Vallas, Adamowski et. al. – Undermining Connecticut’s Economy…One job, One Family at a Time

Just a few weeks ago, Bridgeport, Windham and other school districts cheered when the Legislature approved and Governor Malloy signed legislation that allocates an additional $98 million as part of the new “education reform” act.

Of that, Bridgeport will be receiving at least $4 million more in state funds while Windham will collect at least $800,000.  Depending on how the Malloy Administration approaches the creation of the new “Commissioner’s Network” system, the towns may receive significantly more.

So what is the first thing that Paul Vallas (Bridgeport’s $229,000 part-time interim superintendent) and Steve Adamowski (Windham’s $225,000 “Special Master”) do?

They dump Connecticut teachers and school personnel, while hiring more and more out-of-state consultants and directing contracts to out-of- state businesses.

The numbers are hard to track but between the two towns alone, we’re talking about more than 50 Connecticut residents, people who, for the most part went to Connecticut’s colleges and universities, and then stayed here in Connecticut to help strengthen Connecticut’s schools.

This has nothing to do with getting rid of the ineffective teachers.

This is about out-of- touch administrators who are pocketing a quarter of a million dollars each, and then using the additional taxpayer funds in such a way as to take care of friends and colleagues at the expense of Connecticut’s economy, Connecticut residents, and in this case, the quality of services provided to Connecticut’s students.

And let’s understand the context.

Connecticut’s latest “jobs numbers” will be out soon.  Last month, the Malloy Administration focused on the positive news that unemployment remained at 7.7 percent, down 1.3 percent over the past year.

Using that strange, virtually nonsensical, “government financial speak,” the Connecticut Department of Labor reported that, “employment estimates show Connecticut continues to experience reversal from strong winter job growth in April by a decline of 4,100 total nonfarm jobs even while the unemployment rate held steady at 7.7%…. Despite variability in growth from month to month we still appear to be on a path of positive, albeit modest job growth.”

In the fine print came the news that Connecticut’s local governments dropped an additional 1,300 jobs last month.  In fact, 8,000 jobs have been cut at the state and local government level over the past year.

While the United States is up over 2,000,000 jobs since May 2011, Connecticut’s “aggressive job growth” policy has translated into a new loss of 2,300 jobs over the past 12 months.

If budget cuts and stupidity hadn’t eliminated those 8,000 state and local public sector jobs, the employment situation in Connecticut would be in the positive as opposed to being in the negative.

The actions being taken by Bridgeport and Windham’s high priced administrators is not unique but is particularly insulting considering the state picks up 81 percent of the cost of Bridgeport’s schools and more than three-quarters of the cost in Windham.

Squandering public resources is never appropriate.

Sadly though, I suppose their best excuse is that everyone else, including state government, is busy undermining Connecticut’s economy.

At the same time Connecticut and its cities and towns have laid off 8,000 people, Governor Malloy and the state of Connecticut shifted up to $71 million dollars to CIGNA, $17.5 million to ESPN, $20 million to UBS, $291 million to Jackson Laboratories and, of course, let’s not forget the $4 million to TicketNetwork, before their CEO became too much of a liability and they had to pull out of the program.

In all of these cases, these companies promised to create at least 250 jobs each – OVER THE NEXT TEN YEARS.  Well, UBS had to promise to lay-off no more than 1,500 existing workers to get their money and CIGNA took the money and then outsourced their accounting office to India.

And that doesn’t even count the $626 million in public funds allocated to the “jobs package” that Governor Malloy signed into law last October.

One recent study showed that, to date, only 39 of the 70 companies that the state’s economic development program funded provided the jobs they had promised and the average cost per private sector job was in the area of $99,000 for the ten most expensive “deals.”

That said, a small restaurant that’s moving into my town is getting $100,000 from Malloy’s new fund, so I don’t want to sound ungrateful.

What is annoying, to say the least, is that despite these difficult economic times, and while we’re making a special effort to invest in our poorest, most challenged urban school districts, we’ve got school administrators like Paul Vallas and Steven Adamowski who begin by hiring consultants and laying off the very Connecticut residents who have been working so hard to make a difference.

I’m sorry; did you say the Milner School in Hartford? …

According to the most recent Connecticut mastery tests, “only 13.3 percent of Milner fifth-graders tested proficient in reading, compared to the 75 percent state average.”

People call that a failing school.

In fact, consider Hartford’s Milner School a poster child.  Failing to act is what the “Corporate Education Reformers” call defending the status quo. However, instituting landmark “education reforms” lead to real change.

As Hartford Courant story made the whole issue clear.  As the reporter noted;

“After years of baloney from education reformers in Hartford, something simple and revolutionary is unfolding.   Administrators are closing schools that fail…”

The article went on to report that the superintendent of schools has made it clear that “schools that don’t cut it, that haven’t cut it for years” will close.

The superintendent, as the reporter noted, held up the Milner School as a prime example of the change that had arrived.  Close Milner and reopen it with new teachers and new administrators.

Quoting Christina Kishimoto, the reporter drove the key point home;

“Our first and foremost goal is to get a significant increase in student achievement…”these schools have to be successful in year one so we can start building community trust. We are going to focus on assuring families that we will have their kids reading on grade level.”

Real “Education Reform” had finally arrived and the Courant reporter ended his article with a simple, but profound observation.  He wrote “Imagine that. Schools that must teach children to read — or else.”

The reporter who wrote the story was Rick Green and the story ran 1,380 days ago on August 15, 2008

At the time, Steven Adamowski was the Superintendent of Schools and Christina’s Kishimoto, Adamowski’s protégée and future successor, was the Assistant Superintendent of Schools.

Now here we are; four years have come and gone since the profound “educational reforms” that transformed the Milner School and that 13.3 percent statistic about Milner’s fifth-graders and their ability to score at a proficient level in reading comes from the 2011 Connecticut Mastery Test.

Four years later and what do we have.

Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools, Christina Kishimoto, proposing that the Hartford close the Milner Core Knowledge Academy because, as she put it, Milner is a “failing school.”

A month ago, Kishimoto’s plan was to close Milner and then reopen it “as a school affiliated with the high-achieving Jumoke Academy”.

Close the school; dump the administrators, get rid of the teachers and give the building to a charter school company so that it can open up a new school for the city’s children.

Before Paul Vallas arrived in Bridgeport, he used that technique in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans (school systems that were decimated by Vallas’ approach).  Steven Adamowski played the same game in Hartford before moving on to become the “Special Master” in Windham.

And after “reforming” Milner once, Hartford’s superintendent was digging out the game plan again.

Of course, we now know that since Kishimoto first announced her plan, Connecticut passed an “Education Reform” bill and the Milner/Jumoke maneuver has suddenly became the shining example of how Malloy’s “Commissioner’s Network” can transfer Connecticut’s education system and solve the state’s achievement gap.

While the Department of Education played a little game of duck and weave over the past couple of weeks, Kishimoto announced that the Milner School will definitely be one of the state’s first targets and revealed that she and the CEO of the Jumoke Academy had already been summoned to Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s office, where they were told that the Malloy Administration was going to use the Milner/Jumoke switch as part of their new “turnaround program.”

Backed by the knowledge that the Milner Core Knowledge Academy will, in fact, be part of the Commissioner’s Network, the Hartford Board of Education has even created a committee to work with the state on implementing the school’s upcoming transition to, what the CEO of the Jumoke Academy has called  “The Jumoke Academy at Milner.”

The Milner School, where more than 40 percent of its students go home to households that don’t use English as their primary language, will be turned over to a charter school company that has no non-English speaking students and absolutely no history, what so ever, in running English as a Second Language or English Language Learner programs.

Now that is what you call “corporate education reform.”

Oh and the Hartford Courant?  They did mention Milner’s earlier history.  Their article the day before yesterday included the line, “Milner underwent a redesign in 2008 but has yet to achieve notable gains on the Connecticut Mastery Test.”

While poverty and language barriers continue to be the greatest factors influencing educational outcomes, the education reformers from the Governor’s Office and the Commissioner’s Office, on down, continue to tell us that if we just close schools, dump the administrators and teachers and open them back up under new names and new management, all will be well.

For earlier stories take a look at Hartford Courant’s http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-school-board-0516-20120515,0,1092099.story,  http://articles.courant.com/2012-05-30/community/hc-hartford-milner-jumoke-0531-20120530_1_low-performing-schools-school-board-superintendent-christina-kishimoto and the 2008 article at http://www.hartfordinfo.org/issues/documents/education/htfd_courant_081508.asp

“Tutoring Doesn’t Work” (According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan)

No really, that’s what Secretary of Education said and while he doesn’t have any real education or teaching experience, he did go to Harvard (for sociology) so he must know these things.

As a result of this news, I spent Sunday afternoon writing a letter of concern to the Mansfield Board of Education.  You see, the Mansfield Middle School Parent’s Association Newsletter just arrived.  It leads with a picture and article bragging “These are some of the 80 UConn undergraduates who volunteered during the spring semester to work 1:1 with MMS students during X-Block…”  It says that UConn Students helped Middle school students “work on homework completion, organization, and study skills each week.”  Mrs. Dickinson, an award winning science teacher even took time out to make a cake for the UConn tutors as a way to say thank you.

Now I don’t want to be the village antagonist, but quite frankly, if tutoring is a waste, as Secretary Duncan has told us, then our schools shouldn’t be doing it.

The troubling news about the ineffectiveness of tutoring arrived via an Associated Press story that ran in the Washington Post and other newspapers around the nation.  The story covered a recent speech by Secretary Duncan in which he criticized the Florida Legislature for passing a new law requiring that Florida school districts continue their tutoring services despite the fact that Florida was one of states that received a No Child Left Behind waiver this year.

Secretary Duncan informed that audience that tutoring has been proven ineffective, pointing to a new U.S. Department of Education study that examined the results of the No Child Left Behind tutoring programs in six states, including Connecticut.

The study found that tutoring leads to “no statistically significant impact” on performance in reading or math. (Although to be fair to tutors, Duncan didn’t say whether the tutoring in question was actually related to reading and math.)

It turns out that despite the Department of Education report, Florida had decided to continue to require tutoring for low-income students.  Duncan’s response was “I find it ironic that Washington is offering flexibility but Tallahassee is taking it away.”

Maybe a course about federalism was not required in Harvard’s sociology department.

Apparently Florida’s Education Commissioner was a bit miffed by Duncan’s remarks and responded with “suggesting that our state and our legislators were not acting in the best interest of Florida’s children reinforces how important it is that our state be allowed to chart a course that is right for Florida.”  (I wonder what all the Republican Congressman from Florida who voted for No Child Left Behind thought of that shot).

Anyway, after a bit more digging, it turns out Duncan’s comments were actually reflective of a slightly different issue.  The U.S. Department of Education has become increasingly concerned that that the private companies being hired by school districts to provide “tutoring services” aren’t actually delivering on what they are being contracted for.

Apparently Duncan may not have been referring to all tutoring, just the tutoring provided by the private companies, which would certainly be a bit of an embarrassment for the “education reformers” who claim privatizing educational services is the key to successfully reforming America’s education system.

It is pretty ironic that Arne Duncan, the protégée of our own Paul Vallas, (Bridgeport’s $229,000 part-time “reform” superintendent), is now charging that the private companies that are being hired by school districts are not being effective nor are they being held accountable for the failure of their programing.

Sadly, the reporter didn’t know to call Paul Vallas in Bridgeport or Steve Adamowski in Windham, both of whom have been hiring more private education consultants and firms, with our public dollars, in order to do work the work that is supposed to be done by the public sector.

In fact, faced with limited resources in Bridgeport and Windham, both of these “education reformers” have laid off Connecticut public employees to make room for the out-of-state consultants and companies.

Apparently education reformers are exempt from the Governor’s initiative to retain and create Connecticut jobs for Connecticut residents.

And meanwhile, instead of tutoring middle school students, hopefully UConn and Mansfield can find something more productive to do with the college students who volunteer to tutor next year.

You can find the AP story here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/arne-duncan-questions-why-fla-legislature-passed-law-requiring-ineffective-tutoring-services/2012/05/17/gIQAuCuPWU_story.html