Lacking evidence, Malloy and CT legislator say Common Core SBAC is good and valid

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Vermont, like Connecticut, is a member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

However, while Connecticut officials charge forward with the Common Core SBAC test program; officials in Vermont are applying the brakes having recognized that there is NO evidence that the test scores from the SBAC test will be a statistically valid measure of student performance.

On March 17, 2015 the Vermont State Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution suspending the use of the SBAC test results.  The resolution explained.

“[U]nless empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (‘college and career-ready’), test results should not be used to make consequential judgments about schools and students.”

-Vermont State Board of Education March 20, 2015

But 199 miles to the south, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the House Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, Andy Fleischmann, don’t need to hear about studies or facts that would tell them that the test is designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut’s children, they are confident that the test is good, useful and valid.

But the fact is that according to the reports provided by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), only about 32 percent of Connecticut’s 8th graders will “pass” this year’s SBAC math test.  The projected number of African American children who will receive passing grades on the SBAC math test is only 15 percent, while the number of Latino expected to receive a passing grade is 19%.  Less than 8 percent of students who require special education services are projected to get passing grades and for children who are not proficient in English, only 5 percent are expected to pass the math portion of the 8th grade SBAC test.  The pass/fail rate is similar for students in grades 3-8, as well as for high school juniors who are taking the SBAC test this year.

But despite having clear and stark evidence that proves the SBAC test is unfair and discriminatory, Connecticut’s Democratic governor and one of the leading Democratic state legislators responsible for education policy in Connecticut are actually applauding the value and appropriateness of the SBAC test.

According to a today’s article, here is what the two told the CT Mirror,

“I think the Smarter Balanced test is the right test. A lot of work has gone into developing that and, you know, I think that we are actually seeing success with it being given and making real progress.”

– Governor Dannel Malloy May 13, 2015

“That test does show to be robust and valid.”

– State Representative Andy Fleischmann, Chair CT Education Committee 5/13/2015

Imagine…

State officials saying that a test designed to fail the vast majority of our child and clearly discriminates against children of color and children who require special education services is the “right test” and shows to be “robust and valid.”

The level of ignorance and stupidity would almost be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that these two individuals play such a major role in deciding education policy in Connecticut and therefore, the fate of our children.

Forcing children to take the Common Core SBAC test is nothing short of child abuse.

But none of these “public servants” — or their colleagues and allies —- are willing to step forward to protect Connecticut’s children or even to publicly recognize and support a parent’s fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC test.

Not Malloy, not Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, not Democratic state legislators, not the leadership of the Connecticut Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut Chapter.

But really – intentionally, inappropriately and repeatedly labeling children as failures when they are not is an insidious and disgusting form of child abuse and yet these officials simply turn their heads away and allow the abuse to go on unchecked.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

For those who want to read more about Vermont’s approach start with fellow education advocate Wendy Lecker’s recent piece entitled The truth about the SBACs.

TAKE NOTE – Real Educators don’t punish AND bully students and parents for opting out!

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The Testing Opt-Out Movement Explodes, and the Empire Strikes Back is the title of the latest article written by fellow education advocate and blogger Lisa Guisbond.

Published in the Huffington Post, it is almost like Guisbond has been reading the emails that I’ve been receiving here in Connecticut, when she observed,

“Unable to dismiss the opt-out movement, some officials seek to bully test resisters into compliance.”

With many Connecticut school districts beginning to give the Common Core SBAC test to high school juniors next week, examples are mounting quickly of the number of Connecticut school administrators who have been engaging in inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical attacks on Connecticut’s High School Juniors who have been opted out or wan to opt out of the destructive SBAC testing scheme.

As Wait, What? readers know —- There is absolutely no law, regulation or policy that allows the state or a school district to punish a child (or parent) who has opted out of the Common Core SBAC test.

In addition, neither the state nor a school district may require that a student pass (or even take) the SBAC test in order to graduate!

Period, end of story.

School officials who are telling students that they MUST TAKE THE SBAC TEST IN ORDER TO GRADUATE are lying or so misinformed that they shouldn’t be allowed to hold on to the certification needed to keep their jobs.

Yet despite the undeniable fact, a growing number of school administrators are actually telling high school juniors (and their parents) that failure to take the test will keep them from graduating or are threatening students with a variety of punishments including telling them they will need to take “remedial” courses, hand in special projects or take additional tests in their senior year if they fail to take the SBAC test this year.

Prompted by the misleading information and out-right lies coming from the Connecticut State Department of Education, a stunning number of school districts are attempting to force high school juniors to waste their time on the SBAC test now – at the very time – they should be working to improve their grade point average and focus on the tests that will actually help them get into college, such as the SATs, ACTs and AP tests.

It is simply beyond comprehension that a number of school administrators, who wish to be called educators, would take steps that literally jeopardize the ability for their students to get into the college of their choice – all in the name of making students college and career ready.

It is not as if school administrators don’t know or can’t read the wording the Connecticut State Law that specifically prohibits school district from using the passage of the SBAC test as THE criteria for graduation or promotion to the next grade.

Connecticut State Statutes Sec. 10-14n. Mastery examination states;

(e) No public school may require achievement of a satisfactory score on a mastery examination, or any subsequent retest on a component of such examination as the sole criterion of promotion or graduation.

The law strictly prohibits Connecticut school districts from using a student’s passing score on the Common SBAC test as THE criteria that must achieve in order to graduate.

If a School District cannot use a passing score as THE criteria, then it certainly can’t use failure to get a passing score as THE criteria to graduate or not to graduate.

And if a School District cannot use a passing score or a failing score as THE criteria to graduate or not graduate then obviously can’t use a student’s lack of a score as THE criteria to graduate or not graduate

The concept is simple.  The SBAC test CANNOT BE REQUIRED IN ORDER TO GRADUATE.

Compounding the immediate problem for high school juniors is that taking the test this year sets up a potentially disastrous result for any highs school junior planning to apply for college next fall.

According to the SBAC organization’s own report, the SBAC test is DESIGNED TO FAIL 67% of high school juniors on the math portion of the test and 60% of high school juniors on the English/Language Arts portion of the test.

A good grade-point average, good SAT Scores and good scores on ACT and AP exams will all help a student get into the college of their choice.

To take a test that is designed to fail the vast majority of students is to set up a scenario in which a student is undermined by a test that is rigged to produce failure.

Every high school junior and their parent should review the following data which comes from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  The chart identifies the projected results for this year’s SBAC test and it shows the percent of high school juniors, in each category, that are expected to fail.

Considering the massive number of students who are opting out across the nation, and therefore will not have Common Core tests on their academic records, Connecticut high school juniors need and deserve school administrators who will be honest and help them through this difficult process rather than intentionally undermining their commitment to pursue a college degree.

For the vast majority of high school juniors the reality is that “no grade” on the unfair Common Core SBAC test is better than having a failing grade that will become part of their academic record as the apply to colleges.

11TH Grade SBAC Math Test – PERCENT PROJECTED TO FAIL

Student Grouping % Projected to Fail
   
All Students 67%
   
African American Students 83%
   
Latino Students 80%
   
Special Education Students 93%
   
English Language Learners 94%

 

11th Grade SBAC English/Language Arts Test  – PERCENT PROJECTED TO FAIL

Student Grouping % Projected to Fail
   
All Students 60%
   
African American Students 79%
   
Latino Students 68%
   
Special Education Students 91%
   
English Language Learners 94%

 

Students (and their parents) need to do what is best for their particular situation.  However determining what is best becomes virtually impossible when school administrators resort to abusive bullying.

The bulling and harassment of high school juniors by some school administrators has got to stop!

Grassroots Lobbying Charter School Style – $14k for sandwiches, $87k for buses

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Calling themselves a “grassroots movement” in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s plan to use taxpayer money to open two new charter schools while making historic cuts to Connecticut’s public schools, the New York based charter school industry group known as “Families for Excellent Schools Inc./Coalition for Every Child” paid at least $87,000 to rent buses to bring in charter school parents and students from as far away as New York and Boston for the pro-charter school rally that took place at the Connecticut State Capitol last week.

According to the group’s most recent filing with the State Ethics Commission (filed yesterday), the corporate funded education reform advocacy front group also spent $14,000 for subway sandwiches and $6,771 to Staples to pay for the signs demanding that Connecticut legislators hand over nearly $21 million in scarce taxpayer money so that the infamous Steve Perry can open a publicly funded, but privately owned charter school in Bridgeport and a Bronx, New York charter school chain can save Stamford by opening up a charter school there.

Although parents who “volunteer” for the rallies sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools Inc. are apparently given “parent stipends” for their efforts, the charter industry advocacy group failed to list any payments for the parents who were bussed in for the Connecticut demonstration.

According to their website, Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. “serves more than 50,000 families from over 90 schools in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.”

The website adds, “Founded in 2011 through a partnership between schools and families, Families for Excellent Schools has built power in communities by engaging parents in the transformation of their schools.”

The group, of course, fails to explain that since it was founded, Families for Excellent Schools Inc. has collected an estimated $25 million from wealthy individuals and foundations to pay for its lobbying and advocacy work.

In New York State Families for Excellent Schools Inc. has become the single largest lobbying entity in the State of New York spending nearly $10 million in 2014 alone to support the funding and expansion of charter schools.  [See Pro-charter group sets lobby record.]  However, Families for Excellent Schools has repeatedly refused to release a list of its donors.

What is known is that among the group’s major sponsors is the Walton Family, owners of Walmart.

According to the foundation’s reports, “The Walton Family Foundation supports Families for Excellent Schools in its work to train parents to create and run advocacy efforts to improve school quality and give every student access to an excellent education.”

The use of “parent stipends” to induce charter school families to attend rallies has been one of the more controversial tactics used by Families for Excellent Schools.

The organization’s 2011 federal tax form stated that they spent $98,795 on “parent stipends.” Subsequent reports buried that spending item in other expenses but a 2012 American Enterprise Institute publication verified the groups use of parent stipends noting,

“other groups, such as Families for Excellent Schools, use side payments—financial stipends of $250–$1,000 per year—to give parents an incentive to participate in mobilization and advocacy efforts.”

Another way the charter school industry has successfully “persuaded” parents to attend their rallies is to actually close down their charter schools on the day of the rally.  The Nation magazine recently reported on New York rallies sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools noting,

“The protests have benefitted from the controversial decision of charter operators like Success Academy to shut down their schools, bus thousands of students to protests and notify parents that they “must” come and protest. “It was cut and dry, they tell us if we can’t go to the rally, our kids won’t have anywhere to go,” said one Success Academy parent, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, “So you have to find childcare for them or take off work for their charter school propaganda.”

Although Families for Excellent Schools is new to Connecticut, it is closely associated with Connecticut’s original charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN.

In addition, Families for Excellent Schools receives funding from Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain co-founded by Governor Malloy’s initial Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.  Achievement First Inc. is based in New Haven with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  As a result of Malloy’s pro-charter school agenda, Achievement First, Inc. benefited more than any other charter school company in Connecticut over the past four years.

And when it comes to lobbying and advocating for charter schools — The sky is the limit.

Since Malloy introduced his corporate education reform initiative in 2012, charter school and education reform organizations have spent well over $7 million on lobbying and advertising – a record-breaking amount for Connecticut.

In just the first four months of the 2015 legislative session, Families for Excellent Schools has spent over $668,000 on its lobbying and advertising in support of Malloy’s plan to add two more charter schools in Connecticut. More than half a dozen other charter school groups have also spent funds to support Malloy’s plan.

To ensure the desired level of access to Connecticut’s elected officials; Families for Excellent Schools retained the services of both Governor Malloy’s chief adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, and Malloy’s former spokesman, Andrew Doba.

Of the money spent this year, more than $75,000 was paid to Occhiogrosso’s firm and another $133,000 to the New York public relations company that hired Malloy’s spokesman (Doba) when he left Malloy’s office four months ago.

For more coverage about the charter school industry rally check out – Charter Students Rally Lawmakers To Restore Funding (Newsjunkie), Charter School Lobbying: Where Is Money Coming From? (Hartford Courant), Hundreds Rally At Capitol For Expanding Charter Schools (Hartford Courant) and Aggressive charter school campaign descends on the Capitol (CT Mirror)

A teacher writes to endorse Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick for President and Vice President of the CEA

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Note – The election for the leadership of the Connecticut Education Association is taking place this coming weekend.  An open invitation was made to readers to use this venue to discuss who they were voting for and why.  There is still time to send in your views. 

The following was sent in by Connecticut educator John Landry;

I have known Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick for their entire public teaching careers.  Our bonds are rooted in public education and our commitment to students, but my friendship was earned by their character.  Above all else Martin and Scott stand for courage and commitment.

On a steamy hot day in August, 2000, Martin and I were sitting across the table from our building principal, the superintendent of Glastonbury Schools and the town’s attorney.  The principal had repeatedly flaunted teachers’ Weingarten rights and Martin was instrumental in convincing a teacher that I originally represented to testify in an unfair labor practice, ULP, case against the principal.  Martin dedicated hours of his summer collaborating with our local’s leadership to make the case happen.  This was my first time seeing Martin’s courage to stand against a wrong and his commitment to do something about it.

In 2010, Martin was named “Democrat of the Year” in the Town of Wethersfield where he served on the Town Council and Board of Education.  However, in 2013 Martin chose to distance himself from the Wethersfield Democrats in order to protect them from any fallout.  “Fallout for what?” you may ask.  Martin decided to take a strong stand against Governor Dannel P. Malloy for his position on charter schools, labor unions and public education.  Despite being a life-long award winning Democrat, Martin knew that supporting the current Governor was wrong and being silent was unacceptable.  He has written numerous letters to the Editor and editorial pieces defending teachers and informing parents and the general public about issues with high stakes testing and parental opt out rights. He has also spoken to these issues as and interviewee on radio stations  WTIC and WELI.

Scott Minnick, too, is an emblem of courage and commitment.  Scott was concerned with unrestricted commercial development in his home town of East Hampton spearheaded by the Town Council.  He and other concerned citizens got together and were instrumental in the passage of an ordinance setting sensible limits on and accountability for the construction of commercial buildings in East Hampton.  Despite being personally sued twice with “slap suits” by construction developers, Scott persisted in his efforts.  In 2005 Scott and a few other concerned citizens decided a more permanent way to change the entrenched status quo political system in the town was to form their own minor political party and win.  This was the birth of the Chatham Party which continues to be an active “common sense” alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties in East Hampton.  Scott’s courage and personal commitment to fight an entrenched local system of government and leadership that had grown too complacent and unresponsive to constituent concerns has been proven by his actions.

I was not at all surprised to learn that within an hour of the CEA’s announcement to endorse Governor Dannel Malloy that Scott sent Martin an email saying, “There it is.  Are you ready to run?”  Martin and Scott have jumped “all in” to this effort.  They are in it to fix a problem.  They are in it for all the right reasons, not for personal gain.  Robert F Kennedy said, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”  I have a hope and belief that after May 16th, Martin and Scott will lead our Connecticut Education Association in a bold new direction.  I encourage all delegates to learn more about Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick at www.walshminnick2015.org and vote for the Walsh Minnick ticket on May 16.

-John Landry

John Landry is currently the library media specialist at Smith Middle School in Glastonbury.  He has been a professional public school educator for 23 years and a Glastonbury Education Association building representative since 1999.

Say No to SBAC (by Ann P. Cronin)

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If you don’t follow Ann Cronin’s new blog entitled Real Learning CT you need to go bookmark the site and make a daily stop to read her latest pieces.  Ann is a Connecticut educator and has posted a number of guest columns here at Wait, What?  She now has her own education blog and today she has a MUST READ commentary piece titled Say No to SBAC.

Ann Cronin writes;

Say No to SBAC.

Connecticut currently mandates the testing of public school students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 with standardized tests produced by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC). I am opposed to SBAC testing for English language arts because those tests neither measure authentic achievement nor foster students’ growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. Here are 10 reasons to STOP the harmful SBAC testing.

  1. SBAC tests are not rigorous.

The tests do not demand complex thinking. The tests are aligned to the Common Core standards, and the content of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts is inferior content which does not serve to develop students as motivated, engaged readers and effective writers.

  1. SBAC tests are not field-tested for college and career readiness.

No one knows if a good score indicates that a student will be successful in college or careers or if a poor score indicates that a student will struggle in college or careers. According to Joseph Willholt, executive director of SBAC, there is a “large validity question “ about the tests in regard to college readiness.

The SBAC tests do not measure the skills students will need for the global workforce. Those needed skills are: to pose and shape critical questions, to collaborate with others of different cultures and points of view, to communicate effectively orally and in writing, and to use meta-cognitive skills (learning how to learn skills) when facing new problems. Other countries with which we compare ourselves measure those skills because they have standards for them, but we have neither the standards to teach those skills nor the SBAC tests to measure them.

  1. SBAC tests are not developmentally appropriate.

The Common Core English Language Arts Common Standards were not written by educators or those with knowledge of child and adolescent development. They were written by employees of testing companies. The content of the standards and of the SBAC tests is simply what test makers determined could be measured on standardized tests, not what is appropriate for students to learn or what fosters student growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core because of the content of those standards,  the content SBAC tests measure.

  1. SBAC tests are capriciously graded.

The passing grade on the tests is arbitrarily set. On the high school SBAC tests, the passing grade is set such that 70% of students will be labeled as failing the math portion and 60% labeled as failing the English portion. The passing grade on SBAC has been set at what the highly respected National Assessment of Educational Progress considers a B+/ A- performance. SBAC labels all those who score a B or lower as failures.

  1. SBAC tests serve to widen the achievement gap.

The more time students spend preparing for SBAC tests, the less education they will have in authentic literacy learning. Time spent in test prep for SBAC robs students of reading, writing, and collaborating experiences which develop literacy skills. Schools with a history of low test scores spend concentrated time on test prep; schools with traditionally high test scores do not spend time on test prep. Therefore, the gap between those graduates with genuine skills in reading, writing, and collaborating will widen with students of privilege receiving a notably better education than students in schools with historically low test scores.

  1. SBAC tests discriminate against Connecticut’s neediest students.

Since all standardized test scores correlate with family income, many children of poverty will fail. How long will students be motivated to learn and how long will they stay in school if they fail tests in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5thgrade, 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade? Not only are impoverished students receiving a poor education with Common Core but their dropout rate will also increase.

  1. SBAC tests narrow the curriculum.

Preparing students for SBAC tests requires a high school English curriculum that strictly adheres  to the Common Core. That adherence severely limits what students read, what thinking skills they learn as readers, what students write, and what kind of thinking skills they learn as writers.

Common Core limits the amount of literature read and totally eliminates teaching students the skills of questioning, making text connections to themselves and their world, and analyzing multiple and divergent interpretations  that reading literature offers. None of those skills are assessed on the SBAC test so are not part of the test prep curriculum many schools have adopted.

Similarly, that test prep curriculum does not develop students as writers and thinkers. High school students are tested only on how they write formulaic arguments, graded either by computers or hourly employees hired through Craig’s List and not required to have knowledge about the craft of writing.   Therefore, students do not have a curriculum rich in writing experiences which develop their inductive, explorative,  and narrative thinking – all keys to success in higher education and the workplace.

  1. SBAC tests encourage poor pedagogy.

Because of the high stakes of the SBAC tests, English teachers, especially in schools with a history of low standardized test scores,, prepare students for the test by adhering to the pedagogy prescribed by the Common Core. It, however, is a flawed and discredited pedagogy prevalent in the 1940’s and 50’s and does nor prepare students to think complexly. Not only does that pedagogy severely restrict students’ development as readers and writers, it discourages many of them from even wanting to become readers and writers.

  1. SBAC tests will not “level the playing field”.

Connecticut is already doing well with literacy education.

Connecticut ranks higher than 62 nations in the reading performance of 15 year olds (according to the 2012 PISA- Program of International Student Assessment) and ranks highest in the country in reading performance of high school seniors (according to NAEP, the nation’s most authoritative measure of academic performance in reading and math). If standardized tests are thought to give us useful information, we already have that information.

We know that affluent areas of Connecticut provide an unparalleled education for their students, and we know that where students are impacted by poverty and racism, those students suffer. To level the playing filed, we need to provide for impoverished students what their more privileged peers have been given and standardize opportunities for learning for all students.

  1. SBAC tests teach the wrong values.

The tests teach children that competition, beating out other schools and other students, is what matters instead of the student’s own learning, the student’s own passion for ideas, the student’s own growth as a thinker, a reader, and a writer.

Connecticut educators can design assessments which measure the achievements students really need for their future. I have done considerable work with teachers in both affluent and impoverished districts to design assessments that measure critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and oral and written communication for students of all abilities. Student achievement always exceeds original expectations when teachers are invited to do this work.

We CAN improve achievement in Connecticut for ALL of our students but not with SBAC tests.

You can find this article and Ann Cronin’s other pieces at: http://reallearningct.com/

Another Charter School Front Group – More apparent ethics law violations (Re-post)

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Here we go again… Yet another faux education advocacy group appears unwilling or unable to follow Connecticut’s ethics laws.

The number of corporate funded education reform and charter school front groups in Connecticut is popping up faster than the buds appear during a warm spring week and these groups seem virtually incapable of adhering to Connecticut’s ethics and lobbying laws.

You may need to read this post a few times to follow the bouncing ball…

It was just a few weeks ago that CT News Junkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman wrote a scathing column on the ethics problems associated with the New York based corporate education reform industry group called Families for Excellent Schools and its subsidiary, and entity called the Coalition for Every Child.

In the piece entitled, Are Charter Advocacy Groups Skirting CT Ethics Laws?, Darer Littman laid out the facts surrounding the Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child controversy.

The well-financed charter school advocacy group is the organization that is paying for the television ads promoting Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget that makes historic cuts to public education while dramatically increasing funding for charter schools.

The group was also one of the sponsors of this week’s pro-charter school rally at the State Capitol that featured Malloy.

As the Hartford Courant reported, charter school students and parents were bused in to Hartford from as far away as Boston and New York City in an attempt to persuade Connecticut legislators to divert even more money so that Steve Perry could open a charter school in Bridgeport and a Bronx charter school chain could open up a charter school in Stamford.

As Sarah Darer Littman explained, not only had Families for Excellent Schools run into ethics issues in New York, but they were failing to report activities and expenditures here in Connecticut.

Now it looks like another new charter school advocacy group called “FaithActs for Education” is failing to report its lobbying related activities as required under state law – violations that should be met with thousands of dollars in fines.

Although FaithActs for Education was rolled out on February 15, 2015 in a well-scripted press conference featuring Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and a number of Bridgeport ministers, the corporation called FaithActs for Education was actually formed in October 2014.

As the Connecticut Post reported in February, “With the public backing of Mayor Bill Finch, a faith-based education advocacy group, FaithActs for Education, conducted its first meeting on Monday declaring a dedication ‘to improving education for all children in Bridgeport, no matter what type of school they attend.’”

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who participated in the event said,

“We know where we are and where we need to go. FaithActs for Education will help us to become even more of a force to be reckoned with.”

In addition to supporting Governor Malloy’s education reform agenda and Mayor Bill Finch, as he faces a difficult re-election campaign, FaithActs for Education’s immediate work has been to support Steve Perry’s plan to open a publicly funded, but privately owned and operated charter school in Bridgeport.

According to a press release issued by FaithActs for Education, the entity is led by,

  • Reverend William McCullough, Pastor, Russell Temple CME Church
  • Bishop John P. Diamond, Senior Pastor, Cathedral of Faith,
  • Reverend Janene Hawkins, Pastor, Walters Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church,
  • Reverend Carl McCluster, Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church,
  • Reverend Cass Shaw, President & CEO, Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport,
  • Reverend Jeremy L. Williams, Pastor, West End Tabernacle CME Church.
  • In addition, the infamous Reverend Kenneth Moales, Pastor, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is also playing a role with the group.

The organization’s chairman, Reverend McCullough, along with Reverend Moales and Reverend McCluster are all listed as original members of the Governing Council of Steve Perry’s new charter school in Bridgeport and all have been engaged in lobbying the State Board of Education and the General Assembly on Perry’s behalf.

Although we’re led to believe that FaithActs for Education is a homegrown group of religious leaders working to promote educational opportunities for all of Bridgeport’s children, the real story is very different.

According to the incorporation papers filed with the Secretary of the State, FaithActs for Education Inc. was created by Jamilah Prince-Stewart, who now serves as the entity’s Executive Director.

At the time of incorporation she served as the Director of Community Engagement for ConnCAN, Connecticut’s leading charter school lobby group.  In addition, FaithActs’ Director of Operations and Programs left her position as Special Projects Manager at ConnCAN to join the new advocacy group.

At the February 2015 press conference to roll out FaithActs for Education, both ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander and former ConnCAN CEO Alex Johnson were in attendance.

In addition to their lobbying work with ConnCAN, Alexander and Johnson were the individuals who formed A Better Connecticut, Inc. yet another education reform industry front group that spent more than $2 million on television ads during the year before the last gubernatorial election to “thank” Governor Malloy for his “leadership” on behalf of the corporate education reform agenda.

FaithActs’ initial press conference was orchestrated by the new group’s spokesman, Bob Bellafiore.

As public education advocate Maria Pereira noted at the time, Bellafiore is the founder of Stanhope Partners, an Albany PR firm that works for the charter school industry.

Before setting up his own company, he served as a Vice President of National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter chain that owns and operates 75 charter schools in nine states, making it the third largest for-profit charter school company in the United States.

Just last year, National Heritage Academies made national news when it was discovered that it was charging one of its’ Brooklyn charter schools $2.3 million in rent per year even though it was leasing the property for much less.

Meanwhile, back in Bridgeport, FaithActs for Education purports to be a, “grassroots organizing nonprofit based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. We exist to help faith leaders and their congregations step outside their place of worship to advocate for improved educational opportunities for their own children and the children of Bridgeport.”

The organization’s rhetoric goes on to say that, “created as a 501(c)3 Foundation,” FaithActs receives funding from various foundations and individuals, although, to date, it has failed to reveal which foundations or individuals are underwriting the organization’s lobbying and advocacy activities.

FaithActs for Education also shares an address with Educators 4 Excellence, another corporate funded advocacy group that claims to speak for teachers who are opposed to tenure and other collective bargaining rights.  (See Wait, What? Post Educators 4 Excellence – Because teachers NEED their own “Education Reform” front group)

But even if all of that wasn’t indicative enough of the power and inter-relationship of the corporate education reform industry, there is more….

According to the incorporation papers filed with the Secretary of the State’s Office, FaithActs for Education’s agent of service is its Executive Director, Jamilah Prince-Stewart.

However, rather than recording the organization’s actual physical office in Bridgeport for corporate related service issues, the official corporate filing lists the following;

FAITHACTS FOR EDUCATION,

C/O PUBLIC SQUARE PARTNERSHIP,

1730 COMMERCE DRIVE #706 SUITE C,

BRIDGEPORT, CT, 06605

Public Square Partnerships is a relatively new company whose agent of service is none-other-than Nate Snow, the Director of Teach for America’s Connecticut Chapter.  Snow also serves as President of Excel Bridgeport Inc., another Bridgeport based charter school advocacy group that had its own run-in with the Connecticut Ethics Commission when it failed to register with the Office of State Ethics despite the fact that it was lobbying state government in favor of Governor Malloy’s illegal takeover of the Bridgeport School System.

Excel Bridgeport, Inc., along with Steve Perry supporter, Reverend Kenneth Moales, were the biggest supporters of education reform guru Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s inappropriately certified superintendent who was forced to leave after two years.  Vallas being best known for “charterizing” the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans schools system before being recruited by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, to “save” Bridgeport.

Although based in Bridgeport, Public Square Partnership not only lists TFA Director Nate Snow as its agent, but they use Teach for America’s New Haven office address as their official agent of service.

According to their website, Public Square Partnerships “focuses its investments on innovative change efforts that have attained tangible results for children attending schools in high-need communities or that have the potential to do so for sustainable and scalable impact.”

The company adds, “We partner with education organizations that develop educators, schools, and engage parents and community members in creating high-quality schools.”

Public Square Partnerships further reports that in its first year of operation, the company had contracts to help five schools in Bridgeport and New Haven, three of which were public schools and two were charter schools.

Among its clients, we are told, are the new Booker T. Washington Charter School Academy in New Haven and the Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport.

While Nate Snow serves as the Agent of Service for Public Square Partnerships, the President and CEO of the company is Diane Robinson who has spent the last twenty years working for the massive KIPP Charter School chain and Teacher for America.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer most recently worked as a Deputy Chief Portfolio Officer with the New York City Department of Education and before that was with the Washington DC Public Schools system.

The company’s third employee comes to Connecticut via the large education reform industry consulting firm called Schoolworks.

While more and more of the pieces of the puzzle come into view, the one thing that is absolutely clear is that there are a whole lot of organizations, spending a whole lot of money to further Governor Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school and anti-teacher education reform agenda.

Will anything convince Connecticut’s teacher unions to join the Common Core Opt-Out Movement?

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All across the nation, teacher unions at the state and local level are joining parents, students and teachers in an unprecedented uprising against the massive unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme.

Here in Connecticut, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing craze began on March 27, 2015.

Yet six weeks have gone by and there is still no public sign of support for the opt out movement from Connecticut’s two teacher unions – the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter (AFT-Connecticut).

At this point, Connecticut’s teacher unions have forever lost the opportunity to help lead the charge.  But even running to jump on the opt-out train would be an important and appreciated gesture of support for Connecticut’s public school students, parents and teachers.

What is so incredibly strange, even bizarre, about the utter lack of action by Connecticut’s teacher unions is that it is in such stark contrast to what other teacher unions are doing around the country.

In New Jersey, the headline on the New Jersey Education Association website demands that Republican Governor Chris Christie and his administration, “Stop attacking parents…” for opting out of the Common Core Tests. 

And the pushback against New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is just as strong, as  NYSUT, the union that represents more than 600,000 New York State teachers, school-related professionals and academic and professional faculty in higher education continues its full-fledged campaign to help educate and support parents who are opting out of that state’s Common Core Testing.

In New York, the union’s well-funded program has provided needed support for parents and students, which, in turn, has helped to boost the number of students opting out from around  40,000 last year to as many as a quarter of a million this year.

Numerous public high schools in New York State are reporting more than 50 percent of high school juniors have been opted out of the destructive Common Core test and many high schools are seeing opt-out rates exceeding 80 percent.

But here in Connecticut, Governor Malloy’s administration’s goes unchecked as it continues to lie and mislead parents about their right to opt their children out of the testing scam and some local school superintendents go unchallenged as they inappropriately tell highs school juniors that they cannot graduate unless they take the SBAC test – a policy that would be illegal if true.

In state after state, teacher unions have stepped up to leverage their political power and visibility on behalf of the opt-out effort.

This weekend, the Massachusetts Teachers Association joined the effort endorsing the fundamental right of parents to opt their children out of the Common Core testing.

The MTA’s resolution states;

That parents in Massachusetts deserve the choice to opt their public school students out of high-stakes standardized assessments.

That districts should be required to provide all parents with yearly written information explaining their right to opt students out of assessments.

That students who opt out should not be included in data used by state or federal entities in “grading” schools.

That no parent or student should be penalized because of a parental decision to opt out.

That no educator should be disciplined for discussing with students, parents or community members the options for opting students out of high-stakes tests.

Barbara Madeloni, who as a challenger became president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association last year wrote,

 “Supporting the right to opt out is one of the strongest statements we can make as educators against standardized testing.”

Madeloni added,

“The MTA will vigorously defend any educator who is disciplined for supporting the right of parents and students to opt out. The more people step up and speak out, the clearer will be the message to our legislators that the people of Massachusetts want to put a stop to the madness of standardized testing.

Standardized testing is distorting the goals of public education and choking the creativity and joy that should be at the center of teaching and learning.”

Even now at this late date Connecticut’s teacher unions can and should step up and join the opt-out battle.

Just as Connecticut’s public school teachers need and deserve the support of the state’s students and parents…

Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers need and deserve the help and support of Connecticut’s teacher unions in this historic battle against the corporate education reform and testing industry and those like Governor Dannel Malloy who continue their anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-parent, anti-public education initiatives.

Education Blog got $12 million to promote message…ps…it’s not Wait, What?

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Yesterday a number of corporate funded charter school advocacy groups joined Governor Dannel Malloy in support of his plan to dramatically increase charter school funding while making historic cuts to funding for public schools.

For coverage see: The Hartford Courant’s Charter School Lobbying: Where Is Money Coming From?  and CT Mirror’s Aggressive charter school campaign descends on the Capitol.

Anyway you look at it, the corporate education reform industry has deep pockets.

Just last September, Peter Cunningham, the former PR guy for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, rolled out a new organization called Education Post.

The cornerstone of the project is a pro-corporate education reform industry blog called The Conversation, its purpose being to counter the work of Diane Ravitch and the more than 230 other pro-public education bloggers around the nation.

The initial grants to get the new pro-common core, pro-charter school, pro-education reform effort off the ground totaled at least $12 million.  The money came from the Eli Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and a generous anonymous donor.

At the time, the president of the Broad Foundation, Richard Reed, explained to the Washington Post that,

“The idea for Education Post originated with his organization but that other philanthropic groups had recognized the need years ago.

‘We had a shared disappointment in the tenor of the debate,’ said Reed, a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden and former chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council.”

Reed went on to add that the new blog was stepping in to help support the discussion surrounding education policy because,

 “Administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this…This is an effort to help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside.”

Howard Wolfson, who served as a co-chief strategist to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and a senior adviser to Ned Lamont’ senate campaign in Connecticut is also an adviser to Bloomberg Philanthropies.  Discussing the purpose of the new education reform blog, Wolfson said,

“There hasn’t really been an organization dedicated to sharing the successes of education reform around the country…You have local success, but it isn’t amplified elsewhere. And there is a lot of success. There is also an awful lot of misperception around what ed reform is, and there hasn’t been an organization . . . focused on correcting those misimpressions.”

Here in Connecticut, charter school advocates have, from time to time, raised the questions about who funds Wait, What?

Last year a pro-charter school blogger wrote, “How Much Money Does Jon Pelto Really Make for Attacking School Principals?”  The blogger added,

“Who does Jon Pelto think he’s kidding?

When Rick Green over at the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Watch blog asked Pelto who pays the bills, the not-precisely-accurate ex-politician’s response was laughable.

“Pelto said he raises about $7,000 annually to pay for his blog,” Green wrote.

Don’t believe it for a second. No fewer than three times a day, seven days a week, Pelto posts haranguing attacks on our governor, education commissioner, school superintendents and principals.

Each one of those posts is hundreds, sometimes thousands of words in length.

And he does it for free? Yeah, excuse me while I have a laughing fit in the corner.

For example, when Pelto was lamely and ineffectually attacking principal and magnet school founder Steve Perry for sending tweets, he decided that Perry’s tweeting had cost the city “well in excess of $10,000.”

How he arrived at that figure, no one knows. But now that he’s made it up, he repeats it as fact every chance he gets.”

Now that it turns out that a blog dedicated to promoting the education reform industry received $12 million in grants just to get going, I can certainly appreciate the Connecticut bloggers disbelief that there are people out here who actually care enough to write about education policy and politics without making hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the truth is that Wait, What? – like all the individual pro-public education blogs that I know of –  receive no funding at all, or, at best, collect small contributions from readers.

Over the past year, Wait, What? has received about $10,000 and, for the record, none of that money came from unions, political action committees or other advocacy groups.

Not that I would turn down contributions from people who like and support the blog and its mission, but truth be told, the anti-common core, anti-common core testing and anti-Governor Malloy posts have apparently made the blog somewhat of a pariah when it comes to the attitude of the national and state teachers’ unions.

Note to self: “If you want to collect donations from teachers’ unions, don’t criticize them and definitely don’t criticize the candidates they support.”

That said, towing the “party line” probably wouldn’t have resulted in a $12 million donation.

In any case, although the notion of making big bucks is very tempting, if readers ever type in the Wait, What? website url and the site is shut down, you still probably won’t find me writing for the education reform industry’s blog — The Conversation — although even a fraction of that $12 million would go a long way toward paying the bills.

Happy Friday!

And remember, As George Orwell said,

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Oh and if you do want to contribute to Wait, What? click on the following link;

Spring 2015 Wait, What? Fundraising Request

 

Petulant Democratic Governor Malloy demands more money for charters school chains

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When Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy addressed a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly ninety days ago to present his proposed state budget, he called for record cuts to Connecticut’s public schools while demanding the legislature increase funding for charter schools by more than 25 percent.

While he proposed cutting money for public schools and shifting even more of the costs of public education onto the backs of middle income property taxpayers, Malloy wanted the legislature to give him even more money so that his corporate education reform industry associates could open up two more charter schools in Connecticut.

The Democrats on the Appropriations Committee rejected Malloy’s plan.

Although they did increase funding for charters, they shifted most of the money over to help fill some of the cuts the Governor had made to Connecticut’s public schools.

But in typical fashion, the thin-skinned governor condemned the Democrats and today joined the corporate funded charter school advocates in blasting the legislators who had the courage to try and reduce the magnitude of Malloy’s cuts to Connecticut’s public schools.

Rather than recognizing the effort that members of his own party took to help their districts and Connecticut’s public school students, Malloy went after them saying, “Let me be very clear, we also have to understand that we are going to have charter schools in Connecticut.”

Typical … In Malloy’s world – it is Dannel’s way or no way…

Even if it means hurting Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers.

Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post wrote about today’s charter school industry rally noting, “Malloy stars in charter schools rally at Capitol.”

Following up on the articles posted here at Wait, What? both the Hartford Courant and the CT Mirror took note of the massive amount of corporate funds that are pouring into the charter school lobbying effort.  The Hartford Courant’s story is entitled Unprecedented Charter School Lobbying Effort Prompts Some To Ask: Where Is The Money Coming From?, while the CT Mirror’s story is titled, “Aggressive charter school campaign descends on the Capitol.”

 

 

Please send in your SBAC testing stories

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Wait, What? is putting together a compendium of stories about the experiences teachers, parents and students have had or are having with the administration of the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing.

Information should be sent to [email protected] – all information will remain anonymous unless otherwise noted.

Where possible, please include the name of the school, town and grade level, but if that causes a problem, please send along the information without that identification.

Any and all stories are appreciated including;

  • How students handled the testing process, including emotional impacts
  • Technological issues with the test
  • Time spent on test prep and testing
  • The impact resulting from the loss of rooms, computers due to the testing
  • Observations about the tests including age and developmental inappropriateness of questions.
  • Accommodations or lack thereof for English Language Learners and special education students
  • Information about any additional software purchased for test prep activities.

Comments can posted here at Wait, What? or sent to [email protected]

Thank you for helping with this important project.

Jonathan Pelto

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