State must take serious look at school funding (according to Wendy Lecker)

11 Comments

It is time for a real, serious and honest look at Connecticut’s school funding crisis, not the cop-out  version that has been recently proposed as part of Connecticut’s budget plan.

Fellow pro-public education blogger and commentator, Wendy Lecker, has another “MUST READ” column this week in the Stamford Advocate, CT Post and the other newspapers that are part of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

You can find her full post here; Wendy Lecker: State must take serious look at school funding

As Lecker notes, ”Connecticut is a study in contrasts. We have pockets of incredible wealth, and areas struggling with entrenched poverty. We have school districts with few needy children, and those with high concentrations of children living in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. There are districts with gleaming labs, large marching bands, theater, and foreign language offered in kindergarten, while in other districts, children sit in overcrowded classrooms with inadequate libraries, no electives, insufficient books and not even enough paper. This resource disparity translates into a disparity of educational opportunity, with some districts sending scores of children to elite colleges while others have alarmingly low graduation rates.

Connecticut has allowed this chasm in educational opportunity to exist for years, in part because we have never taken an honest look at what it costs to educate all children no matter what their need.”

Lecker recognizes that the process must begin with an “educational adequacy cost study.”

As she explains, “In such a study, experts first identify the basic educational resources needed to meet state standards. Then, they “cost out” those resources, taking into account the factors that affect the cost, such as student need, geographic differences, and population density. Different levels of student need, such as poverty, limited English proficiency and disability, affect the cost of resources necessary. Moreover, the severity and/or concentration of poverty and the level of disability can add to educational cost. For over 20 years states and courts have used these studies to devise rational school finance systems with a transparent relationship between state aid, student need and a district’s ability to raise revenue.”

But despite an across the board recognition that a cost study is needed, Governor Malloy failed to propose one as part of his recent changes to the State’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

Instead, as Lecker points out, Malloy “ proposed inappropriate changes to our school finance system that will render even more children invisible in the eyes of the ECS formula.”

Furthermore, she writes, “The governor’s plan to completely remove English Language Learners from ECS is a step in exactly the wrong direction. Such a move would have devastating effect on many municipalities. In a state with a growing Latino population, and others from non-English-speaking homes, this proposal is ludicrous. Moreover, Malloy’s proposal reduces the weight for poverty, providing fewer funds to educate poor children. To make matters worse, the proposal once again fails to include a weight for special education.”

Although Governor Malloy has failed to take the necessary steps towards fiscal transparency and adequacy, Connecticut’s legislators can correct that mistake.  

You can find Lecker’s full commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-must-take-serious-look-at-4301439.php#ixzz2LjtWjttN

“Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

13 Comments

“Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The debate in America today is not between those who want to keep our education system as it is and those who want to change it.

The “education reformers” are fond of saying that those of us who oppose their initiatives are for the status quo.  They are wrong and their rhetoric is insulting, small-minded and stupid.

The debate is about what type of public education we should have.

While improving the system of public education in the United States is the critical building block to the economic prosperity of our nation and its citizens, providing every child with a quality education is far more important than that – for it is the key to whether we, as a people, can achieve the principles, values, democracy and humanity that we claim to hold dear.

Hidden behind the debate about turnaround programs, charter schools, standardized testing, evaluation methods and the common core curriculum rages a far more fundamental argument; what do we actually expect our public education to achieve… What is the purpose of public education?

A couple of years ago, Valerie Straus of the Washington Post, used Martin Luther King Jr. Day to re-print a number of King’s writings and speeches on education.

Here is a piece he wrote for the Morehouse College student newspaper in 1947.

As we honor Martin Luther King Jr. today, it would be nice to think that our elected officials would take the time to read King’s thoughts on this most vital of topics.

The Purpose of Education, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“…It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.

“Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda.

“At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

And lest we forget, there are equally profound ways to look at the meaning and role of education…

“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” - Joseph Stalin

What is Paul Vallas doing to Bridgeport’s Special Education Students?

28 Comments

When Bridgeport’s City Council approved this year’s $511.1 million city budget, it included a core school budget of $215.8 million.  That is the same amount that was budgeted last year.

Last year’s school budget was balanced, in part, from a series of budget cuts proposed by Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s $229,000, part-time, interim superintendent of schools, and approved by Bridgeport’s illegal board of education.  The final gap was covered by a $3.5 million dollar forgivable loan from the State of Connecticut.

A budget is a type of a law.  It is a blueprint of how the public’s money will be spent.

Although this year’s school budget is for the same amount as last year’s, some spending categories have been increased and others have been decreased.

To date, the focus has been on Vallas’ claim that he “cut” one-third of the school system’s “central office” costs, although considering he’s brought in a cadre of high-priced consultants, signed numerous no-bid contracts for new products and software systems, and pushed costs down to the school level, it is not clear whether he really has or has not cut out a third of the central operation.

But there is something that is very clear about the new budget;

Paul Vallas proposed, and the members of the illegal Board of Education adopted, a budget which includes an incredible, shocking and unprecedented attack on Bridgeport’s special education programs.

That cut was included in Mayor Bill Finch’s budget and approved by Bridgeport’s City Council.

Bridgeport’s new city budget eliminates 90 percent of the money needed to pay the tuition costs for the placement of special education students in what has been determined as the most appropriate environment for these children.

Last year, Bridgeport spent $39.8 million on costs associated with educating and supporting its special education students.

This year, Bridgeport’s approved school budget reduces that number to $18.9 million

That is a cut of $14 million dollars, and almost all of it comes from ending the placement of special education students who need services beyond what the school system can provide.

Vallas and the board cut the funds appropriated for out-of-district tuition and support services from $15.0 million to $1.4 million (see this year’s budget – link below).

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other federal and Connecticut laws, students who face special challenges must be provided educational opportunities that maximize their potential and provide them with an education in the least restrictive, and most appropriate, environment.

As parents of students with special needs know, the school system develops an Individualized Education Program (called an IEP) that is designed to address each individual child’s needs.  In some cases, that includes taking specific students out of a traditional school setting and enrolling them in special schools or programs.

The Vallas budget removes the money to send these children to the special schools and programs that they need and deserve.

In a truly stunning defense of his approach, Vallas wrote in a July 2012, District Financial update, “…the district has continued to find itself in precarious financial condition largely as a result of…burdensome contracts with external vendors which disproportionately allocated 10% of the entire budget to just 1.5% of our students, unfairly shortchanging the majority of our students and their teachers.”

Publicly pitting Bridgeport’s special education students against “the majority of our students and their teachers” is reprehensible.

Worse, instead of recommending a thoughtful effort to review and revise individualized education plans to see if less expensive options exist, Vallas simply ends tuition payments completely for these students.

And at the same time, the school budget reflects NO meaningful and corresponding increase in the number of special education teachers and professionals that would be needed if Bridgeport shifted all those special education students back into city’s traditional schools.

Not only is the plan Vallas has proposed and the illegal Board of Education adopted immoral, but, in speaking with special education experts, the move would almost certainly be ruled illegal.  IEPs for every child would have needed to take place and be changed  to achieve the budget savings; students would have had to have all been moved as of July 1, 2012.

Furthermore, the underlying problem with the budget that Vallas proposed and Mayor Finch signed, is that if Bridgeport’s special education students are not pulled out of their specialized programs, Bridgeport’s taxpayers are facing a $14 million deficit in their school budget.

An alternative scenario is that Team Vallas knew perfectly well that they couldn’t cut 90% of the special education funds for out-of-district placement, but wrote that “savings” into the budget in order to make it look like the budget was balanced.

Either situation is more than bad.

As noted, pitting special education students against the rest of the budget and proposing to remove students from their educational settings, a move that is probably illegal, is definitely not the answer to Bridgeport’s challenges.

But to knowingly adopt a budget that is $14 million out of balance is also bad news, especially for the taxpayers of Bridgeport who will have to pick up the costs associated with this type of fiscal irresponsibility.

If you run into anyone on Team Vallas, you might want to ask them, what are they doing to Bridgeport’s Special Education students?

If you run into a member of Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education, you might want to ask them, why did they vote for a budget that is so off and so off track.

A copy of Bridgeport’s approved budget can be found here:  http://www.bridgeportct.gov/OfficeofPolicyMgmt/Documents/2013%20Adopted/BOE%20all%202013.pdf

Vallas addresses the special education issue in his District Financial Update which can be found here: http://www.bridgeportedu.com/docs/HomePage/2012-2013/BPSDistrictFinancialUpdate.pdf

Don’t overlook the Asterisk when looking at Connecticut’s “big investment” in Education.

9 Comments

On a national television show the other day, Governor Malloy called his “education reform” bill a massive investment of new funds for Connecticut’s schools.

Meanwhile, towns across Connecticut are laying off teachers and other key school personnel.

While additional funds are desperately needed and undoubtedly appreciated, the hyperbole surrounding the new “education reform” law’s “financial investment” leaves out the fact that the additional $98 million or so in education funding doesn’t begin to address the funding problems that are plaguing all but the wealthiest school districts in Connecticut.

In fact, the Governor and Legislature completely punted on the reality that Connecticut’s education funding formula (The ECS grant) is $800 million to $1.5 billion underfunded and that the formula itself has been modified (corrupted) to the point that wealthy towns are getting more than their fair share while the school districts that actually need the money the most, aren’t getting the funds they need to maintain let alone expand their education programs.

To be blunt, the $98 million doesn’t remotely cover the increasing inflationary costs that towns are dealing with and even with the “new” money local schools budgets are being cut dramatically, especially in Connecticut’s poorer school districts, and local property taxes are going up.

The new education reform bill allocates the funds in the following ways;

$6.8 million for 1,000 additional school readiness slots

$2.7 million for new standardized testing systems for children in kindergarten – 3rd grade

$3 million in additional support for Family Resources Centers and School Based Health Clinics

$7.5 million to fund Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s program to takeover over local schools (The Commissioner’s Network)

$8.1 million in additional funds for Charter Schools

$50 million increase in funds for the Education Cost Sharing Grant (but most of that money is conditional and will only be given if the local school districts adopt certain policies or fund certain programs that Commissioner Pryor will be mandating).

$2.5 million in additional funds for Magnet Schools

$2.2 million for the Edison Magnet School in Meriden.  Edison is one of the public magnet schools run by ACES, the regional education service center.

$1.4 million more for the regional Vocational Agriculture Schools

$6 million to develop a new Early Childhood quality rating system

And $4 million to develop and support a new mandated “Chart of Accounts” system to standardize the way towns report how they spend their education resources.

There is no doubt that the additional funds are important, but it leaves 95% of the ECS problem unresolved and a sizeable amount of this money will go towards additional standardized tests and other activities that do little to help towns come up with the vital funds needed to run their schools.

 

 

Memo to Connecticut Democrats (ONLY); All others should skip this post

53 Comments

[Now that it is just us Democrats here; let’s take a moment to talk politics].

There were seven new Democratic Governors elected in the United States in 2010.  Today, when it comes to measuring each governor’s support from members of their own party;

One new Democratic governor’s job performance rating among Democrats is +80 percent

Two new Democratic governors are about +65 percent

Two new Democratic governors about are about +55 percent

One new Democratic governor one is at +45 percent

And then, according to the last Quinnipiac poll, one new Democratic governor is at a breathtakingly low +19 percent.

That is right – there is a Democratic governor whose support among his own party is only a positive 19 percent.  Less than one-quarter of the support the most popular new Democratic governor has….and that lowest in the nation governor is Dannel Malloy.

The “Education Reform” Debate:

Governor Malloy and the proponents of his “education reform” bill often claim that Connecticut’s legislators should pass Malloy’s version of Senate Bill #24 because “the voters support education reform” and “every other state is doing it.”

In his state of the state speech, Malloy talked about these reforms being adopted in 35 other states.  ConnCAN’s CEO, Patrick Riccards, likes to say that “Connecticut’s reform bill is mild compared to that in other states.”

As we now know, both statements are false.

But more importantly, we are taught early in life that just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t mean we should and as Democrats, we believe that public policy should be driven by doing the right thing rather than what is politically expedient according to public opinion polls. (Although, truth be told, it isn’t even accurate to claim that Connecticut voters “support” these education reforms.  They support having better schools but are mixed on some of the individual proposals.)

In any case, while we don’t believe in governance by polling, we Democrats do recognize the importance of representing our constituents, especially those who took the time to go to the polls to cast their votes for our candidates.  After all, that is why America is called a ”representative democracy.”

In Connecticut, Democrats win when we have strong support from our political base and do fairly well among unaffiliated voters.  Since Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2-1 margin at the statewide level, when Democrats receive overwhelming support from Democratic voters, our candidates can actually win with a minority of unaffiliated voters.  Of course at the congressional and legislative level, in order to be successful, candidates must get a big Democratic vote and the majority of unaffiliated voters in order to be victorious.

The gubernatorial election of 2010 was a perfect example.  Dan Malloy won that election with just 49 percent of the popular vote.  According to the last Quinnipiac Poll, released just hours before the election, 88 percent of Democrats intended to vote for Dan Malloy, 9 percent of Democrats intended to vote for Tom Foley and only 3 percent were undecided or said that they would vote for someone else.

That 88 percent, along with a minority of unaffiliated voters, gave the Democrats control of the governor’s office after 20 years.

Now here we are – eighteen months later.

One of the most traditional ways to understand voter attitudes is to measure an elected official’s “job-performance” rating.  While job performance is not a perfectly predictor of how people will vote in the future, it is a fairly good indicator of the overall level of support among various sub-constituencies such as party affiliation.

Last week, Quinnipiac University released a new poll revealing that 37 percent of all Connecticut voters’ approved of the way Governor Malloy is handling his job, 44 percent disapprove of his job performance and 19 percent are undecided or neither approve or disapprove of the way he is conducting his job as governor.

Quite frankly, it is far too early to worry too much about the overall numbers; besides, we know that the key measure is where Democrats stand, since in the end, a strong Democratic base is the fundamental building block to a successful election.

To date, Governor Malloy’s strategy has often been to confront and attack key constituencies within his own party.  Last year Governor Malloy proposed record budget cuts, including cuts to services that are traditionally supported by Democrats.  He also entered into a long and confrontational battle with our state employees.

This year, under the guise of “education reform,” Malloy has proposed the most anti-teacher, anti-union “education reform” bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.

In the forty years since public employees won the right to collectively bargain, no Connecticut governor; Democrat, Republican or Independent has ever proposed that collective bargaining be banned for a group of public employees.  But that is exactly what Governor Malloy has done.

The Governor’s job performance rating is a measurement of the impact his confrontational approach has had with key constituencies within the Democratic Party.

The following chart indicates how Connecticut Democratic voters rate Governor Malloy’s job performance.  In politics we use a statistic that measures the rate of approval compared to the rate of disapproval – we call that the overall positive or negative rating of an individual (i.e. +/-). The higher the positive rating the better the candidate or elected officials is doing.

Malloy Job Approval Democratic Voters

Approve

Disapprove

Don’t Know

+/-

March 2011

51

24

25

+27

June 2011

52

29

25

+23

September 2011

56

35

9

+21

March 2012

64

27

10

+37

April 2012

51

32

17

+19

 

Except for a bounce in March 2012, what is particularly noteworthy is Governor Malloy’s job performance rating, among Democrats, has been trending dramatically downward since the day he took office.

Malloy versus other new Democratic Governors;

In addition, what has been happening with Governor Malloy becomes even more pronounced when one looks at where Malloy stands against the other new Democratic governors around the nation. (There were seven new Democratic governors in the Class of 2011).  All data here are from recent, independent public opinion surveys.

Job Approval

Approve

Disapprove

Don’t Know

+/-

Brown (CA)

69

15

15

+54

Cuomo (NY)

79

15

5

+65

Dayton (MN)

85

5

10

+80

Hickenlooper (CO)

73

9

18

+64

Kitzhaber (OR)

56

11

32

+45

Shumlin (VT)

71

14

15

+57

 

Shocking is rather an understatement.

In Minnesota, Governor Dayton just vetoed an “education reform” bill that was being pushed by 50CAN, the national outgrowth of ConnCAN and formed by the same people who founded Achievement First.  Even before vetoing that bill, Dayton’s support among Minnesota Democrats was +80 percent compared to Malloy’s + 19 percent among Democrats.

Again, as noted above, we Democrats do not lead by poll results but we also have a fundamental duty to look at whether we are successfully representing the people who put us in office.

It is time to have an honest discussion about what happens when a governor spends his time confronting and alienating some of the most basic elements of our party.

NEWS FLASH: Today we see the ultimate example of Governor Malloy’s approach to making public policy.

10 Comments

Earlier today, CTNewsjunkie posted an article entitled “Sausage Making Isn’t Pretty, But It Will Get Done” in which it was reported that “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy remained confident Thursday that once the legislature’s Education Committee finishes making revisions to his 163-page education bill ’we will have a very robust educational reform package to act on’.”

In the article Governor Malloy finally addresses the special provision allowing Steven Adamowski to add to his pension even though he failed to meet the most basic requirements.  Adamowski is the former superintendent of schools in Hartford, the present “Special Master” in Windham and helped write Malloy’s “Education Reform” package.

You can find the CTNewsjunkie article by clicking: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/sausage_making_isnt_pretty/

I have written extensively about the section of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill that changes Connecticut’s pension law so that Steven Adamowski, can add to his state-funded pension despite the fact that only people who hold an education certificate can participate in the Teachers Retirement System.

Now, when CTNewsjunkie asked him about this issue, Malloy’s response was;

“I don’t think there’s an Adamowski provision…If we decide that it’s acceptable to get the best talent from other states to come into our state to be superintendents they should be treated as the talent in the state is being treated.”

FACT: Section 32 of Senate Bill 24, Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill, adds a sentence to Connecticut State Statute 10-183b (26) which defines who can participate in the Teacher Retirement System.

Starting on 3573 the bill expands who can participate in the Teachers Retirement System with the words “a superintendent employed by a local or regional board of education on or after July 1, 2007, pursuant to subsection (c) of section 10-157, as amended by this act.”

There is one, and only one, person in Connecticut, in fact there is only one person in the entire United States of America that matches that criteria and that one person is Steven Adamowski.

In Connecticut you cannot be a superintendent of schools unless you hold a valid certificate.

In 2007, Steven Adamowski got the legislature to pass a new law that allowed the commissioner of education to waive that requirement.

That provision of the law is now 10-157 and Connecticut’s commissioner of education used that provision for four years in a row to allow Adamowski to stay working in Hartford.

As superintendent, Adamowski made $225,000 a year plus benefits.

Now, even though he didn’t have a certificate and even though he made no effort to get a certificate, Governor Malloy’s Administration has added language which would allow this one person to be the ONLY non-certified person in the entire Teachers Retirement System.

There are 45,000 teachers and 9,000 school administrators who followed the rules, took the tests, are certified by the state of Connecticut and are therefore eligible to be in the Teachers Retirement System.

The Governor’s bill changes the law to allow one person to skip the rules and get a much larger pension. A pension that could eventually exceed $100,000 a year and Malloy’s answer is “I don’t think there’s an Adamowski provision…”

So, once again we are faced with a dilemma. Is Dan Malloy simply lying or does he actually not understand what is in the bill that he proposed and – and if not – how is that possible?

Whether it is this special deal for a big education reform supporter who helped him write this bill or one of the other equally inappropriate sections of this bill – how is it possible that the governor of Connecticut doesn’t know what is in his own bill.

It is a simple question with profound ramifications.

“…only thing you have to do is show up for four years.” – Dan Malloy

27 Comments

No he wasn’t talking about being Governor; he was talking about being a Connecticut public school teacher…

Photo courtesy of Hugh McQuaid, CTNewsjunkie

Reading it for the 10th time and it still makes me cringe.

In his State of the State speech on February 8, 2012 Governor Dan Malloy began his discussion about the issue of teacher tenure by saying “In today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years.  Do that, and tenure is yours.”

My first thought was how Malloy’s speech writer, Roy Occhiogrosso, could put such a bizarre, insulting and ignorant line into the Governor’s speech.  Occhiogrosso, who is fond of telling reporters that he’s not a “numbers guy” would describe himself more of a “message guy.”  However, best message or not, one does have the responsibility to at least know the facts surrounding an issue.

My second and even more disturbing thought was how Governor Malloy could say such a bizarre, insulting and ignorant thing.

And not only is it bizarre, insulting and ignorant but it’s just not true – and Dan Malloy (or at least Nancy Wyman) knows it.

The law in Connecticut is actually very clear.  School administrators have four years to evaluate and, if appropriate, remove teachers prior to the teacher earning tenure status.

Only five states in the country have longer probationary periods.

The Center for American Progress, one of the many “education reform” groups pushing to reform the teacher training and certification system laid out what it considered best practices.

The Center for American Progress wrote:

“The probationary period would be at least three years, during which teachers would be observed at least twice annually. Evaluation systems would consider student achievement as a preponderant criterion. Probationary teachers with more than one poor observation would be given limited support and then terminated if they do not improve It’s time for districts to take advantage of this time period to weed out ineffective teachers.”

Not only does Connecticut have one of the longest probationary periods in the country but take a moment to read the state’s PRESENT law about evaluating teachers;

The Connecticut State law;

  • Requires school districts to continuously evaluate their teachers and makes a district’s school superintendent responsible for implementing that requirement.
  • Evaluations must address strengths, areas needing improvement, indicators of improvement strategies and utilize multiple measures of the academic growth of the teacher’s students.
  • School district’s evaluation programs must be consistent with State Board of Education guidelines. 
  • And superintendents MUST report the status of their teacher evaluation programs by June 1st of every year.

The truth is that school administrators may not be doing their job, but the law couldn’t be more clear and forthright about how teacher evaluations are supposed to work.

Somehow the Governor FAILED to provide those rather critical “details” in his teacher bashing speech.

The Truth about Probationary Periods:

In his State of the State address, Governor Malloy said “Since 2009, 31 states have enacted tenure reform, including our neighboring states of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. It’s time for Connecticut to act. ”

The following 2011 National Council on Teacher Quality report includes most of the “reforms” that have taken place in other states:

STATE 1 YEAR 2 YEARS 3 YEARS 4 YEARS 5 YEARS
 Alabama        X    
Alaska          X    
Arizona          X    
Arkansas        X    
California        X      
Colorado          X    
Connecticut           X  
Delaware          X    
Florida Only annual contracts        
Georgia          X    
Hawaii        X      
Idaho Only annual contracts        
Illinois            X  
Indiana          X    
Iowa          X    
Kansas          X    
Kentucky            X  
Louisiana          X    
Maine          X    
Maryland          X    
Massachusetts          X    
Michigan              X
Minnesota          X    
Mississippi        X      
Missouri              X
Montana          X    
Nebraska          X    
Nevada        X      
New Hampshire              X
New Jersey          X    
New Mexico          X    
New York          X    
North Carolina            X  
North Dakota        X      
Ohio              X
Oklahoma          X    
Oregon          X    
Pennsylvania        X    
Rhode Island 2 yrs “ineffective” evaluations leads to dismissal      
South Carolina        X      
South Dakota          X    
Tennessee              X
Texas          X    
Utah          X    
Vermont        X      
Virginia          X    
Washington          X    
West Virginia          X    
Wisconsin          X    
Wyoming          X    

Source:  National Council on Teacher Quality, 2011 State Teacher Policy

When Malloy said that since 2009, 31 states have enacted tenure reform, I’m thinking no one briefed him on the major reforms Connecticut adopted in 2010.

In that year the General Assembly adopted and Governor Rell signed Public Act 10-111 which specifically strengthened the evaluation process by requiring that districts must “continuously evaluate or cause to be evaluated each teacher”, adding the section requiring districts to use “multiple indicators of student academic growth” and giving the State Board of Education the authority to develop guidelines that the districts must follow.

In the 2010 law the deadline for the State Board of Education to adopt the guidelines for teacher evaluation was no later than July 1, 2013 and some guidelines must instruct local education officials as to the “minimum requirements for teacher evaluation instruments and procedures.”

Considering the fact that Connecticut is already mandated to develop much more aggressive evaluation systems, let’s journey back to the February 8, 2012 State of the State Address and see how Governor Dannel Malloy could have handled the situation.

Imagine where we would be today if Governor Malloy had decided to put the interests and needs of Connecticut and its education system above his ongoing effort to become renowned as the “tough, take no prisoners” governor.

His state of the state speech would have sounded very different.  Instead of the bravado and political pandering aimed at trashing teachers and blaming them for our inability to overcome the incredible challenges facing our education system, especially those in our state’s urban school systems, the Governor could have and should have said something like the following;

“Connecticut, like states all across this nation is looking for how to ensure that our children receive the knowledge and skills they need in order to succeed in today’s increasing complex global economic system.

Producing better educational outcomes will not only provide Connecticut’s children with a better, brighter and more prosperous future but it will ensure that our state has the quality workforce that our economy will needed to compete and succeed in the decades to come.

The fact is – Connecticut is already becoming a leader in this critical endeavor.

One thing is clear and that is school systems need time to evaluate new teachers, to identify their strengths and their weaknesses and implement plans to consistently improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms.

Here in Connecticut we require new teachers to have a probationary period of 4 years – enough time to conduct effective evaluations programs to determine whether each new teacher really has what it takes to be a truly effective teacher for Connecticut’s public schools.

And it’s important to note that at any time during those four years local school administrators have the authority to relieve the less successful teachers of their jobs.

Today, about thirty-nine other states have shorter probationary periods but in Connecticut we all recognize – state officials, local education officials and teachers and education advocates that we are better off with a longer probationary period so that the evaluations, assessments and decisions about which teachers should stay can be made.

Second, thanks to the leadership of many in you this chamber, in 2010, Connecticut adopted a much stronger, more sensible and effective teacher evaluation process.  That process requires local schools administrators to continuously evaluate every teacher and that the evaluation process uses multiple indicators of student academic growth to identify which teachers are succeeding and which need to be asked to leave the teaching profession.

The 2010 law gives our State Board of Education the authority to adopt a standard set of guidelines that will set out the requirements for teacher evaluation instruments and procedures.

Although the law allows the state government until July 2013 to produce those guidelines, I recognize that it is vitally important that this updated teacher evaluation process be put in place so I’ve instructed our Commissioner of Education to have those rules in place no later than December 31 of this year – so we can begin the upgraded the teacher evaluation process sooner.

Finally, I want to address the issue of tenure versus how best to terminate those teachers who aren’t right for today’s classrooms.

In many states this has become an ugly battle, full of confrontation and useless bickering.

We are not going to let that happen here.

The issue is not whether teachers should have due process rights – in this country – we proudly recognize that the importance of due process and are constantly seeking mechanism to expand due process not restrict it.

The question is that once we have effective teacher evaluations systems in place, teachers who don’t make the grade need to be released so we can get a better, more dedicated and more capable teacher into the classroom.

In the past, the lengthy process for removing an unsatisfactory teacher has hurt the quality of education in Connecticut and the reputation of the teaching profession.

The timeline for removing a bad teacher has been long and the process has become too expensive leading some school administrators to determine that it is better to simply leave the failing teacher in the classroom.

We can and will reform that process.

The education commissioner and I have already been meeting with Connecticut’s teacher unions and today I’m proud that we are putting forward a major reform plan that will significantly reduce the timeline and the cost of getting under-performing teachers out of the classroom.

Instead of having a process that could last a year and costs tens of thousands of dollars, this plan will get the bad teacher out of the classroom immediately and off the payroll and out of the teaching profession in a matter no more than 90 days.  This plan will also mean real financial savings for local education budgets, funds that can now be put into improving the quality of our schools.

I know and you know that there is no greater profession than education.

There is not a job that is more important than giving today’s children the knowledge and tools to succeed.

Together, in this the Year of Education, we can and will do exactly that.”

[So Governor Malloy – it’s not too late to do the right thing and get “education reform” back on track].

Where the State’s new money for local education is going under Governor Malloy’s Education Reform Plan

9 Comments

Achievement First Charter Schools get $2,600 more per student while the 222,000 students in the 30 poorest towns get an increase of $150 per student.

School District

Number of Students*

Increase in Funds*

Increase per student*

Achievement First – The Charter School Company

2,440 (approx)

$6.2 million plus

$2,600

Waterbury

17,656

$4.4 million

$249

Hartford

20,774

$3.7 million

$178

Bridgeport

21,054

$3.3 million

$156

New Britain

10,854

$2.7 million

$245

New Haven

17,633

$2.3 million

$130

Meriden

9,187

$1.8 million

$193

East Hartford

8,027

$1.7 million

$214

Danbury

10,505

$1.7 million

$176

Bristol

8,762

$1.3 million

$159

West Haven

7,390

$1.4 million

$187

Manchester

7,502

$1.2 million

$160

Middletown

5,384

$798,000

$148

Windham

3,345

$764,000

$228

Norwich

11,165

$730,000

$65

Vernon

3,735

$670,000

$180

Naugatuck

4,855

$635,000

$131

New London

5,384

$620,000

$115

Stamford

15,127

$600,000

$40

Hamden

6,945

$583,000

$84

*IMPORTANT NOTE:

The Educational Cost Sharing Formula is $800 million short of what it was supposed to be in order to assure sufficient funding for primary and secondary education. Connecticut’s stated goal was to cover 50% of local educational costs with state funds and 50% with local funds.

In 1990 the state reached its high point of funding 45% of the costs – the number now is between 38-40% depending on how you calculate it – but the formula has been “corrupted” to the point where wealthy towns do much better (as measured by percentage growth) now than they did in 1990 and poorer towns do much worse.

Of the $50 million in new ECS funding, Governor Malloy’s proposal will send $39.5 million to the 30 poorest and lowest performing communities.

However, Governor Malloy’s plan also requires that school districts transfer $1,000 for each student attending an area charter.  Malloy’s budget also provides each charter school with an increase of $1,600 per charter student, for a combined $2,600 increase per charter school student when the new state money and local transfer are counted

Once the transfers to the charter schools are made, the 30 poorest districts will then be sharing $33.5 million in new education funds.

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime;

1 Comment

Sometimes you’re just left shaking your head; wondering what on earth has happened to our “Leaders.”

A few months ago, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the direct approval of Governor Dannel Malloy, filed a legal motion in an attempt ensure that Early Childhood Education was not included in the definition of what the Connecticut Supreme Court called the “adequate education” that is guaranteed in the Connecticut Constitution.

Now, Attorney General Jepsen has filed an unprecedented subpoena seeking tens of thousands of pages of documents belonging to ten of the school districts that brought the now-famous CCJEF vs. Rell lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to define what an “adequate education” meant.

At the very same time that Governor Dannel Malloy says that reforming education in Connecticut includes reducing red-tape and paperwork, his own Attorney General is taking an action that could cost the ten towns as much as a million dollars to find, copy and deliver these documents to Jepsen’s Office.

Dianne Kaplan deVries, the executive director of CCJEF, called the unwarranted attack nothing short of “harassment” of those school districts that had the courage to stand up for Connecticut’s children.  She added “No district could be expected to comply with such an enormously onerous production order.” (Jepsen’s office has ordered them to turn over all records within 30 days).

Speaking for Jepsen, his associate attorney general said that “The Office of the Attorney General is obligated to defend the lawsuit” pointing out that it was school districts that filed the “unprecedented and far-reaching lawsuit against the state, alleging that the state has failed to provide adequate education to school children and seeking court orders dramatically expanding the state’s financial support of local education.”

Of course it was the towns that filed the lawsuit.  Governors Weicker, Rowland and Rell, along with the support of Democratic legislatures, consistently reduced state support for education.  It was the state government that was breaking the law and failing to fulfill its “Constitutional responsibilities”.  The towns did what they had to do in order to force the state to do the right thing.

With a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Attorney General, both of whom have repeatedly said education is a top priority, now is the perfect time to finally settle the case and move forward with building a better and more effective system of education In Connecticut.

Instead, George Jepsen (with the support of Governor Malloy) is spending millions of dollars trying to remove early education from the definition of what children are entitled to and is attempting to punish the people trying to ensure that  “education is a “top priority.”

A good summary of this latest fiasco can be found at CTNewsjunkie http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/education_group_calls_state_subpoena_of_schools_harassment/#.TzEDvTalHRI.facebook.

But first, please read the following.  It makes it painfully clear that when it comes to politics and policy there are people out there who say one thing and do another;

In 2005, a coalition of municipal and education leaders came together to confront the greatest challenge of our times, how to develop and fund an education system that provides all children with the knowledge and skills to compete in the decades ahead.  The very future of our economy and our quality of life rests with whether we develop or undermine our state’s greatest natural resource…that being the talents of our citizens and future generations.

It was truly an historic moment and Dan Malloy, the Mayor of Stamford, was there.  Not only was Mayor Malloy one of the founding members but he was “the first mayor to join the effort to join the committee dedicated to equal education for all.”  Today over 100 municipalities have joined the cause.

The foundation upon which this historic effort is built was a lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF).  Known as CCJEF vs. Rell, the coalition sued the state of Connecticut claiming that the state’s approach to funding education failed to provide students with their right to “adequate educational opportunities”.

While the initial court ruled that “students in Connecticut do not have a fundamental right to equal education opportunities under the state constitution,” the Connecticut State Supreme took on the case.

Twenty three months later, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court and determined that the Connecticut State Constitution “guarantees all schoolchildren an adequate education, one that prepares them to participate in democratic institutions, obtain gainful employment, and continue on to higher education.”

Across the state and across the nation the decision was heralded as one of the most important education cases in history.

Back in 2005, when the suit was filed, Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy published a commentary piece in the Hartford Courant that called on the state to immediately increase its level of state funding for education to 50 percent of the total costs associated with funding the state’s primary and secondary schools. (Over the past two decades, the state’s share had dropped from a high of 44 percent to a new low of about 35 percent).

Malloy wrote “The Rowland and Rell administrations have very deliberately and systemically under-funded local education in the state budget as a means of shifting costs to local government. Quite frankly, that’s why we have a property tax crisis in this State. While John Rowland bragged about tax cuts, local government picked up the burden — and the result is a combination of inadequate education and skyrocketing property taxes.”

And Malloy added “Connecticut has a moral obligation to provide every child with an adequate education — regardless of race, income, or geography. We are saying today that Connecticut also has a Constitutional obligation. In the absence of gubernatorial leadership on this issue, the lawsuit filed today calls attention to one of the most significant problems existing in Connecticut today.” (Dan Malloy 2005)

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision, gubernatorial candidate  Dan Malloy said “I began these efforts years ago because I firmly believed that the state was not honoring its constitutional requirement and the funding formula for education in poor and urban communities was not fair to those communities.”  (Dan Malloy 1/23/2010)

A few months later, State Senator Andrew McDonald, who now serves as Malloy’s Legal Counsel called the lawsuit the single greatest hope for change saying “This litigation effort holds the promise of a wholesale redefinition of how education is funded in the state” (Andrew McDonald 5/10/2010)

So here we are in 2012.  Time after time our elected officials and their senior advisers have said this suit was vitally important and now – when they have a real opportunity to make the difference they promised – they are squandering it.

They are squandering the opportunity of a lifetime.

Charter Schools to the Rescue! Really?

6 Comments

CTMirror has posted a commentary piece I wrote  that follows up a news story the had written.
 

Connecticut’s new Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, is an unapologetic fan of charter schools.  As reported in the CTMirror, Pryor recently toured the Amistad Academy, the New Haven-based charter school that he helped create when he worked in New Haven.

His message:  The Amistad Academy is an extraordinary success.  He added that Connecticut’s present school funding system serves as a “barrier” to opening more charter schools and that he is promising to change that.

Pryor and other charter school advocates claim that the Amistad Academy and other charter schools provide a measurably better education than do public schools and are engaged in an all out lobbying and public relations campaign to change the way Connecticut funds its schools, shifting scarce resources from our public schools to the charter schools.

Putting aside, for the moment, the evidence that some charter schools get better results because they are “creaming off the highest performing students” and therefore naturally have slightly higher test schools, there is a much more profound and important question.

Universally recognized as one of the most important Supreme Court rulings in the history of the United States, the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared that segregated schools are fundamentally and inherently unconstitutional.

The case overturned the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in all its racist glory, claimed that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were acceptable.

The Brown v. Board of Education case helped create the civil rights movement of the 1960s by determining that in this country “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The time had finally come.  Separate and unequal schools were illegal and even separate but equal schools were illegal.

In the last 55 years this case has had a profound impact on educational policy and American society.

The Connecticut Supreme Court went even further.  When one of the attorneys in the famous Sheff desegregation case said, “the state has an obligation to provide great, racially diverse schools,” Connecticut’s Supreme Court agreed and ordered the legislature to take definitive action to reduce racial isolation in the state’s urban public schools.

Many of those who have clamored for charter schools, including Connecticut’s new Education Commissioner, have claimed that charter schools would be an important mechanism for reducing racial isolation.

Just last year the president of Achievement First, one of the largest nonprofit corporations in the charter school business, with over 20 charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, told Connecticut legislators that they were ready to open a new charter high school in Hartford that would provide a racially integrated education.  This comes from the organization whose Connecticut charter schools are among the most racially isolated in the state.

The Connecticut State Department of Education collects data from all public, charter and magnet schools and annually publishes Strategic School Profiles.  Those reports shed light on how, virtually across the board, Connecticut’s charter schools are failing to reduce racial isolation.

In Bridgeport, where the public school body is 91.4% minority, Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is 98.7% minority.

Bridgeport’s other two major charter schools are also more racially isolated than the city’s schools. The Bridge Academy’s student body is 99.2% minority and Park City Prep is 98.8%.

Connecticut’s capitol city of Hartford has a school system that is 92.6% minority and, once again, the charter schools in the city are even more racially isolated.  Achievement First’s Harford Academy and the Jumoke Academy’s student body are both 99.5% minority.

And finally, in New Haven, where the commissioner portrayed the Amistad Academy as an extraordinary success, the public schools have 86.9% minority populations while Achievement First’s Amistad Academy is far more racially isolated with 98.1% of students being minority. Achievement First’s other New Haven charter school, Elm City College Prep, comes in even with 98.9% minority.

The Connecticut State Department of Education’s School Profile Reports reveal that virtually all of Connecticut’s charter schools are providing an educational environment that is more racially isolated than the public schools systems that they were designed to help.

Interestingly, the statistic is true for most but not all charter schools.  For example the Common Ground School in New Haven, is successfully providing a more racially diverse learning environment with 81.9% minority compared to the City’s 86.9% number.

As charter schools and their advocates push even harder for more taxpayer funds so they can open more charter schools, State Education Commissioner Pryor will play a vital role as the State Department of Education acts on seven new charter school applications that would create spaces for another 1,600 students.

Meanwhile simply pointing to standardized test scores and claiming they prove charter schools are better is not only simplistic but also a completely false exercise.  Like New Haven’s public schools, the Achievement First charter schools in New Haven failed to meet the state’s required improvement goals.

Furthermore and far more importantly, when it comes to the vital and constitutionally mandated issue of reducing racial isolation, Connecticut’s charter schools are taking the state in exactly the wrong direction.

Older Entries