Achievement First/ConnCAN, Bridgeport, Charter Schools, Corporate Viewpoint, Education Reform, Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas, Stefan Pryor, StudentsFirst ConnCAN, Education Reform, Malloy, StudentsFirst
A new Connecticut-oriented pro-corporate education reform blog has appeared.
The stated reason?
“Unfortunately, the naysayers and protectors of the status quo seem to be the only ones being heard. There needs to be an informational voice to even the playing field, to hold the obstructionists accountable and most of all, put the kids first!”
This rationale comes from the blog’s owner, Pat Scully, a political operative, apologist for Governor Dan Malloy and former press aide to the Connecticut Senate Democrats. Scully also worked for a brief period of time for Sullivan & LeShane, a Republican serving lobby company. In addition, Scully served as the campaign manager for former gubernatorial candidate Jim Amann.
Scully’s press release claims that his blog, “is intended to be a balancing and informational source for readers to get objective information about education reform in the state.”
Scully’s press release implies that the new blog is not affiliated, in any way, with ConnCAN, 50CAN, StudentsFirst, Achievement First, Council for Education Reform or any of the other corporate education reform groups.
However, in a rather funny side note, the graphic of the graduation cap on his blog is virtually identical to the one used on the ConnCAN, 50CAN, RI-CAN, MINNCAN, PENNCAN, NYCAN and MarylandCAN blog sites. [Interestingly, Scully’s new website also shares the same internet server as 50CAN, MINNCAN, MarylandCAN AND GNEPSA.ORG (the front group for Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization).
Scully has devoted his first post to the task of rebuilding Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s image, by revising the facts associated with Finch’s failed attempt to do away with a democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.
According to Scully, Finch is saying that his effort to prevent Bridgeport voters from choosing their own board of education was completely misunderstood. Finch explains, “I’m a father first and a mayor second…The coalition that supported the change was made up of more than 14,000 parents, some of whom I see when I put my kids on the bus.”
According to Scully, the problems were all associated with the elected board of education. He writes, “It was an elected school board that threw up its hands in July of 2011 and asked for a state takeover. Fast forward past a lawsuit and a special election, the city has new board. However, with the required minority representation, there is no evidence the board will be able to do what it’s supposed to do, particularly pass a budget. Again, no consideration of what’s best for the kids.”
I guess Scully missed about 99% of the facts surrounding the events leading up to the Malloy Administration’s illegal attempt to take over the Bridgeport Schools, nor has he actually been to a board meeting or he’d realize that his comments about a “failing” board are completely untrue.
Scully, like the rest of the Finch operatives, never manages to explain why he thinks minority representation is destroying Bridgeport when it works perfectly fine in more than 150 of Connecticut’s elected school boards.
Apparently winning controversial votes by a margin of 6-3 rather than 9-0 is just not sufficient for politicians who want to make sure there are no questions or opposition to their proposals.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Charter Schools, Michelle Rhee, State Legislature, State Politics, StudentsFirst ConnCAN, Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirst
Last week, the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance engaged in an unprecedented effort to influence the outcome of an election in Connecticut. GNEPSA, Michelle Rhee’s front group used a loophole in Connecticut campaign finance law to dumps tens of thousands of dollars in support of Democrat Brandon McGee and against Democrat Leo Canty.
In the course of six days, Rhee’s group spent more than either candidate had spent in the months of campaigning that had taken place before a re-vote was needed to determine the winner.
Because of the way Connecticut law is set up, Rhee’s organization did not have to disclose any detailed information about where she got her money for this inappropriate intervention in Connecticut Democratic politics.
The only facts that had to be revealed were the names of the top five organizations or individuals who donated to the GNEPSA campaign. Those names were Michele Rhee’s national group, Students First, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an investment banker named Nick Beim and Steve Perry, the principal of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.
The fact that list includes ConnAD, which is the sister organization to the Connecticut Association for Achievement Now, Inc., (ConnCAN), is by far the most stunning piece of information of all.
Patrick Riccards is the CEO of both ConnCAN and ConnAD, and both organizations are directly tied to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that was formed by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Dacia Toll, who now serves as Achievement First’s CEO.
Pryor and Toll formed Achievement First with the help of a small group of wealthy Fairfield County businessmen. Achievement First’s incorporation papers were signed by Greenwich businessman William Berkley (who remains the Chairman of its Board of Directors) and Stamford’s Jonathan Sackler. Achievement First’s board also included Greenwich businessman Alexander Troy, and soon after, they were joined by corporate CEO Andy Boas.
A year later, in September 2004, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) was formed. Leading the ConnCAN Board of Directors was a number of Achievement First’s directors including Jonathan Sackler, Alexander Troy and Andrew Boas
And three months after that, Jonathan Sackler and Alexander Troy set up ConnCAN’s sister organization, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), which immediately became the lobbying arm of ConnCAN.
Over the next seven years, ConnAD paid one of Hartford’s most prominent lobbying firms over $725,000 to lobby in support of charter school issues. The payments were as follows:
2005 Gaffney Bennett $85,000
2006 Gaffney Bennett $85,000
2007 Gaffney Bennett $90,000
2008 Gaffney Bennett $90,000
2009 Gaffney Bennett $95,400
2010 Gaffney Bennett $95,400
2011 Gaffney Bennett $95,000
And then this year, ConnCAN paid more than $800,000 to lobby on behalf of the “education reform” bill sponsored by Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.
Earlier this year when I took on ConnCAN’s tactics here at Wait, What?, Patrick Riccards responded on the ConnCAN blog by saying,
“It’s always disappointing when we have to take time out of our work on commonsense, student-centered education reform in Connecticut to address misinformation about our organization. But this morning, Jonathan Pelto came out with an ad hominem attack about us on his blog called “Can ConnCAN Con Conn” that claims to have uncovered some sort of hidden agenda.”
Riccards went on to say, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, our 990 FORM is available to the public. Our campaigns and donors are documented every year in our ANNUAL REPORT.”
What Riccards conveniently sidestepped was that they were moving the lobbying money through ConnAD and not ConnCAN and that ConnAD was set up in such a way that it did not have to file any documentation about where they got their money. No 990 Forms and no annual reports.
Today, ConnAD has spent over $1.5 million and the people of Connecticut have no idea where that money is comes from?
The only thing we can guess is that it is coming from the Fairfield Country businessmen who formed the group and continue to help direct both Achievement First and its related public relations organizations.
However, last, but certainly not least, a new clue has arisen.
While ConnAD was originally formed by corporate executives Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy, a third partner was quietly added to the incorporation papers, at some point during the last few years.
That third partner is Robert Furek, the former President and CEO of the Heublien Corporation.
While Furek lives on Marco Island in Florida, his is a name that may be familiar to a number of people in Connecticut.
Back in 1997, when Governor John Rowland and the Connecticut legislature moved to take over the Hartford School System, Rowland appointed Furek to head the Hartford schools system’s new Board of Trustees.
When he left the post three years later, the claim was that he had successfully turned around Hartford Schools. The media reported that, “for the first time in years the district is focused on improving student achievement. In 1999, a permanent superintendent, Anthony Amato, was hired. He brought a disciplined new curriculum for elementary school students–and striking progress on standardized tests.”
Media reports went on to say, “Schools are cleaner. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, incompetent school principals are being replaced. Textbooks are plentiful. Test scores are up under a renewed emphasis on reading, writing and math.”
Leaving aside the truthfulness as to whether Furek actually managed to turnaround the Hartford school system, Robert Furek may very well be better known for his role in raising campaign money for some of the most right-wing candidates and causes in the United States.
According to Federal Election Committee reports, in addition to his work with the Connecticut Association for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., (ConnAD), , Robert Furek has been a major fundraiser and donor to the campaigns of George W. Bush for President, John McCain for President, Romney for President, Paul Ryan for Congress, Rick Santorum’s U.S. senatorial run in 2006 and two extraordinarily controversial political action committees; Progress for America Voter Fund, a primary vehicle for the Koch Brother’s assault on America and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
So, all this brings us back to the independent expenditure aimed at influencing the outcome of the General Assembly’s 5th District seat.
Putting aside why the “education reformers” felt so strongly about the race, there is an even more pressing question – and that is – who exactly was behind this effort?
It was only a few months ago that ConnCAN’s Patrick Riccards claimed that, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization.”
Yes transparent is the absolute last thing they have been.
Well, now the moment of truth has arrived.
ConnAD has spent $1.5 million lobbying for “education reform” in recent years, the majority being spent in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill. And that effort doesn’t even count the money poured into this week’s special Democratic Primary.
“Incredibly transparent” organizations don’t hide the truth from the people of Connecticut.
The question must be answered; who has been funding ConnAD and how much has each person donate?
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Campaign Finance, Democratic Legislators, Malloy, Michelle Rhee, State Legislature, State Politics, Stefan Pryor, StudentsFirst Achievement First, ConnAD, ConnCAN, Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirst
Official reports indicate that Connecticut’s primary “education reform” group was part of Rhee’s attempt to influence the outcome of this week’s Democratic Primary
It turns out that when Michelle Rhee dumped tens of thousands into this week’s re-vote to select the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, she wasn’t acting alone.
Initial media reports pointed out that the money being spent by the Greater New England Public School Alliance, Rhee’s front group, in support of Brendan McGee and against Leo Canty came from Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst, as well as from, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Steve Perry, the head of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.
But the media missed the fourth key donor to the Greater New England Public School Alliance’s massive spending effort. According to those same reports, the fourth major donor was none-other-than ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., the sister organization of ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.
Both organizations are directed by Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, and both organizations were created by the very same people who created and have been funding Achievement First, Inc., the Charter School Management company that was actually co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.
ConnAD and ConnCAN’s effort to influence public policy is extensive. Even before Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill was proposed, these two organizations spent more than half a million dollars lobbying on behalf of charter schools.
The two organizations ramped up their lobbying after Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor introduced Malloy’s “education reform” bill. Although their ethics reports appear to be filled out incorrectly, in violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws, it appears that ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., spent nearly $825,000 in their effort to pressure legislators to support Malloy’s bill.
At the same time, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc., appears to have spent another $230,000 lobbying Malloy’s bill, bringing the total expenditures by the two Connecticut based groups to over $1,000,000. That doesn’t even count the historic lobbying expenditure by Michelle Rhee.
What these latest State Election Enforcement Commission reveal is that Patrick Riccards, ConnAD and ConnCAN have now moved past their efforts to influence policy through their lobbying and have begun to directly campaign for and against individual candidates.
However, due to the way ConnAD was set up, it doesn’t need to disclose where it gets its funding. This loophole means that Connecticut citizens don’t know who actually paid for last spring’s historic lobbying effort or who is presently behind the effort to impact the outcome of these Democratic primaries.
At this point, the only piece that is known is that Michelle Rhee, with the help of Connecticut education reformers got deeply involved in this week’s Democratic primary.
After an initial primary, two recounts and a judicial order for a re-vote, the voters of Hartford and Windsor choose Brandon McGee over Leo Canty, to be the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, on Tuesday.
While the battle was mostly a local one, Michelle Rhee’s effort to influence the outcome garnered national attention. As noted, Michelle Rhee’s Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent an unprecedented amount in support of McGee and against Canty.
So why would one of the country’s leading “education reformers,” along with ConnAD and ConnCAN, target a particular candidate in a Democratic primary, when that house seat is just one of 187 house and senate seats in Connecticut?
The reason seems to be due to the fact that Leo Canty serves as a leader in the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
The fact that Michelle Rhee would leave the national stage to target a particular candidate in a Connecticut legislative primary is surprising enough. The revelation that Connecticut’s primary education reform group would actually help fund such a campaign effort, is, quite frankly, unbelievable.
ConnAD and ConnCAN have been closely aligned with Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor. In fact, Commissioner Pryor has publicly credited ConnCAN for their help in passing Malloy’s bill.
With ConnAD and ConnCAN now funding an independent campaign to defeat an individual Democratic candidate because they belong to a teacher’s union raises some extraordinarily serious questions about who was involved in these decisions and whose money was actually being used.
The initial press reports were that the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent about $32,000 in their independent campaign to influence the outcome of the primary. However, additional reports were submitted in the final days of the primary indicating that other expenditures were made. It should be noted though that the reports are so poorly completed that it is difficult to determine exactly how much Rhee’s group spent.
The following amounts were submitted to the State Elections Enforcement Commission:
|Greater New England Public Schools Alliance
|Greater New England Public Schools Alliance
|Greater New England Public Schools Alliance
|Greater New England Public Schools Alliance (amended report)
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Education Reform ConnCAN, Patrick Riccards
Earlier this week Bill Cibes, a former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and Chancellor of the Connecticut State University System, wrote a letter to ConnCAN resigning from ConnCAN’s Advisory Board and instructing them to remove his name from their website. (For background take a look at Tuesday’s Wait, What post)
Mr. Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, must have received the letter because Bill’s name is no longer listed on the ConnCAN site.
Bill wrote that he was resigning because he “does not agree with many of the actions and positions recently undertaken by ConnCAN.”
Even more importantly, Bill outlined what he did believe. He wrote;
“I do not believe that public schools are hindered by collective bargaining from becoming great.
I do not believe that public schools are hindered by a properly structured tenure system from becoming great.
And while everyone must focus on improving outcomes, there must be a fair way to measure and compare outcomes for students coming from wildly disparate situations.”
Bill went on to put into words what we all know is the truth. He wrote “student and community poverty create huge obstacles to student achievement. Segregation (by race, by wealth, by language) creates huge obstacles to student achievement. Until we focus on diminishing and then eliminating poverty and segregation, those who are caught in its tentacles – including students, school systems, and cities – face barriers that simplistic “solutions” cannot easily overcome.”
And in conclusion, Bill ended his letter with a statement that should become the rallying cry for all of us who support and believe in the vital role that is played by American public education.
Bill wrote, “great public schools require adequate funding. Great public schools require great leadership. Great public schools require well-trained, motivated and motivational teachers. Great public schools demand great effort by their students. But public schools cannot achieve greatness if they are subject to vilification, rather than support.”
We all recognize that these are dark times for public education.
Corporate reformers are running roughshod over our school and the people who devote their professional careers to providing our children with the knowledge and skills to compete in an every increasingly complex and difficult world.
A day doesn’t go by that we don’t find another example of someone, in the name of reform, seeking to make money at the expense of the students, parents, teachers and communities that are on the front line of confronting the challenges created by poverty and language barriers.
In every great effort through history there has been an event or series of events that changed the course of the entire battle. The battles of Marathon, Waterloo and Gettysburg are just a few examples. I believe that Bill Cibes’ decision to step forward and speak out about the activities of the “corporate education reformers” and their on-going efforts to destroy our public system of education is part of a bigger and broader movement that can turn the tide in this battle.
I have known Bill Cibes for more than 33 years. Bill has proven more times that I can count that one person can make a fundamental impact in our society.
I had the honor of serving as Bill’s campaign manager when he ran for Governor in Connecticut. This would be a far better state if he had won, but his primary goal in that campaign was to re-position the public debate about the need to institute a fairer system of taxation in Connecticut. His campaign, followed by his service as Governor Weicker’s Secretary of OPM was the pivotal development that led to the adoption of a state income tax. Had the governors and OPM secretaries that followed not worked to undermine Connecticut’s tax programs, Connecticut would now be in far better economic shape and would certainly not have the budget problems it faces today.
Bill Cibes made a fundamental difference then and does so now when he tells ConnCAN and the other “corporate education reformers” that we will not back down in our commitment and dedication to protect what is right about public education while we seek to develop and implement policies that make a real, honest and positive impact on the quality of education in our state.
Thank you Bill for speaking up.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Ethics ConnCAN, Patrick Riccards
As Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly prepare for a June 12th Special Session that will include adopting language to “clean up” this year’s “education reform” bill, the stench of inappropriate efforts to influence public policy hangs over the Capitol – and it doesn’t just have to do with license fees and tax increases on “roll-your-own” tobacco.
ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that was set up by Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company, which was created by Connecticut education commissioner Stefan Pryor and his “education reform” colleagues, now reports that they actually spent half a million dollars in their recent effort to pass the “reform” legislation proposed by Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor.
ConnCAN’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar, broad-based effort, was aimed at demonizing teachers, teacher unions and those who believe in the sanctity of true public education.
And their strategy garnered ConnCAN national fame, for the blatant misuse of data, as a way to mislead legislators, the media and the public. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-ConnCAN-big-influence-bad-3603340.php
One of the most astounding aspects of this entire situation has been the utter and complete silence of a group of community leaders who serve on ConnCAN’s Advisory Board. http://conncan.org/aboutus/board
Silence is Taking A Stand:
When ConnCAN attacked Connecticut’s teachers and their union…the members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board were silent.
When ConnCAN belittled parents who stood up to speak out on behalf of Connecticut’s schools…the members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board were silent.
And when ConnCAN consistently misused and misreported data in order to corrupt the public policy making process…the members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board said nothing.
It is time for the individual members of the ConnCAN Advisory Board to explain why they said nothing as ConnCAN spent half a million dollars lying about Connecticut, our schools, our teachers and our system of public education.
Even more to the point, these people should take appropriate action and resign their position on ConnCAN’s Advisory Board.
If you know any of these people on ConnCAN’s Advisory Board, ask them to explain themselves…
And then ask them if they will be resigning.
If you know the contact information for any members of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board, send it along and I’ll ask them on behalf of all of us who care about our schools and our state’s children, are they going to do the right thing and resign from ConnCAN’s Advisory Board.
ConnCAN’s Advisory Board includes:
Allan B. Taylor, Chairman, Connecticut State Board of Education
Timothy Bannon, Former Chief of Staff for Governor Malloy
Lorraine M. Aronson, Former Connecticut Deputy Commissioner of Education, former Vice President and CFO, University of Connecticut and presently a Director, Hartford Education Foundation
Dr. Philip E. Austin, Former President, University of Connecticut
Christopher P. Bruhl, President and CEO, The Business Council of Fairfield County (SACIA), Director, Connecticut Public Broadcasting Corporation
Joyce Critelli, Co-Chairwoman, Children’s Agency of Norwalk, Trustee, Norwalk Community College
Dr. William J. Cibes, Jr., Former Chancellor, Connecticut State University System, Former Secretary, Office of Policy and Management
Reverend Lindsay E. Curtis, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Norwalk, Chairman, Norwalk Children’s Foundation, President, NAACP Norwalk Branch
Robert Furek, Director, MassMutual Financial Group, Former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Hartford Public School System
William Ginsberg, President and CEO, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
Janice M. Gruendel, Ph.D., M.Ed., Co-Chair, Early Childhood Education Cabinet Member, P-16 Council and CT Youth Vision Team, Deputy Commissioner, Departments of Public Health, Mental Retardation and DCF.
Dr. Walter Harrison, President, University of Hartford, Director, Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges
Marc S. Herzog, Former Chancellor, Connecticut Community College System
Dr. Richard C. Levin, President, Yale University
Dr. Julia M. McNamara, President, Albertus Magnus College, Chairwoman, Yale New Haven Health Services Corporation, Director, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
Dr. Cheryl Norton, Former President, Southern Connecticut State University
Anthony P. Rescigno, President, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce
Dr. Theodore Sergi, Former Connecticut State Commissioner of Education, President and CEO, Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration
Richard Sugarman, Founder and President, The Connecticut Forum
Other ConnCAN Advisory Board Members include Paul Allaire, Cory Booker, John M. Danielson, Jonathan T. Dawson, Timothy Dutton, Dr. Howard Fuller, Stewart Greenfield, Darrell Harvey, Duane E. Hill, Carlton L. Highsmith, Ron Howard, Catherine Viscardi Johnston, Jeff Klaus, Kevin Knight, George Knox III, Konrad “Chip” Kruger, Len Miller, Reverend Eric B. Smith, Tom Vander Ark.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Education Reform, Stefan Pryor ConnCAN, Patrick Riccards, Stefan Pryor
Thanks to the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Patrick Riccards and the folks at ConnCAN have finally “earned” the national recognition that they’ve been trying so hard to achieve.
While it will come as no surprise to those of you who read this blog, ConnCAN is this year’s winner of the “Bunkum Award.” The award is given to the “think tank” that has “most egregiously undermined informed discussion and sound policy making” by producing “the most compellingly lousy educational research for the past year.”
ConnCAN, known to us as the charter school advocacy group formed by Achievement First Inc., the charter school management company, that was set up by Stefan Pryor and friends, beat out every other “education reform” group in the country, do to their ability to consistently misrepresent the facts on the most constant basis.
Throughout the recent Connecticut legislative session, we could count on ConnCAN to produce misleading “factsheets, commentary pieces and advertising.
In fact, ConnCAN’s “we’re here for the children” mantra became the immediate signal that whatever statement was to follow was undoubtedly the exact opposite of what was in the best interests of Connecticut’s students, parents and schools.
Fellow blogger Wendy Lecker, who has been doing an extraordinary job calling out the faux “education reformers” in her column that runs in the Stamford Advocate, has produced a grand slam article about the award and ConnCAN’s misuse of education research and facts.
Make sure you take a moment to read her article – it will make your day. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-ConnCAN-big-influence-bad-3603340.php
Meanwhile, ConnCAN and its parent company 50CAN, released a report on teacher evaluation models this week. Of course, their favorite models are those that utilize standardized test scores as the primary mechanism for identifying which teachers are “good” and which are “bad.”
Apparently relying on standardized test scores that are influenced by economic and social factors beyond a teacher’s control are deemed the best way to evaluate an individual teacher….although they still haven’t responded to my most basic question.
If a teacher is teaching in a district where 35% of the students are at goal, is a 5% increase in test scores better or worse than a 1% increase in test scores where 85 percent of the students are at goal.
Secondly, if two teachers are in an urban classrooms that are side by side and one gets 4 new students who are not proficient in English and their test score drops by 3 percent, are they doing a better or worse job than the teacher who gets 2 new special education students and 1 new English Language Learner, but their test score goes up 2 percent after the special education students are given the alternative test rather than the standard mastery test.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Bridgeport, Charter Schools, Malloy, Steven Adamowski Achievement First, ConnCAN, Education Reform, Malloy, Paul Vallas, Stefan Pryor
The clarion call of the education reformers was “let’s not focus on benefiting the adults… it’s all about the children.”
So, with that in mind, it may come as a surprise that today’s Crain’s Chicago Business Journal is reporting that Bridgeport’s interim school superintendent, Paul Vallas, is headed to Illinois to collect a $1 million contract from the Illinois State Board of Education.
Who said “education reform” wasn’t good business.
And what pray tell will Paul Vallas be doing for $1 million?
Wait for it —- Vallas will be coordinating the state’s new intervention program in low-performing school districts. Hey, that was our idea!
Vallas, known for leaving a trail of destruction behind him, has already done his magic in Chicago once before. From there he went on to Philadelphia where he started the school closing frenzy that is now expected to shift 40 percent of all of Philadelphia’s public school students to charter schools. Then he was on to New Orleans where he literally fired every public school teacher to make room for a major “charter school experiment” and from there to Haiti (destruction unknown) and now, most recently, to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Of course, news from Illinois is that another firm actually bid a lower price for that state contact, but things being what they are, Vallas ended up as the State Board of Education’s choice. I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that the man who is presently the Chairman of the State Board of Education was previously Chairman of the Chicago Board of Education when Vallas was superintendent there in Chicago.
There is no word from Bridgeport how this development might impact his $229,000 a year salary revamping the Bridgeport school system, but Crain’s is reporting that the Bridgeport job “is a short-term gig.”
But hey, this guy is probably so efficient that he can work full-time fixing Bridgeport’s schools and the low-performing schools in Illinois without breaking a sweat.
Also, recall that despite the Malloy Administration’s illegal attempt to take over the Bridgeport school system, Bridgeport’s Mayor and Fairfield County corporate executives were able to push out the former superintendent and bring in Vallas.
One of the leaders of the coup was none other than Andrew Boas, a long-time board member of both Achievement First and ConnCAN. Boas now serves as Chairman of Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy.
You know Achievement First, the charter school management company that was formed by Stefan Pryor and friends and where Pryor served as a Director for the eight years before resigning to become Malloy’s education commissioner and his point person on education reform.
Wait, What? readers will also remember that Achievement First, Inc. is one of the biggest financial beneficiaries of Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.
By the way, Malloy signed the bill into law today.
But as the reformers say —- those who support Connecticut’s public schools are for the status quo and only care about the interests of adults whereas the “reformers” know that this entire battle is really for the benefit of the children… just ask Paul Vallas.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Charter Schools, Education Reform, Malloy, Stefan Pryor ConnCAN, Education Reform, Malloy
Here is yet another example of why Governor Malloy’s favorability ratings have dropped to the lowest of any new Democratic governor in the nation.
Below you will find a memo about the new education bill that ConnCAN’s CEO sent out earlier today to his list of “education reformers.” You’ll note the usual rhetoric along with a somewhat misleading interpretation of the bill and their “agenda for next steps.”
I’m actually starting to think that ConnCAN and the other “reform” groups really don’t want Dan Malloy to serve more than one term as Connecticut’s governor.
Either that or they have such little understanding and regard for Connecticut’s citizens that they don’t understand the ramifications of continuing their anti-teacher, anti-union and anti-public education rhetoric.
From the very start, Malloy and those who favor privatizing portions of Connecticut’s public education system have bullied and insulted and denigrated Connecticut’s teachers and our public schools.
First the Governor said that all that teachers have to do is show up for four years and they got tenure. That from a group of individuals who wouldn’t last a day, let alone a week running a classroom.
Then Malloy admitted that he didn’t mind “teaching to the test” as long as the test scores went up.
And throughout the entire debate, ConnCAN and the rest of these corporate reformers have sought to cast Connecticut’s 45,000 teachers and our state’s public schools as utter and complete failures.
However, those of us who grew up here in Connecticut, as well as those who moved here, truly appreciate how lucky we are to have such great teachers and schools for our children.
There’s simply no doubt that that the overwhelming majority of Connecticut’s teachers and other school personnel are outstanding professionals who are dedicating their lives to providing our children with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.
There is also no question that poverty, language barriers, insufficient state funding for schools and other factors beyond the control of teachers continue to have a major negative impact on the education system in our urban centers.
And yes, our state government must do more to address those problems.
But to suggest that Connecticut’s “education system” is broken is beyond absurd.
Connecticut’s graduation rates exceed 92 percent, well above the national average, and that includes the unacceptably low numbers in our cities. In the vast majority of our school districts, graduation rates exceed 95 percent. Last year, with more than 175,000 public high school students, the statewide dropout rate was 2.8 percent.
Furthermore, as stupid and useless as the standardized tests are, the state-wide results are nothing short of extraordinary.
Take the most recent 8th grade Connecticut Mastery Test scores in reading. 75 percent of Connecticut’s 8th graders were at or above goal and an incredible 1/3rd scored at the advanced level. The percent of 8th grade students who got below basic scores has dropped 50 percent since 2005 and is now below 10 percent.
By every measure, Connecticut schools are the envy of the country.
And yet, once again, ConnCAN begins their “assessment” of the “reform” bill by bashing teachers claiming that the bill “brings about essential steps to raise standards for educators.”
Raise standards for teachers?
To Riccards and the rest of them I say enough of the bullsh*t! Their lies don’t work and are not welcome in our state.
It should come as no surprise to Governor Malloy and his advisors that his favorability ratings have tumbled to record levels. For months he has been engaged in a series of unwarranted and inappropriate attacks on Connecticut’s teachers. Between his own actions and those of his allies, Connecticut’s citizens have a growing sense of how little he and the people around him really understand about Connecticut and its people.
Take a look at ConnCAN’s memo and you’ll undoubtedly conclude, as I have, that Malloy’s favorability ratings will certainly climb the day ConnCAN closes its operations.
May 14, 2012
TO: Interested Parties
FR: Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN CEO
RE: ConnCAN Analysis of Senate Bill 458: An Act Concerning Education Reform
At the start of the 2012 legislative session, Governor Malloy put a stake in the ground and called on the legislature to enact bold reforms that would result in better outcomes for students. Over the course of the last few months, despite efforts to water down these reforms, the governor, education commissioner, and legislative leaders prioritized children’s needs ahead of adults’ interests and passed the most significant, sweeping education reforms in Connecticut’s history.
ConnCAN supported the call for bold, student-centered reform and joined with families, faith leaders, educators, community and business leaders, principals, superintendents, school boards, and countless others in the calls for change. The final result, Senate Bill 458, brings about essential steps to raise standards for educators, allows immediate action to improve failing schools, increases access to high-quality public school choices, and sets the table for real school finance reform. These are policy goals ConnCAN has long supported and that have been enacted in other states. Finally, Connecticut is no longer tinkering around the edges or dipping a toe in the water. This comprehensive set of reforms will establish a strong foundation for efforts to ensure great schools for all Connecticut children and ensure a bright economic future for our state.
Following are some highlights from S.B. 458 and recommendations for next steps on priority issues.
Principal and Teacher Quality
Research shows that great teachers and principals can literally change students’ lives, and that just one ineffective educator can have a lasting negative impact on students. S.B. 458 recognizes educators’ impact and will help attract, identify, and develop talented teachers and school leaders based on their effectiveness with students. It will also allow for swift and fair dismissal of ineffective educators. The law builds upon the evaluation guidelines developed by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) and approved by the State Board of Education to ensure a high-quality evaluation system that puts primary emphasis on student achievement growth. Specifically, the law will improve:
- Teacher and Principal Evaluations. The state will pilot the PEAC evaluation model in 8-10 districts in the next two years, which will then be implemented statewide. This system will measure teacher and principal performance with a balanced set of measures that emphasizes student achievement growth. Teachers and principals will be evaluated annually and will receive one of four performance ratings: Ineffective or Below Standard, Developing, Proficient and Exemplary. In addition, the State Department of Education (SDE) will conduct an implementation audit in a select number of districts each year to assure that the system is implemented faithfully and effectively.
- Recruitment. The 10 lowest-performing districts will be eligible for grants of up to $200,000 to offer employment to up to five college seniors who attend an in-state teacher preparation program and graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.
- Preparation. Teachers will be required to have more clinical experience (four semesters). In addition, the State Board of Education and the Board of Regents created an Education Preparation Advisory Council that holds teacher preparation programs accountable for measures of quality, including graduates’ performance in the classroom (e.g., on teacher evaluations and student achievement data).
- Professional Development. The law eliminates the requirement of Continuing Education Units (CEUs), many of which have little connection to educator needs, and replaces them with at least 18 hours per year of small group or individual instructional training focused on best practices to improve student achievement. Professional development for school/district leaders must also include 15 hours of training to improve evaluation and support of teachers in the new state evaluation program. The commissioner of education will also create professional development in reading instruction based on student assessment data, and will annually review professional development of early childhood teachers (those who teach students up to third grade) to ensure quality.
- Tenure. Teachers can only earn tenure after four years based on effective practice as shown in their evaluation ratings.
- Dismissal. Ineffectiveness is now one of the grounds for dismissal. The law also reduces the hearing timeline for a tenured teacher’s dismissal based on ineffectiveness from 75 to 45 days and places a limit on the hours of evidence and testimony. Further, it maintains the school board’s authority over dismissal decisions, reduces the panel of arbiters from three to one, and limits the scope of the hearing to whether the evaluation process was followed in good faith and the evaluations were reasonable in light of the evidence presented.
Once the evaluation system has been vetted through the pilot, teacher placement, certification, salary, and career advancement opportunities must be overhauled so that they are based on an educator’s effectiveness, not just seat time and degrees earned. Although the law creates a new “Distinguished Educator Designation,” this is not a certification level and will not necessarily entitle teachers to additional pay or career advancement. The state also must fix binding arbitration to add students’ best interests to the statutory list of priority considerations. Finally, to ensure we have the highest-quality cadre of school leaders, the state should create a School Leadership Academy (funding for this Academy was cut by the General Assembly).
S.B. 458 established commonsense measures to improve transparency, efficiency, and equity in school funding across all our public schools.
- Common Chart of Accounts. Beginning in June 2015, the state will have a Common Chart of Accounts for all public schools’ and districts’ expenditures and revenues. This uniform accounting system will finally allow the public to access and compare school financing consistently and transparently.
- Conditional Aid for the Lowest-Performing Districts. S.B. 458 includes millions of dollars in ECS increases for the 30 lowest-performing districts (the “Alliance Districts”) on the condition that the districts spend the money wisely. These districts must develop an SDE-approved reform plan and implement it faithfully. This program establishes an important precedent for conditional aid in Connecticut.
- Increased Funding for Charter Schools. Connecticut’s public charter schools are showing promising results, particularly for students with the greatest learning needs, and are an essential component of state efforts to close our worst-in-the-nation achievement gaps. Families are increasingly demanding these high-quality options, and the state heard their call. Funding will be increased for students in public charter schools to $10,500 in 2012-13, $11,000 in 2013-14, and $11,500 for 2014-15 (up from the current $9,400). This represents the largest increase in per-pupil expenditures for charters in the state’s history and brings charter funding closer in line to what students in surrounding districts receive in public dollars for their public education.
In the coming years, the state must fully overhaul our broken school funding formula. At a minimum, this must include improvements to the formula that better account for student need and town wealth. The formula must also include all public school students in all public schools. Future reforms should also encourage districts or regions to adopt student-based budgeting (Hartford currently uses this method). Such systems direct funds to all public school students in the schools they attend based on their learning needs, and shift more resources from central offices into schools, providing schools with greater flexibility over how these dollars are spent. Finally, the state should provide financial rewards and increased flexibility for our highest-performing or most improving schools and districts and create of an innovation fund to spark reform at the school and district level.
S.B. 458 provides the State Department of Education with the tools needed to perform the difficult work of turning around failing schools. Thousands of students in Connecticut currently attend schools that are failing to educate them, and many of these schools have been failing their students for years. S.B. 458 finally sets the stage for dramatic, results-oriented, student-centered interventions that will change the trajectory of students’ lives.
- Commissioner’s Network. The centerpiece of these efforts will be a system of state support and intervention for up to 25 of our lowest-performing schools within the next three years. The Commissioner’s Network offers the right ingredients for success, but let there be no mistake: turning around low-performing schools is incredibly hard work for all involved in the process, and it will require a sustained good-faith effort by all involved to get these schools where they need to be. The commissioner will provide funding, technical assistance, and operating support to Network schools, and may also provide financial support to teachers. Details of the Commissioner’s Network include:
- No more than two schools from the same district each year, and no more than four schools in any district may be included in the Network within the first three years of the program.
- Schools will remain in the Network for a three-year minimum, with the potential for one-year extensions up to a total of five years. After three years, the commissioner will determine if a school is ready to return to local district control. If a school remains in the Network for five years, the commissioner will develop a plan with the local board of education to transition the school back to local district control.
- The commissioner and SDE will issue guidelines to clarify the turnaround process, but the basic process is as follows:
- Step 1: Turnaround committees will be established at each school, consisting of one district administrator and one district parent appointed by the local board of education, two teachers and one parent appointed by the union, and commissioner/designee (the superintendent is a non-voting member).
- Step 2: An “operations and instructional” audit will be conducted by SDE in consultation with the committee, as well as the local board of education and School Governance Council. Following the audit, the committee must develop a consensus turnaround plan based on one of five approved models.
- Step 3: If consensus is reached, the turnaround plan is developed and submitted to the State Board of Education for approval. If there is no consensus or plan, or the commissioner does not approve the plan, he/she will develop a plan for the school. Plans will be implemented no later than the start of the 2014-15 school year.
- High-performing non-profit organizations (such as charter school operators) can run up to six of these schools. The commissioner will also develop a plan for one school starting July 2012 that may turn management over to a non-profit education management organization.
- The commissioner will be able to use turnaround plans to supplement and/or amend current collective bargaining agreements and conduct financial impact bargaining in these schools. Any disagreements about contracts will go through an expedited binding arbitration process. In resolving these contract disputes, the arbitrator must put the highest priority on the educational interests of the state and the students’ needs. This bill also permits “election to work agreements,” an important reform that can allow for increased flexibility not allowed in traditional labor-management contracts.
- The commissioner will issue a report annually to the legislature’s Education Committee on the performance of Network schools.
- Increased access to public school choice options. The bill calls for additional state-authorized charter schools and provides financial incentives to create locally authorized charters. In addition, the bill explores alternatives to the current enrollment practices to try to serve more high-need learners, especially special education students and English language learners. Unlike previous drafts of this bill, the final law does not impose an untested statewide opt-out lottery system, but requires instead that SDE conduct a study of the opt-out lottery for charters to identify feasibility, cost, methods, etc. to be submitted to the Education Committee by February 2014.
- Pilot program to get all kids reading by grade four. The bill creates a program to implement an evidence-based approach to teaching children to read. It will provide the instruction, measurement, and accountability to get all kids reading at grade level by fourth grade.
- Early childhood education. The bill creates 1,000 new preschool seats with a priority on serving children in our lowest performing districts.
- School Performance Index (SPI) and District Performance Index (DPI). The bill creates a new system of accountability, support, and intervention for districts and schools. These systems weight student performance by the number of students performing at Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Goal, and Advanced on the CMT and CAPT tests, with higher weights applied to students at higher performance levels. Districts and schools will be assigned a rating on a 1 (highest performing) to 5 (lowest performing) scale. Districts and schools with a rating of 3 will be required to submit improvement plans to SDE, while those rated 4 or 5 will be subject to more intensive intervention, including the appointment of a superintendent or special master, who is selected by the commissioner.
Future reforms must ensure that all schools, especially schools of choice, have sufficient flexibility and autonomy from local rules and collective bargaining agreements in order to implement changes that will meet the needs of students. Additional efforts must be made to recruit the highest-quality leaders, teachers, and education providers to work in our highest-need schools. In addition, students trapped in failing schools should be given the option to choose to attend a higher-performing public school, and more high-quality schools of choice must be created to meet the significant demand for these options by students and families.
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Charter Schools, Education Reform, Malloy, Michelle Rhee, Stefan Pryor, StudentsFirst, Teach for America Achievement First, CABE, CBIA, ConnCAN, Education Reform, Malloy, Students for Education Reform, StudentsFirst
Over the first 120 days of the 2012 Legislative Session, corporate lobby groups spent over $2.2 million (and counting) in their effort to pass Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill. These numbers reveal that corporate reformers outspent those supporting district schools by at least two to one.
Under Connecticut law, corporations and organizations must report how much money they spent on lobbying, although they don’t need to reveal where they got their advocacy funds. Unions, on the other hand, may only use funds provided by their union members.
The reports (or lack thereof) also reveal that some of the groups involved in the lobbying effort on behalf of Malloy’s “reform” bill failed to register to lobby and failed to report their activities as required by Connecticut law. Individuals and groups involved in lobbying who fail to register can be fined up to $10,000 per violation.
An assumption can be made that investigations into these illegal lobbying activities have or might begin in the near future.
Michelle Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst (called, as we now know GNEPSA in Connecticut) led the way spending nearly $700,000 to back Malloy’s bill. ConnCAN, the charter group advocacy firm set up by Achievement First, the charter school management company spent a half a million dollars. The newly formed Connecticut Council for Education Reform added over $100,000 to the effort.
CBIA, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, also spent close to half a million dollars on television ads supporting Malloy and his “education reform” proposal.
As to those annoying and misleading phone calls people got, you have Patrick Riccards and ConnCAN to thank. They sank over $107,000 into a contract with a Chicago firm for calls to Connecticut voters urging them to contact their legislators in support of Malloy’s bill.
Some of the lobbying violations appear significant enough that I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.
||Lobbying Expenses January – April 2012
||Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization in “disguise”
|Connecticut Council for Education Reform
||Rae Ann “poverty is not an issue” Knopf
|Students for Education Reform
||Buses and food for the 60 student rally at the State Capitol
|Connecticut Association of Board of Education (CABE)
|CT Association of Public School Superintendents
||Charter School Management Company formed by Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s and others
|Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA)
||*$487,224 was for education reform television ads. A major chunk of the remainder was to lobby other business issues.
|CT Association of Schools
|CT Parents Union
||Despite sponsoring the rally that Michelle Rhee attended, CT Parents Union claimed no expenditures for lobbying
||DID NOT REGISTER
||Excel Bridgeport engaged in a variety of efforts to promote the state takeover of Bridgeport and persuade others to communicate with legislators about Malloy’s education reform” bill but they did not register to lobby.
|Teach for America – CT Chapter
||DID NOT REGISTER
||Teach for America -CT Chapter – Engaged in a variety of efforts to communicate with State Department of Education Officials but did not register
Achievement First/ConnCAN, Charter Schools, Education Reform, Malloy, StudentsFirst Achievement First, ConnCAN, Education Reform, Malloy, Stefan Pryor
In the days and hours before the Connecticut legislature voted on the big “Education Reform” bill, Governor Malloy and his “education reform” allies where blasting Connecticut’s Democratic legislators. The attacks included the observation that Democrats were “killing hope in Connecticut,” that Democrats were dedicating to preventing “any real accountability [in] teacher performance,” that Democrats were “committed to the status quo” and, one of my favorites, that Democratic “legislative leaders continue to turn a deaf ear to the pleas [of Connecticut’s children].”
Despite that onslaught, many Democratic legislators remained focused on putting together a bill that actually helped, rather than hurt, Connecticut’s children, parents, teachers and schools.
With the help of teachers, teacher unions and other community groups, legislators held tough and developed a bill that included a number of positive policy changes while dumping a significant majority of Malloy’s negative initiatives.
In the coming days, we’ll be looking at some of the various provisions of the final bill. However, an honest assessment of the package would lead one to conclude that Governor Malloy and the so-called reformers “won” about 20 percent of the controversial items he was pushing, while losing about 80 percent of those bad public policy concepts.
Normally, losing 80% of your proposals would be cause for concern, however, this is politics and in politics, if you proclaim – over and over again – that you are the victor, then there are some who will undoubtedly believe you.
As reported in the CT Mirror, “Dannel P. Malloy took to the radio airwaves in New York Tuesday to celebrate the changes to the education system and teacher tenure he has won in the education bill making its way through the Connecticut legislature.”
Malloy, who had proposed the most anti-teacher, anti-labor bill of any Democratic Governor in the nation, lost nearly all of those anti-teacher, anti-labor provisions as a result of the Democratically controlled General Assembly.
Of course, Malloy still managed to call it “his bill” as well as saying it was a “landmark” development. He told the radio listeners that “what is important is Connecticut is joining other states, finally, in reforming pre-K through 12 education.”
In addition to Malloy’s comments, some of the best political spin came from two of the major corporate groups that shifted their message 180 degrees in the last 24 hours.
Rae Ann Knopf, the executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a gaggle of Connecticut’s largest corporations and the group that has said “poverty was not an important factor when it came to influencing educational outcomes,” wrote that with this new bill, “Connecticut took a major step toward resuming its rightful place as a haven for enlightened education and a leader in championing the civil rights of all its citizens.
The very people, who were only hours before lamenting the utter disaster, now proclaimed that “Governor Malloy took a bold stance and proposed a massive comprehensive reform bill….the Governor never wavered on the importance of systemic change to ensure all children will end up with access to a high quality education in Connecticut.”
Meanwhile, Patrick Riccards ConnCAN’s CEO spent the last few months attacking Connecticut’s Democratic legislators on behalf of charter schools. But yesterday he wrote “Governor Malloy put the stake in the ground and called on the legislature to enact the types of reforms that will no doubt result in better outcomes for our students. Though the road was quite rocky, the governor, education commissioner, and legislative leaders demonstrated a steadfast commitment to reaching an agreement. In the end, and on behalf of Connecticut’s students, the General Assembly was able to enact meaningful reform.”
While the reformers are spending the days congratulating themselves on a bill that doesn’t include the worst of their ideas, there are still some very controversial and potentially damaging changes that were put into the bill, along with a variety of positive changes.
On the downside, the bill does virtually nothing to deal with the fact that Connecticut’s Educational Cost Sharing Formula remains at least $800 million underfunded, meaning local taxpayers continue to pick up a huge and unfair amount of the costs for running Connecticut’s schools.
Also, the same day Governor Malloy backed off his promise to make the initial payment to move Connecticut to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, he celebrated the education bill’s requirement that all towns adopt “a common chart of accounts so that we can understand how schools and districts spend education dollars.” A great idea, no doubt, but one that is yet another unfunded mandate since it will cost towns to implement, costs that the state is not picking up. Something about it being really important that towns be fiscally honest but the state – not so much.
Incredibly, the new education reform bill also adds MORE standardized tests. Not satisfied with the annual standardized tests in grades 3 – 10, Connecticut will now require a new set of standardized reading tests for kindergarteners, first graders, second graders and third graders.
Faced with large class sizes, this state government isn’t providing any more money for extra instructional aides to help these young children get more one on one reading help, but there will be hundreds of thousands for dollars for developing and implementing new tests.
The education reform bill also requires that all elementary teachers take a reading instruction exam. Despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that teacher’s don’t know how to teach reading and lots of evidence that teachers don’t have the time or support staff to provide the help each child needs, the state’s solution is to test the teachers. As one veteran state senator said “Our kids are not reading… This will fix that.” Ah…okay.
And, of course, the charter schools are happy since although they don’t get all of the new money they want this year, the full amount will be phased in over the next three years. Even with the reduced amount, Achievement First, Inc., with its 3,000 students, will get more new state money this year than New Britain’s entire school system with its 10,854 students.
In fact, thanks to the charter school’s effective lobbying effort, each charter school student will see a boost in state taxpayer support this July of $1,100 per students while the 200,000 Connecticut students in the 30 poorest school districts will see a state funded increase of about $150 per student.
But if you overlook all those things, and a few more unfunded mandates and strange policy changes, there are some positive provisions in the education reform bill, as well.
Check back here at Wait, What? over the coming days for more details.
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