Malloy/Wyman moving forward with threats to punish schools districts that respect parents’ “opt-out” rights

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REMEMBER:  There is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prohibits Connecticut parents from opting their children out of the destructive Common Core testing scheme.

However, according to a series of letters and memos signed by Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dr. Dianna R. Wentzell, on behalf of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s administration, local school districts that failed to stop parents from opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Consortium (SBAC) testing scam will be receiving a letter by (tomorrow) January 15, 2016 informing them that their local school system will lose grant funds if they don’t force at least 90% of the children to take this year’s Common Core tests.

Education Commissioner Wentzell has informed Connecticut superintendents that there will be severe consequences for any school district that fails to stop parents from standing up to protect their children from the testing madness.

The Malloy/Wyman administration’s memo to superintendents included the following:

District Participation Rate Consequences 2014-15

For School Districts that had a participation rate “Below 80%” in any category, “funds will be withheld if, at a minimum, participation in 2015-16 fails to meet Level 2 criteria (which the state is now setting as  greater than 90%.)

The State Department of Education memo adds that any school district that failed to reach the 95% participation threshold this year must (1) attend a meeting with the State Department of Education and (2) submit a detailed corrective action plan that will be reviewed and approved by the State Department of Education.

The mandatory meetings will be held by February 5, 2016, corrective action plans must be submitted to the State Department of Education by February 16, 2016 and those plans will be “reviewed, revised as necessary, and approved by CSDE” by February 29, 2106.

The Malloy administration’s memo fails to identify what authority the State Department of Education has to force local force school districts to submit “corrective action plans,” to review and approve such plans or to withhold taxpayer funds from any district that does not achieve a 90% participation rate.  (Where the decision to mandate a 90% participation rate rather than 95% level is a complete mystery.)

Of even greater concern is the fact that the State Department of Education fails to provide local school districts with any guidance, instruction, or legal advice about how they are supposed to lie, mislead or stop parents from utilizing their fundamental right to refuse to have their children participate in the Common Core testing program.

The state also fails to explain why they consider it good public policy to withhold taxpayer funds from schools in which parents have gotten involved and opted their children out of that excessive testing system.

And yes, this attack on students, parents, teachers, public schools and our fundamental legal rights is taking place right here in Connecticut.

No word from legislators about what they are doing to protect their constituents from this incredible assault.

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education

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Ethics for public officials?  Not so much.

One of Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education is not only a representative of the charter school industry but his company is collecting a multi-million dollar contract that is funded and managed by the State Department of Education and the very board he has been appointed to.

Although this article was first published at Wait, What? on December 23, 2015, the Malloy administration has refused to comment.

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education

A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

While Connecticut’s public schools continue to suffer from inadequate state funding and Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration strive to undermine, dismiss and destroy the CCJEF school funding lawsuit that would finally ensure that Connecticut meets its State Constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education, Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative has fueled an unprecedented growth of charter schools in Connecticut.  The Charter School Industry now collects in excess of $100 million a year from Connecticut taxpayers.

Privately owned and operated, but funded with taxpayer dollars, Connecticut’s Charter Schools have consistently failed to educate their fair share of students that require special education services and English Language Learners who aren’t fluent in the English Language.

Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, earned national notoriety when news broke about the shocking number of kindergarten and first graders suspended at their schools.  The charter school company’s failure to provide special education students with appropriate services has generated investigations in both Connecticut and New York.

The truth is that while the Connecticut State Board of Education is legally obligated to regulate charter schools, they have had a very shoddy track record when it comes to fulfilling those duties.

After taking office, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (a co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.) and the Governor’s political appointees to the State Board handed approximately $50 million to charter school operator Michael Sharpe and his Jumoke/FUSE’s charter school chain without bothering to uncover that fact that “Dr.” Sharpe didn’t actually have the advanced academic degree he claimed or that he had spent time in federal prison for embezzlement of public funds.

The State Board of Education even bestowed upon “Mr.” Sharpe control of Hartford’s Milner school which, under their not-so-watchful eyes, he ran into the ground.

In addition to “overlooking” state requirements that charters serve a requisite number or special education and English Language Learners, and that charters are not supposed to be over-concentrated in a limited number of municipalities, the State Board has rubber-stamped charter renewals, even when they fail to meet the standards set forth in their charter authorization.

The State Board of Education has done such an abysmal job overseeing charters that the legislature was forced to pass a law tightening charter oversight rules last session and added a layer of legislative oversight to the Department of Education’s charter authorization process.

But SURPRISE – thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent action, Achievement First, Inc. and Connecticut’s Charter School owners, operators and advocates are celebrating the fact that one of their own has quietly been appointed to Connecticut’s State Board of Education, the very state entity that remains responsible for overseeing and regulating charter schools.

Although the potential conflict of interest is obvious, this isn’t the first time Governor Malloy has used his appointing authority to put a charter school person on the State Board of Education.

His last such appointee, Andrea Comer, the COO of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain, resigned from the State Board of Education and her job as the FBI and state investigators closed in on allegations of wrongdoing by “Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, “Dr.” Sharpe.

This time the appointment of a charter school insider to the State Board of Education occurred when Malloy appointed three new members to Connecticut’s State Board of Education last month.

While the legislature will eventually have an opportunity to vote on the nominations, as interim appointees, the individuals have already taken their seats on the Board and will serve until confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

Media coverage of the appointments was minimal and limited to what was contained in the press release that was issued by Malloy’s Office in November.  Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education began,

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he is appointing Erik Clemons of New Haven, William Davenport of Litchfield, and Malia Sieve of Norwich to serve as members on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

“We are making significant progress as we raise the bar like never before.  Connecticut’s State Board of Education plays a critical role in ensuring that our students receive a world class education that prepares them for careers in the 21st century,” Governor Malloy said.  “Erik, Bill, and Malia are the right candidates for these roles, and I look forward to having them contribute their experiences and expertise as members of the board.  We are going to continue moving our schools forward.”

The Press Release added;

Clemons is the founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), a nonprofit career training institution that aims to prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming.

But there is much more to the story;

Knowing that Malloy and his administration have the propensity to duck the truth, it will not be surprising to many people that Malloy failed to inform the media, the public or the legislature that the State Board of Education’s newest member, Erik Clemons, has an extensive and long-standing relationship with the charter school industry and is the President and CEO of a company that directly benefits from a large state contract that is funded through the State Department of Education.

  • Erik Clemons served as a member of Achievement First Inc.’s Elm City Charter School Board of Directors from 2013-2015.
  • Erik Clemons is also a founding member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened earlier this fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education.
  • Erik Clemons is the President of a non-profit corporation that received a lucrative contract last year that is paid with taxpayer funds through the State Department of Education.

Malloy’s new appointees to the State Board of Education replace out-going members who resigned or didn’t seek re-appointment, including former State Board of Education member Andrea Comer.

As noted, Comer, the former Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain,t quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing. When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

At the time, both the Hartford Courant and Stamford Advocate followed up with editorials.  In an editorial entitled, Conflict on state school board, the Stamford Advocate wrote;

Andrea Comer is a successful executive in the state charter school business. She has worked for the charter management company Achievement First, and in October was appointed chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a management/expansion company created by Hartford’s Jumoke Academy charter school.

And she is poised to add another title to her substantial resume: member of the state Board of Education.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has appointed Comer to the board — raising eyebrows and questions about a conflict of interest. The board has direct oversight of the charter school industry, decides whether to reauthorize charters and votes on funding and the creation of new charter schools.

As former state legislator Jonathan Pelto and Hearst Connecticut Newspapers columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a blog post regarding Comer’s appointment: “The conflict is obvious!”

Yet the state Ethics Commission somehow sees it another way. It ruled that Comer’s professional position would not pose a conflict on the state school board. Apparently, the position of COO does not rank high enough for a conflict to exist.

Comer as recently as last month lobbied the General Assembly for greater charter school funding. To put her on a body that helps determine that funding, well, as Pelto and Lecker said:

[…]

Now it is up to the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and be counted on this vital issue.  As a corporate officer in a charter school company, Comer has a significant and clear conflict of interest. Legislature has a duty to reject her appointment to the State Board of Education.

Although one would have hoped that Governor Malloy had learned his lesson about keeping the charter school industry off the board that regulates them, Malloy failed to heed those warnings.

The Facts speak for themselves;

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons connection with Achievement First, Inc.

As the minutes of the November 25, 2013 meeting of the Achievement First, Elm City College Preparatory Charter School Board of Directors note;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board of Elm City College Preparatory elects Mr. Erik Clemons to an initial term as a Class II Director expiring on 6/30/2014, eligible for reelection for a subsequent 3-year term.

Carolyn Greenspan moved to elect Erik Clemons to the Board, and Laura Saverin seconded. The Board voted unanimously to approve Erik Clemons as a Director.

According to Achievement First records, it appears Erik Clemons remained on the Achievement First Elm City Directors until the charter school’s meeting on 1/21/15 meeting.

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons is a founding board member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School.

From the New Haven Independent, State OKs “Pioneering” Local Charter

The approval came Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education in the Legislative Office Building. The board unanimously approved a proposal to create a new pre-K to 8 charter school called the Elm City Montessori School, starting with 51 New Haven kids ages 3 to 5 in the fall of 2014 (Later changed to fall 2015).

[…]

The state will kick in an extra $3,000 per pupil, as well as an undetermined amount of start-up money, in return for extra scrutiny: The school’s existence will depend on the state renewing its charter every five years.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who sits on the state school board, said state law has allowed for “local charters” in prior years, but no proposals ever got off the ground. The state’s education reform law of 2012 revised the “local charter” distinction to require staffing flexibility and to add the $3,000-per-pupil incentive, he said. Pryor commended the New Haven group for an “outstanding application.”

“We are very pleased to see the pioneering effort that you have organized taking shape,” said Pryor, a former New Haven alderman and founding member of New Haven’s Amistad Academy charter school.

[…]

The new investment in charters comes under a new education commissioner, Pryor, with a record of charter support: In 1999 he helped found Amistad Academy, which later grew into the state’s largest charter network…

And while Malloy noted that Erik Clemons is founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), the Governor failed to explain that the company has a major contract funded through the Department of Education.

From the New Haven Register;

Lincoln-Bassett was added this year to the state Commissioner’s Network for underperforming schools, joining the city’s High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High School. The network seeks to significantly improve struggling schools through collaboration between local stakeholders and the state Department of Education.

[…]

The school received $1.4 million in operating and capital improvement grants and secured partnership with ConnCAT to facilitate the before- and after-school programs.

“It was really important that Mayor Toni Harp, and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries were aligned on this idea that families and children can rise through the advent of provided services,” said ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons.

Finally, Malloy failed to mention that Erik Clemons is affiliated with Billionaire Steven Mandell’s Zoom Foundation, the organization that played a key, behind-the-scenes role in persuading the Malloy administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport Public School System.

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities include paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office2/3/14)

In Erik Clemons case, we learn from the Zoom Foundation – The ZOOM Foundation’s new Prize for Parent Organizing supports nonprofit organizations inspired by the potential of parent power to contribute to the achievement of educational equity in Connecticut.  The Program Selection Committee for The ZOOM Foundation’s Prize for Parent Organizing includes:

Erik Clemons: Erik is CEO and President of ConnCAT, an organization he established in New Haven in 2011. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, ConnCAT, is a post-secondary career training hub committed to connecting a world-class facility and resources to local need. Currently ConnCAT provides market-relevant job training and placement services to under and unemployed adults and multimedia arts education to 6 under-achieving youth from low-income families…

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer;

Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

A former member of the Hartford and State Boards of Education, Andrea has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities. Prior to joining CBIA, Andrea served as Chief Development Officer for an education management organization, where she oversaw communications, strategic planning and development.  (Apparently the Zoom Foundation couldn’t even bring themselves to reveal that the “education management organization” they highlight is the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE organization.

The bottom line is that when Dannel Malloy had the opportunity to set a proper course for the State Board of Education, one in which conflicts of interest were not allowed, he instead chose Erik Clemmons.

And so as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

 

Connecticut ALERT: Malloy/Wyman Administration to punish schools and taxpayers for protecting parental rights

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Last spring, in response to the State of Connecticut’s attempt to force students to take the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, a scheme designed to fail the majority of children by testing them on content that they have not been taught, a significant number of Connecticut parents informed their local school districts that their children would not be participating in the SBAC testing scam.

While many local school administrators joined the Malloy/Wyman Administration’s effort to lie and mislead parents about their fundamental and inalienable right to refuse to participate in the testing program, some school districts did stand up on behalf of their parents and students.

Madison, E.O. Smith (Mansfield, Willington and Ashford -Region #19) and Stonington were among the high schools that told parents the truth and respected parental instructions.  In each case, approximately 85 percent of high school juniors ended up opting out of the 11th grade Common Core SBAC test.

But now Connecticut’s State Department of Education is striking back.

With the federal government yelping about the “high” number of parents across the nation who opted their children out of the destructive Common Core tests, the Malloy/Wyman Administration recently announced that they will punish school districts that “allowed” parents to fulfill their legal right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing.

Let us be very clear about the legal issue involved. 

There is absolutely no law, regulation or policy that allows that Federal Government, the State of Connecticut or any local school district to force a child to take the Common Core SBAC test.  Even the Chairman of the Connecticut State Board of Education, who is a lawyer, admitted that fact before a special legislative hearing.

But that truth about parental rights is not stopping Malloy and Wyman’s political appointees (including the Commissioner of Education and the members of the State Board of Education) from seeking to punish the school districts in which local school administrators recognized and honored parental rights.

As the CT Mirror reports in an article entitled, “State sets penalties for schools with high exam ‘opt-out’ rates;”

School districts where more than 10 percent of students miss required statewide exams for a second consecutive year will lose funding and may have their performance ratings downgraded.

The state Department of Education decided on the penalties after the U.S. Department of Education directed Connecticut and 12 other states to come up with plans to deal with high numbers of students that missed the annual exams last school year.

Districts that achieve the federally required participation rate of 95 percent will receive a letter of commendation from the state education commissioner, and those that have participation rates between 90 and 95 percent will receive a letter reminding them they must raise their participation rate to meet the federal requirement.

“This approach will ensure that districts meeting the standard are commended, those failing marginally are gently alerted, and those falling behind are strongly reminded of the potential consequences and provided support to remedy the situation,” Connecticut Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote in a letter to the federal government earlier this month. The letter was released Tuesday by the state education department.

It was not clear how much money the state would withhold from sanctioned school districts. The state gives schools performance ratings on a number of quality measurements, and schools that fall far short of required exam participation rates will be given a lower rating.

About 11,200 students did not take the state exams last school year — a growing trend referred to as the “opt-out movement.” It coincides with growing concern among parents that their children are spending too much school time being tested or prepared for tests.

School districts will begin facing the state sanctions based on whether too few students take the exams next spring. School district leaders will be notified by Jan. 15 of the potential consequences they face, and districts where fewer than 90 percent of students participated last school year will be required to submit plans to the State Department of Education by mid-February outlining how they plan to address the problem in the upcoming testing cycle.

The state will offer a conference in February to help districts improve participation.

[…]

High school students missing the exams were to blame for most of the shortfall. Of the 148 schools where too many students missed the statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment, nearly three-quarters were high schools. (Curious how many students skipped the test in your school? Click here to find out.)

Yes, you read the CT Mirror’s observation correctly;

The CT Mirror text reads; “Curious how many students skipped the test in your school? Click here to find out.”

Of course, any honest reporting of the situation would recognize that students didn’t “skip” the Common Core SBAC test.

Students did not participate in the Common Core SBAC test because their parents refused to allow them to participate in the inappropriate and damaging testing scheme.

There is a big difference between “skipping” and being opted out!

But perhaps even more telling is that the CT Mirror didn’t even bother to interview a Connecticut parent who opted their child out or discuss the issue with any of those who led Connecticut’s opt out movement.

Finally, rather than respecting parental rights, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education recommends that the solution to the whole situation is to give children a sticker.

As the CT Mirror goes on to explain, the Malloy/Wyman administration’s approach to increasing the student participation rate in the faulty Common Core SBAC testing program is not to fix the problems with the Common Core testing program or respect parental rights, but to give students a sticker for taking the destructive test.

The CT Mirror notes;

Wentzell said during a recent interview that she believes students should get some sort of sticker after they take their exam to highlight the importance of participation, just as citizens do on Election Day after they vote.

You can read CT Mirror full story at State sets penalties for schools with high exam ‘opt-out’ rates and related CT Mirror articles via the following links

Instead of writing their own story about the Malloy/Wyman approach to the SBAC testing opt-out issue, the Hartford Courant simply used the CT Mirror’s version of the story.  See:  http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-ctm-students-test-1230-20151229-story.html

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education

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A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

While Connecticut’s public schools continue to suffer from inadequate state funding and Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration strive to undermine, dismiss and destroy the CCJEF school funding lawsuit that would finally ensure that Connecticut meets its State Constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education, Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative has fueled an unprecedented growth of charter schools in Connecticut.  The Charter School Industry now collects in excess of $100 million a year from Connecticut taxpayer.

Privately owned and operated, but funded with taxpayer dollars, Connecticut’s Charter Schools have consistently failed to educate their fair share of students that require special education services and English Language Learners who aren’t fluent in the English Language.

Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, earned national notoriety when news broke about the shocking number of kindergarten and first graders suspended at their schools.  The charter school company’s failure to provide special education students with appropriate services has generated investigations in both Connecticut and New York.

The truth is that while the Connecticut State Board of Education is legally obligated to regulate charter schools but they have had a very shoddy track record when it comes to fulfilling those duties.

After taking office, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (a co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.) and the Governor’s political appointees to the State Board handed approximately $50 million to charter school operator Michael Sharpe and his Jumoke/FUSE’s charter school chain without bothering to uncover that fact that “Dr.” Sharpe didn’t actually have the advanced academic degree he claimed or that he had spent time in federal prison for embezzlement of public funds.

The State Board of Education even bestowed upon “Mr.” Sharpe control of Hartford’s Milner school which, under their not-so-watchful eyes, he ran into the ground.

In addition to “overlooking” state requirements that charters serve a requisite number or special education and English Language Learners, and that charters are not supposed to be over-concentrated in a limited number of municipalities, the State Board has rubber-stamped charter renewals, even when they fail to meet the standards set forth in their charter authorization.

The State Board of Education has done such an abysmal job overseeing charters that the legislature was forced to pass a law tightening charter oversight rules last session and added a layer of legislative oversight to the Department of Education’s charter authorization process.

But SURPIRSE – thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent action, Achievement First, Inc. and Connecticut’s Charter School owners, operators and advocates are celebrating the fact that one of their own was quietly been appointed to Connecticut’s State Board of Education, the very state entity that remains responsible for overseeing and regulating charter schools.

Although the potential conflict of interest is obvious, this isn’t the first time Governor Malloy has used his appointing authority to put a charter school person on the State Board of Education.

His last such appointee, the COO of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain, resigned from the State Board of Education and her job as the FBI and state investigators closed in on allegations of wrongdoing by “Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, “Dr.” Sharpe.

And this time, the appointment of a charter school insider to the State Board of Education occurred when Malloy appointed three new members to Connecticut’s State Board of Education last month.

While the legislators will eventually have an opportunity to vote on the nominations, as interim appointees, the individuals have already taken their seats on the Board and will serve until confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

Media coverage of the appointments was minimal and limited to what was contained in the press release that was issued by Malloy’s Office in November.  Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education began,

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he is appointing Erik Clemons of New Haven, William Davenport of Litchfield, and Malia Sieve of Norwich to serve as members on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

“We are making significant progress as we raise the bar like never before.  Connecticut’s State Board of Education plays a critical role in ensuring that our students receive a world class education that prepares them for careers in the 21st century,” Governor Malloy said.  “Erik, Bill, and Malia are the right candidates for these roles, and I look forward to having them contribute their experiences and expertise as members of the board.  We are going to continue moving our schools forward.”

The Press Release added;

Clemons is the founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), a nonprofit career training institution that aims to prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming.

But there is much more to the story;

Knowing that Malloy and his administration have the propensity to duck the truth, it will not be surprising to many people that Malloy failed to inform the media, the public or the legislature that the State Board of Education’s newest member, Erik Clemons, has an extensive and long-standing relationship with the charter school industry and is the President and CEO of a company that directly benefits from a large state contract that is funded through the State Department of Education.

  • Erik Clemons served as member of Achievement First Inc.’s Elm City Charter School Board of Directors from 2013-2015.
  • Erik Clemons is also a founding member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened earlier this fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education this fall.
  • Erik Clemons is the President of a non-profit corporation that received a lucrative contract, last year, a contract that is paid with taxpayer funds through the State Department of Education.

Malloy’s new appointees to the State Board of Education replace out-going members who resigned or didn’t seek re-appointment, including former State Board of Education member Andrea Comer.

As noted, Comer served as Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain but quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing.

When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

At the time, both the Hartford Courant and Stamford Advocate followed up with editorials.  In an editorial entitled, Conflict on state school board, the Stamford Advocate wrote;

Andrea Comer is a successful executive in the state charter school business. She has worked for the charter management company Achievement First, and in October was appointed chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a management/expansion company created by Hartford’s Jumoke Academy charter school.

And she is poised to add another title to her substantial resume: member of the state Board of Education.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has appointed Comer to the board — raising eyebrows and questions about a conflict of interest. The board has direct oversight of the charter school industry, decides whether to reauthorize charters and votes on funding and the creation of new charter schools.

As former state legislator Jonathan Pelto and Hearst Connecticut Newspapers columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a blog post regarding Comer’s appointment: “The conflict is obvious!”

Yet the state Ethics Commission somehow sees it another way. It ruled that Comer’s professional position would not pose a conflict on the state school board. Apparently, the position of COO does not rank high enough for a conflict to exist.

Comer as recently as last month lobbied the General Assembly for greater charter school funding. To put her on a body that helps determine that funding, well, as Pelto and Lecker said:

[…]

Now it is up to the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and be counted on this vital issue.  As a corporate officer in a charter school company, Comer has a significant and clear conflict of interest. Legislature has a duty to reject her appointment to the State Board of Education.

Although one would have hoped that Governor Malloy had learned his lesson about keeping the charter school industry off the board that regulates them, Malloy failed to heed those warnings.

The Facts speak for themselves;

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons connection with Achievement First, Inc.

As the minutes of the November 25, 2013 meeting of the Achievement First, Elm City College Preparatory Charter School Board of Directors note;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board of Elm City College Preparatory elects Mr. Erik Clemons to an initial term as a Class II Director expiring on 6/30/2014, eligible for reelection for a subsequent 3-year term.

Carolyn Greenspan moved to elect Erik Clemons to the Board, and Laura Saverin seconded. The Board voted unanimously to approve Erik Clemons as a Director.

According to Achievement First records, it appears Erik Clemons remained on the Achievement First Elm City Directors until the charter school’s meeting on 1/21/15 meeting.

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons is a founding board member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School.

From the New Haven Independent, State OKs “Pioneering” Local Charter

The approval came Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education in the Legislative Office Building. The board unanimously approved a proposal to create a new pre-K to 8 charter school called the Elm City Montessori School, starting with 51 New Haven kids ages 3 to 5 in the fall of 2014 (Later changed to fall 2015).

[…]

The state will kick in an extra $3,000 per pupil, as well as an undetermined amount of start-up money, in return for extra scrutiny: The school’s existence will depend on the state renewing its charter every five years.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who sits on the state school board, said state law has allowed for “local charters” in prior years, but no proposals ever got off the ground. The state’s education reform law of 2012 revised the “local charter” distinction to require staffing flexibility and to add the $3,000-per-pupil incentive, he said. Pryor commended the New Haven group for an “outstanding application.”

“We are very pleased to see the pioneering effort that you have organized taking shape,” said Pryor, a former New Haven alderman and founding member of New Haven’s Amistad Academy charter school.

[…]

The new investment in charters comes under a new education commissioner, Pryor, with a record of charter support: In 1999 he helped found Amistad Academy, which later grew into the state’s largest charter network…

And while Malloy noted that Erik Clemons is founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), the Governor failed to explain that the company has a major contract funded through the Department of Education.

From the New Haven Register;

Lincoln-Bassett was added this year to the state Commissioner’s Network for underperforming schools, joining the city’s High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High School. The network seeks to significantly improve struggling schools through collaboration between local stakeholders and the state Department of Education.

[…]

The school received $1.4 million in operating and capital improvement grants and secured partnership with ConnCAT to facilitate the before- and after-school programs.

“It was really important that Mayor Toni Harp, and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries were aligned on this idea that families and children can rise through the advent of provided services,” said ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons.

Finally, Malloy fails to mention that Erik Clemons is affiliated with Billionaire Steven Mandell’s Zoom Foundation, the organization that played a key, behind-the-scenes role in persuading the Malloy administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport Public School System.

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities including paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office 2/3/14)

In Erik Clemons case we learn from the Zoom Foundation – The ZOOM Foundation’s new Prize for Parent Organizing supports nonprofit organizations inspired by the potential of parent power to contribute to the achievement of educational equity in Connecticut.  The Program Selection Committee for The ZOOM Foundation’s Prize for Parent Organizing includes:

Erik Clemons: Erik is CEO and President of ConnCAT, an organization he established in New Haven in 2011. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, ConnCAT, is a post-secondary career training hub committed to connecting a world-class facility and resources to local need. Currently ConnCAT provides market-relevant job training and placement services to under and unemployed adults and multimedia arts education to 6 under-achieving youth from low-income families…

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer; Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

A former member of the Hartford and State Boards of Education, Andrea has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities. Prior to joining CBIA, Andrea served as Chief Development Officer for an education management organization, where she oversaw communications, strategic planning and development.  (Apparently the Zoom Foundation couldn’t even bring themselves to reveal that the “education management organization” they highlight is the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE organization.

The bottom line is that when Dannel Malloy had the opportunity to set a proper course for the State Board of Education, one in which conflicts of interest were not allowed, he instead chose Erik Clemmons.

And so as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

PSAT score delay spells more bad news for Connecticut SAT mandate

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Connecticut high school juniors and their parents – LOOK OUT!

The new Connecticut state mandate that all 11th graders take the new SAT this coming March is getting more absurd by the day.

Last spring, in the face of mounting opposition to the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly made decision to drop the Common Core SBAC test mandate for high school juniors (while keeping it in place for grades 3-8), and mandating, instead, that all 11th graders take the new Common Core SAT as part of their junior year requirements.

The decision to use the NEW Common Core SAT was extremely ill-conceived.

The Malloy administration then quickly signed a multi-million deal with the College Board to provide the new Common Core SAT to all high school juniors, promising that this requirement would open the doors for more students to go to college.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

The scam was a farce from the beginning.

The truth is that the NEW SAT is being rolled out for the first time this March.  No student, teacher or school administrator has ever seen the new version of the test and it certainly isn’t aligned to Connecticut’s 11th grade curriculum.

What little is known about the NEW SAT is that it will test and judge students on content that most of them have not had an opportunity to learn.  Furthermore, like the Common Core SBAC test, the NEW SAT test is designed to fail the majority of students.

In addition, while many universities and colleges are dropping the requirement that students take the SAT as part of their college application process, the actual version of the NEW SAT that the state of Connecticut has paid for and will give to 11th graders in less than 80 days DOES NOT include the “optional” essay section of the SAT … this despite the fact that many of the universities and colleges that still require students to submit an SAT score also require that those students take and submit a score for the essay section of that test.

For many Connecticut high school students, taking the NEW SAT is a complete waste of time and for a significant number of students who do want a valid SAT score, the CT State mandated version won’t suffice and they will need to take it again, at their own expense.

But wait, the situation just got worse.

In preparation for the NEW SAT, most Connecticut high school juniors took the new PSAT earlier this fall.

Some students took it so that they could apply early to their college of choice.

Most students were told to take it so that they could get a sense of what the NEW SAT would be like and, based on their results, they could focus their attention on improving in areas in which they scored poorly.

But it turns out the PSAT scores won’t even be provided to students, parents and schools as promised by the College Board.

As the Examiner newspaper wrote this week, PSAT scores delayed as College Board drops the ball—again

Fellow education advocate and blogger Mercedes Schneider highlighted the growing disaster with the PSAT and SAT testing scheme on her blog yesterday writing,

“Students who took the October 14, 2015, NEW PSAT and counted upon the College Board to deliver timely scores for early admissions. Their scores–which were supposed to be delivered using the College Board’s new score reporting system–were delayed for more than three weeks beyond the common November 1st deadline.”

Now, students who took the mid-October NEW PSAT – which includes most high school juniors in Connecticut – will NOT be getting their scores in a timely manner either.

The PSAT scores for students taking the “NEW PSAT” were due by December, but as Schneider explains;

“The College Board initially stated that scores from the mid-October 2015 PSAT would be available in December 2015. However, according to the College Board’s “updated score delivery schedule,” the College Board changed its story, without explanation. Now the scores are supposed to be available in January 2016.”

The Corporate Education Reform Industry is collecting massive amounts of public money by turning public schools into little more than testing factories.

Thanks to politicians like Governor Dannel Malloy, states are even mandating that scarce public funds be spent on standardized testing instead of other educational activities and that student time be spent on test prep and testing rather than instruction.

The debacle with the new mandate that Connecticut’s high school students must take the new SAT is a case study in what is wrong with public education in Connecticut and around the country.

Students, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers need to tell elected officials that enough is enough.

The Connecticut mandate that students take the SAT should be immediately repealed and a moratorium on the inappropriate, unfair and discriminatory Common Core testing should be adopted.

While Team Malloy says full steam ahead on the Common Core and Common Core Testing Mania…

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Veteran Connecticut educator Ann P. Cronin says that in this new post No Child Behind Act  (NCLB)Environment, “CT Must Reject The Common Core.”

Educator, public education advocate and education blogger Ann P. Cronin posts her writing on her blog, Real Learning CT

Her latest piece entitled, Post NCLB: CT Must Reject The Common Core, cuts through all the “education reform” rhetoric and lays out the harsh truth.  The Common Core and Common Cores testing frenzy is undermining public education in Connecticut and across the country.

The time has come to dump and replace it with a system of standards designed to provide ALL students with the knowledge and skills they need to live fulfilling lives.  Such a set of standards must be developed by educators and those who understand childhood development, not by those who seek to profit off of our children and the resources we taxpayers devote to public education.

Ann P. Cronin writes;

With the end of No Child Left Behind, states will have the flexibility to continue with the controversial Common Core State Standards or not. This is Connecticut’s opportunity to put a good education in place for our students by rejecting the Common Core. However, Alan Taylor, the Chair of the Connecticut State Board of Education, recently said, “I don’t foresee that happening. I happen to think that the Common Core is far better than anything we had done before.” 

The Common Core Standards “far better than anything we had done before”? Hardly.

In fact, the claim has been the opposite. When the Common Core was adopted by Connecticut in 2010, the Connecticut State Department of Education claimed that the existing Connecticut State Standards were 80% the same as the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and 92% the same in Mathematics.

Connecticut students have done really well in the years when their education was based on our Connecticut State Standards rather than on the Common Core. On the international PISA test, Connecticut’s 15 year olds scored higher in reading than students in 63 nations. Also, from 1992 until 2014, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores in the country. Somebodies had been doing something right under our own Connecticut State Standards.

It’s time to build on that “something right” and rid ourselves of the Common Core. The figure of a 20% percent difference between the Connecticut State Standards in English Language Arts and the Common Core English Language Arts doesn’t tell the whole story. There is the 20% difference in topics covered, but, even more importantly, the whole approach of the Common Core contradicts the philosophically and academically-sound Connecticut State Standards approach and dictates outdated pedagogy for teachers and poor learning experiences for students. It is time to get rid of the Common Core and return to what we already had in Connecticut.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core early childhood approach to learning that 500 of the country’s most prominent early childhood professionals say harms young children due to the Common Core emphasis on didactic instruction and reduction in active learning through play and inquiry. Those experts say that we must return to developmentally appropriate active learning, which encourages the initiative, curiosity, and imagination of our youngest students and helps them to be successful learners.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the limitations that the Common Core puts on the amount of literature that students read. We must return to students reading full books in place of the Common Core recommended practice of reading selected chapters of books. We must once again give students opportunities to fall in love with reading.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core practice of treating literary texts as informational texts in which the reader’s task is to figure out what the author intended to say, based on word choice and sentence structure, rather than to explore a range of interpretive possibilities. We must return to the Connecticut State Standards, which divided texts into informational texts and literary texts and taught students how to read and respond to each kind of text and to think in the markedly different ways that reading each kind of text offers.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core approach to the teaching of writing, which was best summed up in the words of the “architect of the Common Core”, David Coleman, when he said that with the Common Core, writing is taught so that “students know that no one gives a **** what they think and feel.” We must return to the approach of teaching writing in which students are taught to write by gaining ownership of their ideas and their expression of those ideas.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core’s prohibition of students using the personal voice when arguing a position in essays. We must return to the classroom practice of students exploring a wide range of ideas and questions in class so that each student forms his or her individual thinking and then teach students to  express that thinking in both personal and impersonal voices.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core way of teaching writing in which students revise their writing only “as needed”. We must return to teaching students the process of writing in which revision is always assigned because it is through revising their writing that students develop the quality of their thinking and learn the art and craft of written expression.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of teaching students the answers for the standardized tests aligned with the Common Core and, instead, teach students to form their own questions and explore those questions wherever those explorations take them because questioning is the essential skill for the information-laden 21st century.

Connecticut is in great shape to begin the Post No Child Left Behind Era. Many other states have the choice of staying with the inadequate Common Core Standards or spending large sums of money to create their own standards because the standards they had prior to Common Core were inferior. Not so in Connecticut.

We are ready to go.

Post NCLB: Here we come.

The steps to beginning the Post NCLB Era in Connecticut are:

  1. Form a committee of educators to review the Connecticut State Standards, revising and adding on if necessary, and republish the Connecticut State Standards.
  2. Form a committee of educators to make the decisions about the forms of yearly assessments required by the federal government, reviewing Connecticut standardized test formats, the CMT and CAPT, and designing of new performance assessments.

Onward, Connecticut!

You can read and comment on this important article at; http://reallearningct.com/2015/12/07/post-nclb-ct-must-reject-the-common-core/

What is the story with the disastrous Foundations of Reading Survey

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If you are a K-3 teacher who has taken Connecticut’s new Foundations of Reading test you know something has gone very wrong.

The new Foundations of Reading test is made up of 85 multiple choice questions addressing “3 subareas and 9 objectives.”  The Connecticut State Department of Education writes that the goal of the test is to measure where K-3 teachers are properly prepared in “(I) Foundations of Reading Development, (2) Development of Reading Comprehension and (3) Reading Assessment and Instruction.

The monstrous Pearson Education Inc. was hired by Governor Malloy’s State Department of Education to design a Connecticut specific test so that the state could measure and determine the capabilities of all Kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers.

However, according to a significant number of people who have taken or seen Pearson’s Connecticut “Foundations of Reading” test many of the questions relate to teaching children older than third grade or children who require English Language assistance.  If true, this is a perplexing and jarring development considering the state law was only intended to measure the practices directly related to teaching reaching in K-3.

In addition, many of those taking the new K-3 reading test report that the actual “ready survey” is completely different than the practice tests that the State Department of Education had been urging teachers to take in preparation for taking the new exam.

As more and more reports come from teachers who have actually taken the test, the question now arises as to whether the state paid the Pearson Company for a Connecticut specific test, but has been given something completely different.

Since corporate education reform industry groupie Dannel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut, Pearson Inc. has collected just over $3 million and counting from the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut.

Some of those funds were specifically used to develop and administer Malloy’s new reading exam.

The mandate requiring that teachers take the new exam was part of Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-public school education reform initiative of 2012.

The law states that teachers in Kindergarten through 3rd grade must “take a survey on reading instruction, developed by the Department of Education.”

Pearson Inc. and its affiliate, the Evaluation Systems Group, was apparently hired by the State Department of Education to modify their Foundations of Reading test to be used in Connecticut.

According to the company, the Foundations of Reading test “assesses proficiency in and depth of understanding of the subject of reading and writing development. The test reflects scientifically based reading research and is aligned with the Common Core State Standards.”

Pearson, of course, is the “global leader in educational publishing, assessment, information, and services and Pearson is committed to innovative print and digital educational materials for pre-kindergarten through professional learning. The resources of Pearson span the breadth and depth of its internationally successful brands, including Addison Wesley, Allyn & Bacon/Merrill, Benjamin Cummings, the Stanford Achievement Test Series, the Wechsler family of assessments, SuccessNet, MyLabs, Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall, AGS, PowerSchool, SuccessMaker, TeacherVision, and many others.”

Pearson goes on to brag that it is, “renowned for its student information systems and learning management systems, teacher development programs, and testing and assessment products that set the standard for the industry through a combination of research, technology, and expertise.”

For state governments, Pearson advertises, ““Our custom evaluation services represent a full range of services for creating and administering teacher certification tests that align 100 percent with the teacher certification requirements and student academic standards of an individual state. Our programs span the country and include such states as Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. We have the people, experience, and technology to tailor our services to a state’s most exacting needs.”

So now the question is —- what exactly did the state of Connecticut get for its money and what are Connecticut K-3 teachers being tested on.

According to the law, the “survey” must “identify strengths and weaknesses of the teachers’ reading instruction, practice and knowledge on an individual, school, and district level.”

While the law states that the “survey” results will not be used as part of a teacher’s “summative performance evaluation rating under the new teacher evaluation program,” the results will be used, “in developing the professional development plans for the individual teacher.”

But if it is true that many of the questions included in the survey don’t actually relate to the work these teachers are doing or aren’t even appropriate for the age group these teachers are educating, then how are local districts supposed to interpret and use the results?

Anyone with information about the test is welcome to post their comments here or send them along to [email protected] where they will be collected, synthesized and posted in a future article.

ALERT – State Board of Education Fails to stand up for parents and students

Comments Off on ALERT – State Board of Education Fails to stand up for parents and students

ALSO:  Add New Fairfield to school districts engaging in the inappropriate and abusive “Sit and Stay” bullying policies, but West Haven comes off the list after deciding to do the right thing and move students who have been opted out of the Common Core SBAC testing program out of the testing rooms

But in a sadly predictable move, Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education continued their incredible record of failure by refusing to step at today’s State Board of Education meeting to protect Connecticut’s public school parents and children.

Despite repeated requests that they use today’s State Board of Education meeting to instruct Interim Commissioner of Education Wentzell and her senior staff to stop misleading parents about their fundamental right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC Test, the state board failed to address the issue in any way what-so-ever.

In addition, the State Board failed to use their meeting as a venue to instruct a group of local school superintendents to stop forcing children who have been opted out of the test from being required to stay in the SBAC testing rooms during the testing periods.

As has been reported here at Wait, What? over the past few weeks, a handful of superintendents continue to bully and punish children and violate the SBAC testing protocol by failing to move children who have been opted out of the SBAC test to an alternative location where they can read or do homework.

According to information provided by parents, New Fairfield has now joined the list of towns engaging in bullying and violating the SBAC testing protocol, although parents also report that West Haven has decided to back-off of their indefensible position and are now moving opted out children to an alternative location.

As explained in the following Wait, What? post, the request for action by the State Board was simple and straight forward.  See: – Hey – State Board of Education – Tell them to treat parents and students with respect.

The Connecticut State Board of Education, as the state’s primary education policy entity, has the responsibility to ensure that children and parents are treated with the respect and dignity that deserve.

But instead of fulfilling that responsibility, the State Board ducked the issue and turned their backs – again – on Connecticut’s parents and students.

It has become increasingly clear that the members of the State Board of Education lack the commitment and honor necessary to perform their jobs and should be removed and replaced with Connecticut citizens who are actually dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing Connecticut public schools.

Hey – State Board of Education – Tell them to treat parents and students with respect

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The Connecticut State Board of Education is meeting Monday, April 6, 2015.

In recent years Governor Dannel Malloy’s appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education have been among the most forceful proponents of the Common Core and the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing program.

Despite their support for the massive changes that are enveloping our public schools, as the primary policy setting body for Connecticut’s public schools, State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor and the other members of the State Board have an obligation to ensure that parents, students, teachers and everyone associated with Connecticut’s public education system is treated with respect and dignity.

But when it comes to the issue of opting out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing, it has become increasingly clear that Malloy’s Department of Education leadership, along with a handful of local school superintendents and other school officials, are unwilling or incapable of dealing with parents and students in a respectful and honorable way.

By failing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the State Department of Education has become a co-conspirator, with a group of local school officials, in misleading and harassing parents who are seeking to opt their children out of the SBAC testing.

And as we know, some of these local officials have gone so far as to bully and punish children who have been opted out of the SBAC testing by forcing those children to stay in the Common Coe SBAC testing rooms, an action that is not only immoral and unethical but that violates the SBAC Testing Protocol.

Last week the following letter was sent to State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor and the other members of the State Board of Education asking that the Board use its meeting to clarify that parents have a right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing and that local school officials MAY NOT force children who have been opted out of the SBAC testing to remain in the testing rooms during the testing periods.

Sadly – but not surprisingly –  there was no response to the letter by Chairman Taylor or any other member of the State Board of Education.

However their unresponsiveness does not absolve them of their obligation to ensure that parents and students are treated with the respect that they deserve.

Here is the letter that was sent to the Board of April 2, 2015… 

And here is the hope that someone on the State Board of Education will finally step up at their meeting and put an end to the inappropriate actions that are being taken by some school officials.

 

You can read the State Board of Education with an email to:  [email protected] 

Allan B. Taylor, Chairman, State Board of Education

Connecticut State Department of Education

165 Capitol Avenue – Room 301, Hartford, CT 06106

Chairman Taylor and members of the State Board of Education,

On behalf of parents of public school students across Connecticut, I am writing to request that you add an agenda item to the April 6, 2015 State Board of Education Committee meeting to review and address the actions taken by your Interim Commissioner of Education and other State Department of Education staff as they relate to the issue of a parent’s fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing program and how local school districts should deal with children whose parents have opted them out of the SBAC testing.

In particular I ask that the Board of Education clarify that while Section 10-14n of the Connecticut State Statutes states that, “each student enrolled in grades three to eight, inclusive, and grade ten or eleven in any public school shall, annually, take a mastery examination in reading, writing and mathematics,” there is no federal or state law, regulation or policy that allows the state or school districts to punish a child (or parents) who opts out (refuses) to participate in the testing program.

While it is perfectly reasonable that the State Board of Education has a policy in place that seeks to ensure that all children enrolled in public schools take the Mastery Test, the Board and the agency it manages has an even greater obligation to provide parents, students, teachers and the public with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

However, in written communications, press statements and conversations the Commissioner and her staff have had they have failed to be completely honest and that failure has helped create an environment in which some superintendents and local school officials have been misleading and lying to parents about their opt out rights and harassing those parents who have decided to opt their children out of the testing.

Many local superintendents and their representatives have used the “There is not opt out provision” directive from the State Department of Education to mislead and harass parents into thinking they do not have the right to opt their children out of the SBAC tests.

Equally troubling are school officials who have threatened children (and parents) with dire consequences if they do opt out of the SBAC tests.

In two central Connecticut communities, juniors were told at Common Core SBAC pep-rallies that they would not graduate if they didn’t take the test.

And in Farmington, the Superintendent of Schools told the local school board that juniors that were opted out would be put at the back of the line for choosing courses next year, even if it meant those students were not going to get the AP or honors classes they needed to complete their high school work and enhance their college applications.

Yet, as members of the State Board of Education are aware, the “state mandate” on testing has been on the books for decades, yet thousands of children failed to take the CMT/CAPT tests each year and none of those children or their parents were punished for not taking those tests – because there is no provision in any law, regulation or policy that allows students to be punished for failing to participate in the State’s Master Testing system.

Finally, along with clarifying that although the State Board of Education is committed to full participation in the state’s Mastery Testing program it recognizes the individual rights of parents to opt their children out of the SBAC testing, I am requesting that the State Board of Education take immediate steps to instruct school superintendents that children who have been opted out of the SBAC testing may not be left in the testing rooms during the SBAC testing periods and that these children should be moved to a safe, secure location where they can read, do homework or engage in some other educational activity.

Leaving children in the testing room is an inappropriate form of punishment and bullying.  The practice leads to unnecessary anxiety for the child and creates an environment of resentment for those students who are taking the test.

Forcing children to stay in the testing room also violates that SBAC testing protocol as outlined in the SBAC Test Administration Manual (TAM) and the SBAC Test Coordinator Manual (TCM).

Despite the specific wording om the SBAC protocol, a group of local school administrators are forcing children who have been opted out of the test to remain in the testing rooms and these school officials are defending their action by claiming that specific staff at the Department of Education told them that the SBAC requirement that only children participating in the test may remain in the testing rooms was discretionary.

There is nothing discretionary about the language.  Please see:  Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC Test Administration Manual, in section 3.0 ENSURING TEST SECURITY (Test Administration Manual Page 10) and section 3.1 SECURITY OF THE TEST ENVIRONMENT (Test Administration Manual Page 11)

“Students who are not being tested or unauthorized staff or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.”

The requirement is re-stated in the Test Coordinator Manual, which sates,

“This manual provides Test Coordinators with information needed to complete specific tasks before, during, and after the administration of the Smarter Balanced assessments…”

And then on Page 25 repeats the requirement,

“Students who are not being tested or unauthorized staff or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.”

However despite the clear wording of the SBAC protocol, a handful of superintendents continue to punish students by forcing them to remain in the classroom during the testing periods.

Fairfield’s Superintendent David Title’s letter to parents reads,

“Students who chose not to participate will be marked present and will be required to remain with their class in the test room. There will be no alternate instructional activity provided for students assigned to the test session who refuse to participate”

As a result of Superintendent Title’s directive, a number of elementary students were forced to “sit and stay” in the SBAC testing rooms during the first two weeks of testing in Fairfield.

According to parents, other school superintendents allegedly refusing to move students to an alternative location include;

Coventry Superintendent David Petrone 860-742-7317

Enfield Superintendent Jeffrey Schumann 860-253-6500

West Haven Superintendent Neil C. Cavallaro 203-937-4300

Hamden Superintendent Jody Ian Goeler 203-407-2090

Portland Superintendent Phillip O’Reilly 860-342-6790

Shelton Superintendent Freeman Burr 203-924-1023

Wethersfield Superintendent Michael Emmett 860-571-8110

Woodstock Superintendent Francis A. Baran 860-928-7453

Parents of Connecticut’s public school students understand and appreciate the role the State Board of Education has in setting policies and goals, but it is also vitally important that the State Board of Education recognize that those goals must include treating parents, students and all members of the education community with dignity and respect.

When it comes to the Common Core SBAC testing, action is needed by the State Board of Education to ensure that all parents and students are actually treated fairly.

Please use your April 6, 2015 meeting to make that happen.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Pelto

Education Advocate

Bridgeport public schools losing big money to charters by Maria Pereira

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Maria Pereira is a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, a leading advocate for Bridgeport Public Schools and served as one of the key plaintiffs in the successful lawsuit in which the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Governor Malloy’s takeover of the Bridgeport School System was illegal.

A year ago, almost to the day, a group of Bridgeport citizens, including Maria Pereira, attended the State Board of Education meeting to request Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees REJECT applications by two more charter school companies to open privately run, but publicly funded facilities in Bridgeport.  The Bridgeport Board of Education was so opposed to the charter school plans that it voted against the proposals and the Bridgeport Board of Education’s chairwoman was among those speaking against state approve for the charter school companies.  Among the issues discussed was the state law aimed at prohibiting the saturation of charter schools in a particular community.

But in another assault on the role of local control and historic value of local communities running their own school system, Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education approved both applications, including the controversial plan put forward by Steve Perry.

One year later, this commentary piece examines that charter school issues in more detail.  It first appeared in the CT Mirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/03/30/bridgeport-public-schools-losing-big-money-to-charters/

Bridgeport public schools losing big money to charters by Maria Pereira

As  a graduate of the Bridgeport Public Schools, a parent of a recent graduate of the school system, a former Bridgeport Board of Education member, and an active unpaid advocate for the public schools in my hometown, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the recent editorial “CEA rhetoric not helping kids, public schools are” by Jeremiah Grace.

He is the Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network which was co-founded by the disgraced Michael Sharpe from the now-defunct Family for Urban Schools of Excellence.

Full disclosure: I have never been a member of any union; and, I have never been compensated for my advocacy work on behalf of true public education.

Mr. Grace’s claim that the CEA’s “rhetoric” is “false, dishonest and insulting to parents” would be funny if it weren’t so incorrect. After all, isn’t it these millionaire-, billionaire-, Wall Street-backed charter school organizations that run ads depicting Connecticut school students as “trapped in failing schools” and advertise that “40,000 children are falling through the cracks?” [One of these ads appears at the bottom of this commentary — Ed.]

I think most of us would not only describe that as “rhetoric,” but also as deliberate “propaganda.”

Mr. Grace tries to discredit a recent CEA statewide poll because 78 percent of the participants were white; therefore, according to him, the poll was “marginalizing” the opinions of minorities.  The latest available U.S. census on Connecticut classifies 81.6 percent of our state population as “white alone.”

I would like Mr. Grace to share with us how many of the millionaires and billionaires that invest and/or founded the 22 Connecticut charter schools are “minorities?” One must ask who is really treating minorities like “puppets,” as Grace characterizes it.

I attended and provided testimony at the March 19 Education Committee hearing in Hartford. At 11:00 p.m., with testimony continuing late into the night, I took a moment to count how many charter school lobbyists, paid staff and charter school-compensated advocates were still in the room. Of the 27 I counted, I noted that just 4, or 15 percent, were minorities. Therefore 85 percent of those present were white.

In his willful distortion of the facts, Mr. Grace states that when a child leaves the public schools to enroll in a charter school, the district gets to keep that child’s state Education Cost Sharing allocation and “distribute most of that surplus among their other schools.”

A close examination of the findings of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Taskforce indicates that the Bridgeport Public Schools is the most underfunded district in Connecticut — to the tune of approximately $43 million each year. Even worse, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding has found that the state underfunds the Bridgeport Public Schools by $5,446 per student or approximately $119 million each year.

Meanwhile, each year our state spends $11,000 per charter-school student and $8,600 per Bridgeport Public School student. What “surplus” is Mr. Grace possibly referring to? What credibility does he hope to establish with the people of Bridgeport and of our state? How uneducated does he think we are?

The chief financial officer for the Bridgeport Public Schools, a highly experienced and educated Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard in mathematics and education, conducted an in-depth analysis of how much real money the charter schools in Bridgeport will siphon away from the Bridgeport Public Schools budget. In addition, she provided an in-depth analysis of the loss of federal Title I funding that follows children who enroll in a charter school located in Bridgeport.

In total, the CFO forecast that the charter schools operating in our city, including the sixth charter school planned to open this fall, all told will siphon away over $26 million dollars from our school system over the next five years —already the most underfunded school district in Connecticut.

Although Bridgeport is allowed to seek state reimbursement for all transportation costs associated with the charter schools in the city, in all the years it has applied for such, in fact, the Bridgeport Public Schools has never received a single dollar of reimbursement for this. Although $20 million dollars of this money will be counted in the Bridgeport Public School’s state Education Cost Sharing grant, not a dime will go to the academic or socio-emotional needs of a single Bridgeport Public Schools student.

Highly compensated charter school advocates such as Mr. Grace consistently perpetuate the “waiting list” myth. Last year 6,000 children applied to gain entry to our Bridgeport magnet schools. Only 1,200 gained admission through a blind, randomized lottery; 4,800 students were placed on a “waiting list.

In this accounting, each student is counted only once. In contrast, charter school proponents often double or triple count, claiming that there are 3,600 students on waiting lists in Connecticut. If a child applies to three different charter schools, the charter school lobbyists count one student three times for their waiting-list story. That leaves us with an important question for our legislators: If there are 3,600 or perhaps more likely 1,200 students in the entire state waiting to enter a charter school, why should that be more important than the fact that there are truly 4,800 individual students on one waiting list for a magnet school in Bridgeport? Shouldn’t the state focus its limited resources on magnet school options? After all, in Bridgeport, every single magnet school outperforms every charter school.

In closing, Mr. Grace claims that the CEA’s statements were “patently false” and that they were choosing to “ignore the facts.” In fact, as it pertains to Bridgeport and its public schools, the “patently false” statements were made entirely by Mr. Grace, not the CEA.

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