What parents don’t know about the massive data collection that is taking place in public schools

Last November, the Washington Post headline read, The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children.  The article reported on the “Brave New World” of data collection and data mining that is taking place in the nation’s public schools and how private companies are accessing and using that information for profit.

The media coverage in the Washington Post continued this past January with a piece entitled, New student database slammed by privacy experts.

Although the issue has yet to generate a lot of media attention here in Connecticut, all across the United States parents and advocacy groups have been highlighting the growing problem and demanding that public officials take steps to protect students, parents and teachers from the government and corporate education reform industry’s efforts to collect and utilize information.

Here in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration have been moving “full-speed head” with national and state plans to collect large amounts of data on Connecticut’s public school students and teachers, some of which will undoubtedly end up in the hands of companies looking to market their products.

As a result of a series of policy changes, parents not only have little knowledge of this growing problem, but have little say over what information is being collected about their children and how it can be used.

At the recent State Department of Education meeting in which a group of school superintendents were instructed on how to mislead parents about their right to opt out of the Common Core SBAC testing scheme, one high ranking employee with the state department of education mocked concerns about the potential misuse of the data collected during the SBAC testing process.

However, whether their statement was due to intention or ignorance, their dismissal spoke volumes about how little public officials care about what parents think or want.

Officials can’t hide the truth forever.

Jennifer Jacobsen, a public education advocate in Connecticut, serves as the director of the Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education and is among the most outspoken leaders in the effort to force public officials to address the very serious issues regarding the use and misuse of the data being collected in public schools.

In a recent CT Mirror commentary piece, Jennifer Jacobson wrote;

The Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education– CAPE- represent a diverse membership of organizations who have come together to advocate for a comprehensive student data law in our state. Our members include:

The Connecticut Parent Teachers Association, Connecticut Parental Rights Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union -CT, Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, Connecticut Association of Private Special Education Facilities, CT Council of Administrators of Special Education, CT Federation of School Administrators, CT Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut Education Association College Student Program….and growing.

The mission of CAPE is to protect the children, students, families, and educators of Connecticut by addressing the risks associated with the collection of student data and other educational records.

There is great potential for the appropriate use of student data to bring positive outcomes for our children and students. However, the use of student data also brings with it immense responsibility and great risk to the safety and civil liberties of children and their families.

Policymakers, educators, parents, and communities must ensure that all individuals and entities who have access to student data take steps to protect the lives behind the data.

Thirty-three states have enacted 55 laws thus far around the issue of student data. Legislatures around the nation continue today to have this important discussion. Connecticut is among a minority of states that have yet to enact legislation pertaining to the protection and use of student data, leaving our children and families inadequately protected. As such the Education Committee of the General Assembly has raised HB 5469: An Act Concerning Student Data Privacy.

HB 5469 does accomplish some welcome changes in policy:

The prohibition on student tracking and profiling, limiting data collection by school contracted apps and websites, the limitation on advertising, the requirement of de-identification of student information for use to improve a site or product, and the limited use of directory information are examples of such improvements. Further, the inclusion of a parent notification provision that their child has become a party to a contract or when there has been a breach are additional strengths of the bill. However, the bill is limited only to contractors who store education records and operators of websites and apps, and excludes state data collection and other third parties who have access to student information.

Based on testimony that was submitted at the public hearing on March 2, we feel that additions to the bill should expand to include the following provisions:

Marne Usher of the CT PTA stated their organization’s concern surrounding the limited scope of the bill and advocated that they would “like to see legislation that ensures consistent policies for ALL student data regardless of who is collecting it. Parents have the right to know about ALL data that is collected in their child’s record. Parental consent should be the first step before any data collection and we see no mention of this in the legislation”

ACLU-CT, David McGuire primarily focused on civil liberties protections for students in regards to baseless searches and seizures of students’ personal electronic devices and passwords citing “the patchwork of unequal privacy policies” used in districts around the state, urging the committee to expand protections in the bill that would uphold students Constitutional 14th amendments rights.

Ray Rossomando of the Connecticut Education Association focused on changes to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which historically prohibited the disclosure of education records of students unless a parent consented. Parental consent is no longer required in many instances simply by using the correct exception to the law, ironically at a time when parents report having a harder time garnering access to their own child’s data.

Rossomando also requested that the committee consider providing guidelines to educators and other school personnel to learn about safe and secure data handling strategies and extend the bills coverage to include educator information since they too are exposed to similar risks. Greater oversight and citizen input were further themes of his testimony that would strengthen the comprehensive intent of this bill.

Understanding the potential for the misuse of lifetime data collection on children Pam Lucashu, Legislative Liaison to TEACH CT cited banning “the use of this information being used to influence or determine the employability, criminal liability, financial standing or the reputation of the student”, which is a protective provision in human subject research protections in policy that should be codified into law to exclude such use. In fact, many other states have explicitly prohibited juvenile delinquency records, medical records and criminal records of students from being included as education records for exactly this reason.

Finally, any law that does not contain an enforcement process and a penalty for violation of that law, which HB 5469 does not, relegates its purpose to a guideline. There must be a means of enforcement and liability.

When sensitive student information enters into a data system or leaves the school building to an outside party risk ensues. It is at the point when student information is poised to leave the school, that the system to protect that data must begin.

Connecticut’s system to protect student information needs to be far more effective, uniform, and transparent than it is today. This is an attainable goal. The clarifications, amendments and additions to this bill suggested in here and at the public hearing by the members of CAPE and others would take us far toward accomplishing that goal.

It is with this vision of care and protection of this generation’s future, free and unhindered from a lifetime of collected information that may come to be used against them that we, the members of CAPE, in partnership with countless thousands of people around Connecticut call on the Education Committee, General Assembly and leadership to do the right thing for the students of this state and enact an comprehensive student data security, transparency, and privacy law.

Our kids and our families deserve no less than those in other states. We cannot allow for interest in the data, special or otherwise, to supersede the digital security of our children, nor infringe upon their civil liberties, nor keep our parents and guardians in the dark any longer.

New Canaan parent and education advocate Maria Naughton submitted testimony stating “parents, families and children do not have corporate backing, PAC’s, large philanthropic organizations or venture capitalists funding our efforts to protect our children. We are relying on those who have been elected to represent our interests and to do what is in the best interest of our children.”

Indeed.

The Connecticut’ General Assembly’s Education Committee will soon be taking up the legislation Jennifer Jacobsen addressed  in her commentary piece.

Legislators will be faced with the opportunity to strengthen this proposed new law or continue to look away while the education reform industry and their supporters undermine the privacy rights of students, parents and teachers.

For more about the legislation go to Cape4kids.org

The names and contact information for the members Connecticut’s Education Committee can be found here – https://www.cga.ct.gov/ed/

Some previous Wait, What? articles about big data, data mining and privacy can found here:

Will CT elected officials enact appropriate safeguards on student privacy this session?

Public Good or Private Gain – the story behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s Data Mining Effort

Are Governor Malloy’s new Google Chromebooks data mining our kids?

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

Additional background on the data and data mining issue can also be found at Diane Ravitch’s blog.  As the nation’s leading pro-public education advocate she has reported and written extensively about the issue.  Examples include;

U.S. Department of Education Still Pursuing Your Child’s Data

Grit and Data Mining

What You Need to Know about Data Mining of Students

CONNECT THE DOTS: Competency-Based Education, Digitized Instruction, Data Mining, The Vanishing Teacher, and Profit

Parents to New York Education Leaders: No Snooping on Our Children’s Private Data

Your Child’s Personal Records Are Part of a Massive Government Database

 

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

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

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.

WARNING Connecticut – They are coming for your schools and your democratic rights!

A Breaking News Alert from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

When it comes to public education in Connecticut, a new piece of legislation before the Connecticut General Assembly (H.B. 5551) would be the most far-reaching power grab in state history – a direct attack on local control of schools, our democracy and Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, local school officials and public schools.

The legislation would enable Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education to takeover individual schools in a district, remove the control of the elected board of education, “suspend laws” and eliminate the role of school governance councils which are the parent’s voice in school “turnaround plans.

The bill is nothing short of an authoritarian maneuver by grossly expanding the Commissioner of Education’s powers under the Commissioner’s Network.  The bill destroys the fundamental role of local control because it allows the state to indefinitely take over schools and even entire districts, without a vote of local citizens.

The bill removes any time limit on Commissioner’s Network Schools. It removes the cap on how many Commissioner’s Network schools can be taken over by the state.  It removes the right of the local community to appoint their own turnaround committee.  It eliminates the requirement that local parents, through their school governance council are included in the process.

This plan contravenes all the evidence on state takeovers.

State takeovers of schools and districts have been an abject failure across the country.

In Newark and Paterson New Jersey, where state takeover has been in effect for years, the districts are plagued by fiscal crises, lack of improvement in student outcomes and charges of mismanagement.

A recent report issued by the Center for Popular Democracy found that state takeovers in New Orleans, Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, and Tennessee’s Achievement School District, have all been plagued by mismanagement, instability and high turnover and hiring of inexperienced teachers, and virtually no student improvement. https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/National%20Takeover%20Ed%20Report.pdf

In fact, even the federal government has found that states do not have the expertise to successfully turn around low-performing schools.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/most-states-lacked-expertise-to-improve-worst-schools/2015/05/05/0eb82b98-f35f-11e4-bcc4-e8141e5eb0c9_story.html

Connecticut’s track record on taking over schools is anything but stellar. In fact, one of the first Commissioner’s Network schools, handed over to Jumoke/FUSE failed miserably under the supposed watchful eye of the Commissioner and State Board of Education.  The charter network admitted it was “winging it,” hiring ex-convicts, mismanaging funds and allowing student test scores to drop precipitously.  Even the current principal, Karen Lott, admitted that the takeover was a failure, with only 13% of Milner’s students scoring proficient in Language Arts and a shocking 7% in Math.  Lott declared that what the school needed was experienced staff, additional resources and community support, particularly wrap-around social services. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failure-as-a-model-for-Connecticut-6267220.php.

None of these inputs require state takeover. In fact takeovers have been characterized by hiring inexperienced teachers, and disenfranchising the local community.

Where would such an un-American, anti-democracy and anti-local control idea come from?

This bill is virtually a carbon copy of ConnCAN’s proposal for the Commissioner’s Network schools. http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/696/7c/c/2766/255496644-ConnCAN-Turnaround-Report.pdf  ConnCAN cherry picked and misrepresented certain “case studies” and, as per usual, passed it off as “research.”

For an example of ConnCAN’s misrepresentation of its case studies, read the truth about Lawrence Massachusetts here. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-collateral-damage-of-a-district-6295743.php

ConnCAN not only wrote a proposal shockingly identical to this bill , the charter lobby also sponsored a “forum” for legislators in 2015 where it invited Ms. Lott of the failed Milner school and others, such as the deputy superintendent of Lawrence to speak to legislators.

However the true examples of following  ConnCAN’s prescription can be found in places like Detroit, where the emergency manager left under a cloud and Detroit’s schools are on the brink of collapse, and in Tennessee where the superintendent, Chris Barbic, resigned, admitting turnaround was  “much harder”  than he thought.

Why would ConnCAN, the charter lobby, push this proposal?

Because state takeovers have been characterized by conversion of public schools into charter schools; schools unaccountable to elected boards, with little duty to report on its finances, yet they receive millions in public funds. Charters also tend to exclude a district’s neediest children, without any accountability for these practices.

This is the second recent example of the Malloy administration ceding governmental tasks to ConnCAN.  As was reported Friday, the Malloy administration allowed ConnCAN to choose at least one candidate for State Board of Education. (link)

Now, ConnCAN is writing legislation to determine the fate of our poorest schools.  ConnCAN is a lobby for charter schools.  The world outside Hartford recognizes ConnCAN as a charlatan organization. It has received the Bunkum Award for shoddy research from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

It is beyond troubling that our education policy is being set by this lobbying front group.

Without any evidence that destroying local control will help students (in fact with most evidence pointing the other way) why would we cede more power to the Commissioner?

Why do we think people who live and work in poor communities do not know what their children and schools need?  As longtime teacher, professor and writer Mike Rose has written,

“We have a long-standing shameful tendency in America to attribute all sorts of pathologies to the poor… We seem willing to accept remedies for the poor that we are not willing to accept for anyone else.”

Our neighbors in our poorest communities know what their children need.  Their teachers and principals and all the dedicated staff in their schools know, too.  In fact, since early February they have been testifying, along with real national experts, in front of Judge Moukawsher in the CCJEF case about what their schools need to improve: smaller classes, more teachers, social workers, prek, wraparound services for kids and families, adequate facilities and more.

As Milner’s principal stated, struggling schools need money, a stable staff and community support. State takeover will not accomplish these goals.

What will?

Providing schools the supports Ms. Lott mentions; supports that have been proven to improve schools. https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Community-Schools-Layout_e.pdf

How do we provide these resources?

Several recent longitudinal studies prove that school finance reform where states substantially increase funding for struggling schools raises achievement. http://eml.berkeley.edu/~jrothst/workingpapers/LRS_schoolfinance_feb2016.pdf; http://www.nber.org/papers/w20847.

The legislature can truly impact student performance by settling the CCJEF case and enacting real finance reform to fund Connecticut schools adequately.

What the legislature should NOT do is replicate failure. And that is what Raised Bill 5551 will do.

Governor Malloy and his administration are apparently doing the bidding of ConnCAN and the rest of the charter school industry.

It is the legislature’s duty to act on behalf of the children in this state, on behalf of taxpayers, and on behalf of democracy.

Connecticut needs elected officials with integrity and clarity of vision, once and for all, to examine the evidence and protect the interests, not of high-priced lobbyists, but of those children most in need of protection.

For more about how ConnCAN, the charter school industry and the corporate education reformers that are corrupting Connecticut politics and policy read – Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education

The General Assembly’s Education Committee will be holding a public hearing on this outrageous proposed law on Monday, March 7, 2016 starting at 11am in the Legislative Office Building

House Bill 5551:

Testimony can be submitted online via [email protected]

Citizens can also contact the leadership of the Education Committee;

Senate Chair Democrat Gayle Slossberg – http://www.senatedems.ct.gov/Slossberg-mailform.php

House Chair Democrat Andrew Fleischmann – [email protected]

Senate Ranking Member Republican Toni Boucher – [email protected]

House Ranking Member Republican Gail Laveielle – [email protected]

Education Committee

Legislative Office Building, Room 3100

Hartford, CT 06106

(860) 240‑0420

To find contact information for your legislators go to: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgafindleg.asp

Incredulous: Watching CT Department of Education officials lecture school administrators on how to mislead parents

Just when I thought I had truly seen everything when it comes to the arrogance, elitism, audacity and contemptuousness of those associated with the corporate funded “Education Reform” effort, I witnessed something even more breathtakingly incredible this past Monday at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

It has taken the week to even begin to be able to put into words what I and a handful of other parents and public school advocates witnessed.  In fact, I wouldn’t have believed it, had I not seen it for myself.

As was initially reported in the Wait, What? blog post entitled, “Malloy-Wyman Administration ramp-up attack on parents who opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing fiasco,” a group of targeted Connecticut public school superintendents and principals were ordered to attend a mandatory meeting at the Department of Education to discuss their failure last sprin, to stop enough parents from opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

Thanks to the anti-local control, authoritarian policies being pushed by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and their Commissioner of Education, the Connecticut State Department of Education summoned a group of local school administrators to a “roundtable discussion on family and community engagement strategies” on Monday, February 29, 2016 from 3:00 – 4:30 at the State Office Building in Hartford. The session was presented as a mechanism to enhance the communication skills of school administrators so that they could do a better job of ensuring that no more than 4.9 percent of public school parents opt their children out of the Common Cores testing mania.

After claiming that the meeting was actually a workshop, the State Department of Education told numerous parents and members of the public that they could not participate or even attend the “roundtable discussion on family and community engagement strategies.”

The state agency was clear – family and community were not welcome to attend or participate in a discussion about how to promote family and community engagement.

Finally, hours before the meeting was to begin, the State Department of Education reversed course or “clarified” its position saying that the public could come and watch, but would not be allowed to participate.

To call the event a roundtable would be … well more than a bit disingenuous.

There was nothing roundtable-ish about the session.

Instead of discussing parental concerns and how to address them, senior staff from the Department of Education lectured, instructed, talked-down-to and berated the local school administrators for an hour and a half about the need to “improve” communication with parents and their communities, thereby stopping parents from utilizing their legal and inalienable right to opt their children out of the Common Core testing frenzy.

One of the State Department of Education’s recommendations was to co-opt students to serve as ambassadors and promote the benefits of standardized testing.

In another example, SDE staff cheered about a YouTube video of teachers singing about how great the standardized testing opportunity was for students.

But the “pièce de la résistance” occurred as the meeting came to an end and a parent respectfully stood up to address the participants and explain why we oppose the mandated Common Core testing system.

And at that point, all Hell broke loose.

Parents’ rights lawyer Deborah G. Stevenson was among those in the audience watching the proceedings and today issued a statement in response to the events at the State Department of Education on Monday.

The communication leads with the headline – “State Department of Education Refuses to Allow Parents to Talk Immediately after the Close of a Training Session Held to Teach Superintendents How to Communicate Effectively with Parents!” 

Attorney Stevenson explained,

The Connecticut Parents’ Rights Coalition is appalled at the Behavior of the State Department of Education and Demands an Explanation or an Investigation.

As part of Education Commissioner Wentzell’s “leadership strategies”, designed to urge superintendents to “encourage” parents to have their children take the SBAC test rather than to opt out, the Commissioner called in Superintendents from public school districts across the state to the Department’s Hartford headquarters for a “training session” on how effectively to communicate with parents.

Facing reduced participation in the SBAC test, the Commissioner deemed it necessary to give the superintendents more “tools” to persuade parents to allow their children to take the test.

Among the “tools”, the Commissioner informed the Superintendents that if their school district’s participation rate fell below 95%, the district would be subject to dire consequences, including the loss of federal funding and the lowering of the ranking of the district moving it closer to a state takeover.

This, despite the fact that the Commissioner of Education recently acknowledged in testimony before the legislature’s Education Committee that parents do have a Constitutionally protected right to refuse to allow their children to take the test.

Yet, that right is not being respected when the Commissioner threatens parents, schools, and school districts with punishment for exercising that right.

When the Commissioner called the superintendents for more “training” to increase the participation rates, naturally parents were curious to find out about what the “training” consisted and sought to find out.

As Attorney Stevenson reports, truly amazing things happened both before and after the training session.  She added;

  • Parents politely notified the State Department of Education, days in advance that they planned to attend the “training session.”
  • While the Freedom of Information Act (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 1-225 and Sec. 1-200) states that “meetings of all public agencies shall be open to the public”, and defines public agency as “including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official”, and defines “meeting” as “any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency…to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision control, jurisdiction or advisory power”, nonetheless, the State Department of Education attempted to keep the “training session” for superintendents closed to the public, stating it “is not a venue for members of the general public to participate.”
  • Instead, the State Department of Education referred parents elsewhere, telling them that they could “utilize the public comment section during the State Board of Education meeting to voice opinions, ideas and concerns.”
  • The State Department of Education eventually changed its mind about keeping the meeting closed, but notified only one parent of that decision, and did so only five hours before the meeting was to take place. Consequently, only a few parents got that message upon such short notice and were able to attend.
  • Upon arrival at the meeting, those parents were told that they were not allowed to speak at the meeting, and that they were expected to sit quietly and simply observe.

Then later,  as the Deputy Commissioner of Education was announcing that the “roundtable” meeting was over, a parent diplomatically and respectfully stood up, thanked the Department for its presentation and began to explain why parents were understandably concerned about the Common Core SBAC and NEW SAT testing and our accurate concern that that our public schools are being turned into little more than testing factories.

The attempt to address the group seemed especially fitting since during the lecture to local school officials that same Deputy Commissioner instructed the superintendents and principals that they were to ask parents directly why they were refusing to allow their children to take the SBAC test.

However, as the parent began to explain our concerns, the Deputy Commissioner stood up abruptly and abrasively interrupted the speaker calling for an immediate halt raging,

“See, this is why we shouldn’t have let them in.”

It appeared that she or another SDE employee also demanded that security be called.

At that point, the State Department of Education employees and the local officials turned their backs on the parents in the room and, what could only be described as “scurrying,” exited the room as if fire and smoke was about to consume them.

Attorney Steven notes,

“In effect, the parents acted with patience and respect, quietly observed and listened intently throughout the entire meeting until it had concluded.”

The Deputy Commissioner of Education, and the superintendents, on the other hand, after being instructed for an hour and a half on how to effectively communicate with parents, quietly observed and listened only for a matter of seconds to the parent, interrupted her, turned their backs to her, and promptly walked out of the room.”

***

As a witness, I have to say that the whole event was beyond belief.

Having participated and watched government in action at the national, state and local level for more than four decades, I can safely say that I have never, ever, seen an meeting as unbelievably insulting as the “presentation” (PowerPoint and all) that those targeted local school administrators were forced to sit through or the even more incredible way in which public employees responded to a member of the public trying to raise important and legitimate concerns about the very issue that the school officials were summoned to the meeting to discuss.

To be honest, the word incredulous doesn’t even begin to address the sense of shock and dismay as I watched the horrendous and grossly inappropriate behavior of the individuals who are supposed to be working on behalf of public education in Connecticut and who receive generous salaries and benefits courtesy of the taxpayers of Connecticut.

In her letter today, Attorney Stevens understandably asks for an investigation into the abusive and insulting actions taken by these state officials.

I would go one step further, if I was governor of Connecticut, these people who have already been asked to leave and replaced with public servants who recognize the importance of serving the public.

More about the meeting will be forthcoming since we were able to collect both audio and video of the debacle.

You can watch a clip of the Deputy Commissioner’s response to the parent at: https://youtu.be/XA3cX3Z8Qnk

Those who would like to contact Attorney Stevenson, who serves as Counsel for the Connecticut Parents’ Rights Coalition, can reach her at [email protected]firm.com

 

Malloy’s Strategy on Common Core SBAC Test – Look busy and make sh*t up

Governor Dannel Malloy’s press office just issued a “major announcement” concerning the Governor’s position on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.

No, Malloy and his administration are NOT making the Common Core SBAC testing scheme less unfair.

No, Malloy and his administration are NOT making the Common Core SBAC testing scheme less inappropriate.

No, Malloy and his administration are NOT making the Common Core SBAC testing scheme less discriminatory.

Yes, Malloy and his administration ARE STILL trying to force students to take a test that is designed to fail a  significant percentage of Connecticut’s children because it includes content that has not been taught.

Yes, Malloy and his administration ARE STILL using the SBAC tests to label children and inaccurately “rank” the quality of education in Connecticut’s schools and school districts.

Yes, Malloy and his administration ARE STILL using the SBAC test as part of a massive effort to collect data on children without parent’s understanding or permission.

Yes, Malloy and his administration ARE STILL using the SBAC test results as an inappropriate criteria in Malloy’s teacher evaluation program.

And Yes, Malloy and his administration ARE STILL CONTINUING their unethical, immoral and illegal effort to bully parents into believing that they do not have the fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the disastrous Common Core SBAC testing scam.

In fact, the mandatory meeting to “instruct” targeted superintendents on how to keep parents from opting their children out of the SBAC tests is still taking place at the State Department of Education on Monday, February 29, 2016 at 4pm

Districts that had higher levels of opt out rates because they were honest with parents about the issue are still being required to submit a “Corrective Action” plan on how those school administrators will ensure parents don’t opt out this year.

The Malloy administration is still going to punish school districts in which more than 5 percent of parents opt their children out by withholding federal funds that are intended to pay for extra services that poor children need.

And the Malloy administration is still pushing their new legislative proposal to repeal local budget flexibility for selected school districts that aren’t able to force 95 percent of parents to allow their children to take the absurd SBAC test

So what is Malloy and his administration doing?

The press release speaks for itself.

Malloy and his Commissioner of Education are announcing that they will  eliminate one section of the Common Core SBAC test, thereby leaving some of the worst sections intact, and then using a whole lot of rhetoric to make sh*t up!

Here is Governor Dannel Malloy’s “major” announcement

GOV. MALLOY AND EDUCATION COMMISSIONER WENTZELL ANNOUNCE NEW STEP TO REDUCE STATE TESTING

New Step to Limit Smarter Balanced Exam Builds on Effort to Help Districts Spend Less Time Testing and More Time Teaching

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy and State Department of Education (SDE) Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell today announced the implementation of a new step that will reduce testing time and expand learning time for more than 200,000 Connecticut children across over 800 schools.  Changes to the application of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), impacting every student in grades three through eight, is as part of a broader effort to help districts spend less time testing students and more time teaching.

Currently in grades three through eight, there are two components of the SBAC exam.  The first is a computer adaptive test – the portion of the assessment done electronically with adaptive questions based on student responses – and the second is a performance task, such as essays.  As part of the new steps to reduce state testing, the performance tasks, which are often duplicative with in-class work, will be eliminated.  The change could increase learning time by up to an hour and forty-five minutes for every grade three through eight student.

The change is intended to increase student learning time, decrease student anxiety, assuage family concerns about testing, and limit over testing.

“We are working as hard as possible to be smart about testing, limit anxiety, and boost learning time.  Tests are important – they help us measure ourselves and pinpoint how to improve.  But where we find duplication, we should act.  We’re going to do just that with this new step,” Governor Malloy said.  “When we know an exam won’t improve our understanding of a student’s standing, and we know it won’t necessarily improve teaching quality, then we should eliminate it so it doesn’t burden our students, teachers, and families.  It’s our goal to be smart about how we test and ensure we find the right balance.  This decision is a step in that direction.”

“By rightsizing the Smarter Balanced Assessment to Connecticut’s needs, we are not only saving time and money, but we are improving the teaching and learning process,” Commissioner Wentzell said.  “Assessments are important tools that help us deliver on our promise to our kids and ensure that we are holding all of our students to high standards.”

SDE has studied the issue extensively and found that the computer only tests remain very reliable without the performance task portion of the grade three through eight English Language Arts exam.

The decision to reduce the length of the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the latest move in SDE’s ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of standardized testing for public school students.  Other initiatives include the

decision announced in the summer to eliminate duplicative testing at the high school level by replacing the Smarter Balanced exam with the SAT for eleventh graders.  This particular change is expected to save Connecticut as much as $1 million dollars in test implementation costs.

Additionally, SDE is working with school districts to gather and share innovative strategies for reducing assessment time.  Last year, the state agency awarded $428,253 to 48 districts as part of the Assessment Reduction grant program.  Districts received awards up to $10,000 each.  The grants aimed to help districts comprehensively analyze their tests to ensure that they reflect district priorities, remain aligned to new state standards, provide maximum value, and are not redundant with other assessments, with the ultimate aim of reducing testing time wherever possible.

Governor Malloy and Commissioner Wentzell made today’s announcement during a visit to Woodside Intermediate School in Cromwell, where they highlighted the district’s effective use of its grant. In Cromwell, utilizing state grants, the district assembled a team to analyze assessments in grades kindergarten through five and were able to reduce duplicative testing by 13 percent.  More importantly, they also strengthened their assessment system for those grades by better aligning assessments to standards.

Under federal law, Connecticut must administer end-of-year tests to all students in grades three to eight and once in high school.  This change does not require Board of Education or legislative approval.

Check back for more details on Governor Malloy’s hollow political gambit on the Common Core SBAC farce.

Malloy-Wyman Administration ramp-up attack on parents who opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing fiasco

Updated – Please note the correct location for the meeting to instruct superintendents on how to prevent parents from opting out.  It is not at the LOB, but it is taking place at the Department of Education, State Office Building, 165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT. on Monday, February 29, 2016 from 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Look Out Connecticut!

The forces behind the corporate education reform industry and their effort to turn public schools into little more than testing factories are getting even more mean-spirited and out-of-control.

On Friday afternoon – February 19, 2016 – Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s Commissioner of Education wrote to Connecticut school superintendents who failed to follow the Malloy administration’s directive and “allowed” too many parents to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme last spring.

Put aside, for a moment, the reality that there is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prevents a parent from refusing to have their child participate in a standardized testing scam that is intentionally designed to fail a significant number, if not a majority, of all public school students.

Because – when it comes to the “MY WAY OR NO WAY” Malloy administration, nothing is going to stand in the way of their ongoing effort to push forward with their irresponsible standardized testing program, all while undermining a parent’s fundamental and inalienable right to protect their children from the destructive SBAC tests.

Writing on behalf of state government, the head of the Connecticut Department of Education has now informed local school superintendents that they must STOP parents from opting their children out of the SBAC tests or else!

Or Else?

And the “or else” is that the state will punish the students, teachers and taxpayers of any school district in which more than five percent of parents opt their children out of that district’s SBAC testing program.

Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell informed districts with high opt-out rates that school administrators must attend a mandatory meeting at the Legislative Office Building on February 29, 2016 and that those same districts must submit a “Corrective Action Plan” to the Department of Education by March 11, 2016 on how they intend to stop parents from opting out.

The Commissioner begins her latest tirade by dismissing the legitimate concerns that parents, teachers and education experts have raised about the absurd SBAC testing program by opining;

“We understand that your 2014-15 district participation is likely an aberration.”

No Commissioner Wentzell, as a parent who has opted a child out of the testing farce and a resident of a school district that is being targeted for punishment by the State Department of Education, I assure you that our concerns are not an “aberration” in any way whatsoever.

In fact, not only does a parent have a Constitutionally guaranteed and inalienable right to refuse to have their child participate in the standardized testing frenzy, the decision to do so is a thoughtful, appropriate and understandable response after assessing the impact that the Common Core standardized testing mania is having on our students, teachers, public schools and taxpayers.

Then Commissioner Wentzell goes on to tell the targeted superintendents;

However, since participation in 2014-15 was substantially below the standard, please submit a detailed action plan by March 11, 2016 as to the steps the district is taking/will take to more fully engage teachers, students, parents, and the entire school community around the purpose and nature of the state assessment. As stated in our approved plan with the USED, federal funds will be withheld if all participation rates are not at or above 90 percent in 2015-16.

To support you in this endeavor, the Connecticut State Department of Education is hosting a roundtable discussion on family and community engagement strategies on Monday, February 29, 2016 from 3:00 – 4:30 at the State Office Building in Hartford. We ask that you and at least two other individuals from the district office attend this meeting. Please email Mary Anne Butler at [email protected] the names of the attendees so that we may arrange for parking.

We remain confident that your positive efforts will help to ensure that the 95 percent participation rate standard is achieved in 2015-16.

The Malloy administration’s edict is certainly direct, albeit unethical and abusive.

If local school leaders are not successful in stopping parents from utilizing their right to opt their children out of the SBAC testing, the Malloy administration will “withhold” funds from that school district, thereby reducing the amount of money that schools need to provide their students with the education that they deserve, and are entitled to, under the Connecticut Constitution.

Connecticut citizens should take special note of the deceitful way in which the Department of Education fails to reveal just what “funds” they intend to withhold from the “bad” school districts.

According to memos sent to superintendents, but not yet released to the public, Malloy and Wyman’s Education Department will be withholding what are called Title 1 Federal Funds – those are the dollars that come through a fifty year-old federal program that provides states with extra money to help poor children succeed in school.

Yup, you read that right

If local superintendents don’t stop at least 95% of their parents from opting their children out of the inappropriate SBAC testing program, the state of Connecticut will withhold funds intended to provide poor children with the extra support they need to overcome the significant and systemic challenges that they face.

Even in these troubling times, it is a stark commentary on the mindset of our state’s elected officials.

Their policy, strategies and tactics must not go unchallenged.

Malloy, Wyman and every Connecticut state senator and state representative should be required to step forward and defend their actions.

Parents should also consider attending Commissioner Wentzell’s “mandatory meeting” on February 29, 2016 to dispel any notion that elected and appointed officials will not be held accountable for this outrage.

Wentzell’s Mandatory Meeting for Targeted School Districts:

State Office Building – Department of Education

Monday, February 29, 2016

3:00pm – 4:30pm

For more about this issue read;

“My daughter will not be taking the “state mandated” NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016.” (Wait, What? Blog 1/28/2016) 

Some CT superintendents continue to violate parents’ civil rights and their own Code of Responsibility  (Wait, What? Blog 2/15/2016) 

LOOK OUT!  If parents opt their children out, the Malloy administration will cut funding for poor children (Wait, What? Blog 2/10/16) 

Other Wait, What? Blog Posts about the SBAC and opt-out issue including articles written by Wendy Lecker, Sarah Darer Littman, John Bestor and others can be found by searching on Wait, What? 

 

 

 

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education.

On a party-line vote, with Democrats backing Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s nominee for the State Board of Education, the General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee approved by a margin of 10 to 4 to confirm Erik Clemons for a position on the State Board of Education.  Clemons is the individual whose company is collecting in excess of $500,000 thanks to a no-bid contract that was mandated by the State Board of Education and funded through the State Department of Education.

See:

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

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education.

There is no word, at this point, as to why the Democrats felt there was no conflict of interest for a member of the State Board of Education and his company to collect money that is allocated and managed by the State Department of Education and its Board.

Erik Clemons is also a major supporter of the charter school industry, having served on the Board of Directors of the Achievement First, Inc. Elm City charter school and as a founding member of the new Elm City Montessori Charter School Board of Directors.

The State Board of Education is responsible for funding and regulating Connecticut’s charter schools.

If the General Assembly follows the committee’s lead, Connecticut’s charter schools will not only have one of their own sitting in that key oversight position, but that person will also be collecting well over $100,000 a year, thanks in part, to the flow of money from the State Department of Education.

The vote tally can be found here- https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/exndata/cv/2016CV-00017-R00EXN-TS.htm

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

The only thing more incredible than Governor Dannel Malloy’s decision to appoint Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education is the fact that Connecticut’s Democratic controlled legislature appears ready to rubber-stamp Malloy’s nominee despite the “Substantial Conflict of Interest” that should prevent him from serving on the Board.

There has been nothing but silence from Connecticut’s elected officials even though one of Governor Malloy’s recent appointees to the State Board of Education runs a company that is collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the very State Board that Malloy has appointed him too.

In two separate articles Wait, What? has outlined the conflict of interest associated with Malloy’s appointment of Erik Clemons to the Connecticut State Board of Education.

See:

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (2/16/2016

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education 12/23/2015

The issue is not whether Mr. Clemons is a “good guy” or that despite his close relationship with the Charter School Industry he is willing to work for the benefit of all students, parents, teachers and citizens.

The fact is Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman “signed-off” and appointed an individual who has a  “SUBSTANTIAL” CONFLICT OF INTEREST”  under state law.

According to Connecticut State Statutes;

“A “substantial” conflict of interest exists if a public official … or a business with which he or she is associated will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by virtue of his or her official activity. “

Erik Clemons is the CEO of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  In that capacity his salary and benefits are well in excess of $100,000

On May 7, 2014 the State Board of Education approved a “Turnaround Plan” for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

That plan mandated that the New Haven Board of Education contract with Mr. Clemons and the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) for services at the Lincoln-Bassett School.

The “Turnaround Plan” approved by the State Board of Education failed to provide any mechanism for holding a competitive bid for that work.

Instead, the New Haven Board of Education was required to contract and pay Mr. Clemons’s company with funds that are annually approved and allocated by the State Board of Education.

To date, Mr. Clemons’ company has received two no-bid contracts totaling at least $517,128.

The Turnaround Plan is based on the premise that Mr. Clemons’ company would continue to be given annual contracts into the future.

As a member of the State Board of Education, Mr. Clemons would not only be in a position to vote on contracts that would directly be a benefit to himself and his company, but he would be responsible for overseeing the state agency that is monitoring whether the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School Turnaround Plan is being properly implemented.

Even abstaining from voting on funding of his own contract isn’t enough to limit what is obviously a significant and on-going substantial conflict of interest.

The truth is that Mr. Clemons should not be a member of the State Board of Education.  Alternatively, if he really wants to serve on the State Board of Education then he must leave his position as CEO of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).

Tomorrow – Thursday, February 18, 2016 – The General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing and then an immediate vote on Governor Malloy’s appointees to the State Board of Education, including the nomination of Erik Clemons.

Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee

MEETING AGENDA

Thursday, February 18, 2016

11:00 AM IN ROOM 1A

Legislative Office Building

Click to view a list of the names and contact information of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee

For more background about this issue, read: Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education.

Last November, Governor Dannel Malloy appointed Erik Clemons of New Haven, along with two other individuals, to the State Board of Education.  See: Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education.

As interim appointees, the three immediately became voting members of the State Board of Education, although they must now be confirmed by the Connecticut General Assembly.  The legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee will be holding a hearing, followed by an immediate vote, on Mr. Clemons and Malloy’s other appointees to the State Board of Education this Thursday, February 18, 2016.

When making the announcement, Governor Malloy and his press operation conveniently failed to reveal Erik Clemons’ close association with Connecticut’s charter school industry.

Clemons served on the Board of Directors’ of Achievement First Elm City Charter School until 2015.  Following his departure from Achievement First Inc., his company’s Director of Programs at CONNCAT, Genevive Walker, was appointed to serve on that same Achievement First Board.

Clemons is also a founding member and continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the Elm City Montessori Charter Schoola charter school that opened last fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education. 

Both of these privately owned, but state funded, charter schools receive their operating money through the State Board of Education and the State Board is responsible for overseeing and regulating these and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Of even greater concern, however, is that when Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education, the Governor failed to report that Erik Clemons is the president of a nonprofit corporation that is collecting in excess of $500,000 in state funds as a result of a lucrative no-bid contract funded through the State Department of Education.

The 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).  As head of ConnCAT, Clemons’ compensation package is well over one hundred thousand dollars 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.

In addition, using the state’s Lincoln-Bassett turnaround funds, the New Haven Board of Education also hired a New Haven architectural firm for $42,224 for “ConnCAT Project Design Services.”

Unfortunately, the only coverage of these issues has been here at Wait, What? in an article co-written with public education advocate Wendy Lecker, Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education.

With the General Assembly’s Legislative and Executive Nominations Committee about to decide whether or not to confirm Mr. Clemons to serve on the State Board of Education, one would hope that other media outlets or legislators would step up and investigate the extremely serious conflicts of interest that should be keeping Mr. Clemons from serving on Connecticut’s Board of Education.

Some CT superintendents continue to violate parents’ civil rights and their own Code of Responsibility

Parents of public school students in a number of Connecticut school districts continue to report that there are superintendents and principals who are not only misleading parents about their fundamental and inalienable right to refuse to have their child participate in the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests and/or the NEW SAT, but are actually telling parents that it is “illegal” for them to opt their child or children out of these tests.

Such a statement is a lie, a violation of the parent’s civil rights and violates the Connecticut Code of Professional Responsibility that school administrators MUST follow in order to maintain their state certification.

ONCE AGAIN – There is NO federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prevents a parent from refusing (opting their child out) of Connecticut’s Common Core SBAC tests or the recently “mandated” NEW SAT.

If Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman, Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell or any public school superintendent or principal has a legal opinion that they believe gives them the authority to override constitutionally guaranteed parental rights then they need to immediately make such a document public so that those of us who are parents can take appropriate legal action to protect Connecticut’s parents and children.

If they do not have a legal opinion that can withstand a challenge then superintendents need to stop implementing the Malloy administration’s strategy of abuse and treat their students and parents with respect.

Every Connecticut school administrator is well aware, or should be well aware, that in January 2013 Governor Dannel Malloy’s first Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, provided local school officials with a directive explaining how to mislead parents about the Common Core testing and how to make it as difficult as possible for parents to opt their child out of the testing frenzy.

That same memo, however, explained that if parents insisted that their children not take the test, the state policy was to recognize that decision.

Although the law has not changed and the State Board of Education has not rescinded the memo, the Malloy administration conveniently removed the policy document from the Department of Education’s website.

The State Department of  Education Memo reads;

Over the years, the CSDE has developed a graduated approach in response to parents who want their child(ren) removed from statewide testing. The overall goal is to test as many students as we can in adherence to state and federal law.

The Memo then lays out the protocol for handling opt-out requests:

If:  Parent(s) contact their public school district to request/inform the district that they want their child (ren) removed from statewide testing

Then:  The school or district administrator explains to the parent that the district has no degrees of freedom in the matter.  Federal and state law requires that public school students are to be tested.

If:   Parent calls the state to ask if they can opt-out of testing.

Then:  State informs parent that there is no opt-out language in the law.  As long as the student is enrolled in a Connecticut public school, the district is required to test them on some form of the statewide exam.  The state sends a copy of the statutory references to the parent.

If:  Parent informs the district that, regardless of the law, the district is not to test the student.

Then:  District is advised to get this statement of intent from the parent in writing so that the district can provide a written response.  The CSDE’s legal office has provided a model letter (attached), which districts may adapt, citing all pertinent laws and regulations and asking the parent to reconsider as it is a violation of the law not to comply.

If:  Parent writes back to the district a letter explaining that they have read and understood the district’s letter, but insist that the child not be tested.

Then:  In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing), which negatively impacts the participation rate for the district.  The state, to date, has not done any follow-up on these cases.  

Note that even this memo states that the student is to be marked absent.

The following are links to copies of the Malloy administration’s memo – http://issuu.com/jonpelto/docs/connecticut-department-of-education and https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5PDZpOuzPFVOHpzcjV6VGJaU0U/view?usp=sharing and https://www.scribd.com/doc/258918003/Connecticut-Department-of-Education-Memo-on-Optng-Out-of-Common-Core-SBAC-Testing-2013

If these links don’t work, send a request to [email protected] and a pdf of the memo will be sent back to you.

ALSO NOTE: The Code of Professional Responsibility for School Administrators

In addition, parents who are facing harassment from school superintendents or principals should take special note of The Code of Professional Responsibility for School Administrators that administrators must follow in order to hold the required state certification to work in a Connecticut public school.

The Code of Professional Responsibility is laid out in Section 10-145d-400b of Connecticut’s State Regulations and requires;

 “The professional school administrator, in full recognition of obligations to the student, shall: (1) Make the well-being of students the fundamental value in all decision making and actions; (2) Recognize, respect and uphold the dignity and worth of students as individuals and deal justly and considerately with students;…”

In addition, the school administrators’ code for the responsibility to the student’s family states that,

“The professional school administrator, in full recognition of the responsibility to the student’s family, shall: (1) Respect the dignity of each family, its culture, customs and beliefs; (2) Promote and maintain appropriate, ongoing and timely written and oral communications with the family; (3) Respond in a timely fashion to families’ concerns; (4) Consider the family’s perspective on issues involving its children; (5) Encourage participation of the family in the educational process; and (6) Foster open communication among the family, staff and administrators.”

The language of the state regulation is clear, concise and specific!  Superintendents and other certified school administrators ARE PROHIBITED FROM engaging in behavior and actions that violate their sworn duties to perform their jobs in an ethical and responsible fashion.

The time is now for Superintends and School Administrators to do their job appropriately and respect a parent’s decision to opt their child or children out of the SBAC and NEW SAT tests.