Corporate Education Reform Industry pours money into Malloy campaign operation

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Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the nation…And to see how appreciative the corporate education reform industry is, one need only look at Malloy’s campaign fundraising program which has already raised more than $100,000 from the anti-public education industry.

As a participant in Connecticut’s public financing system, candidate Malloy is only supposed to rely on the taxpayer dollars that he will receive as a qualified candidate for governor.  But thanks to a gigantic loophole in the law, the Malloy political operation has been raising money for the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee in order to augment the millions in public funds he will get to pay his campaign expenses.

By the end of February 2014, Malloy’s fundraising program had already collected more than $2.4 million into just one of the two accounts managed by the Connecticut Democratic Party.

Not surprisingly, Malloy has turned to the corporate funded pro-charter school, anti-teacher, anti-public education forces to help him raise record amounts of money.

The infamous Democrats for Education Reform, an anti-public education political action committee based in Washington D.C., has already provided Malloy with a check for $5,000.

Jonathan Sackler and his wife have donated a total of $36,000 to Malloy’s operation in just the past six months.  Sackler is the one who helped Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, create and expand Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company.  Sackler was also a co-founder of the Connecticut charter school advocacy group ConnCAN and went on to create the national charter school advocacy group called 50 CAN.  When Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch tried to eliminate the democratically-elected board of education in that city, he turned to Sackler for a last-minute campaign donation of $50,000 to help pay for what proved to be his failed effort to undermine democracy.

Another nationally-recognized corporate education reform advocate to pour money into Malloy’s campaign is billionaire Stephen Mandel Jr.  Mandel, who was behind the creation of the corporate-funded education reform advocacy group, Excel Bridgeport, Inc., has already written two $10,000 checks for Malloy’s political activities.

Los Angeles, anti-public education billionaire Eli Broad has also gotten in on the act donating $8,000 to Malloy so far in this campaign cycle. Broad’s foundation is one of the three major national foundations funding the corporate education reform effort across the country.

And Sackler isn’t the only member of Achievement First Inc. and ConnCAN’s Board of Directors to have ponied up for Malloy.

To date, board members of these two Connecticut-based education reform groups have donated well in excess of $50,000 to Malloy’s political aspirations and that doesn’t even count another $50,000 that these same people dumped into another political action committee affiliated with Malloy.

So much for campaign contribution limits…and with Election Day still seven months away, we can be sure that Malloy will continue to cash in on his anti-public education agenda.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor gets an “A” for stacking the deck (By Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

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Pryor packs Connecticut’s Comprehensive Education Plan Advisory Committee with charter school and corporate reform advocates.

As mandated by Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-4(c), every five years the Connecticut State Board of Education must develop a new five-year Comprehensive Plan for Elementary, Secondary, Vocational, Career and Adult Education in Connecticut. Upon adoption by the State Board of Education, the plan is submitted to the Governor and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

In the past, this process has been developed with the broad-based consensus of public educators from throughout Connecticut.

In December 2005, the State Board of Education appointed an advisory committee that included a broad array of organizations and individuals engaged in promoting public education in the state.  Narrowly focused special interest lobbying groups such as the Connecticut Charter Schools Network (CCSN) were allowed to present testimony but were not put on the Advisory Committee.

The 2005 committee represented the wide spectrum of Connecticut’s public education community:  teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, public school students, Connecticut’s technical schools and institutions of higher education made up the core of the committee along with some representatives of Connecticut’s business community.

Advisory committee members had a long track-record of expertise in Connecticut public schools working with a diverse population of Connecticut students.  This is just the type of group we would want to determine the long-term vision for our school districts.

A comprehensive plan requires a broad thinking group that looks out for the interests of all our children.

But now that Governor Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have taken the helm, those days are gone. Instead of appointing members dedicated to the long-term development of quality public education in Connecticut, they have poisoned the Advisory Committee and the process for developing the new five-year comprehensive plan by packing it with corporate education reform groups that have consistently revealed their narrow political agendas.

Public education has been a primary target of America’s growing corporate education reform industry.  Over the past three years, these so-called reformers have spent a record breaking $6 million plus lobbying on behalf of Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives, many of which have been aimed at promoting the privatization of public education in the state.

The corporate reformers also dumped record amounts into elections in Bridgeport, first in a failed effort to change the City’s charter to do away with a democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor and then in a failed effort to elect members of the board of education who support Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas.

Now it has become painfully clear that all that money has paid off, at least when it comes to trying to control the discussion around Connecticut’s Comprehensive Education Plan for 2013-2018.

The new Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee has been packed with pro-corporate reform organizations.

When the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee meets for the first time tomorrow from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Legislative Office Building many of the seats will be filled with corporate education reform industry representatives.

New members of the State Board of Education’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee include representatives from:

  • Achieve Hartford!
  • Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
  • Connecticut Council on Education Reform
  • Excel Bridgeport
  • Northeast Charter Schools Network
  • Students for Education Reform – Connecticut
  • Teach for America – Connecticut

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), the charter school lobby group formed by the board members of Achievement First, Inc. has spent more than any other organization lobbying for Malloy’s Education Reform bills. Of course, ConnCAN’s relationship with Achievement First, Inc. is especially noteworthy since Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company was co-founded by Stefan Pryor.

Connecticut Council on Education Reform is the New Haven-based, corporate-funded education reform organization that joined ConnCAN and Michelle Rhee’s Students First/GNEPSA in running television ads supporting Malloy’s reforms.

The Northeast Charter School Network is the New York based charter school advocacy group that recently merged with the Connecticut Charter School Network.

Students for Education Reform – is the quintessential corporate “astro turf” lobbying organization bankrolled by a variety of education reform groups. Recall that in 2012, Students for Education Reform  organized a “ student demonstration” in favor of Malloy’s reforms on the Capitol steps but when students at the demonstration were questioned about why they were there, they had no idea what they were demonstrating about.

Students for Education Reform’s Board of Directors includes Jonathan Sackler who is also on the Boards of Achievement First, Inc. and ConnCAN.  Another one of Students for Education Reform Directors is Justin Cohen.  Cohen is the President of MassInsight, the out-of-state consulting company that recently received a $1 million contract from Pryor.  Cohen also served as a moderator for Malloy’s education reform conference before Governor Malloy introduced his reform bill and Cohen traveled to Connecticut to submit testimony in support of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill when it was first introduced.

Prior to becoming President of Mass Insight Education’s School Turnaround Group, Justin Cohen was the Director of the Office of Portfolio Management and senior advisor to Chancellor Michelle Rhee at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

Excel Bridgeport and Achieve Hartford! are two corporate affiliated organizations that have worked toward expanding charter schools.

And Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter is the vendor that is making millions of dollars thanks to contracts in Bridgeport, Hartford, New London, New Haven, Windham and elsewhere to place minimally trained recent college graduates to fill jobs that should be held by certified Connecticut school teachers who have graduated from Connecticut’s college and universities.  It should be noted that the Chairman of Excel Bridgeport’s Board of Directors is none other than the Executive Director of Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter.

Perhaps even more disturbing, Teach for America, along with ConnCAN, Excel’s leadership and State Board of Education President Allan Taylor, were the behind-the-scenes architects of the secret and illegal 2011 state takeover of Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education

Many of these groups, like Teach for America and the charter lobbies, have been singularly focused on using public funds to expand their businesses in Connecticut.

Charter schools serve 1% of Connecticut’s students. Yet they have been given SEVEN seats on the new Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee

Although some of these corporate education reform organizations have been plaguing our state for several years, others have absolutely no history in Connecticut.

All of these groups are primarily funded by national networks.  Why should these narrow groups, dedicated to serving outside interests, be determining the future of Connecticut’s public education system?

Why should groups standing to gain contracts with the State Department of Education even be allowed to serve on this committee?

When it comes to pushing their pro corporate education reform industry agenda, there has been no doubt where Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor stand, but this latest move to ensure their agenda becomes part of Connecticut’s five year comprehensive education plan is perhaps their most offensive move yet.

Connecticut Charter School Front Drops $50,000 into Bridgeport Democratic Primary

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A case study on how the Corporate Education Reform Industry is trying to buy up American Democracy

A Better Connecticut, the charter school advocacy group formed by the present and previous CEOs of ConnCAN, the charter school lobby group, has spent $50,708 so far in support of the endorsed slate of candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

The endorsed slate is the group loyal to Mayor Bill Finch, Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

A Better Connecticut’s “independent” expenditure is part of a broader $2 million plus public relations campaign designed to support Governor Malloy and his education reforms.  Earlier this year, A Better Connecticut and ConnCAN hired Malloy’s chief advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso and his campaign consulting firm, Global Strategy Group, to poll Connecticut voters about education reform issues and then conduct a multi-million dollar television advertising campaign to “thank” Governor Malloy for his education reforms.

With seven days to go in the Bridgeport Board of Education Democratic Primary, a portion of the $50,000 in expenditures that have been made by A Better Connecticut went to Occhiogrosso and Malloy’s campaign consulting company for what was euphemistically called an “Education Policy Survey.”

A recent public opinion poll conducted in Bridgeport included questions about Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Paul Vallas, members of the Working Family Party who serve as the outspoken minority on the Bridgeport Board of Education and Carmen Lopez, the former Connecticut superior court judge who brought the lawsuit that determined that Paul Vallas lacked the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent of schools in Connecticut.  That suit is presently before the Supreme Court for review.

The campaign finance report submitted by A Better Connecticut only reports an expenditure of $2,280 for the poll, but polls of this nature traditional cost in excess of $25,000 leaving one to question who may have actually paid for the poll and why it isn’t reported as an official expenditure in this report.

It appears that in addition to paying Global Strategy Group, A Better Connecticut’s money was used for mailings and voter contact efforts in support of the three endorsed Democratic candidates in the September 10th Democratic Primary; Simon Castillo, Brandon Clark and Kathryn Roach Bukorsky .

Although state laws shields organizations like A Better Connecticut from having to reveal the amount of money they have raised from individual donors, they are required to identify their top five funders.

In this case, A Better Connecticut is claiming that their five largest funders were Education Reform Now Advocacy of New York City, 50CAN Action Fund, Inc. of New York City, Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of Loudonville, New York, Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York City and Students for Education Reform (SFER- Action Network Inc.) of New York City.

A Better Connecticut was created at the beginning of this year by ConnCAN, which was created by the original funders behind Achievement First, Inc.

As readers know, Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor who served on Achievement First’s Board of Directors until he resigned to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Education Reform Now – Advocacy is the lobbying and political action arm of Education Reform Now.  Education Reform Now claims credit for New Jersey’s draconian anti-teacher tenure law that was designed to undermine the rights of teachers and the teaching profession.

Education Reform Now’s Board of Directors is made up of hedge fund managers Charles Ledley (Highfields Capital Management), John Petry (Sessa Capital), Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo (Covey Capital), Brian Zied (Charter Bridge Capital), John Sabat (SAC Capital).  John Petry is not only the former Chairman of Education Reform Now, but was co-founder of the right- wing Democrats for Education Reform and currently serves as a co-chair at the Success Academies network of charter schools.

50CAN Action Fund, Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of 50CAN.  50CAN was created by Jonathan Sackler who not only founded ConnCAN but has been a leading member of Achievement First, Inc. since Pryor and Dacia Toll founded the company.  Sackler chairs the 50CAN Board.  Other Board members include Dacia Toll (Co-CEO & President, Achievement First), Marc Porter Magee (former COO of ConnCAN), Rebeca Nieves Huffman (State Director, Democrats for Education Reform Illinois), and Richard Barth (CEO & President, KIPP Foundation).   Until recently Matthew Kramer, the President of Teach for America served as 50CAN’s Board Chair.

Students for Education Reform Action Network Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of Students for Education Reform.  SFER was created by 50CAN and its Board of Trustees includes April Chou (Chief Growth Officer, KIPP Bay Area Schools), Christy Chin, (Portfolio Director, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation), Adam Cioth (Rolling Hills Capital, Justin Cohen, (President, Mass Insight Education School Turnaround Group), Shavar Jeffries, (Newark Public Schools Advisory Board) and Jonathan Sackler (ConnCAN, 50CAN, Achievement First).

Readers will also note that the Board includes Mass Insight, the out-of-state consulting company that Stefan Pryor hired to run Connecticut’s Alliance District and Commissioner’s Network programs at the same time he let go the seven experienced State Department of Education experts including Connecticut four leaders in residence and three retired superintendents.

The other two primary funders of the A Better Connecticut’s Bridgeport campaign are Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc., the lobbying and political arm of Families for Excellent Schools.  Families for Excellent Schools is a charter school-funded organizing group that reports to have an organizer in Connecticut although they don’t appear to be registered.  Last but not least is a group called Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of New York which doesn’t appear to be registered anywhere but may be Real Reform Now Corporation which was a New York entity that lost its tax exempt status after failing to file the proper reports with the IRS for 3 consecutive years.

Oh, and lest readers forget.  Prosperity for Connecticut, a political action committee associated with Governor Malloy has held fifteen fundraisers in Connecticut, New York and Washington D.C.  since Malloy took office.  Malloy has attended all or nearly all of these events.  The most successful was held at the home of Jonathan Sackler who founded or helped create Achievement First, ConnCAN, 50CAN, and Students for Education Reform.  Sackler’s successful fundraiser featured contributions from John Petry and his wife (Education Reform Now, DFER, Success Academy Schools) as well as numerous other corporate education reform industry players.

In addition, in the closing days of Finch’s failed charter revision campaign, Sackler provided the charter revision campaign with a check for $50,000.

As we’ll see in the coming days, A Better Connecticut is NOT THE ONLY vehicle Sackler and his friends are using to try and influence the Bridgeport Democratic Primary.

But don’t worry, as the corporate education reform industry likes to explain…”It’s All About The Children.”

Commissioner Pryor, can you tell us which laws are “laws” and which are “bureaucratic technicalities”?

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It looked pretty simple.   Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, wrote up a special law to allow Paul Vallas to serve as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools, despite the fact that Vallas wasn’t certified to hold the position nor has he ever taken an education course.

The law required that Vallas works as an acting superintendent for one year and complete a “school leadership program” at a Connecticut university or college.

Instead of enrolling and completing a school leadership program, Paul Vallas took a single independent study course and pretended it was a program.

Last Friday, when Connecticut Judge Bellis ruled that Paul Vallas and Stefan Pryor had violated Connecticut law and that Paul Vallas did not have the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent in Connecticut; Commissioner Pryor was one of the first to blast the judge and the ruling.

Pryor told the media “We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision…”

Although the law that Pryor helped write said “school leadership program” apparently in Pryor’s mind it meant an” independent study course” and rather than a school leadership program.

So clearly, some laws are meant to be laws and therefore, as a nation of laws, they must be followed while other laws are apparently more like technicalities or optional guidelines.

Since Stefan Pryor graduated from both Yale University and Yale’s Law School, perhaps he could shed some light on the issue for the rest of us.

Which laws are laws and which are bureaucratic technicalities.

For guidance he might want to rely on the pronouncements of other “education reformers.”

Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of the charter school advocacy group called the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) issued the following statement after the court ruling.

“Today’s ruling is unfortunate…it was made based on a bureaucratic technicality…We’re hopeful that in the end, justice will prevail and Superintendent Vallas will be able to continue his work to help ensure a better future for kids in Bridgeport.”

Maria Zambrano, the executive director of Excel Bridgeport, a corporate-funded Vallas fan club also released a comment after the ruling.

“This is an unfortunate ruling… As a community, we also need to have a conversation about what qualifications are necessary to lead a struggling urban school district. Is it a piece of paper declaring someone “certified?” Or is it a track record of results for improving the educational outcomes of students? We believe it to be the latter.”

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform wrote, “That’s why CCER advocates for changing Connecticut’s law to allow the Commissioner of Education to waive the statutory requirements for superintendent certification to allow people like Mr. Vallas to help turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing school districts. The current statutory scheme serves to protect the interests of adults in our state, instead of prioritizing the interests of 200,000 children who attend schools in Connecticut’s lowest performing districts.”

The renowned chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Kenneth Moales, told the media;

“Only in Bridgeport would the likes of Mr. Paul Vallas not be qualified to serve as superintendent… This ruling crosses the line;”

And Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who described Vallas as a knight on a white horse and complained that people were throwing mud on the horse explained;

“We disagree entirely with the substance of the judge’s decision. We believe it goes against the great weight of facts presented at trial and the applicable law.”

So Commissioner Pryor, you testified at the trial.  You know the facts.  You know the applicable law because you helped to write it.

What again makes this law not a law?

And for those who want to read a bit about Vallas’ real “record of success,” check out some of the following links

Uh-Oh. New Orleans “Miracle” Crumbles

The Vallas Record in Philadelphia, Revisited

Why Is Philadelphia in Crisis?

Insiders’ Report on History of Chicago Teachers Union

Is Chicago a National Model for School Reform?

Education reform industry becomes cash cow for former Malloy aide

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When Roy Occhiogrosso left his job as Governor Malloy’s $160,000 a- year-advisor and mouth-piece late last year, he re-joined Global Strategy Group, a political consulting firm that had worked on Malloy’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

And with that move, the education reform industry’s cash started pouring into Occhiogrosso’s company.

In just the last few months, Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies Group have signed contracts with Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) and A Better Connecticut, the new education reform front group that was co-founded this year by ConnCAN’s CEO.

ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy lobby group that was created by the same donors who helped Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor; develop Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that now runs schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies were first hired by ConnCAN for $35,800 to develop a survey that would show widespread support for education reforms and Malloy.  The profit for a survey like the one completed is in the range of $25,000 or more.

Then, with the survey in hand, A Better Connecticut provided Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies with a $200,000 contract to coordinate a PR campaign which spent $2,138,700 in April and May.

The official reports filed by A Better Connecticut with the Office of State Ethics fail to disclose whether Occhiogrosso and company are also collecting the traditional “buyers fee” for placing the advertising.  Usually advertising companies collect a 15% fee when placing television and other advertising.  Whether that $300,000 fee is on top of or part of the $200,000 contract isn’t clear.

What is clear is that education reform organizations are spending record amounts to thank Governor Malloy and lobby for his education reform initiatives and as a result of those efforts no one is benefiting more financially than Malloy’s former chief advisor and his company.

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

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

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

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

Here are the latest numbers;

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

The following chart reveals the players in this scheme.

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

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

 

Wendy Lecker: Imagining where all that money could have gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Public Education: “You may know a person by the company they keep.”

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“You may know a person by the company they keep.”

The quote’s profoundness is right up there with an Arabian proverb that goes, “Judge a person by the reputation of their enemies.”

In either case, the phrases prove that much can be said with just a few choice words.

This past weekend, I had the honor of providing the “key-note” address at a conference that took place at Central Connecticut State University entitled “Defending Public Education.”

The conference explored the corporate education reform movement.  As readers of Wait, What? know – there was a lot to discuss!

I’ve been meaning to post a blog about the conference, but a reader sent me a review of the conference published on the pro-corporate education reform blog, CTEducation180.

In this case, I think that reposting their assessment probably gives Wait, What? readers a better and more accurate review of the conference than I could ever write;

Following their post, I’ve copied some background about the CTEducation180 blog which appears to be a blog that is used by ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group.

Anti-reformer gathering puts Pelto in spotlight

This weekend, a teachers union funded and convened an anti-education reform conference, featuring who else but Jonathan Pelto on the list of speakers.

The event was hosted by the Central Connecticut State University Youth for Socialist Action, which describes itself on its Facebook page as “a group of revolutionary minded students and young workers.”

Really. You can’t make this stuff up.

Conference organizers make exactly zero attempts to be evenhanded, academic or honest. The flyer for the event goes off on a paranoia-laced rant about legislators “influenced by the profit motive” and “demonized” public workers.

Who is ponying up the dough for this nonsense? The Hartford Federation of Teachers, among others.

Called “Defending Public Education,” the conference appears to be little more than an anti-education reform rally. It features such panels as “Teachers Are Not the Enemy” and “Organizing Action in Your Community.”

And Jon Pelto headlined.

You might remember Pelto from his continuing series of blog posts attacking the state’s education commissioner, the governor, the schools chiefs from Windham, Hartford and Bridgeport, and many, many other folks who have made improving Connecticut’s schools their life’s work.

It would be nice if people could engage in a real discussion about how to better help Connecticut’s failing schools, and how to better support Connecticut’s students. But with gatherings like these which only engender fear, skew the facts, and prop up hacks like Jon Pelto — funded by our teacher unions — that remains a dream, rather than a reality.

So who is CTEducation180?

CTEducation180 is a blog that was created by public relations consultant Pat Scully, whose own blog is called the “hanging shad.”  It now appears that CTEducation180 has become a communication vehicle for ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy organization created by members of Achievement First, Inc’s Board of Directors.  Achievement First, Inc. being the charter school management company co-founded by Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

The “about” section of the blog reads, “The education reform bill passed last year by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy raises standards for educators, allows immediate action to improve failing schools, increases access to high-quality public school choices, and improves how education dollars are spent.

Unfortunately, bold steps forward on education reform have spawned a vocal chorus of opponents that are willing to say and do anything in order to maintain the status quo and prevent children from attending the high-quality public schools they deserve.”

ConnCAN dropped $35,800 on opinion poll to make Malloy and education reform appear popular

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On February 6, 2013 Governor Dannel Malloy gave his Bi-annual budget address to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly.    On the issue of public education he said, “We’re turning around struggling schools by growing our Commissioner’s Network, with funding for 17 more schools…We’re continuing to broaden the range of educational opportunities by maintaining our support for magnet schools, agricultural-science schools, and other high-quality options, including funding for additional state charter schools.”

It was just two weeks earlier that ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, conducted a public opinion survey designed to show broad-based public support for Malloy and Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

Interestingly, although the poll was conducted from January 23 until January 27, ConnCAN didn’t report their $35,800 expenditure on the survey until their March State Ethics Filing. By waiting a month to report the cost of their persuasion survey, they ensured that media coverage of the survey was confined to results and not the excessive amount of money ConnCAN spent to create the impression that Malloy’s actions were politically popular.

The strategy played itself out on February 13, 2013.  While Malloy’s controversial budget proposals floated out there, a week after he delivered them, the Global Strategies Group, a political and public relations company released a “polling memo” declaring that the public was strongly behind the Governor and his education proposals.

Global Strategies Group is the company that Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s former chief advisor, rejoined after leaving the Governor’s side on the first of this year.

The Global Strategies Group memo claimed that, “There is broad support for continuing education reforms. Connecticut voters are overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the education reforms passed last year… Support for reform crosses party lines… and demographic groups… Men and women… parents and non-parents… younger and older voters… and white and non-white voters… all support continuing reforms.”  The memo also claimed that “86 percent say improving the quality of public education is a high priority, including 49 percent who say it is a top priority that needs to be addressed by the governor and the state legislature.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of this entire story is the pattern of communications that was taking place behind the scenes.

According to materials released as a result of a Freedom of Information request, in late December 2012, ConnCAN’s acting CEO, Jennifer Alexander, wrote to Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, asking for a meeting to discuss the state budget.  Twenty minutes later Barnes wrote back accepting the request.

The meeting was originally scheduled for January 11, two weeks before the ConnCAN public opinion survey began, but had to be postponed due to the special deficit mitigation session.

When the meeting was postponed until after the date of the Governor’s budget address, ConnCAN’s CEO wrote on January 10, 2013:

“Dear Ben,

I saw that our scheduled meeting for tomorrow was cancelled…I really do need to meet with you before the end of next week… Is there any chance we can meet sooner?

All the best,

Jen”

On January 16, 2013 Alexander followed-up with a letter that included a statement that read, “I’m writing, therefore, to ask that your team come out as strongly as possible in the budget on the key pillars of the Governor’s reforms, most notably charter schools, the Commissioner’s Network, and educator evaluation.  Specifically, we ask that you hold firm to fully fund: the charter per-pupil increases currently set in statute: 10 new state charter schools; all 25 of the legally allowed commissioner’s Network Schools; and the full statewide rollout of the educator evaluation program”

The ConnCAN CEO ended with, “To summarize, we know that some members of the General Assembly are not where the Governor and you are on reform.  ConnCAN and others are here to help, and it will be easier for us to rally strong support if the administration comes out strong in your proposed budget on the key pillars of the Governor’s reforms, including charters, the Commissioner’s Network, and talent development.”

As we now know, Governor Malloy did “come out strong” in his budget address for the charter schools and the ConnCAN/OPM meeting was held on February 20 at 3 p.m., a week after ConnCAN released their poll backing the Governor and his reform proposals.

A sure indicator of the access ConnCAN has into Governor Malloy and the Office of Policy and Management was that when the meeting was held, it not only included OPM Secretary Ben Barnes, but the other participants appear to have been Paul Potamianos, OPM’s Executive Budget Officer; John Noonan, OPM’s Section Director for Education; Leah Grenier, the OPM budget analyst for education and Liz Donohue, Governor Malloy’s Policy Director.

The level of staff attention granted ConnCAN is impressive.  ConnCAN had the top four education budget officials at the Office of Policy and Management and the Governor’s policy director?  Most Connecticut advocacy groups would be happy to get one fifth of that group to hear them out.

Then again, we are talking about ConnCAN.

The same ConnCAN that spearheaded the multi-million dollar lobbying campaign on behalf of Malloy’s “education reform” bill.

The same ConnCAN that helped raise more than $40,000 for Prosperity for Connecticut PAC, the political action committee associated with Governor Malloy that held a fundraiser at the home of Jonathan Sackler, last year, with national and state education reform leaders.

And the same ConnCAN that was founded by members of the Achievement First, Inc. Board of Directors; Achievement First being the charter school management company co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and where Pryor served as a Director until he resigned to take on the role of Malloy’s Education Commissioner.

What’s that quote about it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters?

Update: Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. fails to amend Ethics Reports

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Maybe when you are ConnCAN – The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. – you don’t need to abide by Connecticut’s ethics laws.

Maybe the law only applies to the little people.

Wait, What? readers know the story of how ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc., paid Global Strategies Group, a political consulting and public strategies company,  tens of thousands of dollars to conduct a public opinion poll last month.  Global Strategies Group is the company that Roy Occhiogrosso returned to after serving for two years as Malloy’s chief advisor and spokesman.

The poll was designed to persuade legislators, the media and the public that Governor Malloy and Malloy’s education reform proposals were popular.  The effort, part of a broader lobbying strategy, should have been reported by ConnCAN on their January ethics report to the State Office of State Ethics because the expenditure  was in furtherance of lobbying.

However their original report failed to reveal the expenditure.

Once their violation was revealed here at Wait, What?, the assumption was that ConnCAN would amend their report by the end of February to bring their actions into legal compliance.

However, as of close of business today, ConnCAN failed to correct their reports.

It will be interesting to see if the Ethics Commission takes action to fine ConnCAN for their violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws.

The Parasites known as Charter Schools

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Bruce Baker is a professor at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education at Rutgers.  He is considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on school financing.  He has written extensively on the subject, including serving as a lead author of the definitive graduate text book called Financing Education Systems.  He is also the author of a blog called School Finance 101.

A couple of days ago Baker posted a “MUST READ” article on his blog that drives home one of the most important points Wait, What? readers have been learning about over the past year.

Charter schools cream off the students.  They cream off students because they are trying to get the “right students” so that can “produce higher standardized test scores” so they can continue to mislead government, foundations and wealthy donors to give them money.

Then, when their test scores come out, they completely fail to explain that those scores are not a product of the quality of the education these schools provide, but are a direct result of selective, discriminatory enrollment policies they have and their increasingly well-known system of forcing out (often called migrating out) those students that won’t produce the results they want.

While Baker’s latest blog looks at charter schools in multiple states, the Connecticut data he presents makes the strongest case yet for the intentional fraud being perpetrated on Connecticut’s public schools, our students, teachers, state government and taxpayers.

You can read Backer’s full article here (see link), but the key Connecticut findings are as follows;

Using data from the State Department of Education and the NCES Common Core, Baker summed the “total number of public & charter school enrolled children by City (school location in CCD) and the total numbers of free lunch, ELL and special education enrolled children.”

Here is a chart highlighting the data – and once again – the data makes the situation absolutely clear.

We know the greatest predictors of standardized test score performance are poverty, language barriers and special education needs.  We also know that in case after case after case after case, Connecticut’s charter school educate children that are less poor, have far less language barriers and need fewer special education services.

CLICK ON THE CHART TO OPEN IN NEW WINDOW SO YOU CAN GO BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN TEXT AND CHART:

Student Demographics  Charter Schools Vs. The City those schools are in

In fact, Connecticut’s charter schools are particularly brutal on locking out students who are not fluent in English – which are usually the children who come from homes where English is not the primary language.

If Charter schools educate children who are less poor, have fewer language barriers and few special education needs, they will, by default, end up with high standardized test scores.

So what has Governor Malloy, Education Commission Pryor, the Connecticut Board of Education and the Connecticut General Assembly done?

They have given more funds to those that are discriminating while making things worse for the schools that are actually trying to what every child deserves under the Connecticut Constitution – a few, high quality, public education.

As Dr. Bruce Baker puts it, “In a heterogeneous urban schooling environment, the more individual schools or groups of schools engage in behavior that cream skims off children who are less poor, less fewer language barriers, far less likely to have a disability to begin with, and unlikely at all to have a severe disability, the higher the concentration of these children left behind in district schools.(see for example:http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/effects-of-charter-enrollment-on-newark-district-enrollment/).

Baker goes on to speak the absolute truth when he said, “…with independent charter expansion, districts lose the ability to even try to manage the balance. Sadly, what may initially have been conceived of as a symbiotic relationship between charter and district schools is increasingly becoming parasitic!

In a “competitive marketplace” of schooling within a geographic space, under this incentive structure, the goal is to be that school which most effectively cream skims – without regard for who you are leaving behind for district schools or other charters to serve – while best concealing the cream-skimming – and while ensuring lack of financial transparency for making legitimate resource comparisons.”

Baker calls the impact the “Collateral Damage of the Parasitic Chartering Model” and writes, “In previous posts I showed how the population cream-skimming effect necessarily leads to an increasingly disadvantaged student population left behind in district schools. High need, urban districts that are hosts to increasing shares of cream-skimming charters become increasingly disadvantaged over time in terms of the students they must serve.”

Baker’s post goes into far greater detail.

He uses the data to explain and highlight the problem.

It is an issue Wait, What? readers know well.

And if the policies are left unchanged, it will be the legacy that haunts Governor Malloy and those who support the discriminatory policies that are undermining our schools and destroying our public education system.

Read the full post here:  http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/from-portfolios-to-parasites-the-unfortunate-path-of-u-s-charter-school-policy/

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