A void in oversight of charter schools (By Wendy Lecker)

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Surprise!  Connecticut taxpayers are giving privately owned and operated charter schools more than $110 million a year, with little to no oversight.  Meanwhile, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled state legislature are implementing the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  The budget cuts, along with the inadequate funding allocated for public schools mean Connecticut’s public school students will be getting less, while local property taxpayers will be charged even more.

In another MUST READ piece, public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker reports on the void in oversight of Connecticut’s charter schools.

Wendy Lecker writes;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, Mark Linabury, head of SDE’s Choice Bureau, stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO Kathleen Dempsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s original article in the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-void-in-oversight-of-charter-7988759.php

Rhode Island’s Stefan Pryor buys more Connecticut jobs

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Pryor didn’t seem to care much for Connecticut’s children as education commissioner, so it stands to reason he wouldn’t hesitate to steal our jobs now that he is working in Rhode Island,”   Jonathan Pelto

As Neil Vigdor explains in the CT Post’s Former Malloy cabinet member recruits GE to Rhode Island;

A castoff from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s cabinet is coming back to haunt Connecticut with another reminder — or parting shot — that General Electric is the one that got away.

This time, to Rhode Island, where Malloy’s former education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, has played a key role in the recruitment of a new GE Digital venture to Providence.

Rhode Island leaders announced the deal Thursday, which includes an initial commitment of 100 jobs in return for $5.65 million in economic incentives.

Front and center was Pryor, the state’s commerce secretary.

It comes six months after Connecticut lost GE’s global headquarters to Boston, subjecting Malloy to intense criticism over the state’s business climate and retention efforts by his administration.

“We are excited to welcome this new GE Digital center to the Ocean State,” Pryor said. “GE is one of the world’s most important and innovative companies. This state-of-the-art center will bring high-wage advanced industry jobs to Rhode Island, enhancing the tech industry cluster that will ensure the state’s long-term economic success.”

A spokesman for Malloy declined to comment Thursday.

The vast majority of the 100 jobs will be new positions, according to a GE spokeswoman, who said the company did not put the digital venture out to bid when asked if Connecticut was in the running.

Rhode Island officials say the deal could yield hundreds of additional jobs.

GE still maintains a workforce of 4,000 employees in Connecticut, which Malloy’s defenders say has been overlooked in the relocation of the company’s headquarters.

But Malloy’s critics say that Pryor’s recruitment of GE Digital to Rhode Island, which had been in the running for the headquarters, adds insult to injury.

“It may cause an initial bruising to Governor Malloy as far as his feelings go,” said state Rep. John Frey, R-Ridgefield. “GE was so put off Governor Malloy’s presentation and dialogue last summer and fall that I sincerely doubt that they had any conversation with Connecticut about this opportunity.”

During his tenure as Connecticut’s education commissioner from 2011 to his 2014 resignation, Pryor had a rocky relationship with teacher unions and some education advocates over standardized testing and charter school expansion.

Some had publicly called for his ouster, including Jonathan Pelto, a former petition candidate for governor.

“Pryor didn’t seem to care much for Connecticut’s children as education commissioner, so it stands to reason he wouldn’t hesitate to steal our jobs now that he is working in Rhode Island,” Pelto said.

Malloy says NO oversight of his administration is allowed – Comptroller Kevin Lembo says what the ____!

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Yesterday – June 9, 2016 – Governor Dannel Malloy, who once pledged to run the most transparent administration in history, vetoed an extremely important piece of legislation that would have ensured that there was proper oversight over Malloy’s outrageous corporate welfare and economic development programs.

As the CT Mirror Reported,

“State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo called the veto “deeply troubling” and a blow against transparency. “

According to the news story;

“Malloy also wrote that transferring the analysis of tax credits from DECD to Program Review was “unnecessary and unwarranted.”

That drew a rebuke from Lembo, a fellow Democrat who testified at a public hearing in March favor of giving the job to Program Review, a bipartisan committee with a staff of non-partisan researchers and analysts.

“If objectivity really matters, we always want an independent third party to evaluate our work,” Lembo said Thursday in an emailed statement. “This is why teachers grade tests and students don’t just assign their own grades. Furthermore, this is a terrible loss of transparency where we need it most.”

Lembo said the veto, following a decision to provide $22 million in state bond funds to a rich hedge fund over his objection, is “deeply troubling.”

“The state owes it to businesses and all taxpayers to fully analyze the return on investment that these sizable and important programs actually deliver in order to assess whether such resources are fulfilling their intended purpose or, if not, whether state funds would be better deployed to other economic development or infrastructure investment,” Lembo said.

Malloy’s latest effort to keep Connecticut’s citizens in the dark about how badly government is managed comes on the heels of an incredible move by Malloy (and the Democrats in the legislature) to literally prohibit the “Independent” Office of Fiscal Analysis from warning elected officials and the public about upcoming budget deficits.

As a May 12, 2016 Wait, What? article reported;

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 to 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 included 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.

But Democrat Malloy and Democratic legislators voted for Malloy’s maneuver and now Malloy has added salt to the wound by making sure no one outside of his own administration reviews the corporate give-away-program that is costing Connecticut taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

A Clarion Call for Action – Superintendent Scarice speaks out for students, parents, teachers and Connecticut

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Madison, Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has been named a public education champion by Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading education advocate.  His willingness to stand up and speak out on behalf of students, parents, teachers and public schools has earned him accolades and praise from the Washington Post to the Wait, What Blog and from many others.

In his latest piece, which first appeared in the CT Mirror, Thomas Scarice lays down the gauntlet saying, An education revolution beckons. In Connecticut, who will lead?.

Superintendent Scarice writes;

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before the Education Committee of the Connecticut Legislature.  I commented that education policy in our state sadly resembles the phenomenon of the “Macarena.”

Play along for a moment.  Let your mind drift back 20 years or so to any random wedding.  When the “Rent a DJ” wanted to get the dance floor moving you could hear the drumbeat and the lyrics, “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.” Suddenly, the house was jumping, hips were swaying, hands were clapping, and everyone from your 5-year-old nephew to your great aunt were doing the Macarena.

Now fast forward to present day.  The same stale “Rent a DJ” reaches back and tries to conjure up some dance magic.  You hear that familiar drumbeat.  But, instead of filling up the dance floor, all that is left are two embarrassing guys, hips swaying and hands clapping, all alone on the floor, while family and friends shuffle uncomfortably in their seats trying not to make eye contact.

Sadly, this metaphor is an illustration of education policy in Connecticut.  We are the state left on the dance floor with tired policies, while other states are running away.  We are overdue for a bold statewide vision that matches the uncertain and ever-changing world our students will enter when they graduate.  But who will lead?

Codified by state law, and enforced by a bureaucracy utterly consumed by compliance, tens of thousands of educators across the state are suffocating, desperate to be exhumed.  Consequently, this suffocation is stifling the young, inquisitive minds of children from all backgrounds and colors.

Have we seen the types of educational changes we want for our kids in the past 10-15 years, particularly as the world endures revolutionary changes?  If not, why continue the same ineffectual practices?  Can Connecticut jump to the forefront and lead in innovation, or do we stand on the dance floor with the two embarrassing guys clapping and swaying?

As we careen through rapid global changes that have profound implications for the worlds of work, citizenship, and lifelong learning, it is safe to assume that the traditional promise of “go to school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job” no longer applies.  If you are clinging to that promise, you are probably still searching for your music at Tower Records.

The world continues to decentralize its economy, and the flow of information, at an unprecedented rate.  The “sharing economy” rewards innovators and diversity of thought.  Yet, Connecticut clings to a command-and-control educational approach destined to homogenize children.

Either directly through prescriptive laws, such as ones that mandate precisely how local boards of education must evaluate their employees, or indirectly through schemes and mechanisms that place high stakes on invalid and unreliable tests such as the SBAC, we rank and sort kids, schools, and teachers based on test scores. Our 8-year-old students take more state tests than what is required to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer.  All the while we are missing the point.

We are educating our children for the wrong era.

So, how is this era different?  The list is endless.

Our kids must be able to think analytically through incomparable volumes of information, to imagine, to work effectively with others, to find their voice in a sea of noise, to tell a compelling story, and to ask incisive questions to name just a few.  Getting better at taking tests, answering mind-numbing “text-dependent questions” by finding facts in non-fiction texts, and limiting opportunities for original thought will only serve to further divorce important authentic learning from schooling.

Sudden, almost instantaneous changes are reshaping our democracy and the global economy.  Will Uber, with a valuation about to surpass the levels of GM, DuPont, and Time Warner, evolve beyond online transportation and be the standard business model that will employ the next generation of professionals?  Might patients someday demand the attentive droid instead of the human doctor for time sensitive procedures, such as keyhole kidney surgery?  What about entry level or service jobs?  iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn, has already replaced 60,000 workers with robots, and Royal Caribbean’s luxury cruise line now uses a robotic bar, Shakr Makr, developed at MIT, to serve customers.

What does the automated car mean for the insurance industry?  What about the “sharing economy”?  Airbnb is now the biggest hotel chain in the world.  What happens if the startup company, Otto, with engineers from Google, Apple and Tesla, perfects technology that enables fleets of robotic self-driving trucks?  Have you noticed that a multi-billion dollar industry has been reduced to a red tin box of DVDs outside of gas stations in the matter of a few years?   Couple all of these rapid transformations with an increasingly polarized interpersonal climate across the nation and an imposing landscape emerges for this and future generations.

And our response in Connecticut?  We cling to a flawed test (i.e. the SBAC), conflating measures with goals, while other states, and organizations in private industry leave the dance floor and run in the opposite direction.

Over half of the states that initially adopted the SBAC have dropped it, and the remaining states inevitably will in due time, including Connecticut, but by then how many more students will have been harmed?

Oklahoma and Hawaii have removed the coupling of student test scores from the evaluations of individual teachers.  Massachusetts is the next state to follow suit, interestingly enough, led by a coalition of superintendents and teachers.  A recent New York court decision invalidated the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations due to the arbitrary and capricious nature of the process.

Even outside of education, private industry behemoths such as, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, Google, and Accenture have eliminated the use of numerical ratings for employees, an immovable piece of the Connecticut evaluation scheme.  And finally, there’s New Hampshire, which has aggressively pursued a statewide assessment model that put teachers in the position of creating tasks where students apply their learning in real world situations, rather than flawed standardized tests.

Could Connecticut innovate on the same level?  Of course.  Will we?  Listen closely…”Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.

In Connecticut we will commission a “study” of the practice of assessing teachers’ performance on student test scores even though the actual makers of the test, and mountains of literature, warn against the practice.  We’ll grade schools and districts on a 1-5 rating scale, although that practice failed miserably across the nation.  We will count on the SBAC to predict career readiness… quite a miraculous endeavor given that the World Economic Forum recently predicted that 65 percent of the jobs our children will occupy do not even exist yet.

We will base 80 percent of elementary and middle school performance on a singular, flawed test, thus distorting the perception of schools.  We’ll place the SAT at the center of high school accountability with more than half of a school’s performance rating based on SAT scores, while a growing number of colleges and universities recognize that the SAT fails to properly predict college success and move to drop the testing requirement.

Worse yet, we apply the greatest pressure to districts with the greatest challenges, plagued with economic disadvantages and generational poverty.    Can you hear it?  “Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena.”

And how do we justify such practices?  Perhaps most offensive of all, we equate the need for high stakes testing , and command-and-control policies, with the obligation to ensure the protection of the civil rights for our most at-risk children without any conversation about the funding, or even more necessary, accountability for those holding others accountable.

The obsession with dehumanizing students and equating them with data points has muted any discussion about inputs into the system (e.g. funding, class size, innovative curricular and professional development).  One need to go no farther than a short drive down the turnpike to civil rights expert, Dr. Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University, who has demonstrated with thunderous authority, through the actual words and sayings of Dr. Martin Luther King, that the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement would have never stood beside those who seek to privatize and monetize public education, nor would he have supported the high stakes testing obsession that has crippled the promise of public education, dehumanized children, and driven countless educators out of the profession.

If that is not enough, perhaps civil rights icon James Meredith’s most recent comments criticizing these same intellectually and morally bankrupt practices will finally put this myth to bed.

And yet, in Connecticut, we remain on the dance floor.  Our dance partners are dwindling, running in the opposite direction.  An education revolution beckons.  One that engages, imagines, inspires, and personalizes.

Soon, it will just be us and the two embarrassing guys.  Who will lead?

To read and comment on Thomas Scarice’s commentary piece go to the CTMirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/06/09/an-education-revolution-beckons-in-connecticut-who-will-lead/

 

Malloy surpasses Rowland – Gets lower approval rating according to Q-Poll

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The new Quinnipiac University Poll (Q-Poll) reveals that Governor Dannel Malloy’s favorability rating is now less than that of disgraced Governor John Rowland, the day Rowland resigned in 2004.

As the Hartford Courant reports,

By a 68 to 24 percent margin, voters surveyed said they disapproved of the job Gov. Dannel Malloy is doing, his worst approval rating ever and one of the lowest approval ratings ever recorded for a governor in any of the nine states surveyed by the Quinnipiac University Poll.

The Hartford Courant adds,

“Voters feel Connecticut’s economy is going down the drain and they are sending Gov. Dannel Malloy’s approval ratings right down the same drain. Even Democrats disapprove of the way he is doing his job,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz. “Gov. Malloy has lost ground on almost every measure.”

Facing a probable impeachment in the summer of 2004, John Rowland resigned as Governor of Connecticut with a 25 percent favorability rating.  Rowland went on to plead guilty and served time in federal prison.

Twelve years later, Malloy’s general favorability rating has sunk below Rowland’s and has plunged far below Rowland’s on a number of key issues and attributes.

The Q-Poll has determined that Connecticut voters give Malloy extremely poor approval ratings for his handling of the following important issues

18- 76 percent for his handling of the economy and jobs;

16- 77 percent for his handling of the budget;

18 – 76 percent for his handling of taxes.

According to the poll, almost 80 percent of all votes – and more than 2 in 3 voters in his own Democrat Party – oppose the way Malloy is handling the state budget.

In addition, by overwhelming numbers, Connecticut voters say that Malloy DOES NOT have strong leadership skills, is NOT trustworthy and DOESN’T care about the needs and problems of average people.

They stole the fricking school bus seat belt money again!

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Hidden deep inside the new state budget bill negotiated by Governor Dannel Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders, and approved last month by the Democrats in the General Assembly, was a provision that, once again, transferred the money that had been set aside to help school districts retrofit school buses with seat belts into the general fund.

As Wait, What? readers know, this is not the first time Governor Malloy and the Democrats have stolen the School Bus Seatbelt Account in order to make the state budget balance.

Since taking office, Malloy has reached into the special school seat belt fund four times, grabbing close to $10 million dollars.

Rather than use the funds for their intended use – to protect our children – Malloy and the Democrats simply grabbed the money to plug holes in the state budget.

This time, rather than adopt a fair and honest budget, the Democrats added Section 28 to Senate Bill 501 which “transferred” $2 million from the School Bus Seatbelt Account to the General Fund.  The legislature also swept $2 million from the Seat Belt fund to address a small part of the $250 million Fiscal Year 2016 budget deficit.

Previous Wait, What articles on this issue can be found via the following links:

The Train Wreck of the Democrats’ State Budget. [Or for long-time Wait, What? readers file under – Not the Fricking School Bus Seat Belts again!] (6/3/2015)

School Bus Seat Belt Fund: A prime example of Connecticut’s budget gimmickry (1/14/2014)

Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority? (12/20/2012)

The School Bus Seat Belt Account was created following the tragic January 2010 school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.  Following the accident, the Connecticut legislature kicked into action, passing Public Act 10-83.

The law created the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account, “a separate non-lapsing account in the General Fund” and required that the funds be used to help school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the Legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175, using the extra $50 per person to create a funding stream for the important program.

Now six years later, no school bus seat belts have been installed, thanks to the fact that Connecticut’s governor and legislature have stolen nearly $10 million from the fund.

When these elected officials come looking for support, ask them why they didn’t do more to stop this outrage.

Election Year Politics – Congressional delegation to cut ribbon for Vo-Tech schools that Malloy/Wyman are destroying

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Welcome to the sad state of Connecticut politics in 2016.

The headline in of the press release screams out;

COURTNEY, BLUMENTHAL, MURPHY TO HIGHLIGHT ‘MANUFACTURING PIPELINE’ DURING ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION AND JOIN RIBBON CUTTING FOR GRASSO TECH WELDING SHOP

The news advisory goes on explain that “Welcoming remarks” will be provided by Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman.

The event, which is taking place this morning at the Grasso Vo-Tech High School, will include a roundtable discussion, followed by a celebratory “ribbon cutting” for the Connecticut Vocational Technical High School’s expanded manufacturing program that seeks to, “train or retrain employees for high-tech manufacturing careers.”

Discussing the importance of job retraining in the 21st Century economy, Congressman Courtney, along with Senators Blumenthal and Murphy, will be basking in the glory of having helped the Connecticut Vo-Tech High School’s Workforce Training Program get a $6 million federal grant last year.

But of course, the problem – which is nicely overlooked in the media announcement- is that Governor Dannel Malloy and his policy partner, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, were successful in their effort to persuade the Democratic-controlled State Senate and State House of Representatives to adopt Malloy’s strategy of instituting the deepest cuts to Connecticut’s Vo-Tech high schools in state history .

Less than a month ago, a Wait, What? post explained, Malloy and Legislative Democrats target Regional Vo-Tech high schools for devastating cuts.

The state budget was finally passed and signed into law by Governor Malloy who slashed another $7.8 million from Connecticut’s Vocational-Technical High School system.  In conjunction with Malloy’s other budget rescissions, holdbacks, layoffs and gimmicks, Connecticut’s vo-tech high schools are reeling from what is in effect a cut of more than $15 million from what would be needed maintain the current level of services.

However, in an election year, successful politicians will find a way to turn a grant of $6 million, followed by a budget cut of $15 million, into a reason to have a ribbon cutting.

Hooray for the Orwellian politics of 2016.

More public money for the 1% – less resources for the rest of Connecticut’s public school students

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Governor Dannel Malloy, with the support of Democratic legislators, has made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Already inadequately funded, Connecticut’s elected officials are now truly undermining the opportunity for every Connecticut child to get the education the need and deserve.

However, Connecticut’s fiscal crisis isn’t stopping Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education from shoveling even more public funds to the privately owned and operated companies that run Connecticut’s charter schools – entities that refuse to educate their fair share of students with special education requirements or those who need extra help becoming proficient in the English Language (ELL students.)

At yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting (June 1, 2016)), Governor Malloy’s appointees voted to allocate even more funding for charter schools, while pretending their primary responsibility to adequately fund public schools wasn’t being undermined by Malloy’s actions.

In Charter school enrollment set to rise, the CT Mirror reported that the State Board of Education was moving forward with a proposal from Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to allow charter schools to increase enrollment at charter schools next fall, noting;

While the enrollment increase will cost the state an additional $4.1 million next year, funding for traditional public schools is being cut by $51.7 million and for regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, by $15.4 million.

In recommending that 14 of Connecticut’s 23 charter schools be allowed to enroll another 401 students, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote the publicly funded schools had a “demonstrated record of achievement.”

However, Wentzell isn’t telling the truth.  The reality is that many Connecticut charter schools are failing to provide equitable and adequate access to the full array of Connecticut’s public school students and that even after cherry-picking the students they will accept and keep, most charter schools are failing to do an adequate job.

The CT Mirror goes on to report;

One of the schools being recommended for an enrollment boost, however – Achievement First Hartford – was put on probation last month after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of disciplining students and having too few of its teachers properly certified. Achievement First Hartford includes an elementary, middle and high school.

The schools were first identified in 2013 as having some of the highest suspension rates in the state, but enrollment caps have been waived by the state education board for three years so enrollment could grow from 874 to 1,125 students. In a 2013 memo to the state board, the leader of Achievement First outlined plans to revise its “if-in-doubt-send-them-out” suspension policy, to better train teachers on handling disruptive students, and to reduce the offenses students could be suspended for. But data released in April showed the schools still have high suspension rates.

One other school, Jumoke Academy, is currently on probation, and two others were given notice they needed to improve last May.

Jumoke was at the center of a controversy surrounding questionable fiscal practices that were unveiled by The Hartford Courant. The school is in its second year of probation and is the only charter school that is being recommended for decreased enrollment. However, enrollment at Jumoke has increased since it was put on probation, from 705 students during the 2013-14 school year to 765 students next year.

Stamford Academy and New Beginnings in Bridgeport both had their charters renewed last May for shortened terms, and conditions for improvement were imposed. Stamford is being recommended for an enrollment increase and Bridgeport for a flat enrollment.

When Dannel Malloy took office in January 2011, Connecticut taxpayers subsidized charter schools to the tune of about $50 million a year.  This coming year, after becoming one of Malloy’s most important sources of campaign cash, Connecticut taxpayers are giving the private companies that run charter schools more than $125 million.  No other area of the state budget has grown at such an alarming rate.

As noted here at Wait, What? and elsewhere, charter schools have a long and ugly track record of mistreating students, parents and teachers.  Across the country, more and more charter school operators are also being investigated, indicted and/or convicted of fraudulent use of public funds.

One of the more noteworthy controversies surrounding charter schools occurred here in Connecticut when Jumoke Academy came under investigation for misuse of public funds and it was revealed that the company’s CEO didn’t have the academic degree he claimed but was living the high-life in a brownstone purchased and renovated by the charter school company.

Additional Background on Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals can be found via the following Wait, What? posts:

The downfall of another Charter School Management Company

What’s missing from the damning Jumoke/FUSE report – Part 1

FUSE re-lights Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals

Malloy and Pryor:  The Connecticut Charter School Debacle Expands

An ‘anything goes’ approach to charter schools by Wendy Lecker

Today’s MUST READ PIECE – Where’s the Accountability? Anyone? By Sarah Darer Littman

Columns on the Malloy/Pryor Charter School scandals

Will Malloy and Dems cover up new state budget deficit until after the November election?

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As Keith Phaneuf of the CT Mirror is reporting in a new investigative piece entitled, Pace of state layoffs slower than planned as one deadline nears, Governor Dannel Malloy’s inability to successfully manage the state budget problems will mean that the budget deficit that is hidden in the coming fiscal year’s spending plan will be significantly larger than previously reported.

The new state budget that begins on July 1, 2016, a plan that was adopted by the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor, not only makes record cuts to public education and a variety of critically important health and human services for Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens, it is a budget that is actually out of balance by at least $250 million.

Just a few weeks ago, having pronounced the new state budget, Malloy and the Democrats pronounced it balanced, padded themselves on the back for a job well done, and left Hartford behind to focus their attention on this fall’s legislative elections.

However, the harsh reality is that the new state budget not only fails to adequately fund the programs and services that Connecticut citizens need and deserve, but the deficit hidden inside the new budget is so large that Malloy will need to implement record budget reductions on top of the record budget cuts that he and his allies have already adopted, or they will need to return to the Capitol to raise taxes, before or after the November election.

Although the most immediate question is whether Malloy and legislative leaders will even admit that their spending plan is a failure or whether they will try to hide the magnitude of the new budget deficit until after the November elections

As Phaneuf explains;

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s efforts to reduce the state’s workforce are progressing more slowly than originally planned — an issue that could worsen a likely deficit this fiscal year and pose a bigger threat to finances after July 1.

As of June 1, 693 Executive Branch workers and 239 in the Judicial Branch have received layoff notices, a total of 932. That’s only about half of the 1,900-to-2,000 layoffs the governor said two months ago that he anticipated being ordered by June 10.

[…]

Budget counts on big labor savings

But the fiscal implications of reducing the state workforce — and of not doing so — are huge.

According to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, just under 2,000 layoffs would save $133 million per year.

The new $19.76 billion budget Malloy and legislators crafted for 2016-17 cut $255 million from departmental salary accounts and also assumes the administration will find another $69 million in “general employee” savings.

Several legislators, including Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, conceded this budget assumes more in labor savings than the administration’s layoff plan would provide — even if all layoffs are achieved.

If the labor savings are not in place, the new budget could be out of balance significantly before the fiscal year even begins.

“The new budget could be out of balance significantly before the fiscal year even begins.”

And out of balance it will be…

The effort by Malloy and the legislature’s Democratic leaders to claim that they would reduce the state budget by $324 thanks to state employee layoffs and concessions ($255 million from salary accounts and $69 million from “general employee” savings) was irresponsible and nothing short of a gimmick.

The plan was just another example of how their rhetoric and political spin has been designed to withhold and cover up the truth.

And the truth is that Governor Dannel Malloy has been consistently unable or unwilling to provide Connecticut with a balanced state budget.

In the months leading up to the 2014 gubernatorial election, Malloy famously said – and reiterated on a daily basis – that there was no state budget deficit, nor would there be one if the voters gave him a second term in office.

During his re-election campaign, Malloy also promised that he would never, ever raise taxes again – a true “Read My Lips” moment considering there are even “revenue enhancements” in this year’s failed budget, not to mention the massive shift of costs onto the backs of local property taxpayers that will be required to make up some of the cuts to public schools.

It was only days after the November 2014 election that Malloy and his political operatives finally begin to admit that they were sitting on a sea of red ink.

When the state’s books were actually closed on that year’s budget, the final state budget deficit exceeded $110 million.

This year, even after Malloy and the legislature implemented massive cuts to state services and approved unprecedented numbers of state employee layoffs, the state budget will end up more than $260 million in deficit.

As Phaneuf explains in his CT Mirror story, Connecticut’s Rainy Day fund stood at about $520 million on Election Day 2014 – the day Malloy was given his second term in office by claiming there was no budget deficit, nor would there be one if he was re-elected.

But after the Connecticut Rainy Day Fund was used to cover last year’s deficit and will be used, again, to cover this year’s deficit, the total amount left in the state’s savings account will be in the range of $145 million, far less than the $250 plus million deficit that is already built into this coming year’s budget plan.

It sounds a bit complex, but it isn’t.

The decision to coddle the rich, reduce funding for public schools, undermine the state’s most vital programs, and layoff state employees, while knowingly saddling taxpayers with yet another large budget deficit is unconscionable.

Unfortunately, the question is not whether Connecticut will need to address this continuing fiscal crisis.  The only issue is whether Malloy will, once again, try to hide the deficit from the public until after this year’s elections are over.

I suppose the other question is whether the voters will fall for this ploy yet again

There is a reason the phrase, “enough is enough” came into being….

For additional background read the CT Mirror story at: http://ctmirror.org/2016/06/02/pace-of-state-layoffs-slower-than-planned-as-one-deadline-nears/

NEWS FLASH – Common Core PARCC tests gets an “F” for Failure

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Despite the rhetoric, promises and hundreds of millions of dollars in scarce public funds, a stunning assessment of the data reveals that the Common Core PARCC test DOES NOT successful predict college success.

The utter failure of the PARCC test reiterates that the same may be true for those states that have adopted the Common Coe SBAC testing scheme.

Here is the news;

The Common Core PARCC tests gets an “F” for Failure (By Wendy Lecker and Jonathan Pelto)

The entire premise behind the Common Core and the related Common Core PARCC and SBAC testing programs was that it would provide a clear cut assessment of whether children were “college and career ready.”

In the most significant academic study to date, the answer appears to be that the PARCC version the massive and expensive test is that it is an utter failure.

William Mathis, Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center and member of the Vermont State Board of Education, has just published an astonishing piece in the Washington Post. (Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid? In it, Mathis demonstrates that the PARCC test, one of two national common core tests (the other being the SBAC), cannot predict college readiness; and that a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education demonstrated the PARCC’s lack of validity.

This revelation is huge and needs to be repeated. PARCC, the common core standardized test sold as predicting college-readiness, cannot predict college readiness. The foundation upon which the Common Core and its standardized tests were imposed on this nation has just been revealed to be an artifice.

As Mathis wrote, the Massachusetts study found the following: the correlations between PARCC ELA tests and freshman GPA ranges from 0.13-0.26, and for PARCC Math tests, the range is between 0.37 and 0.40. Mathis explains that the correlation coefficients “run from zero (no relationship) to 1.0 (perfect relationship). How much one measure predicts another is the square of the correlation coefficient. For instance, taking the highest coefficient (0.40), and squaring it gives us .16. “

This means the variance in PARCC test scores, at their best, predicts only 16% of the variance in first year college GPA.  SIXTEEN PERCENT!  And that was the most highly correlated aspect of PARCC.  PARCC’s ELA tests have a correlation coefficient of 0.17, which squared is .02. This number means that the variance in PARCC ELA scores can predict only 2% of the variance in freshman GPA!

Dr. Mathis notes that the PARCC test-takers in this study were college freshman, not high school students. As he observes, the correlations for high school students taking the test would no doubt be even lower. (Dr. Mathis’ entire piece is a must-read. Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid?)

Dr. Mathis is not an anti-testing advocate. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, Director of its Educational Assessment program, a design consultant for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and for six states.   As managing director for NEPC, Dr. Mathis produces and reviews research on a wide variety of educational policy issues. Previously, he was Vermont Superintendent of the Year and a National Superintendent of the Year finalist before being appointed to the state board of education. He brings expertise to the topic.

As Mathis points out, these invalid tests have human costs:

“With such low predictability, you have huge numbers of false positives and false negatives. When connected to consequences, these misses have a human price. This goes further than being a validity question. It misleads young adults, wastes resources and misjudges schools.  It’s not just a technical issue, it is a moral question. Until proven to be valid for the intended purpose, using these tests in a high stakes context should not be done.”

PARCC is used in  New Jersey, Maryland and other states, not Connecticut. So why write about this here, where we use the SBAC?

The SBAC has yet to be subjected to a similar validity study.  This raises several questions.  First and most important, why has the SBAC not be subjected to a similar study? Why are our children being told to take an unvalidated test?

Second, do we have any doubt that the correlations between SBAC and freshman college GPA will be similarly low?  No- it is more than likely that the SBAC is also a poor predictor of college readiness.

How do we know this? The authors of the PARCC study shrugged off the almost non-existent correlation between PARCC and college GPA by saying the literature shows that most standardized tests have low predictive validity.

This also bears repeating: it is common knowledge that most standardized tests cannot predict academic performance in college.  Why , then, is our nation spending billions developing and administering new tests, replacing curricula, buying technology, text books and test materials, retraining teachers and administrators, and misleading the public by claiming that these changes will assure us that we are preparing our children for college?

And where is the accountability of these test makers, who have been raking in billions, knowing all the while that their “product” would never deliver what they promised, because they knew ahead of time that the tests would not be able to predict college-readiness?

When then-Secretary Arne Duncan was pushing the Common Core State Standards and their tests on the American public, he maligned our public schools by declaring: “For far too long,” our school systems lied to kids, to families, and to communities. They said the kids were all right — that they were on track to being successful — when in reality they were not even close.” He proclaimed that with Common Core and the accompanying standardized tests, “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.”

Mr. Duncan made this accusation even though there was a mountain of evidence proving that the best predictor of college success, before the Common Core, was an American high school GPA.  In other words, high schools were already preparing kids for college quite well.

With the revelations in this PARCC study and the admissions of its authors, we know now that it was Mr. Duncan and his administration who were lying to parents, educators, children and taxpayers. Politicians shoved the Common Core down the throat of public schools with the false claim that this regime would improve education.  They forced teachers and schools to be judged and punished based on these tests.  They told millions of children they were academically unfit based on these tests. And now we have proof positive that these standardized tests are just as weak as their predecessors, and cannot in any way measure whether our children are “college-ready.”

The time is now for policymakers to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of school hours, on a useless standardized testing scheme;   and to instead invest our scarce public dollars in programs that actually ensure that public schools are have the capacity to support and prepare students to have more fulfilling and successful lives.

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