IS THE TIDE TURNING FOR COMMON CORE? (Guest Post by Joseph Ricciotti)

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On October 6, 2014 retired educator Joseph Ricciotti had a commentary piece in the CT Mirror entitled, “Common Core takes the joy out of teaching.”

ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander, the paid spokesperson for Connecticut’s charter school industry, responded with a lame defense of the Common Core in yesterday’s CTMirror under the title of “Don’t let misinformation destroy the promise of Common Core.”

After reading ConnCAN’s corporate education reform rhetoric, I wrote “Connecticut – Our children are not stupid” for Wait, What?

Now Joseph Ricciotti takes on ConnCAN’s position even more directly in a thoughtful response called, “Is the tide turning for Common Core?”

Joseph Ricciotti writes;

I am pleased that my recent op-ed piece “Common Core Does Not Treat Teachers or Students with Dignity” has provoked the ire of Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCAN, as I strongly believe what is needed in Connecticut is an honest debate concerning whether Common Core is appropriate for Connecticut students. It appears obvious that the corporate education reform advocates in Connecticut which includes Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN as well as Governor Malloy and his outgoing Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, are truly dismayed and rattled with the fact that Common Core throughout the country is a slowly sinking ship ready to join the failed corporate reform programs of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT).

What Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN has neglected to mention in her rebuttal concerning Common Core is the fact that parents have yet to be exposed to the devastating impact of numerous failures when the Common Core Smarter Balanced Consortium (SBAC) tests will be administered to Connecticut students, especially children in our urban school districts. As Jonathan Pelto cited with his insightful analysis in his op-ed commentary, “Connecticut – Our Children are not Stupid” that parents will “discover that approximately 70% of the states children are failing.” Hence, what is in store for Connecticut parents, according to Pelto, is what has already occurred in New York State where Pelto indicates “that only 31 percent of all public school students in New York State got a “passing score” on the math and English language arts Common Core tests.”

What corporate reformers such as Jennifer Alexander and Stefan Pryor apparently do not understand is what it means to a young child who fails one of the Common Core tests. What should be required reading of all corporate reformers is the recent New York Times article published this past June “ Common Core, In 9 – Year Old Eyes” in which the heartbreaking story of young Crispin Alcindor is told. Crispin attends P.S. 397 in Brooklyn, NY, a school of 350 students and a school where more than 70 per cent of the students did not pass the Common Core tests. ConnCAN would deem this a “failing school” and designate an “F”grade  as part of its ranking as what Common Core will  basically do is to rank schools and students. With this ranking, would Ms. Alexander like to see the school closed and replaced with one of ConnCAN’s so-called high achieving charter schools? However, the fact that 90 per cent of the children in P.S. 397 come from low income families would never be taken into consideration as the corporate reformers would have you believe that poverty is never a factor for low achievement.

The New York Times account of Crispin Alcindor is the story of a child who had been a model student in his school and at the top of his class until he had to take the Common Core state exams which placed him near the bottom of his class. Needless to say, his failure on the Common Core tests shattered him as failure was the catalyst that led the boy to cite, “If I don’t pass the test, I will feel miserable and never come out of my room.” Moreover, how many children in Connecticut schools destined to fail the SBAC will have similar feelings of failure as Common Core takes the joy out of learning for many Connecticut children?

Jennifer Alexander also cites in her commentary that most teachers in Connecticut support the Common Core but that is not the feedback I have received from teachers involved with implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The various surveys that Alexander cites concerning the popularity of Common Core with teachers are dubious to say the least, especially surveys conducted by the Gates Foundation. The recent election of Barbara Madeloni as president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association is symptomatic of teachers’ disenchantment with Common Core. A fierce opponent of neoliberal education reform, Madeloni believes that teachers today are “in an enormous amount of pain and that the joy in human relationships and the possibilities of teaching have been foreclosed by the “education deform” (Common Core) project.” Also, according to Madeloni, the use of SBAC test scores for the purpose of evaluating teacher effectiveness strips away what little remains of teachers dignity.

As Joe Ricciotti proves, yet again, the talking heads of the corporate education reform industry are no match for the educators who actually devote their lives to the well-being of our children.

Connecticut – Our children are not stupid

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However, that is EXACTLY what the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test is designed to tell us.

The shocking, truth is that parents who do not opt their child out of the unfair, inappropriate and expensive Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing regime this year will “discover” that approximately 70% of the state’s children are failing.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In a CT Mirror commentary piece entitled “Don’t let misinformation destroy the promise of Common Core,” Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of ConnCAN, Connecticut’s charter school lobbying group goes to great length to actually MISLEAD Connecticut’s parents about the false promise of the Common Core.

This pro-Common Core cheerleader and leading apologist for Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform industry agenda claims that,

…we must continue to implement consistent high standards like the Common Core across every classroom, every school, and every district in our state. It is a necessary step toward our goal of providing a high-quality education for every Connecticut child.

But what Jennifer Alexander, Governor Malloy and the other proponents of the Common Core fail to tell parents, and the public, is that the Common Core SBAC Test is designed in such a way as to ensure that only about one-third of our state’s public school students get passing marks.

How is that possible?

Because the Common Core Test uses what is called the NAEP “proficient” level as its passing grade.  NAEP is The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a national testing entity.

According to NAEP, the “proficient” level is a standard that is equivalent to what is deemed “high performance,” rather than what would be considered grade-level performance.

So, in reality, the Common Core Test is not designed to determine whether our children are learning what is expected at that grade level, but is purposely designed to pretend that all students should be “higher performers.”

Of course, as every parent knows, while all children can learn and thrive with the right support, not all students are academic “high performers” each step of the way.

But proponents of the Common Core testing system like Jennifer Alexander and Governor Malloy won’t tell parents that their children will be deemed failing if they don’t score at the “high performer” level.

When New York State implemented the Common Core Test, student scores across the state dropped by nearly 50 percent from the scores those same students had received in previous, more grade level-oriented, standardized tests.

The result of the Common Core Test was that only 31 percent of all public school students in New York State got a “passing score” on the math and English language arts  Common Core tests.

Did New York students suddenly become stupid?

No, of course not!

Even worse, the Common Core Test design is particularly unfair to African American and Latino American students.  In New York State, only about one in five Black and Latino students “passed’ and the Common Core test design ensured that only 3% of the English Language Learners achieved passing scores under the new Common Core scheme.

To put it bluntly, the Common Core Test is designed to send students of color, students who have English Language barriers and students with special education needs home with a report that indicates that they are failing.

The underlying problem with the Common Core Testing is not a secret, although many politicians wish that it was.  As has been widely reported, the Common Core Test gives fifth graders questions that are written at an 8th grade level.

The harsh reality is that the “cut score” or passing number on the Common Core Test has been purposely set so that approximately 30 percent of the test takers pass and 70 percent fail.

Jennifer Alexander, who is paid a six-figure income to speak for the charter school industry, doesn’t reveal that the real reason the corporate education reform industry loves the Common Core Testing is because it produces an almost unlimited list of failing schools.

And thanks to Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama, federal law provides that failing schools can be handed over to charter school management companies…and with it hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds going to private charter school corporations to run public schools.

For the truth about the Common Core Testing system one need only go back to a 2011 article in the Washington Post in which James Harvey, the executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, explains what the NAEP proficient level really means.

Harvey says,

“Proficiency remains a tough nut to crack for most students, in all subjects, at all grade levels. NAEP reports that only one third of American students are proficient or better, no matter the subject, the age of the students, or their grade level

[…]

NAEP’s benchmarks, including the proficiency standard, evolved out of a process only marginally better than throwing darts at the wall.

That’s a troubling conclusion to reach in light of the expenditure of more than a billion dollars on NAEP over 40-odd years by the U.S. Department of Education and its predecessors. For all that money, one would expect that NAEP could defend its benchmarks of Basic, Proficient, and Advanced by pointing to rock-solid studies of the validity of its benchmarks and the science underlying them. But it can’t.

Instead, NAEP and the National Assessment Governing Board that promulgated the benchmarks have spent the better part of 20 years fending off a consensus in the scientific community that the benchmarks lack validity and don’t make sense. Indeed, the science behind these benchmarks is so weak that Congress insists that every NAEP report include the following disclaimer: “NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] has determined that NAEP achievement levels should continue to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution”

So the Common Core score is tied to a system that even the United States Congress admits should be “used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution”

Harvey goes on to explain,

“Proficient Doesn’t Mean Proficient.

Oddly, NAEP’s definition of proficiency has little or nothing to do with proficiency as most people understand the term. NAEP experts think of NAEP’s standard as “aspirational.” In 2001, two experts associated with NAEP’s National Assessment Governing…made it clear that:

“[T]he proficient achievement level does not refer to “at grade” performance. Nor is performance at the Proficient level synonymous with ‘proficiency’ in the subject. That is, students who may be considered proficient in a subject, given the common usage of the term, might not satisfy the requirements for performance at the NAEP achievement level.”

Despite the mountains of evidence about the problems with the Common Core and Common Core testing, corporate elitists like ConnCAN have the chutzpah to say we should implement the Common Core and the unfair Common Cores tests because, “many national studies that show wide support for clear, high standards to help ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, are ready for the challenges of college and career.”

As parents of public school children, we all recognize that there is nothing wrong having “clear, high standards.” Standards are good and Connecticut has its own process for updating and enhancing our state’s academic standards.

Yet rather than using Connecticut’s process and respecting the values inherent in the local control of education, the Common Core was developed using a system that did not include the full involvement of teachers, parents and the community.

Governor Malloy, ConnCAN and the corporate education reform industry have thrown their support behind an inappropriate set of national standards that were not developed by teachers, parents or those who know what is developmentally appropriate for children.

Furthermore, had the proponents of the Common Core been genuinely interested in enhancing educational standards in the United States they would have developed those standards using the appropriate people and then phased in those goals over a period of ten years, thereby allowing our schools to ramp up what we expect of our children and our public education system.

Instead, in a grotesque effort to grab as much public funding as possible for the testing companies and the rest of the education reform industry, these people, with the help of our government officials, mandated the Common Core standards and then mandated that our children be tested against those standards immediately.

So what have we been given?

Connecticut has been served up a system that is designed to tell 70 percent of our students that they are failures.

And that is nothing short of child abuse.

Rather than pushing the flawed Common Core testing program on our students, teachers and public schools, Governor Malloy, Education Commissioner Pryor, and Connecticut’s public school superintendents and principals should be standing up and protecting our children from this unwarranted abuse.

But since they won’t, it is up to parents to take on the task of stopping this abuse by opting our children out of the absurd Common Core Standardized Testing program.

And if your school district tells you that you can’t opt out your child, remind them that this is America and that there is absolutely no federal or state law that revokes your parental rights when it comes to standardized testing in our public schools!

The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them.

In this case, the Malloy administration and the proponents of the Common Core and its related testing apparatus are nothing short of bullies —– and they must be stopped before they do any more damage to our children and our public schools.

The charter school industry’s commentary piece in today’s CTMirror is a clear reminder.

The time is now to tell your school district that your children will not be participating in this year’s Common Core Testing.

Malloy’s administration to tout Corporate Education Reform Industry Agenda at National Conference

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While wooing teachers with false promises of a change in policy here at home, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his administration continue to trumpet their Corporate Education Reform Industry Agenda far from the gaze of Connecticut voters.

Next month Connecticut taxpayers will pick up the tab to send the Connecticut delegation to the annual meeting of the National Association of State Boards of Education annual meeting in Colorado. Of course, ever year, the taxpayers also pick up the tab for Connecticut’s membership in the organization.

The National Association of State Board of Education (NASBE) claims that it “exists to serve and strengthen State Boards of Education in their pursuit of high levels of academic achievement for all students.”

How do they go about doing that? Well just last year the NASBE accepted an $800,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to spend the next two years pushing the Common Core with state boards of education and other “stakeholders” involved with running public education around the country.

So while Malloy will spend his October trying to persuade Connecticut teachers, parents and public school advocates that he is “softening” his pro-corporate education reform stance, his delegation will be jetting off to Colorado to showcase Malloy’s “record of success” when it comes to dramatically increasing the use of standardized tests, expanding the role of charter schools and undermining the role and rights of parents, teachers and school boards.

One session at the NASBE national conference is entitled “State Policy and Practice for Turnaround Schools.” Lead presenters include Morgan Barth, one of Stefan Pryor’s top appointees at the State Department of Education and State Board of Education member Stephen Wright.

Barth is the former Achievement First Inc. employee who, with no state certification, illegally taught and worked at Achievement First for at least six years before Achievement First’s lobbyists managed to get the law changed to allow charter schools to have up to 30% of their teaching and administrative staff be non-certified.

Although repeatedly warned by the State Department of Education that Barth’s lack of appropriate certification meant he was teaching illegally, Achievement First, Inc. kept him on the payroll and in the classroom the entire time.

When Stefan Pryor, the co-founder of Achievement First, Inc. became Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Pryor hired Barth to play the key role in the SDE’s “turnaround office” where he has spent his time getting Alliance Districts to turn over their schools to charter companies, most notably, to the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain.

Connecticut’s other representative at the National Association of State Boards of Education annual meeting is Steven Wright, a Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education who served as chairman of the Trumbull Board of Education.

Wright has been one of Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s strongest allies and safest votes on the State Board of Education.  Reporting on another national conference earlier this year, the conference wrote,

“Wright hailed the state’s work to adopt Common Core standards, saying the standards are the best thing for students and teachers…’They are empirically superior and age-appropriate — developed by educators,’”

And in 2012 when the Trumbull Education Association refused to accept an “award” from ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, Wright, in his role as Chairman of the Trumbull Board of Education, attacked the union saying,

“I read with no small measure of disappointment the letter of the Trumbull Teacher’s Association rejecting the prestigious recognition the high school received from ConnCAN… through an obvious display of ignorance of the goals of ConnCAN and an undertone of an elitist attitude, the authors of the letter have managed to alienate trusted allies and provided the missing ingredients that will sway those who were on the fence with the education reform legislation to side with the Governor and give wholesale support to the reforms proposed in Senate Bill #24.”

And if Barth and Wright’s participation wasn’t telling enough, another speaker at the October National Association of State Boards of Education will be a senior corporate officer from Global Strategies Group, the political consulting group that serves as Malloy’s lead campaign consultant while running the public relations program for Connecticut’s corporate education reform groups.

In the past year or so, Global Strategies Group has collected at least $297,000 from the Malloy campaign and his shadow political operation at the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

During the same period, Global Strategies Group has billed ConnCAN and A Better Connecticut, Connecticut’s two leading education reform groups, more than $2.5 million for consulting services and media costs.  Global Strategies produced and broadcast nearly $2 million in television advertisements “thanking Governor Malloy” for his leadership on the education reform effort.

And what will the Global Strategies Group representative be speaking about?

“What’s in Store on Election Day and What Does It Mean for Education?”

One wonders how many times he’ll mention Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, the most pro-education reform, anti-teacher Democratic governor in the nation.

But one thing will be certain — While Malloy’s operatives will be singing his praises at the NASBE meeting in Colorado, Malloy himself will be here, at home, telling teachers, parents and public education advocates that he has “seen the light” and will spend his second term supporting teachers and Connecticut’s public education system.

ConnCAN yelps response to Sarah Darer Littman’s Commentary piece

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Provides stunning argument as to why Malloy does not deserve four more years! Over this past weekend, public education advocate and CT NewsJunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman published a scathing commentary piece on the Malloy administration, the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain and the tens of millions of taxpayer funds being wasted on charter schools in Connecticut. You can read Sarah Darer Littman’s CTNewsJunkie column here – Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse and the Wait, What? re-post and assessment of the piece here - Another MUST READ column on Jumoke/FUSE by Sarah Darer Littman. But as incredible as Sarah Darer Littman’s original piece is, the response from the CEO of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, is even more telling. Wait, What? readers will recall that ConnCAN led the $6 million, record breaking, lobbying effort on behalf of Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform bill that undermined local control and attempted to do away with tenure for all public school teachers, while repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest school districts. ConnCAN also played a pivotal role in the failed attempt to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport, their campaign becoming the most expensive charter revision effort in history. And more recently, ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, and their immediate family members, have funneled more than $100,000 into Malloy’s re-election campaign operation — despite the fact that Malloy has taken $6.2 million in public funds to pay for his re-election effort. Normally, when presenting an attack piece by the corporate education reform industry, some critique is required, but not in this case. In this case, the response from Jennifer Alexander, ConnCAN’s CEO, is so absurd that it stands on its own without any introduction or review… You can read ConnCAN’s full response here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_lets_develop_solutions_to_connecticuts_toughest_problems/ Alexander writes,

Regarding Sarah Darer Littman’s Sept. 19, 2014, op-ed, “Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse,” the egregious twisting of facts and history buries the important message at the core of Littman’s argument. Sadly, the piece is also a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is improving schools for all children in our state. […] I encourage her to join a real dialogue about how best to achieve these goals. It’s time to move away from tired personal attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories, roll up our sleeves and get to the real work of improving public education. Our kids are counting on it. It is, after all, our responsibility to ensure all kids have the opportunity to achieve their goals. Together, with hard work, dedication, and a bit of creativity, we can ensure Connecticut remains a place where people want to live, work, and invest in their future.

This from the individual and organization that recently sang the praises of Jumoke/FUSE and the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe.  Not to mention their unending efforts to divert taxpayer funds to privately run schools that consistently discriminate against those who don’t speak English and those who need special education services. The message from ConnCAN is loud and clear…..their message is – If you are satisfied with Malloy’s corporate education reform policies, then go ahead and vote for him. If, on the other hand, you are tired of charter schools wasting millions of dollars of our scarce public funds, then Malloy is definitely not the one you want to vote for. Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Charter School champion, “OxyContin producer” gives Malloy operation over $200,000  

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This month Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy will be getting a check for $6.2 million in public funds through the Connecticut Public Financing Program to pay for part of his campaign for governor.

But Malloy’s fundraising operation goes far beyond that money.  Malloy and his political operatives are raising millions through various loopholes in Connecticut law.

Take for example, the following;

Jonathan Sackler helped Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, create Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that owns and operates schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Jonathan Sackler created ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that led the record breaking $6 million lobbying campaign to pass Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative in 2012.  The bill made Malloy the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with teacher tenure and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining for teachers in so-called “turnaround schools.”

Jonathan Sackler founded 50CAN, the ConnCAN knockoff, which is attempting to spread the charter school lobbying effort across the country.  Sackler is also a member of the board of directors of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a national hedge fund industry-funded organization that is promoting the corporate education reform industry’s activities.

Jonathan Sackler and his family also own a significant share of Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company made famous due to their product known as OxyContin.

In a stunning investigative report by the Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender, we now learn that Sackler and his family have given $91,000 to Malloy’s political operation while Sackler’s company has given another $106,000.

In the article entitled, Democrats Reap $91,000 From Charter Schools Advocate And His Family, Jon Lender explains,

There may be no better illustration of state Democrats‘ massive fundraising efforts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election year than the political donations of Jonathan Sackler and his extended family.

A total of $91,000 in donations has rolled into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers in 2013 and 2014 from four people: Sackler, a Greenwich businessman, investment executive and charter schools advocate; his wife; mother and father.

Lender adds,

Also, a privately held pharmaceutical company in Stamford with which Sackler family members have long been associated — Purdue Pharma — contributed $56,050 in 2013 and $50,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, a national group that spends its money to help elect Democratic governors across the country.

Lender lays out in stark detail the flow of money from the Sacklers to Governor Malloy’s political operation.  Donations that include,

•$55,000 to one of the two Connecticut Democratic Party’s accounts.

Jonathan Sackler and his wife, Mary Corson, each gave a maximum $10,000 donation to the Democratic Party’s state account in 2013 and already have given the same amount in 2014, for a total of $40,000 between them. Also, Sackler’s mother and father, Raymond and Beverly Sackler, have given $15,000 — $10,000 and $5,000, respectively — to that same party account this year.”

•$36,000 to the other Connecticut Democratic Party account

“Jonathan Sackler and Mary Corson each have given $10,000 to that account in 2014, and each gave $8,000 in 2013.

As Wait, What? readers may recall Jonathan Sackler also hosted a fundraiser for a political action committee associated with Malloy the day that Malloy’s “education reform” bill became a public act.  That fundraising netted more than $40,000 making it the most successful of the 14 fundraisers the Prosperity for Connecticut PAC held with Malloy and Wyman.

Sackler’s fundraiser was a “who’s who” in the corporate education reform industry including many of the board members of Achievement First, Inc. and ConnCAN as well as representatives of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy.

You can find Jon Lender’s MUST READ article at:  http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-lender-major-givers-0622-20140621,0,3261788.column

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

NEWS FLASH: Malloy allied corporate education reformers may bring lawsuit to end teacher tenure in Connecticut

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The nation’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, is reporting today that,

“Spokespersons for the corporate reform movement hope to launch legal attacks on tenure and seniority in Connecticut, following the example of the Vergara case in California.”

The Vegara case is the one in which a California judge ruled, last week, that California’s teacher tenure law was illegal.

The decision is being appealed, as public school teachers and public school advocates fight to preserve the fundamental due process rights that teachers have in this country.

Earlier today, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sent out an email earlier saying,

“By attacking the rules that protect and support teachers, the Vergara decision destabilizes public education…While the decision was not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, well-reasoned opinion are disturbing…The judge seems to think teachers are the core of the problem facing public education. We know that teachers hold our schools together, especially in the toughest times.”

Weingarten is right.

As teachers, parents and public school advocates know, the corporate education reform industry has been putting out inaccurate and misleading statements, along with outright lies, to persuade the public that teacher tenure is bad.  Their goal is nothing less than destroying the due process rights that teachers have and deserve.

And as we know, Connecticut has been a prime target for the anti-teacher, anti-public education forces.

In 2012, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy actually proposed doing away with teacher tenure in his “education reform” bill.  The Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly removed Malloy’s anti-tenure provision before passing most of the rest of his initiative.

Although Malloy’s proposal to end tenure failed, we are now learning that the CEO of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, is working to file a lawsuit to end teacher tenure in Connecticut.

When it comes to the corporate education reform industry’s effort, ConnCAN and its leaders have been Malloy’s biggest supporters.

  • ConnCAN led the $6 million dollar lobbying effort to pass Malloy’s education reform bill.  Their overall lobbying campaign was the most expensive effort in state history.
  • Malloy’s 2012 education reform bill not only called for doing away with teacher tenure, but proposed eliminating collective bargaining for teachers in turnaround schools.  When the legislature’s education committee rejected Malloy’s anti-collective bargaining language, ConnCAN issued a statement claiming that allowing teachers to have collective bargaining rights, “will not only make it impossible to enact reforms necessary to boost student performance, but it will likely prevent the most promising local and national leaders from choosing to run a [Commissioner’s] Network school.”
  • ConnCAN, and its related entity which is called A Better Connecticut, also played a leadership role in the $561,000 campaign to eliminate the democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the pro-charter school mayor.  The education reforms pour so much money into their  failed campaign to change Bridgeport’s charter that it became the most expensive in Connecticut history.
  • At the start of the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly, ConnCAN paid for a $38,500 poll that was conducted by Malloy’s chief advisor.  The poll claimed that, “There is broad support for continuing education reforms. Connecticut voters are overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the education reforms passed last year…”  The poll was an attempt to stop any efforts to fix the problems with Malloy’s bad education reform bill.
  • In the fall of 2013, ConnCAN’s A Better Connecticut also hired Malloy’s advisor and his political consulting company to campaign for Bridgeport’s Democratic slate of anti-public education candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education.  Thankfully, the pro-public school candidates, that had the support of the Connecticut Education Association and the Working Families Party, won the Democratic primary and the general election.  Their victory allowed the pro-public education candidates to take control of the Bridgeport Board of Education.
  • ConnCAN has also played an increasingly large role in raising money for Malloy, despite the fact that Malloy is participating in Connecticut’s public financing system and will be getting a taxpayer-funded check for $6.2  million to pay for h is 2014 campaign for governor.
    • ConnCAN’s co-foudner, Jonathan Sackler, held an extremely lucrative fundraiser for the Malloy connected Prosperity for Connecticut PAC the day Malloy’s education reform bill became a public act in 2012.  The fundraiser netted in excess of $40,000 for Malloy’s political operation.
    • In addition, over the past eighteen months, present and former members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors have also funneled more than $70,000 to Malloy’s political operation via the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

Finally, in what may will recognize as the most bizarre twist of all, while teachers and public education advocates all across Connecticut fight to save teacher tenure and collective bargaining, the American Federation of Teacher’s state chapter, the AFT-CT, endorsed Dannel Malloy last week without ever allowing me to meet with their political action committee or their executive committee.

Instead, the  AFT-CT Executive Committee threw their support behind the only Democratic governor in the nation who PROPOSED doing away with teacher tenure AND repealing collective bargaining rights for selected teachers.

And now, where Malloy left off, his allies at ConnCAN are carrying on with that agenda.

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

Corporate Education Reform Industry remains in “attack mode“

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Or alternative headline:  File in “reasons to run” folder

The latest headline from the education reform blog “Education Bridgeport” reads,

“Pelto Using Governor’s Race to Make Money.”

The blogger explains,

So Jon Pelto is talking about a run for governor. The reason why is pretty clear: Money.

Unless his ego is larger than any continental plate, which is a possibility, Pelto does not believe he can win. A cursory glance at the numbers proves that.

Education Bridgeport is the third effort to give to give Malloy’s education reform initiative “air cover” on the internet.

In a newly acquired email dated November 12, 2012, political consultant Pat Scully wrote to Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s, $180,000 a year, chief advisor and spokesman, Roy Occhiogrosso.  The email was sent to Occhiogrosso’s official state account and his personal account.

In his email, Pat Scully wrote,

As you know, I was a strong supporter of the governor’s ed reform package–all of it, not just the parts that passed.

It occurs to me there is no voice out there countering the nonsense spewed by Jonathan Pelto, et al.  I intend to become that voice. I was hoping you could help me with two things:

1. I want to reconnect with you and from time to time get information from within the administration on ed reform issues and where the governor stands.

2. I’d like to be connected to the “go-to” person in the administration as far as ed reform. If that’s you, all the better.

A week after the email interchange with Malloy’s alter-ego, the blog entitled CTEDUCATION180 appeared on the scene.  The blog introduced its mission with the following;

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.

Soon after starting the blog, Scully turned the day to day operations of CTEDUCATION180 over to ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that led the $6 million, record-breaking lobbying and public relations campaign that helped pass Malloy’s “education reform bill.”

A few months later, in May 2013, ConnCAN stopped maintaining the blog.

However, soon after, a new blog appeared on the scene to continue the education reform PR mission.

This time the blog was called Education Bridgeport.  Its author wrote, “I’m just a 20-something with a political background, time on my hands and a keen interest in education and all of the competing reform ideas floating around.”

Over the course of at least 46 posts, EducationBridgeport has sought to support Governor Malloy’s education reform and privatization policies through name calling and attacks on me and Wait, What?.

Now comes the latest attack.  It is almost as if they are committed to reminding us why a challenge to Malloy’s reelection is so important.

In the latest post, Education Bridgeport reports,

Therefore, why all the talk about a run for governor? Well, what better way to jack up your political consulting fees than to present yourself as a former gubernatorial candidate?

Win or lose his “campaign” for governor, Pelto ends up with more money in the bank.

Pelto is a self-described political “communications strategist,” with a focus on “public relations, media relations and advocacy programs.” He lists his clients as “corporations, associations and unions.”

His ”blog” is a tool, nothing more. And considering that his focus of late has been education, particularly Common Core, charter schools and teachers unions, one need not have x-ray vision to guess who his major clients are right now.

Well, those clients should get ready to pay through the nose.

As political strategist Tanya Meck said on FoxCT’s Capitol Report, “What’s interesting to me about this is that Jonathan obviously has an agenda. And whether you agree with his agenda or not the fact of the matter is, you get a bigger platform when you talk about running for governor.”

As much as Pelto would like you to believe that he is running for governor out of some altruistic, good-of-all-humanity motivation, the reality is he’s using a run for the governor’s office as a negotiating tactic.

[…]

The sooner he gets out of the race, the better.

So there you have it…

You can read the latest EducationBridgeport blog, as well as their earlier posts at: http://educationbridgeport.com/pelto-using-governors-race-to-make-money/

Malloy administration considered “restraining order” to stop FOI requests?

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In what may be the single most bizarre development yet in the Malloy administration’s war on teachers and public education and their ongoing commitment to secrecy, a recent Freedom of Information request has produced an email between Governor Malloy’s Director of Communications and a senior official from ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, in which they discuss what appears to be the Malloy’s administration’s effort to get a restraining order to prevent FOI requests about Malloy’s education reform efforts.

In the email to Governor Malloy’s Director of Communications, ConnCAN’s Jordan Fenster wrote,

Andrew,

Just following up on our conversation today. Any info you may have on a restraining order of any kind against Jon Pelto, (requested by the administration) would be great. It may have something to do with SDE, considering all the FOI requests and negative press he’s been throwing in that direction. 

My cell number, if you lost it, is XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Thanks,

Jordan

The email is dated April 23, 2013, which coincides with a series of Wait, What? posts about the $35,500 public opinion poll that ConnCAN conducted to help make Malloy’s education reform initiative appear more popular.

It was also the time-period in which Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, was engaged in his extended effort to help Paul Vallas circumvent Connecticut law so that Vallas could remain as head of Bridgeport’s School System.

While getting “negative press” may be annoying to politicians, the notion that Governor Malloy’s administration would consider pursuing a “restraining order” to prevent Freedom of Information requests is extremely disturbing considering the fundamental right that citizens have to get access to public information.

Even the notion that government officials would consider corrupting the legal system to quell political opposition is chilling.

Interestingly, the disk of emails that was released by Malloy’s office as a result of the recent FOI request does not contain any other communication that mentions a possible “restraining order” against me or the Wait, What? blog.

However, an FOI request that was submitted to Commission Pryor and the State Department of Education on the same subject remains unanswered.

ConnCAN is the charter school lobbying group that led the record-breaking $6 million lobbying and public relations effort in support of Malloy’s education reform initiative.

Jordan Fenster is the senior writer and editor for ConnCAN.  Before he worked for ConnCAN, Fenster worked as the political reporter for the New Haven Register.

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.

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