Add New Haven Charter Schools to those that discriminate against English Language Learners and Special Education students

As noted in the recent Wait, What? articles entitled, Hartford Charters fail to accept and educate Latinos and English Language Learners and  Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children, the privately owned and operated, but publicly funded, charter schools located in Hartford and Bridgeport discriminate against Latino students, those who require assistance learning the English language and students who need special education services.

Data collected by the Connecticut State Department of Education further reveals that charter schools in New Haven are equally bad when it comes to accepting and educating their fair share of students who require these additional services.

Unlike true public schools that must accept every student that comes through the door, charter schools use a variety of underhanded and deceptive techniques to prevent a variety of needy students from enrolling in their schools, or once enrolled, use harsh disciplinary policies and other push-out strategies to rid their schools of what they perceive to be unwanted students.

The numbers are stark and disturbing.   The following chart highlights the level of discrimination in New Haven’s charter schools.

New Haven % English Language Learners % Special Education
New Haven Public Schools 14% 13%
Booker T Washington Charter 0% 0%
Common Ground Charter 0% 17%
Elm City Montessori Charter 0% 0%
Achievement First Inc. – Elm City Charter 5% 6%
Achievement First Inc. – Amistad Charter 11% 5%

The data further indicates that like charter schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, New Haven’s charter schools use what should be illegal tactics to push out certain students who might bring down their standardized test scores.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Amistad charter school in New Haven suspends English Language Learners at a rate 333% more than New Haven Public Schools, and

Achievement First Inc. Amistad suspends special education students 238% more than New Haven Public Schools

Under Connecticut law, local public schools must serve all the range of students that make up their community, but Charter Schools repeatedly fail when it comes to serving their fair share of students who require additional services.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s public schools go without the resources they need from the state, while Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly shovel more than $110 million a year to Connecticut’s charter school industry.

New York’s “New Visions for Public Schools” is coming to save Connecticut

Brace yourselves … Yet another New York corporate education reform organization has decided to open up shop in Connecticut.

What is that line about robbing banks because that is where the money is…?

In this case, the group is calling itself “Connecticut RISE School Partnerships” but it is really a New York based organization that is known as New Visions for Public Schools.

This latest Connecticut education reform savior is hiring staff in order to “partner” with the East Hartford, Meriden and New Haven public schools systems.

What the “partnership” is or even how the deal to “partner” with an out-of-state entity was cut hasn’t been revealed, but a series of Freedom of Information requests have been sent to the various school districts in an attempt to find out exactly what is going on.

Some of the funding for the endeavor appears to be coming from the Ray Dalio Family Foundation.  Ray Dalio is the billionaire who Governor Dannel Malloy showered with scarce taxpayer funds in a failed effort to help subsidize Dalio’s desire to move his company, Bridgewater Associates – the world’s largest hedge fund from Westport to Stamford.  In the end, Dalio decided to stay in Westport, for the time being, although he did keep in the range of $52 million in public money to cover some of his costs.  (See Yes, you heard right…CT taxpayers give $115 million to Bridgewater, world’s biggest hedge fund, Slam-Dunk! Touch-down! Goal!!!! Taxpayers come through for American’s highest paid CEO and To Hell with Connecticut’s Middle Class – Someone needs to subsidize the Billionaires.)

While details are scarce, New Visions for Public Schools’ website suggests that students, parents, teacher and public schools in East Hartford, Meriden and New Haven will benefit from “partnering” with them because the New York entity is;

“Dedicated to ensuring that all New York City public school students, regardless of race or economic class, have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for the rigors of college and the workforce. Further, we are committed to sharing innovative tools, strategies and lessons learned in New Visions schools with others in New York and throughout the country to prove that meaningful change is achievable at scale and success is possible for every child.”

[As a side note – never trust an education group that uses the words rigor or grit.]

New Visions for Public Schools further reports that the core of their work is to,

“Promote data-driven, peer-to-peer learning to support continuous improvement.”

The entity’s Board of Trustees includes Founder and Co-Chairman Richard Beattie who is the Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., Chairman and Partner of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, a large New York law firm,  and a leading member of the Harley Davidson Board of Directors.

According to Bloomberg News, Beattle, “concentrates on mergers and acquisitions; leveraged buyouts; and corporate law and finance. He has counseled numerous boards and non-management directors on governance issues, investigations and litigation involving corporate officers and other crisis situations. He has also participated in some of the larger and more complex financial transactions, including the merger of America Online and Time Warner, the merger of WellPoint Health Networks with Anthem Inc. and the merger of J.P. Morgan Chase with Bank One.”

New Visions for Public Schools’ other Co-Chairman is Roger C. Altman, the founder and executive chairman of Evercore. (He is the same Roger Altman who served as President Carter’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and President Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of the Treasury until he resigned amid the “Whitewater controversy”).

Until recently the President of New Visons for Public Schools was Robert Hughes, who has since left to become the Director of K-12 Strategy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In addition to the money from the Ray Dalio Family Foundation, major supporters of New Visions for Public Schools include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and a long list of other charter school industry and corporate education reform foundations, companies and donors.

The job postings associated with New Visions for Public Schools and their Connecticut RISE School Partnerships report that the organization will;

  • Collaborate with RISE district teams comprised of the district superintendent, school supervisor, district data administrator, high school principal, high school teacher, and other school and district staff.
  • Cultivate strong partnerships with RISE schools and districts, building strong relationships with teachers and leaders.
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of district strengths, priorities, and growth areas.
  • Provide embedded and consultative support in RISE schools and districts aligned to the Network common aim.
  • Support each school and district on its unique path to advance student outcomes.

Claiming particular expertise in “Data-Driven Innovation,” East Hartford, Meriden and New Haven should prepare to “benefit” from a program that will;

  • Support districts in designing and implementing local RISE Innovation Grants, piloting unique local initiatives designed to advance the Network’s common aim.
  • Facilitate quarterly Learning and Innovation Cycles, convening RISE teams to discuss Innovation Grant undertakings, review progress data, and refine/strengthen implementation.
  • Support the roll-out of new collaboratively-develop RISE data dashboards, providing school and district leaders with access to real-time and user-friendly data visualizations.
  • Build staff capacity around the use of data to systematically drive decision-making.
  • Focus intently on creating school and district systems, structures, and protocols to allow for regular data-driven learning cycles.
  • Support districts in implementing data tools and strategic data check-ins around college and career readiness indicators.

In addition to a the RISE Program Coordinator and the RISE School Partnership Manager, Connecticut’s newest corporate education reform industry group will also be adding a RISE Director Of Data Strategy, whose job will be to “play an integral role designing and leading RISE’s data strategy, overseeing research, development, and capacity-building functions.”

Check back for more information about New Visions for Public Schools’ Connecticut RISE initiative as it becomes available.

Stench of Chicago’s Corporate Education Reform Industry scandal wafts as far as Connecticut

This past Tuesday (October 13, 2015) former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, one of the nation’s leading Corporate Education Reform Industry leaders, pleaded guilty for her role in a $23 million kick-back scheme with Gary Solomon and his education reform companies, The SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates.

As part of the plea agreement federal prosecutors told the court that they would drop all but one of the twenty fraud charges listed in Byrd-Bennett’s indictment and that although she faced a maximum of 20 years on each of 20 fraud counts, they would recommend a prison sentence of no more than seven 7 ½ years if she continued to “cooperate with federal investigators.”

Byrd-Bennett has previously served in top management positions with the Cleveland and Detroit public school systems.

As Barbara Byrd-Bennett was pleading guilty for her crimes in Chicago, The Detroit News reported that the FBI was investigating contracts Byrd-Bennett approved when she worked in Detroit;

According to six-month expenditure reports from May and November 2011, DPS paid $1,487,654.08 to Synesi for “Consultant Services/Curriculum/Office of Accountability.”

The report from November 2011 also lists an invoice of $128,698.77 to Synesi as “disapproved.”

The dark cloud of potentially illegal activities casts a long shadow over The Supes Academy, Synesi Associates, and a third company that is owned by Gary Solomon, PROACT Search.

As previously reported, Solomon’s PROACT Search has received a number of contracts in Connecticut.

The superintendent search firm was responsible for getting Garth Harries the superintendent’s job in New Haven and Manuel Rivera the same post in Norwalk.

When the New London Board of Education, with the help of Governor Malloy’s Special Master Steven Adamowski, hired Rivera away from Norwalk in February 2015, the Norwalk Board of Education re-hired PROACT Search and this time they recommend Steven Adamowski for the job.

Steven Adamowski has had a long-standing relationship with Gary Solomon and his corporate education reform companies.  Adamowski worked with The Supes Academy for many years and has also been on PROACT Search’s preferred list.

When Steven Adamowski announced his surprise departure as head of the Cincinnati school system in 2002, PROACT Search was hired to find his replacement.  The process garnered national attention as the Cincinnati Enquirer ended up, “suing the school board and its new superintendent over the secretive process by which the superintendent was chosen for the job.  Adamowski’s name was featured prominently in the newspaper’s complaint.

Four years later, in 2006, when PROACT Search put Steven Adamowski on the short-list for the superintendent’s job in Seattle, the move generated searing local criticism (See: The School Board Flunks Google 101 – In rounding up superintendent candidates, it seems no one did their homework. And what about the $63,500 head-hunting firm?)

And PROACT Search’s involvement in Norwalk has also generated controversy.

As the $20 million no-bid contract in Chicago originally came to light, Catalyst Chicago, a local education media outlet in Illinois reported;

In addition, Byrd-Bennett is listed as a senior associate for a superintendent search firm called PROACT Search, in documents dated August 2012—four months after taking the position with CPS [Chicago Public Schools.] PROACT is run by the same individuals who lead Supes: Gary Solomon, the executive director, and Thomas Vranas, the president

[…]

Byrd-Bennett is one of four contacts listed in the proposal for services submitted by PROACT in its bid to do a superintendent search for the Norwalk, Connecticut school district. She has an e-mail address listed in the proposal. When PROACT won the contract, an official for the company was quoted in the local newspaper touting that Byrd-Bennett, who by that time had been named as Chicago’s CEO, was a contractor with the firm.

[…]

However, Byrd-Bennett denies that she ever worked for PROACT and was surprised that her name was used, according to CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Quinn says the e-mail address [email protected] was “generic.”

At the time, Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Lyons, Steven Adamowski’s biggest local supporter, who now serves as Chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education spoke out in favor of hiring PROACT Search.  A November 12, 2102 Stamford Advocate article reported,

Lyons said the company has three bilingual staff members that will work on the project and hires contractors as well, including Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former superintendent of the Cleveland school system and now CEO of the Chicago school system

“I think we’ve got some really top flight talent that this group can bring in,” Lyons said.

Two years later, when it was time to find yet another superintendent, the Norwalk BoE voted 7-0 to rehire PROACT This time the company’s involvement led to the hiring of Steven Adamowski

In addition to their connection with Gary Solomon’s company, both Garth Harries and Steven Adamowski “graduated” from the Broad Academy, a corporate education reform training camp funded by billionaire Eli Broad, whose foundation is one of the three biggest funders of the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

A fourth Connecticut name with connections to those associated with the Chicago scandal is Christina Kishimoto who became Hartford’s superintendent when Adamowski left the position in 2011.  Kishimoto was Adamowski’s choice for the job, despite Mayor Pedro Segarra’s opposition (or initial opposition).  Like Adamowski, Kishimoto has worked with Gary Solomon’s Supes Academy.

Achievement First Inc. New Haven charter money grab tabled

Public opposition to another privately run, publicly funded charter school in New Haven has led to the City’s pro-charter superintendent of schools withdrawing his plan to turn over even more scarce public funds to Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

As reported in an article entitled, Charter Deal Tabled, the New Haven Independent writes;

“Elm City Imagine” died Wednesday—at least the version that would have had New Haven’s Board of Ed entering into a partnership this year with the Achievement First charter network on a new school.

Superintendent Garth Harries announced, through a memo sent to Board of Education members, that he has tabled the proposal.

Controversy over the plan had drowned out the public schools’ other efforts at improving education, Harries said in an interview. He said the proposed deal got swallowed in the broader national debate over the role of charter schools.

“This began to threaten the foundation of school change, which is collaboration on behalf of kids,” Harries said.

[…]

Elm City Imagine began as an effort by Achievement First (AF) to design, with the help of the inventor of the computer mouse, an experimental K-8 school of the future. AF, which runs local charter schools such as Amistad Academy, planned to open Imagine in the fall as a K-1 at first, eventually expanding to fourth grade. Saying it couldn’t raise enough money privately to launch the school, AF negotiated a “partnership” with Harries under which New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) would provide $700 in cash and in-kind services per student for a school that AF would run and staff (not including the legally required contribution for transportation and special education services).

The proposed deal sparked intense opposition. Teachers began organizing against it. So did school administrators. Opponents lined up for hours at public meetings to blast the deal. They said it shifted needed money and autonomy to well-funded charters. They argued that the deal didn’t represent a true partnership—but rather the first step toward a private takeover of public schools.

You can read the full article at:  http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/charter_deal_canned/

You can read the earlier Wait, What? posts about the money grab at:

The “done deal” to divert scarce public funds to another Achievement First Inc. hits a road block

New Haven (& CT) Taxpayers to subsidize Achievement First’s corporate development plan?

Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

The “done deal” to divert scarce public funds to another Achievement First Inc. hits a road block

At last night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting, New Haven Board of Education President Carlos Torre and member Alicia Caraballo, “peppered proponents with skeptical questions and declared themselves unprepared to vote yet” on the plan to divert even more New Haven and Connecticut taxpayer funds to Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company with operations in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Of course, the corporate education reform industry won’t withdraw without a fight and will be relying on New Haven Mayor Toni Harp to line up the votes in favor of the project known as Achievement First Elm City Imagine.

As documents have revealed, getting public funds for the school is part of Achievement First Inc.’s corporate expansion plan.

New Profit, Inc., a financial group that invests in Achievement First Inc. and other private companies associated with the education reform industry, told investors in their annual report last year that, “Over the next five years, Achievement First plans to grow to a network of 38 schools serving more than 12,000 students.”

Achievement First Inc.’s expansion plan to become one of the largest charter school chains in the country actually goes back to before Achievement First Inc. co-founder and board member Stefan Pryor left Achievement First, Inc. to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

With Pryor serving as Commissioner of Education from 2012 through last month, Achievement First Inc.’s revenue from the State of Connecticut skyrocketed.

Over the past six years, Achievement First Inc. has dramatically expanded its operations in Connecticut and has seen New Haven as particularly fertile ground for their privatization efforts.

Two Achievement First Inc. employees or operatives are actually members of the New Haven Board of Education and Mayor Toni Harp, who sits on the Board of Education and appoints its members, also sits on one of Achievement First Inc.’s Board of Directors.

Adding to Achievement First Inc.’s political might is the fact that New Haven Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries and his leadership team are strong proponents of the Corporate Education Reform Industry agenda in general and Achievement First Inc. in particular.

Before arriving in New Haven, Harries worked as top official in the New York City Department of Education where he “led the creation of new school opportunities.” In that capacity Harries was responsible for the development of 63 new charter schools in New York City, including some of the notorious Success Charter Schools run by Eva Moskowitz.

Prior to taking the job in New York, Harries worked for McKinsey & Company, a leading education reform industry consulting company.

Harries received his “superintendent training” as a member of the 2009 class of the Broad Academy, the corporate education reform foundation that is funded by billionaire Eli Broad who is one of the three largest donors behind the education reform movement, along with Bill Gates and the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame.

The new Chief Financial Officer for the New Haven School System, Victor De La Paz, is another graduate of the Broad Academy and Siddhartha Chowdri, who is presently a Broad Academy’ resident was placed by the Broad Foundation in New Haven to help De La Paz.

Victor De La Paz took a leadership role at last night’s board meeting in trying to persuade the members of the New Haven Board to approve the Achievement First Inc. agreement.

CFO De La Paz was backing up Superintendent Harris who has been the leading advocate behind the effort to divert New Haven and Connecticut taxpayers funds to Achievement First Inc.’s new “experimental school.”

According to the New Haven Independent,

“Last week, Harries released a draft of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) delineating the terms of the proposed agreement between AF and the district. The district would provide $700 in cash and in-kind services per student for a school that AF would run and staff—not including the legally required contribution for transportation and special education services…”

The newspaper further explains that,

The proposal “will cost New Haven Public Schools $202,000 in year one and ramp up to $459,000 after year 4 (excluding special education and transportation as required by law)”

Since nearly two-thirds of New Haven’s local education budget is paid for by the state of Connecticut, the diversion of public funds to the privately run Achievement First Inc. would mean state taxpayers would actually be paying for the majority of the proposed give-a-way program.

Among those raising concerns about the Achievement First Inc. project during the public portion of last night’s meeting were Dave Cicarella, the President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers and Keisha Hannans of the New Haven School Administrators Association.

Teachers have not been allowed to unionize at Achievement First Inc. schools and without collective bargaining rights, teachers working for Achievement First Inc. schools have reported that the company has violated some of the most basic rights that are given to employees working in public schools.

Read more at New Haven Independent’s article about last night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting at: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/torre_caraballo_demand_details_before_imagine_vote/

New Haven (& CT) Taxpayers to subsidize Achievement First’s corporate development plan?

Second in a series on the attempt by Achievement First Inc. to collect even more money from Connecticut’s taxpayers.  Part 1 can be found here: Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

As the New Haven Board of Education considers approving the deal to hand over money to help fund Achievement First Inc.’s new Elm City Imagine school, a question that arises is who exactly is behind the proposal to divert scarce taxpayer funds from New Haven and Connecticut residents to subsidize Achievement First Inc.’s effort to create the Elm City Imagine School in New Haven?

If you ask the corporate education reform industry executives who are pressuring the New Haven Board of Education to vote yes they will tell undoubtedly tell you that they are doing it – “For the Children!”

But when you begin to pull back the curtain, you’ll find a very different story.

Here is just part of the reality facing the people of New Haven;

The Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors is chaired by William Berkley, the Chairman and CEO of W.R. Berkley Corporation of Greenwich, Connecticut and Doug Borchard, the Chief Operating Officer of New Profit, Inc., a financial investment company that “invests” in companies and entities associated with the corporate education reform industry.

Pulling in over $219 million in salary and compensation over the past five years from his insurance company, the Chairman of Achievement First Inc. ranks #29 on Forbes’ highest paid CEO list and Berkley is the #1 highest paid CEO in the insurance industry.  Berkley was recently appointed to head New York University’s Board of Trustees, where the tuition and fees are now in excess of $75,000 a year.

One of William Berkley’s claims to fame in Connecticut is the controversy surrounding Berkley’s role in giving free plane trips to disgraced Governor John Rowland and the curious appearance fees his company gave to Rowland’s wife while Berkley’s company had state contracts with the Rowland administration.   Bloomberg.com puts Berkley among America’s billionaires club.

Achievement First’s Vice Chair may not be in the same financial league yet, but he is a well-recognized force in the corporate education reform industry thanks, in part, to his leadership role at New Profit, Inc.

It turns out that Achievement First, Inc. is a particular darling of the New Profit Corporation.

In their most recent annual report, New Profit Inc. brags that Achievement First Inc. is a key investment for New Profit Inc, telling investors that its relationship with Achievement First Inc. goes back a number of years and noting that Achievement First Inc. already collects in excess of $130 million a year in revenue from its charter school operations.

According to New Profit, Inc.

“Achievement  First has grown into a network of 22 public charter schools in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford, CT, and Brooklyn, NY, serving 7,000 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Over the next five years, Achievement First plans to grow to a network of 38 schools serving more than 12,000 students.”

And who exactly is New Profit Inc?

The Chairman of the New Profit Inc. Board of Directors is Josh Bekenstein, a managing director of famous, or infamous, Bain Capital.  The Board includes two other senior corporate officers of Bain Capital, the Global CEO of Deloitte Touche, the President of Carlin Ventures Inc., the Chairman and Managing Director of Raptor Capital Management and a variety of other corporate elite.

New Profit, Inc. also “invests” in a variety of other corporate education reform industry companies and front groups including Educators 4 Excellence, a New York based anti-union advocacy group that recently opened offices in Connecticut; the Kipp Charter School Chain, a company that runs well over 100 charter schools around the nation; the “Achievement Network” and “Turnaround for Children,” two other corporate education reform organizations.

New Profit also “invests in “New Leaders,” the education reform entity that was formerly known as “New Leaders for New Schools,” which claims that since 2001, it has “trained more than 800 principals and vice principals who now serve more than 250,000 students…Principals trained by New Leaders fundamentally improve school and student achievement through innovative and results-based leadership.”

One of New Profit’s most recent “investments” is in “New Classrooms Innovation Partners,” a company that bills itself as an on-line, personalized learning technology company that will serve as an “innovative partner for learning.”

New Classrooms Inc. is led by Joel Rose, the company’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.  Rose previously worked as the Chief Executive Officer of School of One, “an initiative within the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) that uses a mix of live, collaborative, and online instruction in order to provide students with instruction customized to their unique academic needs and learning styles.”  Rose also worked as senior executive at the massive public education privatization company known as Edison Schools where he served as the company‘s Associate General Counsel, Chief of Staff, General Manager, and Vice President for School Operations

The Board of Directors for this company not only includes corporate education reform industry champion Mike Bezos of Amazon, but none-other-than Doug Borchard, the executive at New Profit Inc. and Vice Chair of Achievement First Inc.

Meanwhile, as Achievement First, Inc. continues to claim that they need the scarce funds from New Haven in order to help the City, the company stays mum on its multiple relationships with the billions of dollars associated with the corporate education reform industry.

Achievement First Inc.’s Board of Directors also includes James Peyser, a senior official at the NewSchools Venture Fund; Jonathan Sackler whose family owns PurduePharma (the maker of Oxycontin); Elisa Villanueva Co-CEO for Teach For America; and Ariela Rozman the CEO of TNTP ( The New Teacher Project.)

Sackler, who financed the creation of Achievement First, Inc. ConnCAN and 50CAN coincidently also serves on the Board of Directors of the NewSchools Venture Fund, while the TFA Board includes such notables as one of Connecticut’s other billionaires, Stephen Mandel, who not only donated more than $50 million to Teach for America and serves as the Treasurer of the TFA Board but is also a major donor to Achievement First Inc., ConnCAN and Excel Bridgeport, the pro-charter lobby group that has been working with Mayor Bill Finch to divert Bridgeport’s public funds to Achievement First, Inc. – Bridgeport and other charter schools in that city.

And the inter-relationships go on and on.

Yet with all of these billionaires and multi-millionaires and investment companies and corporate elite, Achievement First, Inc. is claiming, with a straight face, that it can only help reduce class sizes in New Haven’s Public Schools if the public school system hands over more money to fund the company’s expansion plans.

Now just who is zooming who in this charade?

Check back tomorrow for more on Achievement First’s money grab.

Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

[This is the first in a series of articles about Achievement First Inc.’s proposed New Haven Elm City Imagine School]

Aka – The Charter School Industry’s step by step dismantling of public education in Connecticut.

This Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Governor Malloy will play his hand as to whether he will insert taxpayer funds into next year’s state budget in order to fund Steve Perry’s dream of opening a privately-owned, but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport.  An out-of-state company is also counting on Malloy to come through with the cash needed to expand their charter school chain into Stamford, Connecticut.

Both charter school applications were vehemently opposed by the Bridgeport and Stamford Boards of Education.

However, despite that opposition from the local officials responsible for education policy and despite the fact that Connecticut doesn’t even fund its existing public schools adequately and the fact that the State of Connecticut is facing a massive $1.4 billion projected budget deficit next year, Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education approved four new charter school proposals last spring.

Initial funding for two of the four applications was included in this year’s state budget, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington charter school and yet another charter school for Bridgeport.

Now the charter school industry is counting on Malloy to divert even more scarce public funds away from the state’s public schools so that Steve Perry can start pulling in a $2.5 million management fee from a charter school in Bridgeport and the out-of-state company can open up a revenue stream from a new charter school in Stamford.

While most public education advocates are focused on the Malloy administration’s ongoing attempt to privatize public education via policies at the state level, the politically connected Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain is using a completely different approach as it seeks to pull off a deal in New Haven that would shift existing funds away from New Haven’s public schools and into the coffers of the Achievement First operation.

Of course, Achievement First Inc. is the charter school chain founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s former commissioner of education.

Achievement First Inc. is also the charter school chain that gets the lion’s share of the $100 million in public funds that are already diverted to charter schools in Connecticut.

Achievement First’s latest gambit is called the Elm City Imagine School.  Achievement First already owns and operates the following taxpayer-funded New Haven Charter Schools;

Amistad Academy Elementary School

Amistad Academy Middle School

Amistad Academy High School

Elm City College Preparatory Elementary School

Elm City College Preparatory Middle School

Achievement First Inc. also owns charter schools in Hartford, New Haven, New York City and Rhode Island.

With the New Haven proposal, Achievement First, Inc. is attempting to side-step the entire state charter school authorization process.  They are trying to use a mechanism whereby state and local taxpayer funds would be allocated by the New Haven Board of Education directly to Achievement First’s new “experimental school.”

The only hurdle that Achievement First Inc. needs to overcome is getting the approval of the New Haven Board of Education…and it appears that they are well on the way to do just that as early as their February 23, 2015 meeting.

The New Haven Board has scheduled a second and final public hearing on the proposal tomorrow, Tuesday 2/17 at 5:30, nicely timed to take place during school vacation.

The New Haven Board of Education is not democratically elected by the citizens of New Haven.  It is one of the only boards of education in Connecticut to be appointed by the mayor of the community.

In this case, the New Haven Board of Education is appointed by Mayor Toni Harp – who, thanks to an earlier sweetheart deal – happens to sit on the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors for the Amistad Academy schools.

Another member of the New Haven Board of Education is Alex Johnston who is the former CEO of ConnCAN.  Johnston now, “develops and implements strategies for philanthropists on education reform advocacy and political initiatives.”

ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy group that is not only associated with Achievement First Inc. but it is the entity that led the record-breaking $6 million dollar lobbying campaign in support of Malloy’s 2012 Corporate Education Reform Initiative.

ConnCAN is also the charter school advocacy group that recently held a rally on the New Haven Green to “save kids trapped in local failing public schools.

And ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy group that was created by Jonathan Sackler, who is the multi-millionaire who played such a pivotal role in helping Stefan Pryor with the creation of Achievement First Inc.

Sackler now serves on the Board of Directors for Achievement First Inc.  and the Board of Directors for ConnCAN

Most recently, Sackler and his family were the largest contributors to Malloy’s re-election effort, pumping well over $100,000 into the various committees that paid for the Governor’s campaign activities.

Achievement First’s Elm City Imagine

Achievement First’s Elm City Imagine (designed to become a K-4 school) will be Achievement First Inc.’s initial foray into the “Greenfield” model. The model designed with the help of the inventor of the computer mouse.”

Achievement First Inc. is also using public funds to insert the “Greenfield Model” into its Elm City College Prep Middle School.

Among the many controversies associated with this new proposal is that Achievement First Inc. has successfully prevented the unionization of its schools and is now looking to use even more public funds to hire employees who would have no collective bargaining rights.

Achievement First Inc. is also notorious for relying on Teach For America recruits in an effort to promote the churning of staff to keep expenses down and limit the likelihood of unionization.

Alex Johnston, the former ConnCAN CEO who and member of the New Haven Board of Education is quoted as saying

“We need statewide policies that allow educational innovations like Teach for America or Dacia’s schools [The Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain] to spread far and wide.”

[Article Update at 3pm 2/16/15 – Johnston has announced the due to the conflict of interest he will not be voting on application, although it doesn’t change much considering the political dynamics surrounding the project.]

Of course, Achievement First Inc. also made national news when it was reported that their “zero-tolerance” discipline policies led to an extraordinary number of kindergartners being suspended.

Check back for the next installment of this series.

You can also read more about the Achievement First Inc. plan via the following New Haven Independent articles;

Teachers, Parents Organize Against Charter Deal

The School Of The Future Gets A Dry Run
Teachers Union Prez Pens “Imagine” Critique
Charter Plans Detailed; Parents Weigh In
Elm City Imagine Sparks Debate
NHPS, AF Team Up On Experimental School
Elm City Charter Eyed For Futuristic “Conversion”
City’s Charter Network Hires San Francisco Firm To Design The K-8 Public School Of The Future

 

A parent speaks out about Teach For America

There is a lot in corporate education “reform” that astonishes, but perhaps nothing is so astonishing as the strategic deployment of TFA. It’s counter-intuitive that untrained recent graduates will fare better in the classroom than seasoned teachers. And the reason that this notion feels counter-intuitive is quite simple: its contrary to common sense and cool reason. With rare exceptions, there is no way at all that a person with 5 weeks training can take commanding control of the classroom and lead the students with equanimity.

I have known young people who went into TFA, and while I thought highly of them as individuals, I did not think that they were prepared to do a better job of teaching than someone with professional training. There is a reason we have EDUCATION PROGRAMS. Yesterday, we took teaching seriously: we saw it as a profession, a vocation, which makes great demands on its practitioners. We understood that it was no small thing to get up in front of children and then ask them to follow you. But today we–meaning “they”!!–have completely trivialized teaching. They have decided that teaching is just like brushing your teeth or driving your car: just about anyone can do it!

TFA is insidious for a number of reasons. It’s an integral part of the corporate plan to de-professionalize teachers and to bring them under strict management control. Professionalism is anathema to the corporate types because professionals have too much workplace autonomy. We can’t have that in our brave new schools of “accountability.” Professionals typically form unions. And this is the real value of TFA for the “reformers”: it allows management to go around union contracts by using “contract labor”–i.e., the TFA cohort. And it will always be true that people on short term contracts are more vulnerable, more pliable and less invested in their place of employment. In short, TFA gives management a considerable degree of “flexibility.”

And TFA is not the best option for students. As Jon Pelto says, there are many unemployed teachers in Connecticut. If Hartford BOE has money to spend, it should spend it on real teachers for the benefit of the children. TFA is not only part of union busting, it is also, sad to say, an engine for increasing the ghettoization of the ghetto. When TFA went to New Orleans, thousands of public school teachers were laid off, many of them people of color, whose middle class jobs were crucial for the stability of certain neighborhoods. When these people lost their jobs, the impact on their communities must have been terrible. I’m sure the same thing will happen in Hartford, albeit on a much smaller scale. But Hartford needs every good job that it currently has, as the city’s economy is anything but promising.

Superintendent Kishimoto (in league with Stefan Pryor) is wreaking havoc on Hartford’s future. She is taking from the needy to give to those who are already glutted. TFA is a rich organization, backed by powerful wealthy people; it does not need a penny of public money. If they want to send “brilliant young people” to the poorest school districts, let them pay for it!

One hopes that some of the young people recruited to TFA will wake up and see the light. I understand that many have good intentions, but they have to realize that they are being used. I told one person I know who was in TFA that she should immediately disabuse herself of the idea that she was going to “save poor kids in the ghetto.” What could she know as someone who grew up with wealth what it is was like to live in a distressed community like Hartford? TFA encourages their “bright young things” to think of themselves as “game changers.” In my view, this is little else than an incitement to willful innocence or disgusting arrogance. And what is more, when the TFA “teacher” has a hard time of it and is forced to revise her “idealism,” it is easy to see that she might become bitter and cynical–hardly the attitudes you want in a leader of children…

I always say if TFA is so great then send them to the wealthy districts like Avon and Farmington, and the veteran teachers in those communities can come and teach in places like Hartford and Windham. Of course, I am well aware this would never happen!

New Haven politician lands a top job with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor

A former five-term member of the New Haven City Alderman who lost a Democratic Primary for the New Haven City Clerk’s job on September 10th has landed a state job with Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education. 

Sergio Rodriguez managed to submit his job application for the new position by the September 17th application deadline.  Although Rodriquez lacks a college degree and doesn’t have any background in K-12 public education, he started his state job on December 13th 2013 with a starting salary of $67,500.

Wasting no time, on December 15th Rodriguez tweeted, “Heading to Washington, D.C. tomorrow, looking forward to meeting folks who are working on improving educational outcomes for our most vulnerable young people.”

Considering the State Department of Education’s policies and procedures about hiring, it immediately stands out that Pryor hired a politician with no academic degrees.

A review of recent and pending job postings at the State Department of Education reveals that the Minimum Experience and Training required for every associate position in Pryor’s agency has been “An earned advanced degree and eight (5) years of relevant professional experience.”

Positions above the associate level at the State Department of Education have required a Minimum Experience and Training level of “An earned advanced degree and eight (8) years of relevant professional experience.

[For example, see pending State Department of Education job postings #58101, #811-62856, #826–58395, and #825-59479.]

But then along came the posting of the position that landed Sergio Rodriguez his new state job.

According to the legal job posting, instead of requiring any academic degree, the Minimum Experience and Training was simply listed as a “Demonstrated competence to perform the duties and responsibilities of the position as determined by the State Board of Education.”

The job posting did require, “Knowledge of the basic philosophy of education; knowledge of organizational behavior and planning; ability to plan educational policy; ability to prepare comprehensive reports…”

The job posting also explained that the position was, “to provide technical assistance to improve educational outcomes for children and youth involved with child protective services, the juvenile justice system, or alternative programs.  Key responsibilities will include providing assistance on the intersection of state and local responsibilities for the delivery of services to children and families of youth engaged with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Judicial Department, the Department of Correction (DOC), Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and other state agencies…”

Before Rodriquez served as a member of the New Haven Board of Alderman, he worked as a substance abuse coordinator for the City of New Haven and Chairman of the City’s Substance Abuse Commission.

Based on Sergio Rodriguez’ resume it appears that while he has background in some of the required areas, it is equally clear that he has no particular expertise, or even experience, in “basic philosophy of education” or “ability to plan educational policy.”

In another odd twist that may or may not raise conflict of interest issues, Rodriquez and his wife, Randi Rubin, formed a company called R Kids Inc., in the 1990s.  R Kids Inc. is an organization “committed to providing specialized, high quality services to children in out-of-home care and their families; promoting permanency, safety and stability for children through services to their biological, foster or adoptive families.”

Randi Rubin is the organization’s executive director collecting about $94,000 a year in salary and benefits.

Over the last eight year, R Kids Inc. has collected over $3.2 million in state grants primarily from the Department of Children and Families, one of the key state agencies Rodriquez will be directly working with on Pryor’s behalf.

In addition, R Kids Inc. has also received grant funds from the Department of Social Services, the Department of Environmental Protection and the New Haven Community Development Block Grant program.

The information provided to date doesn’t make it clear whether Sergio Rodriguez was the strongest candidate for the job but he did beat out other candidates with far more experience.

Regardless, the most interesting factor is that the State Department of Education created a job that required no college degree or any formal experience with the primary and secondary school system.

Also of note is the fact that Rodriquez was given a starting salary of $67,500 plus benefits which is a compensation package far in excess of what other state employees with only a high school degree are paid.

Of course, Wait, What? readers will recall that this is the same Commissioner Pryor that has been systematically decimating the professional staff at the State Department of Education by letting experts go and transferring others out of their key positions, all while hiring a $1 million out-of-state consulting firm that has sent in inexperienced consultants to run Pryor’s School “Turnaround Office” and his Commissioner’s Network Program.

More public subsidies for Achievement First, Commissioner Pryor’s “former” Charter School Management Company

It might be difficult economic times here in Connecticut.  Taxes going up, vital services being cut, but low and behold, public funds are flowing ever faster into Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Not only is Commissioner Pryor overseeing the process that is allowing Achievement First to expand its schools in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, but he is playing the pivotal role in the approval process for new taxpayer-funded charter schools in Connecticut.

The net result is that Achievement First is the fastest growing charter school entity in the state.

Now comes news of even more public funds and support for the company that Pryor helped build as one of its original directors.

The application deadline is quickly approaching for the new Achievement First Residency Program for School Leadership.

The “best and brightest” teachers from Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford Public Schools are being asked to participate.

According to the program’s recruitment materials, “This full-time, paid residency opportunity will allow talented education reformers to learn and leverage some of the country’s most effective practices to drive breakthrough student achievement.”

Participants will complete two residencies over the course of one academic year, “first at a high-performing Achievement First school and then at a district school with a high-impact principal.”

“Residents will be mentored by an outstanding principal at each school, given specific leadership responsibilities, and provided with focused feedback on their growth and development. Residents will simultaneously receive structured professional development and guidance on change implementation strategy from amazing practitioners.”

The material goes on to claim, “Following the residency year, the intention is to deem Residency Program graduates who meet program requirements and competency standards as placement-ready assistant principals (APs) or principals.”

Despite the unprecedented financial crisis, participants will receive full salary and benefits.  In fact, the participants will continue to be employees of the local schools systems so they will continue to retain all district benefits and have a job to fall back on if they aren’t deemed an appropriate fit for promotion.

Professional development programs are hardly unique and are generally very valuable, but in this case, the program is being developed and run through an exclusive district/charter school management agreement that will serve as the one year alternative route to certification for people to become school administrators.

The whole approach is a statement about how Achievement First, Pryor and the other reformers look down on all that “extra” academic training that regular administrators are supposed to be getting before running our schools.

Call this the FAST TRACK to become an education reform school administrator.

The whole notion of diverting the best teachers away from the classroom and into charter school-run “training,” at a time when there aren’t enough staff to even maintain existing programs, let alone enhance efforts to promote quality educational programs, is a farce.

The program is little more than a publicly-funded effort to create a pipeline to recruit and train charter school administrators, paid for by taxpayers of Connecticut and its three poorest cities.

And who is the biggest beneficiary of all?

Who is collecting the funds?  Who is coordinating the effort?  Who will be siphoning off the graduates?

Achievement First, Inc., the very charter school management company that Stefan Pryor helped to create and lead for the eight years before he became Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

And we wonder why taxpayers are sick and tired of paying more and getting less.