Drive up education degree is an insult to every student, parent, teacher and taxpayer

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In her latest commentary piece, Connecticut education advocate Wendy Lecker explains that latest fade from the corporate education reform industry.  In, A blind acceptance of the robot teacher, Lecker takes on the charter school industry advocates who claim that teachers don’t need all those education and child development courses.  All they need, they say, is a quick, fly-by-night crash course on how to make children sit and succeed at taking standardized tests scores.

Wendy Lecker writes;

Connecticut seems to accept a constricted vision of education for its neediest children that is never imposed on more affluent districts. The most recent example of this disparity is the recent partnership between the New Haven Public Schools and an outfit called Relay Graduate School of Education, to provide alternative certification for would-be teachers.

Relay was founded by representatives of three charter school chains, Achievement First, KIPP and Uncommon Schools — chains with a troubling record of suspensions, harsh discipline and attrition. It was founded to train charter school teachers. Relay employs not one professor of education.

The Relay vision of teaching is narrow. Its primary goal is to train teachers to raise test scores. Consequently, Relay focuses on giving its trainees a prepackaged set of “skills” that focus mainly on classroom management and getting students to do what teachers want. The contrast between Relay’s methods and goals and those of existing Connecticut schools of education is stark.

For example, UConn’s teacher education program strives to “establish a safe and positive learning environment” and “promote democratic participation and community. UConn’s core practice principles focus on helping prospective teachers learn to use their professional judgment, and to help students develop into independent thinkers. UConn’s principles help teachers develop “strategies, activities and approaches that are responsive to cultural, linguistic, ability and other student differences,” “plan learning opportunities that teach content through inquiry” and “use knowledge of students as individuals and members of cultural and social groups to inform instruction.” The aim is to help teachers meet students where they are and develop each student’s capabilities.

Relay employs the principles of one of its “star” faculty, Uncommon Schools’ Doug Lemov. Those principles focus on control and compliance. For instance, Lemov instructs trainees that “(a) sequence that begins with a student unwilling or unable to answer a question ends with that student giving the right answer as often as possible even if they only repeat it.” Even if they only repeat it!

The principles also instruct trainees to “set and defend a high standard of correctness in your classroom” and “control the physical environment to support the specific lesson goal for the day.” Relay’s prescriptive, robotic methods churn out teachers focused on getting students not to think for themselves, but to regurgitate the one “correct” answer.

Relay falsely claims its methods are proven. As University of Washington Professor Kenneth Zeichner has found, there is no peer-reviewed evidence demonstrating the success of Relay Graduate School of Education. In fact, even education reformers have called into question Relay’s methods. Katherine Porter Magee, of the conservative Fordham Institute, criticized one Relay lesson video, noting it “included low-level questions and inadequate wait time, and was generally rushed and superficial.”

Connecticut has several university-based schools of education. Three — Albertus Magnus, Southern Connecticut and Quinnipiac — are in the New Haven area. Yet New Haven partnered with Relay. Why do New Haven’s children, the majority of whom are poor children of color, need teachers trained only to control them, when Connecticut’s schools of education focus on developing children based on their individual needs and strengths?

This partnership must be seen in the larger context of Connecticut’s abandonment of its previous deep commitment to robust teacher training. Connecticut used to be a national model for teacher education. Its BEST program was state-funded and developed by the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) over 15 years, in conjunction with developing the state’s academic standards. CSDE ensured that a robust teacher induction system was designed, implemented, researched and evaluated. The state raised teacher salaries; required, funded and trained experienced teachers as mentors; developed licensing requirements and a staged licensing process; and required ongoing professional development.

Although the successful BEST program was lauded nationwide, Connecticut abandoned BEST, because it was seen as too costly. Apparently, Connecticut’s leaders viewed providing tax subsidies to insurance companies and hedge funds as more worthwhile than investing in Connecticut’s children. Connecticut has also in recent years cut state programs for alternative teacher certification. Thus, the burden and cost of certification increasingly falls to school districts.

At the same time, Connecticut has imposed more mandates on university-based teacher education programs. It is almost as if the state wants to drive existing schools with a proven track record into the ground and replace them with cheap, fly-by-night operations.

Connecticut children deserve teachers who can help them reach their potential, not parrot from canned scripts. They deserve better than teachers trained in five-week Teach for America training programs or quick certification factories such as Relay.

 You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s column at : http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-blind-acceptance-of-the-robot-8348106.php

 

A void in oversight of charter schools (By Wendy Lecker)

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Surprise!  Connecticut taxpayers are giving privately owned and operated charter schools more than $110 million a year, with little to no oversight.  Meanwhile, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled state legislature are implementing the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  The budget cuts, along with the inadequate funding allocated for public schools mean Connecticut’s public school students will be getting less, while local property taxpayers will be charged even more.

In another MUST READ piece, public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker reports on the void in oversight of Connecticut’s charter schools.

Wendy Lecker writes;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, Mark Linabury, head of SDE’s Choice Bureau, stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO Kathleen Dempsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s original article in the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-void-in-oversight-of-charter-7988759.php

More public money for the 1% – less resources for the rest of Connecticut’s public school students

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Governor Dannel Malloy, with the support of Democratic legislators, has made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Already inadequately funded, Connecticut’s elected officials are now truly undermining the opportunity for every Connecticut child to get the education the need and deserve.

However, Connecticut’s fiscal crisis isn’t stopping Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education from shoveling even more public funds to the privately owned and operated companies that run Connecticut’s charter schools – entities that refuse to educate their fair share of students with special education requirements or those who need extra help becoming proficient in the English Language (ELL students.)

At yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting (June 1, 2016)), Governor Malloy’s appointees voted to allocate even more funding for charter schools, while pretending their primary responsibility to adequately fund public schools wasn’t being undermined by Malloy’s actions.

In Charter school enrollment set to rise, the CT Mirror reported that the State Board of Education was moving forward with a proposal from Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to allow charter schools to increase enrollment at charter schools next fall, noting;

While the enrollment increase will cost the state an additional $4.1 million next year, funding for traditional public schools is being cut by $51.7 million and for regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, by $15.4 million.

In recommending that 14 of Connecticut’s 23 charter schools be allowed to enroll another 401 students, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote the publicly funded schools had a “demonstrated record of achievement.”

However, Wentzell isn’t telling the truth.  The reality is that many Connecticut charter schools are failing to provide equitable and adequate access to the full array of Connecticut’s public school students and that even after cherry-picking the students they will accept and keep, most charter schools are failing to do an adequate job.

The CT Mirror goes on to report;

One of the schools being recommended for an enrollment boost, however – Achievement First Hartford – was put on probation last month after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of disciplining students and having too few of its teachers properly certified. Achievement First Hartford includes an elementary, middle and high school.

The schools were first identified in 2013 as having some of the highest suspension rates in the state, but enrollment caps have been waived by the state education board for three years so enrollment could grow from 874 to 1,125 students. In a 2013 memo to the state board, the leader of Achievement First outlined plans to revise its “if-in-doubt-send-them-out” suspension policy, to better train teachers on handling disruptive students, and to reduce the offenses students could be suspended for. But data released in April showed the schools still have high suspension rates.

One other school, Jumoke Academy, is currently on probation, and two others were given notice they needed to improve last May.

Jumoke was at the center of a controversy surrounding questionable fiscal practices that were unveiled by The Hartford Courant. The school is in its second year of probation and is the only charter school that is being recommended for decreased enrollment. However, enrollment at Jumoke has increased since it was put on probation, from 705 students during the 2013-14 school year to 765 students next year.

Stamford Academy and New Beginnings in Bridgeport both had their charters renewed last May for shortened terms, and conditions for improvement were imposed. Stamford is being recommended for an enrollment increase and Bridgeport for a flat enrollment.

When Dannel Malloy took office in January 2011, Connecticut taxpayers subsidized charter schools to the tune of about $50 million a year.  This coming year, after becoming one of Malloy’s most important sources of campaign cash, Connecticut taxpayers are giving the private companies that run charter schools more than $125 million.  No other area of the state budget has grown at such an alarming rate.

As noted here at Wait, What? and elsewhere, charter schools have a long and ugly track record of mistreating students, parents and teachers.  Across the country, more and more charter school operators are also being investigated, indicted and/or convicted of fraudulent use of public funds.

One of the more noteworthy controversies surrounding charter schools occurred here in Connecticut when Jumoke Academy came under investigation for misuse of public funds and it was revealed that the company’s CEO didn’t have the academic degree he claimed but was living the high-life in a brownstone purchased and renovated by the charter school company.

Additional Background on Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals can be found via the following Wait, What? posts:

The downfall of another Charter School Management Company

What’s missing from the damning Jumoke/FUSE report – Part 1

FUSE re-lights Connecticut’s Charter School Scandals

Malloy and Pryor:  The Connecticut Charter School Debacle Expands

An ‘anything goes’ approach to charter schools by Wendy Lecker

Today’s MUST READ PIECE – Where’s the Accountability? Anyone? By Sarah Darer Littman

Columns on the Malloy/Pryor Charter School scandals

Maintaining the status quo of two Connecticuts (By Wendy Lecker)

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Wendy Lecker, leading public education advocate, education funding expert and fellow education columnist, returns to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration’s utter failure to address the historic underfunding of Connecticut’s public schools or provide our students, parents, teachers and public schools with the resources and support they need to ensure a quality education for every Connecticut child.

At a time when a comprehensive, quality education is more important than ever, it is a stunning and terrible commentary that a governor, commissioner of education and legislature would intentionally refuse to fulfill one of their most fundamental and important responsibilities.  It is truly a sign of the times.

In her latest column, that first appeared in the Stamford Advocate this past weekend, Wendy Lecker writes;

Maintaining the status quo of two Connecticuts

The defense is in full swing at Connecticut’s school funding trial, CCJEF v. Rell. The state is attempting to make the case that Connecticut’s poorest schools do not need any more state funding.

As if to hammer home their point, the newly minted deal from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic legislators slashes nearly $100 million from state education aid. More than $30 million will be cut from the state’s funding formula, ECS, along with tens of millions cut for school transportation, millions cut from special education; and cuts to additional state aid to Connecticut’s poorest districts, such as millions cut from priority school grants and turnaround funds.

These state aid reductions will have the most devastating effect in our poorest school districts. As detailed in an earlier column, Hartford is already forced to cut teachers, guidance counselors, intervention specialists and other key staff and programs. Further cuts to state aid will force more deprivation for these already starving schools.

How is the state dealing with this reality in court? The testimony of Education Commissioner Wentzell provides a clue. Wentzell, who spent most of her career in wealthy school districts or selective choice programs, repeatedly asserted on the stand that “leadership is much more important than money.” She even went so far as to claim that “(l)eadership without money works very well.” When asked whether resources might have something to do with student achievement, she pointedly evaded the question, even when the judge asked her directly.

Wentzell clung to her notion that all schools need is “leadership” even while conceding that CCJEF districts lack adequate basic resources such as guidance counselors. She downplayed the importance of other essential educational resources. For example, despite universal agreement that pre-K improves academic and life outcomes, especially for poor children, Wentzell said she did not know whether pre-K helps close achievement gaps. She also discounted the shortage of library and media specialists in Connecticut’s poorest districts.

Wentzell sang a different tune at Connecticut’s All-State Music Festival, just days after her testimony. The All-State Festival selects, based on auditions, student musicians from across the state from among those who already made the cut in earlier regional festivals. The students who were selected spent two days rehearsing with guest conductors, then performed for the public at the Connecticut Convention Center. Addressing the audience and more than 400 student-musicians before the concerts, Wentzell emphasized that music is essential to a quality education; claiming she and the state are committed to music education in Connecticut’s public schools.

Although the festival took place in Hartford, not one Hartford student participated in the concerts. Nor were there students from Bridgeport, Windham, New Britain or New London schools — all CCJEF plaintiff districts. The concert participants were virtually all from Connecticut’s wealthier districts.

It is not that talent only resides in Connecticut’s affluent towns. In Bridgeport, because of a lack of resources, instrumental programs are virtually nonexistent. There is no instrumental program in elementary school and very little in middle school. Harding High School had no music teacher until last year. Only one Bridgeport high school has a small band. The story is similar in Hartford. Many schools cannot offer any music classes at all. There is no instrumental music in Windham’s elementary schools, except for the higher-funded STEM magnet, and very little in middle school. As a result, Windham’s high school music programs are small. New Britain has to rely on outside grants to try to cobble together an elementary music program. Children in our poorest districts have little exposure to music education and their talent goes undeveloped.

Does Commissioner Wentzell think that “leadership” will enable these districts to conjure flutes and violins from thin air?

The contradictory messages Wentzell sent in court and on the stage at the All-State Festival are telling. For her, children in Connecticut’s poorest districts do not need essentials such as guidance counselors, pre-K, libraries, or music, as long as they have “leadership.” But children in Connecticut’s wealthiest districts can have it all.

Wentzell, Malloy and our other state leaders are clearly content with the status quo of two Connecticuts: well-appointed schools in wealthy mostly white towns, and our poorest schools, serving our neediest children and mostly children of color, unable to provide the basics. Let us hope that the judge sees the injustice Connecticut’s political leaders refuse to acknowledge.

Wendy Lecker’s article first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Connecticut Media Group publications.  You can read and comment on it at at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Maintaining-the-status-quo-of-two-7467340.php

CEA wrong to claim NWEA’s MAP test is an appropriate tool for evaluating teachers.

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In a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece entitled, ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Wrong Answer For Students, Teachers, Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen correctly explains that,

[The] Smarter Balanced and other high-stakes standardized tests are not useful measures of student success — and were not designed to evaluate teachers. Smarter Balanced is an invalid, unfair and unreliable test that does not measure student growth within a school year. Smarter Balanced does not assist teachers in measuring academic growth, takes away precious instruction time and resources from teaching and learning, and is not developmentally and age-appropriate for students.

Teachers, administrators and parents want an evaluation system that develops and sustains high-quality teaching and provides teachers with more time to collaborate on best practices that result in a better outcome for all students.

But then, in a bizarre move that appears to be yet another attempt to acquiesce to Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s ongoing education reform and anti-teacher agenda, the leader of the CEA claims that although the state should not use the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC test as part of the state’s teacher evaluation program, it is okay to use the NWEA’s MAP standardized test as a teacher evaluation tool.

The CEA’s President notes,

Teachers are evaluated appropriately by measurable results using:

  • Standardized progress monitoring tests like NWEA or STAR.

  • Progress on student performance rubrics tied to external standards in their evaluations.

  • District- and department-designed common assessments

When developed correctly, student performance rubrics and district and department designed common assessments can be useful tools when it comes to evaluating and improving teacher performance.

However, standardized tests like the SBAC or NWEA’s MAP are inherently unfair and inappropriate for use as part of a teacher evaluation system.  Period.  End of Story.

Education Advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, addressed this very point when she recently published, Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker.

One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.

Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.

Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.

If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.

As for the claim that the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) is a valid teacher evaluation tool, Wendy Lecker explains,

The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.

There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.

The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.

The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”

The truth is that the NWEA’s MAP standardized test is just as inappropriate a tool to evaluate teachers as is the SBAC and the unions that represent teachers have a fundamental obligation to ensure that public policy makers understand what are and what are not valid techniques for determining how well an individual teacher is doing in the classroom.

The CEA’s latest move to condemn the SBAC but endorse the MAP is an uncomfortable reminder that, over the past six years, teachers and other public employees have watched as their union leaders have engaged in an almost schizophrenic approach when it comes to dealing with Governor Malloy’s bully, while standing up for their members.

Wanting to be perceived as “insiders” for the purpose of “getting into the rooms of power,” some union leaders have consistently dismissed or tried to explain away Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman’s ongoing anti-teacher, anti-public employee agenda.

On the other hand, recognizing that their membership is getting angrier and angrier and that the Malloy/Wyman agenda is undermining public education, public services and is translating into public employee layoffs, some of these same unions have taken to running television advertisements urging citizens to stand up for the public servants who educate our children, provide critically important support for those in need and ensure that government programs are available to the people of Connecticut.

The CEA’s initial approach to the teacher evaluation issue was a case study in the strategy of trying to get-along to go-along.  But, after failing to successfully fight off Malloy’s inappropriate and unfair teacher evaluation initiative, the union changed course this past January.

As the January 5, 2016 Wait What? post,  4 years late[r] – The Connecticut Education Association may finally be standing up against Malloy and Wyman on their teacher evaluation disaster, reported,

According to a press advisory issued earlier today, the Connecticut Education Association will hold a press conference at 11am at the Legislative Office Building on Thursday, January 7, 2016 to call on Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to “join with the majority of states in the U.S. that have replaced the federally-sponsored SBAC or PARCC tests with better, more authentic and effective assessment programs.”

If the announcement is as impressive as suggested, it would mean that the leadership of Connecticut’s teacher unions have finally moved 180 degrees from the position they held on January 25, 2012 when the CEA and AFT joined with the other members of Governor Malloy’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) to approve the so-called “teacher evaluation framework” that inappropriately and unfairly mandates that student’s standardized test scores be a major factor in the teacher evaluation process.

In addition to reversing their position on the SBAC test, the CEA and AFT-CT have been working extremely hard to get the Connecticut General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 380 which would prohibit the state from using the results from the Connecticut’s Mastery Testing program in the state’s teacher evaluation program – a proposal that Malloy and his education reform allies strongly oppose.

And yet, as the CEA seriously – and finally – engages on this vital issue, along comes the claim that the NWEA MAP test is a valid mechanism for evaluating teachers – a claim that may please Governor Malloy and his anti-teacher friends but is absolutely and completely out of line with the academic evidence and good public policy.

Connecticut can and should have a strong and effective teacher evaluation system, but using standardized test results to evaluate teachers has no place in such a system.

It does a tremendous disservice for the CEA to suggest otherwise.

Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids (By Wendy Lecker)

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Background:  Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country, as measured by per capita income.  If it was its own country, it would be one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world.

Connecticut’s most important natural resource is its people and their educational attainment.  According to US Census data, Connecticut is ranked 4th in the percentage of college graduates, 3rd in the percentage of citizens with advanced degrees and nearly 9 in 10 have a high school education, although faced with the impact of growing poverty, the number of high school graduates is dropping and without adequate funding for public schools and a well educated population, Connecticut’s economic future will be grim.

Meanwhile, as a result of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s irresponsible fiscal policies, Connecticut State Government has been plunged into fiscal chaos.  Today, Connecticut’s wealthiest pay about 5 percent of their income in state and local taxes, middle class and working families pay about 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the poor pay about 12 percent.

Based on fiscal and education policies that coddle the rich while diverting more than $100 million a year to privately owned and operated charter schools, Malloy and Wyman have now proposed the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Extraordinary budget deficits already exist in Hartford, Bridgeport and other communities.

Thanks to Malloy, Wyman and the General Assembly, most school districts will now be forced to raise local taxes and make deep cuts to existing education programs in local public schools.

As the state’s leading politicians attempt to hide the truth, public education advocate and fellow columnist Wendy Lecker has written another “MUST READ” column.

Her commentary piece, entitled, Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media papers this past weekend

Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids (By Wendy Lecker)

Hartford parents, teachers and students came out in full force to last week’s Board of Education meeting to protest devastating school cuts. Owing to budget shortfalls, the district is cutting guidance counselors, intervention specialists, and other critical staff, art, sports, enrichment, SAT prep, textbooks, summer school, tutors and more. Many of Hartford high schools will be left with one counselor for 350-400 students. As one parent said, they are cutting the support Hartford students need; and the subjects that motivate them to come to school.

Hartford schools already suffer severe resource deficiencies. One high school has no library or computer lab. Another has no copier in the library, and no curricular material for certain classes. The culinary academy has no money to buy food for cooking class. The nursing academy cannot offer physics, though physics is a prerequisite for any nursing school. One high school is so overrun with rodents a teacher came in one morning to find five mice in traps she laid the night before. Teachers are forced to find vendors themselves and fill out orders in vain attempts to obtain supplies that never arrive. So they buy them out of their own pockets.

The conditions in which these students have to learn, and these teachers have to teach, is shameful — especially in Connecticut, a state consistently in the top five on the list of wealthiest states in America.

Hartford is not the only Connecticut school district suffering. According to a supplement to this year’s “Is School Funding Fair: A National Report Card,” issued by the Education Law Center (my employer) and Rutgers, Connecticut is the only state consistently among the five wealthiest states to have districts on the list of America’s “most financially disadvantaged school districts.” This year, two districts are featured on this list: Bridgeport and Danbury.

Since this list has been compiled, starting in 2012, Connecticut districts have been featured every year. Connecticut also has the dishonorable distinction of being the only wealthy state featured on the list of states whose funding system disadvantages the highest share of low income students; as measured by the percent of statewide enrollment concentrated in those most disadvantaged districts.

The National Report Card revealed some other disturbing facts about Connecticut’s lack of commitment to its public schools, especially those serving our neediest children.

As one of the wealthiest states, Connecticut does a poor job of maintaining competitive wages for teachers — a key ingredient to recruiting and retaining a strong teaching force. Connecticut teachers starting out earn 79 percent of the average salary of similar non-teaching professions. The report compares teachers with other professionals in the same labor market of similar age, degree level and hours worked. At age 45, that average drops to 73 percent of similar non-teaching professions.

An important measure of school funding fairness is the student-teacher ratio. High-poverty schools require more staff to address the challenges faced by their students. Small classes, reading and math specialists and support services are particularly necessary, for example. However, Connecticut is one of the few states with higher student-teacher ratios in poorer districts as compared to their wealthy districts. In fact, Connecticut is 46th out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in student-teacher ratio fairness.

High-quality pre-K is a vital component of education; reducing placement in special education and improving academic and life outcomes. Sixty-two percent of Connecticut’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K, but only 48 percent of Connecticut’s poor children are. That disparity lands Connecticut in 45th place out of 51.

The deprivation of essential resources in Connecticut’s poorest districts is the crux of the CCJEF case, now on trial in Hartford. The plaintiffs seek adequate funding for basic educational necessities.

They are on solid ground. A new longitudinal study out of Berkeley demonstrates that school finance reform makes a real difference for students. The study, based on nationwide data, found that school finance reforms lead to substantial increases in revenues in low-income school districts, and to increases in student achievement. This study confirms a 2014 national study from Northwestern showing improvement in achievement, especially for poor students, when school funding increases. Earlier state-specific studies found similar results.

The evidence is clear. Connecticut schools need more resources, and school finance reform is the answer.

However, this year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the deepest cuts to education in Connecticut history, while diverting more than $100 million dollars to privately run charter schools.

It is time for our elected officials in this, one of America’s wealthiest states, to start doing right by our poorest children.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Wealthy-state-failing-poorest-our-6924830.php

How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?

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The Connecticut House of Representatives will be meeting tomorrow – Wednesday, March 16, 2016.  On their agenda is a vote to confirm Erik Clemons, Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent nominee for a position on the State Board of Education.

When Governor Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education he failed to reveal that Clemons was a founding member of a new charter school in New Haven or that he served, up until recently, on the Board of another New Haven charter school, this one owned by Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain that operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  When Clemons left the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors he was replaced by an aide that works for Clemons’ company.

In addition, Malloy appears to have intentionally kept secret the fact that Erik Clemons’ company received a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded by the State Department of Education, the very board that Malloy has appointed him to serve on. The State Board of Education is required to monitor this contract and could continue to fund it in the years ahead.

As reported in previous Wait, What? articles, this incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  Erik Clemmons is the founding executive of ConnCAT and his compensation package is well in excess of $100,000 a year.

The Turnaround Plan read;

“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”

The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”

As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.  The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”

A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.

However the ethical issues challenging Erik Clemons ability to serve on the State Board of Education go well beyond the no-bid contract that remains under the purview of the State Board.

Considering Clemons’ close relationship with the charter school industry, he shouldn’t be voting on any issue related to the oversight and funding of charter schools in Connecticut.

Furthermore, since the “Turnaround School” process was manipulated to grant Clemons a no-bid contract, he certainly shouldn’t be voting on any turnaround plans for any schools in New Haven or any other city.

Considering his company’s contract with the New Haven Public Schools will depend on adequate funding from the State of Connecticut, Clemons shouldn’t be voting on any issue that will provide New Haven schools with funding.

In Malloy’ world of “power politics,” it may be understandable that he wants to reward the charter school industry and its lobbying front group, ConnCAN, but the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Connecticut deserve better.

With the Connecticut General Assembly voting on Mr. Clemons’ appointment as early as tomorrow, the question is whether state legislators will stand with their constituents by supporting proper ethical standards for elected or appointed officials or will they throw ethics aside and vote in favor of Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education?

More about this issue can be found in the following articles, a number of them written or co-written with fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker.

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

Criticism of the NEW SAT grows as Connecticut’s 11th grades are told they MUST take it on March 2nd

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Thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly, high school juniors attending Connecticut public schools are being told that they MUST take the NEW SAT during the school day on March 2, 2016.

Considering that the NEW SAT isn’t even aligned to Connecticut’s graduation requirements or high school curricula and that the new version of the SAT won’t even be statistically validated on a national level until after Connecticut’s 11th graders take the test, Connecticut’s elected officials have done nothing other than turn our students into guinea pigs for the $1 Billion standardized testing industry.

But of course, that is what the corporate education reform industry is demanding.

42,000 Connecticut students taking a faulty test, all at the expense of Connecticut taxpayers!

The truth is that after realizing that student grades are a better indicator of college readiness than standardized tests, hundreds and hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States are dropping the requirement that students even provide an SAT score with their application.

And as for the mandate, although Malloy’s Commissioner of Education continues to claim that high school juniors “MUST” take the discriminatory NEW SAT, like the SBAC testing scheme for grades 3-8, there is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prevents students and parents from opting out of the test nor is there any law that allows the state or districts to punish students who don’t take the NEW SAT on March 2, 2016.

As I’ve written on Wait, What? “My daughter will not be taking the “state mandated” NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016.”

One thing that is clear is that the professionals studying the NEW SAT are reporting that it completely fails to rectify the fundamental flaws that have undermined the credibility of the SAT.  Experts are reporting that the NEW SAT continues to discriminate based on a child’s socio-economic background and the test is inappropriately sensitive to short-term coaching, thereby assuring those who come from wealthier backgrounds can further game the system.

Just this week, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), blasted the NEW SAT warning students, parents, teachers and the public the NEW SAT fails to address the core problems that have made the test a relatively inaccurate predictor of how students will do in college.

Bob Schaeffer, FairTest’s Public Education Director explains;

“Even the College Board admits that the ‘new’ SAT will not provide more accurate forecasts of undergraduate success. It will still under-predict the classroom performance of women, older applicants and students whose first language is not English. The coaching industry is already selling high-priced ‘test prep steroids’ to teenagers whose parents can pay thousands to artificially boost scores on the revised exam.

The ‘new’ SAT may look more consumer-friendly, but is not a better test,” Schaeffer continued. “The facelift is largely marketing bells and whistles. The changes seem designed to compete with the ACT, the most widely used admissions exam. The College Board also appears more interested in trying to slow the test-optional movement than improving the test’s measurement precision.”

Higher education decision-makers increasingly recognize that neither the ‘new’ SAT nor the rival ACT is needed for high-quality admissions.”

Since the College Board announced the SAT redesign, more than 50 schools adopted test-optional policies. This month, a Harvard study encouraged other colleges and universities to follow suit. More than 850 accredited, bachelor degree granting institutions do not require SAT or ACT scores from all or many applicants. That list includes 200 schools ranked in the top tiers of their academic categories.

FairTest also provides students and their families with critically important information about how various schools handle the growing controversy around the use and misuse of standardized tests.

Valuable links posted on the FairTest website included:

Test-optional and test-flexible colleges and universities:

and

List of 200+ top tier schools that do not require admissions test scores from all or many applicants       

For Connecticut readers, if you have a high school juniors, or know of a family with a high school junior, please send them the following links or urge them to search the Wait, What? blog using the term – “SAT”

Yet another warning about taking the state “mandated” NEW SAT on March 2, 2016

The lies in the new SAT (by Wendy Lecker)

Once again Connecticut elected officials are wrong to mandate the SAT for all 11th graders

More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT

Connecticut school psychologist John Bestor on the NEW SAT and opting-out

 

Wendy Lecker explains – Again – Why the Malloy-Wyman teacher evaluation system is a terrible farce

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In her commentary piece last week, public education advocate Wendy Lecker returned to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s unfair, inappropriate and fundamentally flawed teacher evaluation system.   Her article, entitled Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul, first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.

While Wendy Lecker has pounded away about the problems associated with Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system for four years, the good news is that it seems that some of the power-elite are finally listening.

Having helped craft and usher in the absurd and destructive teacher evaluation system, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) will be holding a press conference later today, January 7, 2016, in which they will apparently stand up for Connecticut educators and take a strong stand against Malloy and Wyman’s anti-teacher and anti-public school, teacher evaluation program.

The problem with the existing teacher evaluation system could not be any clearer.  As Wendy Lecker explains – Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul;

With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system.

In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating.

Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

Connecticut’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (“PEAC”), the body that oversees the teacher and principal evaluation system, will next meet in January. Since PEAC last met, the notion that one can rate teacher’s effectiveness based on student standardized test scores has been thoroughly debunked.

As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors. A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid.

Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches. They cannot be jury-rigged after the fact to be.

In light of the ESSA, some PEAC members, notably the Connecticut Education Association, now indicate they would advocate decoupling statewide standardized tests from evaluations. Indeed, why continue such a demonstrably invalid practice?

Other members, including Connecticut’s superintendents’ and boards of education associations (CAPSS and CABE), maintain that standardized test scores must still be included because they show “student achievement growth.”

What does that mean?

Learning is a complex process. Even if one focuses only on cognitive skills, different grades teach different content and different skills. Each standardized test measures skills that supposedly correspond to that grade level. Comparing one grade level test to another is comparing apples to oranges.

As I wrote in an earlier column (bit.ly/1sOOxFc), in constructing “growth scales” for standardized tests, statisticians make a fictional assumption that learning in math and reading is linear and can actually be compared from year to year. To make this work, they can only focus on a limited universe of skills that might be subject to such a rough comparison.

Measuring growth through standardized tests is, at best, looking at a tiny fraction of cognitive skills.

When we construct an evaluation system based on that tiny universe of disjointed skills, all the components in that system will be equally narrow. Any observations of and conclusions about teachers will center only on how those teachers are teaching those particular skills.

Why do we want to know so little about a teacher?

I want much more for my son. I want my son’s teachers to help him learn skills, but I also want them to help him apply those skills to other subjects and in life. I want them to help him make sense of the world. I want them to help him ask better questions, so he can become a more critical thinker. I want them to help him be a better member of his school community so he can learn to become a good citizen. I want teachers who can assess my child with tools they developed based on their teaching.

None of these teaching skills can be measured with a test.

However test scores are simple, readily available measures; so policy-makers embrace them, even when they are inappropriate.

Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t PEAC start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?

Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.

The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers.

Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students. All eyes will be on the PEAC members to see if they have the courage and wisdom to do so.

For more about Connecticut’s flawed teacher evaluation policies check out the following Wait, What? posts;

Malloy’s Teacher evaluation system is fundamentally and fatally flawed

Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan – even worse than we thought

Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured

Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program

Will Malloy decouple Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system from the unfair Common Core SBAC Test?

Teacher Evaluations At The Heart Of Education Reform Are Flawed (By Jonathan Kantrowitz)

Evaluate Teachers based on Standardized Test Scores? Can an “education reformer” please answer the following question?

Teacher Evaluation Program: Malloy, Pryor and General Assembly slam door on a locally developed plans

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluations – But Wait – That’s Like Comparing Apples and Tomatoes

Leaving math standards to politicians doesn’t add up (By Wendy Lecker)

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The Corporate Education Reform Industry and its allies say the Common Core, Common Core testing mania and their agenda to privatize public education in the United States is necessary in order to ensure children are college and career ready.

However, as parents, students, teachers and the public are learning, the effort to disrupt and undermine public schools is having a very negative impact on the quality of education many students are receiving.

In her latest column in the Stamford Advocate, fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the notion that the “new” math being pushed by those focused on selling new textbooks, computer programs and curriculum is pushing children in the wrong direction.

Wendy Lecker writes;

At parents’ night this fall, a high school math teacher I know begged parents to teach their children long division “the old-fashioned way.” She explained that the new way students had learned long division impedes their ability to understand algebraic factoring. She lamented that students hadn’t been taught certain rote skills, like multiplication tables, that would enable them to perform more complex math operations efficiently.

It turns out that brain science supports this math teacher’s impressions. Rote learning and memorization at an early age are critical in developing math skills.

A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.

The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.

The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.

Those who developed the Common Core State Standards clearly ignored brain research in math, as they did in reading (http://bit.ly/1IeIgKm); The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding at every phase of math instruction. So, even young children are required not only to conduct a simple math procedure, but to also explain and justify every answer.

As education professor Katherine Beals and math teacher Barry Garelick wrote recently in the Atlantic, when certain mathematical procedures become automatic, it frees up the brain to progress to more difficult math concepts. Forcing children to explain every simple procedure distracts students from this vital transition. In a Wall Street Journal article last year, engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained that much like focusing on every aspect of a golf swing impedes the development of the swing, forcing children to stop and continually prove their understanding can actually impede their understanding. Mandatory explaining of math impedes the doing of math. The Stanford brain study indicates that it also inhibits brain development.

Moreover, as Beals and Garelick point out, some students, particularly English Language Learners and those on the autism spectrum, cannot easily explain their answers, even though they understand the concept and procedure. Thus these students would be penalized even though they may be strong math students.

Professor Oakley noted that just because a student understands a concept does not mean that she has mastered it. Expertise comes with repetition. True mastery, she explains, is the ability to pull out a chunk of knowledge quickly and use it. And expertise builds profound conceptual understanding, not the reverse.

Maybe the fad to force kids to explain every simple math procedure grew out of our selfie and Facebook culture; that tendency to document every mundane life experience. It certainly did not emanate from a true understanding or concern for how math skills develop.

Beals and Garelick observe that it is as if the architects of the Common Core thought that if students just act like mathematicians, they would magically become them. As they note, this approach may be an interesting behavioral experiment, but it is not mathematical development.

The goal of public education is to provide children with an education, not to use children as unwitting subjects in experiments. Our children only go through school once. Their brains only develop once. To jeopardize their growth because of some unfounded idea a policy maker thought might be neat is criminal.

Our children would be best served if politicians leave the experimenting to scientists, then pay attention to the findings.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s latest column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Leaving-math-standards-to-6660194.php

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