The hidden costs of charter schools (by Wendy Lecker)

Listening to the charter school advocates, you’d think the data clearly indicate that children attending charter schools do better than children attending public schools.

As Wait, What? readers know the truth is far from that.

Most importantly, here in Connecticut and around the nation, charter schools refuse to provide equal educational opportunities.  Charter schools, such as those associated with Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and the FUSE/Jumoke Academy charter school management company, consistently fail to provide educational programing to their fair share of non-English speaking students and those who students who need special education services.

Even in the African –American community, charter schools take students that are less poor, speak only English, have little to no special education needs and meet the strict dogmatic discipline measures that many reasonable people would consider abuse.

Last Friday, as the Vallas court case was being announced, Wendy Lecker, the Connecticut public education advocate and columnist published a new, “must read” commentary piece at Stamford Advocates, Connecticut Post and other Hearst media outlets.

Wendy Lecker’s piece has been getting national attention for its direct and honest assessment of what is really going on with charter schools in the country.

Lecker’s complete piece can be found via the following link and is re-posted, in part, below.

http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-hidden-costs-of-charter-schools-4635437.php

Wendy Lecker wrote, “The verdict is in, and it is the same as four years ago. In updating its 2009 national study on charter schools, Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) reaches the same conclusion it did in its previous study: The vast majority of charter schools in the United States are no better than public schools.

In 2009, 83 percent of charters were the same or worse than public schools, and now about 71-75 percent are. Even more telling, CREDO concludes that “the charter sector is getting better on average, but not because existing schools are getting dramatically better; it is largely driven by the closure of bad schools.” In addition, students at new charter schools have lower reading and math gains than at public schools.

In the study, learning refers only to test scores in elementary and middle schools. Researchers often measure learning improvement in terms of grade levels or years. Because the gains in charters are so small, the authors here attempt to translate test scores into months of learning. Converting test scores into uniform monthly intervals of learning relies on faulty assumptions and is viewed as unreliable.

Nonetheless, the study finds that the average charter school student gains eight days of reading learning over a public school student and nothing in math. Experts agree that math learning depends more on instruction in school, whereas reading advancement often hinges on skills and vocabulary gained outside the classroom.

Even for groups where the claimed learning is the greatest, the most those students gain is about one month of additional learning. Many charters boast longer school days, Saturday school and an extended school year. Therefore, it appears that public schools are more efficient at squeezing learning into a shortened time period.

What do these eight additional days on average of reading learning cost? It is difficult to compare charter school and public school spending. Charter school spending and revenue vary widely and are not transparent. Charters’ grade levels, programs and demographics are often different than public schools’. One study that controlled for these factors found that the charters touted as successful — KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools — spend between 20-30 percent more than comparable public schools in their host districts.

The human cost of this charter sector improvement is also not addressed in the study. Officials who authorize charters gamble with students’ fates. When the experiment fails, i.e. the charter school is bad, it closes. The study did not count the educational loss these displaced charter students suffer.”

For the rest of the piece go to:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-hidden-costs-of-charter-schools-4635437.php

Another “Big Lie” from Achievement First: “100 percent college acceptance rate.”

In a story entitled Amistad Sends 30 To College, “Loses” 23, the New Haven Independent highlights what Wait, What? readers have known for a while; when the charter school management company, Achievement First Inc. claims that they achieve a “100 percent college acceptance rate,” it should not be considered a “statement of fact.”

Achievement First, of course, being the charter school management company founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

As the New Haven Independent explains in their story about Achievement First, “The “100 percent” figure does not give the full picture for the whole group of kids who entered Amistad four years ago. Data show that for nearly one of them who walked across the stage Wednesday, another was “lost” along the way. Students “lost” to Amistad include one senior who withdrew in March to attend adult education.”

Readers may remember the following chart, published in an earlier Wait, What? post that explains the real story of enrollment decline using 2010 data.

Enrollment Decline in New Haven High Schools

District/School 4 year decline
New Haven School System 46%
Achievement First – Amistad 51%
Achievement First – Elm City 59%
Wilbur Cross High School 49%
James Hillhouse High School 49%
Cooperative High School 23%
Sound School 29%
Hill Regional Career High School 28%
Hyde School of Health 44%
High School in the Community 51%
New Haven Academy 43%
Metropolitan Business High School 36%

 

The most important contribution that the New Haven Independent makes in the search for the truth about the charter school propaganda machine is how charter schools hold students back students in their senior year of high school to inflate the appearance that 100% of the graduating seniors get into college.

The New Haven Independent writes, “Of the 64 students who entered Amistad High in 2009 as freshmen, plus two who joined the group after freshman year, 25 are graduating this year and heading to college; seven were retained and plan to graduate high school next year; and 34 withdrew from the school along the way, according to Achievement First spokeswoman Amanda Pinto.”

Congratulations to the twenty-five students.  They, their families and the school should be proud of its achievement.  But Achievement First’s decision to consistently misrepresent the facts is more than troubling.

So the fact is that 66 students started their freshman year at Achievement First’s high school and 25 are “graduating and heading to college.”

That is not a graduation rate of 100%.

In fact, it is a graduation rate of 38%.

Perhaps even more shocking, and certainly much more revealing, is Achievement First’s statement that “seven were retained and plan to graduate high school next year.”

Retained and plan to graduate?

Talk about an Orwellian concept.

These students completed four years of high school at Achievement First for four years.  Did they complete their high school work but didn’t get into a college so they weren’t allowed to graduate or were they told they might not get into a college so were held back?

As a result of this decision to retain these students, Connecticut taxpayers are now going to have to come up with another $100,000 or more considering the cost of the charter school grant, transportation costs and any other costs picked up by New Haven and the State of Connecticut.

Is making those seven students re-take their senior year truly the best use of that $100,000 or would those funds be better spent in some other school.  Allowing those students to graduate, take community college courses for a year and then attempt to transfer to a “more prestigious” four year college may be a far better strategy for the students, their families and taxpayers.

But instead Achievement First has somehow decided to “retain” these students despite the fact that they have completed four years of a “rigorous” education.

As for those who “left,” Achievement First, the New Haven Independent adds, “Of the 34 kids who withdrew, 11 transferred for reasons Amistad considered “acceptable,” such as moving out of state or to a competitive private school. Another 23 were considered a “loss,” meaning they transferred out for reasons the school deemed unacceptable, such as behavior problems or trouble adjusting to school culture, Pinto said.”

As each day goes by, more and more evidence surfaces that prove Achievement First is failing to provide Connecticut students with the equal access to a public education that is guaranteed under Connecticut law.

Like much of the evidence we’ve seen before, this latest news article adds more information that raises extremely serious questions about what is going on at Achievement First.  They are questions that require a full and complete investigation by Connecticut’s policymakers to determine whether Achievement First should even be allowed to continue to receive public funds.

If Achievement First wants to be a private school management company, that runs schools using private school policies, that is their right, but in doing so they void their right to be funded with taxpayer funds.

To read the full New Haven Independent articles go to:  http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/amistad_signing_ceremony/

Meanwhile, more on the “Shocking Numbers Of Kindergarten, First Grade Suspensions” at Achievement First Schools

As Wait, What have readers learned over the last two years, Achievement First, Inc. the Charter School management company that runs more than two dozen schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island is notorious for “out-migrating” or “dumping” any students that don’t fit their “exacting” standards.

While Achievement First likes to brag that their students do better on standardized tests than students in their neighboring district schools, they fail to reveal that the get those results by refusing to provide educational services to broad social-demographic groups within the community.  In virtually every situation, Achievement First educates students that are less poor and they fail to take on their fair share of students who face English language barriers or need special education services.

The harsh discipline program, which they start at the kindergarten level, is just one example of how Achievement First forces students out of their “public” charter schools.

Although they claim to be “public” educational institutions, and are in fact funded with taxpayer dollars, no genuine public school would ever try or get away with the dubious education policies and practices that Achievement First engages in.

In the latest news story about the massive number of suspensions of children aged six and under, the Hartford Courant looked at the data that was released last week by Connecticut’s Child Advocate.

While suspensions were shockingly high in some urban areas, the magnitude of suspensions was the most extreme at the charter schools run by Achievement First, the charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

As the Hartford Courant reported over the weekend;

“The incidence of suspension of kindergartners and first graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy last year was an estimated nine times the rate in Hartford public schools.

Put another way, an estimated 11.7 percent of kindergartners and first-graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy were suspended last year an average of 5.4 times each. In the Hartford public school system, 3.3 percent of kindergartners and first-graders were suspended an average of 2.1 times.”

The most telling remark came from Marc Michaelson, who works as the regional superintendent for Achievement First, Inc.  He told the Courant that Achievement First, has “a very high bar for the conduct of our students and that’s because we’ve made a promise to our scholars and our families that we are going to prepare them for college.”

The “prepare them for college” statement seems more than a bit gratuitous considering the statistics he is trying to rationalize relates exclusively to children aged 6 and under.

You can read the Hartford Courant story here: http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-kindergarten-suspensions-20130525,0,6059434.story

Doing to Bridgeport what he did to New Orleans

Paul Vallas has pledged to do to Bridgeport what he did to New Orleans.  However, there is still time to stop him.

Paul Vallas was the CEO of the New Orleans Recovery School District of Louisiana from 2007 to 2011…

According to his resume, Vallas says he was responsible for “developing, implementing and managing reform measures” for post-Katrina New Orleans.  In that capacity Vallas says, among other things, that he:

(1)   “raised test scores three consecutive years, at a growth rate that greatly exceeded that of the state” and

(2)    “Implemented Response to Intervention (RTI) model, a three-tiered approach to ensuring the academic success of all students.”

So how is New Orleans doing today?

As Diane Ravitch recently noted on her blog, as a result of Vallas’ strategies, “New Orleans has a higher proportion of students in privately managed charters than any other district in the nation.”

Eighty-three percent (83%) of the schools in the New Orleans Recovery School District are now charter schools. According to the state’s school performance index, the Recovery School District of New Orleans is less than 2 points above getting a grade of F.

In fact, six years after Vallas began to promote his “Vallas Turnaround Model,” a Louisiana Education Research Group called Research on Reforms, determined that 79% of the charter schools in the Recovery School District were graded D or F by the state.

Meanwhile, another research group, The Cowen Institute of Tulane University, which has traditionally been a major supporter of charter schools, reported that 66% of the Recovery School District Charter Schools rated D or F.

The failing grades that hound Vallas’ charter school model is just the tip of a much larger record of failure when it comes to the broader “reforms” that Vallas implemented in New Orleans and now seeks to recreate in Bridgeport.

Teacher and Education Blogger, Mercedes Schneider, has written extensively on the real situation surrounding the “Vallas Miracle.”  You can read her blog at: Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog

In one recent example she explored a favorite claim of the education reformers, who are fond of saying that their efforts dramatically improve the number of poor children who attend college.

According to the latest numbers, the percentage of children who qualified for the Louisiana TOPS program, which provides funds to academically proficient students who want to attend 4 or 2 year colleges stands at 42%;

TOPS eligibility for students in New Orleans is as follows:

Recovery School District state-run schools: 14%

Recovery School district Charter Schools: 29%

Orleans Parish direct-run schools: 38%

Orleans Parish Charter Schools 54%

All New Orleans schools: 37%

Louisiana schools overall: 42%

As Schneider explains, “Prior to Katrina in 2005, all New Orleans schools in the subcategories above belonged to Orleans Parish Public Schools. Now, one can see that in general, charter schools fare better than their corresponding non-charter counterparts regarding percentages of students eligible for TOPS. This is hardly surprising since students can be deselected from charters and returned to traditional public schools…The traditional public school must accept all students– this is both the glory and the burden of traditional public schooling.”

So, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars,  Vallas’ turnaround model has created a system in which the charter schools of New Orleans have “improved” TOPS eligibility while completely undermining the traditional public school system.

When the data is analyzed, the Vallas Turnaround Model is not a tribute to improving public education, but a lesson in privatization by replacing failing public schools with failing charter schools and creating a two-tiered education system where certain students get access to higher performing institutions, while leaving all the other students behind.

Vallas is moving forward with a similar strategy in Bridgeport.  In just the last few weeks we’ve seen aggressive efforts to expand charter schools in Bridgeport including a new charter elementary school, a plan to turn over another elementary school to the FUSE/Jumoke Academy of Hartford and a proposal by the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Kenneth Moales, Jr. to create a boys-only charter school that would augment his present church affiliated school.

For the latest Bridgeport’s new charter school proposal see: http://www.ctpost.com/default/article/Charter-plan-draws-impassioned-arguments-4534361.php and http://www.ctpost.com/default/article/Against-proposed-new-charter-school-4535321.php.

Of course, this all comes on top of continued expansion of the Achievement First Charter School in Bridgeport.

Education reformers are busy trying to replicate the New Orleans model around the country.   Here in Connecticut, Paul Vallas has the strong backing of Governor Malloy and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

But unlike in New Orleans, and places like Chicago and Philadelphia, here in Connecticut there is still time to stop them before it is too late.

Update: Connecticut Charter Schools outperform public schools…in suspending kindergarten students!

Evidence reveals that it is a common practice for Achievement First Schools in Connecticut to suspend children 6 and under.

Well, we’ve finally found proof that charter schools do outperform their public school counterparts…In the percentage of children 6 and under who get suspended from school.

When Achievement First Hartford’s “suspension rate” for children 6 and under is 63.7% it is time for an investigation [Compare that to 6.8% in the Hartford School System].

When Achievement First Bridgeport’s “suspension rate” for children 6 and under is 55.6% it is time for an investigation [Compare that to  7.9% in the Bridgeport School System].

When Achievement First New Haven’s “suspension rate” for children 6 and under is 29.3% it is time for an investigation [Compare that to 2.7% in the New Haven School System].

Why schools would suspend children 6 and under on a regular basis is bad enough, but a new report reveals that suspension of 6 year olds is an extremely common practice in the kindergarten and first grades at Achievement First schools in Connecticut.

In a stunning story that was posted on the CT Mirror website Friday, the CT Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe examines a new report that revealed that, “at least 1,967 students age 6 and under were suspended last school year — almost all of them black or Hispanic.”

Rabe writes, “According to a report from the Connecticut Department of Education, the number of students suspended is actually higher, but privacy issues restrict the state agency from releasing information that could identify unique student information.”

The CT Mirror goes on to write that after unearthing the data, Connecticut’s new Child Advocate explained, ’That’s a lot of kids… I do not think that [suspension] is an appropriate response’ to students behaving poorly at school.”

Jamey Bell added that, “Excluding such young children from the classroom ‘seems to me a non-educational, non-therapeutic response for those who are way too young to be culpable.”

Most disturbing of all is where the suspensions were taking place.  Not only were nearly all the suspensions targeted to low income, minority children, but there was an extraordinary difference between how district schools handle the behavioral problems of little children and how charter schools handle those problems.

While the CT Mirror included a chart listing the total number of suspensions by town, for purposes of comparison, I’ve added the total number of students in the grade range for 6 year olds (kindergarten and first grade), which allows for a more appropriate apples to apples comparison to be made.   The percentages are actually higher since some 1st graders are 7 years old.

 

District or School

Number of Suspensions for children 6 or under

Total number of children 6 or under in district or school

Percentage of suspensions compared to total number of students

Bridgeport Schools

293

3,692

7.9%

Achievement First – Bridgeport

50

90

55.6%

Hartford Schools

238

3,477

6.8%

Achievement First – Hartford

114

179

63.7%

New Haven Schools

89

3,235

2.7%

Achievement First – New Haven

Amistad, Elm City

85

290

29.3%

 

 

While data does not reveal whether it is the same children being suspended multiple times, what is clear is that suspension is used far more often in Connecticut’s charter schools.

Readers will recall that Achievement First, Inc. is the charter school management company that was co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

The CT Mirror story is an absolute must read.

The story includes quotes from Joette Katz, the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and Governor Malloy’s criminal justice policy advisory, Michael Lawlor.

Katz tells the CT Mirror, “I was shocked…Clearly when children are being suspended, something else is not being attended to.”

Lawlor said, “These high suspension rates are an indicator of weak leadership…It has to do with the culture in a school…It’s not about the kids at that school. It’s about the policies in those schools.”

The most important conclusion is that something is very, very wrong with the way discipline is being handled at Connecticut’s charter schools.

The Department of Children and Families, the State’s Child Advocate and the State Department of Education must begin an immediate investigation into these practices and they would do well to bring in Connecticut’s Attorney General to determine whether Connecticut laws are being violated.

You can read the full CT Mirror Story here:  http://www.ctmirror.org/story/hundreds-kindergarten-students-suspended-school

Corporate Education Reform Industry spends nearly $4.7 million on Connecticut lobbying, little of it telling the truth.

Pro-public education commentator Wendy Lecker has written another “must read” piece, this time pointing out the fact that corporate education reformers are either unwilling or unable to tell the truth as the spin their political stories to try and convince elected officials and the public to support their “education reform” agenda.

Lecker, like many of us, has heard the latest round of ads that side-step the truth in a politically self-righteous attempt to convince us that we can improve out public education system by handing it over to private corporations and charter schools.

This new $1.5 million advertising campaign by a front organization called, ironically enough, A Better Connecticut, is just one more step in the most expensive lobbying effort in Connecticut history.

Here are the latest numbers;

To date, since Governor Malloy took office, the corporate education reform industry has spent at least $4,650,721.54 on lobbying, breaking all Connecticut records for the most expensive effort in history to buy up Connecticut Public Policy.

The following chart reveals the players in this scheme.

Following the chart is a link to Wendy Lecker’s latest piece in the Stamford Advocate, Bridgeport Post and other Hearst media outlets.

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $1,121,672.17
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD) $758,969.00
   
A Better Connecticut $1,490,000.00
   
Students First/GNEPSA (Michelle Rhee) $876,602.08
   
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $237,504.22
   
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $126,559.85
   
Students for Education Reform (Michelle Rhee) $15,714.22
   
Connecticut Charter School Association/N.E. Charter School Network $22,000.00
   
Excel Bridgeport $515.00
   
Teach For America $1,185.00
   
EDUCATON REFORM LOBBYING EXPENDITURES $4,650,721.54

 

Wendy Lecker: Imagining where all that money could have gone

“Proponents of corporate-driven education reforms seem to believe that the notion of telling the truth is a low priority. Take for example the false claims being made by charter school advocates about the size of waiting lists for charter schools.

In as diverse locations as Massachusetts and Chicago, charter lobbyists having been pushing charter school expansion by claiming lengthy waiting lists. In both locations, investigations by journalists at the Boston Globe and WBEZ revealed that the waiting list numbers were grossly exaggerated, often counting the same students multiple times. As a Massachusetts legislator noted, raising the charter cap based on artificial numbers “doesn’t make sense.” Unless, of course, your main goal is charter expansion rather than sound educational policy

Another common theme promoted by charter schools is the questionable claim of amazing success. Recently, Geoffrey Canada of the famed Harlem Children’s Zone gave an online seminar in which he boasted a 100 percent graduation rate at his schools. However, if one looks at HCZ’s attrition rate, the true graduation rate is 64 percent. Many have also noted that Canada kicked out two entire grades of children because of sub-par test scores.

Here in Connecticut, ConnCAN, the charter school lobby, is the prominent peddler of shaky claims and half-truths about charter schools.

Recently, in an effort to promote the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport, Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of ConnCAN, Inc. declared that nearly 80 percent of charters outperform their host districts. However, data from the State Department of Education reveals that about 90 percent of Connecticut’s charters serve a less needy population than their host districts: fewer poor children, fewer English Language Learners or fewer students with disabilities, with most having a combination of two or three of these categories.

Considering poverty, language barriers and special education needs are the prominent factors influencing standardized test scores, it is not much a feat to have higher test scores with a less challenging population. ConnCAN’s claim is hardly an indication of success or innovation.”

Read the rest of Lecker’s commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Imagining-where-all-that-money-4526450.php#ixzz2TlStOU64

The consistently wrong path to better schools by Wendy Lecker

Wendy Lecker, the pro-public education advocate and fellow columnist hits it out of the park; again, with a new commentary piece in Stamford Advocate entitled “The consistently wrong path to better Schools.

Improving education achievement in our major cities must be a top priority for all of Connecticut’s citizens.  Access to higher quality public schools is a fundamental American right, and is even guaranteed by Connecticut’s Constitution.  In addition, in the near future, 40% of Connecticut’s entire workforce will be coming from our state’s poorer, urban, Priority School Districts.  Our state’s economic future depends on providing all of our young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.  Finally, the price tag for creating quality schools is not cheap.  Connecticut’s schools are already underfunded and yet Connecticut taxpayers are paying about 80% of the entire educational expenses in cities like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.

Education is both the economic and civil rights issue of our time.

Governor Malloy, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, Bridgeport “Superintendent of Schools,” Paul Vallas, “Special Master,” Steven Adamowski and the corporate education reformers claim to have the solution – simply hand our public schools over to private corporations.

The approach being perpetrated by these corporate reformers couldn’t be more wrong and Wendy Lecker’s latest column dives that point home.

Wendy Lecker writes;

“Most people who board the wrong train headed to the wrong destination get off and look for the right train.

But not the educational leadership of Hartford.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, a protégé of the controversial “reformer” Steven Adamowski, has climbed on the wrong train despite the obvious signs that it will take Hartford in the wrong direction.

In her state of the schools address, Kishimoto highlighted a study conducted for her by University of Connecticut researchers. The study measured, by neighborhood, factors that inhibit the ability to learn, such as child poverty, the percentage of adults without high school or college degrees, crime, health, housing and neighborhood stability, and community assets such as preschool and after-school programs.

Fifty years of research have established that these out-of-school influences account for the majority of differences in student achievement.

In a recent New York Times article, Stanford University’s Sean Reardon summarized his research demonstrating that income inequality is the prime factor in educational disparities. As Professor Reardon noted, schools do not “produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students.”

Reardon’s research revealed that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students has widened in the past three decades largely because income inequality has increased, affluent students arrive to kindergarten better prepared than poor students, and affluent parents spend more on enrichment and tutoring.

Our best chance to reduce academic disparities, then, is to work to reduce economic inequities.

To the extent schools can help, we must give them the capacity to counteract the forces that hinder learning. That means a sufficient number of social workers, school psychologists, health centers, extra academic help and support for children and families, as well as a rich and varied curriculum.

However, rather than address the factors that prevent Hartford’s neediest children from learning, Hartford Superintendent Kishimoto seems intent on taking us in completely the wrong direction, ignoring the evidence she herself requested.

First on Kishimoto’s agenda is expanding the Achievement First charter franchise in Hartford. Achievement First, Inc., already operates a charter school in Hartford and is notorious for failing to serve Hartford’s neediest children. In a city where 43 percent of students come from non-English-speaking homes, only 4.8 percent of Achievement First’s students come from non-English-speaking homes. In Hartford, 18 percent of students are not fluent in English; at Achievement First, 4.8 percent. Thirteen percent of Hartford’s students have disabilities compared with 7.5 percent at Achievement First. Moreover, Achievement First has a 25 percent attrition rate.

Achievement First, a state charter school, is funded directly by the state and is not part of Hartford’s school district. However, Hartford Public Schools must pay for special education services and transportation for Hartford children attending the school. On top of this requirement, Hartford public schools paid $1.5 million dollars for capital improvements on Achievement First’s school building, which the charter uses for free. Additionally, Hartford and Achievement First entered into an agreement whereby the district pays more money to the charter company. This coming year, the district is scheduled to pay Achievement First over $3.2 million.”

Wendy’s assessment the approach being implemented by Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto is harsh but 100% accurate.

Take the time to read the whole column at the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-consistently-wrong-path-to-4487142.php#ixzz2SQUbtfw3

Shocker: Hartford Superintendent proposes another Achievement First Inc. Charter School

Joined by the Chairman of the Hartford Board of Education, Hartford Superintendent of Schools and “education reformer protégé,” Christiana Kishimoto, began her annual “State of the Schools” speech by presenting Governor Malloy with the Hartford State of the Schools Award “to thank him for education reform and its impact on Hartford.”

Then, Kishimoto announced that she was throwing her support behind the creation of yet another Achievement First charter school for Hartford.

What a surprise!  The company co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, has the support of Hartford’s superintendent, despite the fact that Achievement First, Inc. has completely failed to educate its fair share of non-English speaking students, students who go home to households where English is not the primary language or students who require special education services.

Take at a look at the data

Hartford vs. Achievement First – Hartford:  Servicing students who are not fluent in the English language (ESL):

  Hartford Public Schools Achievement First – Hartford
2009-2010 18% 4.8%
2008-2009 14% 0%

 

Hartford vs. Achievement First – Hartford:  Servicing students who go home to households where English in not the primary language:

  Hartford Public Schools Achievement First – Hartford
2009-2010 43% 4.8%
2008-2009 43% 0%

 

Hartford vs. Achievement First – Hartford:  Servicing students who have disabilities that require special education services:

  Hartford Public Schools Achievement First – Hartford
2009-2010 13% 7.5%
2008-2009 13% 6.5%

 

Imagine, a city where one out of five students are fluent in English, a city in which more than 6 in 10 students go home to households where English is not the primary language and where more than 1 in 10 students need special education services…and that city’s superintendent of schools supports the expansion of a charter school management company that fails to provide appropriate services to those students!

Instead of working to ensure that all of Hartford’s students are serviced, Hartford’s “education reform” superintendent is pushing for even more seats and more funding for Achievement First, Inc.

Sadly, this insulting action doesn’t come as a surprise.

When Governor Malloy nominated Stefan Pryor for the position of Commissioner of Education, Wait, What? readers had the opportunity to learn all about Steven Pryor and Achievement First, Inc.

Readers may even recall the post that read:

In 2010, Achievement First’s Board of Directors adopted an aggressive strategic plan to grow Achievement First.  The plan, which is outlined in their 2010 Annual Report, is designed to increase the number of Achievement First charter schools from 20 schools to 35 schools in the next few years.  Instead of serving 5,400 students, Achievement First plans to serve more than 12,000 students.

If they utilized the present “Management Fee” system, Achievement First, Inc. would be collecting nearly $10 million a year in taxpayer funds.

Recall that Achievement First Inc. noted in their plan that when that strategic plan is implemented, Achievement First “will serve more students than 95 percent of school districts in the United States.”

Meanwhile, Achievement First has also been working to successfully change Connecticut law to allow the company’s existing schools to expand over their statutory limits.

A 2010 law eliminated the grade limit of 85 students per grade and REQUIRED that the State Department of Education  “waive the overall enrollment limits,” if these particular charter schools wanted to expand.

Instead of requiring the Connecticut State Board of Education to weigh the costs and benefits of allowing these charter schools to expand, the new law required them to allow the expansions.

The net effect was that Achievement First, already the largest charter school company in Connecticut, has an automatic green light to expand.

Achievement First Hartford, which had 593 students in 2010-2011, will reach 797 by 2012-2013 and will still expand even further in subsequent years.  Achievement First Bridgeport will go from 410 in 2010-2011 to 672 in 2012-2013, and smaller expansions will be taking place at Achievement First Amistad Academy and at Achievement First’s Elm City College Preparatory school.

So let’s put Christiana Kishimoto’s proposal in perspective.  At the very moment that Hartford is undermining its existing schools, Hartford’s superintendent is supporting a proposal to divert even more funds to a company that fails to provide educational services to a significant portion of Hartford’s children.

It is what a normal person would call an outrage!

And in Hartford, Jumoke Academy pulls down another $1.1 million, while Achievement First collects $1.2 million

Meanwhile, as Jumoke’s Chief Operating Officer waits for the Connecticut Legislature to vote to put her on the State Board of Education, the Hartford Board of Education voted last night to direct another $1,054,143 to the Jumoke Academy and $1,173,327 to Achievement First.

On a 5 to 1 vote, the Hartford Board of Education authorized the Superintendent to accept money from America’s #1 education reformer, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The majority of the money flows through to Hartford’s two largest charter school management organizations (Jumoke and Achievement First) and even the money going to the Board of Education is restricted in such a way as to force Hartford and Connecticut taxpayers to devote even more resources to the charter school industry.

Although the Gates Foundation money is a tiny portion of the Hartford School System’s total budget, by accepting the grant, the Hartford Board is committed to instituting more standardized testing (the NWEA MAP test), supporting the expansion of more charter slots (a gift for Jumoke and Achievement First) and attaching teacher evaluation results (From the Danielson/Teachscape programs) to the NWEA MAP and other standardized test data.

Adding insult to injury, thanks in no small part to Hartford’s Mayor, the Board of Education didn’t even vote to authorize the city to go after the funds.  Instead, the pro-charter school administration cut the deal with the Gates Foundation and the members of the Board of Education had the choice of accepting or rejecting the entire package.  Instead of sending the deal back for more negotiations and a fairer distribution of funds, the Board rubber stamped the package.  The only no vote came from Working Family Party member Robert Cotto Jr.  The Democrats, as a block, sided with the charter schools.

The Gates Foundation grant directs that the money be given to Achievement First to set up a leadership training program for school administrators; that money be used to expand teacher evaluation, training and coaching program including the requirement that Achievement First play a leading role in that effort; provides funds to align Hartford’s school curricula to the new Common Core Standards; and provides funds to expand Jumoke Academy’s role as a “high performing charter school.”

It is ironic that the grant refers to Jumoke as a high performing charter school when it is clear that in a city with a high Latino population, a large non-English speaking student body and more than one in ten students needing special education services, Jumoke is a charter school company that has been completely unwilling to take on their fair share of Latino, non-English speaking and special education students.

Not surprising, but perhaps most insulting of all is that the grant must be used to “Develop Jumoke Academy’s capacity to successfully manage and implement the transformation of low-performing schools in Hartford.”  This clearly indicates that  some type of deal has or will be struck to hand even more Hartford schools over to the Fuse/Jumoke charter school management company.

No need to determine whether it would be more effective to develop Hartford’s own capacity to improve the existing public schools.

No need to determine whether there are other charter schools or organizations that would do a better job than Jumoke.

No need for an open, fair and competitive bidding process to determine whether Jumoke is the best private company to run those schools or whether taxpayers are getting the best rates.

No need to select a private vendor who has experience working with Latino and non-English speaking students.

No need to select a company that is experienced, willing and able to take on its fair share of special education students.

Nope, none of that.

Instead, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the corporate education reform industry will simply continue to move forward, playing by their own set of rules, exempting themselves from the laws that apply to everyone else whenever they deems it appropriate and leaving the vast majority of students, especially Latino, non-English speaking students and students who need special education services in the dust.

And what is Governor Malloy’s solution?

Put the Chief Operating Officer of Jumoke Academy on the State Board of Education so that these policies can be promoted across the state. 

Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education

(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

A Conflict of Interest:  A situation in which a public official’s decisions are influenced by the official’s personal interests.

From 2009 to 2011 she served as community outreach director for Achievement First, the large charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

In 2012, after a short stint as spokesperson for Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, she went to work for the Jumoke Academy, the Hartford-based charter school.

In October 2012, the Jumoke Academy’s CEO, Michael Sharpe, named her to the post of Chief Operating Officer for FUSE (Family Urban Schools of Excellence), the new charter school management company that Jumoke created to expand and “replicate” its schools.

According to a media report at the time, as COO of FUSE, her job would be to “core operations functions that support FUSE’s mission, overseeing organizational planning and serving as a member of the senior leadership team.”

Just six weeks ago, on February 21, 2013, she went before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee to speak in favor of more funding for charter schools and Governor Malloy’s education reforms saying, “I am here representing Jumoke Academy and its charter management organization Fuse, as its Chief Operating Officer…”

And then, a few days after that Governor Malloy nominated her to the Connecticut State Board of Education.

In addition to serving as COO of a charter school management company, she would be voting on whether to expand existing charter schools, authorize new charter schools and move more taxpayer funds from public district schools to charter schools.

Yesterday, the legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee held a public hearing on her nomination and then immediately voted in favor of her nomination.

Next step for Andrea Comer – the Connecticut House of Representatives – for a final confirmation vote.

Certainly her conflict of interest is obvious.

Under Connecticut law, “A ‘substantial’ conflict of interest exists if a public official or state employee has reason to believe or expect that he or she, his or her spouse, a dependent child, or a business with which he or she is associated will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by virtue of his or her official activity…”

And the law goes on to say that a  ‘Business with which…associated’ is defined to include any entity through which business for profit or not for profit is conducted in which the public official or state employee, or a member of his or her immediate family, is a director, officer…”

The language is simple and direct.

The conflict is obvious!

Jumoke Academy’s charter, the document that allows the school to exist,  must be reviewed and reauthorized by the State Board of Education on regular basis. The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Jumoke Academy’s request to expand is voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

The Commissioner’s recommendations concerning The Jumoke Academy at Milner (part of the Commissioner’s Network of “turnaround schools”) is voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Proposals to expand the number of Jumoke/Fuse schools in Connecticut are voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Regulations and funding for charter schools is voted on by the State Board of Education.  The COO of Fuse/Jumoke shouldn’t be on that Board.

Putting the COO of Fuse/Jumoke on the State Board of Education is inappropriate and wrong.

But wait just a second; on Wednesday she was given a letter from the Office of State Ethics saying that she doesn’t have a “conflict of interest.”

How is that possible?

Because it turns out that according to the Office of State Ethics, the Ethics Code defines the term “Business with which…associated” as “an entity of which you are one of the following: director, officer (i.e., president, executive or senior vice president or treasurer), owner, limited or general partner…”

Despite the fact that she has come before the legislature to call for more funding for charter schools, in general, and Jumoke Academy in particular;

Despite the fact that her job is to expand the number of Jumoke Charter School;

Despite she clearly has a real and perceived conflict of interest;

According to the Ethics Commission’s regulations, as COO, instead of “president, executive or senior vice president or treasurer” she isn’t prohibited from serving on the State Board of Education.

What an amazing travesty of justice.

If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quakes like a duck…

And perhaps most shocking of all is why Governor Malloy thinks this appointment is okay.  Even if it doesn’t violate the absolute “letter of the law,” it so flagrantly violates the spirit of Connecticut law that it is an insult to everyone who believes in open, honest and transparent government.