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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Wendy Lecker writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Littman writes,

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

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

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Teacher “wins” appointment to State Board of Education  

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Congratulations to Erin Benham, a Meriden teacher on her appointment to the State Board of Education!

It is great news that a teacher will be added to counter-balance the cadre of corporate education reform industry advocates who have spent the last four years undermining public education.

In an apparent move to show teachers, parents and public school advocates that he is a softer, kinder and more pro-public education governor, Dannel “Dan” Malloy announced today that he has appointed educator Erin Bernham to the State Board of Education.

Erin Benham has been a secondary school teacher for 34 years.  She presently serves as a Literacy Teacher at Lincoln Middle School.

Teacher Benham is also the President of the Meriden Federation of Teachers and the Vice President of the AFT-CT Executive Committee.

Wait, What? readers may remember that the American Federation of Teachers was the union that refused to allow me to fill out a candidate questionnaire, interview with the AFT Political Action Committee or even speak to the AFT Executive Committee before they endorsed Malloy.

Of more interest than the political connections between Malloy and the AFT leadership is the fact that Benham and the Meriden Federation of Teachers are the recipients of a major grant from the American Federation of Teacher’s national “Innovation Fund.”

The AFT Innovation Fund supports a variety of programs at the local level.  While many of those programs are undoubtedly valuable, the major donor to the American Federation of Teacher’s national Innovation fund is Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation.

In 2010, the Gates Foundation gave $4 million to the AFT Innovation Fund and another $4.4 million in 2012.  The money was targeted to pay for the union’s work to build support for the Common Core.

Hopefully Teacher Benham will use her classroom expertise to persuade Malloy and the State Board of Education that while standards are an important part of a successful educational system, the Common Core‘s unfair, inappropriate and expensive Common Core Testing Scheme is hurting Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools and must be suspended until it can be redesigned and appropriately implemented.

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

Charter Advocates Give New Meaning To ‘Chutzpah’ (by Sarah Darer Littman)

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Charter Advocates Give New Meaning To ‘Chutzpah’ (CT Newsjunkie)

Sarah Darer Littman, pro-public school advocate, award winning columnist and parent has written one of the most powerful commentary pieces about the state of the state when it comes to the Charter School Industry and how the Malloy administration has allowed tens of millions in taxpayer funds to be diverted to people and companies that are literally felons, liars and cheats.

If there is one article to read about Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy and the rise of the corporate education reform movement in Connecticut, this is the one.

Sarah Darer Littman writes,

The traditional definition of chutzpah  is someone who kills his mother and father and then claims being an orphan as a mitigating circumstance.

I’ve been reminded of this word constantly as the FUSE/Jumoke charter scandal unfolded over the last two weeks.

L’Affaire Sharpe has been quite astonishing, because as a mere mortal, not a Crony of Dan Malloy or part of the Charter Chicanery Circus, I underwent more due diligence than Sharpe to become a creative writing instructor for an after-school program at one of the local elementary schools for the non-hefty fee of a few hundred bucks.

To teach this Afters program, run by the Cos Cob Elementary School PTA, I had to undergo a criminal background check.

Last year, when I was hired as an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and we know how well adjuncts are paid), before my appointment was confirmed I underwent another criminal background check, and also had to have my transcript sent from the institution where I’d received my Masters Degree. Funnily enough, it was New York University, the educational establishment where Michael Sharpe received his fictional doctorate.

Yet the members of the state Board of Education, all appointed or re-appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, required no such due diligence before forking over $53 million of our taxpayer dollars to “Doctor” Sharpe’s organization. Just to make things even cozier, Gov. Malloy appointed FUSE’s chief operating officer, Andrea Comer, to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned earlier this week, in order to avoid being a “distraction.” I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.”

Every word of Sarah Darer Littman’s CTNewsjunkie commentary piece paints the ugly story surrounding Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, Pryor’s hand-picked employees and high-paid consultants and the State Board of Education.

In addition, Littman traces the relationship to no-nothing policy makers who have allowed scarce public resources to be squandered on the make-a-fast-buck industry that has been the foundation of Malloy’s education reform effort.

As you read Littman’s piece, remember that these are the same people who have forced the Common Core on our children, promoted the absurd, unfair and expensive Common Core testing scheme and the equally absurd, unfair and wasteful new teacher evaluation program.

No amount of political spin coming from Malloy or his education reform industry allies will disguise the fact that by introducing a bill to do away with teacher tenure and repeal collective bargaining rights for teachers in “turnaround schools,” Malloy became the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the nation.

As Sarah Darer Littman concludes,

“I guess no one in Hartford was watching the cookie jar — too much cronyism and not enough good government.”

You can find this MUST READ piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_charter_advocates_give_new_meaning_to_chutzpah/

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Charter School company collapse continues

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Andrea Comer, the former COO of Jumoke/FUSE charter school company has resigned her position on the State Board of Education, while the Bridgeport Board of Education prepares to end ties with Jumoke/FUSE, the charter school company that was given a lucrative no-bid contract to run Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School thanks to Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Paul Vallas, the ousted former head of Bridgeport’s Schools.

Despite the obvious conflict of interest, Malloy appointed Comer to the State Board of Education in the spring of 2013.  Wait, What? readers may recall the series of posts about Comer, Malloy and his inappropriate decision to put the charter school executive on the State Board of Education.

News of Comer’s resignation came late today following today’s State Board of Education meeting.

The following statement was released by the Pelto/Murphy 2014 campaign following the announcement:

Statement of Jonathan Pelto, Candidate for Governor, Education and Democracy Party, On the resignation of Andrea Comer from the Connecticut State Board of Education

“The fact is that Governor Dannel ‘Dan’ Malloy should never have put Andrea Comer, the Chief Operating Officer of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school management company, on the State Board of Education in the first place.  In April 2013, I wrote that the decision to nominate and confirm a high-ranking charter school executive to Connecticut’s education policy board was yet another attack on Connecticut’s school teachers, the teacher unions, and the 99% of students who attend public district schools.

As recently as three weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled, ‘Pelto to Malloy: Dump Pryor and Comer now before they do even more damage to public education in Connecticut.’  Comer’s departure is an important step, but Connecticut’s public schools students, parents, teachers and citizens will not have the Department of Education they deserve until Malloy, Pryor and the remaining members of the State Board of Education are gone, as well.”

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Meanwhile, as the Hartford Courant is reporting;

In another blow to a Hartford charter school group, Bridgeport Interim Superintendent Frances Rabinowitz said Wednesday she intends to end the district’s partnership with FUSE.

Rabinowitz will present the plan to the Bridgeport board of education on Thursday evening. State Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, who was a supporter of FUSE until recently, said he agreed with the action.

FUSE had a state-funded role managing Dunbar Elementary School in Bridgeport.

The announcement comes a week after published reports that FUSE, which also manages the heavily state-financed Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford, had employed a registered sex offender at Dunbar despite a management agreement stating that “no employee of Jumoke who will work at Dunbar or who will work directly with Dunbar students is listed on any Sex Offender Registry.”

“Recent revelations regarding FUSE have given rise to significant concerns regarding the organization’s ability to continue working with Dunbar,” Pryor and Rabinowitz said in a joint statement. “Teachers, students and parents have demonstrated commendable resolve to turn around Dunbar. They deserve a partner who will be able to provide the attention and support necessary for the work that lies ahead.”

Rabinowitz had told The Courant that FUSE failed to inform her of the employee’s criminal record, which included drug convictions, until last week and that she was “incredibly concerned.”

Rabinowitz questioned whether the embattled charter organization, also known as Family Urban Schools of Excellence, should continue running Dunbar School under a year-old arrangement through the state Commissioner’s Network, a reform initiative that gives millions in extra funding to struggling schools that implement a three- to 5-year “turnaround” plan.

You can read more about this breaking story at: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-fuse-bridgeport-school-0710-20140709,0,2832863.story

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The battle against the corporate education reform industry takes center stage

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Charter School Scandal Continues to Rock Malloy Administration…

However, rather than conduct a truly independent investigation into the fall of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school management company, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees on the State Board of Education decided to hire a lawyer to conduct an “investigation.”

Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Education Commissioner added that his agency’s lawyers would be “extremely involved” in the investigation… this despite the fact that Pryor and his leadership team should be among those being investigated.

While the State Board of Education put FUSE, the parent company of Jumoke Academy on “probation,” they spent much of the meeting lavishing praise on Jumoke Academy.

But the two entities are so intertwined that the State Board of Education’s action deserves nothing but ridicule.

The fact is that the deal to hand Hartford’s Milner Elementary School over to Jumoke was made in March 2012.  The State Board of Education voted to give Milner to Jumoke at their meeting in August 2012, but FUSE, the parent company that signed the contract to run Milner, wasn’t even formed until October 2012 —– more than six months AFTER Pryor and his team had decided to hand over millions of state taxpayer dollars to run Milner.

To investigate FUSE and not Jumoke Academy  is nothing more than a blatant effort to sweep the problem under the rug.

But regardless of the State Board of Education’s action, the battle against charter schools and the corporate education reform industry is finally being brought to light.

As the CT Mirror explains in their leading news story this morning,

The inquiry comes as charter schools, once celebrated as laboratories of urban educational achievement and innovation, increasingly face a backlash from teachers’ unions and political figures ranging from the mayor of New York City to a third-party candidate for governor of Connecticut.

See CT Mirror: Scandal called ‘important moment’ in charter movement

The CT Mirror adds,

Anger over charter schools and the private non-profit companies that run them is helping fuel the third-party gubernatorial campaign of Jonathan Pelto, an education blogger and former Democratic legislator.”

To Pelto, the exposure of Sharpe’s record by The Hartford Courant is evidence of the shortcomings of a state education bureaucracy overly sympathetic of charter schools.

“I think it’s evidence there is no oversight, no meaningful oversight,” Pelto said.

On the same issue, CT Newsjunkie, has an article entitled, State Board of Education Launches Investigation, Requires Background Checks for Charters.  CT Newwjunkie reports,

Critics of charter schools who attended Monday’s meeting, including gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto, say this is just proof that the charter model doesn’t work.

Pelto said these issues need to be investigated by an outside investigator because the allegations of inappropriate activities go all the way up into the commissioner’s office.

He said the board should have put the charter management group and its flagship charter school, Jumoke Academy, on probation.

And the Hartford Courant, the newspaper that produced the investigative news stories that brought down the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain has a story entitled, State Board Approves Probe Of Charter School CompanyThe Courant’s story includes my assessment of the State Department of Education’s action, in which I say,

It’s not just the fox dialing 911 when the chickens have disappeared – it’s the fox with the chicken feathers hanging out of their mouth dialing 911,” said Pelto, who suggested the state auditors should conduct the probe.

You can read much more about the is developing story by clicking on the titles of each of the articles

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Who me?  Pryor calls for an investigation of Jumoke Academy/FUSE charter school management company

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Until tonight, observers could safely say that the single most outrageous political maneuver during Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s tenure has been his claim that he was pro-public education while being the only Democratic Governor in the nation to propose doing away with teacher tenure and repealing collective bargaining for teachers in so-called “turnaround” schools.

But Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, makes a run for the title of most absurd political maneuver of the decade by scheduling an emergency meeting of the State Board of Education this coming Monday and calling for an “Investigation of Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and Jumoke Academy.”

As John Burroughs, the great 19th Century essayist, once said,

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”

Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Governor Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education are the VERY REASON that the fraud, Michael Sharpe, and his private company, Jumoke Academy/FUSE charter school management company, were given control of the Milner public school in Hartford, the Dunbar public school in Bridgeport and the new Booker T. Washington charter school in New Haven.

To date, Sharpe and his private company have received more than $53 million in public funds despite the fact that Sharpe served about five years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion and didn’t even finish his academic training, although he called himself Dr. Michael Sharpe.

But instead of admitting the key role Pryor, his minions and Malloy’s State Board of Education played in diverting tens of millions of additional dollars in public funds to Sharpe and Jumoke Academy/FUSE, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner is trying to duck the fundamental role he played in this scandal by claiming that he didn’t know anything about the problems that have surfaced about Sharpe and Jumoke Academy/FUSE thanks to a series of investigative news stories written by the Hartford Courant.

Although Pryor is the very reason Sharpe and Jumoke Academy/FUSE received these lucrative no-bid contracts, Malloy’s point person for his corporate education reform industry agenda is now calling for an investigation rather than resigning in disgrace.

Pryor and his anti-public education operatives have become the poster children for what is wrong with the corporate education reform industry’s effort to destroy and privatize Connecticut’s public education system.

Just take a look at the incredible and insulting press release Pryor put out late this afternoon.

Commissioner Pryor Calls for Investigation of Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and Jumoke Academy

Matter will be discussed at Special Meeting of State Board of Education on June 30th

(HARTFORD, CT)—Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor today called for the appointment of a special investigator to examine the operations, finances, governance, and other issues related to recent revelations regarding Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and Jumoke Academy.

The State Board of Education will discuss and act upon this and related matters at a special meeting on Monday, June 30, 2014, beginning at 10:00 a.m. in Room 307 of the State Office Building in Hartford.

The investigation would be led by attorney Frederick L. Dorsey of the Hartford law firm Kainen, Escalera & McHale, P.C.  Mr. Dorsey has decades of experience as an education lawyer advising boards of education in the full range of legal matters.  A onetime school district business administrator for the Waterford Board of Education, Mr. Dorsey has special expertise in the governance and finances of public education organizations.  Mr. Dorsey was selected for inclusion in the publication The Best Lawyers in America 2014 in the practice area of education law, and was also named the Hartford Education Law “Lawyer of the Year” for 2014.  Previously, the Department retained Mr. Dorsey to investigate suspected irregularities in the 2010 Connecticut Mastery Test administration at Hopeville School in Waterbury. And in 2013, Mr. Dorsey was retained by Vernon Public Schools to conduct a forensic audit of financial and bookkeeping practices of the district’s school lunch program.

When launched, the investigation will cover the finances, governance, and operations of FUSE and Jumoke Academy.  Interviews of members of the organizations’ staff and governing boards will be conducted, as well as analysis of relevant documents.  Mr. Dorsey will work with the State Department of Education’s Office of Internal Audit to coordinate the financial audit of Jumoke Academy being conducted by O’Connell, Pace & Company.  Mr. Dorsey will also advise the State Board of Education and Education Commissioner on recommended actions and policies.

Commissioner Pryor said, “We are deeply concerned about recent revelations regarding FUSE and Jumoke Academy.  Like all operators of public schools, these organizations have an obligation to meet high standards of organizational governance.  That way, we ensure that our students and parents are being served well. I am confident that, working with the State Board of Education, and with the assistance of a professional of Mr. Dorsey’s capability, we can achieve a full understanding of the totality of the situation – and of the next steps required.”

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

Education Advocate Maria Naughton on the Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment Test

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Here are two new more contributions from public education advocate Maria Naughton.  Maria Naughton is an educational consultant, former teacher and mother of four children in New Canaan Public Schools. She writes a column for the News of New Canaan.

The first is a link to a radio show in which Maria Naughton discusses the Common Core with Stephen Wright, a member of Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education.  Although 30 minutes in length, it is a “MUST LISTEN” because it reveals how little this State Board of Education member understands about the Common Core and the associated Common Core testing scheme.

https://soundcloud.com/hersam-acorn-radio/2014-0418-behind-the-news

The second is a recent column Maria Naughton wrote for the New of New Canaan entitled, “How do we guard our children’s digital footprint?.  Naughton wrote,

This week concluded the second week of the Smarter Balanced field-testing in New Canaan. As we started this testing, more than 20 other states were also instructed by the Smarter Balanced Consortium to give this field test.

Despite the fallacies perpetuated by our state Department of Education, these are not mandated mastery tests; this is product development. Statewide, the frustration of the test was heightened by inconsistent responses to families which ranged from permission to opt-out, repeated misleading statements about the legality of opting out, and even “community service” credit offered to those participating.

This entire experience has led to confusion, lost educational time and many distressed students, particularly juniors for whom this year is already stressful. Looking beyond all of that, there looms an even bigger issue here: the federally-funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium appears to exercise an inordinate level of control over our schools.

After signing the Consortium Memorandum of Understanding in 2010, Gov. Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor agreed to rules set by the Consortium, including the type and timing of assessments, and reporting of data. This agreement imposes an added layer of complexity on our schools, specifically related to testing and reporting, while lessening the ability of families to fully understand the impact on our children’s future.

We have already seen the impact of this “shared-decision model” after the Consortium informed states that the testing would be delayed a week. In a unilateral move, this organization sent districts around the country scrambling to reschedule events in a week already disrupted by testing, further dictating how our resources had to be used to accommodate the online testing.

Privacy concerns

After testing, it will be the Consortium and their test vendors who will have performance data on New Canaan students. This puts the privacy of our students at risk, as plans for future data aggregation for tracking and profit continue to develop. For this year’s field test, parents have been told we will not receive student results from this “no-stakes” test. But these tests are not anonymous. Once students hit “submit,” someone will know how he or she performed. Educational data has been shared in the past, but there were laws protecting privacy. Now, the federal privacy law (FERPA) that protected student information has been changed. Being “FERPA-compliant” means nothing for families, as the change in the law actually expands the definition of who may access the data, giving parents no control whatsoever as to who sees their child’s data profile, or even the ability to challenge inaccuracies.

As these tests become more refined and profit incentives emerge, data-sharing concerns will grow. Corporations have spent billions to support education reform. Bill Gates clarified that intent, saying that once curriculum and assessments are fully aligned, it will “unleash a powerful market for people providing services.” Those services may be in the form of online, personalized learning, delivered as part of the New Canaan’s K-12 one-to-one device initiative, which naturally would be dependent on academic and behavioral response data from our children.

Most parents no longer have a clear-cut understanding of the rationale behind all this testing, or the intentions for the increased need for data beyond our town borders. New Canaan has been highly successful for years, guiding generations to post-high school success. Yet the Consortium maintains that annual testing and powerful data analysis is critical to evaluate student readiness for college or career. That statement should give us all pause. How many of us are comfortable with our children receiving any indication of college readiness starting in third grade? Do we believe that anyone other than our child or their teacher should know their progress and performance, especially if it includes predictive indicators about future potential? How many of us are comfortable with personal and assessment information being shared with this consortium? Who are they and why do they want my child’s data profile? How does a parent protect their child from this?

This entire effort is truly creating a hardship for many families. The unknowns and the growing digital portfolio on our children is troubling. The possibilities for use and misuse are real. The actions of the Smarter Balanced Consortium are putting our children squarely in the middle of the families trying to protect their future and the desires and demands of the schools and state. Families should make their feelings known to members of the Board of Education, and insist that our children’s “digital footprint” is guarded with the same level of care afforded to our children themselves.

Thecolumn can be found at: http://www.ncadvertiser.com/31519/how-do-we-guard-our-childrens-digital-footprint/?fb_action_ids=1490924381126490&fb_action_types=og.likes

 

Sarah Darer Littman’s MUST READ – “A Discouraging Day for Democracy and Education.”

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In her latest CT News Junkie column, Sarah Darer Littman confronts those that are celebrating their latest efforts to buy up the public policy making process at the federal and state level.

In Washington it was the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the McCutcheon v. FEC case that removes the limit on the amount of money individuals can give to all political campaigns.

In Hartford it was Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education and their ongoing efforts to undermine, demean and demoralize public education while promoting Malloy’s charter school privatization scheme.

Upon watching Malloy’s political appointees in action at the State Board of Education meeting, Sarah Darer Littman concludes,

What we witnessed Wednesday is called “a done deal.” Although both the Courant and the CT Post reported the day before the hearing that Commissioner Stefan Pryor was only going to recommend approving two of proposed charters, once the crowds from Bridgeport and Stamford left, Charles Jaskiewicz asked, “Why are we delaying the opportunity to front-load success? . . . My feeling is all these schools should be approved.” Taylor announced that Pryor just “happened” to have a resolution to approve the two additional schools already prepared.

And thus, the appointed state Board of Education, against the expressed votes of two elected city school boards and with ample evidence of the negative financial impact to the existing public schools in the cities involved, voted to approve these new charter schools.

American democracy is dying and despite their press releases to the contrary, Connecticut Democrats are aiding and abetting its demise as surely as the Republicans who brought the court case of McCutcheon vs. FEC. It will come back to haunt them in November.

As Littman makes clear, public policy has become a commodity to be bought and sold.  Big donors are more than willing to write out the campaign checks and many of our elected and appointed officials are more than happy to do their bidding.

The proof of this corrupt system can be seen right here in Connecticut.

Do take the time to read Sarah Darer Littman’s entire column at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/a_discouraging_day_for_democracy_and_education/

State Board of Education is tone-deaf to needs of the children

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Wendy Lecker, fellow public school advocates and columnist has done it again!

In here latest MUST READ column published in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and other Hearst media outlets, Wendy shines the light of truth on the Malloy administration’s unrelenting effort to undermine and privatize Connecticut public education system.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, Dannel “Dan” Malloy and his political appointees have pushed their corporate education reform agenda.

While Malloy’s effort has paid off in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to fund his political aspirations, the blood money has come at the cost of our state’s students, teachers, parents and public schools.

As Wendy Lecker writes, the Malloy anti-public education effort was in full-swing this week as the “Connecticut State Board of Education demonstrated how not to make public policy.”

In a piece entitled “State board tone-deaf to needs of the child,” Wendy explains,

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s appointed board trampled local control and democracy by ramming through resolutions that completely disregarded the parents, teachers and communities impacted by their decisions.

Last month, Republican legislators forced a public hearing on legislation calling for a moratorium on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards until the state could assess the implementation’s financial and educational impact.

Ninety-five percent of parents submitting testimony favored a moratorium on the Common Core, as did 91 percent of teachers, 95 percent of citizens not identifying as parents or teachers and 87.5 percent of local elected officials.

Unfazed by the outpouring of concern, the State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution demanding the immediate implementation of the Common Core and its tests.

In even more arrogant disregard for Connecticut communities, the board approved four new charter schools: Great Oaks Charter and Capital Harbor Prep Charter in Bridgeport, the Booker T. Washington Charter in New Haven and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence in Stamford.

Wendy Lecker adds,

“…the state will divert $85 million dollars over the next few years to charter schools in Bridgeport that serve only 1,600 children. The new charters would drain more than $13 million more from the public schools.

Bridgeport’s board of education and elected parent’s council passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on all charter schools in their city.

These local officials and citizens explained the duty to serve all children in Bridgeport. They noted the flaws in the charter applications, including the serious questions about the companies’ ability to serve students with disabilities or English Language Learners.

Yet the tone-deaf state board voted to force two more charter schools on Bridgeport.

The State Board of Education’s approval of a new charter school in Stamford was equally appalling.

Stamford’s elected board of education voted to oppose the Stamford charter application.

Stamford parents started a petition to oppose the charter school which garnered more than 800 signatures in 48 hours. The Bronx charter school company had a petition up for a month trying to drum up support for the charter, but could only muster 17 signatures.

At the SBE meeting, Stamford officials and parents were united in explaining that Stamford’s integrated schools have closed the achievement gap by double digits in the last seven years. By contrast, the Bronx charter operator has a large and growing achievement gap in its school and offered nothing new to Stamford. In fact, when asked by Stamford’s superintendent why she chose this city, the Bronx operator was unable to respond.

Despite the evidence, the state board voted to give the charter school company more than $4 million for a school of only 392 students while leaving Stamford’s 16,000 public school students underfunded.

Wendy Lecker concludes her column with,

As Bridgeport resident and former NAACP president Carolyn Nah testified, “all children” does not just mean all children in charter schools — it means all public school students. Something is wrong when political appointees in Hartford favor a handful of students, trampling the decisions of democratically elected representatives and parents who are in our schools every day, working to protect the educational interest of every child.

Please take the time to go read the full column and send it to families and friends by going to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-State-board-tone-deaf-to-needs-of-the-5378068.php

 

Malloy administration lines up votes to re-endorse the Common Core

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Sometimes it is hard to know what to say…

Maybe Dannel “Dan” Malloy is simply on a mission to alienate as many parents, teachers and public school advocates as possible before he faces the electorate this coming November.

Or maybe the pay-off in campaign contributions is so great that it is worth selling ones soul to the corporate education reform industry.

Whatever the reason or reasons, before Malloy’s State Board of Education votes to divert millions of taxpayer funds to charter schools at its meeting tomorrow in Hartford, Board Chairman Alan Taylor will call for a vote so that the Malloy administration can re-commit itself, our state, our schools and our children to the Common Core.

While reasonable people can debate the merits of having a common set of educational standards, the truth is that Connecticut has had a long history of ensuring that our schools are guided by strong, evidence based, state educational standards.  Those standards have been improved over time through an open process that allows public participation and seeks to promote consensus building.

But thanks to George W. Bush and Barak H. Obama a decision was made in Washington D.C. to institute a top-down set of national standards that would apply to every state.  Except, of course, six states refused to participate and word is that Indiana just pulled out of the Common Core.

So now our “sort-of” national standards are being implemented.

But as teachers, school administrators, parents, students and taxpayers are learning, the hard way, a new set of “national” education standards has its benefits and its downsides.

In the midst of this debate comes news that Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education, with no public hearing and no notice to school districts, administrators, teachers or parents, will re-commit us to the Common Core with a vote at tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting.

As I said, sometimes it is hard to know just what to say…

Here is the resolution that the State Board of Education will be adopting tomorrow;

Connecticut State Board of Education – TO BE PROPOSED: April 2, 2014  

Whereas, The State Board of Education (“Board”) is charged by law to ensure that all students shall have equal opportunity to receive a suitable program of educational experiences that prepares them for success in higher education and the workplace; and

Whereas, The Board is mindful of and concerned with inequities within and across classrooms throughout the State of Connecticut that unfairly impact students’ chances for success in Grades K-12 and in their future; and

Whereas, The State Board remains committed to implement the educational interests of the state by promoting the continuous improvement of education and providing leadership and support to school districts; and

Whereas, Toward this end, in July 2010 the Board adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are higher in rigor and more closely aligned with college and career expectations than the prior standards; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the State Board of Education stands firm in its belief that full and immediate implementation of the Common Core State Standards is necessary, and pledges its commitment to provide the necessary leadership, supports and resources for educators, students, and families, to ensure its success.

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