Happy CMT Day – Connecticut Mastery Test Day!

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All across Connecticut, today – and for much of the next two weeks – educational activities will come to a halt for Connecticut’s 570,000 students.  In the state’s more than 1,100 schools, teachers will stop teaching and children will stop learning. 

Instead, the attention of teachers and children will turn to the Connecticut Mastery Tests and the task of filling in bubbles.

Faced with a growing state deficit, state and local government are increasing taxes and cutting services….including some of the most vital and essential services provided by government.

However, over the next two weeks, approximately $30 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds will go to one of the nation’s largest for-profit testing companies to pay for these standardized tests, scoring these tests and the necessary profit that goes along with their “work.”

Add in the lost teaching time and overhead and Connecticut will be diverting at least $50 million away from its already underfunded public education system.

All this so that we can determine that, in fact, poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services continue to be the three single biggest factors in determining standardized tests scores.

With less poverty and language barriers, suburban students will do better.

With more poverty and language barriers, urban students will do worse.

Students who require special education services will perform better or worse depending, in part, on whether their districts are providing them with the services they need and deserve.  And more often than not, the answer to that question depends on whether the local school districts have the funds necessary to properly cover special education costs.

So that is an expenditure of $50 million to tell us what we already know.

The only difference is that this year, if Governor Malloy and his administration, including Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor have their way, the test results will then be used to punish teachers for factors that are clearly beyond their control.

In honor of this crime against our children, here are three (3) things to consider doing;

1)      Sign the Parents Across America – Connecticut Chapter petition against the overuse of standardized testing:  Reduce the use of Standardized Testing in Connecticut 

 

2)      Drop a note to Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and Commissioner Pryor:

http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/cwp/view.asp?a=3998&q=479082
http://www.ltgovernor.ct.gov/wyman/cwp/view.asp?a=4001&q=471414
[email protected]
 
 
3)     Order yourself a Tested to Despair Bumper Sticker:  See the link to the right of the Wait, What Blog or click on: TESTED TO DESPAIR BUMPER STICKERS

 

An Endorsement? No, No a Recommendation – The two are very different

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Early tomorrow morning, Connecticut Democrats will begin arriving at Central Connecticut State University’s Kaiser Hall to hold their 2012 Democratic Nominating Convention.

The primary agenda item is the endorsement of a Democratic candidate to run for the United States Senate seat being vacated by one-time Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Congressman Chris Murphy is poised to easily win the nomination.  The only question is whether Susan Bysiewicz, who at last check had about $1 million in her campaign bank account, will force a primary which would take place in August.

While Murphy’s nomination has been assured for quite some time, when State Representative William Tong withdrew from the race on May 1st,  Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman (neither of whom have Susan on their Holiday greeting card mailing list) were free to endorse Murphy.

Murphy already had the endorsement of his fellow Connecticut members of Congress, as well as, Attorney General George Jepsen, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

In the great Democratic tradition where “primaries are good” unless you are the nominee or support the nominee, Connecticut’s Democratic leadership has been working hard to limit support for Bysiewicz.

Today’s wait, what? post is designed to clarify the big difference between the concept of an endorsement and a recommendation.

You see, “endorsements” are very different from say “recommendations.”  For example, one is an endorsement and the other is a recommendation.  To make matters more complex, it appears that an endorsement can be a recommendation but a recommendation is not an endorsement.

This confusion arises, in part, from the investigative work of Stamford Advocate and Hearst newspaper reporter Brian Lockhart who, in February 2009, wrote about Governor Rell’s successful effort to get Linda McMahon a seat on the State Board of Education.

It took a Freedom of Information request by the Hearst newspapers to fully unravel the whole story, but it turned out that the senior staff from Governor Rell’s Office, McMahon’s lobbyists and the WWE’s vice president of global public affairs were forced to put in some long hours working to “polish McMahon’s image, craft her confirmation hearing statements and schedule as many one-on-one meetings as possible with legislators.”

It all began when the co-chair of the Legislature’s Nominations Committee told the Governor’s Office that she had heard from a constituent who was “concerned about whether Mrs. McMahon would be an appropriate role model.”

Worried about the potential fallout on McMahon’s nomination, the team kicked into high gear.  The WWE vice president informed the Governor’s office that “we are going to be announcing a new community-based program in early February…We also are going to post some clips of Linda speaking at the Republican National Convention, doing stand-ups at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions with our Superstars and addressing high school students at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C…”

The FOI also revealed a memo in which McMahon’s team provided the Governor’s Office with “notes” responding to “a list of concerns being circulated by Jonathan Pelto.”

However, the most intriguing information came with the news that the WWE and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office were scrambling to gather “letters of recommendation from a variety of bi-partisan sources.”

The packet of letters of recommendations, which was presented to legislators on the day of her confirmation hearing, included letters from;

1. Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy

2. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz

3. U.S. Congressman John Larson

As well as a host of others including the President of Sacred Heart University, the past president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and the President of UBS Investment Bank

Upon further investigation it turned out that Linda McMahon and her family had been very generous campaign contributors to some of the people writing the letters of recommendation.

So, should it come up at tomorrow’s Democratic State Convention, it’s important that the delegates remember that regardless of whether they are persuaded by Governor Malloy’s endorsement of Chris Murphy or Susan Bysiewicz’s endorsement of herself; recommendations are not endorsements, but endorsements might be recommendations.

For one of Lockhart’s great blogs on this issue see: http://blog.ctnews.com/politicalcapitol/2009/11/18/linda-mcmahons-list-of-supporters-print-clip-and-save-for-future-use/

UPDATE On The Hostage Situation;

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Governor Dannel Malloy came out of a closed-door meeting with local elected officials yesterday and put it all the line.  The Governor could not have been any clearer then when he told the city and town leaders from Connecticut’s lowest achieving school districts DO NOT COUNT ON THE $40 MILLION IN THE EDUCATION BUDGET!

Malloy’s words were – “They should not be depending on this money…I think this money is very much in the lurch until we have an educational bill that we can agree on.”

In English that means – if I don’t get the bill I want – you don’t get the $40 million dollars aimed at helping educate the poorest children in Connecticut.

It is not complex.

It is not hard to understand.

It is really quite simple.

Dan Malloy is saying – you better get your legislators to cave in and vote for my version of the bill because if they don’t your towns don’t get the money.  If your towns don’t get the money, you either don’t provide the education services or you have to raise your local property taxes to meet those costs..

$40 million dollars to help 200,000 kids in return for what I want (or you get nothing).

Anywhere but government and it would be called blackmail and the Feds would have had some of those local officials wired for the upcoming trial.

But here in the United States we call it “American Politics” and it’s all fair and legal.

Following the public announcement of Malloy’s threat, some of the mayors and local leaders spoke to the media and some did not.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, once again, threw his support behind the Governor.

New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien, who used to be a state legislator, was more diplomatic refusing to say which version he liked better (the Governor’s or the Education Committees), but he did go on to say nice things about the governor’s “leadership.”

And Jim Finley, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the organization that represents most cities and towns at the Capitol, said that they support “an education reform bill closer to the governor’s vision than that reported out of the Education Committee.”

Okay – so let’s be really clear.  There are two major sticking points with the bill as it is now written.  Malloy wants the local leaders to side with him so the only real question is do they or do they not agree with the Governor’s position.

Item #1 is whether Connecticut should do away with teacher tenure or whether having a comprehensive teacher evaluation system with a simple process to remove bad teachers enough.  

and

Item #2 is whether Connecticut should adopt Malloy’s plan for what he calls his “Commissioner’s network” which is the system that allows the Education Commissioner to take over low performing schools.

If these local leaders like the “Commissioner’s Network” plan they simply need to answer YES OR NO to each of the following elements that are part of the “Commissioner’s Network”

(1) The Commissioner’s Network Plan requires that all the teachers and administrators at a school that is taken over by the Commissioner are fired.  Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(2) Towns are then required to find other places for the fired teachers and administrators in their schools systems however the Governor doesn’t provide the towns with any additional funds so the towns must keep a few hundred employees but they will have lost the money to pay them.  Local taxpayers will then have to pick up the extra cost. Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(3) If the towns cannot find places and money for the teachers and administrators who have been fired they are still liable for the contract provisions that are in place AND any unemployment consequences for those teachers and administrators.  In either case, local taxpayers will have to pay. Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(4) Once the employees are fired, collective bargaining at the schools is banned.   Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(5) The Commissioner of Education can then turn the school over to a third-party such as a charter school management company or a private entity.  Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(6)  The new entity running the school is exempt from state laws limiting consultants so they can hire whomever they want as their consultants without having to go through any bidding process. Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(7) The new entity running the school is also exempt from the state laws requiring competitive bidding for other goods and services.  Do you support that – YES OR NO?

(8) And finally, a town cannot cut funding to the network school – even if they have to cut their own school budget - and if they do get additional state funds or raise taxes to fund their remaining schools they MUST provide the Commissioner’s Network school the same proportional increase in funding even though the local board of education doesn’t control the network school nor is the network school unionized.  So if the town negotiates an agreement with its unions they have to pay the network school the same money – even though that school doesn’t have a union. Do you support that – YES OR NO?

So let’s start with the first three;

Mayor Finch?

Mayor O’Brien?

Mr. Finley?

Please simply circle the yes or no answer and post it back here so we can all see where you stand on these issues.

And how about the mayors from the other 28 towns?

Perhaps some readers would be willing to send over these questions to their own mayors (if they live in one of the 30 towns) and ask them to fill out this simple form.

For more background check out these CTNewsunkie and CTMirror stories;

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/malloy_lobbies_local_officials_to_support_his_education_reforms/

http://ctmirror.org/story/15997/new-funding-districts-held-hostage-larger-ed-reform-debate

Dan Malloy and The National Forces Pushing for Education Reform

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National “Education Reform” Leader instructs Malloy that if he can’t get SB24 back to its original language he should;

“…just veto S.B. 24. Period. It’s not worth signing. Malloy should then work with reformers on running candidates to primary the legislature’s education committee co-chairs.” – RiShawn Biddle 3/27/12

As much as Dan Malloy would like to claim that Senate Bill 24 is simply about education policy in Connecticut, the truth is that it is part of a much broader effort to undermine public education in the United States.

Whether he is leading or simply joining this national effort remains unanswered but the stark reality of the path he is trying to take us down became all the more apparent as more of the “national players” weighed in.

Take for example today’s post by RiShawn Riddle, the editor of the “Education Reform” Blog, “Dropout Nation.”

Biddle authored a piece entitled “Dan Malloy’s Moment of Truth.” (see link below)

You might recognize the name RiShawn Biddle.   On February 16th I wrote about him in conjunction with Governor Malloy’s decision to attend the Capitol Rally at which Michelle Rhee was also scheduled to speak.  (Malloy backed out the following day). Wait, What 2-16-12

At the time I noted that RiShawn Biddle, the consultant to the group hosting the rally, had only weeks before been the keynote speaker at the Minnesota Tea Party’s “Excellence in Education” Forum.”  In addition, Biddle was “a regular contributor to The American Spectator, the right-wing magazine that played a leading role in the efforts to impeach President Clinton.”

Now RiShawn Biddle has spoken out on behalf of Dan Malloy’s proposals and against the Legislature’s efforts to bring some sanity to Malloy’s plan.

Biddle writes “Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has talked a good game about undertaking systemic reform — and for the most part, he’s walked it too. From appointing reform advocate Stefan Pryor as his education superintendent, to succinctly summing up the problems with tenure and other aspects of traditional teacher compensation…Malloy has made Connecticut one of Dropout Nation‘s Five States to Watch on the school reform front.”

Biddle goes on to applaud Senate Bill 24 saying that it would “end near-lifetime employment, require the use of student test performance data in evaluating teachers, allowing the results of evaluations to be used in awarding tenure and dismissing laggard teachers, and provide charter school operators with funding equivalent to traditional district counterparts.”

And then he shifts his focus to those that stand in Malloy’s way saying “But now, the co-chairs of Connecticut’s joint education committee –after meeting behind closed doors with NEA and AFT bosses…have essentially eviscerated Malloy’s plan.”

Biddle opines that if Malloy doesn’t get the bill back to its original form he “should just veto S.B. 24. Period. It’s not worth signing. Malloy should then work with reformers on running candidates to primary the legislature’s education committee co-chairs. Some would call it hardball. It is. But political leaders don’t deserve allegiance if they don’t do the right thing by their constituents…right now, Malloy has an opportunity to win the long-term war for reforming public education in the Nutmeg State. It is time to take advantage of it.”

Connecticut has become one of the most important battle grounds in the national “Education Reform” movement.

And make no mistake – it is a “movement” – with people like Michelle Rhee leading the charge and hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into the national effort.

Over the last three years, The Walton Family Foundation (funded by the Wal-Mart family) has poured $450 million into efforts to change education policy and develop charter schools in this country.  They are very open about their “Investment Strategy.” Their goal is to promote charter schools, private school choice and education reforms.  As they put it, “the need to continue improving the public policy environment is central to our education reform strategy.

To that end, the Walton Foundation has donated $1.3 million to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. (ConnCAN) and $2.6 million to 50CAN to fund their advocacy efforts.  The Gates Foundation, another major player in the “education reform” battle, has donated another $2.4 million to 50CAN and close to a million to Achievement First, the charter school management company.

Enhancing the quality of our education is the single greatest priority facing our society but the proposals being put forward by these people will take us in exactly the wrong direction and, for whatever reason, Dan Malloy has decided to side with those forces and continue to push their agenda.

There is one point I agree with RiShawn Biddle about.  The only thing protecting our public schools are the Democratic members of the Connecticut General Assembly.  Let’s hope they have the courage and conviction to support our children and protect our public schools.

Read RiShawn Biddle’s commentary piece here: http://dropoutnation.net/2012/03/27/dan-malloys-moment-of-truth/

Education Reform Update: One Step Forward – A Half Step Backwards – While Connecticut’s future hangs in the balance

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In the coming days we’ll learn more about the changes that the Democratic members of the Education Committee have made to Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.

Watching the Governor’s reaction to this latest proposal is a clear-cut reminder that these legislators deserve credit for even contemplating the notion that they have an obligation to do the right thing and do what is best for their constituents and the children of their districts.

That said, there are still provisions here that remind me of the hit and run driver who returns to the scene of the horrible accident, gets out to help the severely injured and then wants an award for their heroism.

Meanwhile, there is no longer any doubt that the Governor and his circle of advisors have, once and for all, squandered the opportunity to be called Democrats.  There is not a Democratic Governor in the country that has proposed legislation that is as anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-union and anti-Democratic values than what this governor has done – first with his budget cuts and middle-income tax increases, then with the state employees and now with teachers and our education system.

Perhaps it is the allure of hanging with the super-rich or maybe it is some sense that his actions will endear him to some national audience of anti-government and anti-community voters, but the result of his actions are clear, concise and devastating.  Over the last 14 months this Governor has managed to belittle, dismiss and backstab every single constituency who stood up and worked hard to see that he was elected as Governor.

Hundreds of thousands of people voted for Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman because they truly believed that the two of them would lead the fight for a fairer, more transparent, more honest and more dedicated state government.

His “Education Reform” proposal and his pedantic reactions to the reasonable efforts to address the proposal’s shortcoming is a sad reminder of how far he has strayed from the promises he made.

Note:  At least the Committee removed that outrageous and immoral provision that Malloy had inserted into the bill that would have granted an expanded state funded pension to the guy who helped write this plan but who refused to follow the rules that 45,000 teachers and 9,000 school administrators had followed.  Although I’d be surprised if we didn’t see the change in law surface again before this is all over.

The United States and Connecticut – Where Failure is a Viable Option

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Oh and add prophet to the resume of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

On April 11, 2011 Paul Krugman wrote a commentary piece in the New York Times entitled “The President is Missing.”

In it he wrote “…Mr. Obama is conspicuously failing to mount any kind of challenge to the philosophy now dominating Washington discussion — a philosophy that says the poor must accept big cuts in Medicaid and food stamps; the middle class must accept big cuts in Medicare (actually a dismantling of the whole program); and corporations and the rich must accept big cuts in the taxes they have to pay. Shared sacrifice!”

Krugman ended with “I’d say that the nation wants — and more important, the nation needs — a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing.”

One wonders if Krugman realized just how prophetic his comments were – for the nation and for Connecticut.

Here in Connecticut, in a state that could and should be showing the way forward during these dark times, we are saddled with a chief executive who appears to be an even greater failure when it comes to fulfilling his promise and his promises.

Since Dan Malloy released his proposed budget back in February we have been careening toward this terrible moment… reached yesterday when Malloy and Wyman released their revised budget to deal with the $1.6 billion hole in the state budget.

Connecticut is now the shining example of the Democrat’s inability or unwillingness to take a stand and confront the politics of greed, fear and failure.

We have come to the day when, to borrow liberally from Krugman’s piece, “Shared sacrifice” means that the poor must accept big cuts in essential services, the middle class must pay more in taxes while accepting big cuts in vital programs and the corporations and super rich must accept tax breaks (like Cigna) and government policies that ensure that they don’t have to pay their fair share (like the .02 percent increase in their income tax rates). Oh and in Connecticut, Shared Sacrifice means public employees are public enemy number #1 and thousands must now face the unemployment line.

The Malloy/Wyman Plan:

Layoff over 4,400 public employees in the Executive Branch and eliminate 1,599 vacant posts regardless of how important those positions might be.

Layoff or eliminate at least 600 public employees in the Judicial Branch

Cut $60 million more from Connecticut’s public colleges and universities (after already cutting over $70 million from their current service budgets).

A new asset test for Medicaid patients preventing many lower-middle class people from being able to access vital health and human service programs.

A massive cut to community health centers and school-based health clinics.

No more placement of clients into group homes when vacancies occur despite a backlog of people who can no longer live safely on their own.

Reduced funding for HIV prevention services, including testing, prevention intervention, housing and emergency financial assistance.

Eliminate the state’s drug treatment and rehabilitation program at Connecticut Valley Hospital.

Reduce services for Connecticut veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs including therapeutic, recreational, laboratory testing, and on-call health care services. Also cut was the state subsidy to help veterans’ families install special grave markers.

A 15 percent rates hike on the Metro-North line and similar increase on Shoreline East.

Eliminate the Dial-A-Ride program for all non-disabled patrons while cutting subsidies for bus, rail and transit services.

Ending the Rocky Hill-to-Glastonbury ferry and the Chester-to-Hadlyme ferry.

Closure of two state prisons by releasing some prisoners and having others sleep in gymnasiums.

Eliminate 57 state trooper posts, reducing the force to 178 below the statutorily mandated level of 1,248.

A 10 percent cut in funding for the state’s nine fire training schools.

Eliminate drug courts in Danielson, New Haven and Bridgeport and close other judicial facilities.

Major funding cuts for the environmental protection programs for mosquito control, emergency spill response, clean air and solid waste management programs.

And the list goes on and on.

CTNewsjunkie and CTMirror both have links to the Governor’s plan:

http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/budget/2012_midterm_budget/budget_balancing_plan_july_15.pdf

http://ctmirror.org/sites/default/files/documents/budget_balancing_plan_july_15.pdf