“Accountability”… Another “must read” piece from Sarah Darer Littman

Connecticut is quickly getting the message.

As far as the education reform industry is concerned, there are two standards of Accountability.  There is one standard for teachers and a very different, much lower standard of accountability for the professional education reformers and their corporate entities.

Call it yet another example of the Great American Corporate Accountability System, otherwise known as laws and rules are only for the rank and file, not for the elite.

Sarah Darer Littman has yet another “must read” piece that appeared in this past weekend’s CT Newsjunkie entitled, Is Accountability Only For Teachers?

In it she observes;

“Accountability. It’s the No. 1 buzzword of corporate education reform. Teachers must be held can countable based on their students’ performance on standardized tests, even though the method is deeply flawed.

Students must also be held accountable. Poverty is no excuse. Who cares if you’ve experienced early childhood trauma, if your parents aren’t native English speakers, or if you have a learning disability. No excuses, no compassion. Toe the line, Bucko.

As Achievement First Hartford Academy stated in its 2007 charter application: “Excuses will not be tolerated. Mediocrity will not be good enough.”

Yet when it comes to the education reformers themselves there is little or no accountability and there are plenty of excuses — even to measures they have set for themselves. Take the aforementioned Achievement First Academy Hartford, which just had its charter renewed for three years in a shameful act of cronyism by the state Board of Education.

Here are some of the goals Achievement First Hartford set in its 2007 charter application:

-p.12 – “The AF Hartford approach to student behavior will be overwhelmingly positive. While there will be clear, strict consequences for poor behavior at AF Hartford, research finds that positive recognition of good behavior is more likely to fundamentally improve student behavior.”

-p.41 – Special Needs Populations: “All students with disabilities attending AF Hartford will be accorded a free, appropriate and public education. Disability will not be used as a criterion for non-eligibility for admissions or enrollment . . . AF will comply with all regulatory special education requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Likewise, AF Hartford will fully comply with additional regulations and policies of the State of Connecticut.”

Under “Charter Self-Evaluation and Accountability,” Achievement First Hartford listed the following:

-p.65 – Suspensions: “We will have an average of 5 or fewer suspensions for the months of January to June (or a total of 30 or fewer suspensions during this six month period).

-p.66 – Student Retention: “Student attrition will be less than 5 percent (other than students moving out of the district) during our first year and less than 3 percent in each successive year.

-p.68 – Staff Turnover: “There will be low rates of administrative and teacher turnover. Our targets for annual teacher turnover will be less than 25% in the first two years and less than 15 percent after that.”

Yet how did Achievement First Hartford measure up? We know their “positive recognition of good behavior” methods resulted inthe highest number of suspensions of any school in the state, with 32.5 percent of elementary school students and 49.4 percent of middle school students having at least one in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion.

Clearly their model — and their leadership across the board — is flawed, because in the elementary school category, the top four slots in the suspension leaderboard were held by Achievement First schools: Hartford Academy, 32.5 percent; Elm City College Prep, 26 percent; Bridgeport Achievement First, 20 percent; and Amistad Academy, 13.8 percent.

In the middle school category, Achievement First dominates again, with three of the top four slots: AF Hartford Academy, 49.4 percent; Bridgeport Achievement First, 43.7 percent; and Amistad Academy, 41.9 percent.

High school? Achievement First had two schools in the top six, with Elm City Prep ranked second at 40 percent and Bridgeport Achievement First sixth at 35.9 percent.

The recent voluntary resolution agreement of a civil rights complaint filed on the behalf of six AF Hartford students by Greater Hartford Legal Aid is proof-positive that AF failed their special needs students.”

Everyone tracking the education reform corporate movement should take the time to read this informative and disturbing piece.

By understanding the real “achievements” of organizations like Achievement First, Inc. readers will have a much better understanding of the notion that the best way to describe these education reforms is to start by saying…”don’t look at the man behind the curtain.”

You can find Sarah Darer Littman’s full commentary piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/sboe_is_accountability_is_only_for_teachers/

Crocodile tears from Achievement First Inc…

The two CEOs of Achievement First, Inc.  the large charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, published a commentary piece in yesterday’s Hartford Courant entitled, “Charter Schools Changing Suspension Focus.

In the piece, Co-CEO’s Doug McCurry and Dacia Toll wrote that, “Achievement First had an important wake-up call last week when a state report included several of our public charter schools because of their high suspension rates — posing a direct challenge to our promise to provide an excellent education to all our students. The last few days have been tough as we work to reconcile our values and our practices. We recognize that our suspension numbers are simply too high, and we are committed to significantly reducing the numbers.”

Tough week as we reconcile our values and our practices?

Wake-up call?

The media reports astronomical suspension rates at Achievement First schools, including the fact that it suspends kindergarteners at rates up to 15 times higher than in neighboring public schools, and the co-CEOs say the news was a “wake up call” and “created a tough week” for their management team?

Achievement First, Inc. is a “non-profit” corporation with income of over $103 million, 82% of which comes from taxpayer funds.  Their central office operation cost exceeds more than $12 million.

And they want the public to believe that they didn’t know their outrageous and medieval discipline policies included suspension rates that regular people would label child abuse?

In addition to Co-CEOs Doug McCurry and Dacia Toll, the Achievement First management team includes a  Vice President for Information Technology, a Chief of Staff, a Senior Director of Talent Development, seven (7) Regional Superintendents, a Senior Director of Facilities, a Chief Academic Officer,  a Chief Information Officer, a Senior Adviser, a Vice President for Recruitment, a Vice President for, Leadership Development, a Vice President for Business Information Systems, a Chief External Officer, a Senior Director for Data Strategy, a Senior Director for Strategic Partnerships, a Senior Director for Marketing & Communications, a Vice President for Development, a Chief Financial and Operating Officer, a Vice President for School Operations, a Vice President for External Relations and  a Senior Director for Human Capital.

And despite all that talent, no one knew about the impact of the school suspension policies on the children attending Achievement First, Inc. schools.

It occurred to no one that the rate of suspensions was excessive and the impact was nothing short of child abuse?

Instead of owning this outrageous record of failure, Achievement First uses their commentary piece to rationalize their abusive behaviors writing, “Although we have an unacceptably high number of suspensions at many Achievement First schools, the technical definition of suspension (which we hold to) is a removal from class or other activity for more than 90 minutes. Many of the in-school suspensions last year (for example, 88 percent of them at Achievement First Hartford Academy Elementary) were less than three hours long.”

And the two CEOs go on to explain, “For minor misbehavior, however, we need to flip this paradigm — instead of receiving less class time, these students need more class time. If a student is seriously disrupting the learning environment and making it so that others cannot learn, then we should provide that student with extra support after school or on Saturday.”

Wait, What?  Connecticut taxpayers are paying Achievement First, Inc. millions of dollars and it is only now that they realize that students who are having problems need more, not less, class time?

And perhaps most telling of all is that after their gratuitous claim that, “We welcome this statewide conversation about suspension practices. Going forward, our principals and regional superintendents will set clear goals around suspension data, make plans for their schools as a whole and for individual students, and regularly review progress. Our deans of students will receive additional training this summer and throughout the year on appropriate suspension practices and what’s working across and outside our network.” The Achievement First propaganda machine returns to their old talking point stating, “Our primary goal remains the long-term success of our students. Achievement First’s urban public schools continue to post gap-closing student results, and, for the fourth year in a row, 100 percent of our high school graduates are headed to college…”

It is telling that Achievement First, Inc. would return to one of their biggest lies, claiming they have a 100% graduation rate, without explaining how they toy with children and families’ lives in order to “get” that number.

Wait, What? readers know the truth.  Achievement First’s 100% college acceptance rate is based on polices that “lose” over 50% of the students who begin at Achievement First four years earlier and perhaps even more shocking, leave dozens of students with four years of high school and no diploma to show for it.

For anyone who believes the sincerity of Achievement First’s latest piece, I have, as the saying goes, a bridge in New York City to sell them.

For the full effect of Achievement First’s rhetoric, I urge readers to examine the full Achievement First Op-ed. which can be found at:  http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-mccurry-achievement-first-suspensions-target-20130616,0,2041591.story