Charter School Industry “invests” more than $9 million in Connecticut lobbying

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Since taking office in January 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy has been able to count on the consistent and lucrative support of the charter school industry and their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher corporate education reform allies.

In addition to being one of Malloy’s largest sources of campaign cash during his 2014 re-election campaign, the owners and operators of Connecticut’s charter schools, along with the corporate elite who support Malloy’s “education reform” initiatives have dumped more than $9 million into the lobbying effort to support Malloy’s agenda to undermine public education in Connecticut.

This lobbing frenzy makes the corporate education reform effort the most expensive lobbying campaign in Connecticut history.

Funneling money through a variety of different organizations and front groups, the charter school advocates have been able “transform” public education in Connecticut by promoting Malloy’s plans to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in scarce public funds to privately owned and operated charter schools.

While Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly are instituting unprecedented cuts to public schools, thanks to the  “reformers” lobbying effort, more than $110 million in public dollars will be handed over to charter schools this year alone.

In addition, these groups have spent their millions pushing the Common Core and Common Core testing scheme, a program designed to label a vast number of Connecticut’s children, teachers and schools as failures.

The following chart highlights the Step Right Up, Buy Public Policy organizations that have lobbied on behalf of Malloy’s charter school and anti-public education agenda.

Organization Lobbying Expenses
A Better Connecticut (ConnCAN front group)  $2.3 million
ConnCAN  $1.9 million
Families for Excellent Schools  $1.8 million
GNEPSA (StudentsFirst/Michelle Rhee)  $891,000
CT Council for Education Reform  $349,000
Students for Education Reform  $16,000
Achievement First  $422,000
NE Charter School Network/Charter School Network  $132,000
Bronx Charter School $35,000
CT Business & Industry Assoc. (CBIA)  >$1.2 million
TOTAL $9 Million+

This past legislative session, these charter school and education reform entities spent in excess of $500,000 successfully persuading legislators to cut their own district’s public school funding, at the same time they were sending even more taxpayer money to Connecticut’s charter schools, despite the fact that these private institutions have traditionally refused to educate their fair share of students who need special education services, children who require help learning the English Language or those who have behavioral issues.

More taxpayer money for the private sector, less public funds for public schools.

Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly should be sent packing and replaced with people who will put our children ahead of political and private interests.

Bridgeport’s Former “Deputy Mayor” Josh Thompson running for Mayor of New York City

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Although it is undoubtedly purely coincidental, with fans eagerly awaiting the much anticipated release this Friday of “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” along comes the news that Joshua Thompson, former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s former aide, who claimed on his on-line biography that he was actually Bridgeport’s “Deputy Mayor,” is now focusing his attention on defeating New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

No, Josh Thompson isn’t working for one of the potential candidates who are considering challenging de Blasio in the November 2017 election.  Mayor Bill Finch’s former aide is running to BECOME New York’s next mayor.

Josh Thompson’s time as a member of Bill Finch’s Brain Trust highlight the recent challenges that have been dragging down Connecticut’s charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies who continue to undermine public education in Connecticut.

As some readers may remember, in March 2013, Wait, What? reported that Joshua Thompson was garnering media attention when he updated his on-line biography to read:

Joshua Thompson is the Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT. Prior to this position, he was the Program Analyst and Projects Manager for the Deputy Mayor for Education in the Executive Office of the Mayor in Washington, DC.

In this capacity, he served in a direct oversight role in the District’s schools, working in partnership with charter schools, as well as the federal government on policies such as Race to the Top and other major initiatives that impact the District at large.

But, of course, few of the claims made by the 20-something political operative were true.

At the time Josh Thompson was hired in August 2012 to join Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s staff, the Connecticut Post wrote that the newcomer would be working as Finch’s education aide.  The paper explained,

“Joshua Thompson will develop and carry out public education policy and shape new initiatives. He will earn $102,000 as an at-will employee of the mayor. Funds for the salary were approved by the City Council and come from a dedicated line in the budget, said Adam Wood, Finch’s chief of staff.”

However, neither Mayor Finch nor his Chief of Staff, Adam Wood, bothered to explain to the City Council that the “dedicated line” they were referring to was actually the City’s education budget and their tactic meant money intended for educating Bridgeport’s children would, instead, be used to expand Finch’s political operation.

While Thompson’s official position remained that of a deputy chief administrative officer, the Finch Administration started referring to Thompson as the Mayor’s “Director for Education and Youth.”

Initially, Director of Education and Youth is how Thompson referred to himself on his LinkedIn social networking account, although he bulked up his title a bit more on his  twitter account, calling himself, “Director of Education in Bridgeport, CT.”

But Thompson’s amazing, meteoric, self-promotion was most evident when it came to his biography on The Council of Urban Professionals’ website.  The CUP is a New York City based entity that claims to be, “an energetic 21st century leadership development organization that molds diverse business and civic leaders, and empowers them to exert influence, achieve their individual goals and create collective impact through a range of programs and initiative.”

After Thompson was done doctoring his biography on the site it read;

“Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT.”

Of course, the claim was more than a little far-fetched considering Bridgeport City Charter doesn’t even allow the use of the title, Deputy Mayor.  After Thompson’s enhanced biography was published on Wait, What? he modified it to remove his status as the Park City’s self-appointed Deputy Mayor.

Meanwhile, back in Bridgeport, Thompson’s first task was to help pass Mayor Finch’s plan to do away with the city’s democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.  The Mayor’s charter referendum initiative went down in a stunning defeat.

Undaunted by the will of the people, Finch then had Thompson take on the role of bullying the Bridgeport Board of Education into extending the contract of education reformer extraordinaire, Paul Vallas, who had arrived in Bridgeport after successfully undermining and the public school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Thompson’s role as Finch’s education reform enforcer was covered in a number of Wait, What? blog posts, including, Bridgeport: Finch puts Deputy Mayor Thompson in attack mode to protect Paul Vallas…Mayor Finch and Bridgeport City Council move to cut education funding? And  last but not least, in Finch/Vallas land…

Leading the Custer-like effort to defend Vallas, Thompson issued a threatening statement to the members of the Bridgeport Board of Education that appeared in the Only in Bridgeport” blog.  Thompson opined;

“I want to make something 100-percent clear…I am very concerned that we have elected board members whose values are tied to that of the Working Families Party…. With Superintendent Vallas’ evaluation coming up this Monday, it is clear that anyone who is part of the Working Families Party did not objectively evaluate the Superintendent’s performance…”

Finch also gave Thompson the task of helping make sure that only pro-charter school Finch loyalists were elected to the Bridgeport school board, an effort that also ended in failure.

Failure was also the outcome of Finch’s re-election plans, when the incumbent mayor was defeated in November 2015 by former Bridgeport mayor, Joe Ganim, who had returned to Bridgeport after serving seven years in federal prison for corruption.

But by then, Thompson’s dreams of glory had taken him back down the road to New York City.

As Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll noted (purportedly while on drugs);

alice quote

As for his time in Bridgeport, Thompson explains on his new campaign website;

In 2012, as I was finishing up in DC, I received a call that Bridgeport’s education system was in crisis and drove straight there. When I arrived in Bridgeport, there was a $13 million education budget deficit, a dropout rate of nearly 50%, and textbooks that still said George H. W. Bush was president. During my tenure, we eliminated the deficit without letting go of a single teacher or closing a single school. In fact, we opened 9 schools, some of which are now among the highest performing schools in Connecticut. Instead of outdated textbooks, every high school student in Bridgeport now has a tablet….

As an aside, the tablet statement isn’t true and the $10 million no-bid contract to purchase new textbooks not only ended up with “new” books that are not Common Core complaint but the outrageous and lucrative payment schedule ended up diverting scarce dollars from critically needed instructional costs for years after Vallas and Thompson left town.

But none of the uncomfortable details matter to Connecticut’s charter school industry and those associated with the anti-teacher, anti-public school education reform agenda.

Annoyed with New York Mayor de Blasio, the moneyed interests associated with Connecticut’s charter schools are stepping up to help their guy “challenge” New York’s Mayor..

According to Thompson’s first campaign finance report, Bridgeport’s former “Deputy Mayor” raised a total of about $15,000 during his first reporting period.

Thompson’s largest donor, of course, is none-other-than Jonathan Sackler, the multi-millionaire pharmaceutical executive who was also Governor Dannel Malloy’s largest campaign contributor.

Thompson’s other donors include;

Jennifer Alexander (CEO, ConnCAN)

Andrew Boas (Achievement First, Inc. Board of Directors)

Adam Goldfarb (Former Chief of Staff to Former CT Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor)

Jeremiah Grace (Director of the NY based charter school front called Families for Excellent Schools)

Alex Johnson (Former CEO, ConnCAN)

Megan Lowney (Co-founder of the charter school advocacy group Excel Bridgeport)

Adam Wood (Former Chief of Staff to Former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch)

And others who names appear regularly here at Wait, What?

It just goes to show you…. Although what exactly is goes to show is a bit of mystery.

Did your CT legislators support students, parents and teachers or Malloy and the Common Core testing mania?

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Earlier this month, the Connecticut General Assembly adjourned without even voting on one of the most important pieces of legislation being considered.  It was called Senate Bill 380 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCLUSION OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE RESULTS ON THE MASTERY EXAMINATION FROM TEACHER EVALUATIONS.

Opposed by Governor Dannel Malloy, charter school advocates and the corporate education reform industry, the bill would have required the state to fix its flawed teacher evaluation law and reduce the state’s obsession with Malloy’s massive standardized testing scheme.

Instead of keeping the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) as part of the state’s flawed teacher evaluation program, the proposed law would have required Connecticut to adopt a system that is based on the real factors that determine whether a teacher is successfully doing their job in the classroom.

But Malloy and his allies, including the two major charter school lobby groups, ConnCAN and CCER, demanded that legislators defeat the bill and keep the existing shameful system in place.

Doing Malloy’s bidding, rather than what was right for Connecticut’s children, parents, teachers and public schools, the Democratic leaders of the Connecticut State Senate and Connecticut House of Representatives refused to even bring this important bill up for a vote, thereby killing the legislation.

Malloy and the corporate lobby group’s reach was even evident when the bill was voted on by the Education Committee.

A handful of legislators actually sided with Malloy and the big money charter school lobbyists to VOTE AGAINST the own constituents!

Legislators voting against Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools included Democratic State Representatives;

Juan Candelaria (New Haven),

Jeff Curry (East Hartford, Manchester, South Windsor),
Henry Genga (East Hartford),
Doug McCrory (Bloomfield),
Brandon McGee (Windsor)
Patricia Miller (Stamford) and
Jason Roja (East Hartford, Manchester)

There were few recorded votes this year that provided citizens with such a stark contrast between right and wrong.

Given the opportunity to ensure that Connecticut reduced Malloy’s fixation with the Common Core testing scam and that it adopted a fair and appropriate teacher evaluation system, these legislators picked Malloy and the charter school industry over their constituents.

Remember this issue when voting in November 2016

The following chart indicates how legislators on the Education Committee voted and who co-sponsored this important piece of legislation.

What is missing is an explanation from Democratic legislators as to why they allowed their leadership to prevent the bill from even coming up for a vote.

Connecticut citizens deserved much better!

 

STATE SENATOR District  Party  Education Committee Co-Sponsor Status
Bartolomeo, Danté S13 D VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
Boucher, Toni S26 R VOTED YES  
Bye, Beth S05 D VOTED YES  
Cassano, Steve S04 D    
Chapin, Clark J. S30 R    
Coleman, Eric D. S02 D   CO-SPONSOR
Crisco, Joseph J. S17 D    
Doyle, Paul R. S09 D    
Duff, Bob S25 D    
Fasano, Leonard A. S34 R   CO-SPONSOR
Flexer, Mae S29 D   CO-SPONSOR
Fonfara, John W. S01 D    
Formica, Paul M. S20 R    
Frantz, L. Scott S36 R    
Gerratana, Terry B. S06 D   CO-SPONSOR
Gomes, Edwin A. S23 D   CO-SPONSOR
Guglielmo, Anthony S35 R   CO-SPONSOR
Hartley, Joan V. S15 D    
Hwang, Tony S28 R    
Kane, Robert J. S32 R    
Kelly, Kevin C. S21 R    
Kennedy, Ted S12 D    
Kissel, John A. S07 R    
Larson, Timothy D. S03 D    
Leone, Carlo S27 D    
Linares, Art S33 R VOTED NO  
Looney, Martin M. S11 D    
Markley, Joe S16 R    
Martin, Henri S31 R    
Maynard, Andrew M. S18 D    
McLachlan, Michael A. S24 R    
Moore, Marilyn S22 D   CO-SPONSOR
Osten, Catherine A. S19 D    
Slossberg, Gayle S. S14 D VOTED YES  
Winfield, Gary A. S10 D VOTED YES  
Witkos, Kevin D. S08 R   CO-SPONSOR

 

 

STATE REPRESENTATIVE District  Party  Education Committee Co-sponsor Status
Abercrombie, Catherine F. 83 D   CO-SPONSOR
Ackert, Tim 8 R VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
Adams, Terry B. 146 D   CO-SPONSOR
Adinolfi, Al 103 R    
Alberts, Mike 50 R    
Albis, James 99 D   CO-SPONSOR
Alexander, David 58 D   CO-SPONSOR
Altobello, Emil 82 D    
Aman, William 14 R    
Arce, Angel 4 D    
Arconti, David 109 D   CO-SPONSOR
Aresimowicz, Joe 30 D    
Baker, Andre F. 124 D VOTED YES  
Baram, David A. 15 D   CO-SPONSOR
Becker, Brian 19 D    
Belsito, Sam 53 R VOTED YES  
Berger, Jeffrey J. 73 D    
Berthel, Eric C. 68 R VOTED NO CO-SPONSOR
Betts, Whit 78 R    
Bocchino, Mike 150 R   CO-SPONSOR
Bolinsky, Mitch 106 R VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
Boukus, Elizabeth A. 22 D    
Brycki, Paul 45 D    
Buck-Taylor, Cecilia 67 R    
Bumgardner, Aundré 41 R VOTED YES  
Butler, Larry B. 72 D   CO-SPONSOR
Byron, Gary 27 R    
Camillo, Fred 151 R   CO-SPONSOR
Candelaria, Juan R. 95 D VOTED NO  
Candelora, Vincent J. 86 R    
Carney, Devin R. 23 R   CO-SPONSOR
Carpino, Christie M. 32 R    
Carter, Dan 2 R VOTED YES  
Case, Jay M. 63 R    
Conroy, Theresa W. 105 D   CO-SPONSOR
Cook, Michelle L. 65 D    
Currey, Jeff 11 D VOTED NO  
D’Agostino, Michael 91 D VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
D’Amelio, Anthony J. 71 R    
Dargan, Stephen D. 115 D    
Davis, Christopher 57 R    
Demicco, Mike 21 D    
Devlin, Laura 134 R    
Dillon, Patricia A. 92 D    
Dubitsky, Doug 47 R    
Esposito, Louis P. 116 D    
Ferraro, Charles J. 117 R    
Fleischmann, Andrew 18 D VOTED YES  
Floren, Livvy R. 149 R    
Fox, Daniel J. 148 D    
France, Mike 42 R    
Frey, John H. 111 R   CO-SPONSOR
Fritz, Mary G. 90 D    
Genga, Henry J. 10 D VOTED NO  
Gentile, Linda M. 104 D    
Giegler, Janice R. 138 R    
Godfrey, Bob 110 D   CO-SPONSOR
Gonzalez, Minnie 3 D    
Gresko, Joseph P. 121 D   CO-SPONSOR
Guerrera, Antonio 29 D    
Haddad, Gregory 54 D   CO-SPONSOR
Hampton, John K. 16 D   CO-SPONSOR
Harding, Stephen G. 107 R    
Hennessy, John “Jack” F. 127 D   CO-SPONSOR
Hewett, Ernest 39 D   CO-SPONSOR
Hoydick, Laura R. 120 R    
Janowski, Claire L. 56 D   CO-SPONSOR
Johnson, Susan M. 49 D VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
Jutila, Ed 37 D    
Kiner, David W. 59 D   CO-SPONSOR
Klarides, Themis 114 R    
Kokoruda, Noreen S. 101 R VOTED YES  
Kupchick, Brenda L. 132 R    
Labriola, David K. 131 R    
Lavielle, Gail 143 R VOTED YES  
LeGeyt, Timothy B. 17 R VOTED YES  
Lemar, Roland J. 96 D VOTED YES  
Lesser, Matthew 100 D   CO-SPONSOR
Lopes, Rick 24 D   CO-SPONSOR
Luxenberg, Kelly J.S. 12 D    
MacLachlan, Jesse 35 R    
McCarthy Vahey, Cristin 133 D VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
McCarty, Kathleen M. 38 R VOTED NO  
McCrory, Douglas 7 D VOTED NO  
McGee, Brandon L. 5 D VOTED NO  
McGorty, Ben 122 R    
Megna, Robert W. 97 D   CO-SPONSOR
Miller, Patricia Billie 145 D VOTED NO  
Miller, Philip J. 36 D    
Miner, Craig A. 66 R   CO-SPONSOR
Morin, Russell A. 28 D   CO-SPONSOR
Morris, Bruce V. 140 D    
Mulligan, Gayle J. 55 R VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
Mushinsky, Mary M. 85 D    
Nicastro, Frank N. 79 D    
Noujaim, Selim G. 74 R   CO-SPONSOR
O’Dea, Tom 125 R    
O’Neill, Arthur J. 69 R    
Orange, Linda A. 48 D   CO-SPONSOR
Pavalock, Cara Christine 77 R    
Perillo, Jason 113 R    
Perone, Chris 137 D    
Piscopo, John E. 76 R    
Porter, Robyn A. 94 D    
Randall, Christine 44 D   CO-SPONSOR
Rebimbas, Rosa C. 70 R    
Reed, Lonnie 102 D    
Reyes, Geraldo C. 75 D    
Riley, Emmett D. 46 D   CO-SPONSOR
Ritter, Matthew 1 D    
Rojas, Jason 9 D VOTED NO  
Rosario, Christopher 128 D    
Rose, Kim 118 D   CO-SPONSOR
Rovero, Daniel S. 51 D    
Rutigliano, David 123 R    
Ryan, Kevin 139 D    
Sampson, Robert C. 80 R    
Sanchez, Robert 25 D VOTED YES  
Santiago, Ezequiel 130 D    
Santiago, Hilda E. 84 D   CO-SPONSOR
Sayers, Peggy 60 D    
Scanlon, Sean 98 D    
Scott, John F. 40 R    
Serra, Joseph C. 33 D    
Shaban, John T. 135 R    
Sharkey, J. Brendan 88 D    
Simanski, Bill 62 R    
Simmons, Caroline 144 D    
Smith, Richard A. 108 R    
Sredzinski, J.P. 112 R    
Srinivasan, Prasad 31 R    
Stafstrom, Steven 129 D    
Stallworth, Charlie L. 126 D    
Staneski, Pam 119 R VOTED YES CO-SPONSOR
Steinberg, Jonathan 136 D    
Tercyak, Peter A. 26 D   CO-SPONSOR
Tong, William 147 D    
Tweedie, Mark 13 R   CO-SPONSOR
Urban, Diana S. 43 D   CO-SPONSOR
Vail, Kurt 52 R    
Vargas, Edwin 6 D   CO-SPONSOR
Verrengia, Joe 20 D   CO-SPONSOR
Walker, Toni E. 93 D   CO-SPONSOR
Willis, Roberta B. 64 D   CO-SPONSOR
Wilms, Fred 142 R    
Wood, Terrie 141 R    
Yaccarino, Dave W. 87 R   CO-SPONSOR
Zawistowski, Tami 61 R    
Ziobron, Melissa H. 34 R    
Zoni, David 81 D   CO-SPONSOR
Zupkus, Lezlye 89 R  

No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’

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In a commentary piece entitled, No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’, and first published in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator and public education advocate James Mulholland took on the absurd rhetoric that is being spewed by the corporate funded education reform industry.

Collecting their six figure incomes, these lobbyists for the Common Core, Common Core testing scam and the effort to privatize public education in the United States claim that more standardized testing is the key to improving educational achievement.

Rather than focus on poverty, language barriers, unmet special education needs and inadequate funding of public schools, the charter school proponents and Malloy apologists want students, parents, teachers and the public to believe that a pre-occupation with standardized testing, a focus on math and English, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies for students and undermining the teaching profession will force students to “succeed” while solving society’s problems.

Rather than rely on evidence, or even the truth, these mouthpieces for the ongoing corporatization of public education are convinced that if they simply say an untruth long enough, it will become the truth.

In his recent article, James Mullholland takes them on – writing;

In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He claims, “The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability.” He further contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.”

Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.

In some ways, it is a solution looking for a problem. Mr. Villar writes, “recently released evaluation results rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense.”

Other education reform groups express similar disbelief that there are so many good teachers in the state. In her public testimony during Connecticut’s 2012 education reform bill, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN testified that too few teachers were being dismissed for poor performance: “When you look at the distribution of ratings in those systems, you again see only about two percent of teachers, maybe five max, falling at that bottom rating category.” (Transcript of legislative testimony, March 21, 2012, p. 178.)

Education reform groups seem dismayed that they have been unable to uncover an adequate number of teachers who are bad at their jobs and continue to search for a method that exposes the boogeyman of bad teachers. But that’s exactly what it is: a boogeyman that simply doesn’t exist.

Regardless of the methodology that’s used, the number of incompetent teachers never satisfies education reform groups. They see this as a flaw in the evaluation system rather than a confirmation of the competency of Connecticut’s teachers.

However, Connecticut isn’t alone. After both Tennessee and Michigan overhauled their teacher evaluation systems, 98 percent of teachers were found to be effective or better; in Florida it was 97 percent. The changes yielded only nominal differences from previous years.

Mr. Vallar believes that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will decrease the achievement gap. There is no evidence to support the belief that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will lessen the differences in learning outcomes between the state’s wealthier and less-advantaged students.

In 2012, the federal Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, granted Connecticut a waiver from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind. To qualify for the waiver, the results of standardized tests were to be included in teacher evaluations.

However, the policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that, “One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Most striking is a letter to President Obama signed by 500 education researchers in 2015, urging Congress and the President to stop test-based reforms. In it, the researchers argue that this approach hasn’t worked. “We strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

Using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness reminds me of the time I saw a friend at the bookstore. “What are you getting?” I asked. “About 14 pounds worth,” he joked. Judging books by their weight is a measurement, but it doesn’t measure what is valuable in a book. Standardized tests measure something, but it’s not the effectiveness of a teacher.

To read and comment on James Mulholland’s commentary piece go to:  http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/04/20/opinion-james-mulholland/

NYC based Charter School Lobby attacks CT State Senator Len Fasano for his support of public education

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Families for Excellent Schools is the corporate funded, New York based, charter school industry lobbying group that bused in students and parents from as far away as New York City and Boston, last year, to attend a rally in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s effort to divert even more taxpayer money to Connecticut’s privately owned and operated charter schools.

Over the past year and a half, Families for Excellent Schools  – using a variety of aliases – has spent nearly $1.5 million in a record-breaking effort to lobby and persuade Connecticut legislators to support Governor Dannel Malloy’s unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory “education reform” initiatives.

Now, in a dirty and underhanded maneuver, the outside lobby group is targeting Republican State Senator Len Fasano.  His crime?  Unlike Malloy, Fasano actually supports Connecticut’s real public schools and Connecticut’s public school teachers.

The truth is that Governor Malloy’s 2016 budget proposal includes plans to cut Connecticut’s public schools by approximately $58 million while increasing state aid to his pet-project, the privately owned and operated charter schools.

Thanks to Malloy’s education reform effort, Connecticut taxpayers already subsidize charter school companies to the tune of more than $100 million a year and while Malloy laments the state budget deficit, his budget plan is to actually give charter school even more taxpayer funds even though these companies refuse to educate their fair share of students who need special education services or those who require extra help when it comes to learning the English Language.

State Senator Len Fasano has been calling Malloy out on his irresponsible budget plan.

Fasano has made it clear that public schools should be treated more fairly and that charter schools should not be exempt from the efforts to balance the budget.

Fasano has also been one of the most outspoken leaders in opposition to the Common Core SBAC testing frenzy and is a leading co-sponsor of the legislation prohibiting Common Core SBAC test results from being used as part of Malloy’s ill-conceived and unfair teacher evaluation program.

Paid to promote the Common Core, the Common Core testing and more state aid for charter schools, Fasano’s pro-public education stance is just too much for these charter lobbyists to handle and so they are targeting him.

Of course, beyond the immediate attack on State Senator Fasano is the question of who is really behind these tactics?

According to the official reports filed with the State Ethics Commission, New York’s Families for Excellent Schools has become a major source of income for Malloy’s “former” top aides.

Andrew Doba, who served as Governor Malloy’s Press Secretary before leaving the state payroll to take a PR position with a New York company, has already collected $78,000 from this charter school lobbying front and it appears that he is now collecting $8,500 a month to support Malloy’s education reform proposals and attack Malloy’s opponents.

In addition, since setting up shop in Connecticut, Families for Excellent Schools has handed Roy Occhiogrosso’s company at least $232,350.  Occhiogrosso is Malloy’s alter-ego and worked as the governor’s chief adviser during Malloy’s first term in office.  The political operative is widely credited with writing Malloy’s 2012 anti-teacher speeches in which Malloy proposed doing away with teacher tenure and observed that he didn’t mind having teachers teach to the test as long as test scores went up.

More money for charter schools…

More money for Malloy’s closest advisers….

Next time you see the Families for Excellent Schools ad attacking Len Fasano… 

You’ll know who is behind the effort.

FASANO ATTACK

10 courageous Democrats almost stop ethically challenged Erik Clemons from serving on State Board of Education…but small group of Republican legislators save Malloy’s nominee

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Thanks to ten courageous Democratic members of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Governor Dannel Malloy’s ethically challenged nominee for the State Board of Education, Erik Clemons, was on the verge of being rejected by the General Assembly earlier this afternoon.

It would have been a huge victory for honesty and ethics in government, as well as for those who believe in public education.

However, Governor Malloy won this stunning battle – an issue that received no media coverage except here at Wait, What? – thanks to ten Republican legislators who crossed over to vote with the majority of Democrats and in favor of Malloy’s choice to serve on the state board that sets education policy in Connecticut.

As has been repeated reported on this blog, Erik Clemons is the charter school advocate whose company is benefiting from a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded through, and monitored by, the very government entity that Malloy has appointed him to serve on.

As reported yesterday, the House vote on Erik Clemons’ and the ethical issues that should have prevented him from serving on the State Board of Education were scheduled for a vote today.  (See How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?)

When the vote was taken, ten Democratic Members of the Connecticut House of Representatives put ethics, honesty and Connecticut’s children, students, parents and public schools above Malloy’s political agenda.  The Democratic legislators voting no were;

Representative Baker

Representative Conroy

Representative Gonzalez

Representative Hampton

Representative Morin

Representative Nicastro

Representative Rose

Representative Sanchez

Representative Tarcyak

And Representative and Deputy Speaker of the House Godfrey

 

However, Malloy’s victory came thanks to the following Republicans who voted to disregard the serious ethics issues and in favor of Malloy’s nominee and their anti-public education agenda.  Republican legislators voting to put Erik Clemons on the State Board of Education were;

Representative Hoydick

Representative Kokuruda

Representative Legeyt

Representative Noujaim

Representative O’Neill

Representative Pavalock

Representative Perillo

Representative Piscopo

Representative Wood

Representative Yaccarino.

Had the Republicans stood together on this critically important issue of principle and refused to allow an individual to sit on the State Board of Education when that person and their company benefits from funding that is overseen and approved by the State Board of Education, Clemons nomination would have lost by a vote of 68 in favor of Malloy’s choice and 72 opposed.

More on this breaking story as it becomes available.

For the full vote go to:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/VOTE/h/2016HV-00014-R00HJ00027-HV.htm

 

NOTE:

Fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker and I have written extensively about Clemons’ conflict of interest and Malloy’s attempt to, once again, throw ethics aside.  Here are links to those articles:

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?

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The Connecticut House of Representatives will be meeting tomorrow – Wednesday, March 16, 2016.  On their agenda is a vote to confirm Erik Clemons, Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent nominee for a position on the State Board of Education.

When Governor Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education he failed to reveal that Clemons was a founding member of a new charter school in New Haven or that he served, up until recently, on the Board of another New Haven charter school, this one owned by Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain that operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  When Clemons left the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors he was replaced by an aide that works for Clemons’ company.

In addition, Malloy appears to have intentionally kept secret the fact that Erik Clemons’ company received a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded by the State Department of Education, the very board that Malloy has appointed him to serve on. The State Board of Education is required to monitor this contract and could continue to fund it in the years ahead.

As reported in previous Wait, What? articles, this incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  Erik Clemmons is the founding executive of ConnCAT and his compensation package is well in excess of $100,000 a year.

The Turnaround Plan read;

“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”

The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”

As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.  The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”

A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.

However the ethical issues challenging Erik Clemons ability to serve on the State Board of Education go well beyond the no-bid contract that remains under the purview of the State Board.

Considering Clemons’ close relationship with the charter school industry, he shouldn’t be voting on any issue related to the oversight and funding of charter schools in Connecticut.

Furthermore, since the “Turnaround School” process was manipulated to grant Clemons a no-bid contract, he certainly shouldn’t be voting on any turnaround plans for any schools in New Haven or any other city.

Considering his company’s contract with the New Haven Public Schools will depend on adequate funding from the State of Connecticut, Clemons shouldn’t be voting on any issue that will provide New Haven schools with funding.

In Malloy’ world of “power politics,” it may be understandable that he wants to reward the charter school industry and its lobbying front group, ConnCAN, but the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Connecticut deserve better.

With the Connecticut General Assembly voting on Mr. Clemons’ appointment as early as tomorrow, the question is whether state legislators will stand with their constituents by supporting proper ethical standards for elected or appointed officials or will they throw ethics aside and vote in favor of Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education?

More about this issue can be found in the following articles, a number of them written or co-written with fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker.

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

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Yeah, jacking…. As in car-jacking…

One month into the 2016 session of the Connecticut General Assembly and the various front groups that work for the education reform and charter school industries have already spent more than $157,000 lobbying legislators in favor of their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-SBAC testing and anti-teacher agenda.

Led by a group that calls itself “The Big Six,” at least 25 registered lobbyists are working the State Capitol in favor of a political and policy agenda that includes diverting more scarce public funds away from public schools and to privately owned and operated charter schools.

Their legislative agenda also includes taking away local citizen control of public schools and supporting the Malloy administration’s effort to punish school districts in which more than 5 percent of the parents opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Not only do these “education reform” groups support the Common Core and the Common Core testing fiasco, they actively oppose the fundamental and inalienable right of parents to opt their children out of the SBAC tests.

These education reformers claim that SBAC testing is good for developing children’s “grit” and will determine if students are “college and career” ready – of course, the SBAC test is good for neither of those things.

In addition to their support for the massive and expensive standardized testing scam, the group supports using the SBAC test results to evaluate teachers, despite the fact that numerous academic studies have revealed that using standardized tests results is not an appropriate measure and should not be part of an effective teacher evaluation program.

“The Big 6” includes the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

In joint testimony this week, the lobbying alliance opposed a bill removing the discriminatory SBAC results from Malloy’s teacher evaluation program, claiming that they opposed efforts to “weaken” the system.

Weaken the system?

What about creating a system that actually services a mechanism to evaluate how well teachers are doing?

While “The Big 6” includes the state’s major charter school lobbying groups, it also includes three organizations that receive the majority of their funding from taxpayers.

The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) all get their primary funding from membership dues that are paid for by local property taxpayers via local school districts.

You know the political system is truly broken when taxpayer funded lobby groups are lobbying to undermine students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

Since Governor Malloy introduced his “education reform” initiative in 2012, the charter schools and their education reform allies have spent well in excess of $7 million dollars lobbying for his agenda, which is a record breaking amount.

In addition to “The Big Six,” other organizations that are presently lobbying Connecticut legislators in favor of the charter school and “education reform” agenda include the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, the North East Charter Schools Network , Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and Families for Excellent Schools, the New York-based lobbing and political entity that bused in charter school students and parents from as far away as New York City and Boston last year to rally in support of Malloy’s efforts to hand charter schools even more public funds.

In their most recent state budget plan, Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman proposed giving charter schools more money while, at the same time, proposing the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Malloy and Wyman are calling on the legislature to cut cut about $60 million from Connecticut’s public schools.

This while Connecticut charter schools already collect well over $100 million a year in Connecticut taxpayer funds.

Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira slams Malloy/ConnCAN plan to undermine local school boards

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Bridgeport’s Maria Pereira has been one of the most powerful voices fighting on behalf of parents and local residents in the battle to defeat Governor Dannel Malloy’s ongoing efforts to privatize public education through the massive expansion of charter schools and the Malloy administration’s strategies to destroy local control of schools, undermine the role of parents and teachers, and turn public schools into Common Core testing factories.

In response to the outrageous provisions of HB 5551, Maria Pereira submitted the following testimony to the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee, which is holding a public hearing on the latest maneuver by Malloy and the corporate education reform group, ConnCAN, to strip local citizens of their most fundamental and Constitutional right to oversee local public education.

Pereira writes;

I am urgently writing to you regarding this outrageous and completely undemocratic revision to the Commissioner’s Network of Schools.

I cannot speak for any other municipality, but as someone born and raised in Bridgeport that received my entire K-12 public education from the Bridgeport Public Schools, a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, the lead plaintiff in the CT Supreme Court decision which ruled the takeover of the BPS in 2011 was illegal, and an absolute defender of democracy and true public education in Bridgeport, I ask every single one of you to oppose this blatant power grab which undoubtedly is backed by our Fairfield County billionaires, millionaires, Wall Street executives, ConnCAN, FES, CERC, Northeast Charter Schools, etc.

The residents of Bridgeport have been absolutely clear on the issue of democracy, an elected school board, and local control. Although FORMER Mayor Finch and his billionaire/millionaire supporters spent close to $600,000 in November 2012 to approve a change to our Charter eliminating an elected BOE and granting the Mayor sole authority to appoint our BOE, the voters soundly rejected this initiative at the polls. The Bridgeport community came together to fund a lawsuit to remove the ” Michael Jordan of Education Reform” Paul Vallas as our Superintendent. Bridgeport accomplished what Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia could not.  Many of us to this day firmly believe Paul Vallas  was brought to Bridgeport to convert our entire public school system to charter schools.

Should Bill 5551 pass, the Commissioner of Education will have sole authority to choose an UNLIMITED amount of schools in the bottom 5% to enter the Commissioner’s Network for an UNLIMITED period of time without the approval of the elected school board, or the turnaround committee which apparently would now be appointed by the Commissioner of Education. The School Governance Councils are completely eliminated from any involvement in this critical decision.

Do you think it is a coincidence this Bill is being introduced in the first year where the developmentally inappropriate SBAC test scores, which is based on the incredibly flawed Common Core standards, are being used to measure school performance? The SBAC cut scores were specifically chosen to ensure between 60-70% of our students failed which certainly impacts the number of schools that meet the criteria to qualify for the Commissioner’s Network Schools.

The Turnaround Committee serves in an “advisory” capacity only. The agreement between the DOE and the BOE is NOT decided by the local elected board but by the Turnaround Committee. Should the Turnaround Committee vote to reject the plan, the Commissioner of Education will have sole authority to circumvent the Turnaround Committee’s decision. How convenient.

During a potential “planning year” the Commissioner may designate a “receiver” or “ANY other entity to operate the commissioner’s network school.” These “designees” may be granted “the powers of the superintendent and school board” and reports directly to the commissioner. The Commissioner of Ed. has sole authority to identify a ‘receiver,” “school leader” or “operator” to oversee schools in the commissioner’s network.”

The Commissioner of Ed. also has sole authority to withhold funds from a local school district, and the piece de resistance; they have sole authority to CLOSE a school and reassign those students.

BILL 5551 is an absolute insult to DEMOCRACY, ELECTED school boards, and LOCAL control.

The legislature has willingly and knowingly severely underfunded urban school districts like Bridgeport for decades, but now wants to potentially point their finger at those very same cities and claim they are at fault for the performance of their public schools while allowing the proliferation of charter schools,  which this year alone drained $5 million dollars from the BPS.

Those who live the realities of cities like Bridgeport every day, and have dedicated their lives to the well-being of our BPS students know what is best for our children, not those who work in Hartford. As a legislator, do you believe that the legislators of Massachusetts could possibly know what is in the best interest of CT when compared to you? Our urban school districts aren’t struggling because school administrators and dedicated staff don’t know what they are doing. They are struggling because of severe and chronic underfunding and because of social issues most suburban districts will never face.

This Bill is an insult to every resident, taxpayer, parent, grandparent, and educator that lives and breathes Bridgeport every day. Therefore I urge all of you to vehemently reject its passing.

As Malloy Admin seeks massive new powers to take over local schools, two Windham parents explain what takeover actually means

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Yesterday’s Wait, What Post — WARNING Connecticut – They are coming for your schools and your democratic rights! — was A Breaking News Alert from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker.

Please Read if you haven’t already at http://jonathanpelto.com/2016/03/06/warning-connecticut-coming-schools-democratic-rights/

Today  – Monday, March 7, 2016 the Education Committee will be holding a public hearing on HB 5551, a new proposed bill that would grant Governor Malloy and his administration unprecedented and far-reaching powers to take over local public schools, undermine democratically elected school boards, suspend existing Connecticut laws and union contracts and unilaterally institute policies without the input from parents, teachers, school administrators, local elected officials and citizens.

Such a measure should be unconstitutional.  It certainly violates the most basic principle of democracy and local control of education.

In response to this new proposal, two Windham, Connecticut parents speak out and explain what happened when the state of Connecticut took over the Windham Public Schools.

This is a MUST READ for every legislator and voter in Connecticut

Testimony of Dr. Mary Gallucci, Windham Parent;

As a parent of two children attending Windham Public Schools, I wish to testify regarding the negative effects of the Commissioner’s Network.  One of my sons was at Windham Middle School when it was admitted into the Network.  My husband was on the Turnaround Committee that completed a plan for the school, tailored to the needs of our community.  Teachers played a crucial role in formulating a plan appropriate for our students, among whom are many bilingual children. Unfortunately, many of the most important features of the plan, such as extended learning time in core subjects and a longer school day to include enrichment in art, music, and academic tutoring, were never funded at adequate levels by the state.  In requiring a longer school day but by not paying teachers enough additional salary, Windham teachers (who are among the lowest paid in the state) ended up earning the lowest pay for the longest day.  Although the plan specified that additional math teachers and tutors should be hired, this did not occur—at first due to shortages in these areas among job candidates; later due to the state-appointed Special Master’s introduction of Teach for America, which brought corps members with no particular specialty and no education background; and, finally, because of the persistent lack of funds.

The goals of the Commissioner’s Network appeared to be to circumvent collective bargaining agreements; to hire outside consultants such as Mass Insight; and to increase the amount of time devoted to a bewildering variety of standardized test packages and pilots (some estimate that there are 37 different standardized tests administered per student in certain grades).  During the first two years of Windham Middle School’s membership in the Commissioner’s Network, teacher, staff, and administrator turnover reached a new high, while student morale and “achievement” declined significantly.  At the same time, outside agencies, lobbyists, and others attempted to bring charter schools into the district in order to drain badly needed monies from public schools to private charter management companies and consultants.

I am disheartened and alarmed to see that a bill to expand such a questionable (if not harmful) Network is before the Education Committee.  Committee members and legislators should do a more thorough examination of the effects of the interventions, such as on Milner School in Hartford, Curiale in Bridgeport, and Windham Middle School in Windham, for a start.  The Committee should also be mindful of the longer history of attempts to waive or suspend laws enacted by our legislature.  I am incensed that, if this bill is passed:

Not later than July 1, 2016, the commissioner shall identify a standard set of waivers from laws that hinder the ability of the Department of Education, or its designee, to effectively implement the provisions of this subsection in a commissioner’s network school.

How can this be legal, let alone moral?  Historically, the suspension of law is associated with martial law, and martial law is typically exercised by tyrants and despots.  Poor children and children of color already suffer from insufficient academic resources; they attend inadequately maintained school buildings; and they are often taught by the lowest-paid and least experienced teachers.  Now the State of Connecticut is going to take the protections of law away from them?  Such an outrage is a blatant example of oppression and would never be allowed in wealthier, whiter school districts—nor should it be.  Such tactics belong in the annals of history, to which tyranny, slavery, racism, and other forms of oppression should be relegated, for the purposes of study and as negative examples.

My son’s school has not been elevated out of poverty, lack of resources, high teacher and staff turnover, and low morale due to its time in the Commissioner’s Network.  I ask that you, elected representatives, stand with the children of poor communities and, rather than siphon off state monies, promote researched-based and humane reforms for our schools.  Do not strip poor children and their families of laws and legal protections just because well-funded lobbyists would like you to do so.

Testimony of Dr. Jerry Phillips, Windham Parent

It is my understanding that the Committee on Education for the Connecticut General Assembly is being asked to consider a bill that proposes the expansion (and deregulated operation) of the Commissioner’s Network, established to promote the turnaround of “low-performing schools” in the State of Connecticut. The General Assembly conceived of the Commissioner’s Network as a partnership between the State and the local educational district: the State would provide additional resources and managerial leadership whereas the local district would supply the human creativity and energy needed to put the turnaround plan into effect. It was assumed by those who crafted the legislation that “local knowledge” was an invaluable factor in designing appropriate turnaround models, as officers at the State Department of Education could not be expected to have the same degree of familiarity with the problems on the ground as the local educators and parents and other key agents in the local community. It was clear that the legislature intended to preserve the ethos of community participation in local education democracy, even as the local education board conceded sovereignty to the State in managing the turnaround schools in question. However, it might well be asked if the legislative intent to preserve democracy actually achieved that result when the law regarding the Commissioner’s Network went into effect.

I had the privilege to serve on the turnaround committee that devised a plan for Windham Middle School, as the school was brought into the Commissioner’s Network. As I’m sure you are aware, Windham is an economically distressed community, with powerful needs in bilingual programming and in Special Education. Like other urban communities in the State of Connecticut, Windham has a range of social and economic problems that impacts the systemic delivery of: unemployment and underemployment are by no means negligible; home foreclosures are not uncommon; and the local tax base is woefully inadequate to provide for schools at the appropriate level. I don’t mean to provide here a sociology or economics lesson, I am only trying to paint you a portrait of the truly difficult circumstances in which Windham schools are obliged to operate, and the real challenges these pose to school turnarounds.

The Windham Middle School turnaround Committee made a good faith effort to come up with a plan that best served our children, while also meeting the formal requirements of the Commissioner’s Network. But the process was protracted and stressful to all concerned, because powerful figures at the State Department of Education (including the Commissioner) disavowed the recommendations of the Committee and tried to steer the turnaround plan in directions they preferred. This rejection of democracy could have been justified had we devised a plan that was entirely hopeless, with no chance of success; but such was not the case. Our plan had precedent in other turnaround models, and it seemed to us most appropriate to Windham’s specific needs. There was no evidence to be had to prove its likely ineffectiveness.

It soon became clear that the State Department of Education was resistant to our turnaround plan on purely ideological grounds, because our plan made no room for privatizing initiatives of any sort. As a committee, we were convinced that a Charter School Management Company or any such player in the new educational market would not have the expertise, the long-term commitment or the social vision to aid in turning around the local Middle School.  There is a weighty and still growing body of evidence that Charter Schools do no better—and often worse—than local education districts in improving student achievement at “low performing schools.” But the question is larger than just student achievement: Charter School Management Companies, as private entities, have a devastating and demoralizing effect on local democracy. Indeed,  the establishment of a charter school in place of a public institution has the real practical effect of diminishing the rights of parents to be involved in their children’s education; it curtails the parents’ standing as “citizens” and leaves them only as “consumers” or “stakeholders,” at best. Once the market takes over from community, as the guardian of education, in too many instances it becomes a matter of “buyer beware.”  The scandals in Connecticut and all over the nation regarding the financial, ethical and pedagogical practices of Charter School Management Companies are too common to be lightly dismissed. It’s revealing that the Windham Middle School turnaround Committee was invited (by State officials) to consider a “lead partner” turnaround plan with Jumoke-FUSE, presided over by the disgraced Michael Sharpe. The children in Windham have significant and urgent needs, and playing roulette with their education—that is, gambling on finding competent and trustworthy charter school operators—is not a reasonable or moral course of action

Now comes ConnCAN, the major sponsor of HB 5551, asking for more deregulation and for more schools to be included in the Commissioner’s Network. It’s clear that giving the State Department of Education more power to grant waivers on budgeting, staffing, programming and so on is a not only a recipe for allowing in all sorts of bad possibilities, it also represents an assault on the local control of schools, as the State (not being bound by certain statutory mandates) could, in essence, allow things to be done at Commissioner’s Network Schools that most parents would profoundly disagree with, and yet the parents would have no form of redress. At this point, Connecticut would de facto have two educational systems: one in which parents were active participants with a voice, the other in which parents would be voiceless and could be actively ignored. It does not help matters that many of the schools in the Commissioner’s Network are overwhelmingly populated by ethnic and racial minorities. The perception and reality of “separate and unequal” schools would be hard to disavow. ConnCAN and other charter schools advocates wish to empower the State to undertake “high level interventions” in the name of “bold changes” and dramatic positive effects. But in truth the State of Connecticut already has considerable sovereign powers in the field of education. Giving more power to the State (by leave of the Commissioner’s Network) would be tantamount to the complete disenfranchisement of local communities. In other words, it would be profound and unwarranted assault on democracy.

No one doubts that the education system in Connecticut is in need of certain reforms, but school privatization (with the beneficiaries as Charter School Management Companies of dubious competence) does not exhaust all reform measures. For example, it’s clear that the funding structure in Connecticut is unjust and unsustainable and one can easily see that a more efficient educational system would involve more school regionalization, as well as other initiatives.

Horace Mann, the great American educator who played such a vital role in helping to establish common schools, once said: “I believe in the existence of a great, immutable principle…the absolute right of every human being that comes into the world to an education; and which, of course, proves the correlative duty of every government to see that the means of that education are provided for all.” It is my sincere conviction that the expansion and deregulation of the Commissioner’s Network (called for by ConnCAN) will not meet the standard outlined by Horace Mann. And for this reason I urge you to reject the passage of the proposed bill.

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