A lesson about Garbage In, Garbage Out and turning classrooms into testing factories

Comments Off on A lesson about Garbage In, Garbage Out and turning classrooms into testing factories

Fellow columnist and public education advocate Sarah Darer Littman left Governor Dannel Malloy, the corporate education reform industry and their obsession with standardized testing no room to hide in her latest MUST READ article in CT Newsjunkie entitled, Garbage In, Garbage Out: A Reminder for PEAC and the State Board of Education

Using the adage that “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” or “GIGO” as it is known, leads to useless or even dangerous outcomes, Littman highlights a series of recent examples that reveal the very real and serious ramifications that result from the corporate greed and testing mania that is being pushed by Malloy and other “education reform” allies.

While the corporations win and the politicians collect big campaign donations, our children, teachers and public schools lose … along with the taxpayers whose scarce resources get diverted from educating children to pumping up profits for the testing companies.

In one example she explains;

Justice Roger D. McDonough of the N.Y. Supreme Court’s 3rd District provided a reminder of this on Tuesday when he ruled in the case of Sheri G. Lederman that the N.Y. Education Department’s growth score and rating of her as “ineffective” for the 2013-14 school year was “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.”

Lederman is a fourth-grade teacher in Great Neck, Long Island. Great Neck’s Superintendent of Schools at the time she filed the lawsuit, Thomas Dolan, described her as a “highly regarded as an educator” with “a flawless record,” whose students consistently scored above the state average on standardized math and English tests. In 2012-13, more than two-thirds of her students scored as proficient or advanced. Yet in 2013-14, despite a similar percentage of students meeting or exceeding the standards, Lederman was rated “ineffective” as a teacher.

The problem with the testing program in New York parallels the problem in Connecticut.

Despite the massive expenditure of public dollars, including more than $20 million a year in Connecticut state funds, the SBAC test and its sister version which is called the PARCC test, fail to adequately measure student achievement and have no appropriate role in the teacher evaluation process.

But the truth is irrelevant when it comes to Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, his political appointees on the State Board of Education or, for that matter, the members of the Connecticut General Assembly.

For them, the perceived value of looking “tough” on teachers and schools is more important than the reality of doing what it takes to actually ensure that every child gets the quality education they need and deserve.

As Sarah Darer Littman explains,

Four years ago, in a meeting with the CTNewsJunkie editorial board, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the outrageous, nonsensical claim that teachers leaving the profession had nothing to do with such punitive policies, and when provided with research to the contrary his reply was silence and a determination to stay his clearly detrimental course.

And there is more, much more.

Sarah Darer Littman’s Garbage In, Garbage Out: A Reminder for PEAC and the State Board of Education is an extremely powerful piece.

Go read it at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_garbage_in_garbage_out_a_reminder_for_peac_and_the_state_board_of_ed/

Maintaining the status quo of two Connecticuts (By Wendy Lecker)

2 Comments

Wendy Lecker, leading public education advocate, education funding expert and fellow education columnist, returns to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration’s utter failure to address the historic underfunding of Connecticut’s public schools or provide our students, parents, teachers and public schools with the resources and support they need to ensure a quality education for every Connecticut child.

At a time when a comprehensive, quality education is more important than ever, it is a stunning and terrible commentary that a governor, commissioner of education and legislature would intentionally refuse to fulfill one of their most fundamental and important responsibilities.  It is truly a sign of the times.

In her latest column, that first appeared in the Stamford Advocate this past weekend, Wendy Lecker writes;

Maintaining the status quo of two Connecticuts

The defense is in full swing at Connecticut’s school funding trial, CCJEF v. Rell. The state is attempting to make the case that Connecticut’s poorest schools do not need any more state funding.

As if to hammer home their point, the newly minted deal from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic legislators slashes nearly $100 million from state education aid. More than $30 million will be cut from the state’s funding formula, ECS, along with tens of millions cut for school transportation, millions cut from special education; and cuts to additional state aid to Connecticut’s poorest districts, such as millions cut from priority school grants and turnaround funds.

These state aid reductions will have the most devastating effect in our poorest school districts. As detailed in an earlier column, Hartford is already forced to cut teachers, guidance counselors, intervention specialists and other key staff and programs. Further cuts to state aid will force more deprivation for these already starving schools.

How is the state dealing with this reality in court? The testimony of Education Commissioner Wentzell provides a clue. Wentzell, who spent most of her career in wealthy school districts or selective choice programs, repeatedly asserted on the stand that “leadership is much more important than money.” She even went so far as to claim that “(l)eadership without money works very well.” When asked whether resources might have something to do with student achievement, she pointedly evaded the question, even when the judge asked her directly.

Wentzell clung to her notion that all schools need is “leadership” even while conceding that CCJEF districts lack adequate basic resources such as guidance counselors. She downplayed the importance of other essential educational resources. For example, despite universal agreement that pre-K improves academic and life outcomes, especially for poor children, Wentzell said she did not know whether pre-K helps close achievement gaps. She also discounted the shortage of library and media specialists in Connecticut’s poorest districts.

Wentzell sang a different tune at Connecticut’s All-State Music Festival, just days after her testimony. The All-State Festival selects, based on auditions, student musicians from across the state from among those who already made the cut in earlier regional festivals. The students who were selected spent two days rehearsing with guest conductors, then performed for the public at the Connecticut Convention Center. Addressing the audience and more than 400 student-musicians before the concerts, Wentzell emphasized that music is essential to a quality education; claiming she and the state are committed to music education in Connecticut’s public schools.

Although the festival took place in Hartford, not one Hartford student participated in the concerts. Nor were there students from Bridgeport, Windham, New Britain or New London schools — all CCJEF plaintiff districts. The concert participants were virtually all from Connecticut’s wealthier districts.

It is not that talent only resides in Connecticut’s affluent towns. In Bridgeport, because of a lack of resources, instrumental programs are virtually nonexistent. There is no instrumental program in elementary school and very little in middle school. Harding High School had no music teacher until last year. Only one Bridgeport high school has a small band. The story is similar in Hartford. Many schools cannot offer any music classes at all. There is no instrumental music in Windham’s elementary schools, except for the higher-funded STEM magnet, and very little in middle school. As a result, Windham’s high school music programs are small. New Britain has to rely on outside grants to try to cobble together an elementary music program. Children in our poorest districts have little exposure to music education and their talent goes undeveloped.

Does Commissioner Wentzell think that “leadership” will enable these districts to conjure flutes and violins from thin air?

The contradictory messages Wentzell sent in court and on the stage at the All-State Festival are telling. For her, children in Connecticut’s poorest districts do not need essentials such as guidance counselors, pre-K, libraries, or music, as long as they have “leadership.” But children in Connecticut’s wealthiest districts can have it all.

Wentzell, Malloy and our other state leaders are clearly content with the status quo of two Connecticuts: well-appointed schools in wealthy mostly white towns, and our poorest schools, serving our neediest children and mostly children of color, unable to provide the basics. Let us hope that the judge sees the injustice Connecticut’s political leaders refuse to acknowledge.

Wendy Lecker’s article first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Connecticut Media Group publications.  You can read and comment on it at at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Maintaining-the-status-quo-of-two-7467340.php

CT Legislators who voted in favor of the disastrous state budget should be defeated – Period

2 Comments

The twenty-one Democratic members of the Connecticut State Senate have thrown their constituents aside by voting in favor of the budget agreement that was developed by Governor Dannel Malloy and the legislature’s Democratic leadership.  The budget is an appalling, mean-spirited and irresponsible plan that stabs the people of Connecticut in the back and violates the fundamental responsibility that elected officials have to do what is right for their constituents and the state of Connecticut.

Later today – Friday May 13, 2016 – the Connecticut House of Representatives will voting on this unprecedented attack on public education, vital health and human services and fiscal honesty and transparency.

Despite the lies coming from Malloy and his loyalists, the state budget does not balance nor does it put Connecticut’s fiscal house in order.

What it does do is undermine Connecticut’s children, our state’s most vulnerable citizens, public employees and the programs and policies designed to make Connecticut a healthy, safer and better place to live.

It is a vicious, stupid and short-sighted spending plan that mimics the values of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rather than the people of Connecticut.

Malloy, with the help of Democratic legislators, is ushering in an era of austerity that will hurt people and further erode Connecticut’s future and wellbeing.

Any legislator who votes for this budget voids their right to be called a representative of the people.

For More Read;

Dems slash education funding, sneak special 10% admission tax for Hartford and gag future information on deficits

Any CT legislator who votes for the proposed State Budget deserves to lose in November

Senate Passes Budget; House Up Next (CT Newsjunkie)

A handshake, then a vote on Connecticut’s next budget (CT Mirror)

Last-minute bill would rein in CT budget deficit forecasts (CT Mirror)

 

Dems slash education funding, sneak special 10% admission tax for Hartford and gag future information on deficits

2 Comments

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

Beware fellow citizens…

The disastrous state budget plan developed by Governor Malloy and the Democratic leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly is getting worse by the minute.

Having managed to hide key budget details from the public until the day of the vote, Democratic legislators are now being instructed to approve a budget implementation bill that includes numerous outrageous provisions that would never pass if they stood on their own.

Traditionally referred to as “rats,” select legislators, lobbyists and special interests use what is called “back of the budget” language to circumvent the traditional legislative process.

A prime example of this tactic can be found in Section 188 of the new state budget bill.

Connecticut residents may remember how Governor Malloy and other state leaders endorsed the construction of the new baseball stadium in Hartford, falsely stating that not only would the facility be a win-win for the Capitol City, but that Connecticut taxpayers would not be on the hook for subsidizing the project.

Of course, such was not the case.

Legislative language hidden deep inside today’s budget bill exempts events at the Dunkin Donut stadium from having to collect Connecticut’s 10 percent Admission Tax and, instead, sets up a new law that allows Hartford to add its own 10 percent surcharge on all tickets sold at the “Home of the Yard Goats.”

The money from this extra tax would flow straight to Hartford City Hall…. Providing the boondoggle with a much-needed public subsidy from Connecticut taxpayers

To sweeten the deal, the Malloy/Democratic leadership budget also adds a provision that a group of other cities could put on their own admission tax in their particular venues, but the others could only collect up to 5% of the cost of a ticket.

Meanwhile, the same outrageous implementation budget bill includes unprecedented language that allows cities and towns to simply cut their local public school budgets by the amount of any reduction in state aid those schools.

This means that while a number of cities and towns will be getting a major pot of cash dumped on the non-education side of the budget, they won’t even have to maintain their efforts to fund their schools.

And if those two sections weren’t telling enough, any member of the Connecticut State Senate and State House of Representatives who votes in favor of this bill will be taking the truly unprecedented step of adopting a law that would literally PROHIBIT the non-partisan office of Fiscal Analysis from reporting on future budget expenditures and possible deficits that are the result of the annual increases that go with maintaining current services.

THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!

With no public hearing, no public input and no public notice, Malloy and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly have including language in this year’s budget implementation bill that intentionally prevents the media and the public from knowing the true ongoing costs of state government.

The CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf explains this incredible development in his latest article;

Future state deficit forecasts are likely to shrink significantly under a method imposed in the new state budget plan that disregards billions of dollars in annual expenditures not fixed by contract or federal mandate.

The language, proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, is included in an omnibus policy bill to help implement the proposed $19.76 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, blasted the measure — which was released only a few hours before the Senate was expected to debate it Wednesday morning — as a means to hide Connecticut’s fiscal woes from the public.

Malloy and his budget director, Benjamin Barnes, have been critical for several years of the deficit-forecasting methodology used by the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

OFA generally tries to assess both the current and future costs of all programs, staffing, grants and other expenditures, whether fixed by contract or federal requirement, or simply set by state law.

The new methodology would disregard cost increases in most state programs, excepting debt service, retirement benefits and federal entitlement programs.

“Moving away from ‘current services’ will help us ensure that government does not continue to increase spending on autopilot,” the governor said Wednesday.  “As part the budget agreement, the state will change how it does business, and give residents and businesses the predictability they seek as government works to live within its means.”

The language is nothing but a blatant effort by Malloy and the Democratic legislature to hide the true costs of maintaining state services and preventing voters from understanding the ramifications of taxes and spending.

Dismissing the most fundamental notions of open government and democracy, Malloy and the Democratic leaders are engaged in a new political strategy based on keeping the citizens ignorant about how their government functions and how it spends their money.

No real Democrat would vote for such a measure.

Today’s original Wait, What? post is even more relevant than when it was first posted.

Any CT legislator who votes for the proposed State Budget deserves to lose in November

Any CT legislator who votes for the proposed State Budget deserves to lose in November

Comments Off on Any CT legislator who votes for the proposed State Budget deserves to lose in November

There are times when an elected official is faced with a choice between doing what is right and doing what is politically expedient in an effort to get along to go along.  The vote on the proposed state budget agreement between Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly is just such a vote.

Their proposed budget is a fiscally irresponsible and mean-spirited farce.

It is a budget that relies on record cuts to vital services and public education and unfairly dumps Connecticut’s fiscal programs on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens and our children.

The proposed budget coddles the rich and claims to limit tax increases, yet will force cities and towns across Connecticut to raise local property taxes on the state’s middle class.

And for what it is worth, the proposed budget does not even balance.

After using one-time revenue, diverting public funds from their intended purposes, borrowing to pay operating costs, and laying off thousands of public employees, this sham of a budget will be out of balance by at least $100 million dollars the day it is signed into law.

Not to mention the damage this budget will do our local public schools and to the people who need and deserve the health and human services that allow them to live more productive and fulfilling lives.

Governor Dannel Malloy is wrong when he says it is a good budget and he is lying when he says it is fiscally responsible.

The Democratic leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly who negotiated this terrible “compromise” plan are wrong when they say it is a good budget and they are lying when they say it is fiscally responsible.

And the business executives who are lobbying Connecticut legislators to vote yes on this disastrous plan are throwing the state’s citizens, including our small business owners who generate the vast majority of jobs, under the bus.

Instead of patting themselves on the back, Connecticut’s elected officials should be throwing out  this piece of crap budget and get to work putting together a budget that is fair, honest and fiscally responsible.

Any legislator who votes for the Malloy/Democratic Leadership plan should be defeated in this November’s election and replaced with someone who is capable of standing up and doing the right thing for the people of Connecticut.

Malloy/Democratic budget – Push costs onto local property taxpayers and call it structural change

1 Comment

Although Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and the Democratic leaders in the legislature have still not released all the details about the “Malloy/Democratic Compromise Budget,” the General Assembly is expected to vote on the spending plan as early as tomorrow – Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Clinging to his inaccurate claim that his budget doesn’t raise taxes, one of the small details associated with Malloy’s irresponsible approach to managing state government became apparent yesterday as the CT Newsjunkie and The Day newspaper of New London reported that the Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Office will stop, “its longstanding practice of performing toxicology tests for most sudden deaths.

The Malloy/Wyman solution – just have local towns pay the costs.

As The Day reported,

Dr. James Gill told reporters Monday that an impending 5.75 percent cut to the office’s approximately 6.2 million budget, which included two layoffs and is the latest in a series of budget cuts at the state level, means that, beginning June 1, the office will stop its toxicology work in relation to homicides, motor vehicle deaths and most suicides.

The office still will make the corresponding blood samples available to police, Gill said, but it will be up to police to seek out private toxicology testing — something that can cost almost $200 per test.

In addition, the Day explained that the State’s Chief Medical Examiner announced that the office itself could lose its accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners this summer due to the budget cuts and layoffs that are part of the Malloy/Democratic compromise budget.

“When an official with the association visited Connecticut last year for the office’s annual review, she noted that the office’s seven autopsy pathologists were on track to perform 325 autopsies each that year — a number that, if exceeded, would cause the office to lose its full accreditation.

In the past almost two years, the office’s autopsy numbers have increased 58 percent — from 1,488 to 2,357 — stretching employees thin and leading to a projected budget shortfall of $456,000 for this fiscal year.

The official recommended adding an eighth medical examiner to the staff, noting that Gill already has taken on a full case load in addition to his administrative duties.

“Loss of accreditation means that an office cannot meet the minimal standards of practice for death investigation,” Gill explained in a March meeting with the state legislative Appropriations Committee. “Mistakes by a medical examiner put people’s lives at risk, can result in the innocent (being) imprisoned and cost millions of dollars in civil claims.”

In the fall last year, he told the committee, the office proposed reorganizational and hiring plans that “would have saved the office money,” but couldn’t be fully implemented because of the hiring freeze in place at the time.

The Team Malloy solution…

State expenses shifted to local taxpayers

Larger budget deficits due to the required use of more overtime.

Or as Malloy calls it – “structural change.”

Was UConn President channeling Donald Trump in interview with student reporter?  (Part I)

2 Comments

At the end of last month, UConn Daily Campus reporter Kyle Constable sat down with UConn President Susan Herbst for an interview.  Among the topics covered was the controversy surrounding the fate of the UConn Co-op, the institution that has been serving students, faculty and the greater UConn community for the past 41 years.

While President Herbst’s answers to the student reporter’s questions were telling, the session was notable, not so much for what UConn’s President said, but how she conducted herself when dealing with a member of the media.

Upon reading the recorded transcript of the interview, one possible conclusion is that when no one was looking, Donald Trump snuck into the President’s office and possessed Herbst’s mind.  Alternatively, Herbst has been studying Trump’s meteoric rise and decided to take a page out of The Donald’s abusive and insulting approach to reporters and the media.

In any case, the public servant who collected a salary and benefits in excess of $768,558 during the last fiscal year – a $50,000 raise from the year before – managed to turn a routine “end-of-the-year” interview into a situation that should be cause for concern for UConn’s students, faculty and alumni, as well as, the state’s taxpayers and policymakers.

As background, the corporatization of the University of Connecticut took another strong step forward last month with UConn’s announcement that Barnes & Noble had been selected to replace the historic UConn Co-op bookstores.  The UConn Co-op is closing and the national bookstore chain will step in with a promise to improve services and upgrade facilities.

Prices may (or may not) go up, depending on who is assessing the situation, but one of the benefits – according to reports produced by the University of Connecticut – is that UConn will receive “millions of dollars” in revenues from the sale of books and other items sold at the new Barnes & Noble stores.

The move to turn UConn’s non-profit bookstore over to a for-profit company has generated significant controversy.  See:  UConn Co-op Bookstore Could Be Replaced By National Corporation (Hartford Courant 12/8/15), UConn Co-op to be replaced by national corporation (Daily Campus 3/11/16), Barnes & Noble to Lead UConn’s Bookstore Operation (UConn Today 4/27/16)

However, as noted, the news of the moment is not about the bookstore but about the UConn President’s demeanor when sitting down with a reporter who was asking legitimate and important policy questions.

In a case like this, it is best to simply let the content speak for itself.

The Daily Campus headline read – One-on-one: Herbst talks UConn’s path forward in face of uncertainty

Then leaping to the subsection entitled: The Co-op, Barnes & Noble

Constable [The UConn Daily Campus reporter]: The Co-op has been an institution at the university for a very, very long time. There were questions about its ability fiscally sustainable in the long term for some time. Looking at the Storrs Center bookstore location – folks over at the Co-op would say they were forced into it despite the fact that they knew it would put them in a position to make the fiscally unsustainable. Did the university make a decision that ultimately resulted in the Co-op not being able to remain its bookstore?

President Herbst: No, and we have communicated a lot on this subject, yeah, we’re done. (Looking at deputy chief of staff Michael Kirk) You have anything to add?

President Herbst’s Deputy chief of Staff Kirk: About the Co-op?

President Herbst: Yeah.

Kirk: No, I mean, it’s important to keep in mind this change wasn’t just about whether or not the Co-op was profitable. Whether it’s profitable or not, the concern on their part was they didn’t they could make it for the long term. They didn’t have a way out, other than a university bailout. At the same time, there was mounting complaints from students, and faculty and fans and others saying this is not the bookstore that we want, not the bookstore we need. So those things combined led the university to say, “We should look at what our alternatives are.” It’s wasn’t just, “Oh, the Co-op’s not profitable, therefore—” It was, “We’re not getting the kind of service out of this that we need as big university in the 21st century.”

Constable: So talk a little bit about what Barnes & Noble brings to the table for the future of the university.

President Herbst: Yeah, we had— have you read all our material about this?

Constable: Of course.

President Herbst: Yeah, so, have you been to Barnes & Noble recently? Like the Yale Co-op?

Constable: Yes, earlier this week.

President Herbst: That’s what you’re going to get, getting great programming. We’ll have guarantees on how many community programs and authors, but we’ll have our own events there, too. You will have a guarantee about textbook prices and a matching program, which we don’t have right now. There will be more and diverse gear. I mean, I think you see the difference between the Yale bookstore and what we’ve had. So, there it was, right in front of you.

So there you are – it is right in front of you!

Or as Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Edition put it –“JANE, YOU IGNORANT SLUT.”

Yale bookstore good

UConn Co-op bad

Yale bookstore is for winners

UConn Co-op is for losers

 Barnes & Nobile is the kind of store UConn needs to be, “a big university in the 21st century.”

And PS, anyone who doesn’t get it is just stupid

Or as Trump put it,

 “We’re not going to lose. We’re going to start winning again and we’re going to win big-ly.” – Donald Trump 5/3/16

 

To fully appreciate President Herbst’s entire approach, check out the full Daily Campus article at: http://dailycampus.com/stories/2016/5/6/one-on-one-herbst-talks-uconns-path-forward-in-face-of-uncertainty

Malloy and Legislative Democrats target Regional Vo-Tech high schools for devastating cuts

4 Comments

Unable to get a budget agreement with Governor Dannel Malloy to the floor of the Connecticut House of Representative and State Senate in time, the Connecticut General Assembly crashed and burned last Wednesday night as the 2016 regular session came to the end.

Although a super-secret budget agreement had been reached between Governor “my way or no way” Malloy and the Democratic leaders of the legislature, various factors, including partisan politics and the political fallout from what is actually contained in the budget, resulted in the postponement of the debate and vote on a new state budget until a special session that will be held soon.

While some of the details about the budget agreement between Malloy and the Democratic legislative leadership have been revealed, much of it remains shrouded in secrecy.

According to budget documents that surfaced last week, the massive list of cuts to state programs and services includes an incredible $7.7 million cut to Connecticut’s Vocational-Technical high schools.

While Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and state legislators across the political spectrum brag about their commitment to preparing Connecticut’s children for the economy of the 21st Century, their actions fall far short of their rhetoric.

The state of Connecticut reports;

The Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS) is committed to providing quality and challenging academic and technical programs. Its mission is to ensure that students are successful in the workplace, take advantage of postsecondary educational opportunities, and secure advanced apprenticeship training that prepare them for the 21st century workplace. Therefore, the CTHSS has developed a challenging program of study for each of the 37 technical programs. These areas include: construction, manufacturing, electronics, information technology, culinary arts, health tech, and other service areas.

But the reality is that Malloy’s record, when it comes to support for the Vo-Tech high school system, waivers between benign negligence and an outright effort to completely destroy the successful education program.

At the beginning of his first term as governor, Malloy proposed disbanding the Vo-Tech high school system altogether.  When students, parents, teachers, the business community and legislators fought back, Malloy retreated and allowed the 18 schools and their nearly 11,000 students to exist.

However, the Malloy administration has consistently used the state budget to squeeze these important and valuable schools, a system of highs schools that are successfully helping thousands of students have more successful careers.

At last count, approximately 95 percent of Vo-Tech students graduate and almost half (45 percent) of those graduates go on to pursue higher education opportunities.

Others use their Vo-Tech training in one of the 30 occupational trade programs to enter the workforce with the skills needed to get and keep a job in these difficult economic times.

Yet, as Connecticut’s economy continues to lag, rather than invest in more vocational and technical programs, or at least provide the funds needed to maintain the level of services at the state’s existing schools, the budget that the Democrats are being instructed to support includes a record-breaking budget cut to the Vo-Tech high school system.

The budget the General Assembly passed last June and was signed into law by Governor Malloy provided almost $171 million dollars to fund the costs associated with Connecticut’s Vo-Tech high schools.

Although many, if not most, of the state legislators in Hartford are unaware of the impending disaster, the Malloy/Democratic leadership compromise budget would reduce funding to $163 million – a cut of nearly $8 million.  The new budget would also grant the governor with the power to reduce funding for the Vo-Tech high schools even more through layoffs and budget rescissions.

Once the legislature adopts a new state budget, Democrat and Republic incumbents will turn their time and attention to their re-election campaigns.

When you hear them on the campaign trail saying that they support programs to provide Connecticut’s children with the knowledge and skills to be “college and career” ready … just know …. They are lying.

The fraud of computer scoring on the Common Core exams

1 Comment

Leonie Haimson is one of the nation’s leading public education advocates.  She leads the group Class Size Matters, is the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Network for Public Education.

As part of their effort to raise awareness about the problems associated with the Common Core testing schemes – PARCC and SBAC- NPE and public education advocates released the following report:

Note to Connecticut readers:  Governor Dannel Malloy’s State Department of Education has failed to respond to multiple requests for clarification about how the SBAC essays written by Connecticut students are being scored!

The fraud of computer scoring on the Common Core exams  (From Leonie Haimson)

On April 5, 2016 the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Network for Public Education, FairTest and many state and local parent groups sent a letter to the Education Commissioners in the PARCC and SBAC states, asking about the scoring of these exams.

We asked them the following questions:

  • What percentage of the ELA exams in our state are being scored by machines this year, and how many of these exams will then be re-scored by a human being?
  • What happens if the machine score varies significantly from the score given by the human being?
  • Will parents have the opportunity to learn whether their children’s ELA exam was scored by a human being or a machine?
  • Will you provide the “proof of concept” or efficacy studies promised months ago by Pearson in the case of PARCC, and AIR in the case of SBAC, and cited in the contracts as attesting to the validity and reliability of the machine-scoring method being used?
  • Will you provide any independent research that provides evidence of the reliability of this method, and preferably studies published in peer-reviewed journals?

Our concerns had been prompted by seeing the standard contracts that Pearson and AIR had signed with states. The standard PARCC contract indicates that this year, Pearson would score two thirds of the students’ writing responses by computers, with only 10 percent of these rechecked by a human being. In 2017, the contract said, all of PARCC writing samples were to be scored by machine with only 10 percent rechecked by hand.

NPE1

 

 

 

 

 

This policy appears to contradict the assurances on the PARCC scoring FAQ page that says:

Writing responses and some mathematics answers that require students to explain their process or their reasoning will be scored by trained people in the first years.”

On another Pearson page, linked to from the FAQ, called “Scoring the PARCC Test”, the informational sheet goes on at great length about the training and experience levels of the individuals selected for scoring these exams (which is itself quite debatable) without even mentioning the possibility of computer scoring. In fact, we can find nowhere on the PARCC website in any page that a parent would be likely to visit that makes it clear that machine-scoring will be used for the majority of students’ writing on these exams.

In an Inside Higher Ed article from March 15, 2013, Smarter Balanced representatives said that they had retreated from their original plans to switch rapidly to computer scoring, “because artificial intelligence technology has not developed as quickly as it had once hoped.” Yet the standard AIR contract with the SBAC states calls for all the written responses to be scored by machine this year, with half of them rechecked by a human being; next year, only 25 percent of writing responses will be re-checked by a human being.

In both cases, however, for an additional charge, states can opt to have their exams scored entirely by real people.

The Pearson and AIR contracts also promised studies showing the reliability of computer scoring. After we sent our letter and a reporter inquired, Pearson finally posted a study from March 2014. The SBAC automated scoring study is here. Both are problematic in different ways.

According to Les Perelman, retired director of a writing program at MIT and an expert on computer scoring, the PARCC/Pearson study is particularly suspect because its principal authors were the lead developers for the ETS and Pearson scoring programs. Perelman observed, “it is a case of the foxes guarding the hen house. The people conducting the study have a powerful financial interest in showing that computers can grade papers.” Robert Schaeffer of FairTest observed that:

“The PARCC report relies on self-serving methodology just as the tobacco industry did to ’prove’ smoking does not cause cancer.”

In addition, the Pearson study, based on  the Spring 2014 field tests, showed that the average scores received by either a machine or human scorer were:

“Very low:, below 1 for all of the grades except grade 11, where the mean was just above 1.” This chart shows the dismal results:

NPE2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given the overwhelmingly low scores, the results of human and machine scoring would of course be closely correlated in any scenario.

Les Perelman concludes:

“The study is so flawed, in the nature of the essays analyzed and, particularly, the narrow range of scores, that it cannot be used to support any conclusion that Automated Essay Scoring is as reliable as human graders. Given that almost all the scores were 0’s or 1’s, someone could obtain to close the same reliability simply by giving a 0 to the very short essays and flipping a coin for the rest.”

As for the AIR study, it makes no particular claims as to the reliability of the computer scoring method, and omits the analysis necessary to assess this question.

As Perelman observes:

“Like previous studies, the report neglects to give the most crucial statistics: when there is a discrepancy between the machine and the human reader, when the essay is adjudicated, what percentage of instances is the machine right? What percentage of instances is the human right? What percentage of instances are both wrong? … If the human is correct, most of the time, the machine does not really increase accuracy as claimed.”

Moreover, the AIR executive summary admits that “optimal gaming strategies” raised the score of otherwise low-scoring responses a significant amount. The study then concludes because that one computer scoring program was not fooled by the most basic of gaming strategies, repeating parts of the essay over again, computers can be made immune from gaming. The Pearson study doesn’t mention gaming at all.

Indeed, research shows it is easy to game by writing nonsensical long essays with abstruse vocabulary. See for example, this gibberish-filled prose that received the highest score by the GRE computer scoring program. The essay was composed by the BABEL generator – an automatic writing machine that generates gobbled-gook, invented by Les Perelman and colleagues. [A complete pair of BABEL generated essays along with their top GRE scores from ETS’s e-rater scoring program is available here.]

In a Boston Globe opinion piece , Perelman describes how he tested another automated scoring system, IntelliMetric, that similarly was unable to distinguish coherent prose from nonsense, and awarded high scores to essays containing the following phrases:

“According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.’’

Unable to analyze meaning, narrative, or argument, computer scoring instead relies on length, grammar, and arcane vocabulary to assess prose. Perelman asked Pearson if he could test its computer scoring program, but was denied access. Perelman concluded:

“If PARCC does not insist that Pearson allow researchers access to its robo-grader and release all raw numerical data on the scoring, then Massachusetts should withdraw from the consortium. No pharmaceutical company is allowed to conduct medical tests in secret or deny legitimate investigators access. The FDA and independent investigators are always involved. Indeed, even toasters have more oversight than high stakes educational tests.”

A paper dated March 2013 from the Educational Testing Service (one of the SBAC sub-contractors) concluded:

“Current automated essay-scoring systems cannot directly assess some of the more cognitively demanding aspects of writing proficiency, such as audience awareness, argumentation, critical thinking, and creativity…A related weakness of automated scoring is that these systems could potentially be manipulated by test takers seeking an unfair advantage. Examinees may, for example, use complicated words, use formulaic but logically incoherent language, or artificially increase the length of the essay to try and improve their scores.”

The inability of machine scoring to distinguish between nonsense and coherence may lead to a debasement of instruction, with teachers and test prep companies engaged in training students on how to game the system by writing verbose and pretentious prose that will receive high scores from the machines. In sum, machine scoring will encourage students to become poor writers and communicators.

Only five state officials responded to our letter after a full month.

Dr. Salam Noor, the Deputy Superintendent of Oregon, Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson of Massachusetts ,  Henry King of the Nevada Department of Education and Dr. Vaughn Rhudy from the Office of Assessment in West Virginia informed us that their states were not participating in automated scoring at this time. Wyoming Commissioner Jillian Balow also replied to our letter, saying that she shared our concerns about computer scoring, and that Wyoming state was not using the SBAC exam as we had mistakenly believed.

In contrast, Education Commissioner Richard Crandall responded to local parent activist Cheri Kiesecker that Colorado would be using computer scoring for two thirds of students’ PARCC writing responses:

Automated scoring drives effective and efficient scoring of student assessments, resulting in faster results, more consistent scoring, and significant cost savings to PARCC states. This year in Colorado, roughly two-thirds of computer-based written responses will be scored using automated scoring, while one-third will be hand-scored. Approximately 10 percent of all written responses will receive a second hand scoring for quality control.”

He added that parents would never know if their child’s writing was scored by a machine or a human being, because different items on each individual test sheet are apparently randomly assigned to machines and humans.

On April 5, 2016, the same day we sent the letter, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner spoke publicly to the state’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education  about the automated scoring issue. He claimed that:

the research indicates that the technology can score extended student responses with as much reliability – if not more reliability – than expert trained teacher scores …..” (Here’s the video, watch from about 11 minutes on)

He repeated this astonishing claim once again – that the machines outperform even most highly trained experienced teachers:

The research has … not just looked at typical teacher scores but expert trained teacher scores and then compared the automated scoring results to the expert trained teacher scores and the results are either as good or if not…better….”

This is appears on the face of it an absurd claim. How can a machine do better than an expert trained teacher in scoring a piece of writing?

Wagner went on to insist that:

“SAT GRE GMA, those kinds of programs have been doing this stuff for a very long time.”

Yet as we have seen, the GRE scoring method is unable to distinguish nonsense from meaningful prose. And to its credit, the College Board uses trained human scorers exclusively on writing samples for the SAT and AP exams.

The following 18 states and districts have failed to respond to our letter or those of other parents as to whether they are using computers to score writing samples on their PARCC and SBAC exams: CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, IL, LA, MD, MI, MT, NH, NJ, NM, ND, SD, VT, and WA.

The issue of computer scoring — and the reluctance of the states and companies involved in the PARCC and SBAC consortia to be open with parents about this—is further evidence that the ostensible goal of the Common Core standards to encourage the development of critical thinking and advanced skills is a mirage. Instead, the primary objective of Bill Gates and many of those promoting the Common Core and allied exams is to standardize both instruction and assessment and to outsource them to reductionist algorithms and machines, in the effort to make them more “efficient.”

Essentially, the point of this grandiose project imposed upon our nation’s schools is to eliminate the human element in education as much as possible.

As a recent piece by Pearson on Artificial Intelligence (or AI) argues:

“True progress will require the development of an AIEd infrastructure. This will not, however, be a single monolithic AIEd system. Instead, it will resemble the marketplace that has developed for smartphone apps: hundreds and then thousands of individual AIEd components, developed in collaboration with educators, conformed to uniform international data standards, and shared with researchers and developers worldwide. These standards will enable system-level data collation and analysis that help us learn much more about learning itself and how to improve it.

If we are ultimately successful, AIEd will also contribute a proportionate response to the most significant social challenge that AI has already brought – the steady replacement of jobs and occupations with clever algorithms and robots. It is our view that this phenomena provides a new innovation imperative in education, which can be expressed simply: as humans live and work alongside increasingly smart machines, our education systems will need to achieve at levels that none have managed to date.”

Here, Pearson appears to be suggesting that the robust marketplace in data-mining computer apps supplied with artificial intelligence will lead to a proliferation of jobs for ed tech entrepreneurs and computer coders, to make up for the proportional loss of jobs for teachers. This provides further evidence that their ultimate goal as well of their allies in foundation and the corporate world is to maximize the mechanization of education and minimize the personal interaction between teachers and students, as well as students with each other, in classrooms throughout the United States and abroad.

More information about the lack of evidence for machine scoring is in this issue brief here. If you are a parent from one of these states: please send in your questions, especially bullet points #1 to #3 above. The email addresses of your State Commissioners are posted here. And please let us know if you get a response by emailing us at [email protected].

CT Dem Legislators – Why the silence on the layoff of state employees

4 Comments

Among the most disturbing elements of the debate surrounding Connecticut’s state budget crisis is the silence on the part of most Democratic state legislators about the ill-conceived layoffs being perpetrated by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and the their administration.

A “throw them to the wolves” mentality might not be surprising from those who hate public employees and the existence of public services, but the public, the people who rely on state services, the impacted state employees and their families deserve better from those who call themselves Democrats.

Hundreds of state employees have already been laid off.  When Team Malloy/Wyman are done with round #1, the families thrown onto the unemployment line and into chaos will exceed 2,500.

The new “super-secret” compromise budget agreement developed by legislative leaders and the governor that will be voted on in the upcoming special session will lead to hundreds and hundreds of additional layoffs of state employees.

And from the vast majority of Democratic state legislators we hear nothing but silence.

Laying off these more junior public employees is not good public policy, it is not a mechanism to bring about structural change in government and it certainly doesn’t help address Connecticut’s long-term state employee pension problem.

Real structural change comes from identifying more effective ways to deliver services, eliminating services that are not needed and implementing strategies to address unfunded pension and healthcare costs.

Malloy’s helter-skelter layoffs serve none of those solutions.

The state employee layoffs are NOT related to ensuring critical state services are provided more efficiently and effectively

The state employee layoffs are NOT related to eliminating services that are not needed

And the state employee layoffs are certainly NOT the mechanism for addressing the long-term obligations the state has due to it negligent failure to properly fund its long-term pension and health care costs.  In fact, laying off employees who belong to the Tier IIA and Tier III pension programs actually makes the funding of pension and healthcare costs even worse.

State legislators know – or better know – that more than 80% of the present pension fund crisis is the result of the unfunded costs for state employees who were enrolled in the Tier I pension program.  Enrollment in Tier I ended in 1985 and about 97% of Tier I employees have already retired.

Putting aside the reality that it is illegal to change the pension program for those who have already retired, laying off state employees who are paying into the pension and health care funds actually undermine the effort to put the pension and healthcare fund on proper financial footing.

No legislator, Democrat or Republican, who actually understands how services are provided and the massive fiscal challenges that face Connecticut should be supporting Malloy’s unstructured state employee layoff effort – even those who support reducing the number of state employees and the level of services provided in Connecticut.

But the burden to speak up, to tell the truth, and to address issues related to reducing the number of state employees falls heaviest on the Democrats.  Not only are the Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches of state government, but they have the historical and social relationship with public employees and their unions.

The failure of so many democratic legislators to publicly speak out about the Malloy/Wyman anti-public employee policies – policies that hurt Connecticut – is a sad commentary and one that voters should consider well when voting.

Older Entries Newer Entries