Vouchers And Charter Schools Say NO To Children With Special Needs

We all know that the future looks bleak for the pubic school children of Connecticut. We have a U.S.Secretary of Education and a Connecticut Governor who do not respect what public schools do for children. Betsy DeVos supports the Wild West of vouchers in which anything goes in terms of meeting student needs, and Dan Malloy advances a budget that privileges charter schools that make a profit out of not meeting student needs.

Please read “The Education Reform as the Prevention of Special Education Services” by Jason Courtmanche. Jason relates what he and his wife, both educators, had to do in our present system to secure special education services for their children and explains how, in the future with vouchers and privately-managed yet publicly-funded charter schools, children with special needs will not have a chance.

Calling It As It Is

It is refreshing to see more balanced reporting about education in The New York Times. For years, the paper has portrayed an infatuation with charter schools and has incorporated the rhetoric of misnamed education “reformers” in its reporting. Several recent articles in The New York Times demonstrate a more open approach and a recognition that those “reformers” are actually privatizers and profiteers. An example is this piece by the highly esteemed writer, Gail Collins. In it, she is critical of those privatizers and profiteers as she writes about how unqualified Betsy DeVos is to head the U.S. Department of Education.

The Role Of The Artist in Trump-time

The result of the 2016 Presidential election silenced me. Listening to Meryl Streep’s speech when she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes Award gave me back my voice.

Since November 9, 2016, I have questioned the point of writing about public education anymore. Why should I continue to criticize the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts when what I find harmful in them for students is now being normalized by the President-elect? How could  I continue to criticize standards that limit the amount of literature students read when we have a President-elect who boasts of the fact that he doesn’t read?  How could I criticize standards that recognize only predetermined right answers instead of critical or creative thinking  when we have a President-elect who says he has all the answers and doesn’t need dialogue with others to explore possibilities or revise his thinking? How could I continue to advocate for excellent public schools for all children as the bedrock of a democracy when that President-elect nominates for U.S. Secretary of Education someone who wants to destroy public education?  It all seemed futile.

Then I heard what Meryl Streep said about artists and journalists and knew that it applied to educators as well.  You can listen to her speech here:   https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=tightropetb&p=video+of+meryl+streep+speech+at+golden+globes+on+january+9%2C+2016#id=59&vid=c81a5c9dd5861ac45c2c81b50d1964b9&. Or you can read it below.

I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read. Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no — in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this. So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account –  to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” 

And that is what I will do. I will stop being defeated. I will end my two-month silence. I will let my broken heart energize my art as a teacher and as a  teacher of teachers.

I will go back to speaking my truth. I know what good education is and will advocate for it. I know what the art of teaching entails. I am passionate about children having the best possible education because I know first-hand how education that privileges diversity, independent thinking, and social responsibility can transform lives. I will not stop because of the disrespect, violence, and bullying that now surround us. I will not stop empathizing with the children in this country who so need us educators – especially now.

I will ask of myself what Meryl Streep asked of journalists: How can I hold power accountable and safeguard the truth. The truth I want to safeguard is that the purpose of public education is to build the minds and hearts of all students by developing their potential as engaged learners and increasingly independent thinkers in every way imaginable. To do that, I must go back to opposing the Common Core Standards, designed by entrepreneurs and testing company personnel instead of educators. I must also go back to opposing the evaluation of students by standardized tests because that kind of assessment reduces learning for all students, especially those who need engagement and stimulation the most. I must go back to opposing charter schools because they take  money away from the vast majority of children without notable results, and they encourage segregation. As Meryl Streep urged journalists, I must hold precious my responsibility to play a part in taking this democracy to its highest ground.

Meryl Streep is right. The oligarch-in-chief and the oligarchs with whom he has surrounded himself have incredible power and have the privilege of wealth. But we educators, like the actors and journalists, have our art. We can teach. We can speak the truth about kids, about learning, about diversity, about excellence.  With that art and with one another we can fight back.

Let’s get busy.

Relay Is A Very Bad Joke-One That Hurts Kids

The Relay Graduate School of Education recently applied to be a graduate school of education in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. That application was denied in Pennsylvania and California. That application was approved in Connecticut.

What is the Relay Graduate School of Education? Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions  in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education. So how did it get approved in Connecticut?

On November 2, 2016, the Connecticut State Board of Education held a hearing to listen to testimony about whether Relay should be approved or not. More than 30 people testified. The overwhelming majority of those who testified strongly recommended denying Relay’s application. Some cited research about Relay and its ineffectiveness and its lack of quality . Some cited their own experience as teacher educators. Some cited their experiences in being trained as teachers. Some cited ways to bring people of color into the teaching profession in Connecticut without lowering standards and expectations for them. Only those already enrolled in or employed by Relay and two paid advocates forConnecticut charter schools spoke in favor of approving Relay.

Astoundingly, within minutes after the hearing, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved Relay as a valid program for certifying teachers in Connecticut.

The political fix was in.

Connecticut children, particularly those most in need of a good education lost. Again.

Below is my statement at that hearing:

Testimony to the Connecticut State Board of Education on November 2, 2016

My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.

Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.

Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.

It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough.

Teaching is complex. Teachers need more than a “how”; they need a ”why”. Brain surgeons in training certainly benefit greatly by doing their surgical rotation with expert surgeons, but when they are on their own as licensed surgeons, they must have a depth of knowledge to deal with all of the possible complexities that could occur in any surgery. So too with teaching.

Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.

The accreditation process has standards to insure that graduates of teacher preparation programs have a deep knowledge of their field and a deep knowledge of child and adolescent growth and development. To be accredited, a teacher education program must also require its prospective teachers to have specified experiences of being mentored by amazing teachers. All prospective teachers need both academic course work and mentoring. Relay denies its students an essential element of teacher preparation, the element that is the foundation of all else.

Relay has been promoted both as a way to bring people of color into the teaching profession and as a fast track to let the teachers of the children of color become certified or earn Master’s degrees. How demeaning is that claim! Demeaning to both the adults of color and the children of color. Prospective teachers of color are capable of the same academic challenges as their white counterparts in accredited teacher preparation programs. And children of color in our cities, whom these teachers in the Relay program are being trained to serve, are entitled to the same appropriately trained teachers as their counterparts in the affluent suburbs.

To permit Relay to prepare teachers in Connecticut is to perpetuate the same gap between the haves and the have-nots in Connecticut that we already have. It is racist and classist. We, as state, cannot endorse that. We must give our children better care. If not us, who? If not you as the State Board of Education, who?

Call To Action: Support NAACP

As  I sat at the meeting of the education committee of the Connecticut General Assembly in early spring and heard the CEO of the charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN, say that Connecticut needed more seats in charter schools in order to save students from “being trapped in failing schools”, I had questions.

First of all,  if thousands of children are suffering, why is the concern with just helping a handful of them? Only 1.5% of Connecticut’s public school students are in charter schools. What about the other 98.5%?  Do we have a lifeboat mentality in which a few are rescued and the rest go down with what charter school advocates are happy to call a sinking ship? How is that fair?

Secondly, what happened to Sheff vs. O’Neill, the court  case which set clear goals for integrating schools in Connecticut? All of the charter school students accompanying the CEO of ConnCAN to the legislative hearing were children of color. Clearly, the enrollment of Connecticut’s charter schools mirrors the national figures as reported by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which states: “Charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools 1n virtually every state and every metropolitan area in the nation.” The report points out that 70% of charter school students are in schools in which 90-100% of the students are students of color, which is double the number of students  segregated in that way in traditional public schools.

Thirdly, how do we know which schools are “failing” and which are not?  Nationally, about 50% of charter schools perform the same as their traditional public school counterparts although the charter school student population is more selective and has fewer special education students and fewer students with English as a second language. The other 50% of charter schools are about equally divided between some doing better than traditional public schools and others doing worse than traditional public schools. Clearly, being a charter school does not exempt a school from being a “failing school”. If charter schools offered an education  that is innovative and exciting, then surely the suburban parents would clamor for them to be in their communities.

Fourthly, how can a school build a good curriculum and sound pedagogy when the staff has a high rate of turnover? Charter schools have a 20-45% teacher turnover rate with young, uncertified teachers who have no teaching experience coming in each year and staying for an average of 2.3 years.  High teacher turnover affects the quality of the education because it impedes the development of instructional cohesion within the school.

Fifthly,  what about the high suspension rates in charter schools? For example, last year, 23.78 % of the children were suspended at a charter elementary school in New Haven (Achievement First’s Amistad Academy), 58.6% of the students at one charter high school (Elm City College Prep) and 53.5% of students at another high school (Bridgeport Achievement First) were suspended as compared to 25 % of high school students suspended from schools identified by the state as the lowest performing schools in the state. The average suspension rate for all of Connecticut’s high schools is 12.3%. Currently, Achievement First Hartford , which has elementary grades through high school, is on probation after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of suspensions as well as for having too many uncertified teachers.

In addition, what about the governance of charter schools which take taxpayer money but deny taxpayer oversight and refuse transparency? Their boards are comprised largely of wealthy entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers from outside of the school’s community rather than comprised of parents and citizens of the community?

And lastly, if charter schools  are about good education, why are they not in suburban communities? Are charter schools done to impoverished communities of color more than  for impoverished communities of color?  Is the charter school movement part of what Rupert Murdoch calls a  profit-making  “$500 billion sector in the US alone” and  violated on the unsuspecting parents who are earnestly searching for the best for their children?  Are charter schools windfalls for enterprising entrepreneurs?

I left the meeting concerned.

Then I later became dismayed. The result of the hearing was that in June the  Governor gave the legislature an ultimatum: 401 new charter school seats must be funded. That resulted in an increase of 4.1 million  allocated  for charter schools and a decrease of 51.7 million for traditional public schools and a decrease of 15.4 million for magnet schools. Connecticut is in a financial crisis; everything is being trimmed. The only way to account for the increasing of the budget allocation for charter schools is to recognize the role of campaign financing. The Governor’s chief campaign contributor, a wealthy entrepreneur,  sits on the boards of charter schools and is a lead advocator for charter schools in Connecticut.

Politics. Profits for entrepreneurs. Racism. Inadequate learning experiences for students. What hope is there for all the children?

But then came the summer and the good news…….

The NAACP is doing something for all of the children.. They have taken a firm stand. At their national convention in July, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools.  The NAACP criticized charter schools for lack of public governance, the targeting of low income communities of color, increased segregation, inadequate teaching staffs, and harsh disciplinary practices. The organization that has long been in the forefront of highlighting  civil rights violations has taken the lead. More than 50 African American social advocacy groups, including the  Black Lives Matter movement has joined the NAACP, stating that charter schools represent a “systemic  attack” on communities of color.

The resolution for a moratorium on charter school expansion requires ratification  by the Board of Directors of the NAACP at a board meeting in the fall. The charter school industry, with the unlimited money of  Bill and Melinda Gates, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton family are marshaling forces to overturn the NAACP resolution. A PAC called  Democrats for Education Reform, whose board is composed largely of hedge fund managers who seem to regard  privatizing education through charters schools as a  way to  turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital, are engaged in fierce opposition to the NAACP resolution.

You can be a voice in this controversy. If you believe that the NAACP has taken a positive  step forward with their call for a moratorium on new charter schools,  please join me by clicking on the this link to state your support of the NAACP for their wise and courageous resolution. 

Sure we have a lot to do to improve education: fund universal Pre-K, reduce class size in K-12, improve supportive services,  get rid of the damaging Common Core, and replace standardized tests with effective assessments. But first we must say loudly and firmly that those improvements are for ALL children. We, as a nation, must stop  privatizing public education with profit-making, racial profiling charter schools for SOME of our children and, instead, focus on ALL of our children. Our democracy demands it.

NOTE: PRESS RELEASE

October 15, 2016

CINCINNATI – Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Board of Directors ratified a resolution Saturday adopted by delegates at its 2016 107th National Convention calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.

“The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the National NAACP Board of Directors. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s All Over But The Cheering

 

Right before an institution dies, things get a little crazy. Think of the days before the fall of Rome and the days before the French Revolution. That is where we are now in terms of the misnamed education “reform” in Connecticut.

Things are getting crazy.

When the Connecticut State Department of Education threatens to withdraw needed funds from school districts in which some parents decide to not have their children participate in unreliable, invalid tests, then we know the end is at hand. When a governor prioritizes the opening of new publicly funded but not publicly accountable charter schools for a few over the funding of public schools for all, then we know the end is at hand. When the State Board of Education champions the Common Core as “far better than anything we have done before” although those standards were written by employees of testing companies, not educators, and contradict literally all research in how children learn best, then we know the end is at hand.

The test-and-punish era of education “reform” in Connecticut will soon meet its end because its craziness has become evident to so many.

It is clear that standardized testing can never close the achievement gap, that the Common Core Standards are not good learning and do not give students the skills they need for their future, and that the education “reform” effort is not reform at all but a way to remove public education as a right for all while it provides substantial financial profit for the investors.

So what is the path forward?

David Kirp in a recent New York Times piece points the way. He analyses why the schools in Union City, New Jersey improved while the efforts in Newark failed. In Newark, huge infusions of money, most notably 100 million dollars from Mark Zuckerberg, and outside talent did not bring success. In fact, they might be the reason for the failure. In Union City, by contrast, the school improvement efforts were led by a team of principals and teachers within the district who focused on how students learn best, how teachers teach most effectively, and how parents can be engaged in the schools. Through this process, learning took center stage, the culture of the schools changed, and the achievement of the students took off.

The Harvard School of Education report,” How High Schools Become Exemplary”, also points the way. It describes how 15 high schools improved the achievement of their students. In all 15 schools, the improvement was a result of a team of educators within the school recognizing what their students needed to learn and how they could learn best and accepting responsibility for meeting that need. They created a mission and determined priorities for their school, designed a plan for adult learning, developed criteria for judging student work and teacher practice, and provided resources and incentives. In all 15 schools, the leaders for the school improvement came from each school and overcame some teachers’ resistance to change because those teachers trusted the motives, the competence, the reliability, the collegiality, the intellectual diligence, the courage, and the hard work of the leaders.

The way forward is clear.

Here is what we must do in Connecticut:

1. Make school improvement a local enterprise. It must begin with the leaders having trust in the staff to grow and learn. As Michael Fullan, a leading expert in school improvement, has said, the first principle of school change is to “love your employees”. That comes from knowing them.

2. Set up authentic and focused collaboration among the teachers so that they become the kind of open, questioning, active learners they will teach their students to be.

3. Analyze the needs of the students. Determine how they learn best and what is it they need to learn. Design ways to assess both what they learn and how they learn.

4. Conduct adult learning experiences focused on improving instruction.

For many years, I have been part of creating positive change in Connecticut’s schools, both in suburban and urban districts, in schools with high standardized test scores and those labeled as “failing schools” due to their standardized test scores. I know for sure that collegial leadership, collaboration, and attention to how students learn and how we can best teach by the educators in an academic department, a school, or a school district offer the only path forward for increased student achievement.

Let’s give the test-and-punish version of “reform” a good burial and move on.

The kids are waiting.