Wendy Lecker’s latest column – The importance of listening to students

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In a commentary piece entitled Heeding the lessons of teenagers, fellow Education Advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker used her latest article in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets to remind us that when it comes to the so-called “education reform” agenda it is critically important that student voices be heard above the din of politics and the greed of the corporate education reform industry.

The Corporate Education Reformers and their allies in the charter school industry are so desperate to hijack the voices of public schools students that they actually create front groups with names like Students For Education Reform.

Calling themselves SFER, the group claims to be a “student run” organization but turns to the power elite for money and guidance.  An early member of the SFER Board of Directors was none other than Connecticut’s own Jonathan Sackler, the man behind the education reform groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN, as well as a key funder in the large charter school chain, Achievement First, Inc.  Sacker is also among the largest funders of Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election.

Present members of SFER’s Board of Directors includes a Chief Growth Officer from the  gigantic KIPP charter school chain, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, a major hedge fund, the Deputy General Counsel of Unilever, the President of the major education reform consulting company called Mass Insight Education, that got a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration,  and the list goes on.

Although Students For Education Reform has yet to file their IRS forms for this past tax year, in their first three years of business the group collected at least $6 million from corporate education reform groups, including a major start up grant form Democrats For Education Reform, an anti-union, anti-teacher, pro-charter group that have run attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups speaking out for the rights of teachers and students.

Claiming to have chapters on 100 college campuses, SFER is among the organizations that joined in the record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform agenda.

In 2012 the group dropped $15,000 in support of a pro-Malloy student rally.  However, following an ethics complaint it was later revealed that the money appeared to actually come from StudentsFirst, a national corporate education reform group that was headed, at the time, by Michelle Rhee.

By comparison there are the very real and very genuine voices of students, students who aren’t being paid to parrot the phrases of corporate executives like Jonathan Sackler.

And when you listen to real students, you hear a very different set of opinions and concerns.

As Wendy Lecker writes;

Although reformers and pundits like to pretend the interests of teachers are at odds with children’s best interests, those who know understand that their interests are aligned. Teachers know teaching conditions are learning conditions. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for, among other things, smaller class size, art, music and wraparound services for children. In their recent victorious strike, Seattle teachers won mandatory recess for elementary school children.

Students also know that they and teachers want the same things. A fine example is the recent, unprecedented filing by Houston high school students of an amicus brief in the Texas school funding case now on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

In researching their brief, written entirely by them, the students visited schools across Houston, and spoke to students, teachers and administrators. They also drew on their own experience. As they point out, by the time they graduate, they will have spent 16,000 hours in public school. These kids are the experts.

Their research and experience led them to the same conclusions that courts across the country found: Schools need certain essential resources for kids to succeed, including: small class size, teacher training and support, extra-curricular activities and a rich curriculum.

The students stressed the need for small class size to help English Language Learners (“ELL”), a large population in Texas. The authors point out that individualized attention is necessary because for these students, “every class is a language class.”

Small class size is vital for all students. The authors remark that in large classes, teachers cannot provide feedback that is essential so students learn from their mistakes. As one student said, “it’s demotivating for us to spend hours on an assignment knowing that the teacher can only afford to spend a few minutes (if even that) checking for completion before putting a grade on it. It’s also demotivating for teachers to spend hours grading assignments that don’t require any of their expertise.”

Small class size is also essential to develop a personal bond with a teacher. This need is especially strong for disadvantaged students who face trauma in their daily lives. The personal connection prevents “children from falling through the cracks.”

The students note that private schools advertise their small classes. “This factor is a selling point for well-off parents who want the best for their kids, but isn’t available for those less fortunate.”

The authors stress that they need trained teachers, not novices. They show how teacher training is vital to help ELL teachers navigate the different cultures they encounter, and how the lack of funds for training hurts students and teachers alike.

Enrichment activities are often the first resources to be cut in a budget crunch, as they are viewed as extra. The authors here provide real-life examples of how these “extras” provided a vital outlet for students experiencing personal crises, enabling them to stay in school and focus on their studies.

The students’ authentic voice shines through in their writing. They confess:

“Most of us do not wake up in the morning excited to attend school and learn math. Many of us attend school because we look forward to ROTC, band, or orchestra, and while we’re there, we might as well learn math too. That mindset is useful to understand arts education as a pragmatic method of retaining students, boosting grades, and improving education for all.”

The students recognize how the absence of support services affects the futures of disadvantaged children. They note that the lack of guidance counselors deprives impoverished students of information about “four-year residential colleges, two-year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps.”

These students illustrate with real-life examples how teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that cannot be reduced to one data point. Thus, schools need comprehensive services and programs.

The authors do not blame teachers. They know that school personnel care about them. Rather, they call out the state, which communicates to children that it does not care by ignoring the severe lack of resources in schools.

The brief is also remarkable for what it omits. These students do not ask for choice. They do not want teachers to be rated on their standardized test scores, or replaced by untrained recent college graduates, a la Teach for America. Current fashionable education reforms are irrelevant to these real students.

Politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of these teenage experts, who know what’s best for them and their teachers.

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 her full piece via: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Heeding-the-lessons-of-teenagers-6545659.php

Adequate resources, not more testing, is the way to improve public schools

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The challenges associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are the factors leading to the educational achievement gap between the haves and have nots.  The Corporate Education Reform Industry, with the help of elected officials likes of Dannel Malloy, Andrew Cuomo, Jeb Bush and others, have used the problems facing public schools in poorer communities to institute an agenda of more standardized testing, inappropriate teacher evaluation programs and the privatization of public education through the creation of privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

In yet another powerful commentary piece, Wendy Lecker goes to the root of the problem with the Common Core SBAC testing scheme and strategies being foisted on public school children, parents and teachers.

Wendy Lecker writes;

The SBAC results are out. With them will come recriminations about how our students, teachers and public schools are failing. Those who make these accusations hope the public has a short memory. They do not want us to remember that the SBAC has not been externally validated and therefore, according to the Vermont State Board of Education, does “not support valid and reliable inferences about student performance.” They hope we forget that the arbitrary SBAC proficiency levels set in Washington, D.C., guaranteed ahead of time that the majority of Connecticut students would fail.

Standardized tests are universally recognized to be unreliable and unhelpful in determining how well students learn. Experts routinely caution to therefore never use test results for any consequential decisions about schools, teachers or students.

Decades of testing evidence show that the only stable correlation that exists, whether it is the CMTs or the SATs and likely the SBACs, is between test scores and wealth. Researchers such as Sean Reardon at Stanford note that wealthy parents not only can provide basic stability, nutrition and health care for their children, but also tutoring and enrichment that gives affluent children an edge over poorer children.

The wealth advantage extends beyond test scores. Two studies, by St. Louis Federal Reserve and by the Boston Federal Reserve, demonstrate that family wealth is a determining factor in life success. The St. Louis report, published in August, revealed a racial wealth gap among college graduates. A college degree does not protect African-Americans and Latinos from economic crises as it does for whites and Asians. Employment discrimination figures into the disparity, but a major role is played by family wealth. Without a safety net of family assets, graduates of color must make more risky loan and other financial decisions. Last year’s Boston Fed study noted that wealthy high school drop-outs stay in the top economic rung as often as poor college graduates remain in the bottom economic rung. As a Washington Post article put it, rich kids who do everything wrong are better off than poor kids who do everything right. These reports, coupled with the fact that most job openings in the United States are for low-skilled workers, expose the uncomfortable truth that education is not the great equalizer.

These truths should inform education policy. To attempt to level the playing field, we should at least be equipping schools to provide supports to needy children that affluent parents provide their children.

Instead we spend billions on testing that tells us what we already know — rich kids are better off than poor kids; without addressing that inequality. Education reformers deflect attention from the supports poor kids need and tell us that all kids have to do is develop some “grit” to succeed. In his best-selling book, “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough claims there is “no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths” like grit. Connecticut policy makers are trying to develop tests to measure the degree of “grit” our kids have. We are even told that if students have enough “grit” to get high test scores, our economy will be more competitive.

This is American individualism taken to its absurd extreme. Not only are children supposed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they have to bootstrap the entire national economy. The Fed studies show us that grit does not determine success in today’s highly stratified society — privilege does. And our nation’s economic health — surprise! — does not depend on test scores. The United States has remained competitive while our international tests scores have always been middling. Moreover, former U.S. Department of Education analyst Keith Baker compared 40 years’ worth of nations’ per capita gross domestic product and international test scores and found that test scores actually dropped as the rate of economic growth improved.

Those who push this false narrative of individualism also fight efforts to fund schools in order to give poor kids the support they need. Last month, the Washington Supreme Court held the state’s legislature in contempt, fining it $100,000 a day, for failing to adequately fund the state’s schools. Interestingly Microsoft, whose chief Bill Gates is a major player in test-based education reform, lobbied heavily against state taxes that would have helped finance the public schools.

Robber-baron education reformers such as Gates fight to protect their wealth to pass on their success to their children. For other people’s children their message is clear, as teacher/blogger Joe Bower remarked: “Let ’em eat grit.”

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her complete commentary piece can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Education-is-not-the-great-6487019.php

State’s most vulnerable children get their day in court by Wendy Lecker

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Wendy Lecker is one of Connecticut’s most outspoken education advocates.  As senior attorney at the Education Law Center, she has helped lead critically important school finance lawsuits.  Wendy Lecker is also a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.  This week she reports on Connecticut’s vital CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit.

Once supporters for ensuring Connecticut has a fair and equitable school funding formula, Governor Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepson are now leading the effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public school students and Connecticut’s local property taxpayers don’t get the help they need and deserve.

Wendy Lecker explains,

Connecticut’s elected officials have steadfastly refused to fix our school finance system, which leaves schools underfunded and local property taxpayers overburdened. Public school students and local property taxpayers will finally have their day in court when Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, starts trial in October. It is now important to understand some of the basic tenets in school finance.

First, all children have the constitutional right to school resources sufficient for an education enabling them to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment, or progress to higher education.

Second, it costs more to educate some children than others. Children living in poverty often require more services than children who do not. The stresses associated with poverty affect brain development, often leaving children with behavioral and cognitive difficulties. As a result, schools serving poor children need specific resources, such as: social workers, behavioral therapists, psychologists, learning specialists, small classes.

Children learning English require more services than those already proficient. The services necessary to help a child learn English are different than those needed to support a child who lives in poverty. Similarly, children with disabilities require additional services.

Third, some municipalities cannot raise as much revenue as others, and therefore need more state school aid. Often, those municipalities serve the highest concentration of the neediest — and therefore most expensive to educate — children.

These cornerstones of school finance are universally accepted and understood. They form the bases of school funding systems across the nation. They undergird the CCJEF plaintiffs’ case. Essentially, the plaintiffs claim Connecticut has underfunded its public schools in large part because the state school finance system does not accurately account for the cost of education in general, the cost of educating students with additional needs or a municipality’s capacity to raise revenue.

CCJEF’s school finance experts calculated the gap between what the state provides in school aid and what our schools and children need to be about $2 billion; based on 2004 standards, costs and demographics.

What does this massive school funding shortfall mean? Schools serving our neediest children lack essential academic resources: teachers, reading specialists, guidance counselors, social workers, reasonable class size, well-equipped libraries, academic intervention services, computers, preschool, etc.

Connecticut’s leaders have gone to great effort — and expense — to ignore these three basic tenets of school finance.

Since the CCJEF case was filed in 2005 — when then-Mayor Dannel Malloy of Stamford was a plaintiff — our leaders have convened commissions, task forces and ad hoc committees ostensibly to study school funding. They did this without consulting real school finance experts. These gimmicks provided the appearance politicians were doing something to fix the problem.

In reality, our leaders have done next to nothing. The state owes our neediest districts up to $7,000 dollars per pupil. However, from 2012-13 to 2014-15, the average increase in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) aid to our neediest received was $642 per pupil.

The only recent change politicians made to our ECS formula undermined fair funding. The legislature removed from the ECS formula the ELL weight: i.e. the adjustment in the formula that attempted to account for the cost of educating ELL students. This move is contrary to sound education finance policy and is particularly absurd in a state with a growing ELL population.

Connecticut’s inaction on school finance is why our small wealthy state figures prominently in a national report on financially disadvantaged districts. Connecticut is ranked fifth in the nation in the percentage of children enrolled in financially disadvantaged districts, with more than 13 percent of our children in these districts. The state with the highest concentration, Illinois, has 25 percent.

At the same time the state has done nothing to help poor districts, it has spent millions on unsuccessful attempts to have the CCJEF case dismissed.

In the latest budget season, the state made matters worse. State figures reveal that the largest increase our financially distressed districts will receive in 2016 is about $100 per pupil. Windham will receive an increase of only $19 per pupil. Most needy districts will get no increase for 2017.

At this pathetic rate, it will take more than 20 years before the state makes up the gap in school funding.

In human terms, that means two generations of children will go through school without adequate resources to help them learn, losing years of learning they cannot recapture.

Year after year Connecticut’s elected officials have been unresponsive to the educational needs of our most vulnerable children. In October, they will have to answer for that in court.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s original piece at: http://m.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-s-most-vulnerable-children-6378743.php?utm_content=buffer47d00&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

When an Education Reformer says “Turnaround” — Don’t!


Education Advocate Wendy Lecker has another column out and it is once again in the “MUST READ” category.

Her latest piece is part one of a multi-series takedown of those who use fiction rather than facts to fancifully present the term “school turnaround” as if it was a magic bullet.

This particular chapter begins with the Can Can Team from ConnCAN who recently performed a dog and pony show for Connecticut state legislators where they crowed about the “success” of various “school turnaround” projects.

Using their traditional corporate education reform rhetoric, rather than facts, the charter school front group performed magic that would have made a “three card Monte” aficionado proud. [Three card Monte being a card trick in which the mark can’t win because trick cards are used.]

The well-documented corporate education reform failures of New Orleans and Philadelphia were incredibly heralded as successes and that was before they got out their shovels and really started throwing IT around.

Here is Wendy Lecker’s latest MUST READ commentary piece, which first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.   

Failure as a model for Connecticut (By Wendy Lecker)

A recent large-scale federal study revealed that most states lack expertise to turn around struggling schools and are rarely successful. It’s no wonder. Legislators who write turnaround laws never turn to the experts: educators. Connecticut is no exception. Last month, the General Assembly’s Education Committee held a day-long session on school turnarounds. Instead of relying on education experts, it turned to ConnCan, the charter lobby known for its evidence-free reports that push one agenda: Taking power away from school districts to pave the way for privatization.

ConnCan brought in three examples of turnaround to push the idea that the key to success is handing schools or entire districts over to outside operators.

The most startling choice for a presentation was Hartford’s Milner school. Recall that Milner was one of the first commissioner’s network schools. Milner suffered through a failed turnaround in 2008 under then-Superintendent Steven Adamowski. It also had a persistent and severe lack of resources. Rather than providing Milner the necessary resources, the State Board of Education decided to turn it around again in 2012, handing it over to Michael Sharpe’s FUSE/Jumoke charter chain. FUSE/Jumoke had no experience educating ELL students, which made up a large part of Milner’s population. After the revelations of Sharpe’s criminal record and falsified academic credentials, it came to light that FUSE/Jumoke ran Milner school into the ground, hiring ex-convicts, relatives and “winging” the takeover, as Sharpe admitted — all while supposedly under heightened scrutiny by state officials.

Milner’s principal under this takeover, Karen Lott, told Milner’s story. She admitted that this fall, only 13 percent of Milner’s students scored proficient in ELA and an even more shocking 7 percent were proficient in math. She said although they are in the fourth year of the Commissioner’s Network, she is treating this as the first year. Amazing! No public school would be allowed to fail for three years, then magically erase its poor track record.

She blamed the school’s poor performance on several things. First, there was high staff turnover at the school: 85 percent of teachers now have 0-3 years’ experience teaching. This is mind-boggling, as staff turnover was not only the result of the state takeover but one of its goals. Lott spoke of the need now to “aggressively recruit” veteran teachers. Like the ones Jumoke-Milner pushed out in the first place? She also stated that now she is relying on teacher training and mentoring from Hartford Public Schools.

Lott further explained that under Jumoke there was no curriculum. She is now using the Hartford Public Schools curriculum and assessments.

Lott also emphasized that community supports are necessary for children to achieve. She said families need stable housing and mental health services, parents need job training and the neighborhood needs to be safe and clean. Imagine that — poverty affects learning. If this were a public school educator saying these things, ConnCan would condemn her for using poverty as an excuse.

Lott detailed the steps she was now taking beyond the Hartford curriculum, assessments, training and mentoring. She acknowledged that a centerpiece of her efforts is a large increase in resources. Milner now has a full-time therapeutic clinician and after-school programs. Hartford Public Schools re-opened its budget to provide the school will more computers. Central office also allowed Milner to have two half-days a month, so teachers get additional professional development. Lott also said she now implements Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a system used by many public schools.

To her credit, Lott seems to be focusing on proven methods of helping students: extra academic and social support for at-risk children, training, mentoring and support for teachers, and adequate school resources. What must be stressed is that none of these ideas are innovative. Nor do any of these resources require takeover by an outside operator. They are tools schools either already use or have been pleading for. The lack of these resources is a basis for Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell.

Lott contended that what she needed is more time, more resources and more autonomy. Schools need time and resources to improve. The claim for autonomy, however, is puzzling, given she is relying on central office for curriculum, assessments, training, mentoring and special treatment so she can get resources other schools do not have.

Lott’s message is — perhaps unintentionally — the opposite of the one ConnCan is pushing. Schools do not need takeover or turnaround. Just give struggling schools time, support and resources to do what everyone already knows helps kids learn.

You can read and comment on Wendy’s original piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failure-as-a-model-for-Connecticut-6267220.php

Common Core jeopardizes foundation of learning (By Wendy Lecker)


Fellow Connecticut educate advocate Wendy Lecker has been one of the most powerful and important voices on behalf of public education and against the corporate education reform industry’s unending assault of public school teachers, public schools and the rights of students and parents.  While many policymakers, education administrators and even the organizations responsible for protecting and promoting public education have turned a blind eye or engaged in the politics of appeasement, Wendy Lecker has continued to speak the truth and promote the notion that a just society strengthens not undermines its commitment to a comprehensive public education system.

In her latest piece entitled, Core jeopardizes foundation of learning, and initially published in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker takes down the claim that the “Common Core” is the “Solution” to the challenges facing the nation’s public schools.

Core jeopardizes foundation of learning (By Wendy Lecker)

This spring, parents and students across the country led a massive movement to refuse Common Core tests to protest over-testing and the changes in education wrought by the new standards. In the face of this revolt, supporters are attempting to salvage the Common Core by claiming that while testing may be a problem, the standards themselves are educationally superior. Moreover, they assert, the standards do not dictate what is to be taught in school. These claims are false: many of the standards are bad for education and demand developmentally inappropriate educational practices in schools.

Recently, experts at the organization Defending the Early Years issued a report focusing on one of these bad standards: the standard calling for kindergartners to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” Translation: children must learn to read in kindergarten.

This mandate contradicts everything we know about child development and forces kindergarten teachers to engage in damaging practices. Play has been severely reduced or eliminated in favor of direct instruction, worksheets and frequent testing.

As I have written before (The disturbing transformation of kindergarten), the milestones of child development have not changed in a century. While there is a wide range of development at this age, most children in kindergarten are not ready to read. Reading requires understanding that symbols, letters, represent sounds and put together, in words, represent ideas or objects. Kindergartners’ brains cannot comprehend that kind of abstraction. They also typically do not recognize certain shapes and lines that are essential to understanding letters. This “lack” is normal, and it explains why play is essential in kindergarten.

As child development expert Diane Levin of Wheelock College told me, through play, children develop the foundation for reading. When a child builds with blocks or engages in socio-dramatic play, s/he is making a representation of something in a different form — a step toward abstract thought. By painting and drawing, a child begins to understand that two-dimensional lines can represent three dimensional objects — a precursor to comprehending that letters can represent sounds and words can represent objects or ideas. By telling stories or putting on plays, a child understands sequencing. In playing with objects, s/he learns to categorize. These activities are intentionally designed to help children build a strong foundation for the kind of skills required for formal reading instruction later on. Children need to first build this foundation experientially, in the concrete world in which they live, in order for the skills to have meaning for them.

During the above-described play, children may start to recognize letters and words. However, for most children, formal reading instruction at this age is not meaningful or engaging. They may learn to mimic and comply with instructions, but without the necessary foundation, they will not integrate the lessons. In fact, studies show that children who begin formal reading instruction at age seven, having first developed strong oral language skills in a play-based environment, catch up to children who learn to read earlier and have better comprehension skills by middle school.

Emphasizing formal reading instruction in kindergarten has crowded out the play-based, child-directed activities essential to building a strong foundation for successful academic learning. Teaching reading earlier does not give children get a “head start” on academic learning; it is a roadblock.

Losing play-based kindergarten also deprives us of a vital tool to help children’s social and emotional development. The majority of American public school students live in poverty. Brain experts have shown that many of the factors associated with living in poverty cause “toxic stress;” which impairs, among other things, the development of their executive function, making it difficult for children to concentrate, remember and control impulses. This impairment has a lifelong impact, impeding the ability to sustain relationships, cope with stress, make healthy life choices and learn successfully.

Play helps develop executive function, coping mechanisms, and problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills. Through play, children also learn to build social supports with peers — a key to resilience. Eliminating play robs children of an opportunity to develop these skills. Replacing play with developmentally inappropriate, frustrating and meaningless demands heightens children’s stress levels and destroys their trust in the adults charged with their welfare — the exact opposite of the type of environment our most vulnerable children need. It can also make young children hate school from the start.

The Common Core reading standards have forced schools to discard all that we have learned about child development. How many young futures are we willing to sacrifice before we return education policy to those who know something about children?

Another MUST READ by Wendy Lecker: Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality


Perhaps the greatest indignity perpetrated by the corporate education reform industry is their fallacious claim that they represent the “new civil rights movement.”

Nowhere, including here in Connecticut, do they talk about tackling the terrible growth of child poverty that is destroying our society or the challenges faced by children who require special education services or need help with their English language capabilities.

None of the corporate education reform groups are willing to acknowledge, let alone address,Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula or the fact that Connecticut public schools aren’t provided the resources necessary to support the children who walk through their front doors.

Instead of providing a meaningful solution to the problems the country faces, the charter school company owners and their allies, under the guise of “school choice,” demand more public funds while creaming off a sub-set of children and refusing to educate those who are English Language Learners and those who require additional special education services.

Claiming to be vehicles of opportunity for children, these fraudsters run schools that are more segregated and less egalitarian than the true public schools in their communities.

Chanting slogans of civil rights and wrapping themselves in the image of Martin Luther King Jr., the education reform industry is the antipathy of King’s message and the policies and practices that could heal this troubled and divided nation.

In her latest piece, education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker dissects the utter failure of Connecticut’s charter schools to be part of the solution when it comes to reducing racial isolation.

Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality (By Wendy Lecker)

First published at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-schools-civil-rights-6207481.php

Education “reformers” often proclaim they are carrying on the tradition of great civil rights leaders, employing the rhetoric of that movement while in reality pushing measures that exacerbate inequality and impact most harshly on children and communities of color-like school closures, privatization, and over-testing. Last week, noted civil rights expert Gary Orfield, of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, issued a report on Connecticut school integration that included an indictment of the practices of Connecticut’s most-practiced purveyors of civil rights doublespeak — charter schools. The report also called out state officials for their willful blindness to charter school practices.

The report, titled “Connecticut School Integration,” praised the state for some of the strides made in desegregating schools. However, it noted the well-documented “hyper-segregation” of charter schools, which undermines Connecticut’s progress on integration. The report further remarked that national education policies, including the expansion of charter schools, ignore race and poverty and have “consistently failed” to meet the goal of improving education for our neediest children.

Connecticut law on segregation is far-reaching. While the federal constitution only prevents intentional segregation, our Supreme Court, in the 1996 decision in Sheff v. O’Neill, prohibited “unorchestrated,” i.e. de facto segregation. Thus, state officials have an affirmative obligation not just to prevent intentional segregation, but to eliminate even unintentional segregation.

Most Connecticut charters are intensely segregated. They routinely fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and often our most impoverished students.

Yet, as the Civil Rights Project writes, Connecticut state officials have refused to do anything to stem the tide of charter school segregation. The report observes that the education commissioner could require changes in a charter if that school does not make measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation. It remarks that the state board could make this goal a prerequisite to granting a charter. Yet, as the report goes on to note, these state officials, those with the express obligation to reduce segregation, have consistently chosen to do nothing to prevent charter school segregation and its effects, including exacerbating racial, ethnic and economic imbalance in the host school districts.

Indeed, one wonders if Connecticut officials had forced Hartford’s charters to abide by desegregation policies all along, would the city have reached its Sheff goals long ago, saving the state millions of dollars?

School integration is fundamental to advancing the democratic purpose of education. As the court noted in the Sheff decision: “If children of different races and economic and social groups have no opportunity to know each other and to live together in school, they cannot be expected to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of our society.”

Decades of evidence prove that school integration achieves this goal, reducing stereotypes and enabling adults to function successfully in a variety of settings. The benefits of school integration are more lasting and meaningful than the empty pursuit of higher test scores.

In 1996, our highest court clearly articulated the state’s responsibility to reduce segregation. Yet almost 20 years later, state officials allow charter school segregation to flourish. The State Board of Education continually rubber-stamps charter applications, trampling community opposition, and ignoring their duty to prevent charter school segregation and over-concentration. Even a new policy the state board announced, which applies to charter renewals only and not initial approvals, fails to require that charters serve the same students that their host district public schools serve.

This session, the legislature’s Education Committee considered a bill that would have placed a moratorium on charter school approvals. Yet, our political leaders did not even have the will to move this bill out of committee. And now the governor wants the legislature to fund new charters while refusing to provide public schools with any ECS increase.

In his report, Dr. Orfield exhorts the state to bring charter schools in line with Connecticut’s law and policies against segregation and to ensure that charter operators live up to their “civil rights responsibilities under state and federal law.” He even suggests pursuing litigation against charters that receive public funds, yet operate segregated schools in violation of Connecticut law.

Given the unwillingness of state leaders to do anything about charter school segregation, communities may have no choice but to look to the courts. In December, the Delaware ACLU filed a federal complaint against charter school segregation. One can only hope that a civil rights organization here will follow the lead of the Delaware ACLU and pursue a real civil rights agenda when it comes to school segregation in Connecticut.

A special opportunity to hear the truth about “Education Reform”

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In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell

Hosted by Robert Hannafin, Dean of Fairfield University’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions comes a unique opportunity to hear from Wendy Lecker, Jonathan Pelto, Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice and nationally renowned Education expert and advocate Yohuru Williams.

In their one and only joint appearance


March 31, 2015

6:30 p.m. -8:00 p.m.

Oak Room

Barone Campus Center

Fairfield University

Open to the public and free [Very much the corporate education reform industry]


Common Core SBAC Test – Connecticut wrong, Vermont right!

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Fellow Connecticut education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker has yet another MUST READ piece about the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s attack on public education and how Connecticut’s leaders are failing to protect our state’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Lecker’s column is entitled, The truth about the SBACs, and it can be found in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and on-line at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-truth-about-the-SBACs-6149232.php

Wendy Lecker writes;

A New England state is leading the way on sane testing policy. Unfortunately for us Nutmeggers, that state is Vermont, not Connecticut.

There is a growing national consensus that standardized testing has deleterious effects on education. The National Research Councilconcluded that test-based accountability under the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) had “zero to little effect” on achievement. Evidence from around the nation proves the focus on standardized testing has narrowed curricula and resulted in significant losses in learning time. Anxiety is prevalent among public school students, as more and higher stakes are attached to these standardized tests.

There is also a growing realization of what experts have known for years — that the federal government demands that states overuse and misuse standardized tests. Experts know that standardized tests are of limited value, because they are unstable, unreliable and most importantly, do not measure the breadth of skills and experience that are the goals of education. Despite the well-known limitations of standardized tests, federal officials insist test scores be used to rank and rate schools, students and teachers, and impose real-life consequences, including sanctions on schools and possible school closures, firing teachers and even decisions regarding student placement and graduation.

When federal policy conflicts with a solid body of evidence, one would expect our state education officials, those charged with safeguarding the educational rights and welfare of our children, to provide guidance on sound testing policy.

Unfortunately, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s top education officials have failed to provide any useful guidance whatsoever. To the contrary, Connecticut officials willingly participate in damaging testing practices. Connecticut rushed to sign on to the federal NCLB waiver in 2012, without analyzing the costs or consequences. As part of the waiver, then Education CommissionerStefan Pryor committed the state to implementing the common core tests known as the Smarter Balanced, or SBACs. These tests are longer than the CMTs, and must be taken on a computer or tablet, requiring a certain level of computer skill and literacy. Commissioner Pryor also agreed to “cut scores,” proficiency levels, guaranteeing that a vast majority of Connecticut students will fail the new tests. By agreeing to the waiver, Pryor also committed the state to evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores, even though the weight of evidence demonstrates that evaluating teachers on student these test scores is invalid and major organizations such as the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association oppose this practice.

Contrast Connecticut’s complete lack of leadership with Vermont’s. Because the NCLB waiver called for mandates that were contrary to good educational practices, Vermont refused to apply for an NCLB waiver in 2012. In an August 2014 resolution, Vermont’s State Board of Education called on the federal government to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states.”

Last week, Vermont’s State Board of Education unanimously approved a new resolution on the SBAC tests, which gives strong and informed guidance that Connecticut’s education leaders are unwilling to provide.

Vermont’s resolution declares that while the SBAC tests “purport to measure progress towards `college and career readiness . . . the tests have not been externally validated as measuring these important attributes.”

Accordingly, the state board resolved “until empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (“college and career-ready”), test results should not be used to make normative and consequential judgments about schools and students.”

Vermont’s state board also resolved that until Vermont has more experience with evidence from the SBACs, “the results of the SBAC assessment will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance, and thus should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose.”

Finally, honest education officials admit the SBACs have never been proven to measure “college readiness” or progress toward “college readiness,” and in fact are unreliable to measure student learning. In other words, the foundation upon which the Common Core rests is an artifice, and our children are being subjected to unproven tests. Connecticut districts have been diverting resources and time toward a testing regime without any proof that it would improve our children’s education.

In its thoughtful articulation of its policy stance, Vermont’s educational leaders demonstrated their dedication to the educational welfare of Vermont’s children. It is shameful that Connecticut’s so-called leaders cannot muster the same concern for ours.

Again, the full article can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-truth-about-the-SBACs-6149232.php

Without A Net – The challenge of learning in chaos

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Education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker has yet another – MUST READ – piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and on the Hearst Media website.  You can find the original at: Wendy Lecker: The challenge of learning in chaos.

The challenge of learning in chaos

The notion of equal educational opportunity was explained clearly by Kansas Judge Terry Bullock in a 2003 school funding decision: “If a child lives a great way from school, the transportation cost for that child will be greater than for another child nearer to school — just to provide him or her the same educational opportunity. Similarly, if a child cannot speak English, it may cost more to teach that child English as a second language before the child can learn math and other subjects.”

In other words, providing equal opportunity means meeting children where they are — helping them overcome their individual obstacles to learning. Judge Bullock recognized that although those obstacles often exist outside the school walls, overcoming them is part of the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a free public education.

A new UCLA report centers on those out-of-school factors that interfere with learning. The report, titled “It’s About Time,” found that community stressors such as economic distress, hunger, lack of medical care, family problems, unstable housing and violence, result in lost learning time three times as often in high poverty schools as in low poverty schools.

While the report focuses on California, I have heard identical stories from teachers, principals and district officials in Connecticut and New York. Children in impoverished districts often arrive at school hungry, without coats, socks or with broken glasses. High school students miss the first few periods of each school day because they must ensure their younger siblings get to school safely. Children bring to school the instability they experience in their lives.

These are not isolated stories. These are the barriers many poor children encounter every day when they try to learn, and teachers encounter when they try to teach. Before a child can focus on learning, she needs to be fed and clothed and have a way to deal with any trauma she may have experienced the night before. This is why social workers, behavioral specialists, psychologists, counselors and other therapists are essential educational resources. “Support staff” is a misnomer.

More than half of American public schoolchildren live in poverty. Consequently an increasing number of schools must contend with the chaos that surrounds the lives of their students. However, as the number of poor public schoolchildren rises, schools have fewer resources to help. Most states provide schools with less funding today than they did before the recession hit. And the number of federal dollars, a very small percentage of a school district’s budget to begin with, has also shrunk considerably. The poorest districts are least able to fill in those chasms with local tax dollars.

The result? Every year, our poorest school districts must slash millions of dollars from their budgets. That means cutting services.

Teachers pick up the slack. They find jackets for students, feed them, buy school supplies and give up their lunch periods to counsel them. The UCLA report found that teachers in high poverty schools spend time “addressing a variety of important academic, social, and long-term planning issues with their students more frequently than teachers in Low Poverty schools.”

The report dispels the “absurd notion,” as former Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville once said, that “all the incompetency in our education systems has coincidentally aggregated around low income students.” Teachers in high poverty schools go above and beyond to meet their students’ needs. It is not about incompetence. It is about lack of resources.

One has to wonder why the Obama administration pushes policies that not only fail to correct the inequalities in educational resources, but instead exacerbate them.

The UCLA report revealed that poor schools lose three times more instructional days than low poverty schools to standardized testing and test prep — more than four weeks of instructional time.

It is now well-established that standardized tests do not improve learning, and narrow a school’s curriculum. It is also well-known that yearly testing is unnecessary, since a child who passes a test one year is overwhelmingly likely to pass the next.

Yet U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan clings to the faulty conviction that children must suffer through standardized tests every year so that children “do not fall through the cracks.” How absurd. Teachers know which children are struggling academically.

If policymakers were truly concerned with children falling through the cracks, they would make sure that every school had a safety net to catch them. Too often, our neediest children must face life’s harshest realities. It is time politicians stop ignoring how those realities impact our schools.

For more go to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-challenge-of-learning-in-chaos-6093176.php

Our real national standards (By Wendy Lecker)


Public Education Advocate and Hearst newspaper columnist Wendy Lecker has another MUST READ piece this week about the Common Core.

Wendy Lecker writes,

We now know that the fiction that the Common Core State Standards are nationally agreed-upon standards that grew from some grassroots movement in the states is manufactured hype. It is now broadly understood that these standards were developed behind closed doors under the direction of two private organizations, and were bankrolled by Bill Gates. The imposition of the Common Core coincided with the increasing awareness — by parents, teachers and experts — that after 20 years of reform by high-stakes standardized testing, the method has failed. As it becomes clear that an increased emphasis on new computerized standardized tests is the true purpose of the Common Core initiative, parents, students, teachers and elected officials, from across the country and the political spectrum, are rising in opposition.

While the national revolt against these artificial national standards gains momentum, on Aug. 29, a Texas judge reminded the nation we already have democratically derived national education standards.

In his ruling, Judge John Dietz found the Texas school finance system unconstitutional. He was guided in his decision by the fundamental purpose of education as articulated by the Texas constitution. According to the state constitution, education is “essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people. It is the foundation of our democracy.”

This view is echoed in state constitutions across the United States. From Vermont, to Wyoming, to Kentucky, to New York, courts have resoundingly held that the framers of their constitutions intended that public education prepare our young children for their roles as citizens.

Dietz found that to prepare children for citizenship, every school must have a basic set of essential resources: pre-K, small class size, enough teachers, libraries, books, technology, support staff — including counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals — and extra services for children with extraordinary needs, adequate facilities and a suitable curriculum. After a lengthy trial, the judge ruled that Texas’ school-finance system failed to ensure schools had these basic resources and that, as a result, children in these schools were being denied their constitutional right to an education.

Across this nation, courts in school funding cases have found that these same resources are essential to a constitutionally adequate education in their states. Like Dietz, they heard evidence from national educational experts and local educational experts — superintendents and teachers who work with public school children every day. These judges heard what children need and what works best to help children learn. From Kansas, to Washington, to New Jersey and beyond, these far-flung courts ruled that their states are responsible for providing schools with this nearly identical basket of educational goods.

So-called education “reformers” push a different and lesser vision of education — perhaps most honestly expressed by the Dayton, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce:

The business community is the consumer of the educational product. Students are the educational product. They are going through the educational system so they can be an attractive product for business to consume.

This diminishment of children as being in service to business is echoed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who lamented that because of our public education system, “we are falling further behind our international competitors.”

Not only is this vision offensive, it is wrongheaded. It has been proven over and over that U.S. students’ scores on national or international tests bear no relation to America’s economy or worker productivity.

However, this dehumanizing view explains current educational policy where students, and their teachers, are judged merely by standardized test scores.

Judge Dietz’s ruling turns the focus back on what children need. It declares that before we can hold children, teachers or schools responsible for meeting standards, we must hold states responsible for providing basic educational tools.

The requirement that states provide schools with adequate funding to supply basic resources is the true national standard, developed organically from the ground up, and rooted in our democratic process and values. It fulfills a broad vision of the purpose of public education. In the words of the Connecticut Supreme Court, education is “the cohesive element that binds the fabric of society together.”

School-funding suits similar to Texas’ will soon go to trial in Connecticut and New York. Plaintiffs recently prevailed in Washington and Kansas. And more cases are brewing in other states. It seems that as long as our political leaders peddle a false vision of public education, one disconnected from the needs of students, we must look to our judicial system to safeguard children’s rights.

In addition to serving as a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Wendy Lecker is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on the original column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Our-real-national-standards-5736778.php

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