More public money for the 1% – less resources for the rest of Connecticut’s public school students

Governor Dannel Malloy, with the support of Democratic legislators, has made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Already inadequately funded, Connecticut’s elected officials are now truly undermining the opportunity for every Connecticut child to get the education the need and deserve.

However, Connecticut’s fiscal crisis isn’t stopping Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education from shoveling even more public funds to the privately owned and operated companies that run Connecticut’s charter schools – entities that refuse to educate their fair share of students with special education requirements or those who need extra help becoming proficient in the English Language (ELL students.)

At yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting (June 1, 2016)), Governor Malloy’s appointees voted to allocate even more funding for charter schools, while pretending their primary responsibility to adequately fund public schools wasn’t being undermined by Malloy’s actions.

In Charter school enrollment set to rise, the CT Mirror reported that the State Board of Education was moving forward with a proposal from Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to allow charter schools to increase enrollment at charter schools next fall, noting;

While the enrollment increase will cost the state an additional $4.1 million next year, funding for traditional public schools is being cut by $51.7 million and for regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, by $15.4 million.

In recommending that 14 of Connecticut’s 23 charter schools be allowed to enroll another 401 students, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote the publicly funded schools had a “demonstrated record of achievement.”

However, Wentzell isn’t telling the truth.  The reality is that many Connecticut charter schools are failing to provide equitable and adequate access to the full array of Connecticut’s public school students and that even after cherry-picking the students they will accept and keep, most charter schools are failing to do an adequate job.

The CT Mirror goes on to report;

One of the schools being recommended for an enrollment boost, however – Achievement First Hartford – was put on probation last month after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of disciplining students and having too few of its teachers properly certified. Achievement First Hartford includes an elementary, middle and high school.

The schools were first identified in 2013 as having some of the highest suspension rates in the state, but enrollment caps have been waived by the state education board for three years so enrollment could grow from 874 to 1,125 students. In a 2013 memo to the state board, the leader of Achievement First outlined plans to revise its “if-in-doubt-send-them-out” suspension policy, to better train teachers on handling disruptive students, and to reduce the offenses students could be suspended for. But data released in April showed the schools still have high suspension rates.

One other school, Jumoke Academy, is currently on probation, and two others were given notice they needed to improve last May.

Jumoke was at the center of a controversy surrounding questionable fiscal practices that were unveiled by The Hartford Courant. The school is in its second year of probation and is the only charter school that is being recommended for decreased enrollment. However, enrollment at Jumoke has increased since it was put on probation, from 705 students during the 2013-14 school year to 765 students next year.

Stamford Academy and New Beginnings in Bridgeport both had their charters renewed last May for shortened terms, and conditions for improvement were imposed. Stamford is being recommended for an enrollment increase and Bridgeport for a flat enrollment.

When Dannel Malloy took office in January 2011, Connecticut taxpayers subsidized charter schools to the tune of about $50 million a year.  This coming year, after becoming one of Malloy’s most important sources of campaign cash, Connecticut taxpayers are giving the private companies that run charter schools more than $125 million.  No other area of the state budget has grown at such an alarming rate.

As noted here at Wait, What? and elsewhere, charter schools have a long and ugly track record of mistreating students, parents and teachers.  Across the country, more and more charter school operators are also being investigated, indicted and/or convicted of fraudulent use of public funds.

One of the more noteworthy controversies surrounding charter schools occurred here in Connecticut when Jumoke Academy came under investigation for misuse of public funds and it was revealed that the company’s CEO didn’t have the academic degree he claimed but was living the high-life in a brownstone purchased and renovated by the charter school company.

Additional Background on Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals can be found via the following Wait, What? posts:

The downfall of another Charter School Management Company

What’s missing from the damning Jumoke/FUSE report – Part 1

FUSE re-lights Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals

Malloy and Pryor:  The Connecticut Charter School Debacle Expands

An ‘anything goes’ approach to charter schools by Wendy Lecker

Today’s MUST READ PIECE – Where’s the Accountability? Anyone? By Sarah Darer Littman

Columns on the Malloy/Pryor Charter School scandals

ConnCAN yelps response to Sarah Darer Littman’s Commentary piece

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

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

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

You’re right…You just can’t make this sh*t up

[First, on a personal note.  The Secretary of the State’s office continues to count the Pelto/Murphy petitions as they are sent in by local town clerks.  While the process won’t be concluded until the middle of next week, it appears increasingly likely that we will fall short of the 7,500 “valid” signatures to get on the ballot.  Although we’ve identified a significant number of signatures that were inappropriately or illegally rejected, the traceable problems do not appear, at this time, to be enough to put us over the top – even if we were able to go to court and ask a judge to overrule the actions taken by certain local officials.   When we know the final status of the petition count we will, of course, inform readers immediately.  Regardless, we want to thank all of you who have been so supportive of this quest —- more to come].

 

Meanwhile, pro-education advocates and columnists Wendy Lecker and Sarah Darer Littman have produced two more “MUST READ” pieces.

Wendy Lecker’s piece can be found in the Stamford Advocate and the other Hearst Media outlets, while Sara Darer Littman’s column can be found in at the CT Newsjunkie.

The two pieces should be mandatory reading for all candidates seeking office in Connecticut, as well as the media and the various investigators that are looking into the inappropriate, and potentially criminal, efforts to undermine our public education system and replace it with the corporate education reform and charter school industry’s agenda of privatization and diverting public funds to private enterprise.

Wendy Lecker’s latest column is “Connections in charter world a curious weave,” while Sarah Darer Littman’s latest is entitled “It’s Past Time for Transparency at the State.”

Wendy Lecker writes,

The most disturbing revelation of the FUSE/Jumoke charter school scandal is that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education have consistently neglected to provide any oversight of charter schools. FUSE/Jumoke’s CEO Michael Sharpe’s criminal history and false academic credentials were easily discoverable, yet no one bothered to check. Even worse, Pryor turned a blind eye to Sharpe’s persistent failure in running Hartford’s Milner elementary school- despite the heightened scrutiny Pyror was required to provide of schools in his Commissioner’s Network.

While Milner was floundering, Pryor and the State Board handed Sharpe a new charter school in New Haven, Booker T. Washington Academy (“BTWA”). In April, the Board unanimously approved Sharpe to head BTWA. BTWA’s partnership with FUSE/Jumoke was a major factor in the unanimous vote. When Sharpe was later disgraced, BTWA lost not only its director, but also the basis upon which the SBE approved its application.

Given Pryor’s and the Board’s gross negligence in allowing the first application to sail through without scrutiny, it was incumbent upon them to exert real oversight when the BTWA founder, Reverend Eldren Morrison, decided he still wanted to open a charter school. Since the original application was invalidated, Pryor and the Board should have required that BTWA repeat the same legally required process all charter school applicants must undergo.

Instead, Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education rushed through a “modified” application ignoring both the charter law and SDE’s own procedure, which mandated, among other things, a local public hearing. The cut-and-pasted new application was presented directly to the State Board on August 4.

Astoundingly, the State Board once again abdicated its responsibility and approved this modified application without any scrutiny.

The most outrageous illustration of the Board’s negligence was its treatment of the school’s new director, John Taylor. Taylor, who had worked at the Northeast Charter Schools Network, co-founded by Michael Sharpe, touted his success founding and running a charter high school in Albany, called Green Tech.

One board member questioned his record there, based on an article in Albany’s Times-Union. The newspaper reported that when Taylor ran the school, performance was abysmal- with a four-year graduation rate of only 36 percent and only 29 percent of students passing the English Language Arts Regents exam.

When confronted with this data, Mr. Taylor flatly denied this report, claiming he had wanted a retraction from the newspaper.

A quick check of the New York State Education Department website proves that the Times-Union`s data were accurate. Moreover, my source confirmed that Mr. Taylor never requested a retraction.

Green Tech’s performance was so poor that the SUNY Charter Institute refused to fully reauthorize it. SUNY noted that the school did not “com[e] close to meeting its academic Accountability Plan goals.” Although Mr. Taylor contended that 100 percent of graduates went to college, SUNY reported that only 68 percent went. And not one student passed an AP exam.

These facts cast doubt on Mr. Taylor’s veracity and his ability to deliver on his promises for BTWA. Yet the Board chose to ignore the data and accept Mr. Taylor’s erroneous claims.

The new application is rife with dubious connections. Derrick Diggs of Diggs Construction Company submitted a letter of recommendation for the initial BTWA. Now, Diggs Construction will be handling the renovations for the new BTWA’s temporary and permanent buildings; which cost several hundred thousand taxpayer dollars. Jeff Klaus wrote a letter of recommendation for the initial application. Klaus’ wife is Dacia Toll, CEO of Achievement First Charter chain. Achievement First now has a contract with BTWA to provide professional development; and Achievement First is subletting its vacant building to BTWA as its temporary home. BTWA will return to AF a building renovated on the public dime. Given the self-dealing that permeated FUSE/Jumoke, it is shocking that the Board did not probe these questionable relationships.

Not even religious entanglement bothered the board. After supporters testified about the need for a school that “would promote God’s principles,” SBE Chair Allan Taylor admonished BTWA that the school is a public school- not an adjunct of the church. Yet Reverend Morrison’s church’s home page prominently features a link to Booker T. Washington Academy.

When it comes to rubber-stamping charter schools, even a major scandal cannot shake the State Board from its status quo. One has to wonder what it will take to get the State Board of Education to fulfill its duty to protect Connecticut’s children and taxpayers.

[Thanks to Mary Gallucci for her invaluable help researching this piece]

Wendy Lecker’s complete piece can be found here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/default/article/Connections-in-charter-world-a-curious-weave-5706568.php

Sarah Darer Littman also examines the activities of Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his band of education reform and charter school aficionados who have been given control of Connecticut’s public education system.

Littman writes,

As soon as the Hartford Courant reported  that a state grand jury had issued a subpoena for “all emails of Commissioner Stefan Pryor since January 2012,” it was obvious the controversial head of the state Department of Education was on borrowed time. Frankly, I’m surprised he survived this long.

From the start, Pryor presided over a culture of cronyism and opacity, rather than the transparency Gov. “Dannel” P. Malloy promised.

Take his funneling of $255,000 in no-bid contracts through the State Education Resource Center, for example.

Back in 2012, Tom Swan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, filed a whistleblower complaint  regarding these contracts after learning about them through emails he’d obtained through an FOIA request.

Gov. Malloy’s legal counsel at the time, Andrew McDonald, who has since been elevated to the bench as an associate justice of the State Supreme Court, called Swan’s complaint “reckless” and “devoid of any evidence.”

Except that it wasn’t.

According to the interim report released by the state auditors : “. . . contracts were entered into with private companies to provide various consulting services. Again, the contracts were executed by the State Department of Education, SERC and the private company. The contracts state that the State Department of Education selected the vendor and SERC was not responsible for directing or monitoring the vendors’ activities. In each of these cases, the state’s personal service agreement procedures and its contracting procedures were not followed.”

Pryor’s Education Department has been strong on accountability for teachers, but did it hold itself to those same standards? Not so much.

While the pro-corporate education reform Hartford Courant editorial page waxed lyrical about Pryor’s accomplishments , let’s not forget that these are the same folks who were singing Michael Sharpe’s praises and wanting to give him more taxpayer money only hours before the FUSE/Jumoke scandal blew up.

[…]

Pryor’s reign at the state Department of Education has certainly been great for consultants. It’s hard for the average Nutmegger to know exactly how great, because of his administration’s opacity…

Sarah Darer Littman’s piece can be found here:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_its_past_time_for_transparency_at_the_state_department_of_education/

Finally, if you get a chance, print off these two commentary pieces and when the candidates or political parties come to your door or call you on the phone during the next nine weeks, tell them that  you’d be happy to hear their “message” … once you are done reading them Wendy and Sarah’s two columns.

Malloy and Pryor:  The Connecticut Charter School Debacle Expands

Thanks to Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Connecticut’s charter school industry has been sucking up tens of millions of dollars in public funds that could have been going to help Connecticut’s real public schools.

Malloy’s unlimited commitment to charter schools runs so deep that when he brags that he has increased spending on “public schools” during his time in office, he actually has the hubris to include the millions he and his administration have handed out to the corporate education reform industry.

The former charter school operator formerly known as “Dr. Michael Sharpe,” who turns out not to have even finished his academic training, but did serve about five years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion, is but the tip of a much larger iceberg of lies, deceit and corruption that surround the charter school industry in Connecticut and across the nation.

And you can almost see and hear Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor looking into the TV cameras and saying – “who me?…If we had only known that they were crooks and liars we’d never have given these people no-bid contracts to run public schools or permission to open lucrative new charter schools on top of the $53 million we’ve already given them.”

The only problem is that if Malloy and Pryor did not know the truth about Jumoke/FUSE then it is an even greater indictment of their incompetence and inability to manage the State of Connecticut on behalf of our citizens.

Here is the latest on the Jumoke/FUSE scandal.

Check reveals another criminal record at FUSE (Hartford Courant)

A community outreach coordinator for a Bridgeport school run by FUSE, the embattled charter school group, has a criminal conviction background that includes drug offenses and a listing on the Texas sex offender registry.

The record of Mack Allen, 49, of Bridgeport, surfaced in a confidential background check that FUSE had a law firm perform in January after he had begun working. But the organization didn’t inform Bridgeport schools Supt. Frances Rabinowitz about it until Tuesday night, after she requested background information on several FUSE employees as part of an audit.

[…]

Allen, a member of the city of Bridgeport’s ethics commission, told The Courant Wednesday that he fully disclosed his criminal past to Sharpe and others at FUSE when they hired him for the job that he said paid him less than $30,000 this past year.

[…]

“I don’t hide my past. What I’ve done, I’ve done,” he said, adding that he had been a gang member heavily involved in the cocaine trade, and had served several prison stretches totaling more than nine years, the last one ending in Texas in 2001.

But Allen said he never should have been in the Texas sex offender registry because it resulted from a conviction as a juvenile in California, in the 1970s, of a charge he described as “accessory to attempted rape,” and that he never tried to sexually assault anyone.

[…]

FUSE’s agreement with the state for its operation of Dunbar includes a provision that the Jumoke charter organization “agrees that no employee of Jumoke who will work at Dunbar or who will work directly with Dunbar students is listed on any Sex Offender Registry.”

It was not clear what led FUSE to have the background check done on Allen after the start of the 2013-14 school year. Lawyer Andrew R. Crumbie, whose Hartford firm performed the check and submitted it Jan. 6, declined comment Wednesday.

Check reveals another criminal record at FUSE  (CT Post)

A Dunbar School aide who is listed as a sex offender in Texas — and who has felony drug convictions — is the latest Family Urban Schools of Excellence employee found to have a criminal record.

Mack Henry Allen, 49, who in addition to working at Dunbar this year was appointed in March to the city’s Ethics Commission, has first-degree drug convictions in Houston and is listed as a low-level offender on the Texas Sex Offender Registry.

“It’s a scathing background,” Interim Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz said Wednesday. “Just scathing. I have major difficulty with it.”

The news is the latest in a series of revelations that has prompted a local and state investigation of FUSE, a private group entrusted by the state Department of Education to run charter schools and two public schools in Bridgeport that are part of the state’s Commissioner’s Network. One of the schools is Dunbar.

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

“Disruptive innovation’ policies hurting state’s children” (By Wendy Lecker)

The Corporate Education Reform Industry calls it “Disruptive Innovation.”

Translated into English, it describes the process by which an “education reformer” claims that they are improving the quality of education for our children by blowing up and undermining our public schools, turning them over to private companies to run, allowing a bunch of non-educators and private companies to divert scarce public funds into their pockets, all the time hoping that no one will notice.

Their fallback position is to simply walk away if things go bad, laughing all the way to the bank as teachers, parents, and local property taxpayers try to put their schools back together.

Here in Connecticut, the poster children for this outrageous scheme include Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s State Board of Education and a variety of individuals and private companies including Jumoke Academy/FUSE and its disgraced CEO, Michael Sharpe.

In her latest column for the Stamford Advocate and Hearst Media Group, public education advocate Wendy Lecker shines the light on how the Malloy administration is using our children as lab rats to further then “Disruptive Innovation” approach to public education in Connecticut.

Wendy Lecker writes,

Education reformers love the notion of “disruptive innovation.” Borrowed from the business world, the theory contends that rather than make incremental progress, industries must be shaken up. This idea has been embraced by the Obama and Malloy administrations, pushing “turnaounds” in which the administration and most or all of the staff of a school with low test scores is replaced — often by a charter school management company.

Disruptive innovation was popularized by Clayton Christensen, who promoted its spread to other sectors, such as education. Christensen’s theory was built on handpicked case studies he claimed proved that disruptors were successful and existing companies who could not adapt failed. In her recent Yorker critique, historian Jill Lepore observes that the emphasis on innovation marks a fundamental shift in focus. “Replacing `progress’ with `innovation’ skirts the question of whether a novelty is an improvement.”

Upon investigating Christensen’s cases, Lepore found that his claim was untrue. The companies that focused on sustained improvements fared better and most of the time, disruptors disappeared. In the long run, incremental progress prevailed.

However, as Lepore also notes, a quick buck — not long-term consequences — is the focus of disruptive innovation. As one advocate advised, “if you start a business and it succeeds, sell it and take the cash. Don’t look back.”

Lepore writes that this discredited theory is misapplied to sectors such as public education because public education has different values and goals than those of business.

Indeed, this country’s highest court deemed education the “most important state and local function;” and the loss of even a week of learning is a significant deprivation. Under our state constitution, Connecticut has a 13-year obligation to provide every child with an education that enables her to be a productive and responsible citizen and proceed to higher education.

However, educational reformers’ goals diverge from their duties to our children. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from charter school promoters. The result is his embrace of “disruptive innovation” in education.

Disruption is bad for schools and for children — especially for vulnerable children, who experience daily turbulence in their lives outside school. Teacher and administrator turnover hurts student achievement, as does student mobility. The turnaround strategy has proven unsuccessful.

Recent shocking developments involving Jumoke/FUSE charter school illustrate the harm caused by Malloy’s “disruptive innovation.”

Hartford’s Milner elementary school was the first target of charter chain founder and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s commissioner’s network. The commissioner’s network to “turnaround” struggling schools was a key feature of Malloy’s 2012 education reform legislation.

Milner suffered from a chronic shortage in staff serving its large population of English Language Learners and students with disabilities. Its building required major repairs. The school also already underwent an unsuccessful redesign in 2008. Rather than provide Milner with necessary additional resources, Pryor announced a takeover of the school by Jumoke — a charter school in Hartford with no ELL students and few students with disabilities.

Only after the takeover did Milner receive additional funding, including an annual $345,000 management fee to Jumoke. Curiously, after the takeover, roughly 20 percent of the students disappeared from the school.

Michael Sharpe promised that his “Jumoke model” would help Milner. However, after two years under Jumoke management, Milner’s scores have dropped precipitously and are now “rock bottom.” Hartford accuses Jumoke of nepotism, and of hiring an ex-convict. Sharpe admitted that there was no plan for Milner — they were “winging it.”

As part of the commissioner’s network, Milner/Jumoke was supposed to be subject to heightened accountability by Pryor. Yet, despite this ongoing failure, since 2012, Pryor and the State awarded Jumoke another commissioner’s network school, Bridgeport’s Dunbar elementary, and another charter school in New Haven.

This week, it was revealed that Sharpe falsified his academic credentials. Even worse, he spent several years in federal prison for embezzling public funds and conspiracy to commit fraud, and has two forgery convictions.

Sharpe has been paid about $53 million in taxpayer dollars in the past few years. It is unconscionable that neither Pryor nor Malloy bothered to discover Sharpe’s lies or his felony convictions.

The damage done to Milner’s children cannot be undone. They have lost years of learning. They are forced to build new relationships with staff that has been replaced twice in six years. Instead of necessary resources, the state has given these families only empty promises.

Unlike business disruptors, Malloy’s failed education ventures will not disappear. His callous “disruptive” education policies cause lasting damage to Connecticut’s children and their communities.

You can read wendy Lecker’s complete column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/default/article/Lecker-Disruptive-innovation-policies-hurting-5585477.php

Friends in high places = lots of money!

Listen carefully and you may hear that sound of charter school management company executives rubbing their hands together in anticipation of tomorrow’s Connecticut State Board of Education meeting.

With this year’s gubernatorial election six months away, some might think Governor Malloy would back off  his corporate education reform industry agenda in an effort to convince teachers, parents and public school advocates to reconsider their opposition to his candidacy.

But instead, like children in an unsupervised candy shop, Malloy and his pro-charter school allies are grabbing all they can before his policies lead to his own electoral defeat.

At tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting, Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education will be pushing his privatization agenda to divert scarce public funds to his charter school friends.

As noted in Wait, What? blog posts over the past two days, in addition to Steve Perry’s Capital Prep Harbor Charter School in Bridgeport and the Bronx/Stamford Charter School for Excellence in Stamford, the State Board of Education will be considering charter school applications for Jumoke Academy’s Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven and the Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport.

In case you missed the Wait, What? blog post published earlier this month and entitled, “The Malloy/Pryor Jumoke Charter School Gravy Train,” the Booker T. Washington Charter School application and the overall expansion of Jumoke Academy and its charter school management company, Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Inc. has become a case study in  how charter schools have hit pay-dirt during Malloy’s tenure as governor.

In the case of Jumoke, their initial charter school was in Hartford and called the Jumoke Academy.

Like all charter schools in Connecticut, the Jumoke Academy has refused to take its fair share of English language learners or students with special education needs.

With the passage of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” law in 2012, Stefan Pryor used his new-found power to take over Hartford’s Milner Elementary School and give it to Jumoke Academy to manage via a no bid contract.

The agreement was struck so quickly that the state and Jumoke didn’t even have a signed contract until well into the new school year.

The deal was particularly strange since the Jumoke Academy had never had a non-English speaking student in its six-year history and yet was given control of Milner Elementary, a school in which approximately 40 percent of students didn’t speak English or went home to households in which English was not the primary language.

A review of the demographics of the two schools made it clear that Jumoke could not possibly have been the best management company to take over the Hartford neighborhood school.

Percent of Students not fluent in English Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 25% 0%

 

Percent of Students going home to non-English speaking households Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 39% 0%

 

Percent of Students with special education needs Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 11% 4%
 

To facilitate the expansion of his growing charter school company, Jumoke’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Sharpe, set up a holding company called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Inc. and named himself the new company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Less than a year later, although the State Department of Education had no data about the level of success Jumoke/FUSE Inc. was having at Hartford’s Milner School, Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education gave Jumoke/FUSE, Inc. another no-bid contract.  This time to take over the Dunbar Elementary School in Bridgeport.

In the meantime, Governor Malloy nominated Andrea Comer, the Chief Operating Officer of Jumoke/FUSE Inc. to serve as a member of the State Board of Education — the very entity responsible for approving charter school applications and holding charter schools accountable.

And tomorrow, the State Board of Education will vote on whether to approve Jumoke/FUSE Inc.’s application to open the Booker T. Washington Charter School in New Haven.

But as tens of millions of public funds are diverted to this lucky company, the most interesting development of all may well be that while Jumoke/FUSE Inc. claims to be focused on operating schools in Connecticut,  their Booker T. Washington application fails to mention that just a few months ago, Jumoke/FUSE Inc. was able to get a contract from the Louisiana Recovery School District in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to take over a school there. [The Louisiana Recovery School District is the state entity that Paul Vallas ran before he made his way to Bridgeport].

Imagine, just two years ago there was nothing even called Jumoke/FUSE Inc. and now the charter school management company has a senior corporate officer sitting on the Connecticut State Board of Education, is trying to get a contract to open its fourth school in Connecticut and it still has the time to take-over a public school 1,500 miles away.

Thanks to Dannel “Dan” Malloy, the corporate education reform industry is alive and well in Connecticut.

Child Abuse in the form of the “No Excuses” education model

The new Jumoke Academy at Dunbar (AKA The Paul Dunbar School, A FUSE Family Urban Schools of Excellence) recently posted job announcements that it was looking for four new teachers.

Putting aside why Jumoke, the charter school management company that was hired to take over and run the Dunbar elementary school is looking for four new teachers, over a month into the new school year, the job posting announces that the charter school company wants educators who will “sweat the small stuff” and are committed to “embracing the challenges facing urban schools with a mantra of ‘No Excuses’ and a willingness to do ‘Whatever it takes.’”

In this case, the phrase “sweat the small stuff” is a euphemism that explains that anyone unwilling to implement Jumoke’s “get tough, ”No Excuses” education model need not apply.

The “No Excuses” approach to education has become a rallying cry for the corporate education reform industry.

Many parents, teachers and proponents of schools, education and learning might mistakenly think the term “no excuses” describes the obligation society, government, schools and parents have to ensuring that every child in America gets a quality education.

But the term “No Excuses” is really a placeholder for a militaristic, highly disciplined, autocratic system in which children are forced to understand that discipline, conformity and following rules is the fundamental cornerstone that leads to academic achievement.

The adherents of the “No Excuse” model believe that the best route to creating safe, healthy and productive school environments is to ensure that children don’t deviate from the rules and that the price of non-compliance is punishments that are so disproportionate that the children  learn to comply or leave the school for good.

The fact that we are dealing with children or that the United States is constitutionally bound to the principle of individualism rather than fascism or collectivism is nothing more than a concept to be overlooked.

Most “No Excuses” schools actually lose more than half their students along the way.

At the Harlem Success Academy Charter Schools, CEO Eva Moskowitz has created a system in which, “New students are initiated at ‘kindergarten boot camp,’ where they get drilled for two weeks on how to behave in the “zero noise” corridors (straight lines, mouths shut, arms at one’s sides).”

Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor and owns and operates charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island utilizes the draconian techniques of excessive school suspensions and a “re-orientation” room.

As we learned earlier is year, “The incidence of suspension of kindergartners and first graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy last year was an estimated nine times the rate in Hartford public schools.

Put another way, an estimated 11.7 percent of kindergartners and first-graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy were suspended last year an average of 5.4 times each. In the Hartford public school system, 3.3 percent of kindergartners and first-graders were suspended an average of 2.1 times.”

At the time, Achievement First’s Dean of School Culture told the Hartford Courant that they instituted, “a very high bar for the conduct of our students and that’s because we’ve made a promise to our scholars and our families that we are going to prepare them for college.”

It figures it would take someone with the title of “dean of school culture” to come up with a phrase that brings together kindergartners, a high bar of conduct and preparing them for college.

At these “No Excuses” schools, the strategies to force conformity follow the children all the way through their primary and secondary education.  At Achievement First’s Hartford high school, “Rolling one’s eyes at a teacher will get a freshman sent to the school’s Reorientation Room where…’they get the extra culture they need.’”

As parents and children at Bridgeport’s “new” Dunbar School will come to find out, the discipline policies at the schools run by FUSE/Jumoke are similar in scope to those used by Achievement First, Inc.  Jumoke also relies on the suspensions and a “reorientation” room, although at Jumoke it apparently goes by a different name.

Even the most casual observer will recognize that the “No Excuses” education model drifts into the realm of what reasonable people would call child abuse.

Perhaps the most disturbing point of all is that while people like Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor, Paul Vallas and Steven Adamowski tout the “No Excuses” model, not one of them would ever suggest that such a model be used in Connecticut’s suburban communities.

It is quite a commentary that here we are in the 21st century and  we’ve got “mainstream” political leaders who promote policies that are essentially child abuse….as long as those policies only apply to children who are attending urban schools that serve our minority and poor students.

The truth starts to come out about Jumoke Academy and Hartford’s Milner Elementary School

(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

The CTMirror has a story today about the situation surrounding the takeover of Hartford’s Milner School by the Jumoke Academy.

In an article entitled, The promise — and challenge — of rescuing Hartford’s Milner School, the CTMirror’s Robert Frahm reports developments surrounding the Jumoke Academy’s $345,000-a-year publicly funded contract to run Hartford’s Milner Elementary School, now called the Jumoke Academy at Milner.

The article reveals that despite claiming to be a Hartford public school, Jumoke’s student population is very different than the population at Hartford’s Milner School and that it is easy to talk about “improvements” when you are given unprecedented amounts of additional funds.

The CTMirror writes, “Among the most striking changes was the hiring of aides, known as “academic assistants,” to be paired with teachers in every classroom — a key strategy copied from the Jumoke model.”

The Jumoke administrators repeatedly brag about their smaller class sizes and their decision to have a teacher and assistant in every classroom, but neither the Jumoke administrators nor the CT Mirror reporter point out that Jumoke can afford these changes because the State of Connecticut gave the school an additional $1.5 million this year, on top of the $345,000 management fee. 

Of course these so-called Commissioner’s Network schools can have smaller class sizes and better teacher/student ratios.  As part of the “turn-around” program they are given significantly more money than other schools, even in the same community.  In the case of the Jumoke Academy at Milner, not only is the school getting more money but it doesn’t even have to use school funds to pay for some of their administrative costs. 

Michael Sharpe, Jumoke’s CEO simply skates over the truth that had the State of Connecticut given the Hartford Board of Education the extra targeted funds, instead of privatizing the school and handing its control over to private management company, these children would have had the smaller classes and better student/teacher ratios long ago.

In fact, smaller class size and lower student/teacher ratio are “reforms” public school advocates have been pushing for years-because they have been proven to improve student learning.

There is nothing innovative about these methods and nothing that requires a school be handed over to a privately-run charter school in order to “earn” the right to have smaller class sizes.  What it does take is money and that’s why the state’s failure to provide its public schools with sufficient resources is such a travesty.

In addition to the class size issue, another stunning admission about the “Charter School” approach to education becomes apparent when Jumoke’s CEO complains about the requirement that Instructional Assistants have at least an Associate’s Degree to work in the classroom.

At a time when Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature are demanding stricter requirements for educators, including new requirements to even get into teacher training programs, Jumoke’s CEO tells the CTMirror about his “frustration over regulations such as those requiring classroom aides to have an Associate Degree, a rule that will disqualify” some of the aides he presently has in place.

The second major revelation that arises from this CTMirror article is the reminder that Jumoke has been educating a population that is very different than the one that attends Hartford’s district schools. 

Over the years, Jumoke’s student body has been made up of children who don’t face language barriers, have far fewer special education needs and are less poor.

The truth is clear as the article reports that “Jumoke is “facing a much different, and more challenging, student population at Milner than at Jumoke, including many more special education students and children from non-English-speaking families.”

Even Sharpe, Jumoke’s CEO, admits the situation saying, “The amount of issues is just overwhelming. Any school that has the type of problems this one has requires just an intense focus. We’ve had to relearn … how you deal with a traditional public school setting…”

But even then Sharpe sidesteps the very real impact demographics have on test scores.  Sharpe tells the CTMirror, “What Milner has been for the last 20 years is a chronically failing school, arguably the worst in the state” and repeats his misleading claim that Jumoke has achieved much better academic results, overlooking, as he always does, the fundamental difference in student populations.

The follow charts show just how different those two populations are;

 

Percent of Students not fluent in English Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 25% 0%

 

Percent of Students going home to non-English speaking households Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 39% 0%

 

Percent of Students with special education needs Milner School Jumoke Academy
2010 11% 4%
     

 

Since poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services are the demographics that have the greatest impact on standardized test scores, perhaps these charts and the CTMirror article will remind the media and public officials that next time Jumoke claims that schools like theirs are such a success, and schools like Milner are such failures, they will look deeper into the different populations schools serve.

Finally, it should come as no surprise that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education tells the CT Mirror that, “We’re encouraged by what we see.”

As a strong proponent of privatization it isn’t surprising that Pryor would overlook the fact that additional resources drive smaller class sizes or the problems associated with Jumoke’s lack of experience with more diverse student populations.

The Commissioner doesn’t even mention that a December interim report found that Jumoke still hadn’t hired the bilingual teacher that the turnaround plan required.

Will someone speak up for Latino students? Corporate reform group overlooks the truth in effort to bolster charter schools.

Will someone speak up for Latino students?

Corporate reform group overlooks the truth in effort to bolster charter schools.  

Rae Ann Knopf, the Executive Director for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform recently took issue with a commentary piece written by Wendy Lecker (recent commentary) that was published in the Stamford Advocate and Connecticut Post and then reposted here at Wait, What?

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) is a business group that was one of the biggest supporters of Governor Malloy’s” Education Reform” proposal.  The organization’s board of directors is made up of a number of corporate executives including the Presidents, CEO or COOs of United Illuminating, First Niagara Bank, The Travelers, Nestle Waters North America, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Retired Chairman & CEO of The Hartford.

In her commentary piece, Wendy Lecker reminded readers that as part of Malloy’s education reform effort, Hartford’s Milner School, a school where 40 percent of the students go home to households where English is not the primary language, was given to a nearby charter school management organization Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), despite the fact that FUSE has never had a non-English speaking student attend their Jumoke Academy schools.

Rather than devote the time and resources to help the Milner School succeed, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education gave the school, the students and millions of taxpayer dollars to a private entity that has no experience teaching bi-lingual students.  Not surprisingly, according to a recent report to the State Department of Education, the Jumoke Academy has failed to take the necessary steps to strengthen its bi-lingual program and the number of students attending the Milner School has dropped.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform’s Rae Ann Knopf came to the Jumoke Charter School’s defense writing, “Observing that enrollment at Milner, a school partnering with Jumoke Academy, has gone down, Ms. Lecker writes, “we can already see that Jumoke’s Milner is not the same as last year’s Milner.” (see Knopf’s response here)

Knopf adds, “Well, we certainly hope not. Over the last three years at “last year’s Milner”, students scored an average of 32.8 on the School Performance Index (SPI). Put in lay terms, that means most Milner students were not even scoring at the “Basic” level on their CMTs. In contrast, Jumoke students scored a three-year average SPI of 80.1 (which is close to the statewide achievement target of 88). That score indicates that many Jumoke students had “Advanced” and “Goal” CMT scores. As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner. There’s nothing unreasonable about the hypothesis that a partnership between Milner and Jumoke should advance student learning at the former Milner School.”

Once again, the education reformers will go to any length, even misrepresent the facts, to defend their school privatization agenda.

Rae Ann Knopf claims, “As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner.”

Even the education reformers recognize that the three most powerful factors determining test scores are poverty, language barriers and the number of students who need special education services

So what are the facts?

Percent of Students not fluent in English Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

20%

0%

 

Percent of Students going home to non-English speaking households Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

39%

0%

 

Percent of Students with special education needs Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

11%

2%

 

Percent of Students qualifying for Free or Reduce Lunch Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

100%

72%

 

So if the students attending the Milner School are significantly more poor, have far greater language barriers and a far greater number need special education services, is it surprising that test scores are lower at Milner than at Jumoke?

Of course not!

So do you then give the Milner School, its students and its taxpayer funds to a school that doesn’t have any experience with a major portion of the community?

Of course not!   Unless you are part of Governor Malloy’s education reform plan.

And what happens when you transfer all that money to an entity that doesn’t have any experience?

According to the Commissioner’s Network Midyear Operations and Instruction Audit for the Thurman Milner School;

Four months into the year, Jumoke still hadn’t hired a bi-lingual teacher

And “Some teachers described an ELL push-in model and others describe a pull out model, so it is assumed that both approaches are used.  While classroom teachers have had training in instructional strategies to use in teaching ELL students, some report that they could use more training in that area.”

Wait, What??

One in five Jumoke-Milner students are not fluent in English and 40% of the students go home to households that don’t speak English and Jumoke still hasn’t hired a bi-lingual teacher and the teachers report that they DON’T KNOW if the Jumoke Administrators are using a “push-in or pull out” model of teaching English Language Learners?

Not only is CCER’s Executive Director overlooking the facts by defending the Jumoke Academy but the Commissioner’s Network Program and Governor Malloy’s education reform plans are failing to provide the most vital services to the children of the Milner School and especially the schools large Latino population.

If that is what the Connecticut Council for Education Reform considers a success, it is a sad day in Connecticut.

Congressman announces $100,000 grant for charter school that fails Latinos and children with special needs

This afternoon, Congressman John Larson announced that the Jumoke Academy will be getting  a $100,000 grant to support the charter school’s efforts to take over the Milner School, one of Hartford’s public schools.

Along with the press release, Congressman Larson said, “I know this funding will go towards helping our younger generations receive the education they deserve.”

Really Congressman?

Thanks to the Malloy Administration and the leadership of the City of Hartford, the public school that was once known to the neighborhood as the Milner School, is now called the Jumoke Academy at Milner.

After financially starving the Milner School for years, the City of Hartford and the State of Connecticut have suddenly “come up” with $2 million for renovations and up to $1.5 million in additional state funding to implement a “turnaround plan” for the school.  Today we learn that the federal government is adding an additional $100,000 on top of that.

But, of course, the financial extravaganza overlooks the most important facts of all.

Although 25 percent of Milner’s students are not fluent in English and 40 percent come from homes where English is not the spoken language; the Jumoke Academy has NEVER accepted any Latino students and HAS NO experience with bilingual education or working with parents who aren’t fluent in English.

Furthermore, while more than 10 percent of Milner’s students have disabilities that require special education services, Jumoke has only 10 individual students with any special needs, or about 2 percent of their student body.

When the data is analyzed, it is impossible to conceive that Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, and Christina Kishimoto; Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools, could have identified a more inappropriate entity to run the Milner School.

And adding insult on top of insult, Jumoke Academy’s CEO, Dr. Michael Sharpe, recently said that he plans to prevent any new students from enrolling at the Jumoke Academy at Milner after yesterday, (October 1, 2012).

However, Connecticut’s new “education reform” law specifically requires, “the management organization to continue the enrollment policies and practices in effect at the school before it entered the commissioner’s network.”

We aren’t even a five weeks into the new school year and Jumoke Academy officials are already trying to break the law.

There is no question that Hartford’s Milner School has needed help, but it is a terrible commentary on the politics of education policy that when additional support and funds were needed, City and State leaders turned their backs.

Now, when the Milner School has been handed over to a private entity, Connecticut’s elected officials, from Hartford, from the State, and now from the federal government celebrate by giving away public funds to an entity that doesn’t report to a public board of education and has no experience with the very population that Milner serves.