Charter Advocates Give New Meaning To ‘Chutzpah’ (by Sarah Darer Littman)

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Charter Advocates Give New Meaning To ‘Chutzpah’ (CT Newsjunkie)

Sarah Darer Littman, pro-public school advocate, award winning columnist and parent has written one of the most powerful commentary pieces about the state of the state when it comes to the Charter School Industry and how the Malloy administration has allowed tens of millions in taxpayer funds to be diverted to people and companies that are literally felons, liars and cheats.

If there is one article to read about Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and the rise of the corporate education reform movement in Connecticut, this is the one.

Sarah Darer Littman writes,

The traditional definition of chutzpah  is someone who kills his mother and father and then claims being an orphan as a mitigating circumstance.

I’ve been reminded of this word constantly as the FUSE/Jumoke charter scandal unfolded over the last two weeks.

L’Affaire Sharpe has been quite astonishing, because as a mere mortal, not a Crony of Dan Malloy or part of the Charter Chicanery Circus, I underwent more due diligence than Sharpe to become a creative writing instructor for an after-school program at one of the local elementary schools for the non-hefty fee of a few hundred bucks.

To teach this Afters program, run by the Cos Cob Elementary School PTA, I had to undergo a criminal background check.

Last year, when I was hired as an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and we know how well adjuncts are paid), before my appointment was confirmed I underwent another criminal background check, and also had to have my transcript sent from the institution where I’d received my Masters Degree. Funnily enough, it was New York University, the educational establishment where Michael Sharpe received his fictional doctorate.

Yet the members of the state Board of Education, all appointed or re-appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, required no such due diligence before forking over $53 million of our taxpayer dollars to “Doctor” Sharpe’s organization. Just to make things even cozier, Gov. Malloy appointed FUSE’s chief operating officer, Andrea Comer, to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned earlier this week, in order to avoid being a “distraction.” I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.”

Every word of Sarah Darer Littman’s CTNewsjunkie commentary piece paints the ugly story surrounding Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Pryor’s hand-picked employees and high-paid consultants and the State Board of Education.

In addition, Littman traces the relationship to no-nothing policy makers who have allowed scarce public resources to be squandered on the make-a-fast-buck industry that has been the foundation of Malloy’s education reform effort.

As you read Littman’s piece, remember that these are the same people who have forced the Common Core on our children, promoted the absurd, unfair and expensive Common Core testing scheme and the equally absurd, unfair and wasteful new teacher evaluation program.

No amount of political spin coming from Malloy or his education reform industry allies will disguise the fact that by introducing a bill to do away with teacher tenure and repeal collective bargaining rights for teachers in “turnaround schools,” Malloy became the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the nation.

As Sarah Darer Littman concludes,

“I guess no one in Hartford was watching the cookie jar — too much cronyism and not enough good government.”

You can find this MUST READ piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_charter_advocates_give_new_meaning_to_chutzpah/

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Is the Charter Movement Imploding? (by Diane Ravitch)

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Using Connecticut as an example and featuring a recent Hartford Courant column written by Colin McEnroe, Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate, has entitled her latest blog Is the Charter Movement Imploding?

Ravitch writes,

In state after state, charter schools are proving that it is downright risky to turn public money over to deregulated corporations and unqualified individuals to run schools. The Detroit Free Press series on the scams, frauds, and corruption in many Michigan charters was an eye-opener for all those who are not part of the charter movement. The exposé of similar frauds in Florida by the League of Women Voters in Florida was enlightening to anyone other than free market ideologues. The same level of corruption–actually, even worse–exists in Ohio’s charter sector, where a small number of charter founders have become multi-millionaires, run low-performing schools, and are never held accountable.

One of the most colorful charter scandals occurred when a Cleveland charter operator was tried for funneling over $1million to his church and other businesses. The charter founder was a pastor, not an educator. His attorney said ““his client had good intentions when opening the school on East 55th Street but then got greedy when he saw easy opportunities to make money….”

The leader of California’s most celebrated charter school, with outstanding test scores, stepped down when an audit revealed that nearly $4 million had been diverted to his other businesses.

In Arizona, the Arizona Republic exposed charters that were family businesses, giving contracts to family members and board members.

In Chicago, the head of the city’s largest charter chain resigned after the media reported large contracts given to family members of school leaders and other conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds.

Last week, one of Connecticut’s most celebrated charter organizations was at the center of the latest scandal. Its CEO was revealed to have a criminal past and a falsified résumé. Two top executives immediately resigned, and legislators and journalists began to ask questions. No background checks? Accountability? Transparency?

Colin McEnroe wrote in the Hartford Courant’s blog that hustlers were cashing in on the charter school craze. Not just in Connecticut, but in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Ohio, Arizona, on and on.

McEnroe wrote:

“The message is always the same: The essential concept behind the charter school movement is that, freed from the three Rs — restraints, rules and regulations — these schools could innovate and get the kinds of results that calcified, logy public schools could only dream about. And they do … sometimes.

“But handing out uncountable millions to operators who would be given a free hand was also like putting a big sign out by the highway that says “Welcome Charlatans, Grifters, Credential-Fakers, Cherry-Pickers, Stat-Jukers, Cult of Personality Freaks and People Who Have No Business Running a Dairy Queen, Much Less a School.” And they’ve all showed up. This is the Promised Land: lots of cash and a mission statement that implicitly rejects the notion of oversight…..

“What else goes with those big bubbling pots of money? A new layer of lobbyists and donation-bundlers. The Free Press documented the way a lawmaker who dared to make a peep of protest against charter schools getting whatever they want suddenly found himself in a race against a challenger heavily funded by the Great Lakes Education Project, the “powerhouse lobby” of the Michigan charter movement. Jon Lender of The Courant recently showed how one family of charter school advocates had crammed $90,000 into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers.”

If there were more investigations, more charter scandals would be disclosed.

When will public officials call a halt to the scams, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, nepotism, and corruption?

There is one defensible role for charter schools and that is to do what public schools can’t do. There is no reason to create a dual school system, with one free to choose its students and to cherry pick the best students, while the other must take all students. There is no reason to give charters to non-educators. There is no reason to allow charter operators to pocket taxpayer dollars for their own enrichment while refusing to be fully accountable for how public money is spent. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow.

You can read Colin McEnroe complete commentary piece at: http://touch.courant.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-80715880/

Diane Ravtich’s blog is at: http://dianeravitch.net/2014/07/05/is-the-charter-movement-imploding/

Malloy and Pryor:  The Connecticut Charter School Debacle Expands

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Thanks to Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Connecticut’s charter school industry has been sucking up tens of millions of dollars in public funds that could have been going to help Connecticut’s real public schools.

Malloy’s unlimited commitment to charter schools runs so deep that when he brags that he has increased spending on “public schools” during his time in office, he actually has the hubris to include the millions he and his administration have handed out to the corporate education reform industry.

The former charter school operator formerly known as “Dr. Michael Sharpe,” who turns out not to have even finished his academic training, but did serve about five years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion, is but the tip of a much larger iceberg of lies, deceit and corruption that surround the charter school industry in Connecticut and across the nation.

And you can almost see and hear Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor looking into the TV cameras and saying – “who me?…If we had only known that they were crooks and liars we’d never have given these people no-bid contracts to run public schools or permission to open lucrative new charter schools on top of the $53 million we’ve already given them.”

The only problem is that if Malloy and Pryor did not know the truth about Jumoke/FUSE then it is an even greater indictment of their incompetence and inability to manage the State of Connecticut on behalf of our citizens.

Here is the latest on the Jumoke/FUSE scandal.

Check reveals another criminal record at FUSE (Hartford Courant)

A community outreach coordinator for a Bridgeport school run by FUSE, the embattled charter school group, has a criminal conviction background that includes drug offenses and a listing on the Texas sex offender registry.

The record of Mack Allen, 49, of Bridgeport, surfaced in a confidential background check that FUSE had a law firm perform in January after he had begun working. But the organization didn’t inform Bridgeport schools Supt. Frances Rabinowitz about it until Tuesday night, after she requested background information on several FUSE employees as part of an audit.

[…]

Allen, a member of the city of Bridgeport’s ethics commission, told The Courant Wednesday that he fully disclosed his criminal past to Sharpe and others at FUSE when they hired him for the job that he said paid him less than $30,000 this past year.

[…]

“I don’t hide my past. What I’ve done, I’ve done,” he said, adding that he had been a gang member heavily involved in the cocaine trade, and had served several prison stretches totaling more than nine years, the last one ending in Texas in 2001.

But Allen said he never should have been in the Texas sex offender registry because it resulted from a conviction as a juvenile in California, in the 1970s, of a charge he described as “accessory to attempted rape,” and that he never tried to sexually assault anyone.

[…]

FUSE’s agreement with the state for its operation of Dunbar includes a provision that the Jumoke charter organization “agrees that no employee of Jumoke who will work at Dunbar or who will work directly with Dunbar students is listed on any Sex Offender Registry.”

It was not clear what led FUSE to have the background check done on Allen after the start of the 2013-14 school year. Lawyer Andrew R. Crumbie, whose Hartford firm performed the check and submitted it Jan. 6, declined comment Wednesday.

Check reveals another criminal record at FUSE  (CT Post)

A Dunbar School aide who is listed as a sex offender in Texas — and who has felony drug convictions — is the latest Family Urban Schools of Excellence employee found to have a criminal record.

Mack Henry Allen, 49, who in addition to working at Dunbar this year was appointed in March to the city’s Ethics Commission, has first-degree drug convictions in Houston and is listed as a low-level offender on the Texas Sex Offender Registry.

“It’s a scathing background,” Interim Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz said Wednesday. “Just scathing. I have major difficulty with it.”

The news is the latest in a series of revelations that has prompted a local and state investigation of FUSE, a private group entrusted by the state Department of Education to run charter schools and two public schools in Bridgeport that are part of the state’s Commissioner’s Network. One of the schools is Dunbar.

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The battle against the corporate education reform industry takes center stage

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Charter School Scandal Continues to Rock Malloy Administration…

However, rather than conduct a truly independent investigation into the fall of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school management company, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees on the State Board of Education decided to hire a lawyer to conduct an “investigation.”

Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Education Commissioner added that his agency’s lawyers would be “extremely involved” in the investigation… this despite the fact that Pryor and his leadership team should be among those being investigated.

While the State Board of Education put FUSE, the parent company of Jumoke Academy on “probation,” they spent much of the meeting lavishing praise on Jumoke Academy.

But the two entities are so intertwined that the State Board of Education’s action deserves nothing but ridicule.

The fact is that the deal to hand Hartford’s Milner Elementary School over to Jumoke was made in March 2012.  The State Board of Education voted to give Milner to Jumoke at their meeting in August 2012, but FUSE, the parent company that signed the contract to run Milner, wasn’t even formed until October 2012 —– more than six months AFTER Pryor and his team had decided to hand over millions of state taxpayer dollars to run Milner.

To investigate FUSE and not Jumoke Academy  is nothing more than a blatant effort to sweep the problem under the rug.

But regardless of the State Board of Education’s action, the battle against charter schools and the corporate education reform industry is finally being brought to light.

As the CT Mirror explains in their leading news story this morning,

The inquiry comes as charter schools, once celebrated as laboratories of urban educational achievement and innovation, increasingly face a backlash from teachers’ unions and political figures ranging from the mayor of New York City to a third-party candidate for governor of Connecticut.

See CT Mirror: Scandal called ‘important moment’ in charter movement

The CT Mirror adds,

Anger over charter schools and the private non-profit companies that run them is helping fuel the third-party gubernatorial campaign of Jonathan Pelto, an education blogger and former Democratic legislator.”

To Pelto, the exposure of Sharpe’s record by The Hartford Courant is evidence of the shortcomings of a state education bureaucracy overly sympathetic of charter schools.

“I think it’s evidence there is no oversight, no meaningful oversight,” Pelto said.

On the same issue, CT Newsjunkie, has an article entitled, State Board of Education Launches Investigation, Requires Background Checks for Charters.  CT Newwjunkie reports,

Critics of charter schools who attended Monday’s meeting, including gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto, say this is just proof that the charter model doesn’t work.

Pelto said these issues need to be investigated by an outside investigator because the allegations of inappropriate activities go all the way up into the commissioner’s office.

He said the board should have put the charter management group and its flagship charter school, Jumoke Academy, on probation.

And the Hartford Courant, the newspaper that produced the investigative news stories that brought down the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain has a story entitled, State Board Approves Probe Of Charter School CompanyThe Courant’s story includes my assessment of the State Department of Education’s action, in which I say,

It’s not just the fox dialing 911 when the chickens have disappeared – it’s the fox with the chicken feathers hanging out of their mouth dialing 911,” said Pelto, who suggested the state auditors should conduct the probe.

You can read much more about the is developing story by clicking on the titles of each of the articles

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News Flash:  Malloy/Pryor hand another top job to an Achievement First Inc. staffer

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The Malloy administration has given the one-hundred thousand-dollar-a-year-plus job of “Bureau Chief for District and School Transformation” to William (Billy) Johnson, a former employee of Achievement First Inc.

Of course, Achievement First, Inc. being the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Education Commissioner.   The company now operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island and has been the largest beneficiary of Malloy’s effort to shovel funds to the charter school industry.

The new “Bureau Chief” will report to Morgan Barth, the State Department of Education’s ‘Division Director.”  Before getting his lucrative management job in the Malloy administration, Barth also worked for Achievement First, Inc.

And Barth reports to Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.  Not only did Pryor play a key role in the creation of Achievement First, Inc., but he served on its Board of Directors until he resigned to become Malloy’s “education reform” point-person.

The timing of this hand-out to another Achievement First Inc. employee is particularly noteworthy since it takes place at the very moment that Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and Commissioner Pryor are circling the wagons in an attempt to deny any responsibility for the Jumoke Academy/FUSE Charter School Management Company debacle of the past few weeks.

Their claim that they didn’t know anything about the problems associated with Jumoke Academy/FUSE certainly lacks credibility since it was Pryor, Morgan Barth and Barth’s assistant, Andrew Ferguson, who worked directly with Jumoke Academy/FUSE to get them their two no-bid contracts – one to run the Milner School in Hartford and one to run the Dunbar School in Bridgeport.  In addition, it was the same cast of characters who successfully got Jumoke Academy/FUSE their new charter school in New Haven.

But as we’ve seen throughout Malloy’s tenure in office, the charter school industry is a priority.

And now another senior position is being given to someone affiliated with Achievement First, Inc. and charter schools.

Billy Johnson worked for Achievement First, Inc. from 2004 to June 2009 and returned to Achievement two years ago to become a consultant for Achievement First’s “AF Residency Program for School Leadership in July 2012.

Johnson has also worked for the Domus Academy, another charter school company and for the Stark Elementary School in Stamford, Connecticut.

And what is Johnson’s most recent academic achievement? A 2014 graduate of the UConn’s infamous 093-CT Superintendent Executive Leadership Certificate Program, the very program that Pryor and the State Department of Education sidestepped in granting Paul Vallas his “certification” to run Bridgeport’s schools.

Although Johnson’s salary has not been released yet, the position was advertised for $102,546 – $131,539 per year plus benefits.

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“Disruptive innovation’ policies hurting state’s children” (By Wendy Lecker)

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The Corporate Education Reform Industry calls it “Disruptive Innovation.”

Translated into English, it describes the process by which an “education reformer” claims that they are improving the quality of education for our children by blowing up and undermining our public schools, turning them over to private companies to run, allowing a bunch of non-educators and private companies to divert scarce public funds into their pockets, all the time hoping that no one will notice.

Their fallback position is to simply walk away if things go bad, laughing all the way to the bank as teachers, parents, and local property taxpayers try to put their schools back together.

Here in Connecticut, the poster children for this outrageous scheme include Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s State Board of Education and a variety of individuals and private companies including Jumoke Academy/FUSE and its disgraced CEO, Michael Sharpe.

In her latest column for the Stamford Advocate and Hearst Media Group, public education advocate Wendy Lecker shines the light on how the Malloy administration is using our children as lab rats to further then “Disruptive Innovation” approach to public education in Connecticut.

Wendy Lecker writes,

Education reformers love the notion of “disruptive innovation.” Borrowed from the business world, the theory contends that rather than make incremental progress, industries must be shaken up. This idea has been embraced by the Obama and Malloy administrations, pushing “turnaounds” in which the administration and most or all of the staff of a school with low test scores is replaced — often by a charter school management company.

Disruptive innovation was popularized by Clayton Christensen, who promoted its spread to other sectors, such as education. Christensen’s theory was built on handpicked case studies he claimed proved that disruptors were successful and existing companies who could not adapt failed. In her recent Yorker critique, historian Jill Lepore observes that the emphasis on innovation marks a fundamental shift in focus. “Replacing `progress’ with `innovation’ skirts the question of whether a novelty is an improvement.”

Upon investigating Christensen’s cases, Lepore found that his claim was untrue. The companies that focused on sustained improvements fared better and most of the time, disruptors disappeared. In the long run, incremental progress prevailed.

However, as Lepore also notes, a quick buck — not long-term consequences — is the focus of disruptive innovation. As one advocate advised, “if you start a business and it succeeds, sell it and take the cash. Don’t look back.”

Lepore writes that this discredited theory is misapplied to sectors such as public education because public education has different values and goals than those of business.

Indeed, this country’s highest court deemed education the “most important state and local function;” and the loss of even a week of learning is a significant deprivation. Under our state constitution, Connecticut has a 13-year obligation to provide every child with an education that enables her to be a productive and responsible citizen and proceed to higher education.

However, educational reformers’ goals diverge from their duties to our children. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from charter school promoters. The result is his embrace of “disruptive innovation” in education.

Disruption is bad for schools and for children — especially for vulnerable children, who experience daily turbulence in their lives outside school. Teacher and administrator turnover hurts student achievement, as does student mobility. The turnaround strategy has proven unsuccessful.

Recent shocking developments involving Jumoke/FUSE charter school illustrate the harm caused by Malloy’s “disruptive innovation.”

Hartford’s Milner elementary school was the first target of charter chain founder and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s commissioner’s network. The commissioner’s network to “turnaround” struggling schools was a key feature of Malloy’s 2012 education reform legislation.

Milner suffered from a chronic shortage in staff serving its large population of English Language Learners and students with disabilities. Its building required major repairs. The school also already underwent an unsuccessful redesign in 2008. Rather than provide Milner with necessary additional resources, Pryor announced a takeover of the school by Jumoke — a charter school in Hartford with no ELL students and few students with disabilities.

Only after the takeover did Milner receive additional funding, including an annual $345,000 management fee to Jumoke. Curiously, after the takeover, roughly 20 percent of the students disappeared from the school.

Michael Sharpe promised that his “Jumoke model” would help Milner. However, after two years under Jumoke management, Milner’s scores have dropped precipitously and are now “rock bottom.” Hartford accuses Jumoke of nepotism, and of hiring an ex-convict. Sharpe admitted that there was no plan for Milner — they were “winging it.”

As part of the commissioner’s network, Milner/Jumoke was supposed to be subject to heightened accountability by Pryor. Yet, despite this ongoing failure, since 2012, Pryor and the State awarded Jumoke another commissioner’s network school, Bridgeport’s Dunbar elementary, and another charter school in New Haven.

This week, it was revealed that Sharpe falsified his academic credentials. Even worse, he spent several years in federal prison for embezzling public funds and conspiracy to commit fraud, and has two forgery convictions.

Sharpe has been paid about $53 million in taxpayer dollars in the past few years. It is unconscionable that neither Pryor nor Malloy bothered to discover Sharpe’s lies or his felony convictions.

The damage done to Milner’s children cannot be undone. They have lost years of learning. They are forced to build new relationships with staff that has been replaced twice in six years. Instead of necessary resources, the state has given these families only empty promises.

Unlike business disruptors, Malloy’s failed education ventures will not disappear. His callous “disruptive” education policies cause lasting damage to Connecticut’s children and their communities.

You can read wendy Lecker’s complete column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/default/article/Lecker-Disruptive-innovation-policies-hurting-5585477.php

Pelto to Malloy – Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut

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Pelto to Malloy: Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut:

Jonathan Pelto, the Education and Democracy Party’s candidate for governor called on Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy to fire Stefan Pryor, his Commissioner of Education and remove his political appointee, Andrea Comer from the State Board of Education.

Pryor, who co-founded Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company has masterminded Malloy’s unprecedented effort to expand charter schools in Connecticut, including the schools Pryor helped to create.

Andrea Comer, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Jumoke Academy/FUSE charter school management company is one of Malloy’s appointees to the State Board of Education.  During her tenure, Jumoke Academy/Fuse has received a series of no-bid contracts to run local elementary schools in Hartford and Bridgeport as well as being selected as the manager of a new charter school in New Haven.

“In recent years, Connecticut taxpayers have paid Jumoke Academy/FUSE charter school management company, and their disgraced CEO Michael Sharpe, in excess of $53 million dollars. Over the past week we’ve learned that not only is Jumoke Academy/FUSE’s CEO a convicted felon, having served about 5 years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion, but he also falsified his resume by claiming that he had a doctorate when he didn’t even complete his graduate degree,” Pelto said. “Stefan Pryor’s relationship with charter school companies and State Board of Education member Andrea Comer’s direct financial connection with Jumoke Acadmey/Fuse invalidate their ability to protect the interests of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, school districts and taxpayers.”

“It is bad enough that more than $50 million in scarce public funds have been turned over to Jumoke Academy/Fuse, but unless immediate action is taken to reverse the Malloy administration’s bad policy decisions, the series of no-bid contracts and State Board of Education votes will mean literally hundreds of millions more will be given to this charter school chain,” Pelto concluded.

Pelto has repeatedly raised concerns about Stefan Pryor’s conflict of interest on his blog, Wait, What? as far back as January 11, 2012 and he used his blog to focus on Andrea Comer’s conflict of interest as soon as Malloy had nominated Comer in the winter of 2013.

In February of this year Pelto penned a blog entitled, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor must go.

As evidence as to why Pryor must resign or be removed, Pelto wrote,

Pryor’s management of the Connecticut Department of Education has become the personification of what happens when arrogance, elitism and corporate-driven interests replace a commitment to honesty, transparency and doing what is right for the people public officials have a sworn duty to serve.

From the moment Stefan Pryor arrived in Connecticut, the Malloy administration’s education policy has been consistently designed to destroy local control, belittle and demean teachers, reduce parental involvement, undermine our public schools and divert scarce public resources to out-of-state consultants and carpetbagging staff. Pryor’s tenure has been dedicated to a preoccupation with turning our schools into little more than standardized testing factories.

Pryor began his tenure by using no-bid contacts to pass out millions of dollars in public funds to out-of-state companies for the purpose of developing Malloy’s “education reform” initiative and transforming the State Department of Education into a gravy train for the corporate education reform industry.

Pryor helped Malloy develop and push through the most anti-teacher, anti-union, pro-charter school education reform bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.

Malloy and Pryor’s legislation and policies were founded upon the inappropriate use of the Common Core, the mandated introduction of a huge and faulty Common Core standardized testing scheme, an inaccurate and unfair teacher evaluation program and a “Commissioner’s Network” and system of “Turnaround Schools” that are reducing parental involvement, destroying local control and are primarily designed to privatize public schools.

In example, after example, after example, Stefan Pryor and his “team” have consistently put their political agenda ahead of what was best for the students, parents, teachers and public schools of our state.

Pryor has dedicated himself to hiring his personal friends, giving out millions of dollars in contracts to out-of-state, politically-connected companies, putting his “Turnaround Office” in the hands of Morgan Barth, a person who illegally taught and worked for Pryor’s charter school management company (Achievement First, Inc.) for six years and relentlessly and consistently doing the wrong thing for Connecticut’s system of public education.

The quintessential example of Pryor’s dismal and idiotic approach to governing was his decision to let go or transfer ten State Department of Education, Connecticut-based experts on improving schools and replacing them with an unending series of inexperienced, out-of-state consultants who have no meaningful experience or understanding of how to close the achievement gap in our largest and poorest school districts.

[Full February 6 2014 Wait, What? post can be found here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/02/06/connecticut-commissioner-education-stefan-pryor-must-go/]

According to Pelto, the latest scandal involving Michael Sharpe and Jumoke Academy/Fuse only reinforces the fact that it is well past the time when Governor Malloy should remove Pryor and Comer from their policymaking roles within the Malloy administration.

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The downfall of another Charter School Management Company

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Michael Sharpe is the CEO of Jumoke Academy and the FUSE charter school management company.

Over the past twenty months, thanks to Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and Malloy’s political appointees to the State Board of Education, Sharpe and his charter management company have gone from having one small charter school in Hartford – that failed to take a single bilingual student in six years and has consistently failed to take its fair share of special educations students – to one of the fastest growing charter school companies in the greater New York region.

Over the course of a year, Jumoke/FUSE received two no-bid contracts via the State Department of Education to run public elementary schools in Connecticut (one in Hartford and one in Bridgeport) and Malloy’s State Board of Education recently received approval to open a new charter school in New Haven, Connecticut despite the fact that Connecticut’s magnet schools are unfunded by nearly $50 million.   Just this week the Hartford Board of Education moved to sever its relationship with Jumoke/FUSE and the charter school management company’s control of the Milner elementary school.

In addition, FUSE recently got a lucrative contract from the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD), the organization that Paul Vallas used to destroy the New Orleans public school system before turning his attention on Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The RSD has apparently given Michael Sharpe and his charter school management company control of up to four schools in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In the midst of this miraculous growth spurt, Governor Malloy appointed Jumoke/FUSE’s Chief Operating Officer, Andrea Comer, to the Connecticut State Board of Education.  The State Board of Education being the entity responsible for approving charter schools and the “turnaround” plans that handed Jumoke/FUSE control of the two public schools.

But the truth is finally coming out about Michael Sharpe and his charter school management company.

As the Hartford Courant is reporting in a breaking news story,

“In a New Year’s message last December, the CEO of the Jumoke Academy charter school shared his enthusiastic vision for 2014, signing the letter, “Yours Truly, Dr. Michael Sharpe.

[…]

But on Friday, after the Courant questioned his academic background, Sharpe acknowledged that he never earned a doctoral degree and for years has erroneously been described as a “doctor.”

But Sharpe has now admitted that his resume is “doctored” and that, in fact, he doesn’t have a doctorate.  Sharpe told the Hartford Courant, “I did not complete the work. People started calling me doctor while I was in school, and I have always told people, ‘Don’t do it,’ but it catches on and people just keep doing it.”

However, as the Hartford Courant noted, the Jumoke/FUSE website continues to say that, “Dr. Michael Sharpe” was a graduate of NYU (which is a lie).

This is the second major revelation about the charter school operator this week.

As the Courant goes on to explain in today’s story,

“Sharpe’s admission of the false credential comes days after state and city school officials said they were surprised to learn that Sharpe — whose charter group is heavily financed with state money — had a criminal history and was imprisoned decades ago in connection with a federal corruption case.

Sharpe, a Hartford native, had been living in Oakland, Calif., when he pleaded guilty in 1989 to charges of embezzling more than $100,000 and conspiring to defraud the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, or BART, where he had been the agency’s real estate manager. He served 2 1/2 years of a five-year sentence, and later returned to prison in the early 1990s for a probation violation.

A few years before that case, Sharpe pleaded guilty in 1985 to two counts of third-degree forgery. Sharpe was accused of falsifying documents used to get a $415,000 city of Hartford rehabilitation loan to redevelop an apartment building.”

Although Sharpe told the Hartford Courant that his criminal record “was the worst-kept secret in America,” spokespeople for Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education claimed that they did not know about the charter school operator’s criminal past.

Following this latest news about Sharpe’s fake academic credentials, the Malloy administration released a statement saying,

“There remain multiple questions that require responses and explanations from Michael Sharpe and the Jumoke Organization.  We expect to receive such explanations and will consider them in determining any appropriate next steps.”

Classic spin from the Malloy administration.  Having handed millions of dollars in public funds to someone who has a criminal record and falsified their resume, Malloy’s spin operation now says, “…We expect to receive such explanations and will consider them in determining any appropriate next steps.”

You can find the latest Hartford Courant story at: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-michael-sharpe-degree-0621-20140620,0,5954399.story.

The earlier Courant story on Jumoke/FUSE’s Michael Sharpe is at: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-michael-sharpe-20140618,0,4674982.story

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

The Power of Truth (from a Concerned Parent in Windham)

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“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell 1984

This blog, like others that have been sent in from parents, shines the light of truth on the corporate education reform industry.

Read it and know that the time has come to either fight back or give up.  Silence is not an option.

From a Concerned Parent in Windham, Connecticut:

 “When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.” Humpty Dumpty must have been the Senior Marketing Consultant to those who are tasked with selling corporate education reform to the American public. Their taskmasters are undemocratic plutocrats like Bill gates and Eli Broad. The plutocrats are using their vast wealth to transform the public school system in accordance with their own political values and ideological vision. Marketing and public relations are so often about deliberate deception; and the marketing of “education reform” is no exception to this general rule. As used by the corporate propagandists, words like “reform,” “education,” and “opportunity” have taken on new, sinister meanings. “Reform” was once a concept that meant to amend, to change to better from worse–it was typically associated with progressive or liberal politics. The two great educational reforms of American history were the establishment of common schooling and the efforts to undo racial segregation of schoolchildren. Today, reform in education is almost exclusively a matter of privatizing schools and educational services. The root meaning of the word “education” is to lead out potential, to nurture native abilities. This once meant a focus on “child-based” pedagogy. Today, education means standardized testing, drilling and data collection and analysis. These are managerial, rather than student, concerns. “Opportunity” was once about social justice and racial equality; today it means “individual choice” in an “educational marketplace” based squarely in competition. When Humpty Dumpty, and his cohort in educational reform, get to redefine the meaning of words this is no simple linguistic matter; controlling words is an exercise in power, and when the powerful control the meanings, they tend to get control of other areas of social life–such as political power and economic resources.

When Alice goes down the rabbit hole with no inkling of “how in the world she was to get out again,” we are made to understand that she has entered a realm where the normal rules of language, reason and meaning no longer apply. As Alice says to herself: “what nonsense I am talking.” Nonsense–the absurd, the ludicrous, and the ridiculous–is the native language of Wonderland, and Alice gets caught up in it, despite her efforts to hold onto common sense. In the current universe of corporate education reform, where absurdity is passed off as a sound logic, many teachers, students and parents must feel like Alice: they see that nonsense has become normative, and that in order to get around in the new educational system, you have to speak a jargon devoid of rational meaning. In the Wonderland of privatized schools and data driven educational assessments, up is down and black is white.

Consider the Path Academy, a so-called “recuperative high school” that is due to open in Windham in August 2014. Path Academy is a charter school managed by Our Piece of the Pie (OPP), a youth development agency, “with the mission of helping urban youth become economically independent adults.” Path will primarily serve over-age, under-credited students. The curriculum at Path is designed to foster in students “the critical skills necessary for success in college, career, and community.” I am quoting from a promotional brochure for the Academy. The brochure says that many students “become disengaged [from high school] due to lack of understanding.” Path Academy promises to “re-engage” students through understanding, care and “active learning.”

Path Academy will provide “postsecondary preparation” and “workforce readiness.” It all sounds so great: a school with a focus on the socially disadvantaged; a school with an exciting curriculum and with caring knowledgeable staff. But the devil is in the details. When you take a close look Path’s pedagogical model that’s when you realize that you are being sold a bridge in Brooklyn, and that much in the promotional brochure is really nonsense.

Path will offer the “innovative education strategy” of “blended learning.” Whenever you hear the word “innovative” in corporate education reform be on your guard. In this instance, innovative pedagogy means “computer-based & teacher-led instructions” at “personal computer stations.” Translation: students will mostly be “taught” by electronic educational products; and students will complete their learning at private carrels, in virtual isolation from each other. The traditional classroom at Path will be a rarity. That is to say, a teacher in front of a group will probably be the exception rather than the rule. But education at Path is not really education in the sense most of us are familiar with. This is made explicit in a Norwich Bulletin article on the new school. The article quotes Path Principal Brooke Lafreniere on the hidden significance of the individual carrel: the carrel is not about a monastic space where the student can concentrate on reading Shakespeare; instead it will help prepare students for the office world, where employees are often placed in cubicles. Students will eat at their carrels, because, as Lafreniere notes, “when you have a job, there are days when you have to eat at your desk.” The use of space to drive home life lessons is also evident in the design of the classrooms. We are told that lower level classrooms will have small windows and low ceilings, whereas higher level classrooms will have larger windows, and higher ceilings. The point of the distinction is to force home the point that “hard work pays off.” I take it this means that students in lower level classrooms will find it so unpleasant there, that they will work their butts off in order to get into a better “learning environment.”  As LaFreniere says, “everybody wants to work toward the corner office.”

So when you strip away the rhetoric and confront reality, this is what Path Academy is offering:  online learning in controlled, off-putting settings. The real education at Path is not in academic matters, but in the social and cultural values that make one a “good employee.” John Dewey famously distinguished between a pedagogy that focused on “disciplinary training” and a pedagogy that nurtured “personal development.” Dewey thought that “disciplinary training” was not really education as its true purpose was social control. He argued that “personal development” was always something more than job training. And that it was the goal of personal development that made education properly humanistic. The language of Path Academy is a species of nonsense because it pretends that a corporate managerial model of the school as a learning factory can bring to fruition the ideals of humanistic education. Indeed, the very word “academy,” as used by the reformers, has almost no real meaning.

Path Academy is a privately managed charter school, but it would never survive without public funding. Like so much of corporate education reform, its real purpose is not to help the needy, but to steer the educational debate in the preferred direction of more privatization of public schools. The school described in the OPP promotional brochure is a veritable wonderland. It is wise to be skeptical of people who claim too much, and who are ready to sing their own praises. For the sake of the students who enroll there, I hope Path Academy turns out to be a success. But given the sorry and duplicitous “performances” of so many charter schools, I am definitely not counting on Path’s success.

 

“I don’t need to respond to what Jonathan says,” Malloy told reporters.

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Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is absolutely correct.  He doesn’t need to respond to what I say.

In fact, as is his style, Malloy doesn’t need to respond to what anyone says…at least not until the voters have had their say in November.

But that said, when it comes Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-corporate education reform industry record, the issues that we are raising are legitimate and the need for policy change is clear.

These education issues include;

  1. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his cadre of anti-teacher, pro-privatization staff and consultants must go.  Instead of out-of-state “reformers,” the management and staff of the Connecticut State Department of Education should be made up of professionals who have teaching and public education experience, understand the diversity that is Connecticut, respect local control and are committed to working on the real problems and challenges that limit academic achievement in our state.
  1. Quite simply, the Common Core is bad public policy.  The State of Connecticut must suspend and repeal its participation in the Common Core and Common Core testing fiasco.  While educational standards are an important part of a successful public education system and should be consistently reviewed and upgraded, the Common Core standards and testing scheme is a massive waste of scarce public resources and are turning our public schools into little more than testing factories.  More testing and less learning IS NOT the pathway to providing our children with the knowledge and skills they need to lead more fulfilling lives.
  1. Developing a fair and Constitutional state education funding formula must be of the highest priority.  Designing and implementing a state funding formula requires that Connecticut’s governor and General Assembly settle rather than try to dismiss the critically important CCEJF v. Rell school funding lawsuit.  By working together and settling the CCEJF case we can develop a long-term solution that reduces the pressure on local property taxes while providing communities with the resources they need to adequately fund their public schools.
  1. A strong teacher evaluation program is a vital part of strengthening the quality of our public education system, but tying teacher evaluations to unfair and inappropriate standardized test scores destroys the effectiveness and credibility of a proper teacher evaluation program.  Malloy’s absurd teacher evaluation system must be repealed and replaced with one of the many teacher evaluation models that do not rely on standardized tests scores and truly evaluate and improve teacher skills and performance.
  1. One of the most important elements of Malloy’s education reform agenda has been to expand the number and size of privately owned and operated charter schools. This major increase in funding for charters comes at the same time the state is failing to provide the funds necessary to maintain and expand Connecticut’s vibrant magnet school system.  Despite the dramatic increase in public funding, the corporate charter schools have systematically failed to fulfill their responsibilities and stated goals.  Rather than serve as laboratories for developing effective programs and providing parents with choices, Connecticut’s charter schools have consistently discriminated against students who need special education services and students who need extra help with the English language and come from households where English is not the primary spoken language.  Connecticut must implement a moratorium on any additional charter schools until the state properly funds its magnet schools.  At the same time, charter schools must be held accountable for their actions and unless they provide educational opportunities to the full array of students who reside in their communities they should be prohibited from receiving additional public funds.

If the corporate executives and hedge fund managers who support charter schools really want to create alternatives to the public schools system, then they should use their wealth to set up private schools and stop diverting taxpayer funds to schools that do not adhere to the standards and principles of our public schools.

But as Malloy told reporters yesterday, “I don’t need to respond to what Jonathan says.”

And that is exactly one of the reasons I’m taking my message directly to the voters of Connecticut.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

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