Republican legislator introduces bill to repeal Connecticut’s STUDENT DATA PRIVACY ACT.

When it comes the Connecticut General Assembly and education policy, one of the most important developments was the passage, last year, of a new Connecticut Student Data Privacy Act that requires school districts to institute reasonable safeguards when selling, sharing or providing outside entities access to student information, student records, or student-generated content.

Without this law, many school districts had failed to adopted appropriate policies associated with contracts between school districts and corporations that are interested in collecting, buying, selling or using what should obviously be confidential student data.

Now, in an astonishing, baffling and extremely disturbing move, State Representative Stephen Harding (R-107th District) has introduced legislation (HB 5233) to repeal this important law (Public Act 16-189)

Representative Stephen Harding was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in a 2015 Special Election and then ran unopposed in 2016.  He represents Brookfield and parts of Bethel and Danbury.  It is not clear who would ask Representative Harding to propose such a bill or why the representative would seek to do such harm to Connecticut’s students, parents and public schools.

However, Harding’s bill ( would do exactly that.

Without the law there would be no requirement that schools districts have contractual standards that limits the use or potential abuse of student data by vendors.

The law simply requires transparency and standards about how children’s information can be  used, secured, accessed by third party contractors or online online operators and clearly states that work created by students belongs to those students.

Parents and privacy advocates may want to contact State Representative Stephen Harding (R-107):

Capital Office:  (800) 842-1423 or (860) 240-8700.
Facebook Page:

Concerned individual should also consider contacting the legislature’s Education Committee to urge them not to take up Harding’s anti-student, anti-parent legislation.

Education Committee Office: (860) 240‑0420

For more information about this law and attempts to repeal it, go to the  CT Alliance for Privacy in Education. CAPE Facebook page.

As the Alliance notes, “No friend to children, to parents, to security, or transparency” would propose delaying or repealing this vital law.

Meanwhile, as the Missouri Education Watchdog blog reports in The proposed NSA-like national database for student data: Moneyball for kids, there is a move afoot to build a new massive “national database,”:  See “Student data systems unite!-2010 and recently re-fueled by Bill Gates’ 2016 Priorities, which outlines the need to link k12 data with higher ed data, creating a national database.  MEW wrote about this and another commission on collecting, ranking student emotions here.  Gates is lobbying to create a national student tracking database on k-12 children, which is currently banned.”

For more information about this national effort go to:


Connecticut Congressional Delegation has raised more than $100 million

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” – Jesse Unruh, California Politician

As California politician, Jesse Unruh, famously observed, money is the primary nourishment for American politicians.  Big donors and lobbyists curry favor and buy access as they provide the fuel politicians need to win campaigns.

In today world of politics, success is not merely whether you win or lose, but how much money you collect along the way.

A review of federal campaign finance reports reveal that Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is “highly successful” when it comes to raising massive amount of campaign funds despite the fact that Connecticut’s congressional campaigns are not very competitive.

Since beginning their congressional careers, Connecticut five U.S. Representatives and two U.S. Senators have raised in excess of $100 million dollars to fund their political campaigns.

Member of Congress Career Total Raised
John Larson (D-1) $13.8 Million
Joe Courtney (D-2) $11.9 Million
Rosa DeLauro (D-3) $12.5 Million
Jim Himes (D-4) $14.9 Million
Elizabeth Esty (D-5) $8.0 Million
Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) $17.5 Million
Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) $21.5 Million

The following is a breakdown of campaign donations raised and source of funds for each member of Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation:

Representative John Larson (D-1)

Has raised a total of $13.8 million
Including $2.7 million through his political action committee, Synergy PAC

Total Source of PAC and Special Interest Funds
Business          77%
Labor               20%
Ideology          3%
First Elected in 1998

Joe Courtney (D-2)

Has raised a total of $11.9 million
Including $235,000 through his political action committee, Husky PAC

Total Source of PAC and Special Interest Funds
Business          53%
Labor               33%
Ideology          15%

First ran in 2002, first Elected in 2006

Rosa DeLauro (D-3)

Has raised $12.5 million
Including $1.5 million through her political action committee, Committee for a Democratic Future PAC

Total Source of PAC and Special Interest Funds
Business          49%
Labor               41%
Ideology          10%

First Elected in 1990


Jim Himes (D-4)

Has raised $14.9 million
Including $905,000 through his political action committee, Jobs + Innovation Matter PAC (Jim PAC)

Total Source of PAC and Special Interest Funds
Business          77%
Labor               12%
Ideology          11%

First Elected in 2008


Elizabeth Esty (D-5)

Has raised $8.0 million
Including $63,000 through her political action committee, Effective Leadership Enhancing Communities Today (ELECT)

Total Source of PAC and Special Interest Funds
Business          43%
Labor               29%
Ideology          29%

First Elected in 2012


Senator Richard Blumenthal

Has raised $17.5 million
Including $1.1 million through his political action committee, Nutmeg PAC

Total Source of PAC and Special Interest Funds
Business          60%
Labor               18%
Ideology          2%

First Elected in 2010


Senator Christopher Murphy

Has raised $21.5 million
Including $837,000 through his political action committee, MurphPAC

Business          54%
Labor               22%
Ideology          24%

First Elected in 2006

Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’ by John Bestor

John Bestor, an educator and education advocate, recently wrote a piece for the CT Mirror educating readers about the farce called the Mastery Exam Tax Force.  The following is his commentary piece which you can read and comment on at:

Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’

In a few days the Mastery Examination Task Force will be submitting its Final Report and Recommendations to the Connecticut Legislature’s Education Committee which had asked for a study of student assessment practices in our public schools. Having monitored the progress of this task force during its one-and-a-half years of meetings, I contend that their findings were predetermined at or even before the task force began its deliberations.

My reasons for this presumption lie in 1) the composition of committee membership serving on the task force, 2) the choice of topics discussed, and 3) the available evidence that was purposefully withheld from task force consideration.

Just why is the final report and recommendations of the mastery examination task force so important?

For starters, it is a perfect example of much of what is wrong in government today and certainly in how education policy is developed in our state. As the 2015 legislative session drew to a close, the Education Committee of the legislature passed Public Act 15-238, An Act Concerning Student Assessments. It was stipulated that “the committee must study various aspects of Connecticut’s mastery test system” and report back to the Education Committee.

Our legislators responded to persistent parent and teacher concerns surrounding the efficacy of statewide student testing that had resulted in increased opting-out across our state as it had in many states across the country. As reported in the CT Mirror, the co-chairs of the Education Committee called for, in Sen. Gayle Slossberg’s words: “The group established by this legislation will look at a number of factors including age appropriateness of the exam and how much time it is taking students and report back to the legislature.”

Rep. Andy Fleischmann echoed her concerns, saying: “We are hearing that children are spending days and days with the SBAC exam. We have to find out if it’s a good exam in terms of its impact on students and teachers.”

Unfortunately, the very design of the Task Force itself doomed this committee from the start, since the Education Committee stipulated that specific education stakeholder groups would be represented on the task force. As a result, the same group of “education reform” advocates found themselves — once again — on an influential committee that was tasked with determining the future course of what student testing in our state would look like for years to come.

The Mastery Examination Task Force was comprised of four members from the State Department of Education including the Commissioner herself as chair, two representatives from the State Board of Education, two from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, two from the CT Association of Public School Superintendents, two from the CT Association of Schools (which oversees The Principal’s Center), three from the CT Parent Teacher Association, and two chosen at-large by the Commissioner: the Executive Director of the CT Council for Education Reform and a Southern Connecticut State University professor with a math/technology background. Another appointed education leader who joined the task force after it had started represented the State Board of Regents for Higher Education. And, four representatives from the two professional teacher organizations were included on the task force.

By my calculation, task force members predisposed to maintaining (with some minor tweaks) the current statewide student assessment protocol outnumbered the teacher representatives, 18 to four.

S0, what are some of the initial concerns associated with statewide test practices that parents and teachers brought to their legislators?

Many had expressed concern:

  • That testing was taking valuable instruction time away from students.
  • That young children were sitting for days taking high pressure tests that were not developmentally appropriate or meaningful in student learning.
  • That students were feeling stressed out over multiple days of high-stakes testing.
  • That daily school routines were disrupted by test prep, schedule changes for all students to ensure computer availability, and additional days of make-up testing for those who were absent.

Are the tests even sound? Controversies over validity, reliability, fairness, discriminatory practices have been made by critics of these statewide assessment protocols. Without consideration of all sides of this controversial test debate, the Mastery Examination Task Force has failed its mission and simply continues to fuel the many parents who refuse to allow their children to participate in these unproven statewide assessment practices.

Nowhere in the minutes of Task Force meetings is their evidence that the committee even acknowledged any findings that were contrary to its predetermined course. Although fully aware of Dr. Mary Byrne’s 2015 report to the Missouri legislature, entitled “Issues and Recommendations for Resolution of the General Assembly Regarding Validity and Reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments Scheduled for Missouri in Spring 2015”, SDE leadership of this Task Force failed to consider or review its revealing and compelling arguments.

Early in her report, Dr. Byrne writes: “No independent empirical evidence of technical adequacy is available to establish external validity and reliability of the SBAC computer-adaptive assessment system. Test scores derived from tests that have no demonstrated technical adequacy are useless data points, and plans to collect evidence of validity and reliability provide no assurance that technical adequacy will be established.” Appendix B of her report contains 18-pages that outline “Steps To Generate Evidence That Test Items Are Valid And Reliable.” Based on her research, Dr. Byrne had recommended that Missouri withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (which they subsequently did).

The Task Force also failed to review and discuss the research findings of over 100 California researchers who published “Research Brief #1” in February 2016, entitled “Common Core State Standards Assessments in California: Concerns and Recommendations.”

Writing as CARE-ED [California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education], these highly-regarded education research professionals confirmed what many others had been saying. “Testing experts have raised significant concerns about all (SBAC, PARCC, Pearson) assessments, including the lack of basic principles of sound science, such as construct validity, research-based cut scores, computer-adaptability, inter-related reliability, and most basic of all, independent verification of validity. Here in California, the SBAC assessments have been carefully examined by independent examiners of the test content who concluded that they lack validity, reliability, and fairness, and should not be administered, much less be considered a basis for high-stakes decision making.”

The waiver granted to the state that allowed the administration of the Statewide SAT to 11th grade students had been applauded by the CSDE as a worthy adjustment. But, just as they had ignored the revelations of SBAC critics, the Task Force refused to acknowledge or consider Manuel Alfaro’s series of posts in May and June, 2016.

As a former executive director of assessment design and development at The College Board, Alfaro raised serious concerns about the rushed and faulty psychometric development of the redesigned SAT. In his May 17 post, he stated that, despite public claims of transparency, “public documents, such as the Test Specifications for the Redesigned SAT contain crucial statements and claims that are fabrications.”

In a later post (5.26.16),  Alfaro reported that The College Board’s own Content Advisory Committee expressed concerns about “Item Quality,” “Development Schedule,” and “Development Process” which went unaddressed by College Board executives. Part Six (9.21.16) in a series of revealing reports by Renee Dudley in Reuters Investigates further reinforced many of Alfaro’s allegations and concerns as related to the redesigned SAT’s built-in unfairness to the neediest students taking the test.

To the best of my knowledge, this evidence — though readily available on the Internet — has not been considered or reviewed by this Task Force. For a group of educators and stakeholders promoting “rigorous” and “higher critical thinking skills” from our students, many of the Task Force members have been remarkably complicit in their acceptance of whatever agenda direction and sharing of information that SDE officials put forth.

These allegations deserve acknowledgement and review if there will be any expectation that the final recommendations from this Task Force are valued and accepted by the many parents who refuse to allow their children’s reading and math skills to be measured by these still unproven and controversial assessments. It is no surprise that only14 of the 32 states that had originally committed to SBAC continue to administer this flawed test.

One issue always left out of the assessment conversation is the historic role of testing in sustaining a discriminatory message that further promulgates ideas of inferiority, eugenics, and racial bigotry. Former President Bush’s catchy rhetoric of “soft bigotry of low expectations” belies the hard evidence associated with assessments in discriminatory practices across our country.

Continued reliance on the current statewide testing protocols only serves as a “rank and sort” mechanism that devalues our diversity, undercuts our essential humanity, and plagues our state and nation. The use of flawed test results to force school closures and encourage the proliferation of privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools is an outright disgrace.

Under whatever name you call it: “turnaround schools,” “Commissioner’s Network,” or “schools of choice,” the bottom line is that citizens in the communities designated as under-performing based on these inadequately-developed and unproven tests have been stripped of their civil rights.

As hard-pressed, economically-challenged communities are starved of financial resources, the ability of citizens to control the education destiny of their local schools is being systematically taken away from their duly elected public servants. It is imperative that Connecticut legislators no longer tolerate inadequately studied and one-sided committee recommendations, like the forthcoming Mastery Examination Task Force report, and stop colluding in the failed “corporate education reform” takeover of public education in our state.

Will Governor Malloy propose boondoggle for charter schools under guise of new education funding formula?

Connecticut’s existing school funding formula is unfair, inappropriate and unconstitutional.  It leaves Connecticut’s public schools without the resources they need and places an unfair burden on Connecticut’s middle income families.

The CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit, which should have been called the CCJEF v. Malloy suit, made the problem extremely clear.

The time has come to return to the fundamental principles that served as the underpinning of the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula before it was gutted by Governor Malloy and previous Connecticut governors and legislatures.

However, rather than step up and address the major flaws with the existing failed funding system, Governor Dannel Malloy made a thinly veiled reference today, in his State of the State Address, that he plans to propose a new state education funding formula, one that would likely pump even more scarce public funds to Connecticut’s privately owned and operated charter schools.

In addition, Malloy appears poised to suggest that any increase in education funding be restricted to only the poorest communities and that it come with strict new red tape and mandates, a move that will make it even more difficult for local school boards to provide students with the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Malloy has failed to adequately fund Connecticut’s real public schools, which in turn has translated to reduced programs and higher local property taxes – not only in Connecticut’s 30 poorest towns, but in communities across the state.

Compounding the problem, Malloy has successfully diverted more than $100 million dollars a year to Connecticut’s privately owned charter schools, despite the fact that these private companies fail to accept and educate their fair share of students who require special education services, those who need help learning the English language and those who have disciplinary issues.

Now as his time in office is coming to an end, Malloy appears unwilling to truly address the fact all public schools, not just those in the poorest districts, need additional state aid.

Instead Malloy’s speech today suggests that he is laying the ground work to further privatize public education, while saddling poorer cities and towns with even more mandates, rules and regulations.

Malloy’s flowery, but hollow, words today included the following;

 “Connecticut needs a new way to calculate educational aid—one that guarantees equal access to a quality education regardless of zip code”

It will be based on the local property tax burden, student need, and current enrollment.

The system will be designed to be more fair, transparent, accountable, and adaptable—meaning that it will provide flexibility to fit the needs of a given community.

The result will be a fairer distribution of our state’s limited funds.

And if we are successful in this effort, there will be an important ancillary benefit—we can help ensure that no Connecticut city or town will need to explore the avoidable path of bankruptcy.

To be clear, that kind of help shouldn’t come without strings attached. If the state is going to play a more active role in helping less-affluent communities—in helping higher-taxed communities—part of that role will be holding local political leadership and stakeholders to substantially higher standards and greater accountability than they’ve been held to in the past. We should do it so that increased aid doesn’t simply mean more spending on local government.

Stay tuned for what Malloy will really propose when he issues his budget next month.

You can read Malloy’s full speech here – Malloy State of the State address

Robert Cotto Jr. – Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case

Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case – by Robert Cotto Jr. – 

“If the emperor was a weak man, the sight of his mark would evoke laughter and contempt, but if he was a stern and powerful ruler, his mark would instill fear and obedience.”

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, p. 213.

In the book Lords of Discipline, based on the Citadel military college, the general offered his cadets words of advice at their ring ceremony: be the powerful ruler that instills obedience and fear, otherwise suffer defeat. When I first read the judge’s decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case, it struck me as similarly militaristic. Judge Moukawsher, a lawyer and graduate of the Citadel military college, ruled that his problem with Connecticut public education was an issue of discipline, not necessarily a lack of resources. Rather than declaring a war on inequality or inadequacy, the judge declared war on a “slack system”. While news accounts called the judge’s decision an “overhaul”, the ruling was more of a directive to continue public education’s most regressive tendencies.

The valiant CCJEF argument against the State relied on a common-sense idea: every child has a right to a rich, well-rounded education for all children that is adequately funded by the State. Advocates and parents in towns and cities brought the case forward as a Constitutional challenge more than a decade ago believing that public education was inadequately funded, particularly in less wealthy towns and cities. Past court cases, such as the Horton case, argued that Connecticut’s method of funding schools mainly through local property taxes was unfair to towns and cities with a limited ability to pay for public schools. The CCJEF case made a different argument.

There were three parts of the CCJEF argument. First, Connecticut has broad goals for public education such as ensuring that kids become productive members of society and engaged citizens. Second, the State needs to provide adequate or enough funding to accomplish those goals. Third, funding must be equitably distributed, or the funds needed to reach those goals might differ from town to town because students might require more or less help to reach the same goals depending on where they live and other characteristics like poverty, town wealth, language status, and racial identification.

The CCJEF plaintiffs acknowledged that Connecticut’s current method of funding schools was progressive, but inadequate and increasingly inequitable. Over the last thirty years, Connecticut supplemented local education funds from property taxes with State funds in order to create a progressive funding system. That system eventually became called the “Educational Cost Sharing” (ECS) grant and it has produced a certain degree of equity in educational funding. (e.g. Less wealthy towns get more State funding; wealthier towns get less State funding). But the State was underfunding that ECS fund and increasingly favoring wealthier towns by never taking away funds. In some cases, wealthier towns got even more funding as poorer districts lost state funds, a point made painfully clear by the judge.

As a fight for resources towards these broad goals, the CCJEF paralleled past fights for the educational rights of Black and Latinx children, children living in poverty, bilingual children, as well as children with disabilities. However, these civil rights battles also included claims for greater control over the resources and type of education provided to Black and Latinx students. The CCJEF plaintfiffs, the State, nor the judge deliberated these issues.

Still, after years of hearings and testimony that documented public schools without sufficient resources (and funding) to provide an education worth its name, the CCJEF finally had its days in court over the last year. This year’s legislative session might also feature some response to the judge’s orders.

Watch a video version of this lecture here.

Contrary to the argument presented by the CCJEF plaintiffs, the judge found that Connecticut already, “spends more than the bare minimum on schools” (Moukawsher, 2016, p.23). The judge dismissed evidence from teachers and parents that their schools lacked adequate resources as “anecdotal” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). According to the judge’s reading of the law, as long as public school students got classrooms with desks, chairs, air to breathe, a teacher, textbooks, and a curriculum, the State had fulfilled most of its obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity. He concluded that, “there is no proof of a statewide problem caused by the state sending school district too little money” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). The CCJEF plaintiffs lost this major part of their argument. At that point, the judge could have stopped his ruling, but he went further.

Going further than the initial lawsuit required, the Judge redefined an adequate education to mean one that could be measured through “objective” tests in elementary and high school. When all kids passed standardized tests that would mean that there was a rational and adequate education. And if kids did not pass the tests, then they should not be able to just “pass” to the next grade. To that end, the judge ordered the State and its subordinates to “define” education by using “exit exams” for students to leave the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade. Here, the battle turned against the plaintiffs. The judge outflanked the plaintiffs by conflating standardized testing with equal educational opportunity.

For the judge, the State spent enough money on schools, but the State failed to compel everybody to implement the basic goals of education: kids passing basic reading and math tests. He stated his reasoning here:

…the state must propose a definition of what it means to have an elementary school education that is rationally and primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school. No definition without force behind it can be rational, especially since the state would already say that is has amply laid out what elementary schools should achieve by adopting common core standards. Here the difference between a definition and a constitutionally adequate definition is that the former may have no real consequence while the latter requires substantial consequences. (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 59-60)

For the judge, third grade and high school students in the State’s resource-poor cities could not read at the “basic” level because their basic training had failed. Education, like the military, requires authorities to provide orders to their subordinates, who must follow. Although the state already has content standards and standardized tests connected to graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school ratings, and so on, the judge believed that these tools were not wielded with sufficient authority and discipline by the State. If kids were not passing basic standardized tests, then somebody must suffer negative consequences. As the judge stated, “There is no room for a slack system to support cities like Bridgeport” (Moukawsher, 2016, 37). Poor student test results must mean somebody is slacking off and should be removed, fired, or dismissed. For the court, the educational system would only be rational and adequate when the State removed the weakest links, or the people and funding that don’t raise test results. This sweeping social analysis of Connecticut’s education system came as a surprise to those that have experienced the blunt force of the No Child Left Behind Act or Race to The Top, or other educational reforms that do, in fact, target various people to punish.

This vision for an educational system was Spartan and contradictory. It hinged on ranking kids, teachers, schools, and districts, then removing the weakest links. In the case of special education, the judge argued that, “school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from elementary or secondary school education” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 76). Presumably, money could be saved by cutting services for these students with disabilities to save the funds for the kids that “can learn”.

Somebody should be punished when “objective” tests showed that kids could not read at basic level. Only when kids passed tests and moved onto the next grade or graduation, then they could be said to have an “adequate” education. If they didn’t pass, then they couldn’t move forward. Showing a misunderstanding of standardized test results, the judge did not see much value in measures in which everybody could pass. He stated, “An inflated teacher evaluation system, like a graduation or graduation system where everyone succeeds, is virtually useless (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 63).” Useful tests and standards rate people and some people must fail by design. But the judge did not take up the question of what happens when kids and adults are punished for never passing tests and evaluations that fail people by design. As Wendy Lecker and other lawyers suggested, this ruling emboldened past and current corporate education reform initiatives. Rather than an overhaul of education, the judge ordered schools to escalate their most regressive tendencies such as testing, sorting people, removing “weak” links, and punishing non-conformists.

In terms of educational leadership, the judge wanted public schools to be more “tightly coupled”. In other words, schools must pick a goal, measure the goal, meet the goal or suffer consequences. It either did not matter or did not occur to the judge that schools might require “loose coupling”, or a set of broad goals implemented with a different type of leadership and management given the complexity of American schooling (Weick, 1976; Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

A positive aspect of the judge’s order for the plaintiffs was that it allowed the State to provide more funding for schools if schools wished to provide these opportunities, but it was not required to spend any more because it was already funding the bare minimum it needed. Redistribution of state funds was also possible, but not required under this ruling. Sadly, the things we find help kids in schools such as support professionals, arts, music, health, computers, recess, and fun were just irrational “extras” for this judge (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 40). Rich districts might be able to offer these opportunities through their own local funding, but the State is not required to fund these opportunities in middle and working class schools where the majority of Black and Latinx students reside.

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that economic status, targeted school funding, and other factors can influence academic success. Connecticut only needed to make a funding formula, connect it to test results and evaluations, then stick to it and deliver punishments for not complying and performing.  By radically redefining adequacy to “rational” discipline as measured by test scores, the ruling was a regressive departure from the idea of a rich, well-rounded public education for children, particularly for Black, Latinx, and children of all ethnic groups living in poverty.

With his Citadel ring on his finger as he read the ruling from the bench, the Judge told the State of Connecticut, be the stern and powerful school emperor that instills fear and obedience through tests and punishments. Only that would be a “rational, substantial, and verifiable” public education, even if it’s not adequately or equitably funded by the State.

Note: The State of Connecticut (defendants) and CCJEF (plaintiffs) have appealed the decisions and the Supreme Court has allowed that appeal to move forward.

You can read and comment on Robert Cotto Jr’s commentary piece at:

You can see Robert Cotto’s lecture on the topic at:


A MUST READ for 2017 – FIRST DO NO HARM – Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk by Steve Nelson

Our future depends on preparing today’s young women and men to be thoughtful, creative, engaged citizens. They must be fully alive, in love with the natural world and each other. They must be skeptical, not compliant. They must be deeply idealistic and speak truth to power. They must see the planet as their home, not as an endless source of material goods. They must see all people as their neighbors, not as their competitors in a global contest for military and economic superiority.

-From First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk

Rather than continue the unrelenting assault on public education that is taking place in the United States, what if we actually worked to develop an American public education system that provided each and every child with the ability to live more fulfilling and productive lives?

That is the essential question that underpins educator and education advocate Steve Nelson’s new book, First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk.

Using a straight-forward, direct and forceful approach, Steve Nelson lays out the fundamental prospective that rather than turning our classrooms into standardized testing factories and profit centers for the corporate education reform industry, we must reject the dangerous and failed strategies that rely on the expansion of conventional “factory-styled” education, charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and false assessments that serve as the basis for the notion that punishing students and teachers is was the way to improve academic achievement for America’s children.

In First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a time of Existential Risk, published late last year, Steve Nelson lays out the tremendous opportunities that come with rejecting our failed education policies and instituting programs and systems that are based on the progressive education model.

Defining the purpose of education, how we got here, and the power and promise of progressive education policies, Nelson eviscerates the nation’s present course of action when it comes to our public schools.  He also systematically destroys the arguments that are being peddled by the modern snake oil salesmen who claim that the path to more successful schools – and more successful children –  is paved with the “test and punish” education system that is being pushed by the bi-partisan corporate education reformers and their allies in the charter school industry.

And there is absolutely no doubt that Steve Nelson knows of what he speaks.  He is a proven expert on the value and effectiveness of progressive education policies.  As the author biography explains,

Steve Nelson has been Head of School at the Calhoun School, on Manhattan’s Upper Westside, since 1998. Calhoun is one of America’s most notable progressive schools and serves 750 students, from pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade. Calhoun is particularly well regarded for its commitment to diversity and social justice. Since 1997 Steve has been a columnist for the Valley News, the daily newspaper in the mid-VT/NH area on both sides of the Connecticut River. He has been a regular contributor to The Huffington Post since 2010, writing about education and politics.

Nelson’s background and experiences have positioned him to be an extremely authoritative voice about the state of America’s schools and how to improve them.

Beginning with his introduction to the book, fellow education advocate Matt Damon lays out the framework of Nelson’s views, writing,

Things have gone very wrong in education in recent years. Many of us know this, but few of us really understand what has happened and why. But Steve Nelson does. And in this book, he helps us understand education in a way that deepens our awareness of the profound impact education has on children’s lives and the society and world we live in.

And by way of that core understanding to a more comprehensive and holistic approach to educating children, Steve Nelson explains;

A natural view of children and child development must account for individual variances in development. Consider the words “standard” and “standards.” Anyone with children, or anyone who was once a child, knows that humans are anything but “standard.” Yet nearly everything about the design of educational settings would have you believe otherwise. Grade level standards and expectations are ubiquitous in schools and education rhetoric. Grades themselves – 1st, 2nd etc., are organized around the notion that all children can and should do certain things at the same time and in the same way. This may seem like a reasonable way to arrange a school, but it has very little to do with real children. Abstract children can be neatly divided by age, but real children differ significantly from each other.

The social and constitutional aspects of education and education policy are complex. If government, particularly the federal government, is the primary culprit in furthering the dominant factory system of education, then perhaps we should just get the government “off our backs.” Tempting, indeed. But wrong. There is a role for government in education, as in many realms where the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are at stake. That role is to affirm that equal educational opportunity is a universal right which is implicitly enshrined in our founders’ intentions and explicitly affirmed in case law. The right to educational equity is codified in many states’ constitutions and statutes. Here the government’s role is clear and unambiguous – in order to assure equal opportunity under the law, government has a role in the allocation of resources and the enforcement of all constitutional rights.

After thoroughly laying out the problems associated with today’s public schools and the alternatives that a progressive education system would provide, Steve Nelson completes his work by producing a Bill of Educational Rights that provides the vital elements that are needed to transform the nation’s failing education system into one the respects, supports and honors children. In the Bill of Educational Rights, Nelson writes that we must;

Recognize the broad consensus that early childhood education should be primarily dedicated to free, imaginative play; • Provide arts programming, recognizing that the arts are critical to all learning and to understanding the human experience; • Provide ample physical movement, both in physical education classes and in other ways, recognizing that exercise enhances learning for all children; • Exhibit, in structure and practice, awareness that children develop at different rates and in different ways; that strict age- or grade-level standards and expectations are meaningless and damaging; • Acknowledge the large body of evidence that long hours of homework are unnecessary and detract from children’s (and families’) quality of life; • Exhibit genuine affection and respect for all children; • Honor a wide range of personalities and temperaments; • Encourage curiosity, risk-taking and creativity; • Cultivate and sustain intrinsic motivation rather than relying on elaborate extrinsic systems of rewards and punishment; • Understand that brain research supports active learning, engaging all the senses; • Understand that children are intelligent in multiple ways and that all these intelligences should be honored and developed; • Listen to each child’s voice, give them real experience in democratic processes, and allow them to express their individuality; • Know each child well, appreciate the unique mix of qualities each child brings, and never demean, discourage or humiliate any child.

As for the book itself, Matt Damon wisely sums up its contribution by observing,

This is ultimately a hopeful book. Steve spells out a vision of real education reform that we just might be ready for now… All children deserve an education that will enliven their lives with joy and possibility and help them contribute to the betterment of society and our planet.

Parents, teachers and those who support better educational opportunities for all of our children should start 2017 by reading Steve Nelson’s First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk.

At the same time, the book should be a mandatory read for our elected and appointed officials, whose understanding of the benefits of true public education is needed now, more than ever.

If they truly understand where we are, where we are headed and the alternative approach that would serve our country and its children, they would use First Do No Harm as a guidebook for their policy actions.

Faith and Hope as we face these extraordinary times

Faith has to do with things that are not seen and
hope with things that are not at hand.- Thomas Aquinas

Now is definitely a time when we need both more hope and greater faith…

As the old year retreats into the past and the New Year lays itself out before us, I know I speak for many when I say good riddance to 2016 and that we share a hope that 2017 brings people of good will, good health, happiness and a share of prosperity.

There is no doubt that we have entered dark and dangerous times, a time in which truth and facts are easily pushed aside by those who rely on fear, hate and lies to get their way.

Furthermore, far too many of our elected officials, and other leaders, frame the debate as simply one between the status quo on the one side and the dangerous upheaval of our society on the other.

But the truth is that a third way must and can be found, one in which a new path is sought and found, a path that treats every person with the respect and support they need and deserve.

Writing about the ugliness of the new political era we have entered, scientist, author and educator George Lakoff recently wrote;

“Trump is a minority president.  We are the majority.  We can use our own social media networks to take matters into our own hands and begin to frame the debate with Progressive values.”

While easier said than done, it is my sincere hope and intention that the Wait, What? blog will continue its effort to serve as a truth-teller about the political world around us.

With its ongoing focus on Connecticut politics and policy, along with the ever growing damage that is being done to our public education system by the charter school industry and its allies in the corporate education reform movement, Wait, What? will serve as a platform to share ideas, suggestions and strategies about how best to move forward.

Our goal will be to educate, persuade, engage and mobilize, all based on the fundamental belief that,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”

As we seek the path forward, I want to wish each and every reader, their family and friends, faith and hope in this New Year … as together we work to make our communities, the state, our nation and the world a healthier, safer and better place to live.

Breaking News – In unprecedented maneuver, Malloy cuts $20 million in school aid in the middle of the fiscal year

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Connecticut already underfunds its public schools, under the effective darkness of the holiday week, Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration announced today that he is slashing $20 million from Connecticut’s Education Funding (ECS) Formula.

As testimony in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit made clear earlier this year, Connecticut’s utter failure to properly fund its public schools is hurting Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and schools.  The lack of appropriate state aid for education also unfairly shifts the tax burden onto Connecticut’s local property taxpayers … a move that disproportionately hurts Connecticut’s middle income families.

But now Malloy is making the situation even worse by cutting state aid for education to Connecticut’s cities and towns right in the middle of the school year, a tactic that will leave communities on the hook for making emergency cuts to programs or trying to come up with alternative revenue to maintain existing programs that are designed to benefit Connecticut’s public school students.

It was only a few weeks ago that Malloy and his operatives were intentionally misleading Connecticut voters by claiming that the state budget was balanced when a growing deficit was actually taking shape.

Now, rather than target wasteful spending, Malloy is aiming his budget ax directly at some of the state’s most important and vulnerable citizens.

By dumping his fiscal problems on local property taxpayers, Malloy continues his warped approach of coddling the rich at the expense of everyone else.

In addition, Malloy’s state department of education announced earlier this week that it is seeking proposals to fund even more charter schools, a strategy that will divert even more scarce funds away from public schools and to the private sector.

Check back for more on this breaking story in the days ahead.

Join us at the Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools Organizing Meeting 1-15-17

As we enter this new uncertain era of political turmoil, one thing is certain.  The assault on public education will undoubtedly continue.

The charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement have and will continue their well-funded, misleading and slick effort to undermine public schools in Connecticut and across the nation.

With the arrival of 2017 comes the creation of a new state-wide group of students, parents, educators and public education advocates called, Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools.   Our mission is to stand up and speak out in the battle to ensure a quality public education for all children

The group’s Facebook Page can be found via – Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools

Please make plans to join us at the Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools Organizing Meeting

January 15, 2018
1pm – 3pm
Atwater Memorial Library
North Branford, CT.

RSVP for this important meeting at:

Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools

Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools is a new state-wide group of students, parents, educators and public education advocates working across Connecticut to ensure a quality public education for all children

Find us on Facebook at – Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools

Join us at the Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools Organizing Meeting

January 15, 2018
1pm – 3pm
Atwater Memorial Library
North Branford, CT.

Sign up at: