Closing Connecticut’s Real Achievement Gap (By Ann Cronin)

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So what is the answer to closing Connecticut’s Achievement Gap?  Educator, education advocate and fellow education blogger Ann Cronin lays out the real solutions for Connecticut’s schools in her latest article. You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s article at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/09/15/closing-connecticuts-real-achievement-gap/

Ann Cronin writes;

There‘s a lot of talk in Connecticut about closing the achievement gap between affluent students who are predominately white and poor students who are predominately black or brown, but there have been no effective actions taken and none are on the horizon. Instead, Connecticut gave up its own well-founded state standards and adopted the narrow and inadequate Common Core Standards, called them rigorous which they are not, and gave students standardized tests to measure their achievement of those quite limited standards. Then Connecticut waited for the test scores to see if the impoverished would catch up to the affluent. They haven’t and they won’t.

The poorer the students, the lower the test scores. Standardized test scores, always and ever, are correlated with the family income of the test takers so it makes no sense to address the achievement gap by analyzing standardized test scores. The achievement gap that makes sense to address is the gap between those who succeed in their academic goals and those who do not, between those who graduate from college and those who do not.

That gap is a staggering one. For students who attended Connecticut public high schools and began college, the graduation rate is: 24.4% for black, 21.4% for Hispanic and 53.8% for white college students. Similarly, only 19% of Connecticut’s economically disadvantaged students who attend college earn a college degree as compared to 54.2% of their more advantaged peers.

Colleges and universities across the country have recognized this achievement gap in which the rich are sure to graduate and the poor are not.Nationally, 90% of college freshman born into families in the top income quartile graduate while only 25% of those born into the bottom half of the income distribution graduate. 

Colleges and universities are taking effective steps to solve the achievement gap among their students, but  Connecticut is not taking any effective steps to close the K-12 achievement gap. Colleges and universities are successful because they ask a question much different from the question that Connecticut is asking. The Connecticut question is: How can we reduce the gap in standardized test scores? The question that the colleges and universities are asking is: What can we do to improve student achievement?

As in so many things, asking the right question is the secret to success

Research psychologists at Stanford University headed higher education in the right direction in answering the college and university question. They had for years been exploring the premise that students are often blocked from living up to their potential because of their fears about not belonging in college and their doubts about their ability. They found that lack of achievement is often rooted in students’ feelings of not belonging to what they see as a community of achievers and considering themselves less academically able than others.

In one of the Stanford University studies, researchers provided students at an elite Northeastern college with a message about belonging. They informed them that everyone at their college feels overwhelmed and not smart enough and asked them to react in writing to that idea. This exercise had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study. The experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class and cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.

This study was replicated at a private Midwestern university with students who were the first in their family to attend college. The result was that the achievement gap between students who were the first in their family to attend college and the students whose parents had attended college was reduced by 63%.

In another Stanford University study, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out scientific evidence against the theory of a fixed intelligence that cannot grow and change. At semester’s end, 20% of the students in the control group had dropped out of developmental math and, therefore, out of college, compared with just 9% of the treatment group. This intervention cut the community-college math dropout rate by more than half.

At the University of Texas at Austin, a chemistry professor, David Laude,worked with the same hypothesis as the Stamford researchers. He identified 50 students who had lower SAT scores, were economically disadvantaged, and the first in their families to attend college. He taught them the exact same curriculum and gave them the exact same tests as the 400 students in his other class. The difference was that he involved the fifty students in a program which gave them both a sense of belonging to a group of achievers and strategies for developing themselves as learners. The result was that this group of disadvantaged students, who were 200 points lower on the SAT than students in Laude’s larger section, had exactly the same grade distribution as the students in the larger section. The impact went beyond that chemistry class. This group  of 50 students who, statistically, were on track to fail, returned for their sophomore year at rates above average for the university as a whole and three years later had graduation rates that were above the university average.

Laude has now been appointed senior vice provost, charged with improving the four-year graduation rate. He instituted a program, based on the same premises as his chemistry program, for 500 students who are low income, first members in their family to attend college, have lower SAT scores, and a graduation rate of 20%. These 500 students are given $5000 a year scholarships for which they are required to be in leadership positions on campus, participate in campus internships, and attend weekly lectures on developing strategies for learning. Through these activities, students gain a sense of themselves as part of the community of achievers and learn how to learn.

Also at the University of Texas at Austin, David Yeager, a psychology professor and former Stanford researcher, has been commissioned to address the dropout rate among poorer students with lower SAT’s and the first in their family to go to college. As part of freshman orientation, he asked students to read articles that address their sense of belonging in an academically challenging environment and that discuss the brain as malleable and able to grow and change its capability with effort. With this simple intervention, the University of Texas cut in half the achievement gap between advantaged freshmen and freshmen who are black, Latino, first-generation, and/or poor.

Many colleges and universities are instituting programs to address the particular learning needs of students who are poor and first in their family to attend college. Brown hosted the first Inter-Ivy First Generation Student Network Conference in 2012, drawing students from across the country. Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, Brown and Yale are involved in a multi-year study in which they interview first generation students from low income families (usually an income under $40,00 year) to ascertain their needs. These programs for first generation college students seek to give students  both a sense of belonging and strategies for learning.

What can we in Connecticut learn from higher education? How can we close the real achievement gap? How can we close the gap between our children who become well-educated and accomplished human beings and our children who become dropouts from the world of education and accomplishment?

Here is a plan:

First: End high stakes standardized tests. With standardized tests, test prep becomes the curriculum, and all students – black, brown, white, poor, and affluent –  are deprived of real learning. Standardized tests deprive the poor, the black, and the brown of a fair chance. Standardized tests hurt all children.

Second: Ask educators to design performance assessments which demonstrate what students can do, how they can think, how they learn, and what they can create in each discipline.

Third: Require each school district to create a curriculum which teaches students strategies for learning in a developmental progression from K-12.

Fourth: Hold all of us – teachers, school administrators, school boards, teachers unions, the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Connecticut State Board of Education, legislators, the governor – to the same standard. That standard is: What are you doing to bring all he students for whom you are responsible into the community of achievers?

Then, and only then, will Connecticut close its achievement gap.

A MUST READ – Kevin Rennie: Judge Decides Disabled Kids Not Worth Teaching

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Hartford Courant columnist, blogger, lawyer and former legislator, Kevin Rennie, has a MUST READ commentary piece in the Hartford Courant today about Judge Moukawsher’s outrageous and mean-spirited attack on Connecticut children who require special education services.

Reposted below, you can read and comment on Kevin Rennie’s piece at:   http://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-rennie-ct-school-moukawsher-disabled-0918-20160915-column.html

Kevin Rennie writes;

Compassion has been declared unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge. Our leaders refuse to condemn his brutal assault on those with disabilities. Delusions rule as Connecticut enters an age of shame.

Thomas Moukawsher, a judge, Malloy appointee and former Democratic organization foot soldier, read his meandering, sloppy decision on public school funding on Sept. 7. Then, otherwise comprehending people seemed not to understand what they had heard. The plaintiffs, a coalition of municipalities and education organizations, had sued for billions in new state spending but did not get it. They nevertheless declared victory.

Disclosure: I knew Moukawsher well when he was a banking lobbyist, during his one term in the legislature and for several years after that. I have not spoken to him in nearly 20 years.

The organizations in the coalition have maintained an indecent silence on what the decision says about providing an education for 15 percent to 17 percent of public school students with special needs. The reader will struggle to find an island of thought in the decision’s sea of bilge, but there is one on the subject of people with disabilities: It is irrational and unconstitutional, Moukawsher declaimed from the bench, to continue to provide an eduction for many of them.

The 20th century taught us that when societies turn on people with disabilities, they often do not stop there. They inflict misery on others and everlasting shame on themselves. Connecticut must not join them in the darkness.

If you want to know what an attack on freedom under the rule of law looks like, peruse the education funding decision. Special education was not an issue the plaintiffs raised. The attorney general, defending the state, warned Moukawsher off the issue in a trial brief, but to no avail. Children with disabilities were in his sights and he fired away. Children with more than one disability receive particularly cruel attention.

Schools under this misbegotten decision will have no obligation to educate children with disabilities they deem to have “a minimal or no chance for education.” This insidious missile cannot go unanswered in the Constitution State. There are no specifics on how or which children with special needs are to be denied access to our schools. What we do know is that a judge with a dark, Trumpian view of humanity is abusing his authority and inviting broad violation of federal protections.

Harry Truman explained America’s greatness in a sentence: “We believe in the dignity of man.” Not in Connecticut if this social Darwinian decision is allowed to stand. Consider the implications. The law requires us to educate children who arrived here illegally. Most of us have no quarrel with that. Do we want, however, to live in a state where illegal immigrants are welcomed to our schools but the disabled are barred at the door?

The heroic Helen Keller observed, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” That describes the Moukawsher decision. I mention Helen Keller because, when she was 19 months old, she lost her hearing and sight to what was probably meningitis. A teacher, Anne Sullivan, led Miss Keller out of the darkness with their unique system of spelling words with their hands.

Helen Keller with her multiple disabilities went on to graduate from Radcliffe College. Through her writing, advocacy and love of humanity, Miss Keller became one of the world’s most admired people. Our own Mark Twain, one of her most devoted admirers, said, “She is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Shakespeare and the rest of the immortals.”

There would be no place for Helen Keller in Moukawsher’s Connecticut, other than in the shadows of isolation. The court opinion misses an essential benefit of special education that is bestowed on the other students. Their contact with students with disabilities provides daily lessons in Harry Truman’s dignity of man. Lessons that last a lifetime and lift our society.

It should not be too much to expect a judge to understand that. But Moukawsher’s poisonous elitism reveals him as bent on banishing thousands of disabled from our public education system and consigning them to undisclosed, likely isolated, locations. Is this anyone’s, other than one judge’s, idea of what 21st-century Connecticut should be?

Connecticut Attorney General Jepsen to appeal CCJEF v. Rell ruling

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Claiming that the State of Connecticut “far exceeds” what it needs to spend on public education, Attorney General George Jepsen announced today that he will appeal the recent court decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit.

While Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled Connecticut’s school funding program was irrational and unconstitutional, the judge went far afield of the actual case, using his decision to condemn Connecticut’s teachers and public schools and promoting his own version of a corporate education reform agenda.

An appeal will mean Connecticut’s Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on the ruling and confirm whether Connecticut’s elected officials must finally address Connecticut’s broken school funding formula.

The following is Attorney General Jepsen’s statement;

Statement from AG Jepsen on Next Steps in CCJEF v. Rell

Attorney General George Jepsen today issued the following statement to announce that the state will seek a direct appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court of the ruling issued by the Superior Court last week in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell:

“Under our system of government, state education policy is determined by the Legislative and Executive Branches and implemented under a strong tradition of local control by municipal school boards and, ultimately, teachers. This decision would wrest educational policy from the representative branches of state government, limit public education for some students with special needs, create additional municipal mandates concerning graduation and other standards, and alter the basic terms of educators’ employment – and entrust all of those matters to the discretion of a single, unelected judge.

“For the public and legislators to trust the legitimacy of such a dramatically new system and the policies it produces, they must know that the ruling mandating it is legally correct. There are strong arguments that the trial court exceeded its authority and the standards articulated by the Connecticut Supreme Court, and so today we are asking that court to review this ruling.

“Despite its order, the trial court correctly determined that the state far exceeds its minimum constitutional obligations for providing equitable access to adequate education. Nevertheless, the ruling identified profound educational challenges that remain and must continue to receive serious and sustained attention – and action – at every level of government. Nothing about this appeal prevents policymakers from immediately addressing those challenges, and I urge them to do so without delay.”

More about this development and previous media coverage via links below:

CCJEF V. RELL MEDIA COVERAGE

CT Mirror

9/7/16 – Judge strikes down state education aid choices as ‘irrational’

9/7/16 – Ruling may end ‘hold harmless’ principle in CT budget politics

9/12/16 – For David Rosen, 11 years in court just a beginning in school case (New Haven Independent)

9/13/16 – Malloy, a plaintiff and then a defendant, hedges on school appeal

9/15/16 Jepsen files appeal, says Moukawsher school ruling ‘legally unsupported’

Hartford Courant

9/7/16 – Court Orders Far-Reaching Reforms for Public Schools and   CCJEF Ruling Press Conference

9/8/16 – Legislature Must Draft A New Deal For CT Education

9/9/16 – Lawmakers Scramble To Craft Response To Judge’s Education Ruling

9/15/16 State Appeals Controversial Education Overhaul Decision

CT Newsjunkie

9/7/16 Judge Orders State To Make Sweeping Changes To Education Funding, Policies

9/15/16 State Appeals Education Ruling to Supreme Court

Stamford Advocate

9/11/16 – Wendy Lecker: Will equity without adequacy be enough to help Connecticut’s neediest children?

Connecticut Post

9/7/16 Judge says state’s school funding formula is irrational

9/9/16 –After ruling on school finding, officials ponder next step

9/15/16 – State to appeal decision on school funding

New York Times

9/7/16 Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to Overhaul Its School System

9/11/16 – In Connecticut, a Wealth Gap Divides Neighboring Schools

9/12/16 – A Holistic Ruling on Broken Schools

Links to the actual decision

Hartford Courant – http://www.courant.com/education/hc-read-ccjef-v-rell-20160907-htmlstory.html

CT Mirror – https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3100630-School-Funding-Decision.html

Judicial Department – http://jud.ct.gov/CCJEFvRell.pdf

 

Related Statements:

CEA CEA Leaders Respond to CCJEF v. Rell Decision

AFT – Comments on Court Decision in Historic State Education Funding Case

CCM – CCM INITIAL STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO SUPERIOR COURT DECISION IN CCJEF V. RELL SCHOOL-FUNDING DECISION

Educators 4 Excellence – Educators 4 Excellence-Connecticut reacts to ruling of CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit

ConnCAN – CONNCAN ISSUES STATEMENT IN CCJEF COURT CASE

 

Commentary pieces:

Education Ruling: OK To Shut Out Disabled Kids?

Tell state officials: Don’t appeal CCJEF ruling

Did one Connecticut judge just change the conversation about education inequality?

The Aftermath Of The CCJEF Ruling: What Is Next For Public Education In Connecticut?

Judge correctly identified need for systemic public education overhaul

In Perplexing Decision, Connecticut Judge Fails to Raise the Bar for Adequate School Funding

Connecticut educator’s open letter concerning Judge Moukawsher’s recent ruling

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Randall Smith is a social studies teacher and debate coach at Joel Barlow High School.  The following is his open letter to Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher in response to his recent ruling in the CCJEF V. Rell lawsuit;

As a teacher in his sixteenth year in education, I wish to offer Judge Thomas Moukawsher both praise and some advice in response to his recent landmark ruling.

On the issue of funding, I applaud him for holding our collective feet to the fire to come up with a cost-sharing formula that is fair to disadvantaged communities. His laser-like focus on abolishing achievement gaps echoes Brown v. Board of Ed., which challenged Topeka and the entire country to make good on the Constitution’s promise to give all Americans “equal protection of the laws.” The fact that it has been decades since Sheff v. O’Neill was handed down and so little progress has been made toward ending disparities in resources is indisputably disgraceful.

But despite the best of intentions, in an overly-broad ruling Judge Moukawsher has also prescribed some other remedies that I believe would lead us to repeat past mistakes at great cost to many. I respectfully ask the Judge and state leaders to seek policies that are not just rational, but ones proven to actually work in practice. Borrowing a phrase from another judge, I argue further that many of his demands “are decided upon an economic theory” which a large part of education research does not entertain.

In just about every area of education policy Judge Moukawsher asks us “to get rid of an irrational policy and adopt a rational one.” This is a loaded phrase with a long history in American law. It originates in the 1819 case, McCulloch v. Maryland where the Supreme Court mandated that for a law to deemed Constitutional, the government has to prove that it can achieve “legitimate end.” This principle has been applied to just about every area of law, demanding that government show “a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.”

In his ruling Judge Moukawsher echoes this phrase, stating “a rational education plan has a substantial link between educating students and the means used to do it.” I invite the judge and all lawmakers to practice what he preaches, to look to see if there is a proven link between the policies he favors and their real-world effectiveness. But just a quick look at the recent history of educational reform reveals a huge gap between conventional wisdom and the facts.

The judge laments the fact that “Connecticut has no state standard with any teeth for student to pass from elementary to secondary school.” Presumably he means that a policy with bite would be some sort of high-stakes testing regime including various sticks and carrots to induce students and teachers to perform. But we don’t have to look very far back to see that this doesn’t work in practice.

We have seen this movie before, and spoiler alert, it ends badly. In 2001 an unlikely coalition of the liberal lion Ted Kennedy and the compassionate conservative George W. Bush, united by a shared disgust for achievement gaps, pushed through a law that linked federal funding to test scores at every level. It seemed like a common sense approach to align the incentives of schools with student achievement. But a decade later the effort earned poor marks. A comprehensive 2013 Stamford study of the No Child Left Behind Act concluded that the law had no impact on achievement gaps. Sure, NCLB seemed like a rational policy at the time, but in the end it was a national experiment that proved that tests with teeth fail to deliver the promise of social justice.

Judge Moukawsher also takes the state to task for graduation requirements that results in “diplomas without the education we promise them.” We all cringe at the ease that late-night comics have in exposing public ignorance, so I sympathize with the sentiment, but I do not think the answer lies in high-stakes exit exams.

If that were the answer, why do states with a long histories of high-stakes graduation tests have any achievement gaps? No state has a longer history of testing than New York with its famous Regents Examinations, but since 1990, Connecticut’s achievement gap is narrowing at the basically the same rate as New York’s. And by some measures we are doing even better than the Empire State. Consider outcomes for high school students with limited language proficiency. New York had a 33 point achievement gap with this population in 2011 while Connecticut’s was a full 10 points smaller.

To be clear, I don’t wish to excuse poor performance, I don’t believe any achievement gap is acceptable, but the belief that state-wide testing mandates will fix it is just not supported by the facts. If after 150 years of experimenting with just every kind of assessment there is, New York has not tested their way to equality, what rational reason remains to believe that tough exit exams are the medicine Connecticut needs?

An obvious rebuttal to my argument is to point out the fact that there are other statistics that show Connecticut trailing New York. But to reduce the debate to a battle of cherry picking obscures the greater truth, that neither New York nor Connecticut have closed their achievement gaps.

Moukawsher also wrote that, “the way educators are hired and fired isn’t sensibly linked to its value in teaching children.” He goes on to bemoan the fact that “Good teachers can’t be recognized and bad teachers can’t be removed.” This is a thinly veiled mandate to weaken due process protections for teachers and a mandate for merit pay. The problem is there is no research that shows that union busting or pay incentives can narrow achievement gaps.

On the other hand, it makes sense to assume that rooting out bad apples would have a positive effect, but I ask the judge to test his assumptions against the facts. Would it surprise him to learn that there already are thousands of American public schools where there’s no tenure, where administrators are allowed to hire and fire at will? They are called charter schools. Some of these schools even have the ability to effectively fire students, too, denying them admission or expelling them if they don’t perform well on tests.

If the judge’s theory about competition were correct charters should crush regular public schools, but they don’t. Despite having nearly infinite discretion to decide who is and isn’t in the building, and the ability for districts to dissolve the schools at will, thus far charter schools have not shown the capacity to close achievement gaps.

The best recent study of charters, a massive 2013 Stanford comparison across the 42 states where they exist “noted that while these gains are beneficial for charter students, as with the racial/ethnic analyses above these gains are not large enough to offset the differences between students in poverty and students who are not in poverty.”

I do not mean to disparage the important work done by my colleagues at charter schools, but there is just no data to support the conclusion that we can fill achievement gaps with pink slips and broken unions. In fact, a look at other countries like Finland indicates that the opposite might be the case.

Judge Moukawsher asserts that in the current system “good teachers can’t be recognized.” The fact is that there are dozens of non-monetary ways in which the state and local districts use to praise including the teacher of the year program. But I think his actual intention is to advocate for merit pay.

And yes, it is perfectly rational to think that those who do a good job should get paid more than those who do not. Unfortunately, rigorous studies of recent merit pay programs in New York, Nashville, and Texas by Vanderbilt University’s National Center for Performance Incentives has found that these strategies do not impact student performance, much less close achievement gaps.

A colleague of mine taught me about something called Campbell’s Law. It basically stipulates that the more social importance is put on a statistic, the more likely it is to be corrupted. The proof in the pudding comes from the Washington D.C. testing corruption scandal that occurred under the leadership of Michelle Rhee is the symbol for what can go wrong. As soon as you define merit, you immediately create incentives for people to cook the books to get the prize instead of actually doing the business of educating.

So why do so many of these strategies that rely on market forces not pan out in the classroom? The reality is that most of what works on Wall Street doesn’t transfer to School Street. I don’t think many teachers have ever thought, “gee, if only I made a extra few dollars per hour, I’d bring my A game to class today.” If I know anything about success in education, it’s that it’s built more on cooperation than competition between teachers, students, administrators, the community, and civic leaders.

I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t be held to account for their work, but the fact is that no school system anywhere has ever closed any achievement gaps by monkeying with teacher evaluations or other teacher incentives. Go ahead and look, but you won’t find any.

So as we enter another cycle of education reform, I ask that you along with other state leaders do more than simply look for policies that are rational. In my classes reasonable claims are not enough, students need evidence to earn credit.

Having taught through two previous waves of reform, one in 2002 and another in 2013, I saw thousands of work hours where administrators and teachers worked to bring their practices into statutory compliance with little to show for it. In the end, it was the kids who paid the price given with so much of their teachers’ energy consumed out of the classroom. Please, let’s not do that again.

Answers are out there. But to find them, you must resist the temptation to take short cuts. If we want smarter kids, we need to set the example and not just lift our policies out of a lobbyist’s binder or a cranky pundit’s latest screed. Please do the homework and look at the history of education reform both here and abroad. Thank you for listening.

Sincerely,

Randall Smith

Social studies teacher and debate coach, Joel Barlow High School

 

Asked about the critically important CCJEF v. Rell case, Malloy tells media he isn’t Governor Jodi Rell

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It was another classic Wait, What? moment with Dannel Malloy at the helm.

When the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit was filed 11 years ago, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy was a plaintiff in the case, one of a number of local elected officials who decried the fact that Connecticut’s system of school funding was unfair, inadequate and unconstitutional.

Then, Malloy become Connecticut’s governor in January 2011 and immediately did, “a 180.”  Instead of using his position to settle the lawsuit and develop a funding formula that would be fair and constitutional, Malloy lead the charge to dismiss, disrupt and upend the case that would have benefited the children, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Stamford and Connecticut’s other poorer cities and towns.

Malloy not only squandered the opportunity to develop a constitutionally adequate school funding system, he used his budget authority to make the state’s school funding programs even more unfair.

Last week came the initial trial ruling on the CCJEF v. Rell case.  Connecticut superior court judge went so far as to say that not only is Connecticut’s school funding system unconstitutional, it is irrational.

So will Malloy and his administration appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court or not?

In a press conference yesterday (Tuesday, September 13, 2016) Malloy ducked the all-important issue claiming that since his name was Dan Malloy and not Jodi Rell, it wasn’t his responsibility to recommend whether the state of Connecticut should or should not appeal the controversial decision.

Instead he told reporters to go talk to Attorney General George Jepsen, the very state official Malloy has worked so closely with in their effort to dismiss and destroy the CCJEF lawsuit.

The New Haven Independent captured Malloy’s interaction on the subject, reporting the following in a story entitled, Malloy: Ask Jepsen,

Don’t ask Dannel P. Malloy how Connecticut will respond to a judge’s landmark ruling ordering sweeping changes in the state’s education system. After all, his name’s not on the lawsuit.

So the governor said when pressed by reporters at an unrelated New Haven press conference Tuesday afternoon for his take on Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s 254-page ruling last week in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell.

The 11-year-old lawsuit sought fairer educational funding for poorer school districts.

Judge Moukawsher went further. He not only ordered the state to distribute its education aid to local cities and towns more rationally and fairly (though not necessarily to spend more money overall). He also ordered new standards for high school graduation, for distributing special-education aid, for evaluating teachers. And to present a plan to do all that in 180 days.

Malloy was mayor of Stamford when the coalition originally filed that suit. He in fact joined the coalition. He was a plaintiff.

Now he’s the governor — not “Rell,” aka Jodi Rell, who was governor at the time of the filing. Malloy is now in effect the defendant, not the plaintiff.

So, reporters asked: Will he direct the attorney general to appeal the ruling?

Malloy responded that it’s not his call. Technically, Attorney General George Jepsen will have to decide whether the state appeals the ruling. And Malloy, who usually prides himself as a driving force behind state policy, said he plans not to try to influence Jepsen’s decision.

[…]

Malloy said he agrees with much of what Judge Moukawsher wrote in his decision: “You know why I think he made very valid points? Because I’ve been making the same points for the past five years.” He also said he disagrees with some of the decision, particularly the timetable; given that some of the decisions involve the legislative process, he questioned whether the state can meet the 180-day deadline.

CT Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas didn’t let Malloy off the hook. Following is a partial transcript of his follow-up questions and Malloy’s responses.

Malloy: The attorney general needs to do what the attorney general needs to do.

Pazniokas: The lawsuit, after all, is “CCJEF vs. Rell.” The attorney general’s office is charged with doing the defense. They are not the defendant. You in effect are.

Malloy: My name’s not Rell.

Pazniokas: But if you were elected a little bit earlier, “Malloy” would be the defendant. The State Department of Education is in effect the client …

Malloy: I’m not fighting you. I’m not trying to get away from giving you a true answer and a factual answer. It’s a very involved decision. If the attorney general believes that it needs clarification, that it needs final judgement status … I am telling you that I am in agreement with large portions of this decision. And particularly on those points that I have made for the past five years.

Pazniokas: I just want to be clear … You are saying it is entirely George Jepsen and his team, his decision to appeal? You are not going to express a view to the attorney general’s office about whether to appeal at this point?

Malloy: If this was a simpler decision, if it was written on five pages and made statements solely about funding or the distribution of funds, then maybe it wouldn’t even be necessary to even be considering appealing. What I’m telling you is I have enough confidence in the attorney general and his staff that they’ll make the right decision. And I will support that decision. …

The primary purpose as you understood and I understood it when I brought it, then I’m largely in agreement [with the decision]. I don’t know what else to tell you.

I’ve answered it. enough.

Pazniokas: Again, I want to be clear. My question didn’t suggest that you would dictate what the attorney general would do. What’ I’m asking is: So you’re not going to participate in a conversation with him about an admittedly very complex …

Malloy: … Listen. I’m not running from this. I’ll participate in any discussion the attorney general wants to have with me about this subject … I’m even acknowledging that it may have gone beyond the scope of the original proceedings as drafted, as represented in the pleadings. So that may lead people in a particular direction. But if you’re asking me about the core purpose of this lawsuit — and that is how we distribute money for education — I am largely in agreement.

Call it just another day in Malloy’s world of leadership and policy….

You can read and comment on the full New Haven Independent story at: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/malloy_ask_jepsen/

Breaking News – CT Senate Republican Leader Fasano calls for appeal in CCJEF V. RELL Case

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In response to Governor Dannel Malloy’s unprecedented assault on public school students, parents, teachers and schools, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) has been one of the most outspoken advocates for public education in Connecticut,

Now, calling the judge’s ruling in the CCJEF V. Rell case, “Breathtaking in its Hubris” and noting that, “the decision is flawed in many ways,” State Senator Fasano is urging Connecticut’s Attorney General to pursue an appeal of Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s September 7, 2016 decision in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v. Jodi Rell.

Fasano’s press release explains;

 “Judge Moukawsher’s decision can only be characterized as overreaching by an activist judge. His decision reads more like a legislative agenda or white paper on education policy than a judicial finding.”

“Interestingly, the court never ruled that the statutory Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula itself is unconstitutional or that the state’s overall education funding levels are constitutionally insufficient,” Fasano observed.  “Rather, the court found that the Democrat controlled general assembly, over the last few years, has ignored the state ECS formula and manipulated education funding for political purposes” to create an “irrational, arbitrary, and fundamentally unfair system.”

Fasano noted how the court used “recent unjustifiable and arbitrary actions by the majority party to then reach into areas well outside its jurisdiction including but not limited to student testing, teacher evaluations, teacher contracts and teacher compensation.”  He said that “for a judge to opine on the possible solutions and order the legislature to undertake sweeping education reform that comports with his own policy analysis is breathtaking in its hubris.”  In doing so, Fasano said Judge Moukawsher “completely ignores the separation of powers and intrudes upon the policy making authority of the legislature.”

State Senator Fasano concludes;

 “This ruling goes too far in attempting to dictate solutions that I believe must instead originate through a public discourse and open legislative process.  Senate Republicans recognize the problem with how Democrats have funded education and rewarded certain towns over others to the detriment of cities and poor areas. We also have many bright ideas to improve education for children throughout our state and restore predictability and reliability to the state budget, which will benefit our children’s futures immensely. I hope that our state will not attempt to rush into fulfilling unreasonable and unjustifiable judicial demands without a robust legislative process to ensure the best solutions for our state are thoroughly vetted.”

At this point in time it remains unclear whether CCJEF or the State of Connecticut will appeal the judge’s ruling in the case.

In Perplexing Decision, Connecticut Judge Fails to Raise the Bar for Adequate School Funding (by Jan Resseger)

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Jan Resseger is a nationally recognized educate advocate and blogger working out of Ohio.  Resseger was the long-time chair of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education.  In her latest piece she explores the underlying problems associated with Connecticut’s recent CCJEF v. Rell school funding case.

Jan Resseger writes;

Last week, Connecticut Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher found Connecticut’s system of education unconstitutional.  Here is how Elizabeth Harris of the NY Times describes the decision in the eleven year old case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell: “Reading his ruling from the bench for more than two hours, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford said that ‘Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty’ to give all children an adequate education.  Judge Moukawsher’s decision was a response to a lawsuit filed more than a decade ago that claimed the state was shortchanging the poorest districts when it came to school funding. What separates the decision from those in dozens of similar suits around the country is that rather than addressing money only, it requires the state to rethink nearly every major aspect of its system.”  It is expected that Judge Moukawsher’s decision will be appealed.

In a wishful and foolishly simplistic front-page analysis for the NY Times—an analysis that muses on national issues of education policy and misunderstands the legal implications of the Connecticut decision, Kate Zernike compliments Judge Moukawsher’s wide-ranging condemnation of Connecticut’s entire system of education: “(H)is unsparing 90-page ruling read and resonated like a cry from the heart on the failings of American public education… He criticized ‘uselessly perfect teacher evaluations’ that found ‘virtually every teacher in the state’ proficient or exemplary, while a third of students in many of the poorest communities cannot read even at basic levels… Though his ruling was about Connecticut, he spoke to a larger nationwide truth: After decades of lawsuits about equity and adequacy in education financing, after federal efforts like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, after fights over the Common Core standards and high-stakes testing and the tug of war between charter schools and community schools, the stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, minority and white students persist.”

While anyone who has been paying attention to decades’ of so-called efforts to reform American public education can certainly sympathize with Zernike’s frustration, Harris quotes William S. Koski, a school finance expert at Stanford University, who notes that Judge Moukawsher did not decide the issue the court was charged to address—inadequate school funding in Connecticut’s poorest school districts: “Most of these school finance lawsuits are about numbers, and about whether adequate funding is being provided for whatever learning outcomes the court establishes. Really, it’s typically about the money.”

Writing for the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker, an expert on school finance and an attorney with the Education Law Center, explicates in more detail this primary challenge identified by Koski:  “On the funding front… while the judge did declare Connecticut’s system of distributing school aid unconstitutional, he found that the state was providing adequate funding… At trial, the CCJEF plaintiffs (had) put forth overwhelming evidence of severe resource deficiencies of inputs such as: academic and social intervention for at-risk students and students with special needs; guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, services for English Language Learners, music, art and other subjects; and reasonable class size. Judge Moukawsher’s charge was to examine the resources in the districts at issue in the case…. However, nowhere in the opinion does the judge systematically look at the actual resources present or absent in each district.”

Lecker continues: “In doing so, he redefined constitutional adequacy and ignored the plaintiffs’ overwhelming evidence of resource deficiencies in the CCJEF districts…  In fact, the judge actually claimed that intervention for at-risk children was an ‘extra.'”  Hence, “Moukawsher created a bare-bones definition of constitutional adequacy that the Connecticut Supreme Court clearly did not envision.”  Lecker notes, however, that, ironically, to illustrate the irrationality of Connecticut’s system of education, Moukawsher enumerates severe financial deficits in the poorest districts in the state: “Here, the judge finally acknowledged the severe resource deficits… of administrators, guidance counselors, kindergarten and special education paraprofessionals, music and athletics, a shortened school year and classes of  ’29 children per room—rooms where teachers might have a class with one third requiring special education, many of them speaking limited English, and almost all of them working considerably below grade level.’ ”

Examining educational inequity, anyone will discover conditions that are not purely due to disparities in school resources.  However, school finance cases are traditionally grounded in the reality that while inequality is multifaceted, disparities in resources are measurable and can be remedied.  Fiscal equity of funding can never address all of the issues that trouble the lives of poor children, but a fair and equitable funding system is a solid foundation for beginning.  Equitable does not mean identical, however. In Connecticut, poor school districts, where the property valuation to be taxed is low, need significantly more money from the state of Connecticut to address the needs of their students, many of whom live in poverty. Many of Connecticut’s wealthy school districts, by contrast, are the suburbs serving students whose parents commute to jobs in Manhattan.

At least Judge Moukawsher did declare the current system unconstitutional.  Molly Hunter, in an analysis for the Education Law Center, explains: “Separately, the court dismissed the State’s claim that local school districts bore the responsibility for education, not the state.  The court quoted Connecticut Supreme Court holdings: ‘Obviously, the furnishing of education for the general public is a state function and duty,’ and ‘…in Connecticut, education is a fundamental right,’ raising education to the most important level known to law.”

Hunter identifies several additional serious problems in Judge Moukawsher’s decision: “If there was any one thing in the trial that stood out as good…. Witnesses for both sides agreed that high-quality preschool would be the best weapon to get ahead of the literacy and numeracy problems plaguing schools in impoverished cities. But, the court failed to order it.”

Hunter continues: “In striking contrast, the court took deep dives into education policy regarding teacher evaluations and students with disabilities.  The court ordered policy changes for teachers and other educators that are controversial and have been proven ineffective, even harmful… ”

And finally, Hunter derides the decision’s impact on special education: “Also, many will find the court’s extensive discussion of students with disabilities and funding for their services troubling. The court indicated that funding for students with severe or multiple disabilities was irrational and not connected to ‘education’ if they were not capable of receiving an elementary and education.”

You can read this and all of Jan Resseger’s blogs at: https://janresseger.wordpress.com/

 

 

More on the CCJEF v. Rell Case “Judge Moukawsher’s Disconnect” by Barth Keck

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Writing for CT Newsjunkie, Connecticut educator and CT Newsjunkie columnist, Barth Keck, tackles the recent CCJEF ruling.  Keck writes;

Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s ruling last week that the state must devise a new formula for funding public schools was not surprising. What was surprising was the wide-ranging scope of his criticism of public schools as well as the exceedingly tight timeframe — 180 days — he gave the state to remedy the problem.

“The extraordinary ruling orders the state to revamp virtually all areas of public education — from the hiring and firing of teachers, to special education services, to education standards for elementary and high school students,” reported the Hartford Courant. “He also criticized the state’s generous reimbursement policy for school construction projects, especially in an age of decreasing enrollment.”

In short, Judge Moukawsher issued a scathing judgment on how Connecticut educates its children. As a public school teacher for the past 25 years, I found much of what he said in a three-hour reading of his 90-page decision insulting.

I do agree, in principle, with the judge’s ruling that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities,” particularly since the state’s educational funding formula “allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns,” essentially “mak[ing] a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students.”

But Moukawsher’s generalizations about public schools and teachers were glaringly ignorant of the real strides that Connecticut schools — including the ones in “poor towns” — are making.

For example, the judge wrote that the state’s teacher evaluation system is “little more than cotton candy in a rainstorm” since “[s]tate standards are leaving teachers with uselessly perfect evaluations and pay that follows only seniority and degrees instead of reflecting need and good teaching.”

Barth Keck concludes his important commentary piece by observing

In the end, Judge Moukawsher may honestly believe that “schools have to be about teaching children and nothing else,” but he’s sadly mistaken. Clearly, he’s never taught in a Connecticut public school — urban, suburban, or rural — if he thinks teachers do nothing but “teach.” And while his ruling to ensure fairness in school funding is morally correct, his haughty rhetoric castigating Connecticut’s public schools and those who work in them is simply narrow-minded and offensive.

Please take the time to read Barth Keck’s article its entirety on the CTNewsjunkie website at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_judge_moukawshers_disconnect/

Problems with the CCJEF Decision – Will equity without adequacy be enough to help Connecticut’s neediest children? (By Wendy Lecker)

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Wendy Lecker, an education advocate, legal expert and Stamford Advocate columnist produces a MUST READ analysis about some of the extremely serious problems associated with the Judge’s recent ruling in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case.  The article first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst newspapers.  You can read and comment on this critically important piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Ruling-raises-hope-for-poorest-9212622.php

Wendy Lecker writes;

On Sept. 7, Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued his post-trial decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell. His sweeping decision covered funding, which I will address here, and education policy, which I will address in my next column.

On the funding front, the outcome was mixed. While the judge did declare Connecticut’s system of distributing school aid unconstitutional, he found that the state was providing adequate funding. In doing so, he redefined constitutional adequacy and ignored the plaintiffs’ overwhelming evidence of resource deficiencies in the CCJEF districts.

At trial, the CCJEF plaintiffs put forth overwhelming evidence of severe resource deficiencies of inputs such as: academic and social intervention for at-risk students and students with special needs; guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, services for English Language Learners, music art and other subjects; and reasonable class size.

Judge Moukawsher’s charge was to examine the resources in the districts at issue in the case and determine whether those resources were so inadequate as to violate Connecticut’s constitution.

However, nowhere in the opinion does the judge systematically look the actual resources present or absent in each district.

Rather, the judge focused only on three types of resources: facilities, instrumentalities of learning, and teachers. He declared that since, in his view, the state provides the “bare minimum,” in these three areas, the plaintiffs did not prove that state funding is constitutionally inadequate.

Moukawsher claimed to base his ruling on the 2010 Connecticut Supreme Court plurality decision allowing the CCJEF case to proceed to trial. He claimed to rely specifically on Justice Richard Palmer’s concurring opinion, which is seen as the controlling opinion.

Moukawsher stated that Palmer limited his focus to those three narrow resources. This is untrue. Palmer acknowledged a much wider range of potential resource deficits, including class size, language instruction, technology, intervention for at-risk students, and a safe and secure learning environment.

Judge Moukawsher’s decision ignored the wide range of essential educational resources absent in the CCJEF districts. In fact, the judge actually claimed that intervention for at-risk children was an “extra.”

As a result, his ruling does an injustice to the children suffering in those districts.

Moukawsher also attempted to claim Palmer’s definition of a “minimally adequate” education was narrower than the plurality opinion, and that it required only the “bare minimum” of resources.

However, Palmer actually declared that “I perceive no difference between an educational opportunity that is minimally adequate and an educational opportunity that the plurality characterizes as ‘soundly basic.’”

Moukawsher created a bare-bones definition of constitutional adequacy that the Connecticut Supreme Court clearly did not envision.

The one ray of light in this funding decision is Moukawsher’s finding that the state’s system for distributing school aid is unconstitutional. He ruled that “(b)eyond a reasonable doubt, Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction.”

To illustrate Connecticut’s irrational system, Moukawsher cited the legislature’s decision last session to cut school aid for poor districts while providing more aid for wealthy districts. Here, the judge finally acknowledged the severe resource deficits caused by these cuts: of administrators, guidance counselors, kindergarten and special education paraprofessionals, music and athletics, a shortened school year and classes of “29 children per room — rooms where teachers might have a class with one third requiring special education, many of them speaking limited English, and almost all of them working considerably below grade level.”

The judge declared that a system that “allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty.”

The judge gave Connecticut six months to create a new funding system that applies “educationally-based principles to allocate funds in light of the special circumstances of the state’s poorest communities.”

The opportunity to craft a new funding system no doubt has the charter lobby champing at the bit to snatch some of that funding intended for Connecticut’s poorest districts. However, the court’s ruling aims to stem the state’s penchant for draining funds from impoverished public school districts. Following the court’s logic, a funding scheme that would allow school aid to flow to a parallel system of privately managed charter schools while leaving poor districts in dire circumstances can also be seen as unconstitutionally irrational.

While not ideal, the CCJEF decision highlights that the needs of students in our poorest districts, not political influence, should drive education funding in Connecticut.

Challenging Connecticut Judge’s ignorant statements about “disabled” children

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In an extremely powerful Hartford Courant commentary piece, Andrew Feinstein, a special education expert and advocate, addresses the “dark poison” contained in Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s recent ruling in the CCJEF v. Rell case. (See Wait, What? post entitled, Inside school funding “victory,” CT Judge apparently seeks to set special education services back 40 years).

Attorney Feinstein writes;

“…Judge Moukawsher proposed that certain children with severe disabilities be denied a public education. He says, “The call is not about whether certain profoundly disabled children are entitled to a ‘free appropriate public education.’ It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts.” He claims, inaccurately, that “no case holds otherwise, and this means that extensive services are not always required.”

This triage proposal is at odds with what the litigants argued in the case and diametrically opposed to federal civil rights law. The judge proposes discriminating against the severely disabled. Yet, discrimination based on the severity of disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Judge Ellen Bree Burns addressed this issue head-on in Messier v. Southbury Training School. Federal ADA regulations provide that a public entity, such as a school board, may not provide different benefits or services to individuals with disabilities or to any class of individuals with disabilities than is provided to others unless such action is necessary to provide qualified individuals with disabilities with benefits or services that are as effective as those provided to others.

Judge Burns wrote that courts have repeatedly held that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination based on the severity of disability. Specifically, she held that the state violated the ADA by failing to provide profoundly or severely disabled individuals with the same array of services as those provided to other less handicapped individuals, thereby discriminating solely on the degree of disability.

Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court came to the same conclusion. The question of whether ADA covers discrimination among disabled individuals was clearly confronted in Olmstead v. L.C. Indeed, Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, criticized the majority for finding that “discrimination occurs when some members of a protected group are treated differently from other members of that same group.” Responding to this allegation, the Supreme Court majority called Justice Thomas’ contention “incorrect as a matter of precedent and logic.”

Numerous other federal courts and the U.S. Department of Education have held that it is illegal to discriminate against the most disabled. This policy is not only mandated by the language of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is also sound, just and humane. For years, individuals with disabilities have been shunned, segregated and placed out of sight in institutions. By deeming the disabled as the other, we strip them of their humanity and feel free in removing their basic human rights.

Judge Moukawsher deems it economically infeasible to provide comprehensive special education services to those with severe disabilities. He decides that they are hopeless or worthless, and certainly not worth the expenditure of public resources. The judge has no idea what thoughts, dreams, hopes and loves reside in the heart of an individual who cannot speak or who cannot control his or her physical movements. Yet, ignorant of the basic humanity of an individual with a severe disability, he wants to deprive them of educational services. Shame on him.

Equally frightening is the underlying notion that the level of societal expenditures on an individual ought to be based on that individual’s potential contribution to society. We cannot, of course, predict with any accuracy what an individual may offer to the world. Beyond that, this notion could lead to a termination of benefits for the elderly, as well as the disabled. It is a notion out of the selfish and stern philosophy of Ayn Rand.

We must, as a society, reject such an approach. We need to focus on unlocking the potential of all our citizens. We need to focus on the contributions made by each of our neighbors. Only by helping those most in need can we create a just society.

You can read and comment on Andrew Feinstein’s commentary piece at: http://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-feinstein-ct-ruling-hurts-disabled-0911-20160909-story.html

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