Educators 4 Excellence – Because teachers NEED their own “Education Reform” front group

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Some teachers and public school advocates have heard about Educators 4 Excellence, aka E4E.  For those that haven’t, you probably will as the organization continues to expand across the country.

Calling themselves Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), they claim to speak for teachers – although most E4E organizers don’t have more than a year or so of teaching experience – and what little actual teaching experience they have is usually the result of a short stint with Teach for America.

But the New York-based Educators 4 Excellence, originally created in 2010 using funds from the Gates Foundation, managed to pull in over $7.4 million from the corporate education reform industry in their first two years of operation.

Among the “teacher advocacy group’s” major funders is Education Reform Now, another corporate funded advocacy group that spends its money promoting charter schools and an end to tenure and “seniority-based layoff.”

In 2010 Education Reform Now ran a rather infamous television commercial in New York State that included a “parent” saying, “Stop listening to the teachers union.”

E4E’s fundraising has reportedly skyrocketed since 2012 allowing them to expand, including into Connecticut.

The Gates Foundation alone dropped another $3,000,695 into E4E’s coffers in July 2013.

Here in Connecticut…

When Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy took to the microphone on April 17, 2015 to announce that he was dropping the word “interim” from Dianna Wentzell’s title as “interim” Commissioner of Education, Educators 4 Excellence was quick to announce their support for the Common Core and Common Core testing aficionado writing,

“Dr. Roberge-Wentzell…was a critical member of [former Education] Commissioner Pryor’s team, which worked to secure funding for struggling schools where resources are needed most….We look forward to working with her in the years ahead…”

The reference that Wentzell deserved to be appointed Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education because she was a “critical member of Commissioner Pryor’s team,” the co-founder of the Achievement First, Inc. Charter School Management Company, reveals a lot about Educators 4 Excellence’s mission and purpose.  Public funding for charter schools skyrocketed as a result of Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor’s policies over the last three years, with Pryor’s charter school management company receiving the lions’ share of the money.

With co-CEOs each enjoying compensation packages in excess of $150,000, Educators 4 Excellence explains their reason for existence by saying,

“For far too long, education policy has been created without a critical voice at the table – the voice of classroom teachers. Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization, is changing this dynamic by placing the voices of teachers at the forefront of the conversations that shape our classrooms and careers.”

Educators for Excellence now has chapters in Connecticut, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota and the have pledged to expand even further.

According to their “official” version of events, Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) began,

“As a group of New York teachers who wanted to change the top-down approach to policy-making, which largely alienated teachers like us from crucial decisions that shaped our classrooms and careers.”

Their propaganda fails to explain that their initial funding came in November 2010 when the Gates Foundation funneled $160,000 through Stand for Children, a multi-million dollar corporate education front group to set up “Educators 4 Excellence.”

According to the grant announcement, the Gates Foundation explained that the group was being funded to, “build an authentic, alternate teacher voice.”

Stand for Children is a leading player in the “education reform” movement, with a special focus on moving corporate funds into political campaigns in order to reward candidates who support their cause and punish those who aren’t on the school privatization  bandwagon.

Jonah Edelman, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stand for Children, says the organization now has eleven state affiliates (AZ, CO, IL, IN, LA, MA, OK, OR, TN, TX, and WA).

According to Edelman’s biography,

“Jonah’s personal stand for children began during college, when he taught a six year-old bilingual child to read.”

Like a number of his fellow corporate education reform industry elite, Edelman graduated from Yale University (Class of ‘92) and attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship.

If that wasn’t enough for the financiers of the education reform frenzy, the Chairperson of Stand for Children’s Board of Directors is Emma Bloomberg, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s daughter.

When Bridgeport Connecticut Mayor Bill Finch engaged in his failed attempt to do away with Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education and replace it with one that he would appoint, a coalition of corporate education reform groups and corporate elite, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, dropped in enough campaign donations to make it the most expensive charter revision campaign in Connecticut history.

In Connecticut, Educators 4 Excellence use a New York public relations firm, the same PR firm that collected much of the money in the failed Bridgeport campaign and has been used by a number of other education reform groups in Connecticut to engage in advertising in favor of Malloy’s education reform initiative.

A Connecticut E4E press release out last summer by the New York firm opened with, “Teachers, Joined by Bridgeport Superintendent Rabinowitz, Call for Needed, Pro-Student Improvements in Professional Development at E4E Roll-out Event.”

The press release went on to read,

June 11, 2014 (Bridgeport, CT) — Educators 4 Excellence, a national teacher-led organization that seeks to elevate the voices of teachers in education policy discussions, formally launched its new chapter in Connecticut Wednesday with a kick-off event in Bridgeport and a call for sweeping changes to existing professional development. This major policy proposal, written by a team of working Bridgeport public school classroom teachers, proposes a number of changes to this pressing issue. These include increasing the opportunities for teachers to weigh in on and even lead professional development topics and personalizing the experience so that trainings better meet the needs of schools and individuals. The full proposal can be seen HERE.”

The press release adds,

“Over the past several months, a team of nine E4E-CT Bridgeport members has been developing recommendations to improve the quality of their professional development. The recommendations, which they released Wednesday, seek to inject the ideas of actual classroom teachers into the policy changes the Superintendent is currently considering.”

The release conveniently made no mention of E4E’s funders or whether any of the advocacy group’s money was spent developing or lobbying for their “teacher led changes.”

This year Educators 4 Excellence is ramping up their Connecticut presence.

The corporate education reform industry group recently advertised for a Vice President of Regional Operations, which the posting explained may be housed in Connecticut.

According to the advertisement for the job, the Vice President of Regional Operations responsibilities will include, “Designing and leading high level issue based advocacy campaigns.”

To ensure a proper understanding of life as a classroom teacher, the organization lists the preferred qualifications to be a,

“Bachelor’s degree and at least one year of professional experience as a Pre K-12 classroom teacher preferred; some form of teaching, school-based professional experience, student-based professional experience or previous work with educational non-profits.”

The required skills include, “Political savvy and keen interest in/understanding of education policy, the education reform movement broadly, and the power and politics of the education landscape both locally and nationally.

E4E explains the right candidate must also have “Tenacity” and “grit.”

In Connecticut, the organization is also looking for a new Executive Director for Connecticut,  whose job will be to oversee Connecticut’s E4E operation.

According to the job post, lobbying legislators will be one of the Executive Director’s responsibilities, along with working to, “Establish E4E-CT as a go to source for the opinions and perspectives of progressive educators on issues that impact Connecticut’s classrooms.”

Again the entity says that, “At least one year of experience serving as a Pre K-12 classroom teacher” is preferred,” as well as the requirement for “Tenacity” and “grit.”

Apparently E4E is also looking for a Managing Director of Outreach in Connecticut.

The job postings don’t explain where the present Executive Director Ranjana Reddy is heading, although after a sting with TFA she headed to Newark, New Jersey to help create Rise Academy charter school, a position she left to attend Yale Law School.

At Yale she proudly reports that she worked for John White, who took over from Paul Vallas in New Orleans and Commissioner Stephen Pryor in Connecticut.  Her biography explains that when working for Pryor she, “spearheaded the writing of Connecticut’s No Child Left Behind waiver.”

From charter school founder, to Yale, to writing Connecticut’s NCLB waiver… What a testament to the corporate education reform.

And as the saying goes, all this is just the tip of the iceberg –

Just wait till you hear what else E4E is up to in Connecticut.

You can read more about E4E in Connecticut via the following Wait, What? posts Another faux pro-public education group targets Connecticut (12/18/12) and  Teacher-led organization that gives teachers a meaningful voice in policy is expanding in CT! (5/23/13)

Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program

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Parents across the nation are rising up against the Common Core testing scheme.  More than 200,000 parents in New York State have already stepped up and refused to allow their children to be abused by the unfair Common Core tests.  The number of opt-outs in New York could easily exceed a quarter of a million by next week.

Although Governor Dannel Malloy, his State Board of Education, most state legislators and the leadership of Connecticut’s two teacher unions are refusing to step forward and support Connecticut’s parents and children, the opt out effort is growing here as well.

As in New York, the Connecticut opt out effort will skyrocket after parents receive their children’s scores next summer and learn, first hand, just how inappropriate and discriminatory the Common Core test really is.

As parents are slowly coming understand, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing program is intentionally designed to fail the vast majority of children, including a projected failure rate of over 90 percent for students requiring special education services and those that aren’t fluent in the English language.

The Common Core SBAC pass/fail rate is so rigged that 3 in 4 African American and Latino children will likely fail the 8th grade English/Language Arts portion of the SBAC test and the failure rate for 8th grade math will exceed 80 percent for African American and Latino children.

What most parents still don’t understand is that the gross absurdity of the Common Core SBAC test is the fact that not only is it designed to fail students but under Governor Malloy’s “Teacher Evaluation Program,” the twisted results are to be used to “judge’ teachers.

Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative included a new mandated teacher evaluation program.  According to the propaganda produced by Malloy’s State Department of Education;

“Excellent schools begin with great school leaders and teachers. The importance of highly-skilled educators is beyond dispute…”

[…]

“The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) is committed to raising the overall quality of our schools’ workforce….”

[…]

“Educator evaluation is the cornerstone of this holistic approach and contributes to the improvement of individual and collective practice. High-quality evaluations are necessary to inform the individualized professional development and support that an educator may require. Such evaluations also identify professional strengths which should form the basis of new professional opportunities. High-quality evaluations are also necessary to make fair employment decisions based on teacher and leader effectiveness. Used in this way, high-quality evaluations will bring greater accountability and transparency to schools and instill greater confidence in employment decisions across the state…”

The term “high-quality” evaluation is repeated over and over and over again by Connecticut’s State Department of Education.

But in reality the Connecticut State Department of Education’s “Teacher Evaluation Program” is anything but high quality.

The Connecticut State Department of Education explains,

“Informed by research, including the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study … [The Gates Foundation is the major force behind the Common Core and Common Core testing]… Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) is a model evaluation and support system that is aligned to the Connecticut Guidelines for Educator Evaluation (Core Requirements), which were adopted by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) in 2012 and revised in 2014…”

However, what the rhetoric skips over is that reality that foundation of Connecticut teacher evaluation system actually uses the faulty Common Core SBAC test scores.

The Malloy administration’s “teacher evaluation program” is based on the following factors:

Student learning (45%),

Teacher performance and practice (40%),

Parent feedback (10%)

School-wide student learning or student feedback (5%)

The formula looks reasonable enough until one learns that half of the “Student Learning” portion of the evaluation system is derived from the Common Core SBAC tests meaning that all Connecticut teachers, no matter how good they are, will be punished because the Common Core tests intentionally define the majority of students as failure.

Teachers who work in urban and poorer communities, those that work with students of color, those that work with English language learners and those that teach students with special education needs will be especially punished under the new teacher evaluation system.

Imagine, instead of developing a teacher evaluation program that is actually designed to evaluate teachers, Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials have concocted a bureaucratic nightmare that relies on the untried, untested and faulty Common Cores SBAC tests results.

The new teacher evaluation program is only absurd and unfair but counterproductive because it will produce a disincentive to work in more challenging districts and with more challenging student populations.

The fact is Connecticut’s elected officials; the teacher unions and all who believe in public education should be doing far more to support parents who are opting their children out of the Common Core testing.

And equally important, those same people and groups should be de-couple the teacher evaluation program from the Common Core tests and demand that the Connecticut State Department of Education develop a fair, appropriate and effective teacher evaluation programs.

Good teacher evaluation programs exist; there are even experts in Connecticut who have developed outstanding models that could and should be utilized in Connecticut’s school districts.

The powers that be need to stop the Common Core testing madness before they do even more damage to our children, our teachers and our public education system.

Important – Massive Common Core opt-out movement continues to grow in New York State

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With just under two-thirds of New York State’s school districts counted, the New York State Allies for Public Education, a pro opt-out group of parents and teachers that are counting opt-out students district by district, announced yesterday that 177,249 students had already been opted out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme.

It now looks certain that New York State will not reach the minimum 95 percent level that Common Core test proponents claim is “mandated” by federal and state law.

The unprecedented anti-Common Core test uprising by New York parents has the full support of NYSUT (New York State’s teachers union) and more than 120 local New York teacher union chapters, as well as the New York Working Families Party and a variety of groups on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Sadly, while the opt out numbers are growing in Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter (AFT-CT) and the Connecticut Chapter of the Working Families Party (WFP) have all gone missing on this critically important citizen movement, leaving Connecticut parents, students and teachers without the support and help they need and deserve.

But such isn’t the case in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island where opt out efforts continue to grow exponentially, all with the support of teacher unions and progressive organizations.

In New Jersey, at least 15 percent of all high school juniors opted out of that state’s Common Core test and the opt out rate in Montclair, New Jersey exceeded 40 percent.

Back in New York, the Journal News of the lower Hudson Valley reported that, “roughly 20 percent of students on average opted out of the exams in 41 of 54 districts…”

The newspaper reported that in Mahopac, New York 50 percent of eligible students were opted out of the Common Core tests.

Long Island based media reported added that, 40 percent of all Long Island [grade] 3-8 students refused to take last week’s ELA Common Core state tests.”

And that, “Numbers in some districts reached well over 70 percent, with at least one district exceeding 80 percent….”

Today, Juan Gonzalez, the liberal columnist for the New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now!, wrote,

Remember the number 999.

It’s the computer code that keeps track of what will go down as a historic grass-roots movement in public education in New York State.

Tens of thousands of parents rebelled this week against years of standardized testing from the politicians in Albany. They joined the national opt-out movement by refusing to allow their children to take the annual state-mandated English Language Arts exam.

Whatever the final number, it was a startling act of mass civil disobedience, given that each parent had to write a letter to the local school demanding an opt out for their child.

The movement has grown so rapidly in recent years that the state instructed teachers beforehand to bubble in “999” as the final score for any child refusing the exam — the code for opt out.

[…]

Whatever the final number, it was a startling act of mass civil disobedience, given that each parent had to write a letter to the local school demanding an opt out for their child.

It’s even more impressive because top education officials publicly warned school districts they risk losing federal funds if nonparticipation surpasses 5%.

“To react to parents who are speaking out by threatening to defund our schools is outrageous,” said Megan Diver, the mother of twin girls who refused their third-grade test at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

To Diver and other parents, the politicians like Gov. Cuomo have ignored more than a year of huge town hall meetings across the state where parents voiced frustration with the constant testing and the new Common Core curriculum the state now uses.

Back in 2009, the old state tests showed 77% of students statewide were proficient in English. The next year, the pass level was raised and the proficiency percentage dropped to 57%. A few years later, Albany introduced Common Core and the level plummeted even more — to 31% statewide.

Same children. Same teachers. Different test.

The politicians created a test that says all schools are failing, not just the ones in the big cities, then declare a crisis, so they can close more neighborhood schools, launch more charter schools, and target more teachers for firing.

Meanwhile, the private company that fashioned this new test, Pearson, insists on total secrecy over its content.

This week, test instructions even warned teachers not to “read, review, or duplicate the contents of secure test material before, during, or after test administration.”

What kind of testing company forbids a teacher from reading the test he or she administers?

Little wonder so many parents decided the only way to be heard was joining the opt-out movement. Next Tuesday begins round two — the state math tests.”

The opt-out movement will not go away.

Parents are sick and tired of the grotesque efforts of the corporate education reform industry to undermine public education, denigrate teachers and jeopardize the well-being of our children.

Here in Connecticut, the Common Core testing system is the result of Governor Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-parent, anti-public education initiative.

Adding to the damage caused by a so-called Democratic governor, the wounds are only made more severe by the fact that the leadership of Connecticut’s two teacher unions and other key progressive organizations refuse to step up to support Connecticut’s parents, students and teachers.

But we will continue to move forward on our own…

And the harsh reality is that parents who don’t opt their children out of the destructive Common Core SBAC tests will wish they had when the results are delivered next summer and they are inappropriately told that their children are failures and that the unfair label will be inappropriately added to their child’s academic record.

The opt out process is simple.  Just write an email or note to your school’s principal and say my child is not allowed to participate in the Common Core SBAC test… period!

Staples High School newspaper observes – “it’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.”

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Take a look at the following – The students who write for Westport, Connecticut’s high school newspaper are right, Jack Bestor is right and the best thing a parent of a high school junior can do is to opt their son or daughter out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scam.

It’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.

Out of the mouths of babes, as well as elementary, middle and high school students, come the most profound questions…and adults would do well to listen, especially those who are make public policy.

A recent editorial in Westport, Connecticut Staples High School newspaper is just such an example.

Inklings is “Staples High School’s eighty-one year-old scholastic news source— representing a journalistic tradition that is alive and well in Westport, Connecticut.  Inklings has, throughout its history, been a publication that is written, edited and published by students, with the objective of expanding the boundaries of scholastic journalism. Inklings Online pursues this goal with the additional elements of multimedia, social media integration, and constant updates.”

John Bestor, a regular guest commentator here at Wait, What? sent over the Inklings editorial and his follow up response.

The recent editorial in the Westport High School paper observes;

SBAC is a test. It’s taken on the computer, and it’s for juniors. But what else do we know about it?

Students know more about quantum mechanics, William Shakespeare’s personal life and the culture of Burma than they know about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

No one is giving us straight answers about SBAC. And it’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.

Connecticut’s now former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, said at a public hearing back in March 2014, “I don’t believe that there’s any specific provision in law regarding consequences [of opting out].”

However, in a March 4 statement, Connecticut’s Interim Commissioner of Education, Dianna R. Wentzell, sent out an email to superintendents saying, “Both state and federal laws require the administration of annual assessments in our public schools in certain grades and subjects. These laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests.”

The Board of Education [BOE] backed up Wentzell at its March 9 meeting when the BOE presented a PowerPoint stating, “Students are required to sit for the test beginning with [the] Class of 2016.”

But then Superintendent Elliott Landon said in an email interview with Inklings, “If a parent elects not to have his/her child participate in this mandated test, the child will be required to sit quietly in a non-testing area and may read, do homework, or use his/her computer. No educational alternative will be available for that child during the testing periods.”

Though their messages seem to contradict, most overwhelming of all is that Pryor, Wentzell, the BOE and Landon are all correct.

The Inklings editorial concludes;

We know we have a lot of questions, but we deserve some clear, succinct answers.

This is our education, after all.

If you’re going to change it, if you’re going to implement Common Core and replace CAPT with SBAC, explain it to us, just like you’d explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and the four major language families of Burma.

We don’t like taking tests. But if we’re going to take one, let us know the details.

In response to the editorial John Bestor writes;

KUDOS to the Staples High School Inklings staff:

I have just read with great interest your reporting (April 7, 2015 Edition) on the upcoming SBAC tests that you will be directed to take when you return from April break.   I too have been questioning the purpose and integrity of this new, highly controversial, computer-adaptive testing experiment.  You are, indeed, entitled to answers and need to question what you are being told.  Your teachers, building administrators, and district leaders are required by the State Department of Education to comply with the mandates of the flawed No Child Left Behind law.  So, as a result, they are unable to answer your excellent questions honestly and fully.  Just like the SBAC website itself, school administrators and teachers only know what they have been told by the test company promoting its product.

There is, however, a great deal of controversy surrounding the tests, both SBAC and PARCC, as to whether they have been properly vetted and trialed according to psychometric principles of test development and design.  As a result, there are unanswered questions as to validity and reliability criteria and whether the SBAC even meets research specifications of a standardized measure.  The quotations in your piece that were taken from the SBAC website: “meaningful feedback”, “actionable data”, “specifications from the test blueprint”, and “sufficient information to provide accurate scores” are unsubstantiated in their own research and are totally unproven.  And, to make matters worse, the former Education Commissioner agreed to set a cut-score which establishes an arbitrary level of proficiency such that only 30% of students taking the test will meet that passing standard.  That means conversely, 70% of test-takers will fail to reach proficiency standard.  Now, it is suspected that students in a high-achieving district like Westport will perform more successfully, but – even if the Westport results reverse the algorithm, such that 70% are considered proficient and 30% fail to meet passing criteria – that is a significantly higher failure rate than had ever been measured on district CMT/CAPT in the entire past history of those tests.  You must decide now whether to touch that SBAC keyboard and risk having your score applied (as a sticky label) on your Cumulative Permanent Record Card and entered as a data-point in your personal state longitudinal data record (for eternity) as failing to meet the unsubstantiated college and career readiness standard of this statistically invalid test.  Entering your Senior year and learning that you are not college or career ready on a test that is unproven and has yet to quantify what “college- and career-ready” even means will not instill confidence as you enter the highly competitive college search process.

So much for the test itself.  You asked whether the district would lose funding if students refuse to take the test.  There is a statewide expectation that 95% of students in each district must take this test or the district may be identified as an “in need of improvement” district and risk “setting-aside” federal Title I funds.  However, the requirement to “set-aside” Title I funds will only occur after a district fails to meet the proficiency standard repeatedly.  It is unlikely that the Westport Public Schools receive much in Title 1 funding and, even in the likelihood of an unacceptable test participation rate, Staples has an off-setting high graduation rate with a large percentage of students going to college after H.S. graduation.  The threat of lost funding is simply an empty, scare tactic designed to deceive and frighten parents and district taxpayers.

Even Governor Malloy knows that testing 11th grade students poses the biggest challenge to his authority and that of the State Department of Education because it is this group of students who now think for themselves and are more likely to push-back against unreasonable demands placed upon them without clear understanding and a reasoned explanation as to why it is in their best interests to take these redundant tests in addition to the SATs, ACTs, AP tests as well as final exams at the conclusion of their Junior classes.  It is also this group of students that understands that over-emphasis on standardized tests re-defines the joyful pursuit of acquiring knowledge, stifles innovative problem-solving and creativity, and detracts from any natural curiosity inherent in the learning process.

Some see the refusal to participate in SBAC testing as an act of courage and conviction; they see it as willful push-back against flawed education reform policies that since the passage of NCLB have failed to improve education in America’s public schools and yet continue to be promoted by special interests who seek to profit at student, parent, and taxpayer expense.  Others see it as the only way to hold government accountable, to prove that it is ineffective teachers who prevent student achievement, not poverty, segregation, and language barriers.  Your compliance with this SBAC test will maintain the lie that our schools are failing while ignoring the reality that the government’s Education Cost Sharing formula has been underfunded since its inception, thereby leaving more impoverished communities without equitable financial resources.

I applaud your questions … and can only ask that you keep asking them until you receive satisfactory answers.  My colleagues and I are proud of the small part we have had in nurturing your independent thinking and willingness to pursue answers that will make sense.  Some may say that the points made above are over-stated, over-simplified, or perhaps do not fully reflect the whole story, but I believe they provide a solid starting point.  Unfortunately, corporate education reform is incredibly complicated and has sadly been rife with misinformation, conflicting viewpoints, and hardened political agendas.  The thoughts expressed in this response, though shared by many, are solely those of this writer and do not represent those of the Westport Public Schools.

Admiringly submitted,

Jack Bestor

LLS School Psychologist

Dianna R. Wentzell – Misleader of parents on Common Core SBAC testing named Connecticut Commissioner of Education

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In a press conference today, Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman announced that they were removing the word “interim” from Dianne Wentzell’s title today, allowing her to continue as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education.

Wentzell was named Interim Commissioner of Education this past January when charter school founder and corporate education reform insider Stefan Pryor high-tailed it out of Connecticut.

Before taking on the role of Interim Commissioner, Dianna Wentzell served as the State Department of Education’s point person on the Common Core and the Common Core SBAC testing program.

As Commissioner, Wentzell has dramatically increased her effort to undermine Connecticut’s system of public education with the Common Core, the Common Core testing  scheme and Malloy’s unfair and unprofessional teacher evaluation system.

Wentzell has led the Malloy Administration’s continuing effort to mislead and lie to Connecticut parents about the fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

In fact, Wentzell is the author of the infamous memo instructing Connecticut superintendents to harass parents who attempted to utilize their opt out rights.

Now, thanks in part to Wentzell’s “leadership,” the Connecticut State Department of Education features propaganda worthy of George Orwell’s novel 1984, which one can find under their aptly entitled section, Communication Tools for Smarter Balanced.

It is there that parents are told that the Common Core SBAC test is “good,” although it skips over the fact that the SBAC test is designed to ensure that the vast majority of Connecticut students are deemed failures and that the unfair and discriminatory test results will be used to punish Connecticut’s public school teachers.

The SDE website reads;

Parent/Guardian Communication

  • A parent template letter that provides information about the new Smarter Balanced assessments and explains that the results will be different.
  • A handout for parents about the new tests that helps explain how the results will be different this year.

By keeping Wentzell as head of the State Department of Education, Malloy and Wyman continue to make it clear that it is full steam ahead with their anti-student, anti-parent, anti-teacher and anti-public school agenda.

It is also clear that the only recourse Connecticut parents now have is to stand up and refuse to allow their children to be given the disastrous Common Core SBAC test.

Careening down the wrong path as Education Reform Industry spends more money to buy public policy

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Connecticut has become a striking example of what is truly wrong with the way government and public policy functions in the United States today.

Rather than using the state motto, “Qui transtulit sustinet – He who is transplanted still sustains,” the Constitution State could easily shift to, “Step right up and buy your public policy here.”

And presiding over the entire farce is a governor devoted to coddling the rich, while lying to the people.

Victorious thanks to a campaign in which he repeatedly claimed there was no budget deficit, promised that he wouldn’t raise taxes or cut critical state services, Governor Dannel Malloy is now ducking a budget deficit that is skyrocketing.  Malloy’s next step will be to raid the state’s Rainy Day Fund to balance this year’s budget, or worse, he will put the massive deficit on the state’s credit card thereby dumping even more debt on the backs of Connecticut’s overly burdened middle class.

And as for next year, while the state’s fiscal situation deteriorates, Malloy’s proposed state budget includes massive and unacceptable cuts to a wide variety of state services.

Rather than offer up a plan to ensure that services are maintained by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes, Malloy is berating legislators or anyone else who challenges the house of cards he has built.

When it comes to the budget related to public education, Malloy’s proposed budget actually REDUCES spending on public schools by well over $150 million over the next two years, the largest such cut in history.

Yet Malloy has proposed INCREASED spending on charter schools by more than 25 percent.

As if to highlight the modern system of “pay-to-play” policy making, while Malloy turns his back on Connecticut public school students, parents and teachers, the corporate education reform industry is pouring even more money into their unending quests to privatize public education and denigrate teachers.

The corporate funded New York based entity called Families for Excellent Schools has set up yet another “education reform” front group in Connecticut.  This one is called “Coalition for Every Child.”

According to the latest reports filed with the Office of State Ethics, this organization has spent over a quarter of a million dollars lobbying in just the past eight days.  The pro-Common Core, pro-Charter School group has even hired Malloy’s chief adviser, as well as Malloy’s former press secretary, to run their PR campaign in support of Malloy’s plan to divert even more scarce public dollars to charter schools companies.

Three other corporate education reform industry groups, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN), the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), and Achievement First, Inc. (the charter school management company with strong ties to the Malloy administration,) have spent nearly $100,000 more in recent weeks in a lobbying program designed to persuade legislators that it is good idea for them to cut funding for their own public schools, while increasing the taxpayer subsidy for the privately run charter schools.

What are Malloy’s education reform supporters doing and saying with all their money?

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform is using its money to tell parents that the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test (SBAC) is a good thing even though it will label the majority of children as failures. (See: No, the Common Core SBAC test is not like a blood test.)

Meanwhile, ConnCAN and the rest of the charter school industry are using their hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote Malloy’s disgraceful budget and lobbying to stop the Connecticut legislature from pausing the development of further charter schools in the state.

Following the charter school industry’s success in preventing a charter school moratorium bill from passing the General Assembly’s Education Committee, the co-CEO and president of Achievement First Inc., the Executive Director of ConnCAN and state director for the Northeast Charter School Association all gleefully issued press releases cheering on the fact that the Malloy administration can continue its efforts to expand the number of publicly funded, but privately owned charter schools in the state.

Dacia Toll, co-CEO and president of Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that collects the lion’s share of the $100 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds spent on charter schools explained that, “The moratorium on public charter schools would have been a huge step backward.”

A huge step backward for the company’s bottom line that is…

While Malloy’s proposed budget actually INCREASES CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING BY $36 million…

Malloy’s proposed budget cuts tens of millions of dollars to public schools including the following programs;

Reduces funding for the CT Pre-Engineering Program

Reduces Youth Service Bureau programs

Reduces funding for the Parent Trust Fund

Reduces funding for Neighborhood Youth Centers

Reduces funding for Science Program for Educational Reform Districts

Reduces funding for Wrap Around Services

Reduces funding for Parent Universities

Reduces funding for the School Health Coordinator Pilot

Reduces funding for Regional-Technical Cooperation

Reduces funding for Alternative High School and Adult Reading

Reduces funding for Youth Service Bureau Enhancement

Reduces funding for Health Foods Initiative

Reduces funding for School to Work Opportunities

Reduces funding for Commissioner’s Network Schools

Reduces the Priority School District funding for Extended School Building Hours and Summer School

Reduces funding regional interdistrict grant to reduce segregation

Reduces funding for the Leadership, Education, Athletic-Partnership (LEAP)

And the list goes on….and on…

And the Corporate Education Reform Industry is silent on these devastating cuts.

Their plan is simple – more money for charter school companies – cuts to public school programs and higher property taxes for the rest of us.

Connecticut has truly become the land where “step right up, buy your public policy” has become the standard.

Common Core SBAC testing – Open letter to the Connecticut Working Families Party

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April 16, 2015

To the leadership of the Connecticut Working Families Party,

As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-parent, and anti-public education Corporate Education Reform Industry Initiative, public schools across Connecticut are participating in the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scheme.

As you know, the SBAC tests are designed to label the vast majority of Connecticut’s public school students as failures.  The Common Core SBAC test is particularly unfair and discriminatory for students of color, who come from poor families, who face English language challenges or who utilize special education services.

According to the cut scores approved by the Malloy administration, more than 3 in 4 African American and Latino children will be labeled as “failing.”  The projected “failure rates” for students who utilize special education services and those who aren’t fluent in the English Language (English Language Learners) is expected to be in excess of 90 percent.

While the failure rate is not designed to promote more funding for at risk students, it will become part of their permanent academic records ensuring they face even greater barriers going forward.

The Common Core tests are nothing short of the foundation of the immoral campaign to undermine public education, denigrate teachers and privatize public education.

Not only are these destructive tests designed to label children and schools as failures, but the SBAC testing scam is the underpinning of Governor Malloy’s teacher evaluation program.

But as you know, there is an unprecedented opt-out movement building across the nation and the Working Families Party of New York, along with other progressive and community groups, have been stepping forward and speaking out in support of parents and their right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC tests. 

With Connecticut one year behind New York’s testing program, far fewer parents in this state are aware of the problems associated with the Common Core SBAC testing and the damage it is designed to do.

The lack of awareness makes it all the more important to provide parents and students with the information they need, and provide teachers with the support they require as they provide parents with the truth about their rights and the devastation these tests will cause.

Already well over one hundred thousand parents have decided to opt their children out of the Common Core tests in New York State and growing numbers of parents are taking that same action here in Connecticut.

But parents continue to be misled and harassed by the Malloy administration and a number of local school districts for stepping forward to protect their children.

Now is the very moment that parents, students and teachers need our help and support.

As the New York Working Families Party announced as part of a major media push beginning last week,

“Opting out sends a powerful message to the Governor, the legislature, and the Board of Regents: that enough is enough when it comes to overtesting our kids, demonizing teachers, and undermining public education. The parent-led movement is bringing pressure on politicians to change the teacher evaluation system to one that works for all of our kids, in high-income districts and low-income districts alike.”

The same is true here in Connecticut where the Governor, the Connecticut General Assembly and the State Board of Education need to understand that their policies are turning our schools into little more than testing factories.

The Working Families Party of New York is engaged in a an important program to inform New York residents that; 

“If you’re a parent of a 3rd to 8th grader, we encourage you to learn more about opting out…If you’re not a parent of a 3rd to 8th grader…show your solidarity with the parent-led movement against high-stakes testing — then spread the word.

This is changing the entire debate around public education…and we urge you to learn more about it.”

On behalf of Connecticut parents, students and teachers, I’m writing to request that the Working Families Party of Connecticut follow the lead of your colleagues in New York State and join us here as we fight back against the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing program.

Parents, students and teachers need and deserve your support.

Thank you,

Jonathan Pelto

The open letter is also being sent to:

Connecticut Working Families Party
30 Arbor Street, Suite 210
Hartford, CT 06106

Sal Luciano, CT Working Families Party Chairman

Kurt Westby, CT Working Families Party Treasurer

Lindsay Farrell, CT Working Families Party, Executive Director

Taylor Leake, CT Working Families Party, Communications Director

Joe Dinkin, National Working Families Party

LOL – Malloy says spending cap made him propose record cuts to state library

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In a Connecticut Post article earlier this week entitled Malloy defends library cuts, librarians plan rally, Governor Dannel Malloy, “defended his proposed $3.5 million cut to the State Library System…claiming that the lingering effects of the recession and constitutional limits on increased spending forced his hand.

[..]

“Speaking at a lunch break in daylong seminar on the future of Connecticut libraries, Malloy recalled loving Stamford’s Ferguson Library while growing up…”

But Norwalk’s Librarian observed that the Governor’s proposed million-dollar cut in interlibrary loans, “could set the system back 40 years.”

To that Malloy washed his hands of responsibility saying the state’s spending cap required him to make the cuts.

Sadly the librarians didn’t know that the lame excuse was coming from a governor who has used every gimmick in the book, and some new ones to boot, in order to get around the state’s spending cap during his first four years in office.

At least the news report makes no mention of the librarians putting their fingers to their mouths to shush the governor for failing to tell the truth.

At the very least librarians, and all Connecticut citizens, should go back and read some of the articles written by the CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf.

Not long ago Phaneuf explained, “While Gov. Dannel P. Malloy portrayed the spending cap as an unavoidable constraint on the next state budget, governors and legislators from both parties have skirted that constraint repeatedly for a decade.”

During Malloy’s first term he got around the spending cap by simply “moving spending outside of the cap.”  As the CT Mirror reported, Malloy’s tactics included the following;

  • Redirecting $78 million owed to charter schools to cities and towns, which then forwarded the funds to the charter schools. Since state aid to poor municipalities is cap exempt, almost 60 percent, about $45 million, moved outside of the cap.
  • Moving a federally funded health care program for poor adults outside of the budget reduced spending under the cap by $446 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Lawmakers proposed this change and Malloy signed it into law.
  • Borrowing $86 million per year to fund municipal aid increases. Borrowed funds are outside of the budget. Otherwise grants given to all but the poorest communities, would have counted against the cap.
  • Proposing that $60 million in revenues in 2014-15 be intercepted before technically being recorded in the budget — and counted against the cap — and spending them off budget instead to support the state university system. The legislature declined to adopt this proposal

Phaneuf notes that,

“Since 2011, the Democratic governor has proposed or signed into law hundreds of millions of dollars in fiscal maneuvers to shift spending out from under the cap.”

And he adds,

“And GOP lawmakers have short memories…having voted overwhelmingly to adopt a 2007 budget that shattered the cap by almost $700 million — a record in the cap’s 25-year history.”

Not to be bothered by the truth, the “do as I say, not as I do” governor recently appeared on Ray Dunaway’s WTIC-AM 1080 morning show to explain that Connecticut’s legislators “are having a hard time wrapping their minds around the rules.”

“There’s a spending cap,” Malloy added. “… If we had a half-billion dollars more money, we can’t spend a half-billion dollars more money. So they’ve got to get used to the idea.”

This from the governor who broke the rules each and every year he was in office…Much like his predecessor, Governor Jodi Rell, who failed to keep spending within the cap as much as Malloy has.

Truth be told, Malloy’s decision to propose record cuts to the state library and a variety of other important and critical services is either because he actually doesn’t support those services or he is unwilling to come up with the revenue necessary to balance the state budget…

And he is unwilling to raise the revenue because he refuses to ensure that Connecticut’s wealthier residents pay their fair share in taxes.

It would be a lot simpler and more honest if Governor Malloy would simply tell the truth and admit that coddling the rich is more of an important priority for him than properly funding libraries, schools or a variety of human services.

SBAC testing crashes in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota

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The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test will be used to label the vast majority of Connecticut children as failures and then, thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s unfair teacher evaluation legislation, the test scores from the inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core test will be used to “evaluate” Connecticut’s public school teachers.

But just because the SBAC test is “ready” to destroy students and teachers doesn’t mean it actually works.

Yesterday the Common Core SBAC testing program crashed during testing in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported,

Nevada’s students haven’t been able to take computerized standardized tests since Tuesday morning because of technical problems.

According to the Nevada Department of Education, a spike in students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) this morning in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota exceeded the data capacity of Measured Progress, a third-party vendor contracted by the states to provide the test.

All testing in the three states has been stopped until Measured Progress can increase its data capacity, according to an email sent to state superintendents today by state deputy superintendent Steve Canavero.

[…]

This year marks the first time the tests have been rolled out in Nevada. Though they have previously been field-tested by state students, the assessments are now officially being taken by students in third through eighth grades.

The Common Core testing programs have also had major problems in other states, including scattered reports about technical breakdowns in Connecticut.

Billions have been spent on the massive Common Core testing program across the country.  In Connecticut, the projected cost of the Common Core SBAC test to Connecticut taxpayers is approximately $100 million a year, about a quarter of that amount will be picked up with state funds, while the remainder will fall on the backs of local property taxpayers.

As reported previously, the Common Core SBAC test is designed to fail up to 70 percent of students.  The “failure rate” is projected to exceed 90 percent for students who require special education services and students who aren’t fluent in the English Language (English Language Learners.)

For more about the how the test is rigged to produce failure see:

Is your public school student a “failure” – the Common Core SBAC Test says probably yes!

BEWARE: 9 in 10 Children who utilize special education services will fail the inappropriate Common Core SBAC Test

More than 90% of English Language Learners “Projected” to Fail Common Core SBAC Test

Common Core SBAC Math Tests So Fatally Flawed They Should Not Be Used!

ALERT! Parents – the Common Core SBAC Test really is designed to fail your children

But in Connecticut – “No one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

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If Simon & Garfunkel were expanding their 1964 song, “The Sound of Silence,” they could add a whole refrain about the sad fact that another day has passed with nothing but the sound of silence coming from Connecticut’s teacher unions on the critically important issue of a parents right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing program.

Teachers deserve the support of parents, while parents deserve the support of teachers

If one looked East, North, West or South(west) they will see teachers unions speaking out in support of parents, students and the Common Core test opt out movement.

Look East and you’ll find that the Rhode Island Education Association has adopted a resolution supporting the right of students to opt out of state testing and the right of teachers to discuss opting out with parents.

To the North, in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has done the same thing.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has been a leader in the growing national opt out effort and just last week NYSUT President Karen Magee endorsed the right of parents to opt their children observing, “I am saying that I would urge parents…to opt out of testing.”  NYSUT is even running phone banks to tell parents and teachers how to opt their children out of the disastrous tests.

Following Karen Magee’s lead, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers, added her strong support saying that if she had school aged children she would opt them out of the Common Core tests.

The Buffalo Federation of Teachers, the Rochester Teachers Association and more than 120 New York State local teacher unions have also endorsed resolutions supporting the right of parents to opt their children out of the Common Core testing and urging teachers to opt their own children out of the tests.

And to the South(west), the New Jersey Education Association, “representing the vast majority of the state’s 200,000 teachers — ramped up its opposition to the coming PARCC tests, even promoting what it called parents’ rights to have their children refuse to take the state tests altogether.”

Here in Connecticut, Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick, the challenge candidates for president and vice president of the Connecticut Education Association have both endorsed the right of parents to opt out.

But when it comes to Connecticut’s two major teacher unions, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter, the sound of silence continues.

The Common Core SBAC test is nothing short of a scheme designed to label the vast majority of Connecticut public school students as failures and it is rigged to undermining Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools.

The Corporate Education Reform Industry, the corporate funded “advocacy” groups and Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education continue to mislead, harass and put barriers in the way of parents who have a fundamental right to opt their children out of the damaging SBAC tests.

Now, more than ever, union leaders need to find their voice and end the sound of silence.

Connecticut’s parents, students and teachers need and deserve your support.

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