Confronting the Scheme to Gamble With Connecticut Special Education Funds by Robert Cotto Jr.

In a MUST READ commentary piece published in the CTNewsjunkie, Robert Cotto Jr. reviews the flawed special education proposal submitted by The Connecticut School Finance Project, a corporate education reform group that has apparently violated state law by illegally engaging in lobbying activities with Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration. (See: In violation of state lobbying laws, corporate education reform group develops Malloy’s disastrous special education funding proposal.)

Cotto begins by explaining,

As the state considers the risk of adding a new casino, Connecticut must beware of another plan to gamble with funds for students with disabilities. Based on its flawed analysis of special education, the plan could be a jackpot for profiteers and charter school entrepreneurs. We must stop this scheme and consider better alternatives.

[…]

Initially proposed by the Connecticut School Finance Project to help districts face the “ups” and “downs” of special education costs, the governor’s administration, as well as other education reformers, have now endorsed the plan. Yet, as Deborah Richards from the Capitol Region Education Council stated, “the primary issue is cost” of special education, not volatility.

Cotto adds;

If this plan sounds like a scam to you, then you are not alone. Special education advocate Dianne Willcutts, stated that it, “does not ensure that Districts will be in compliance” with special education law. Attorney Andrew Feinstein warned“this bill (SB 542) does nothing to help children with disabilities” and voiced concern that it would “actually harm children with disabilities.”

Even potential supporters were unsure. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education called for more details. Others called the plan “unclear.” Two parents claimed this offers more equity, but shared only personal anecdotes.

So who benefits?

The State: By moving money around and adding some dollars in the first year, the administration will claim in public and court that it has an “innovative” method of funding special education.

Profiteers: The plan creates a “captive insurance company” to insure the state against future special education costs (e.g. Step 3). The fund would pay salaries and fees to manage the plan. Because captive insurance companies are often misused, the American Bar Association and U.S. Department of the Treasury have raised concerns and the FBI includes “captives” on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scam list.

Charter school entrepreneurs: One of the barriers to a school voucher system, supported by charter lobbyists, is that public districts must pay for all students, including those with disabilities. Per-pupil vouchers do not cover all costs.

With local and state funds, public-school districts pay special education costs for their own districts and at charter schools. This cost-sharing system makes it difficult to implement vouchers or similar plans (e.g. money follows child, weighted student funding, student-based budgeting).

You can read and comment on this vitally important article via – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_confronting_the_scheme_to_gamble_with_connecticut_special_education_f/

Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Despite the political rhetoric coming out of ConnCAN and other charter school industry front groups, Trinity’s Robert Cotto reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools do not outperform local public schools.

 Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

 

A few weeks ago, attorney Wendy Lecker asked me in an interview for the Stamford Advocate, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?” My answer was, “Not exactly”.

As my Choice Watch report (Cotto & Feder, 2014) demonstrated, charter schools in Connecticut tend to serve a relatively more advantaged group of (mostly) Black and Latinx children including fewer children with disabilities, emerging bilingual children, and children eligible for free and reduced priced meals compared to the students in local public schools in the same cities as the charter schools. As a result, comparing the test results of charter schools with local public schools is like comparing “apples to oranges” because they often serve very different groups of children.

However, using a simple scatterplot chart, it is fairly easy to show that charter schools’ mean test results are not overwhelmingly better when compared with public school districts that have similarly-situated students in terms of a rough income indicator. Other scholars, such as Bruce Baker (2012) at Rutgers University, have constructed scatterplots of income vs. 7th grade math test results to demonstrate similar observations about charter and public schools.

For example, below I constructed an interactive scatterplot that compares 6th grade average scale scores on the CMT reading (2012) versus percentage of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (FRPM) at the district level (Google sheet data here). This scatterplot data visualization has three major data points. First, each public district and charter school is positioned by the the overall percent FRPM (x-axis). Second, each district is positioned on the y-axis by its mean scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. Third, the size of the dots correspond to the percentage of emerging bilingual children (crudely labeled as “English Language Learners” by the State).

You can scroll over the dots to see the public school district or charter school name and their demographics and test data. Public school districts are in blue dots and charter schools are in red dots. By placing these data points on a scatterplot, we can more easily compare the average test results of districts and charter schools that are similar in terms of district-wide free and reduced meal eligibility. (See the end for notes on limitations of this data and method.)

For the interactive chart Comparing Average Scale Score & Free/Reduced Meal Eligibility in CT School Districts 2012 go to:  http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

So what does this scatterplot show? Here are some observations:

  • There is a strong negative linear relationship (r= -.869) between this rough income indicator (eligibility for free and reduced priced meals) and average scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. (i.e. as free and reduced priced meal eligibility increases, average reading scores decrease)
  • When compared to similar districts by income, some (4) charter schools appear to have higher than average test results, some (4) have lower than average test results, and some (4) are right in the middle of the pack, or near the average.
  • If charter schools (red dots) had overwhelmingly higher test results, then we would expect more of their average scores to be above the majority of blue dots at their % FRPM level.

Want a closer look?

This second scatterplot chart only compares charter schools with the public school districts where they are located. The same pattern appears.

For example, Bridgeport Public Schools enrolled children that were 99% eligible for FRPM and 12.6% emerging bilingual (ELL). By comparison, all Bridgeport charter schools had higher average scale scores in reading, but lower rates of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (68-85%) and emerging bilingual students (0-4%). There are exceptions, of course, such as Amistad Academy, which often appears comparable to New Haven Public Schools in terms of %FRPM, %ELL, and higher in average scale score.

And there are examples on the other end of the spectrum. The hypersegregated Stamford charter schools contain larger proportions of Black and Latinx students, those eligible for free/reduced price meals, and those with disabilities compared to the local Stamford public school district. They also appear to be outliers in terms of having very low average scale scores.

For the interactive chart comparing Avg. Scale Score CMT Read & District & District Demographics go to: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

This test result (“performance”) question is important because it is at the center of claims made about charter schools in Connecticut. The claim that charter schools achieve superior test results as a result of effort, choice, accountability, educational program, governance structure, or some other reason, is frequently cited by charter school lobbyists at the legislature and the CT State Department of Education. 

The simple claim hinges on a statement like this one from a presentation on charter schools by the CT SDE: “Of the 14 charter schools that administered the spring 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, 12 schools (or 86%) outperformed their host district with their overall SPI.” (CT SDE, 2015) With this statistic, we are left to conclude (or told by the charter school lobby) that charter schools are supposedly excelling compared to local public schools.

The CT SDE presentation (below) offers similar statistics and a chart highlighting some demographics of charter schools versus “alliance” and all other districts, but it does not caution the reader these characteristics could impact test results and comparisons. What the CT SDE and charter school lobbyists are not explicitly telling you in these claims is that charter schools often serve a relatively more advantaged group of Black and Latinx children compared to the local public schools where they are located and these children are likely to do relatively better on standardized tests because standardized tests favor more advantaged groups of people. Therefore, it is not a fair comparison to directly compare charter schools test results to those in local public school districts without some sort of modification (e.g. compare districts similar in income levels and/or other characteristics).

Charter Renewal Process, SBE Overview | April 6, 2015

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

The State is comparing “apples (public schools) to oranges (charter schools)” on test results, despite knowing (it’s their data!) that the massive demographic differences that make these simple comparisons very misleading. To be sure, the CT SDE assists in making these same simplistic comparisons of test results between urban and suburban schools districts as well. This type of misleading comparison of test results persists and is now baked into the CT State Department of Education policy on reviewing and renewing charter schools.

All of this is meant to say that using blunt comparisons of test results does not prove that charter schools or public schools are any better or worse than each other in terms of academic performance, or any other characteristic. Instead, I am arguing that comparisons of test results must account for often massive demographic differences. This was a major recommendation of the Choice Watch (2014) report. I would also add, as I’ve written elsewhere, that school performance should be thought of in broader terms than standardized tests. Simple comparisons of standardized test results will always favor schools with barriers to entry and participation (e.g. charter, magnet, vocational technical schools) and advantaged districts where families must buy or rent homes to attend local schools (affluent, suburban).

So when somebody asks the question, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform public school districts?”, how will you answer?

Notes: 1. There are many other and better ways of analyzing this question about charter and public schools. My observations above are based on scatterplot charts that crudely “account” for income (FRPM). 2. The data above comes from 2012, the most recent data in which average scale score on State tests can be compared to other demographic information. 3. Finally, the %FRPM applies to all grades in the district, while the average scale score applies to all students in a district in the 6th grade taking the standard version of the test. The State does not share %FRPM data at the grade level. 4. Average scale scores are a better measure of central tendency compared to percent of students at proficient or goal because scale scores do not lump students status levels at arbitrary cut points.

Robert Cotto Jr. – Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case

Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case – by Robert Cotto Jr. – 

“If the emperor was a weak man, the sight of his mark would evoke laughter and contempt, but if he was a stern and powerful ruler, his mark would instill fear and obedience.”

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, p. 213.

In the book Lords of Discipline, based on the Citadel military college, the general offered his cadets words of advice at their ring ceremony: be the powerful ruler that instills obedience and fear, otherwise suffer defeat. When I first read the judge’s decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case, it struck me as similarly militaristic. Judge Moukawsher, a lawyer and graduate of the Citadel military college, ruled that his problem with Connecticut public education was an issue of discipline, not necessarily a lack of resources. Rather than declaring a war on inequality or inadequacy, the judge declared war on a “slack system”. While news accounts called the judge’s decision an “overhaul”, the ruling was more of a directive to continue public education’s most regressive tendencies.

The valiant CCJEF argument against the State relied on a common-sense idea: every child has a right to a rich, well-rounded education for all children that is adequately funded by the State. Advocates and parents in towns and cities brought the case forward as a Constitutional challenge more than a decade ago believing that public education was inadequately funded, particularly in less wealthy towns and cities. Past court cases, such as the Horton case, argued that Connecticut’s method of funding schools mainly through local property taxes was unfair to towns and cities with a limited ability to pay for public schools. The CCJEF case made a different argument.

There were three parts of the CCJEF argument. First, Connecticut has broad goals for public education such as ensuring that kids become productive members of society and engaged citizens. Second, the State needs to provide adequate or enough funding to accomplish those goals. Third, funding must be equitably distributed, or the funds needed to reach those goals might differ from town to town because students might require more or less help to reach the same goals depending on where they live and other characteristics like poverty, town wealth, language status, and racial identification.

The CCJEF plaintiffs acknowledged that Connecticut’s current method of funding schools was progressive, but inadequate and increasingly inequitable. Over the last thirty years, Connecticut supplemented local education funds from property taxes with State funds in order to create a progressive funding system. That system eventually became called the “Educational Cost Sharing” (ECS) grant and it has produced a certain degree of equity in educational funding. (e.g. Less wealthy towns get more State funding; wealthier towns get less State funding). But the State was underfunding that ECS fund and increasingly favoring wealthier towns by never taking away funds. In some cases, wealthier towns got even more funding as poorer districts lost state funds, a point made painfully clear by the judge.

As a fight for resources towards these broad goals, the CCJEF paralleled past fights for the educational rights of Black and Latinx children, children living in poverty, bilingual children, as well as children with disabilities. However, these civil rights battles also included claims for greater control over the resources and type of education provided to Black and Latinx students. The CCJEF plaintfiffs, the State, nor the judge deliberated these issues.

Still, after years of hearings and testimony that documented public schools without sufficient resources (and funding) to provide an education worth its name, the CCJEF finally had its days in court over the last year. This year’s legislative session might also feature some response to the judge’s orders.

Watch a video version of this lecture here.

Contrary to the argument presented by the CCJEF plaintiffs, the judge found that Connecticut already, “spends more than the bare minimum on schools” (Moukawsher, 2016, p.23). The judge dismissed evidence from teachers and parents that their schools lacked adequate resources as “anecdotal” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). According to the judge’s reading of the law, as long as public school students got classrooms with desks, chairs, air to breathe, a teacher, textbooks, and a curriculum, the State had fulfilled most of its obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity. He concluded that, “there is no proof of a statewide problem caused by the state sending school district too little money” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). The CCJEF plaintiffs lost this major part of their argument. At that point, the judge could have stopped his ruling, but he went further.

Going further than the initial lawsuit required, the Judge redefined an adequate education to mean one that could be measured through “objective” tests in elementary and high school. When all kids passed standardized tests that would mean that there was a rational and adequate education. And if kids did not pass the tests, then they should not be able to just “pass” to the next grade. To that end, the judge ordered the State and its subordinates to “define” education by using “exit exams” for students to leave the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade. Here, the battle turned against the plaintiffs. The judge outflanked the plaintiffs by conflating standardized testing with equal educational opportunity.

For the judge, the State spent enough money on schools, but the State failed to compel everybody to implement the basic goals of education: kids passing basic reading and math tests. He stated his reasoning here:

…the state must propose a definition of what it means to have an elementary school education that is rationally and primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school. No definition without force behind it can be rational, especially since the state would already say that is has amply laid out what elementary schools should achieve by adopting common core standards. Here the difference between a definition and a constitutionally adequate definition is that the former may have no real consequence while the latter requires substantial consequences. (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 59-60)

For the judge, third grade and high school students in the State’s resource-poor cities could not read at the “basic” level because their basic training had failed. Education, like the military, requires authorities to provide orders to their subordinates, who must follow. Although the state already has content standards and standardized tests connected to graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school ratings, and so on, the judge believed that these tools were not wielded with sufficient authority and discipline by the State. If kids were not passing basic standardized tests, then somebody must suffer negative consequences. As the judge stated, “There is no room for a slack system to support cities like Bridgeport” (Moukawsher, 2016, 37). Poor student test results must mean somebody is slacking off and should be removed, fired, or dismissed. For the court, the educational system would only be rational and adequate when the State removed the weakest links, or the people and funding that don’t raise test results. This sweeping social analysis of Connecticut’s education system came as a surprise to those that have experienced the blunt force of the No Child Left Behind Act or Race to The Top, or other educational reforms that do, in fact, target various people to punish.

This vision for an educational system was Spartan and contradictory. It hinged on ranking kids, teachers, schools, and districts, then removing the weakest links. In the case of special education, the judge argued that, “school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from elementary or secondary school education” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 76). Presumably, money could be saved by cutting services for these students with disabilities to save the funds for the kids that “can learn”.

Somebody should be punished when “objective” tests showed that kids could not read at basic level. Only when kids passed tests and moved onto the next grade or graduation, then they could be said to have an “adequate” education. If they didn’t pass, then they couldn’t move forward. Showing a misunderstanding of standardized test results, the judge did not see much value in measures in which everybody could pass. He stated, “An inflated teacher evaluation system, like a graduation or graduation system where everyone succeeds, is virtually useless (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 63).” Useful tests and standards rate people and some people must fail by design. But the judge did not take up the question of what happens when kids and adults are punished for never passing tests and evaluations that fail people by design. As Wendy Lecker and other lawyers suggested, this ruling emboldened past and current corporate education reform initiatives. Rather than an overhaul of education, the judge ordered schools to escalate their most regressive tendencies such as testing, sorting people, removing “weak” links, and punishing non-conformists.

In terms of educational leadership, the judge wanted public schools to be more “tightly coupled”. In other words, schools must pick a goal, measure the goal, meet the goal or suffer consequences. It either did not matter or did not occur to the judge that schools might require “loose coupling”, or a set of broad goals implemented with a different type of leadership and management given the complexity of American schooling (Weick, 1976; Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

A positive aspect of the judge’s order for the plaintiffs was that it allowed the State to provide more funding for schools if schools wished to provide these opportunities, but it was not required to spend any more because it was already funding the bare minimum it needed. Redistribution of state funds was also possible, but not required under this ruling. Sadly, the things we find help kids in schools such as support professionals, arts, music, health, computers, recess, and fun were just irrational “extras” for this judge (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 40). Rich districts might be able to offer these opportunities through their own local funding, but the State is not required to fund these opportunities in middle and working class schools where the majority of Black and Latinx students reside.

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that economic status, targeted school funding, and other factors can influence academic success. Connecticut only needed to make a funding formula, connect it to test results and evaluations, then stick to it and deliver punishments for not complying and performing.  By radically redefining adequacy to “rational” discipline as measured by test scores, the ruling was a regressive departure from the idea of a rich, well-rounded public education for children, particularly for Black, Latinx, and children of all ethnic groups living in poverty.

With his Citadel ring on his finger as he read the ruling from the bench, the Judge told the State of Connecticut, be the stern and powerful school emperor that instills fear and obedience through tests and punishments. Only that would be a “rational, substantial, and verifiable” public education, even if it’s not adequately or equitably funded by the State.

Note: The State of Connecticut (defendants) and CCJEF (plaintiffs) have appealed the decisions and the Supreme Court has allowed that appeal to move forward.

You can read and comment on Robert Cotto Jr’s commentary piece at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2017/01/02/disciplining-connecticuts-schools/

You can see Robert Cotto’s lecture on the topic at: https://vimeo.com/184936476

 

When it comes to charter schools, facts matter (By Wendy Lecker)

Below is Wendy Lecker’s interview with Robert Cotto, Jr. about recent claims made by charter school advocates. It was first published in the Stamford Advocate.  Robert Cotto Jr. is a veteran Hartford Board of Education member, director of Urban Initiatives at Trinity College and a doctoral student at UConn’s NEAG School of Education. He has researched Connecticut charter schools for Connecticut Voices for Children and Trinity.

Lecker: Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?

Cotto: Connecticut charter schools were supposed to raise achievement, innovate, and reduce racial isolation. In terms of achievement, charter schools do not serve similar proportions of students living in poverty, bilingual children, and children with disabilities when compared to the local districts where they are located. Charter schools serve a more advantaged group of Black and Latino students in our cities. Therefore, simple comparisons of test results are like comparing “apples to oranges” and do not really tell us much about academic improvement. The state has never evaluated charter innovation. While some charters may innovate, the majority of charters operate like traditional schools. Most Connecticut charter schools are highly segregated by race (mostly Black students).

Lecker: A writer claimed that if Connecticut charters fail to perform, they are shut down, but that you cannot do that to a district school. True?

Cotto: The state almost never closes charter schools because of poor academic performance or financial mismanagement. According to State Department of Education reports, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999. Three closed because of insufficient funds, one charter school was closed for health/safety violations, and one charter school closed because of lack of academic progress.

Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools in the state were renewed by the state, despite very low overall test results for some, including Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy. Additionally, the state did not shut down Jumoke/FUSE Academy charter school despite a massive corruption scandal that invited an FBI investigation.

On the other hand, many public schools in Connecticut have closed and been reconstituted for not meeting test score targets. At least a dozen schools in Hartford have been closed and reconstituted in the last decade.

Lecker: Can you describe what happened to Milner school in Hartford?

Cotto: In 2008, Milner school was “reconstituted” under the No Child Left Behind law for not meeting test score targets. The non-magnet/non-charter school was in one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Hartford’s North End. In 2012, Milner school was selected by the Commissioner of Education for a second “turnaround” under the management of a private charter company, Jumoke/FUSE, which would be paid a management fee of around $350,000 a year. The idea was that this private charter company could do a better job operating a public school. Jumoke/FUSE hired convicted felons and engaged in financial improprieties. Academic performance of students at the school did not improve under Jumoke/FUSE. In 2014, Jumoke/FUSE ceased running Milner school and Hartford Public Schools regained control.

Lecker: Have charter schools helped Hartford public schools?

Cotto: While individual students and families may be satisfied with charter schools in Hartford, they pose more challenges for our district. The two charter schools in Hartford — Jumoke Academy and Achievement First — are separate districts not under community control. These schools serve far fewer numbers of bilingual students and children with disabilities when compared to Hartford schools only a few blocks away. As a result, they do not help Hartford Public Schools’ mandated desegregation goals. Additionally, parents have sued about and reported excessively brutal disciplinary practices at Achievement First schools. I have begun gathering stories of former charter school parents at my website, the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project at Trinity College (http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/). Given the data and stories, it’s hard to tell how these charter schools help the Hartford Public Schools or the families in Hartford Public Schools.

Lecker: Can you compare charter and district school spending?

Cotto: Straight spending comparisons ignore the fact that by law, public school districts pay for all transportation and special education costs of students in charter schools. Taking into consideration these factors, Connecticut charters often spend the same or more as their host district schools on a per pupil basis.

Charter schools receive state, private and federal funds; district schools receive state, local and federal funds. Charter schools in Connecticut get a basic state per-pupil grant of $11,000, while the state allocation for districts vary. The basic per-pupil state grant for Hartford schools is around $9,500. In Stamford, the basic state per-pupil grant is around $700.

You can read and comment on the original interview at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-When-it-comes-to-charter-schools-10801031.php

Education advocates and experts Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto Jr. discuss Historic CCJEF lawsuit

With the final arguments now completed in the school funding case of CCJEF v. Rell, the judge has five months’ worth of testimony to use when making the critically important decision about whether Connecticut’s school funding formula is unconstitutional.

While the parties will undoubtedly appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court, this case is the pivotal step to force the state of Connecticut to adopt a state education cost sharing formula that ensures that all Connecticut children have access to a quality education.

Click on the video for a 15 minute wrap up of the key issues of the case by education advocates Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto Jr.

https://youtu.be/kPosbOwofxE

Additional media coverage can be found at:

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Malloy (and Rell) (Wait, what?)

As Decade-Old Lawsuit Winds Down, Plaintiffs Say Education Is Path to Cure (WNPR)

Lawsuit alleges disparity in school funding (CT Post)

In Closing Arguments, State Acknowledges Challenges But Defends School Financing System (Courant)

CT school funding on trial: 5 key questions facing the judge (CT Mirror)

As Malloy calls for record cuts to minority teacher programs – Robert Cotto Jr. asks – Where did Black & Latin teachers in Hartford go?

Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and their administration are proposing record budget cuts to Connecticut’s Minority Teacher Incentive Program, as well as, to the state’s institutions of higher education – which include Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs.

As Connecticut faces the need for additional talented, dedicated and prepared public school teachers, Malloy and his advisers are cutting vital teacher training programs while promoting the use of inexperienced, unprepared and transient Teacher For America recruits.

Meanwhile, Robert Cotto, Jr, the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department highlights the very real problem facing Connecticut’s school districts as he investigates the disturbing failure to recruit and retain Latino and African-American teachers in Hartford.

In Where did Black & [email protected] teachers in Hartford go?, Robert Cotto Jr. writes;

Several months ago, former Hartford school board member Dr. Shelley Best posted a photo of herself with a handful of white teachers and an administrator in the background. Dr. Best, a Black woman, took the “selfie” photo at a district workshop about the “achievement gap”. In the caption of her Facebook post with the photo, she commented, “In a room full of folks talking about us (and the educational achievement gap) that don’t look like us … hmmmm …”

The Hartford Courant wrote a story months after the event and focused on one of the white teacher’s hurt feelings about being captured in the photo frame and Dr. Best’s protest. This led to a brief, but intense, flurry of essays about teacher diversitywhite folks missing the pointpersonal defenses, and a reprimand of Dr. Best. Looking at some basic staffing data, an important question adds to Dr. Best’s concern – where did the Black and Latino/a teachers in Hartford go?

When Dr. Shelley Best wondered where all the Black educators were during the workshop several months ago, she was on to something troubling. The Hartford Public Schools has steadily lost Black and Latino/a teachers over the last decade, while adding white teachers during the same period.

cotto

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015

Public staffing data provided by the State Department of Education (CEDAR) shows that the Hartford Public Schools lost a substantial percentage and number of Black and Latino/a teachers from 2004-12. In 2004-05, 15% of all Hartford teachers were Latino/a and 15% were Black. In 2012-13, roughly 10% of all Hartford teachers were Latino/a and 10% Black. In other words, a net total of 155 Black and Latino teachers disappeared from HPS, while the district added 95 new white teachers. As a result, the proportion of white teachers in the whole district rose from 68% to 77% from 2004-12.

With this limited information, it’s not entirely clear why HPS has lost so many Black and Latino/a teachers. The state’s public staffing data does not tell us about the on-the-ground factors that might “push” and “pull” teachers of color into and out of the profession (Irizarry & Donaldson, 2012). The public staffing data doesn’t reveal whether these Black and Latino/a teachers in Hartford experienced layoffs, were pushed out/fired, retired, found other more lucrative or fulfilling work, or were promoted to other positions in Hartford or elsewhere.

In the case of the Hartford area schools during this period (2004-12), there were also unusual policies and factors that could have led to this steep disappearance of teachers of color. These unusual events and policies included the great recession, expanded public school choice programs in the Hartford region, and assorted neoliberal education reforms. These factors could have impacted the entry and exit of Black and Latino/a teachers from the Hartford Public Schools.

The great recession, caused by the near collapse of the banking industry, resulted in teacher layoffs/reductions in force through the capitol region. These school districts in the capitol region included 35 town-operated school districts around the City of Hartford, which is associated with the Hartford Public Schools. The largest declines in the number of teachers of all racial/ethnic groups in these districts happened from 2008-09 to 2009-10 and from 2009-10 to 2010-11.

Interestingly, the capitol region school districts never rebounded in terms of adding back lost teachers (from 2004-12), but Hartford did rebound and in a very different way. After the banking collapse, HPS added white teachers even as it continued to lose Black and Latino/a teachers. On the other hand, the other 35 capitol region districts added a smaller number of Black and Latino/a teachers (mostly the latter) even while continuing to decline in overall, particularly in the number of white teachers after the great recession. Despite adding a small number of Black and Latino/a teachers; the 35 capitol region districts’ percentage of Black and Latino/a teachers remained level from 2004-12. (See chart at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/02/23/where-did-all-the-black-and-latinoa-teachers-in-hartford-go/)

As the enrollment of students in public school choice programs has increased, so has the number of teachers working in interdistrict magnet and charter schools. (See chart below) This rapid growth is one clear result of State policy increasing funds and policy supports for public school choice programs that are operated by separate, non-traditional school districts such as CREC and charter districts. In the case of magnet schools, the growth has come as a result of implementing the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation settlement.

The Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), a regional district that operates interdistrict magnet schools, and the Hartford-area charter school districts added to their numbers of teachers in all race/ethnicity categories from 2004-12. In fact, the CREC magnet school district and Jumoke, Odyssey, and Achievement First – Hartford charter school districts more than doubled their (general education) teacher force from 2004-12. In addition to white teachers, the racially segregated Jumoke Academy and Achievement First-Hartford added several Black and Latino/a teachers over the last decade, thus increasing their combined proportion of these groups of teachers. (See chart at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/02/23/where-did-all-the-black-and-latinoa-teachers-in-hartford-go/)

Over the last decade, Hartford started (and ended) programs and neoliberal policies such as school closures, staff reconstitution, principal “autonomy”, privatization, hyper-accountability, reduced economic security for teachers, preferential hiring for inexperienced and mostly white Teach for America participants, intradistrict and interdistrict school choice. Any number of these initiatives could have impacted have impacted the hiring and retention of teachers of color during these years.

Final Thoughts

At this point, and with the limited data available, it’s hard to untangle which single policy or event made the most impact. Did Black and Latino teachers in the Hartford Public Schools quit, retire, leave to other schools, or get forced out? If so, why? The short answer is that we don’t know.

The idea that some Black and Latino/a teachers left HPS (for currently unknown reasons) and took up work in other school districts in the region as HPS faced layoffs and other districts, magnets, and charters added staff is one possible explanation of where they went. The numbers invite this explanation as a possibility, but the data does not entirely confirm or explain what’s going on. We don’t have enough information yet to make a conclusion.

Combining the losses and additions of Black and Latino/a teachers for all public school districts (capital region, CREC, Hartford, charter schools), there is still a net loss of 27 Latino/a teachers and 39 Black teachers from 2004-12 within the capitol region. In other words, the Hartford Public Schools lost more Black and Latino/a teachers than were added in other local districts, including the magnet (CREC) and charter schools during this period.

Where did the Black and Latino/a teachers in Hartford go?  Hmmmm…

More of Robert Cotto Jr.’s articles can be found at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/category/blog/

Please Note:  Comment function is not presently working – trying to get it fixed ASAP

Setting the record straight on Adamowski and Hartford

Robert Cotto Jr. is a member of the Hartford Board of Education.  He is also a leading academic expert on education policy in Connecticut.  His articles have appeared in numerous publications and his writing and work can be regularly found in the Hartford Courant, CT Mirror and CT NewsJunkie.

Having seen witnessed Mr. Adamowski’s time in Hartford first-hand and written extensively about the challenges facing Hartford’s public school system, Robert Cotto Jr. sent the following letter to the Norwalk Board of Education today.

Letter to Norwalk Board of Education (By Robert Cotto, Jr. June 16, 2015)

This letter is sent in my capacity as an individual and do not represent the views of any organization I am involved in.  The views are my own.

Dear members of the Norwalk Board of Education,

Several newspapers recently reported that the Norwalk Board of Education would be hiring a former Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools (HPS). As a Hartford Board of Education member since 2010 and an educational researcher, I write to raise concerns about claims made about the Hartford Public Schools between 2006 and 2011.

A press release from the Norwalk Board of Education suggests that HPS improved test results and graduation rates because of a change in policies and a new superintendent in 2006. It is true that HPS embarked on a policy of expanded school choice and hyper-accountability. This included closing schools and reopening them as themed academies.

However, there is little evidence that these policies alone resulted in improved achievement and graduation rates. As I wrote in The Hartford Courant in 2011, there was a mixed result from these policies – at best. Most importantly, the apparent “increases” only began when testing and graduation policies changed to artificially inflate this data.

Hartford’s “historic” test result increases only began when low-income, Black, and Latino students with disabilities were removed from regular tests and allowed to participate in a separate modified assessment in 2009. By 2011, 10% or more of all Hartford students, all with disabilities, were selected for a separate test. While this was happening, the HPS superintendent and administrators took credit. They also took bonus money for the subsequent increases, caused in large part by removing these kids.

I have written extensively on this issue. You can read my Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant, my report for CT Voices for Children, and my TEDx Talk at Central CT State University on the issue. This is not speculation, but fact.

Hartford’s graduation rate also has a number of question marks. Between 2006 and 2011, several policies changed that inflated graduation rates. First, the formula changed to calculate graduation rates. This new formula has excluded hundreds of Black and Latino students. They have been transferred out of their cohorts, and effectively removed from all calculations.

Second, online credit recovery and the policy of mandatory minimum grade of 55% inflated graduation rates. Online credit recovery, required by State law in 2010, meant that students that did not pass a course the first time were allowed to take the course online instead.

Hartford’s “F-55″ rule mandated that a student failing a quarter or semester would get a 55% percent. With this rule, a student could earn a 75% in one quarter and pass the rest of the course, even without doing any work or even showing up to class. The Hartford Board of Education never approved these changes for online credit recovery and the “F-55” policy.

The information is not new, but ignored. Elected board members in Hartford raised concerns about both the test scores and graduation rates with little response from the Superintendent or his successor. Interestingly, the video of the meeting in early 2011 where Board members confronted the superintendent about the test inflation was reported as “damaged”. This was the only missing or damaged meeting video in my six years of service.

Rather than outright success, much of what happened in Hartford can be explained by these data illusions. Also, the tremendous State investment in school choice, particularly magnet schools, under the Sheff v. O’Neill agreement has played a major role.

The Hartford Public Schools are still trying to recover from the considerable damage caused by the school “turnarounds” started in 2006 and the unregulated school choice system. Our district is in as much or more financial distress with the expansion of school choice programs beyond our ability to support them. Many of the “turnaround” schools have experienced their second closure and reopening. In many of the Sheff magnet schools and most of our non-magnet schools, our staff still struggles to meet the needs of all children. Even former proponents of these policies have come to question their viability and performance.

I believe deeply in the ability of our city’s children and families, mostly Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino folk, to succeed academically and thrive in life. That is what we have been doing for hundreds of years with substantially unequal and separate opportunities in education and the economy. Yet, the limited resources that sustained our Black and Latino communities are now diminished, dismantled, privatized, or provided to only selected students. These resources included broad academic curriculum offerings, sports, special education services, bilingual education, and libraries.

While you are free to make the decision that is best for Norwalk, I would recommend not to make that decision based on discredited claims about Hartford. What happened from 2006-11 in Hartford may have helped some kids, but came along with further marginalization of the most vulnerable children and families in our city. In Hartford, we are still working for equitable opportunity.

Sincerely
Robert Cotto, Jr.

Member, Hartford Board of Education

– See more at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2015/06/16/letter-to-norwalk-board-of-education/#sthash.6WmgJGGa.dpuf

Charter School Renewal in CT: The Accountability Is Flexible (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Robert Cotto Jr. is the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives and Lecturer in the Educational Studies Program at Trinity College. He is also an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education and he writes for the blog; The Cities, Suburbs & Schools Project.

For the original of this post go to http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2015/02/21/charter-school-renewal-in-ct-the-accountability-is-flexible/

Charter School Renewal in CT: The Accountability Is Flexible (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Over the next few months, the public and Legislature will debate whether charter schools in Connecticut are sufficiently regulated or not. The State Department of Education and Board of Education will also decide whether or not to renew six (6) existing charter schools in Connecticut.

Already this legislative session, there is a bill for a moratorium on new charter schools and a review of existing ones. There are also proposals for more charter schools in CT. A missing aspect of this debate has been the existing charter school renewal process. This process merits more scrutiny because the firm “accountability” it promises is actually more flexible than advertised and it stands in contrast with how other public schools are treated by the State.

When Connecticut lawmakers initially allowed charter schools to operate in 1997, a major guiding principle was an exchange of “flexibility” for “accountability”. In other words, private non-profit “entities” receive public funds to operate public charter schools with permission to operate outside of various state and local laws, such as limited or no requirements for teacher certification and collective bargaining; but only if they met State educational goals. Charter school laws and guiding principles are similar around the country.

In 2014, the State’s charter school report claimed that, “Connecticut’s charter school law and accountability plan administered by CSDE require charter schools to demonstrate their success and compliance with the law in exchange for their charters.” In 2010, the report put it more directly as success and compliance, “in exchange for autonomy from local boards of education.”

This concept suggests that if charter schools don’t meet defined goals or state educational interests, they will face concrete, firm, and predictable consequences. The case of charter schools renewals, past and present, shows that the concept of “accountability” for “flexibility” is more theory than practice. Instead, when it comes to charter schools, the “accountability” is “flexible” and consequences do not come their way in a regular or predictable fashion.

For other public schools, the concrete goals usually mean some test-score target defined each year; and the firm, predictable consequences for not meeting those targets can mean mandatory state or local intervention in managing the school, firing most of the staff, or converting the school to a private management company, or a charter school. Examples of this “test and punish” approach throughout Connecticut include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Lewis Fox Middle School in Hartford was closed and later replaced with an Achievement First Charter School
  • Milner Elementary School in Hartford and Paul L. Dunbar School in Bridgeport were reconstituted and then operated by Jumoke/FUSE charter management corporation through the controversial “commissioner’s network”. This experiment ended with the demise of FUSE/Jumoke.
  • Last year the State of CT and Hartford Public Schools attempted to close Clark Elementary and replace it with an Achievement First-managed charter school, but that effort failed.

There is a different approach for charter school renewal and evaluation. Depending on the particular charter, the non-profit, private organizations that operate a public charter school must go through a  process to determine whether they can keep their charter or lose permission from the state to operate the school. This process happens every three to five years for each charter school. The process is a way to regulate all charter schools and make sure they are serving the goals of public education.

The process to renew a charter has multiple parts and extends over several months. The charter operator must first submit an application to the State Department of Education explaining their work, including areas such as students’ academic progress (interpreted by the state as standardized test results), curriculum, staff development, finances, and governance (management & administration) of the school.

Six schools will go through the charter renewal process this school year (2014/2015). Those schools include: (click on the school name link for the 2014/15 renewal applications.)

These aren’t new charter schools, but have enrolled children for ten to twenty years at this point. Having opened in 1997, Odyssey, Common Ground, and ISAAC were among the first state charter schools created in Connecticut.

Here’s a list from The CT Mirror for future charter school renewal years.

The next step is that the State Department of Education reviews the application and conducts a site visit to observe how a school operates compared to the description in their renewal application. A look into this process can be seen in this letter from CT SDE’s charter school program manager to administrators at the Common Ground High School in 2009, when the school was last up for a review. The letter shows some of the criteria for the charter renewal, which includes categories listed above, such as finance, test results, etc. If the school is meeting its goals and the educational interests of the state, then the State Board of Education can renew the school’s charter.

The state’s charter school law, specifically Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-66bb(g), outlines basic criteria that should guide the State Board of Education in deciding whether or not to renew a school’s charter. The criteria include, but are not limited to:

  • “student progress”,
  • administrative irresponsibility or misuse of public funds,
  • non-compliance with applicable state laws,
  • and failure to attract, enroll, and retain certain demographic groups such as students with disabilities and emerging bilingual children, identified as “English Language Learners.

It’s worth reading the CT charter school renewal law here.

The law leaves the door open for flexibility in this process. The text states that the State Board of Education “shall” (must) take into account the findings of a holistic, independent appraisal, but “may” (can) deny the application based on criteria in four categories, but not necessarily others. In short, the law does not require the State Board of Education to deny a charter renewal application for any particular reason, although it may do so.

In this way, lawmakers created loose rules in the charter renewal process. Like a judge may have discretion on a legal matter, or a psychologist uses clinical judgement, the CT State Department of Education reviews charter schools on a case by case basis and has a wide range of options in responding to their strengths and weaknesses. This provides administrative leeway or flexibility for state charter schools in Connecticut in the charter renewal process, but is contrary to this apparently strict mantra of “more accountability for more flexibility.”

Not included in the above section of charter school renewal law or the checklist are requirements to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation or other state laws. To that point, the very next section of the charter school law states:

(h) The Commissioner of Education may at any time place a charter school on probation if (1) the school has failed to

(A) adequately demonstrate student progress, as determined by the commissioner,
(B) comply with the terms of its charter or with applicable laws and regulations,
(C) achieve measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation, (continued…)

Finally, the state can revoke a charter at any time in cases of an emergency, or with written notice for failure in any of the areas listed above. The commissioner has to provide notice in writing about why she/he moved to revoke the charter. The law states:

(i) The State Board of Education may revoke a charter if a charter school has failed to:

(1) Comply with the terms of probation, including the failure to file or implement a corrective action plan;
(2) demonstrate satisfactory student progress, as determined by the commissioner;
(3) comply with the terms of its charter or applicable laws and regulations; or
(4) manage its public funds in a prudent or legal manner.

Even if the State Board of Education moves to revoke a charter, the “governing council”, or a charter school’s managing board, can provide an oral or written presentation to contest the State’s decision to revoke the charter and demonstrate compliance in areas deemed deficient.

Perhaps because of the flexibility in the charter renewal law, there have been times when charter schools have been renewed despite apparent examples of not meeting specified goals, the listed criteria in statute, or educational interests of the State. Another possibility is that the implementation of the policy has not been sufficiently discerning to identify major problems such as financial malfeasance or the mistreatment of children.

As a result of this flexibility, the state Board nearly always renews charters. Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools  in the state obtained a renewed charter from the State Board of Education, according to this list  from the CT Mirror. (excluding one that became an interdistrict magnet school) Non-charter public schools have not been so fortunate as they have had to follow strict federal and state rules and consequences, primarily on the basis of standardized test results. Since 2007, at least ten non-charter schools in Hartford, CT alone were closed or the staff fired on the basis of rigid test-based targets and subsequent punishments as outlined in state, federal, and local policy.

(Note: To my knowledge, there isn’t a list of all CT schools that have been closed, reconstituted, converted to charters, turn(ed) around, or restarted as a result of NCLB/RttT test-based accountability. If you know of a list, please share!)

Take the charter schools requirements to enroll representative populations of emerging bilingual students and students with disabilities and the reduction of racial and ethnic isolation. In my report with Kenny Feder, “Choice Watch,” over at CT Voices for Children, we reported that charter schools in CT tend to have smaller proportions of emerging bilingual children and children with disabilities when compared to local school districts, and are often more racially segregated than local school districts. Yet, no charter school was revoked because it didn’t include emerging bilingual students, children with disabilities, or because it was racially segregated, as state law would suggest.

When problems are found, the State Board of Education has often allowed schools to keep their charters rather than closing the school through a non-renewal. In some cases, the State board required more frequent review of charter schools, such as a renewal process after three years rather than five, for example. This scenario happened in 2007 with Common Ground and Odyssey Community School (due to poor test data) and Achievement First-Hartford in 2013 (due to excessive suspensions/special education/civil rights complaints). In other cases, schools received “probation” by the State Board of Education before a charter was revoked or non-renewed. Examples of this action included Highville/Mustard Seed (due to financial malfeasance) and Jumoke (due to financial malfeasance).

According to past and recent State Department of Education reports on the operation of charter schools, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999. Three closed because of insufficient funds, despite the fact that the State Dept. of Education was required to review their financial plans before a charter was granted. Additionally, the CT State Board of Education shut down one charter school for health/safety violations and closed one charter school because of lack of academic progress.

Even relatively low test scores haven’t been a sufficient reason to deny a charter renewal. When its charter was renewed in 2012, Trailblazers Academy charter school had among the lowest aggregate test results in CT. By the rules of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Trailblazers had not met “Annual Yearly Progress” for six years.

Stamford Academy, which had among the lowest aggregate test results in 2013 is now in a similar situation this year as it faces a charter renewal process. (They are up for a renewal after only three years.) By 2010-11, Stamford Academy hadn’t made “Annual Yearly Progress” for five years.

(Note: Annual Yearly Progress was such a problematic measure that it was abandoned by the CT State and U.S. Federal Departments of Education in Connecticut’s 2012 waiver to parts of the NCLB Act.)

According to the logic of more “accountability” for more “flexibility”, shouldn’t these schools have lost their charters?

Despite not making AYP (the goal back then) and the State reporting this negative status, it is still unclear why these charter schools never faced the same sorts of clear, strict punishments as other public schools under NCLB. While the CT State Department of Education and State Board of Education delegated the responsibility of implementing NCLB sanctions to local districts for schools under local control, they apparently haven’t assumed that responsibility for schools under their own supervision in recent years.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, if these schools had been non-charter public schools, they would have been targeted for punishments such as firing the entire staff, notifying parents that they could choose to go to another school, closing the school, state takeover, conversion to charter schools, or taking away public governance in favor of private management. Ironically, Stamford Academy and Trailblazers were the end goal of No Child Left Behind – privately managed, publicly-financed state charter schools that parents chose to enroll their children, ostensibly to produce higher test scores. Yet, they were still amongst the most struggling academically and the state renewed their charters in 2012.

In defense of these schools, (Trailblazers, Stamford Academy, and others) perhaps they are offering educational benefits not captured by overall low test results. Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy enrolled high proportions of children that struggled in school. These schools also served a much more historically under-served group of children, mostly Black, Latino, low-income, and many more students with disabilities when compared to the more affluent Stamford Public Schools, which also have higher proportions of white students.

I am not advocating that Trailblazers and Stamford Academy should close because I don’t have enough information on either one to make a judgement, nor would closing the schools improve them. But I am pointing out that there have been two sets of rules when it comes to state “accountability”. Several years ago, Wendy Lecker also pointed to what appeared to be “double standards” in evaluating charter and other public schools in her column at The Stamford Advocate.

Let’s also consider what the renewal process has looked like for some of Connecticut’s charter schools that look better as measured by test score data. When its charter was renewed in 2012, the State touted Amistad Academy’s high test results compared to New Haven schools in 5th grade, and particularly for 8th grade students.

The state’s resolution on Amistad Academy noted that the school didn’t meet “Annual Yearly Progress” in the elementary grades, but did in the high school grades in 2010-11. But there didn’t appear to be any firm academic goals apart from the AYP metric, just general description of its test results and how they were better than the New Haven Public Schools overall. There was a presentation of test results with some narrative, particularly of the vertical scale scores offered as evidence in the final resolution to approve the charter renewal.

Undiscussed however, was the fact that the test participation data showed massive student attrition at Amistad Academy. In 2008, there were 76 students in grade 5, but there were only 53 students that matched that group in grade 8 in 2011. This was a loss of 30% of the student population from the original 76 students that started 5th grade in 2008.

So the high overall test results in 8th grade only accounted for 70% of the kids that stayed at the school-those students that took the standard CMT in math in both grade 5 and grade 8 at Amistad Academy. This attrition happened in CT and New Haven overall, but not to the same degree. Such attrition impacted the way the test results were interpreted (we are only looking at 70% of an already selected cohort) and the manner in which the test results were obtained (removing low-scoring or undesirable students can inflate results at this school and impact other local schools that later enroll these students). This attrition went unmentioned in the State Board’s renewal resolution despite one of the questions in the State checklist being, “Is there a high turnover of students?”

The State’s resolution, referencing the audit and site visit, also explained that the school lacked curricula in grades 3-8 science, K-12 health, physical education, and the arts. There were also problems with financial controls and safeguards between Achievement First, Inc, the private charter management corporation, and Amistad Academy, the public charter school; and many of the school’s teachers lacked proper state certification. The school was allowed to remedy, or begin fixing these deficiencies before their hearing at the State Board of Education, thus securing a renewed charter.

In Connecticut, there are laws against both excessive suspensions of students and racial/ethnic segregation of students, particularly for charter schools. [see above CGS Sec. 10-66bb(h)] But the renewal process for Amistad Academy ignored its exclusionary disciplinary policies, racial and ethnic segregation, and provided no analysis of representative populations of bilingual children and students with disabilities, among others. To be sure, these issues aren’t specified in the renewal checklist, but the school is required to follow applicable laws and regulations, including laws about students suspensions, special education rights, and racial and ethnic segregation, among others.  A year after the Amistad renewal, The CT Mirror and The Hartford Courant reported that Amistad Academy and its Achievement First affiliates had the highest numbers and rates of suspensions of children in CT. As Choice Watch reported, the school was (and still is) racially segregated, as well as most charter schools in CT.

Amistad Academy may be a school that people want their children to attend amidst the relative disinvestment, neglect, and mis-education of children of color in other schools. However, parent and families’ decisions about schools happen in the context of State over-investment and policy in favor of public school choice programs and under-investment in other public schools with high proportions of low income and Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino children.  This arrangement is a key feature of Connecticut educational policy, like other states. (See M. Apple, P. Lipman, & K. Buras writing on this issue.)

Regardless of Admistad Academy’s status, the State’s own charter renewal report documented educational concerns and overlooked substantial problems. It was not until then-State Child Advocate Jamey Bell intervened that the suspension information and the depth of the problem became known to the public, particularly throughout the Achievement First charter school chain. As a result of State and public pressure, Achievement First/Amistad has reportedly made improvements to its disciplinary policies; and lately the company has explored the idea of alternative methods in addition to its current “no excuses” schooling.

Like all schools, Amistad Academy has both its strengths and  weaknesses. Recognizing this point, the State’s charter renewal process has been flexible in its approach towards renewal and remediation of charter schools, instead of responding with rigid “accountability.” In addition to flexible, the state’s approach has also been selective in valuing particular types of “achievement” data first, and everything else after.

Accountability at Traditional Public Schools

In Connecticut, however, plenty of other non-charter public schools have similar groups of children as Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy charter schools, may need more support, and struggled on overall test results. Unlike these two charter schools, other public schools faced crude forms of high-stakes test accountability under federal, state, and local rules.

This flexible “accountability” stands in stark contrast to the regimented consequences that other public schools face under the No Child Left Behind Act, NCLB Waiver, and other high-stakes test accountability systems such as in Hartford, Connecticut. These systems outline firm, test-based numerical targets and emphasize clear punishments when the goals aren’t met, such as school closings, conversion to charter schools or private management. Unlike the charter renewal process, there are rarely second or third chances for other non-charter public schools, and excuses aren’t acceptable when it comes their “accountability” process.

So here’s a dilemma: Carefully implemented, the ability of  authorities to have administrative discretion (reviewing each school on a case by case basis) and assess schools holistically may be pragmatic and humane policy in some cases. In other cases, this flexibility can result in vague, selective accountability. It’s worth considering this local administrative judgement and holistic assessment in the context of all public schools. So I will explore this idea in a future post.

In the meantime, let’s watch this charter renewal process. The charter renewal process offers the possibility for people and groups to weigh in through letters to the State Department of Education, a public hearing for people to testify about the school’s work, and, ultimately, people can testify at the CT State Board of Education before a school’s charter is renewed.

The dates, times, and locations for the local public hearings on these charter school renewals are here and the chart is below. So take a look at the charter school applications and the process documents. In the meantime, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Is the State of Connecticut exercising sufficient oversight of charter schools through the renewal process? Is the law sufficient?
  • Are these charter schools meeting their goals and the educational interests of the State?
  • What evidence should be weighed in this process of charter renewal?
  • Can the holistic process of reviewing charter schools be applied to other public schools?

(Note: Comments are activated and you can now share this link with a “share it” button.)

 

Charter Renewal
Public Hearings 2014-15

School Name Dates Time Hearing Location
Robert Trefry

New Beginnings Family Academy

Tuesday
February 24, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Bridgeport City Hall
Common Council Chambers
45 Lyon Terrace

Bridgeport, CT 06604

Estela Lopez

Odyssey

Wednesday
February 25, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Howell Cheney Technical High Multi-Purpose Room

791 W. Middle Turnpike

Manchester, CT 06040

Stephen Wright

Stamford Academy

Thursday
February 26, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm J. M. Wright Technical
High School

Gymnasium
120 Bridge St.
Stamford, CT 06905
Charles Jaskiewicz

ISAAC

Tuesday
March 3, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern CT
Lecture Hall
490 Jefferson Avenue

New London, CT 06320

Allan Taylor

Explorations

Thursday
March 5, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Winsted Town Hall
P. Francis Hicks Room
338 Main Street
Winsted, CT 06098
Maria Mojica

Common Ground

Tuesday
March 10, 2015
6:00 -8:00 pm Wilbur Cross High School
Auditorium

181 Mitchell Drive

New Haven, CT 06511

– See more at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/?p=11615&preview=true#sthash.pXBOv16N.dpuf

 

 

Kids Not Testing

In an op-ed published in today’s CTMirror, Robert Cotto, Jr., a lecturer in educational studies at Trinity College and one of the only elected member of the Hartford Board of Education makes the case for dumping the corporate education reform industry’s obsession with standardized testing.

Robert Cotto opens his commentary pieces with;

“As the debate over Connecticut’s state budget looms, the legislature must consider smart ways of maintaining support for our state’s children and families. They must also figure out how to save while doing the least harm.

Reducing the number of standardized tests that kids take could be a way to save more for what matters most in education.

For years, Connecticut required students to take tests in only grades four, six, eight, and ten. In order to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Connecticut began giving tests to all children in grades three through eight and ten. Twice the number of children tested and new tests equaled more money spent. State spending for the tests more than doubled from $5.3 million in 2005 to $13.4 million in 2006.

Recently, the State of Connecticut allocated more than $18 million each year for tests. However, this amount does not reflect the hidden costs of spending on test preparation. With Connecticut’s No Child Left Behind waiver, both the amount of testing, consequences, and funds to impose the controversial “Common Core” will likely increase.

Reducing the tests that students take in each subject to only grades four, six, eight, and ten could save millions of dollars. The funds saved could help limit any budget cuts that will affect communities across the state, particularly for the most vulnerable children and families.  Cutting testing in this way could also result in yearly savings of up to $9.5 million. That’s half of current state spending to administer the tests.

At best, the evidence is mixed regarding the impact of spending more on testing and ratcheting up punishments.

And Cotto adds;

“Children best develop their abilities, talents, and interests when their schools, parents, educators, and communities support them together. In school, this would mean focusing on quality teaching and leadership, building on children’s academic strengths and interests, developing balanced and culturally relevant curriculum, confronting racial and economic isolation, and standardizing fairness in resources and support.

Outside of schools, this means supporting the well-being of children and families. In places likes Finland, the investment in children and families health and well-being, in addition to fairness in school resources and quality, has resulted in educational equity and shared prosperity. Instead of building up our system of testing, we must build up our system of support for communities.

Helping kids inside and outside of school. That’s a winning strategy.

With limited testing, there could be more time and funds for supporting kids’ academic progress and development. Time not used for testing could go towards building on children’s academic strengths and talents. Funds saved could mitigate cuts to schools, like the disappearing library, and supports for communities’ economic progress, health, and well-being.

With less testing, we can focus on support for students and develop better methods to assess the goals of public education. Maybe we can save even more as we recognize that public education will be better with more attention to learning and support for communities, but limited testing every two or three grades.”

Take the time to read his entire piece at:  http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-smart-money-is-on-children-not-testing/

Major new study finds Connecticut Charter Schools discriminate

Connecticut Voices for Children, the New-Haven based, nationally recognized policy research organization has issued a major new report entitled, “Choice Watch: Diversity and Access in Connecticut’s School Choice Programs.”

The CT Voices report is the most extensive, independent study that has been conducted about the performance of charter schools, magnet schools and other school choices options in Connecticut.

While the entire report is a “MUST READ” for those following the “school choice” debate, it is an especially important addition to the debate for those concerned about the Malloy administration’s commitment to expanding the number of charter schools in Connecticut and their on-going privatization efforts to turn public schools over to private charter school operators.

Among the key findings from the CT Voices study is that Connecticut’s Charter Schools are more segregated, systematically discriminate against Latinos and English Language Learners and fail to recruit, retain and serve their fair share of students who require special education services.

As the CT Voices study concludes,

Charter schools are typically hypersegregated by race/ethnicity and, in Connecticut’s four largest cities, actually offer students, on average, a learning environment that is more or equally segregated by race and ethnicity than local public schools.

Although Charter Schools serve just over 1% of the public school students in Connecticut, these privately run, publically funded schools have been receiving additional funds at a far greater rate than traditional public schools.

Governor Malloy and his administration are engaged in an unprecedented effort to increase the number of charter schools operating in the state.

However, the new CT Voices report re-confirms that when it comes to equity and fairness, the rush to divert public resources away from public schools and to charter schools is taking Connecticut in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to reducing racial isolation and providing quality services to students with special needs and those who require additional English language programs.

For example, according to the new report,

In 2011-12, a majority of magnet schools and technical schools were “integrated,” as measured by the standard set forth in the 2008 settlement agreement of the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case: a school with a student body composed of between 25% and 75% minority students…In contrast, only 18% of charter schools met the Sheff standard. The majority of charter schools were instead “hypersegregated,” with a student body composed of more than 90% minority students…”

The failure of charter schools to provide equal opportunity to students is even starker when it comes to their unwillingness to serve bi-lingual students, students who need additional English language services or students with special education needs.

When it comes to educating English Language Learners, the new study finds that 76% of all charter schools have substantially lower enrollment of ELL students then the community they are supposed to be serving.

The failure of charter schools to serve students with special education needs is equally troubling.  Although state law requires that Charter Schools “attract, enroll, and retain” children with disabilities, the report found that many charter schools are simply failing to fulfill this legal requirement.

The new report from Connecticut Voices for Children also sheds a powerful light on Connecticut’s magnet schools and the state’s technical high school system.

You can find the full CT Voices report here: http://www.ctvoices.org/sites/default/files/edu14choicewatchfull.pdf

You can also find a New Haven Independent news article about the report here: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/ct_voices_for_children_report/

And a CT News Junkie report about the report here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/report_claims_choice_schools_are_hyper-segregated/