Malloy Admin- Drops $2 million on consulting firm to micro-manage Alliance Districts then blames districts for program’s failures.

Here we go again…

Rather than properly fund Connecticut’s public schools, Governor Malloy has turned his back on the majority of Connecticut’s public schools and local property taxpayers by shifting almost all new state education funding to Connecticut’s so-called Alliance Districts.

Making matters far worse, rather than using the State Department of Education’s expert team of superintendents, principals and policy experts who had been working with Connecticut’s Priority Schools, Malloy’s first Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor,  laid off and reassigned these experienced Connecticut educators and handed their work over to Mass Insight, Inc., a politically-connected, out-of-state Corporate Education Reform consulting company.  Mass Insight then sent in a team of consultants, with little to no education experience, to manage the day to day work associated with the Alliance District and Turnaround Program.

And heading up the overall operation, which has spent more than $300 million in public funds, Commissioner Stefan Pryor recruited a school principal from Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that Pryor co-founded.

Lacking the certification necessary to teach or work in a Connecticut school, Morgan Barth had already spent eight years illegally teaching and working at Achievement First, Inc.  However, Barth’s claim to fame was that he was a close relative of Richard Barth, the CEO of the massive KIPP Charter School chain who, in turn, is married to Wendy Koop, the founder of Teach for America.

When it comes to actually overseeing Malloy’s Alliance District program, Barth and Mass Insight’s track record has been abysmal, but that didn’t stop Mass Insight from collecting at least $1,957,960 in consulting fees and Barth finding the time to head out to Storrs to get his superintendent’s certification via one of the short-cut training programs at UConn’s NEAG School of Education.

Of course, not surprisingly, when Stefan Pryor bailed to take a job in Rhode Island, Malloy’s new Commissioner of Education, Dianna Wentzell, continued to use Mass Insight to run the Alliance District Program.

But despite the State Department of Education’s record of failure, or perhaps because of their record of mismanagement, Commissioner Wentzell is now blaming the Alliance Districts themselves for problems that have developed with the program, rather than the inexperienced, but highly paid consultants that she and her predecessor hired and coddled.

The Hartford Courant covers the new development in an article entitled, Some Struggling Districts Using State Grant For Unintended Purposes while the CT Mirror’s story is entitled, Schools redirecting money intended for reforms, officials say.

As the Courant reports,

“The board is aware of a couple of examples that have been brought to our attention of extreme misuse as a result of carryover,” Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said. “This allows us to keep the Alliance District funds focused on the Alliance District plan.”

Extreme misuse?

Keep Alliance District funds focused on the Alliance District Plan?

Considering the way in which the out-of-state consultants coordinated the program, attacking the Alliance Districts is particularly revolting.

And let’s be clear, it’s not like Wentzell and her management team weren’t well aware of the problems associated with the way the Alliance District Program was being run because, as has been clear from the state, those problems started at the top and were a direct result of the policy decisions Pryor and Wentzell made.

The following 17 Wait, What. Blog posts are just a fraction of the reports about the way in which Mass Insight Inc. and the State Department of Education were managing the Alliance District program.

Connecticut legislators take note, before Malloy’s State Department of Education and State Board of Education start attacking Connecticut’s most challenged school districts, they should be required to come clean about myriad of problems that were caused by the way they “managed” the program.

The following are Wait, What? Posts on Connecticut’s Alliance District Program and the way in which Malloy’s own commissioners and consultants mismanaged and undermined the program. 

Mass Insight contract “magically extended” on its last day. Cost to taxpayers: $800,000 (2/3/14)

A plea to the public for help in tracking down the Malloy Administration’s effort to extend $1 million contract (1/28/14)

Pryor now using out-of-state company to recruit out-of-state school principals (12/23/13)

Are Alliance School Districts implementing their Turnaround Plans with “fidelity”? (12/4/13)

No Joke: Year 2 Alliance District “kickoff” tomorrow despite Pryor’s failure to get money to Alliance Districts (10/16/13)

Did Connecticut’s Director for School Turnaround illegally teach in the State of Connecticut? (10/8/13)

Malloy’s Education Commissioner prepares 2014 legislative agenda that increases his power and promotes charters (9/17/13)

Mass Insight swaps out more consultants: Further reducing experience for CT Alliance Districts (8/26/13)

Malloy/Pryor’s new “Turnaround Director” violated Connecticut law by failing to get proper teacher certification (8/20/13)

Just when Connecticut’s “Alliance” Districts thought it couldn’t get worse… (8/19/13)

Hello? It’s the 2nd week of August…where is the State’s Alliance District Funding? (8/8/13)

Malloy’s Commissioner of Education signs another $1 million contract with out-side consultants (7/20/13)

Warning! Warning! Alliance Districts Beware: (6/27/13)

Pay More, Get Less: The Malloy/Pryor Approach to Problem Solving: (6/5/13)

Layoffs for Connecticut Residents, Retainers for out-of-state consultants: The Malloy-Pryor-Mass Insight Contract (5/24/13)

The Malloy/Pryor Education Reform Consultant Full Employment Gravy Train (5/17/13)

Oh look, there goes more Connecticut taxpayer money to out-of-state “education reform” consultants (5/16/13)

Is Stefan Pryor or the Connecticut Council for Education Reform breaking the law?

As Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and his agency must adhere to the Connecticut ethics laws that apply to public officials and public agencies.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) is a corporate funded lobbying and advocacy group that is working to support Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives.  As a lobbying group, CCER must adhere to the ethics laws that apply to lobbying organizations.

But when it comes to the relationship between the Connecticut Council for Education Reform and Pryor’s state agency, something is significantly amiss.

CCER was part of the $6 million record-breaking lobbying effort that led to the passage of Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative in 2012.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform’s Board of Directors includes the retired Chairman and CEO of The Hartford Insurance Company, the President and COO of the Travelers Companies, the President and CEO of Yale New Haven Hospital, a Managing Director at First Niagara Bank, the Lead Director at Webster Bank, the Chair of Nestle Waters North America, former gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and others.

The Executive Director of CCER is a registered lobbyist and the organization retains one of  the state’s better known lobbying companies.

When it comes to their rhetoric and propaganda, CCER stays true to the corporate education reform industry’s agenda. Recently CCER put out a press release stating,

 “We will oppose any delay in implementation of the Common Core State Standards.”

But as reported earlier this year on Wait, What? this education reform lobbying group has been playing an increasingly significant role in the internal functioning of the State Department of Education.

At last month’s State Department of Education’s quarterly Alliance District Convening meeting, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, Jeffrey Villar, was a lead presenter at a session entitled, “District Strategic Planning.”

The meeting agenda read:

“CCER will share best practices and tools for district-wide, long-term strategic planning. This will include strategies to establish Board of Education goals, develop district indicators of success, and design a process to monitor implementation. Districts will also learn about how the CCER can help districts workshop their Year 3 Alliance and Priority School District consolidated applications.”

Katie Roy, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform’s Chief Operating Officer also presented to the group of local school administrators, teachers and parents.

This means that at an official meeting between the State Department of Education and officials from Connecticut’s 30 Alliance Districts, participants were told that the lobbying group known as CCER “can help districts workshop their Year 3 Alliance and Priority School District consolidated applications.”

A lobbying organization can “help districts workshop their Year 3 Alliance and Priority School District consolidated applications”?

That is more than a bit odd…

First off, CCER is a corporate funded lobbying group and has no expertise with Alliance Districts, the State Department of Education or the Alliance District and Priority District funding grants.  Their expertise is trying to persuade legislators to support Governor Malloy’s education reform efforts.

Second, what makes the whole situation even stranger is that as a result of a series of Freedom of Information requests filed with the appropriate state agencies, it turns out that there is NO CONTRACT between the State Department of Education and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

So how did CCER get the job of “helping” Alliance Districts and who is picking up the tab for these “services.”

The State of Connecticut isn’t paying CCER, but if the lobbying group is “donating” the services to school districts then that raises a slew of ethics and legal issues.

And to make matters even more suspicious, the lobbying reports that the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) has submitted to the Office of State Ethics doesn’t come close to showing the time and costs CCER has already devoted to the task of “helping” Alliance Districts.

Stefan Pryor’s State Department of Education has instructed Alliance Districts that a lobbying group with no expertise is available to help them prepare grant applications that will then be approved or rejected by Pryor and the State Department of Education.

In the real world we call that a conflict of interest.

It is time for the Malloy administration and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) to come clean on exactly what role CCER is playing at the State Department of Education and whether Commissioner Pryor or CCER are violating any Connecticut laws in the process.

Malloy administration action raises more ethics questions…

Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, is no stranger to ethics issues.

Pryor and his operatives at the State Department of Education are now engaged in activities that raise even more potential ethics violations.

As reported yesterday in a post entitled, “Pryor schedules Corporate Education Reform Industry Lobby Group for Alliance District Meeting,” Commissioner Pryor has added the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a corporate funded lobby group, to his operation at the State Department of Education.

School officials and community members from the 30 Connecticut school districts receiving funds through Malloy’s Alliance District program will be meeting this week at the State Department of Education’s “Alliance District Convening Meeting”

At the meeting participants will hear from the Executive Director and the Chief Operating Officer of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), an organization that has spent over $160,000 lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s “education reform” initiative.

According to the meeting agenda, “Districts will also learn about how the CCER can help districts workshop their Year 3 Alliance and Priority School District consolidated applications.”

In addition, along with an out-of-state consultant, “CCER will also discuss their joint collaboration to perform a school district funding analysis for a[n] Alliance District and how they can help your district.”

But CCER is a lobbying entity and Jeffrey Villar, CCER’s Executive Director, is a registered lobbyist.  Their communication with state officials is strictly regulated — or at least it is supposed to be strictly regulated.

Under Connecticut law “a lobbyist is any person who either expends or agrees to expend, or receives or agrees to receive, $2,000 or more in a calendar year to communicate directly or to solicit others to communicate with any public official or their staff in the legislative or executive branch…”

According to the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)’s most recent official lobbying report, Villar only spent $370 worth of his time communicating with the Malloy Administration in November and $740 worth of his time in December.

At Villar’s salary, this amount would only cover a handful of hours, far fewer than Villar and Pryor and his staff would need to concoct this new scheme to allow the corporate lobbying group to provide services to Alliance District school systems.

If Villar and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform spent more time engaged in communicating with Pryor and his staff than they actually reported then they have violated Connecticut law.

In addition, as noted above, this week’s Alliance District Convening Meeting will also feature CCER’s Chief Operating Officer.  However this person isn’t even registered as a lobbyist which could be another ethics violation for both CCER and the individual.

Underlying this latest development is the fact that Commissioner Stefan Pryor has diverted millions of dollars in state funds to out-of-state consultants.

This week’s Alliance District meeting is a shocking reminder that taxpayer funds continue to flow out-of-state when there are plenty of qualified, talented and available education professionals right here in Connecticut.

Adding to that insult is the fact that Pryor is now handing State Department of Education responsibilities and operations over to a corporate education reform industry lobby group that may not even be following Connecticut law.

You can learn more about the Connecticut Council for Education Reform’s political agenda by going to their website:   http://ctedreform.org/.  Their Board of Directors includes:

Steve Simmons, Chairman
Chairman, Simmons/Patriot Media & Communications
 
Ramani Ayer, Vice-Chairman
Retired Chairman & CEO, The Hartford Insurance Company
 
Roxanne Coady, Secretary and Treasurer
President & Founder, RJ Julia Booksellers
 
Marna Borgstrom
President & CEO, Yale New Haven Hospital System
 
John Crawford
President, Strategem, LLC Lead Director of Board of Directors, Webster Bank
 
Mitchell Etess
CEO, Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority
 
William Ginsberg
President & CEO, The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven
 
Kim Jeffery
Chairman, Nestle Waters North America
 
Ned Lamont
Founder & Chair, Campus TeleVideo
 
Brian MacLean
President & COO, The Travelers Companies, Inc.
 
Garrett Moran
President, Year Up
 
John Rathgeber
President & CEO, Connecticut Business & Industry Association
 
David Ring
Managing Director, Enterprise Banking, First Niagara
 
Peter Salovey
President, Yale University
 
Dudley Williams
Director of Corporate Citizenship & Diversity, GE Asset Management

Are Alliance School Districts implementing their Turnaround Plans with “fidelity”?

That unbelievable question is what Morgan Barth; Malloy’s School Turnaround Director at the State Department of Education (and former Achievement First Inc. administrator) is asking Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts.

Are you implementing your plan with fidelity…?

At the direction of Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, the State Department of Education has managed to put together a “Turnaround Office” with virtually no teaching experience, no Connecticut experience and no real understanding of the challenges facing public education in Connecticut.

Instead of providing the real support Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts need, they are burdening districts with more paperwork; more data collection and absurd, even idiotic questions…like are you implementing your plan with fidelity?

Fidelity?  It must be one of those fancy corporate education reform terms, because in the real world fidelity means:

fi·del·i·ty: faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. “He sought only the strictest fidelity to justice” Synonyms:  loyalty, allegiance, obedience;

Over the past 18 months, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, co-founder of Achievement First, Inc. (the large charter school Management Company) and corporate education reform aficionado, has moved out all the professional expertise from the State Department of Education’s office that is responsible for what used to be called Priority School Districts but are now called Alliance Districts.

Instead of trained professionals with Connecticut experience, Pryor has handed the operation over to a former Achievement First, Inc. administrator Morgan Barth who managed to spend a number of years illegally teaching at a Achievement First school despite his lack of proper state certification.

Much of the rest of Pryor’s “turnaround” team is made up of young paid non-Connecticut consultants who are funded through a $1 million contract with an out-of-state company.

MassInsight, the out-of-state consulting company, “won” the one year contract after its CEO came to Connecticut to speak in favor of Malloy’s education reform legislation. 

Despite having little to no experience, the Commissioner and Governor committed $1 million in taxpayer funds to this out-of-state company ignoring the fact that the State Department of Education already had experienced staff who knew the school districts in Connecticut, understood the issues and were already making a positive impact.

Furthermore, any additional help that might have been needed could easily have been acquired from Connecticut’s regional service centers such as CREC, EastCONN, Project Learn, Etc.

But no, wasting precious public funds has been the hallmark of this administration and the State Department of Education has been a prime example.

The Malloy administration has consistently opted for more privatization and delegating decisions to more people who don’t come from Connecticut, don’t understand Connecticut and will be headed off to new consulting opportunities as soon as they arise.

In fact, in less than a year, more than half the MassInsight consultants have already left to be replaced by even less experienced people.

Now, virtually every day, Alliance Districts are reporting that the Malloy/Pryor bureaucracy of consultants is making more and more absurd demands.

Just last week an Alliance District administrator was sent the following…

“In response to some questions the Turnaround Office has received about the data dashboard section (first worksheet) of the AD Implementation Tracker, I wanted to share some additional information with you to assist you in your efforts to complete this portion. The data dashboard is intended to support conversations about district-wide and school-level performance over time based on leading and lagging indicators. We understand that districts calculate these numbers slightly differently and are not asking you to reinvent the wheel. While we recognize that districts report this information to the CSDE at the end of the year, we are asking for several key data points more frequently and in real time to support data-driven decision-making in Alliance Districts and identified schools.”

The out-of-state consultants at the State Department of Education went on to say;

“Math/Reading Achievement: We recognize that districts are administering different tests and the data coming from these tests may not line up exactly to the dashboard’s quarterly reporting structure. For example, if your district administers a trimester-based test, simply report the test results three times a year at the end of the quarter in which the test is administered. If the test does not generate a school-wide average, please pick a representative grade to report. In the header where you enter the name of the math/reading assessment, please simply state that grade level(s) reported.

Also, you can pull information for the ED114 tab of the Implementation Tracker from the CSDE’s online grants management system. We suggest using November 15, 2013 as the end date for reporting expenditures for Quarter 1. (However if 10/31 is the end of the quarter in your district you may use that date.)”

The Alliance District administrator reported that these types of requests come in every week and are often than diametrically opposed to previous requests sent by the State Department of Education’s Turnaround Office.

Week after week, month after month, the outside consultants disrupt the efforts to “turnaround” districts by demanding more and more “data” for some new software program they’ve purchased.

But hey…we’re only paying these out-of-state consultants a million dollars of our taxpayer money so maybe we deserve the “B” team.

If there is one constant in Malloy’s “education reform” initiative it is ongoing effort to put an end to jobs for Connecticut residents in order to “free-up” funds to hire outside consultants and companies.

First came the millions Pryor gave away in no-bid contracts when he arrived in Connecticut.  Almost all of those went to companies he had done business with in other states. 

Then came the contracts with companies like MassInsight.

Stefan Pryor expands his team of charter school advocates

As if Connecticut’s Alliance School Districts (the 30 poorest school districts in the state) weren’t having enough problems, Stefan Pryor has managed to pour even more salt into the wounds that are dragging down public education in Connecticut.

Over at the State Department of Education, Stefan Pryor got rid of Connecticut’s experienced Leaders in Residence and the team of experts who were dedicated to helping Connecticut’s Priority School Districts improve educational opportunities in the state’s poorest districts.

In addition to dumping the four Leaders in Residence, Pryor got rid of the three retired superintendents, all of whom had extraordinary, real world experience in Connecticut’s communities.

Malloy’s Commissioner of Education even transferred out the expert in English Language Learning and bilingual programs, the expert in helping schools create successful multi-cultural environments and the expert on reducing school bullying, making schools safer and improving school climates.

He replaced all of this expertise with a $1 million contract with an out-of-state corporate education reform company that sent in five inexperienced consultants to tell Connecticut’s education leaders what to do.

The result has been chaos with many Alliance Districts unable to get the money and help that Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature promised them.

To make matters worse, a majority of the MassInsight company consultants have left and been replaced by even less experienced individuals.

With Alliance Districts twisting in the wind, Stefan Pryor brought in a new Director for his “Turnaround Office,” a principal from one of Pryor’s Achievement First, Inc. charter schools.

Morgan Barth is noteworthy in his own right.  He says he worked as an Achievement First, Inc. teacher in Connecticut for six years.  However, it appears that he was in those classrooms illegally because despite a state law mandating that all teachers be certified by the State Department of Education, Barth never bothered to become a Connecticut certified teacher.

Ironic that Morgan Barth, who refused to follow the laws of the State Department of Education, is now a senior manager at that very state agency.

But if it wasn’t already clear enough, Stefan Pryor has now proven that he is completely and utterly tone-deaf to the anger and frustration that is building up around the Malloy administration’s handling of public education policy in the state.

This week Morgan Barth proudly pronounced that Nasir Qadree, an Education Pioneer Fellow, Class of 2013, has joined Pryor’s “Turnaround Office.”

Nasir Qadree is new to the education management industry.

According to his bio, Qadree has been working in the “Investment Manager Services sleeve” of State Street Corporation where he was “responsible for covering North American Business Development and Sales.”  Nasir worked with prospective clients to “review and align their current operations with State Street’s servicing model.”

Before that, “Nasir worked in the Institutional Equity Sales Research group of State Street Global Markets (SSGM). In this role, he introduced portfolio managers, analysts, and traders to SSGM’s proprietary macro and quantitative research.”

And “Prior to joining State Street, Nasir worked at Goldman Sachs in New York where he worked as an operations analyst on the Fixed Income Sales desk. At Goldman Sachs, he supported municipal bond and money market sales traders.”

Nasir Qadree received a B.S. from Hampton University in Marketing and reports that he did some tutoring in New York City.

It is unclear who is paying Nasir Qadree’s salary.  He doesn’t show up (yet) on the state’s payroll but State Department of Education hasn’t gone through the necessary steps to take him on as a non-paid employee.

According to Morgan Barth though he is a “New Team Member,” with Barth writing, “Please join me in welcoming Nasir Qadree to the turnaround team. Nasir joins the SDE as an Education Pioneer Fellow…Nasir will initially support several projects pertaining to the Commissioner’s Network and charter schools.”

And rest assured that Nasir Qadree likes charter schools and charter school advocates;

Among his recent social media texts and posts were the following;

“I love this. Tireless KIPP teachers showing how much they care for the future of their KIPPsters (students), all through Hip-Hop.” (KIPP being one of the biggest charter school chains in the country).

And

@CoryBooker excited to be begin working for your former colleague Stefan Pryor in CT, focusing tirelessly on #schoolturnaround.”  To which Cory Booker responded, “He is a great man.”

Last week Qadree also tweeted, “Excited to participate in the Northeast Charter School Conference. #StudentsFirst.”

In conclusion, it is certainly clear that Governor Malloy reiterates his commitment to undermining Connecticut’s teachers, schools and our state’s system of public education.

No Joke: Year 2 Alliance District “kickoff” tomorrow despite Pryor’s failure to get money to Alliance Districts

Although Connecticut’s school districts are over 100 days into the fiscal year and more than six weeks into the school year, a number of Connecticut’s Alliance Districts still haven’t heard whether their “grant applications” have been approved by Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his hapless Turnaround Office.

Other Alliance Districts have heard funding is coming but still await the actual funds they need to implement programs that were supposed have started weeks ago.

All this and more is a direct result of Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s unending effort to do away with the State Department of Education’s professional staff and replace them high-cost, out-of-state consultants.

As Wait, What? readers are well aware, Commissioner Pryor dumped the State Department’s Leaders in Residence and expert retired superintendents and replaced them with a contract costing taxpayers nearly $1 million.  In place of trained, Connecticut experts, Alliance Districts were given the “help” of a company called MassInsight and their string of young, inexperienced consultants who have been unwilling or unable to get the job done in a timely fashion.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that the MassInsight contract ends in just over four months, but watch for Pryor to try and sneak through a contract extension despite Malloy’s ongoing promise that he is actually committed to helping Connecticut’s thirty poorest school districts.

The next chance for Connecticut’s 30 Alliance Districts to watch the parade of consultants will come tomorrow when Commissioner Pryor and his uncertified Division Director for the Turnaround Office, Morgan Barth, “will welcome Alliance Districts to the Year 2 kickoff convening.”

The event is billed as an opportunity for the Connecticut State Department of Education to “provide a vision for the second year of the Alliance District program, including a description of Year 2 priorities and how the CSDE plans to support districts. We will also highlight and celebrate successful strategies and improved outcomes in several districts.”

Scheduled to take place tomorrow at New Britain’s Institute of Technology and Business Development, Alliance District superintendents and district leadership will be regaled by a variety of consultants and corporate education reformers.

Considering the catastrophic failures associated with the Common Core standards, Common Core curriculum and Common Core testing, one of the “not to be missed” sessions will certainly be the one called, “Aligning Curricula to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)” with presenter Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, the State Department of Education’s Chief Academic Officer.

Another session, entitled “Change Management Workshop,” will be run by Morgan Barth himself.  Barth is the former Achievement First teacher and principal who allegedly worked illegally as an uncertified school teacher for six years.

Other consultants participating tomorrow include individuals from the Connecticut Center for School Change, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Mass Insight – all of whom will explain to Connecticut superintendents, principals, teachers and others how to do their jobs

Meanwhile, word on the street is that Alliance Districts should NOT be expecting to see any checks tomorrow.  Funds that the consultants haven’t taken will be distributed at a later date.

 

The State Department of Education’s NetStat to the rescue!

When in doubt, purchase a new data management system, give it a name that has nothing to do with education, hire more consultants and then hold as many meetings and “training sessions” as possible.

All paid for, or course, by the generous taxpayers of Connecticut (while school districts across the state go without adequate funding).

Here in Connecticut, the corporate education reform industry has become a caricature of itself.

This very afternoon, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Morgan Barth, his uncertified “Division Director of the Turnaround Office,” will be hosting the first “NetStat” meeting of the year with representatives of Pryor’s 11 Commissioner’s Network Schools.

The State Department of Education’s delegation will include the cadre of out-of-state consultants that arrived with the $1 million contract with the politically connected Mass Insight Company.

At last word, even Governor Malloy is planning to make an appearance at today’s meeting.

At today’s NetStat meeting, Pryor and Barth’s goal is to spotlight “the schools with ‘best-in-class’ results” which is more than a bit odd considering that half the schools have only been members of the Commissioner’s Network for one year and the other half just became Commissioner’s Network schools this past month.

But as Morgan Barth, the former teacher who couldn’t bother to become certified wrote in a recent memo, “We’ll hear many stories at NetStat including one from a dynamic duo – Karen Lott and Marilyn Taylor – respectively the principals of Milner and Dunbar. In visiting both schools I was impressed with the positivity and structure of the school culture/climate.”

Impressed with the positivity and structure of the school culture/climate?

Apparently Barth remains a big fan of the no excuses, no talking, march in a single line, hands at your sides, detention for wearing the wrong colored belt or not keeping your eyes on the teacher school climate approach.

And what a surprise that the co-founder of Achievement First, Inc. (Stefan Pryor) and the former principal of an Achievement First, Inc. school (Morgan Barth) are bringing together schools from around the state so that they can “learn” about best practices from two privatized, “no excuses” schools that have been taken over by the FUSE/Jumoke Academy charter school chain.

It must be especially convenient since the COO of FUSE/Jumoke is a member of the State Board of Education, thanks to Governor Malloy, and she will probably be in attendance thanks to her role as that company’s leading voice in their expansion efforts.

Why not just be a bit more transparent and entitle the workshop; The Malloy Administration’s dedication to privatizing public education in Connecticut.

According to a copy of today’s agenda that was posted on the web, “Attendees will receive data packets for their schools, containing current and historic data for a universal set of leading and lagging indicators used to measure school turnaround.”

They’ll then spend that day analyzing the data using a “3-step data protocol” while “The Turnaround Office will present an 8-step change management process used to drive organizational effectiveness and improvement.”

The Bottom Line?

“School teams will learn more about the vision for and expansion of the Commissioner’s Network during the upcoming school year.”

Meanwhile, we are one hundred days into the school year and the same “Turnaround Office” has still failed to process all of the Year Two Alliance District Grants leaving at least a dozen school districts without the money they were promised by Governor Malloy and the General Assembly to help “turnaround” their schools this year.

And one of the towns left twisting in the wind?

Winchester, Connecticut.

The very community that reported this week that it might have to close its schools due to a lack of funds.

But no worries…

With the first NetStat meeting of the year being held, solving Connecticut’s school funding problem can’t be far behind.

Connecticut: Poverty in the state with the highest per capita income

Connecticut Children living in Poverty

  • CT 2001          10.2% live in poverty (82,000)

  • CT 2012:        14.8% live in poverty (117,000)

According to a study conducted by Connecticut Voices for Children, the independent research and advocacy organization, “At the start of the Great Recession, Connecticut experienced the largest increase in child poverty of any state in the nation, rising from 7.9% in 2007 to 9.3% in 2008.  Data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show that the official end of the Great Recession has had no real impact for the most vulnerable children in our state, who experienced a net increase in poverty from 2008 to 2012.

In fact, the number of children living in poverty has grown by almost 20% since 2008.

Just over a decade ago, Connecticut set an official policy goal of reducing child poverty by 50% over the next ten years.  Instead, child poverty has grown by nearly 50% since 2001.

n  Child poverty is the highest in our state’s urban areas: Hartford (53.1%), Waterbury (40.0%), New Haven (37.9%), Bridgeport (37.6%), New Britain (31.0%), Norwalk (13.0%), Danbury (11.0%) and Stamford (9.7%)

n  At 53.1%, Hartford has the highest child poverty rate of any city with a population of over 100,000 in the United States.

The prevalence of poverty among children varies significantly along racial and ethnic lines;

  • White children living in poverty in Connecticut = 5.8%
  • African American children living in poverty in Connecticut = 24%
  • Hispanic children living in poverty in Connecticut = 28%

Note that in 2012, the federal poverty threshold was $23,283 for a two-parent household with two children.

What does this data mean when it comes to improving academic performance in our state’s public schools?

Considering poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services are the three most important factors that influence standardized test scores; there can be no fundamental success when it comes to closing the “achievement gap” and “turning around” standardized test scores in Connecticut until we successfully confront that monumental influence that poverty is having on our children and their schools.

If so-called education advocates aren’t talking about combatting poverty and providing all poorer schools with the resources needed to help children overcome the effects of poverty then they aren’t true education advocates.

With well over 300-400 schools in “Alliance Districts,” (that is districts that are facing the greatest challenges); the solution is not cherry-picking 8-10 schools to become guinea pigs in the Commissioner’s Network experiment.

Instead, the Governor and General Assembly should be instituting systemic changes that ensure the State of Connecticut, and especially the State Department of Education, provide the resources and support necessary to help all the children in those Alliance Districts.

The policies being pushed by Governor Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor are exactly the wrong solution for the very real problem facing many of our state’s school districts and the children that these districts have a constitutional obligation to serve.

Connecticut must re-do its education funding formula and develop real and effective teacher professional development programs rather than rely on the absurd notion that you can use test scores to force teachers out of the teaching profession and pummel those teachers who decide to remain.

Recognizing and accepting reality is the first step towards developing a solution.

And recognizing and accepting reality begins with the understanding that Connecticut, the state with the highest per capita income in the country is facing a major poverty crisis.

You can read more about the extremely disturbing trend in Connecticut at: http://www.ctvoices.org/publications/poverty-median-income-and-health-insurance-connecticut-summary-2012-american-community-

 

Malloy’s Education Commissioner prepares 2014 legislative agenda that increases his power and promotes charters

In a shocking display of his lack of appreciation for the importance of local governance and local control, an internal memo written by a top staff person at the Department of Education reveals that Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, is preparing a legislative agenda that includes proposals to “strengthen legislation impacting the Commissioner’s Network, Alliance Districts, Priority School Districts, and Charter Schools.”

While the Malloy administration remains unwilling or unable to get Connecticut’s Alliance Districts the 2013-2104 funds they were promised, Pryor and his top staff remain fixated on promoting an agenda aimed at increasing his power and expanding charter schools.

Stefan Pryor is co-founder of Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company, and served on their board of directors until he resigned to become Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education.

Since taking office, a string of Achievement First employees have joined Pryor’s operation.  The latest Achievement First staffer to become a state employee is the new director of Pryor’s “Turnaround Office.”  Morgan Barth, who served as a principal at Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy and is married to another Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy principal.

According to documents recently acquired from Commissioner Pryor’s office, despite scarce resources and the historic underfunding of Connecticut’s public schools, Pryor is preparing to;

(1)   Launch a fall 2013 charter school RFP

(2)   Develop a funding model for New Haven’s Elm City Montessori Local Charter School and create a special “staffing flexibility agreement” for the Montessori Charter School

(3)   Work with “interested districts” to explore the creation of local charter schools

(4)   Revise and release the charter school renewal application and

(5)   Identify the availability of funds for local charter school start-up grants and develop an application

This news comes as the vast majority of Connecticut’s 30 Alliance Districts continue to be put through the ringer as they wait for the extra funding that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly promised would be available before the start of the school.

Now, with the school year nearly a month old, most districts remain in the dark about when these critical funds will become available.  While Derby, New Haven, Norwich and a handful of other Alliance District towns have been approved for their Year 2 grants, Pryor’s office has demanded that at least 26 districts re-do and resubmit their Year 2 plans.

Meanwhile, these districts are supposed to be implementing new programs to improve academic performance….without the promised funds.

Malloy/Pryor’s “School Turnaround Office” loses another “major player.”

As criticism builds about Governor Malloy, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Office,” the latest word is that Gabrielle Ramos, the Broad Foundation Fellow hired by Steven Pryor to help lead the turnaround operation, is leaving the State Department of Education effective immediately.

Ramos has been one of the most visible education reformers in the Malloy/Pryor education department.

Although hired outside of the traditional job posting process, Ramos has been serving as a “Priority Project Manager” in the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Her responsibilities included helping Special Master Steven Adamowski to oversee the Windham and New London school systems and playing a pivotal role in helping to manage the approval process for the Year 2 Alliance District funding system.

However, as Alliance Districts have become painfully aware, the State Department of Education’s Year 2 funding program has become so bureaucratic and autocratic that funds still not been released to Connecticut’s thirty poorest districts, despite the fact that the school year has already started and programs were already supposed to be up and running in those key school districts.

It remains extremely unclear as to why the Malloy administration dropped the ball on the Year 2 Alliance District funding but what is known is that although Alliance Districts submitted their Year 2 funding plans in a timely fashion, Commissioner Pryor’s Turnaround Office apparently mishandled the program’s review and approval process.

The problems appear to have begun when Commissioner Pryor removed the state’s priority district technical support team that was made up of the four “Leaders in Residence” and three former superintendents.  Pryor also transferred the experts on English as a second language, multi-cultural programming and creating safer school climates out of the Turnaround Office.

These long-standing Connecticut experts were then replaced by Pryor with a $1 million taxpayer-funded contract with an out-of-state consulting company called Mass Insight.  The company, in turn, sent in 5 consultants to take over the day-to-day operations of the Department of Education’s Turnaround Office

However, over the last two months, at least two of the five consultants have left and now the two top staff administrators in the Turnaround Office have departed.

Debra Kurshan, an education reformer from New York City, left the state a few weeks ago to apparently take a position with a Washington D.C. based consulting company.

And now Gabrielle Ramos has suddenly left her position.

According to her biography on The Broad Foundation’s website, “Gabrielle Ramos currently serves as a priority project manager at the Connecticut State Department of Education, focusing on district intervention and school turnaround initiatives. Prior to joining The Broad Residency, Ramos served as a senior analyst in the Prime Services Business and Market Strategy group at Lehman Brothers and Barclays Capital.

In this role, Ramos developed global and regional sales and marketing strategies for several financial products and technology platforms. Ramos also instituted a global knowledge-sharing program for the division.

Prior to her time in finance, Ramos served as a Teach for America special education teacher in East Harlem where she taught middle school math and science.

Ramos has also served as a consultant for Chelsea Public Schools, a Boston-area school district, on developing branding, marketing and customer service strategies.

In addition, Ramos worked for Education Pioneers, another education reform consulting organization.

It is not clear why Ramos left her State Department of Education post but it couldn’t have come at a worse time since Connecticut’s Alliance Districts are in desperate need of the funds that they were promised by Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly.

According to internal documents, Ramos was playing an especially important role in a number of Alliance Districts.  She served on the Year 2 Alliance District review team in New Britain, Norwich, New London, Windham, Naugatuck and Vernon.

In addition, other documents revealed that she was serving as a key State Department of Education Contact for the following Alliance Districts:

District Key State Department of Education Contact:
BLOOMFIELD Ramos
DERBY Ramos
HAMDEN Ramos
HARTFORD Ramos
MIDDLETOWN Ramos
NEW BRITAIN Ramos
NEW LONDON Ramos
NORWICH Ramos
WATERBURY Ramos
WINCHESTER Ramos
WINDHAM Ramos