Surprise!  CT Legislature decides to function in the dark

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As the former House Chair of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigation Committee, I’ve waited with baited breath as Connecticut’s legislative leaders’ contemplated ways to trim their generous legislative branch budget.

One option facing the Democratic-controlled Legislative Management Committee was to reduce the number of partisan, political staff that serve as the part-time legislator’s year-around aides.

Alternatively, legislative leaders announced that would have to consider taking the unprecedented and illogical step of eliminating the professional staff who work for the critically important Program Review and Investigation Committee, the primary entity that allows the legislature to investigate and oversee Executive Branch programs.

What, oh what, would legislative leaders do faced with such a “difficult” decision?

Should they take a small step that might reduce their power of incumbency or decide it is better to simply fly blind when it comes to the Legislative Branch’s oversight function.

With the stark headline, CT legislature’s chief investigative panel to lose all staff, the CT Mirror is now reporting the recent decision made by the legislative leaders.

CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf explains,

State legislative leaders have eliminated the General Assembly’s chief investigative arm, reassigning most of the Program Review and Investigations Committee’s 11-member staff to other duties in coming months.

The committee was established 44 years ago over the veto of then-Gov. Thomas Meskill.

The moves cap months of negotiations over the program review office between leaders of the Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate.

The $19.76 billion state budget enacted in May for the 2016-17 fiscal year includes a vague directive that the Legislative Branch achieve $750,000 in savings. Democratic leaders initially announced it would be achieved by eliminating six of the 12 program review staff posts.

[The] alternative, ultimately, was to eliminate the committee’s staff but let most of them remain in state employment.

[…]

During the last recession, program review staff recommended changes involving prescription drug purchasing and transitioning more nursing home patients into home care that saved just over $200 million in 2010 and 2011 combined, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

But legislative leaders have said tough fiscal decisions had to be made.

[…]

Sharkey and Looney said they value the program review office’s work but they also felt the legislative branch’s portion of the budget — albeit a small one — should sacrifice in the same way as the rest of state government.

The Republican minorities in the House and Senate had recommended cutting the entire program review operation in an alternative budget plan.

By eliminating the Program Review and Investigations Committee’s professional staff, Connecticut’s elected state senators and state representatives have taken another giant step in giving up their constitutional duty to review and investigate the actions taken by Governor Dannel Malloy and Connecticut’s Executive Branch of government.

Hooray – CT Taxpayers to cough up $220 million for Lockheed Martin Corporation

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With annual sales in excess of $50 billion a year, the gigantic Lockheed Martin Corporation purchased Sikorsky Aircraft from United Technologies Corporation last year.  Then, just last month, the mega-defense contractor announced that it would be laying off at least 150 workers at the Sikorsky Aircraft plant in order to ensure that it would, “remain competitive in the marketplace.”

Now comes word that Governor Dannel Malloy and the corporate behemoth have reached a reached a “tentative deal” in which Connecticut taxpayers will give Lockheed Martin more than $220 million dollars in return for the defense contractor’s commitment to keep Sikorsky headquartered in Connecticut and create up to 550 jobs over the next 16 years.  The company is also promising to increase total payments to Connecticut-based subcontractors between now and 2032.

While Malloy has been a huge fan of using corporate welfare to buy the loyalty of successful corporations, this particular deal will be one of the largest in Malloy’s career.

While details are a bit scarce, it appears that of the $220 million being given to Lockheed Martin, Connecticut will borrow about two-thirds of the money and reduce the company’s tax liabilities by the remainder.

Considering taxpayers will then be liable for the principal and interest associated with the borrowing scheme, the total cost to taxpayers will exceed a quarter of a billion dollars meaning the subsidy from Connecticut taxpayers to Lockheed Martin will be in the range of $500,000 to $600,000 per promised job.

The CT Mirror is reporting that the Connecticut deal includes the following elements;

  • The company would earn grants of up to $8.57 million annually over the term of the agreement by meeting benchmarks such in jobs, payroll spending, use of in-state suppliers and spending on machinery, equipment, and other long term investments.
  • Sales and use taxes would be exempted up to $5.7 million per year over the term of the agreement.
  • If Lockheed Martin exceeds the target-level employment by 100 to 550 jobs in any given year of the agreement, it will be eligible for a performance incentive grant of up to $1.9 million, for a total of up to $20 million.

Due to the size of the deal, a special session of the Connecticut General Assembly will be needed to approve the project, a session that has apparently been set for September 28, 2016,

You can read more about this developing story at:

Connecticut Offers Stratford-Based Sikorsky Incentives To Stay  (CT Newsjunkie)

Sikorsky, Malloy cut tentative deal to produce new helicopter in Connecticut (CT Mirror)

Malloy, Lockheed Martin Reach Deal to Keep Sikorsky HQ in Connecticut (Courant)

Asked about the critically important CCJEF v. Rell case, Malloy tells media he isn’t Governor Jodi Rell

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It was another classic Wait, What? moment with Dannel Malloy at the helm.

When the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit was filed 11 years ago, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy was a plaintiff in the case, one of a number of local elected officials who decried the fact that Connecticut’s system of school funding was unfair, inadequate and unconstitutional.

Then, Malloy become Connecticut’s governor in January 2011 and immediately did, “a 180.”  Instead of using his position to settle the lawsuit and develop a funding formula that would be fair and constitutional, Malloy lead the charge to dismiss, disrupt and upend the case that would have benefited the children, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Stamford and Connecticut’s other poorer cities and towns.

Malloy not only squandered the opportunity to develop a constitutionally adequate school funding system, he used his budget authority to make the state’s school funding programs even more unfair.

Last week came the initial trial ruling on the CCJEF v. Rell case.  Connecticut superior court judge went so far as to say that not only is Connecticut’s school funding system unconstitutional, it is irrational.

So will Malloy and his administration appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court or not?

In a press conference yesterday (Tuesday, September 13, 2016) Malloy ducked the all-important issue claiming that since his name was Dan Malloy and not Jodi Rell, it wasn’t his responsibility to recommend whether the state of Connecticut should or should not appeal the controversial decision.

Instead he told reporters to go talk to Attorney General George Jepsen, the very state official Malloy has worked so closely with in their effort to dismiss and destroy the CCJEF lawsuit.

The New Haven Independent captured Malloy’s interaction on the subject, reporting the following in a story entitled, Malloy: Ask Jepsen,

Don’t ask Dannel P. Malloy how Connecticut will respond to a judge’s landmark ruling ordering sweeping changes in the state’s education system. After all, his name’s not on the lawsuit.

So the governor said when pressed by reporters at an unrelated New Haven press conference Tuesday afternoon for his take on Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s 254-page ruling last week in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell.

The 11-year-old lawsuit sought fairer educational funding for poorer school districts.

Judge Moukawsher went further. He not only ordered the state to distribute its education aid to local cities and towns more rationally and fairly (though not necessarily to spend more money overall). He also ordered new standards for high school graduation, for distributing special-education aid, for evaluating teachers. And to present a plan to do all that in 180 days.

Malloy was mayor of Stamford when the coalition originally filed that suit. He in fact joined the coalition. He was a plaintiff.

Now he’s the governor — not “Rell,” aka Jodi Rell, who was governor at the time of the filing. Malloy is now in effect the defendant, not the plaintiff.

So, reporters asked: Will he direct the attorney general to appeal the ruling?

Malloy responded that it’s not his call. Technically, Attorney General George Jepsen will have to decide whether the state appeals the ruling. And Malloy, who usually prides himself as a driving force behind state policy, said he plans not to try to influence Jepsen’s decision.

[…]

Malloy said he agrees with much of what Judge Moukawsher wrote in his decision: “You know why I think he made very valid points? Because I’ve been making the same points for the past five years.” He also said he disagrees with some of the decision, particularly the timetable; given that some of the decisions involve the legislative process, he questioned whether the state can meet the 180-day deadline.

CT Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas didn’t let Malloy off the hook. Following is a partial transcript of his follow-up questions and Malloy’s responses.

Malloy: The attorney general needs to do what the attorney general needs to do.

Pazniokas: The lawsuit, after all, is “CCJEF vs. Rell.” The attorney general’s office is charged with doing the defense. They are not the defendant. You in effect are.

Malloy: My name’s not Rell.

Pazniokas: But if you were elected a little bit earlier, “Malloy” would be the defendant. The State Department of Education is in effect the client …

Malloy: I’m not fighting you. I’m not trying to get away from giving you a true answer and a factual answer. It’s a very involved decision. If the attorney general believes that it needs clarification, that it needs final judgement status … I am telling you that I am in agreement with large portions of this decision. And particularly on those points that I have made for the past five years.

Pazniokas: I just want to be clear … You are saying it is entirely George Jepsen and his team, his decision to appeal? You are not going to express a view to the attorney general’s office about whether to appeal at this point?

Malloy: If this was a simpler decision, if it was written on five pages and made statements solely about funding or the distribution of funds, then maybe it wouldn’t even be necessary to even be considering appealing. What I’m telling you is I have enough confidence in the attorney general and his staff that they’ll make the right decision. And I will support that decision. …

The primary purpose as you understood and I understood it when I brought it, then I’m largely in agreement [with the decision]. I don’t know what else to tell you.

I’ve answered it. enough.

Pazniokas: Again, I want to be clear. My question didn’t suggest that you would dictate what the attorney general would do. What’ I’m asking is: So you’re not going to participate in a conversation with him about an admittedly very complex …

Malloy: … Listen. I’m not running from this. I’ll participate in any discussion the attorney general wants to have with me about this subject … I’m even acknowledging that it may have gone beyond the scope of the original proceedings as drafted, as represented in the pleadings. So that may lead people in a particular direction. But if you’re asking me about the core purpose of this lawsuit — and that is how we distribute money for education — I am largely in agreement.

Call it just another day in Malloy’s world of leadership and policy….

You can read and comment on the full New Haven Independent story at: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/malloy_ask_jepsen/

Want to know how a student is doing? Forget the SBAC or SAT test – Ask a teacher

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In a recent press release, Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman pontificated about their effort to measure every child, teacher and public school by the score students received on this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.

Wyman said,

“These successes are valuable indicators that we are on the right track today, and they position us for a stronger tomorrow.”

However, in the real world, the results from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme is hardly a valuable indicator nor does it suggest we are on the right track to anything other than forcing schools to develop better systems for teaching to the test.

As Connecticut public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a Stamford Advocate in August 2015, instead of looking to an unfair testing scam for guidance about student performance, If you Want to know how a student is doing? Ask a teacher.

Last year, Wendy Lecker wrote;

A friend of mine had a priceless reaction to the specious claim by education reformers that our children need standardized tests so parents can know how they are doing in school. He laughed and said that in 20 years of parent conferences no teacher ever felt the need to pull out his children’s standardized tests to provide an accurate picture of how well they were learning.

Parents have relied on teachers’ assessments to gauge their children’s progress and most have pretty much ignored their children’s standardized test scores. For decades, this approach has served parents and students well. Recent research shows that non-standardized, human assessments of student learning are superior to standardized tests of all kinds.

I have written about the voluminous evidence showing that a high school GPA is the best predictor of college success, and that the SAT and ACT, by contrast, are poor predictors. (http://bit.ly/1K7CNzG)

Even standardized college placement tests, tests ostensibly designed to measure “college readiness,” fail miserably at that task — with real and damaging consequences for students.

College remediation is often used as a weapon by education reformers. Overstating college remediation rates was one of the tactics used by Arne Duncan to foment hysteria about the supposedly sorry state of America’s public schools and justify imposing the Common Core and its accompanying tests nationwide. As retired award-winning New York principal Carol Burris has written, while Duncan and his allies claimed that the college remediation rate is 40 percent, data from the National Center on Education Statistics show that the actual percentage is 20 percent.

Exaggeration is not the only problem with college remediation. Many of the students placed in remedial classes in college do not even belong there.

Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia’s Teachers’ College and her colleagues examined tens of thousands of college entrants and found that one-quarter to one-third of those placed in remedial courses based on standardized placement tests were mis-assigned. These students wrongly placed in remedial classes could have passed a college- level course with a B or better. Moreover, when students are mis-assigned to remedial courses, the likelihood of them dropping out of college increases by eight percentage points. These high-stakes tests produce high-cost errors.

Scott-Clayton and her colleagues found that by incorporating high school grades into the college placement decisions, misplacements were corrected by up to a third, and there was a 10-percentage point increase in the likelihood that those students placed in a college-level course would complete that course with a grade of C or better.

Once again, non-standardized, human assessments of a student’s learning are more helpful than standardized tests.

Some institutions are getting that message. After California’s Long Beach City College began incorporating high school grades into placement decisions, the rate of students who placed into and passed college English quadrupled. The rate for math tripled. Just last month, George Washington University joined the long and growing list of colleges and universities that dropped the requirement for SAT or ACT scores.

These institutions of higher education understand that standardized tests are poor predictors “college readiness” and that high school grades are superior.

Yet too many policymakers cling to the failed strategy of using standardized tests to try to tell us what teachers are much better at telling us. Congress is set to reaffirm the requirement that states administer annual standardized tests, even though the data show that a child who passes one year is very likely to pass the next. Washington, West Virginia and California announced plans to use the not-yet validated and increasingly unpopular SBAC test in its college placement decisions.

California announced this move even as it is considering ceasing the use of SBACs to judge schools. Equally hypocritical, Washington State’s Board of Education just announced that it is lowering the SBAC high school passing score below the “college-ready” level arbitrarily adopted by the SBAC consortium last year.

Amid opt-outs and outrage at the SBACs, Connecticut passed a law replacing the un-validated 11th grade SBAC with the SAT as a required high school test; even though the SAT has been proven to have little predictive value for determining college success.

The key to ensuring and determining college readiness is clearly not high-stakes error-prone standardized tests. If politicians really want to understand how to prepare our children for college, maybe they should try a new — for them- approach and consult experts with a great track record of knowing what makes kids college-ready. Maybe they should ask some teachers.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s full column on the issue at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Want-to-know-how-a-student-is-6431076.php

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

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With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

BREAKING NEWS – “NEW” SAT a fraud on Connecticut and the nation’s high school students, their parents, teachers and taxpayers

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Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

– Former College Board (SAT) executive

A major and devastating controversy is crashing into the “NEW” SAT and thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly, Connecticut’s high school students are caught up in the growing disaster.

A leak of thousands of SAT questions, a stunning expose by Reuters News about myriad of problems associated with the standardized testing scheme, an FBI raid and now a broadside posted by a former SAT executive is focusing attention on the absurd use of the “NEW” SAT to evaluate Connecticut’s public school students, teachers and schools.

The harsh reality is that Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly should never have mandated the use of the “NEW,” Common Core-aligned SAT as Connecticut’s 11th grade mastery test.

For background on the initial mistake see Wait, What? posts;

More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT;

Once again Connecticut elected officials are wrong to mandate the SAT for all 11th graders;

My daughter will not be taking the “state mandated” NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016”;

Criticism of the NEW SAT grows as Connecticut’s 11th grades are told they MUST take it on March 2nd,

As well as, The lies in the new SAT (by Wendy Lecker); Connecticut school psychologist John Bestor on the NEW SAT and opting-out; REQUIRING THE SAT GETS CONNECTICUT LESS THAN NOTHING (By Ann Cronin)

Now, as a result of the most recent allegations, Malloy, his political appointees on the State Board of Education, his department of Education and the Connecticut General Assembly should immediately suspend the use of the SAT to evaluate students, teachers and public schools and should further demand that an independent investigation into the SAT and its lack of validity be conducted.

Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the breaking developments surrounding the “NEW” SAT have been scarce following the in-depth investigation conducted by Reuters (See links to the Reuters stories below).

What is clear is that the Reuters’ articles serve as an astonishing and shocking expose about how privatization and greed have turned the SAT into an utter farce, especially in states like Connecticut that decided to use the “NEW” SAT as a “tool” to label children, evaluate teachers and rank public schools.

The whole issue took an even more incredible twist this past weekend when Manuel Alfaro, a former College Board executive posted an open letter about the problems with the new SAT stating,

Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

In his broadside, Manuel Alfaro adds;

Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

As these officials are elected (or appointed by an elected official), you can demand their immediate resignation or you can vote to replace them immediately to ensure that the department of Education in your state is headed by an individual willing to put the interests of your students and your family first.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will describe how the current heads of the Department of Education have failed you and why they lack the judgment (and common sense) to protect the best interests of your children.

On May 7, 2016, I wrote a letter to the heads of the Department of Education in CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH to let them know that the College Board has committed global fraud against their states and the federal government. In that letter, I offered to meet with their legal teams to expose the fraud. Instead of meeting with me (or asking me for additional information), they approached the College Board about my statements and allegations. According to a Reuter’s story, published on Friday August 26, 2016, here is what some of the states had to say about my statements and allegations:

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, Bill DiSessa, said the state “checked with the College Board” and decided not to look into Alfaro’s claims. Jeremy Meyer of the Colorado Department of Education said the state discussed Alfaro’s email with the College Board and was “satisfied with the response we received.”

Kelly Donnelly, spokesperson for the Connecticut State Department of Education, said the state considered Alfaro’s email to be “replete with hyperbole, but scant on actual facts. We did not take further action.” Donnelly said the state hadn’t reviewed Alfaro’s detailed posts on LinkedIn.

Although I have not seen any of the explanations the College Board may have provided, I can assure you that none included the following critical fact: The College Board, ETS, and the Content Advisory Committee did not have time to review all the items prior to pretesting, as the College Board has repeatedly claimed they do.

[…]

If the heads of the Department of Education of your state knew anything about test development, they would have noticed that something about the College Board’s explanation didn’t add up and would have requested copies of the records of the face-to-face committee meetings, which the College Board must keep in order to comply with the Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing. Most importantly, the College Board needs to provide these records to the federal government as evidence for peer review of the assessment programs for these states.

The heads of the Department of Education of your states clearly lack the critical reasoning skills (and the common sense) and basic knowledge of test development required to make good decisions on behalf of the millions of children in their care. This reason alone is enough to demand their immediate resignation.

The College Board saved approximately 17 million dollars by taking shortcuts in the development of a product that affects the lives of millions of students every year. This is how the College Board can afford to offer the SAT to states for about $12 per student.

As a result of Governor Malloy’s directive, the Connecticut General Assembly adopted legislation last year mandating the use of the new SAT and this past March Connecticut’s  high school juniors  were told they “must” take the SAT and that it would be used to evaluate them, their teachers and their schools.

It was wrong for Malloy to back the new SAT.

It was wrong for the legislature to mandate its use.

And now Connecticut’s elected officials have an obligation to take immediate action to undo the damage they have caused.

For additional background, here are the Reuter’s articles reporting on their investigation:

Part 1:  http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-sat-one/ (As SAT was hit by security breaches, College Board went ahead with tests that had leaked)

Part 2:  http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-sat-two/ (How Asian test-prep companies swiftly exposed the brand-new SAT)

Part 3: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-cheating-iowa/ (How an industry helps Chinese students cheat their way into and through U.S. colleges)

Part 4: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-cheating-act/ (Students and teachers detail pervasive cheating in a program owned by test giant ACT)

Part 5: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-sat-security/ (‘Massive’ breach exposes hundreds of questions for upcoming SAT exams)

Follow up – Exclusive: FBI raids home of ex-College Board official in probe of SAT leak – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-college-sat-fbi-idUSKCN112009?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Malloy (and Rell)

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Eleven years ago, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) brought a suit against the state of Connecticut charging that the state’s school funding formula had been so corrupted that it violated Connecticut’s Constitution by failing to provide cities and towns with sufficient state aid to ensure that every child received a proper public education.

At the time, Dannel Malloy was the Mayor of Stamford and signed onto to lawsuit as a plaintiff, correctly pointing out that students in his community and across the state could not get a proper education as a result of Connecticut’s warped school funding program.

As a candidate for governor Malloy supported the suit and recognized that it was the single most important mechanism for transforming Connecticut’s school funding formula into something that adequately funded schools and treated local property taxpayers more fairly.

But upon being elected governor, Malloy switched his position 180 degrees and has spent the last seven years trying to prevent the critically important lawsuit from coming to trial.  When that strategy failed, he wasted precious public dollars, as has Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, working to convince the judicial system that Connecticut’s unfair school funding system is just fine.

For the last five months, a Connecticut judge has been taking testimony on the case.  Yesterday the legal team representing students, parents, teachers and public schools gave their closing arguments.  Today, the state will make their pitch about why the courts should turn their backs on Connecticut’s school funding crisis, and leave the ECS formula in place.

In a story wrapping up the trial, the CT Mirror wrote;

This question over whether the case, which was filed nearly 11 years ago, should move forward is not a new one. The state’s attorney general has been asking the court for years to strip CCJEF of its standing to sue.

But the attorney representing the plaintiffs rejected those calls Monday.

“I think that it is absolutely undisputed that we have at least one set of plaintiffs that have standing in this case…That ends the discussion,” Joseph Moodhe, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the judge. He called the debate over standing a “red herring” aimed at avoiding a decision on the quality of the education being offered to students.

As for the fundamental issues of the case, the CT Mirror explained:

What’s an adequate education?

A divided Connecticut Supreme Court six and a half years ago ruled that the state is responsible for ensuring that public schools are of a certain quality, but left it up to a lower court to determine what that standard is and whether it is being met.

“Where do you set the standard? I think that is what has to be considered,” Moukawsher said Monday.

The plaintiffs argued Monday an adequate education is one that prepares students with the opportunity to attend college when they graduate high school.

“Our case is about not having those opportunities because the resources are not there for those children,” said Moodhe. “Ultimately, it comes down to whether the district is getting the appropriate resources to provide for what’s needed to educate their children.”

Throughout the trial, the coalition chose six school districts to highlight problems – Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, New Britain, New London and Windham. All enroll high concentrations of students from low-income families.

“The larger issue is what happens in districts that have large proportions of impoverished adults and students and how that particular dynamic impacts the ability of districts to provide an education to the students they are there to serve,” said Moodhe. “I think the evidence is quite clear that all of these townships are financially distressed; that most of the evidence has indicated that the superintendents have fought to get additional funding and pretty much without exception they have been disappointed… Because these towns are populated by poorer populations, they really don’t have the income in order to finance their schools.”

During his closing arguments, Moodhe asserted that high-poverty districts are not meeting even a minimum threshold for education quality because they cannot hire and retain talented staff.

“Poverty district students are more likely to be taught by less experienced new teachers,” said Moodhe. “Our districts are disadvantaged by districts’ inability to field the best teachers.”

Difficult working conditions, teachers and principals testified throughout the trial, include larger class sizes and high concentrations of high-need students. Educators say they lose waves of their best teachers each year, have trouble hiring replacements, and have too few teachers and other support staff to keep their students from falling further behind.

“They have less compensation and less enviable working conditions,” said Moodhe. “The evidence is quite clear that the teacher situation is a problem.”

But attorneys representing the state have countered that the schools in these districts are overwhelmingly filled with excellent teachers — as evidenced by annual evaluation ratings — and that the state has spent millions in recent years so that students have the staff support they need.

The lengthy article went on to note:

An equal education for all?

There’s no question that the state’s wealthiest communities are spending much more educating their students.

But should the state be responsible for equalizing that disparity?

Neither side is arguing that should happen.

Rather, those suing the state want a funding system that recognizes the extra cost to catch high-need students up with their peers.

While the states primary school funding grant provides 30 percent more money for children from low-income families, experts who testified for the plaintiffs during the trial testified that it costs two to three times as much to educate poor children who often show up for school with major deficiencies.

The state directs the vast majority of its education funding to the poorest and lowest-achieving communities, but the plaintiffs argue it clearly hasn’t been enough to make up for the significant needs these districts face.

Their proof: test results that show about half the students from these districts are multiple grade levels behind in reading and math.

“What you really have to do is give somebody the opportunity to get that adequate education. They may not get there. But you have to give them the tools and the resources,” he said.

When should the court step in?

The State Constitution requires that, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The General Assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.”

Missing is language clarifying what level of education is required.

Three of the seven justices on the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the constitution entitles every school-aged child to a “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting, and to prepare them to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy.”

A fourth justice wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that the constitution guarantees a certain level of educational quality but setting a much lower threshold for what that standard would be.

“The right established under [the constitution] requires only that the legislature establish and maintain a minimally adequate system of free public schools,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote. “Consequently, in my view, the plaintiffs will not be able to prevail on their claims unless they are able to establish that what the state has done to discharge its obligations under [the constitution] is so lacking as to be unreasonable by any fair or objective standard.”

In the absence of a clear majority mandate from the high court on what quality threshold the state must meet, Judge Moukawsher on multiple occasions has said he worries about overstepping the court’s proper role.

“I think you should understand by now that I have concerns about the fitness of the court to set a level of education spending beyond a bare minimum,” he told the attorneys Monday.

That concern stems from court decisions seemingly piling up that force the state legislature to spend money on particular priorities. On Monday, the judge specifically pointed out the courts’ involvement in ordering the state to desegregate Hartford schools and to take better care of abused and neglected children in the custody of the state’s child welfare agency.

“If I order so many billions to go to education as a whole, are there going to be billions left to desegregate Hartford Public Schools? So too with respect to the Department of Children and Families,” Moukowsher said. “The court is telling [the legislature] ‘spend this, spend that.’ How do courts do that in a vacuum? How can a court say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to spend’ without even considering that there are other constitutional rights that you impinge on when doing that. And there are a lot more, the mentally ill, prisoners, all of them have constitutional rights. When you order spending over here, you have to recognize that you’re affecting the spending over there.

“It means we have a big problem in courts doing this sort of stuff,” said Moukawsher, a former state legislator who represented Groton. “As much as you might say that courts have done it, I am not willing to do it unless I can believe there’s a way to do it rationally and fairly and a way that does not undermine the whole constitutional structure of the state by having the judiciary interfering so much with the job of the legislature that it cripples the legislature’s ability to do policy decisions.”

But, he acknowledged, there has to be some minimal standard that the court holds the legislature and governor to, otherwise, “You would have an empty constitution.”

Attorneys for the state have been arguing for judicial restraint in this case, but those suing the state maintain that a constitutional right should not be blunted by other obligations the state also must meet.

“The right to an adequate education is an affirmative constitutional obligation,” said Moodhe. “There is a challenge to the legislature for inaction… The legislature should not be given wide deference to meet that affirmative obligation.”

And the CT Mirror summarized the case, asking, “What’s the remedy?”

If the judge determines that the state is not providing students with the education the constitution requires, it could then be up to him to fashion a remedy.

If that’s necessary, the state says it would want him to order the legislature to make this its top priority and fix the problem, as was done in previous education funding and segregation lawsuits.

But the coalition suing the state says the courts should oversee a remedy that directs more money to needy schools.

No matter what Moukawsher decides, both sides have said they will appeal to the state Supreme Court for a final determination.

You can read and comment on the full CT Mirror article at: http://ctmirror.org/2016/08/08/ct-school-funding-on-trial-5-key-questions-facing-the-judge/

The Malloy administration’s failed “school turnaround” program

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Since taking office, Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-teacher, anti-public education initiatives have done tremendous damage to Connecticut public education system.  Few governors in the United States have implemented such a short-sighted, mean-spirited and down right stupid approach to education.

Among Malloy’s worst “accomplishments” has been his “school turnaround” program that has undermined the local involvement of students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Not only has the Malloy administration undermined the very people public schools were created to help, his efforts have cut deep into the fabric of Connecticut’s historic system of local control.

In her

latest column, education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the Malloy administration’s failure school turnaround strategies.  In Policy can foster positive relationships for kids, a commentary piece that first appeared in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker writes;

Current education policy focuses on a failed strategy of school and district “turnarounds;” characterized by staff shake-ups and pedagogical practices that focus narrowly on raising test scores. This reform has been the Malloy Administration’s approach to school “improvement” since 2012. The evidence demonstrates that turnarounds produce at best temporary small increases in test scores, but at the high cost of destabilizing schools and communities in the long run.

While policymakers stubbornly pursue this dead end, they ignore evidence from science and educational practice pointing to methods that result in long-lasting improvements in both academic and life outcomes, especially for at-risk children.

A recent article in the science magazine, Mosaic, described a longitudinal study of children in Hawaii that examined why some at-risk children develop significant problems while others do not. The researchers found that for the one-third of at-risk children who did not develop problems, positive relationships, whether in the context of a community or one adult, were key. Even those who engaged in risky behavior as teens were able to turn their lives around with the help of a personal connection.

One of the researchers observed that resilience, often described as a trait, is instead an adaptive process; one that is helped by relationships.

Education reformers misread resilience as a trait they like to call “grit,” and consequently develop misguided policies such as the recent announcement by the federal government that the National Assessment of Educational Progress will create a standardized test to determine whether children have “grit.”

Understanding resilience the way these scientists have come to understand it would lead to a focus on more successful educational policies. Consistent with what science has discovered, it turns out that school programs and policies that promote the development of relationships are the ones that provide long-term educational and life benefits, especially to disadvantaged children.

It stands to reason that school mechanisms promoting a personal connection improve learning as well as social development. Neuroscientists have found that the brain does not recognize a sharp distinction between cognitive, social and motor functions. Consequently, research has shown that feelings of social isolation impair key cognitive abilities involved in learning.

Though they require substantial initial investments, educational policies that foster relationships save money in the long run.

Developmentally-appropriate preschool, with an emphasis on play, enables children to acquire the skills necessary to form healthy relationships. There is near universal consensus that quality preschool benefits children, increasing the chance of graduation, higher earnings, and decreasing placement in special education, involvement in the criminal justice system and the need for other social services. It also can save society as much as $16 for every dollar spent on preschool, by avoiding the costs of these later interventions.

Small class size, which fosters closer relationships between children and their teachers, has been proven to provide similar benefits, increasing graduation rates and earning potential, and decreasing the likelihood and cost to society of risky behavior. Research also shows that increasing class size has detrimental and costly long-term effects on at-risk children.

Now, new evidence from the Colorado Department of Education shows that increasing guidance counselors in secondary schools saved $20 for every dollar spent. Colorado implemented a grant program enabling 255 high schools across the state to hire more counselors and reduce their student-counselor ratio to a ratio of 216:1; a level below the 250:1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselors Association. As a result, the schools’ drop-out rates decreased, saving the state over $319 million dollars.

The program benefited low-income students of color the most. This result is consistent with research examining why students leave high school. As detailed in an earlier column, many students at-risk of dropping out or who have already left high school are more likely to remain or return if they can develop a relationship with a caring adult. Increasing the number of counselors increases the likelihood that at-risk high school students develop a relationship with such an adult.

Preschool, small class size and counselors are among the educational resources the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s pending school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, seek for Connecticut’s most disadvantaged children. Educational programs and services that foster positive relationships are proven to pay off for society, by preventing more costly social and academic interventions later on; and most importantly for our children, by increasing the chance that they develop into capable and productive adults.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Policy-can-foster-positive-9125538.php 

 

DFER, Achievement First Inc and the flow of charter school money into Connecticut campaigns

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The Charter School industry and their corporate education reform allies continue to ramp up their effort to impact the political landscape in Connecticut.  Closely associated with Governor Dannel Malloy and his anti-public education policies, the elite behind the education reform and privatization movement are engaged in a broad based effort to control the dialogue and votes in the Connecticut legislature.

As reported yesterday in, Charter School Political Action Committees target Connecticut legislative races, two new corporate funded political action committees (PACS) are have recently been created and are spending money to elect pro-charter school candidates and defeat public school advocates in races for the Connecticut General Assembly.

Change Course CT, a front-group for Democrats for Education Reform, was formed on July 18, 2016.

Charters Care, a new appendage of the Northeast Charter School Network, was formed a few days earlier on July 13, 2016.

Both Democrats for Education Reform and the Northeast Charter School Network are corporate-funded charter school advocacy groups based in New York City and both receive the bulk of their money from the billionaires and millionaires who are trying to privatize public education in the United States.

According to forms filed with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission, all the funds collected by Change Course CT come from Education Reform Now Advocacy, a non-profit 501 (c) 4 corporation that is operated in conjunction with New York City based Democrats for Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now.

Signing the official documents on behalf of Change Course CT has been Jenna A. Klaus, who appears to be the daughter of Jeff Klaus and Dacia Toll.  Toll is the CEO of Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  In addition to collecting the bulk of the $110 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds paid to charter schools, Achievement First, Inc. earned its infamy from suspending record numbers of kindergarteners in an apparent attempt to push out children who don’t fit the company’s limited definition of appropriate students.  Jeff Klaus is a regional president for Webster Bank and can often be found, throughout the day, attacking education advocates and posting pro-charter school comments on various Connecticut media websites.

The Charters Care election documents are being signed by Christopher Harrington, the Connecticut Policy Manager for the Northeast Charter School Network and the PACs money has come from OxyContin’s Jonathan Sackler and from yet another New York based corporate education front group called Real Reform Now.

Not surprisingly, Jonathan Sackler, a Greenwich, Connecticut multi-millionaire is one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest campaign contributors and is on the Board of both the Northeast Charter Schools Network and Achievement First, Inc., as well as, being the founder and board member of ConnCAN, Connecticut’s leading pro-charter school lobbying group.

The charter school industry has spent in excess of $9 million lobbying on behalf of Governor Malloy’s charter school and education reform agenda.

In addition they have provided massive amounts of campaign funds to Malloy and other pro-charter school candidates at the federal, state and local level in Connecticut.

Charter School Political Action Committees target Connecticut legislative races

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Look out, here they come again…

Outside groups have begun a campaign to persuade voters in New London and Bridgeport to support Democratic candidates committed to diverting even more scarce public funds to privately owned and operated charter schools.

As a result of Governor Malloy’s budget and corporate education reform agenda, while Connecticut public school students, teachers and schools are reeling from their deepest cuts in state history, charter school companies in the state will collect more than $110 million from Connecticut taxpayers, this year.

A massive amount of money considering these entities refuse to educate their fair share of students who face English Language challenges, children who need special education services, and students who have disciplinary issues.

But these schools simply aren’t satisfied with skimming off more than $110 million that should be going to help fund public schools and keep a lid on property taxes.  Charter schools want more and now they are trying to buy up candidates who will be loyal to their cause.

A national, pro-charter school, anti-teacher, corporate-funded group called Democrats for Education Reform has formed a new political action committee in Connecticut called Change Course CT.

Another New York based pro-charter group called Northeast Charter Schools Network has formed a second political action committee in Connecticut called Charters Care.

And these two big money groups are coming into Connecticut to add even more fire power to the existing pro-charter, anti-teacher groups that are already trying to influence public policy and elections.  ConnCAN, New York based Families for Excellent Schools and their political action committee, Connecticut Forward, are only three of a growing number of groups that are spending millions of dollars to persuade Connecticut legislators and candidates to turn their backs on Connecticut’s real public schools.

According to the CT Mirror’s story entitled, Charter school advocates playing in General Assembly primaries;

Change Course CT, a PAC associated with Democrats for Education Reform, a national group Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addressed during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week, has polled voters on two primaries in Bridgeport and one in New London.

“We just want to know what the dynamics of the races are,” said Amy Selib Dowell, the Connecticut director of Democrats for Education Reform.

She declined to say what they are doing with the polling data gathered in three districts: the 39th House, where Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London is challenged by Chris Soto; the 23rd Senate, where Sen. Ed Gomes of Bridgeport is challenged by Dennis Bradley; and the 126th House, where Rep. Charlie L. Stallworth of Bridgeport is challenged by Maria Pereira.

Charters Care is spending their money on “literature and T-shirts promoting Stallworth over Pereira, an outspoken opponent of charter schools, and Rep. Terry Adams of Bridgeport over Dan Dauplaise.”

As noted, these pro-charter groups are closely aligned to Governor Dannel Malloy’s and his anti-public school agenda.  The groups have spent more than $9 million lobbying Connecticut public officials since Malloy rolled out his corporate education reform agenda in 2012.

The timing could not be more suspicious.

Malloy may be on his way out, but one of his key life lines for his aspirations in Washington D.C. is the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies.

Or, as the CT Mirror noted;

Malloy, the co-chair of the DNC’s Platform Committee, was a featured speaker at a Democrats for Education Reform event in Philadelphia…”

“Payment” to be collected later…

For additional background on these groups and their antics in Connecticut read the following Wait, What? posts;

Connecticut Charter School Industry spends another half a million dollars on lobbying elected officials

The Bevy of Billionaires undermining public education

Charter School Industry “invests” more than $9 million in Connecticut lobbying

Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

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