questions caused you also to reconsider your approach to education reform.

As you said last night, “our most important job is to give [children] what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.” You described in vivid detail how skilled the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School were at dealing with the immediate unthinkable trauma of the tragedy; how they managed to keep children calm and feeling safe in the face of life-threatening danger. We can predict that the teachers of the surviving children will have to be as equipped to handle the trauma these children will carry with them as they will be to teach them the subjects the children learn. We know that these teachers will have to help these children develop the non-cognitive skills that make all the difference to success in life- those skills we cannot measure on any standardized test.

We also know, as you mentioned, that those poor children in Sandy Hook are not the only ones who deal with trauma on a daily basis. Children today, especially those living in our poorest areas, face the stress that crime and poverty exact on their young lives on a daily basis. And we know from research, like that done at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, that when children experience prolonged stress, it becomes toxic and hinders the development of the learning and reasoning areas of the brain. These researchers maintain that a nurturing environment is key to enabling these areas to grow properly. For many children, school is their safe haven; and science, and the awful events in Newtown show us that it is our paramount duty to maintain school as a secure and loving place.

In order to ensure that schools are a safe haven, where children can develop both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, they need to have preschool, reasonable class size, so children can get needed attention from teachers; enough supplies and books, and rich curriculum, including art, music sports and extra-curriculars, so children can explore and understand the world and have many outlets to express themselves; and enough support services, especially for children at-risk.

Many of our schools across this nation do not have the resources to make our schools a safe haven. As you noted in your recent report, for example, in New York City, the number of classes of 30 and over has tripled in the past four years. School districts across this country have been forced to cut support services, teachers, extra-curricular activities, music, art, even AP classes and core classes. They have to delay repairs until a roof collapses, endangering children.

Unfortunately, your policies toward our public schools are making it nearly impossible to keep public schools a nurturing and safe environment. Your chief strategies are evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores and implementation of the Common Core standardized tests in every grade, with a multitude of interim computerized tests as well as summative computerized tests. None of these preferred strategies of yours have ever been proven to raise achievement. Surely you are aware of the studies proving that rating teachers on standardized tests results in a 50% misclassification rate. The ratings vary by year, class, test and even statistical model used. The CCSS is not supported by any research showing that standards or tests improve learning. In fact, the National Research Council concluded that ten years of NCLB testing has done nothing to improve achievement.

Even more damaging, these strategies force teachers, administrators and children to abandon attention to all-important non-cognitive skill development, and focus primarily, if not only, on test scores.  This shift of focus includes a diversion of limited resources away from necessary educational basics. You have moved the focus from the well-being of children to the job status of adults.

A recent report from the Consortium of Policy Research in Education reveals just how harmful this strategy is. The report found that NCLB’s test-driven mandates provided little guidance on how to improve. Consequently, schools tried a hodgepodge of strategies akin to “throwing many darts at a target and hoping one of them hits the bulls-eye.” The only consistent tactic used to raise test scores was test prep. As CPRE acknowledged, test prep is shallow and narrow. The report recommends changing accountability systems so schools concentrate less on standardized tests and more on developing the “host of non-cognitive skills found to be related to later success.”

Other researchers found a disturbing trend caused by testing, standardization and scripting: America’s children are becoming less creative. While other countries strive to build creativity into the curriculum, American schools are increasingly forced to homogenize. Consequently, creativity, which increased steadily until 1990, has declined ever since, with the most serious decline appearing in children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

This body of research demands that we rethink our national obsession to use tests as the goal in education. A low test score should be an alarm, not that a school or teacher is failing, but more likely that there are stressors in a child’s life that warrant intervention.

Your waiver and Race to the Top programs, which push the use of standardized tests to judge all teachers and the implementation of even more standardized tests through the Common Core State Standards, only increase this hollow focus on testing. You hold hostage funding to provide the necessary resources described above to the implementation of these narrow and destructive goals. You encourage states to withhold basic funding as well, as evidenced by Governor Cuomo’s threat to withhold basic state school aid unless districts implement a teacher evaluation based on test scores. You hold up as examples of model schools privately run charters that often exclude our neediest children and often are militaristic-style test-prep factories. Moreover you encourage the proliferation of these schools, which are not answerable to democratically elected school boards, and therefore disenfranchise our neediest citizens.

My oldest child is in 12th grade and my youngest is in 7th. I have seen the increased scripting and narrowing of learning that has occurred in just the five-year gap between them. I have seen the increase in stress in my youngest, who has to suffer through meaningless computerized test after test, while units on poetry and other subjects that would expand his world, are jettisoned (to the point where I have opted him out of many of these tests). I have spoken to so many wonderful teachers frustrated and dejected by their new roles as simple proctors, rather than inspiring educators. I have spoken to school nurses who tell me that at test time, they see a spike in headaches, stomachaches and the need for anti-anxiety medication.

Is this the safe haven to which we aspire for our children? Can this stressful and intellectually-empty school experience really teach our children that they are loved, how to love and how to be resilient?

You said last night that we have to change. While I believe you were hinting at gun control, I respectfully request that you expand this resolve to change and include a rethinking of your education policy. We want all our children to feel safe and loved. We want them to be able to find their own, unique voices. We want to protect them and teach them ways to adapt and protect themselves. Please help us do that by helping schools expand our children’s world. Let us build our schools’ capacity to serve all our children, rather than tearing down the foundations of our public education system.


Wendy Lecker

Three more MUST read commentary pieces on Connecticut’s “Education Reformers”

As Governor Malloy’s PR operation continues pumping out the education reform rhetoric, we can be confident that should he seek re-election, he’ll be running on the most anti-public education record of any governor in living memory.  His “Education Reform” package was certainly the most anti-teacher, anti-union bill introduced by any Democratic governor in the nation.

Earlier this year we heard Malloy claim, “I don’t mind teaching to the test as long as test scores go up,” while proudly uttering the falsehood that teachers need only show up for four years to get tenure.

Since then he has pushed an agenda that makes greater use of inappropriate standardized testing and has continued to champion a teacher evaluation system that relies on the outcome of those tests, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence the greater standardized testing leads to better outcomes.

Of course, that assumes that Malloy’s goal is better educational outcomes and not better salaries and better publicly funded contracts for the education reformers and the education reform industry that is rapidly sucking up more and more taxpayer funds in an attempt to fill their bank accounts and increase stock values.

By one estimate, the state is already spending $25 million a year on standardized testing, and that is before all the new testing kicks in.

Under Malloy’s approach and policies, cities and towns like Bridgeport, Hartford, Windham and New London are reducing teaching and support staff and dramatically increasing the number of standardized tests the children are forced to take.

Over the past weekend, a number of must read commentary pieces were published by Connecticut media outlets.  Here are just three.  Anyone concerned about ensuring our state provides every child with a high quality education should definitely read these pieces.

Wendy Lecker: It’s time to really put kids first

A favorite line of so-called education reformers is that we need to put students first and stop focusing on adults. However, these reformers then advocate policies that ignore the realities children experience. Achieving child-centric education policy requires first examining the lives of children, especially our most vulnerable.

As reported in Education Week, researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard and elsewhere have studied how children’s lives affect learning and development. They found that a phenomenon called “toxic stress” has a profound influence on children’s ability to learn and their success later in life. Toxic stress includes physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence and the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship. Experiencing one or more of these events for a prolonged period puts the stress reaction system in a child’s body on permanent high alert. The result is that neural connections in the areas of the brain dedicated to learning and reasoning are fewer in number than they should be, and weaker, when they should be multiplying.

Read more:

Sarah Darer Littman:  Attract Great Teachers Without Cherry-Picking Evidence

After the less than flattering rhetoric and misinformation from Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy regarding teachers during the education reform debate, it was refreshing to read that state Education Commissioner Stephen Pryor has suddenly decided that we should start trying to attract great teachers.

During a keynote address to the annual meeting of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Pryor apparently blamed a perception gap for the lack of great teachers. Pryor cited statistics from Finland, where he said 100 percent of school teachers came from the top third of their graduating class, according to the New Haven Independent. In the U.S., only 23 percent of our teachers came from the top third. In low-income U.S. communities, the percentage is only 14 percent.

But like most proponents of the corporate education reform model, Pryor is cherry-picking data to support his argument

Read more

Dianne Kaplan DeVries:  Turkey Last Week, Another In The Oven?

The ECS Task Force has been slow-roasting its work at a low temperature over the past 15 months. Slow-roasting a turkey is a great way to prepare a Thanksgiving bird. It requires no expert cooking skills and no special tools, yet it produces a fully cooked, moist and tender bird. Not so with revamping state education aid!  And just when it looked as if dishing-up time had arrived, the fowl was deemed too rare and returned to the oven.

Having earlier this month redirected my attention to the promise and progress of this illustrious body, I want to register disappointment with both the cooking process and the glimpsed product of their labors. Time to turn up the heat over the next few weeks in hopes of inspiring the group to serve up a more seasoned and tasty main course that some half a million public school kids and their school districts across the state, as well as the mill rates of 169 municipalities, may all be forced to eat should the legislature go along with the final recommendations.

First, let’s talk failed process. With so much at stake for virtually every community in the state and all current and future public school children, expectations were high that the task force would be conducted with great public transparency, reach out for advice from state and national experts in school finance, and intensively listen to input from all major stakeholder groups and knowledgeable citizens who stepped forth to weigh in on how best to modernize, rationalize, and suitably fund our public schools. Driving the issue was the constitutional challenge brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), charging that the state’s current school finance system is inadequate and inequitable.

Read more

Washington Post runs Pelto/Lecker School Funding Commentary piece from Hartford Courant

It is common to hear school reformers say that money isn’t a real issue in improving schools. Here’s a piece that says otherwise. It was written by Wendy Lecker, parent of three children in Stamford, Connecticut’s public schools, and Jonathan Pelto, a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog,“Wait, What?” This appeared in the Hartford Courant.

By Wendy Lecker and Jonathan Pelto

“The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities just issued a report concluding that Connecticut’s public schools are grossly under-funded and calling for meaningful reform of Connecticut’s school funding system.

Pulling no punches, the report acknowledges that school finance reform cannot be done on the cheap and that significantly more funding is needed in order to provide all students with a quality education.

As the report declared, “the State should not sacrifice the futures of another generation of school children waiting for the courts to tell them — yet again — to meet its state constitutional funding responsibilities.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) estimates $763 million in underfunding, representing only the gap between current funding and fully funding the Education Cost Sharing formula as it stands now. However, that formula is flawed and does not reflect the true cost of education in Connecticut. In fact, as part of its recommendations, CCM calls for an “education adequacy cost study” to assess the actual cost of education, including all the factors affecting this cost. Doing so increases the number beyond $1 billion.

CCM’s clarity of vision derives from the experience of its members:  the municipalities that deal on a daily basis with escalating education costs and inadequate funding.  Because of the state’s underfunding of public schools, Connecticut’s cities and towns, especially its poorer communities, are forced to deprive their own schools of needed resources.

The result is that children and teachers must endure large classes, insufficient textbooks, computers and other learning tools, buildings in disrepair, slashing of teaching positions, and the elimination of programs and courses.

In Connecticut and around the country, courts have consistently ruled that underfunded schools amount to constitutional violations of children’s right to an education.

In New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Washington and many other states, courts have determined that there is “a causal connection between the poor performance of … students and the low funding provided their schools.“

Unlike the modern corporate education reformers, rather than vilify teachers and educational experts, courts value their firsthand knowledge of school conditions, their effects on learning, and the resources needed to give all students an equal opportunity to learn.

When shown evidence of conditions in actual schools, courts consistently find what CCM contends – without adequate funding, schools cannot provide an adequate education.”

The rest of the Washington Post column here:

And you can find the original Hartford Courant piece here:,0,6000165.story

Schools Woefully Underfunded, Formula Broken

Will Malloy rise to the occasion and make resolving Connecticut’s School Funding Crisis his legacy?

From today’s Hartford Courant Commentary by JONATHAN PELTO AND WENDY LECKER,0,6000165.story

“Courts have been equally clear that when schools are given adequate resources, learning improves.

In New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts and elsewhere, increased spending on basic educational resources led to demonstrated improved achievement.

Despite vast differences among states, courts enumerated a remarkably consistent list of educational necessities, including: high-quality preschool, small class size, additional services for at-risk students, supports for teachers such as professional development, curriculum supports, supplies, equipment, adequate facilities, and adequate books and other learning tools.

As Stamford’s mayor, Dannel P. Malloy understood the direct link between resources and achievement. He was a founding member of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the plaintiff in Connecticut’s pending school funding lawsuit.

By joining the coalition’s lawsuit, then-Mayor Malloy acknowledged that the state cannot meet its duty to provide every child with a quality education without providing every school with the resources to meet each child’s needs.

Sadly, as governor, Malloy has not made resolving the lawsuit and properly funding education a true priority. Instead, his new “solutions” for education are privately run charter schools and teacher evaluations based on test scores.

Yet charter schools, serving 1 percent of Connecticut’s public school students, have dismal graduation rates and routinely exclude Latino students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

Furthermore, teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores have been proven to be wildly inaccurate and to massively increase the frequency of standardized tests children must take.

Instead of diverting funds to reforms that do not work, this governor has the historic opportunity to create a fair and equitable school funding system. Malloy’s legacy will rest on how he deals with the education-funding crisis highlighted in CCM’s report. More important, our children’s futures depend on it.”

To read the full piece go to:,0,6000165.story

A must read – Voters have spoken: No corporate school reform by Wendy Lecker

Wendy Lecker, Education Advocate and columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, has a must read column in yesterday’s Stamford Advocate and CT Post…

“In this age of instantaneous global communication, it is incredible that a simple message sent by voters in Bridgeport has not reached leaders in Hartford, just 50 miles away. On Nov. 6, a rare event in modern politics occurred: democracy prevailed over money. Average citizens defeated a Bridgeport charter revision proposal backed by a veritable who’s who of well-endowed corporate education reformers. This David-vs.-Goliath victory is also significant because it was the first time a core education reform strategy was put directly before Connecticut voters — and voters rejected it.

Recall that in July 2011, Mayor Bill Finch, the charter lobby ConnCAN, founders of Excel Bridgeport, and the chair of the state Board of Education engineered a secret and illegal takeover of Bridgeport’s elected board of education. After Connecticut’s Supreme Court invalidated the scheme, Mayor Finch again attempted to strip voters of their right to an elected school board with a revision to the city charter calling for an appointed board of education. This time, Finch called in the big guns. In addition to Excel Bridgeport and ConnCAN, the revision got support from the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, a business group, and national figures like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and failed DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

These “reformers” poured over a half a million dollars into ads, videos and pamphlets saying “Vote Yes.” They lauded the “progress” made in Bridgeport by the reformer Superintendent Paul Vallas, who left his previous districts, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, in crisis. The hallmarks of Vallas’ tenure in Bridgeport so far have been adding an inexplicable and cruel three weeks of standardized testing, and increasing spending on administration. The “Vote Yes” group also made a host of false claims, ranging from assertions that only an appointed school board would help renovate buildings, to declarations that an appointed school board would lead to improved student outcomes, strict accountability for officials and increased parent involvement.”

Read more:


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

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

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

Wendy writes;

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

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

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

Read the rest at

Hartford’s Milner School debacle gets attention across Connecticut

“Connecticut’s May 2012 education reform law provides for state intervention to implement “turnaround plans” in the neediest schools. Hartford’s Milner School was among the state’s first targets.

The reformers’ solution was to help Milner School by simply handing it over to the Jumoke Academy, a private charter school operator.

In support of the move, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, a founder of the Achievement First charter franchise, declared that having Jumoke take over a public school was “an important transition in the charter school movement.

The comment indicates that some reformers apparently believe that expanding charter schools is more important than addressing children’s needs.”

Wendy Lecker, a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and one of the leading forces behind the Connecticut chapter of Parents Across America has a must read commentary piece on the Milner School issue.  You can read  Wendy’s article here:  Helping Kids Or Helping Charter Schools.

Wait, What? readers already know the story about Hartford’s Milner School’s

  • A quarter of the students are English Language Learners (ELL) (that is they are not fluent in English)
  • 38.7 percent come from homes where English is not the primary language
  • 11.3 percent are students with disabilities.

Back in 2008, Steven Adamowski, then Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools, and now Malloy’s “Special Master” for Windham and New London’s schools, implemented a “Turnaround Plan” for the Milner School.  But Adamowski and his team never made the investment of resources that were needed to really help the Milner School.

So now, the school in which 1 in 4 four students aren’t fluent in English, 4 in 10 go home to households where English is not the primary language and more than 1 in 10 have disabilities that require special education services, remains a “low-performing” school when it comes to standardized test scores.

Along comes “Turnaround Plan” #2.

This time Hartford’s present Superintendent of Schools, along with Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and the State Board of Education, have decided to give the school, its students and its entire budget over to the Jumoke Academy, a charter school in Hartford that has never had a student who wasn’t fluent in English and has never had a student who went home to a household where English wasn’t the primary language.

In addition, despite state and federal laws making it illegal to discriminate against students who require special education services, only 2 percent of Jumoke Academy’s students have special education needs.

Wendy Lecker’s piece goes on to reveal the strange and disturbing politics behind the effort to give the Milner School to the Jumoke Academy.

Later in the day, Diane Ravitch, the country’s leading voice for public education, picked up Wendy’s commentary piece and posted it to her blog.  You can Diane’s perspective here:

It makes it very clear that Stefan Pryor’s long-standing relationship with charter schools is helping drive Governor Malloy’s policy of giving scarce taxpayer funds to charter schools at the expense of the local public district schools that need and deserve those resources.