State must take serious look at school funding (according to Wendy Lecker)

It is time for a real, serious and honest look at Connecticut’s school funding crisis, not the cop-out  version that has been recently proposed as part of Connecticut’s budget plan.

Fellow pro-public education blogger and commentator, Wendy Lecker, has another “MUST READ” column this week in the Stamford Advocate, CT Post and the other newspapers that are part of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

You can find her full post here; Wendy Lecker: State must take serious look at school funding

As Lecker notes, “Connecticut is a study in contrasts. We have pockets of incredible wealth, and areas struggling with entrenched poverty. We have school districts with few needy children, and those with high concentrations of children living in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. There are districts with gleaming labs, large marching bands, theater, and foreign language offered in kindergarten, while in other districts, children sit in overcrowded classrooms with inadequate libraries, no electives, insufficient books and not even enough paper. This resource disparity translates into a disparity of educational opportunity, with some districts sending scores of children to elite colleges while others have alarmingly low graduation rates.

Connecticut has allowed this chasm in educational opportunity to exist for years, in part because we have never taken an honest look at what it costs to educate all children no matter what their need.”

Lecker recognizes that the process must begin with an “educational adequacy cost study.”

As she explains, “In such a study, experts first identify the basic educational resources needed to meet state standards. Then, they “cost out” those resources, taking into account the factors that affect the cost, such as student need, geographic differences, and population density. Different levels of student need, such as poverty, limited English proficiency and disability, affect the cost of resources necessary. Moreover, the severity and/or concentration of poverty and the level of disability can add to educational cost. For over 20 years states and courts have used these studies to devise rational school finance systems with a transparent relationship between state aid, student need and a district’s ability to raise revenue.”

But despite an across the board recognition that a cost study is needed, Governor Malloy failed to propose one as part of his recent changes to the State’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

Instead, as Lecker points out, Malloy ” proposed inappropriate changes to our school finance system that will render even more children invisible in the eyes of the ECS formula.”

Furthermore, she writes, “The governor’s plan to completely remove English Language Learners from ECS is a step in exactly the wrong direction. Such a move would have devastating effect on many municipalities. In a state with a growing Latino population, and others from non-English-speaking homes, this proposal is ludicrous. Moreover, Malloy’s proposal reduces the weight for poverty, providing fewer funds to educate poor children. To make matters worse, the proposal once again fails to include a weight for special education.”

Although Governor Malloy has failed to take the necessary steps towards fiscal transparency and adequacy, Connecticut’s legislators can correct that mistake.  

You can find Lecker’s full commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-must-take-serious-look-at-4301439.php#ixzz2LjtWjttN

Will someone speak up for Latino students? Corporate reform group overlooks the truth in effort to bolster charter schools.

Will someone speak up for Latino students?

Corporate reform group overlooks the truth in effort to bolster charter schools.  

Rae Ann Knopf, the Executive Director for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform recently took issue with a commentary piece written by Wendy Lecker (recent commentary) that was published in the Stamford Advocate and Connecticut Post and then reposted here at Wait, What?

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) is a business group that was one of the biggest supporters of Governor Malloy’s” Education Reform” proposal.  The organization’s board of directors is made up of a number of corporate executives including the Presidents, CEO or COOs of United Illuminating, First Niagara Bank, The Travelers, Nestle Waters North America, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Retired Chairman & CEO of The Hartford.

In her commentary piece, Wendy Lecker reminded readers that as part of Malloy’s education reform effort, Hartford’s Milner School, a school where 40 percent of the students go home to households where English is not the primary language, was given to a nearby charter school management organization Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), despite the fact that FUSE has never had a non-English speaking student attend their Jumoke Academy schools.

Rather than devote the time and resources to help the Milner School succeed, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education gave the school, the students and millions of taxpayer dollars to a private entity that has no experience teaching bi-lingual students.  Not surprisingly, according to a recent report to the State Department of Education, the Jumoke Academy has failed to take the necessary steps to strengthen its bi-lingual program and the number of students attending the Milner School has dropped.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform’s Rae Ann Knopf came to the Jumoke Charter School’s defense writing, “Observing that enrollment at Milner, a school partnering with Jumoke Academy, has gone down, Ms. Lecker writes, “we can already see that Jumoke’s Milner is not the same as last year’s Milner.” (see Knopf’s response here)

Knopf adds, “Well, we certainly hope not. Over the last three years at “last year’s Milner”, students scored an average of 32.8 on the School Performance Index (SPI). Put in lay terms, that means most Milner students were not even scoring at the “Basic” level on their CMTs. In contrast, Jumoke students scored a three-year average SPI of 80.1 (which is close to the statewide achievement target of 88). That score indicates that many Jumoke students had “Advanced” and “Goal” CMT scores. As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner. There’s nothing unreasonable about the hypothesis that a partnership between Milner and Jumoke should advance student learning at the former Milner School.”

Once again, the education reformers will go to any length, even misrepresent the facts, to defend their school privatization agenda.

Rae Ann Knopf claims, “As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner.”

Even the education reformers recognize that the three most powerful factors determining test scores are poverty, language barriers and the number of students who need special education services

So what are the facts?

Percent of Students not fluent in English Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

20%

0%

 

Percent of Students going home to non-English speaking households Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

39%

0%

 

Percent of Students with special education needs Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

11%

2%

 

Percent of Students qualifying for Free or Reduce Lunch Milner School Jumoke Academy

2010

100%

72%

 

So if the students attending the Milner School are significantly more poor, have far greater language barriers and a far greater number need special education services, is it surprising that test scores are lower at Milner than at Jumoke?

Of course not!

So do you then give the Milner School, its students and its taxpayer funds to a school that doesn’t have any experience with a major portion of the community?

Of course not!   Unless you are part of Governor Malloy’s education reform plan.

And what happens when you transfer all that money to an entity that doesn’t have any experience?

According to the Commissioner’s Network Midyear Operations and Instruction Audit for the Thurman Milner School;

Four months into the year, Jumoke still hadn’t hired a bi-lingual teacher

And “Some teachers described an ELL push-in model and others describe a pull out model, so it is assumed that both approaches are used.  While classroom teachers have had training in instructional strategies to use in teaching ELL students, some report that they could use more training in that area.”

Wait, What??

One in five Jumoke-Milner students are not fluent in English and 40% of the students go home to households that don’t speak English and Jumoke still hasn’t hired a bi-lingual teacher and the teachers report that they DON’T KNOW if the Jumoke Administrators are using a “push-in or pull out” model of teaching English Language Learners?

Not only is CCER’s Executive Director overlooking the facts by defending the Jumoke Academy but the Commissioner’s Network Program and Governor Malloy’s education reform plans are failing to provide the most vital services to the children of the Milner School and especially the schools large Latino population.

If that is what the Connecticut Council for Education Reform considers a success, it is a sad day in Connecticut.

Children before politics: Madison, Connecticut: Standing up to the Corporate Education Reform Movement

This weekend, Hearst newspaper columnist and fellow public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, has published a “must read” commentary piece that reveals that in at least one Connecticut community local elected officials, school administrators, teachers and parents are have the courage and conviction to stand up for the needs of their children – even if it means taking on Connecticut’s “education reform at all costs” State Department of Education.

Two weeks ago, Lecker used her column to ask; “Will one superintendent please stand up?”

This week we learn that yes, there is a Connecticut superintendent of schools, in fact, there is a whole local board of education and education community that isn’t being bullied by the forces that are seeking to turn our schools into privatized testing factories.

As Lecker points out, “The story of how [Madison, Connecticut] Superintendent Scarice and his community crafted the district’s recommendations for its teacher evaluation plan is a model of how education policy should be made. In Madison, the process and results reflected a consensus of the entire community and a focus on what children need.”

Unlike the policies being put forward by the Malloy administration, Madison recognized that primary and secondary education must be about instilling a love of learning, while providing the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the complex, changing world in which we live.

It is an approach and concept that standardized tests fail to measure.

Put more bluntly, as one Madison Board of Education member told Wendy Lecker, “We want to take that joy of learning kindergarteners come in with and stop stamping it out of them as they progress to 12th grade.”

The town, using a 45-member advisory council, rejected the state’s reliance on standardized testing and instead developed an alternative model that seeks to capture the real factors that promote student success and achievement.

Lecker’s latest piece should be mandatory reading, not only for those who are losing hope that we can preserve what is good about Connecticut’s public education system, but for those who continue to push their destructive “education reform” agenda; A program that is based on the over reliance of standardized testing and the continued effort to privatize our state and nation’s most important public service — our public education system.

You can find Lecker’s commentary at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-town-doing-it-the-right-way-4187399.php#ixzz2HmT7yjPh

Friend, parent activist and fellow pro-public education blogger Wendy Lecker’s letter to President Obama.

Yesterday, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, Wendy Lecker sent the following letter to President Obama.

Her letter was posted on the Parents Across America website and as reprinted on Diane Ravitch’s site.

Here is a link to Ravitch’s site:  http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/19/letter-to-president-obama-from-connecticut-founder-of-parents-across-america/

And here is the letter as printed on the Parents Across America site:

Parents Across America grieves with the community of Newtown, Connecticut over the loss of their precious children and educators. The following letter, sent yesterday to President Obama from the founder of Parents Across America-CT, expresses some aspects of what many of our members are feeling at this difficult time.

Hon. President Barack Obama

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

As a public school parent of three in Stamford, Connecticut, I wanted to thank you for lending your support to the devastated community of Newtown. I listened intently to your remarks at the memorial service last night, especially to the questions you raised: “Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?”

You indicated that you were reflecting on these questions, alluding to the issue of gun control. I hope also, that these questions caused you also to reconsider your approach to education reform.

As you said last night, “our most important job is to give [children] what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.” You described in vivid detail how skilled the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School were at dealing with the immediate unthinkable trauma of the tragedy; how they managed to keep children calm and feeling safe in the face of life-threatening danger. We can predict that the teachers of the surviving children will have to be as equipped to handle the trauma these children will carry with them as they will be to teach them the subjects the children learn. We know that these teachers will have to help these children develop the non-cognitive skills that make all the difference to success in life- those skills we cannot measure on any standardized test.

We also know, as you mentioned, that those poor children in Sandy Hook are not the only ones who deal with trauma on a daily basis. Children today, especially those living in our poorest areas, face the stress that crime and poverty exact on their young lives on a daily basis. And we know from research, like that done at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, that when children experience prolonged stress, it becomes toxic and hinders the development of the learning and reasoning areas of the brain. These researchers maintain that a nurturing environment is key to enabling these areas to grow properly. For many children, school is their safe haven; and science, and the awful events in Newtown show us that it is our paramount duty to maintain school as a secure and loving place.

In order to ensure that schools are a safe haven, where children can develop both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, they need to have preschool, reasonable class size, so children can get needed attention from teachers; enough supplies and books, and rich curriculum, including art, music sports and extra-curriculars, so children can explore and understand the world and have many outlets to express themselves; and enough support services, especially for children at-risk.

Many of our schools across this nation do not have the resources to make our schools a safe haven. As you noted in your recent report, for example, in New York City, the number of classes of 30 and over has tripled in the past four years. School districts across this country have been forced to cut support services, teachers, extra-curricular activities, music, art, even AP classes and core classes. They have to delay repairs until a roof collapses, endangering children.

Unfortunately, your policies toward our public schools are making it nearly impossible to keep public schools a nurturing and safe environment. Your chief strategies are evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores and implementation of the Common Core standardized tests in every grade, with a multitude of interim computerized tests as well as summative computerized tests. None of these preferred strategies of yours have ever been proven to raise achievement. Surely you are aware of the studies proving that rating teachers on standardized tests results in a 50% misclassification rate. The ratings vary by year, class, test and even statistical model used. The CCSS is not supported by any research showing that standards or tests improve learning. In fact, the National Research Council concluded that ten years of NCLB testing has done nothing to improve achievement.

Even more damaging, these strategies force teachers, administrators and children to abandon attention to all-important non-cognitive skill development, and focus primarily, if not only, on test scores.  This shift of focus includes a diversion of limited resources away from necessary educational basics. You have moved the focus from the well-being of children to the job status of adults.

A recent report from the Consortium of Policy Research in Education reveals just how harmful this strategy is. The report found that NCLB’s test-driven mandates provided little guidance on how to improve. Consequently, schools tried a hodgepodge of strategies akin to “throwing many darts at a target and hoping one of them hits the bulls-eye.” The only consistent tactic used to raise test scores was test prep. As CPRE acknowledged, test prep is shallow and narrow. The report recommends changing accountability systems so schools concentrate less on standardized tests and more on developing the “host of non-cognitive skills found to be related to later success.”

Other researchers found a disturbing trend caused by testing, standardization and scripting: America’s children are becoming less creative. While other countries strive to build creativity into the curriculum, American schools are increasingly forced to homogenize. Consequently, creativity, which increased steadily until 1990, has declined ever since, with the most serious decline appearing in children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

This body of research demands that we rethink our national obsession to use tests as the goal in education. A low test score should be an alarm, not that a school or teacher is failing, but more likely that there are stressors in a child’s life that warrant intervention.

Your waiver and Race to the Top programs, which push the use of standardized tests to judge all teachers and the implementation of even more standardized tests through the Common Core State Standards, only increase this hollow focus on testing. You hold hostage funding to provide the necessary resources described above to the implementation of these narrow and destructive goals. You encourage states to withhold basic funding as well, as evidenced by Governor Cuomo’s threat to withhold basic state school aid unless districts implement a teacher evaluation based on test scores. You hold up as examples of model schools privately run charters that often exclude our neediest children and often are militaristic-style test-prep factories. Moreover you encourage the proliferation of these schools, which are not answerable to democratically elected school boards, and therefore disenfranchise our neediest citizens.

My oldest child is in 12th grade and my youngest is in 7th. I have seen the increased scripting and narrowing of learning that has occurred in just the five-year gap between them. I have seen the increase in stress in my youngest, who has to suffer through meaningless computerized test after test, while units on poetry and other subjects that would expand his world, are jettisoned (to the point where I have opted him out of many of these tests). I have spoken to so many wonderful teachers frustrated and dejected by their new roles as simple proctors, rather than inspiring educators. I have spoken to school nurses who tell me that at test time, they see a spike in headaches, stomachaches and the need for anti-anxiety medication.

Is this the safe haven to which we aspire for our children? Can this stressful and intellectually-empty school experience really teach our children that they are loved, how to love and how to be resilient?

You said last night that we have to change. While I believe you were hinting at gun control, I respectfully request that you expand this resolve to change and include a rethinking of your education policy. We want all our children to feel safe and loved. We want them to be able to find their own, unique voices. We want to protect them and teach them ways to adapt and protect themselves. Please help us do that by helping schools expand our children’s world. Let us build our schools’ capacity to serve all our children, rather than tearing down the foundations of our public education system.

Sincerely,

Wendy Lecker