Questions For The New CEA President-3


The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Robert Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Robert Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education and Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, CT. I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted two sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the third set of questions:

Jeff Leake

5.What is your position on standardized testing? What do you think about Connecticut’s current practices regarding standardized testing? Would you recommend those practices remain the same or be changed and, if so, how?

Standardized testing, although now disconnected from teacher evaluation, is still a burden for students and the learning process. Standardized testing has narrowed instruction and the student assessment process. We need to end every-year testing for our grade 3-8 students and implement representative testing (NAEP model).

6. What is your position on charter schools in Connecticut?
a. The original idea for charter schools was to create innovative, teacher-controlled learning spaces.

b. Charter schools have become for-profit business opportunities and have increased racial and economic segregation in our nation.

c. The proliferation of charters needs to end, and those presently operating need real and effective oversight.


Robert Smoler

5. What is your position on standardized testing? What do you think about Connecticut’s current practices regarding standardized testing? Would you recommend those practices remain the same or be changed and, if so, how?

Standardized tests, as they are currently viewed, are one of the great disservices to our youth and the education system as a whole. They do not measure achievement, but rather measure the ability to do well on a particular test that has inherent biases built into it. These types of tests also correlate to the relative wealth of a community. So, it is not doing anything to close the achievement gap.   If anything, it exacerbates it. Children in poor communities are likely to get a sub-par education as their faculty and administration must feel so much more pressure to “teach to the test.” These tests should not be used to reflect student capabilities, the effectiveness of teachers nor the quality of public schools. That said, they represent one of many data points that could be helpful in informing teacher instruction. To the extent standardized tests aid the instruction process, I am in favor of maintaining them in a limited manner. If these tests were to be used in any other way than informing instruction, then they should be eliminated.

6. What is your position on charter schools in Connecticut?

Public schools are treasures that need to be cultivated. They are central to our democracy. I am against any alternate education system that siphons funds out of the public school system or puts our schools under the influence of corporate entities. I also believe that when our public schools are properly resourced; they do a tremendous job educating students. Clearly, there are failing schools, but they are only failing because governmental entities have failed to recognize the unique challenges of these district, mostly poverty, and withheld the type of support from these districts that would allow them to succeed.

I’ve seen this movie before. When I was in the healthcare industry, managed healthcare companies came onto the scene promising to lower costs and improve quality versus traditional indemnity health insurance plans. In the early going, these plans were less expensive, not because they were doing such a great job, but because they were cherry picking the healthy customers and leaving the indemnity plans to insure the sick. Each time more healthy people went to the managed care plans, the cost of the indemnity plans went up until they were no longer affordable and they disappeared. At that point, the managed care plans had to begin insuring everyone and wouldn’t you know it, they became just as expensive as the indemnity plans were after a short while.

That’s what is happening in public education today. The charter schools are cherry picking the stronger students out of the public schools and as a result their scores look good. If charter schools ever had to educate everyone, no doubt their results would look the same or worse than that of today’s public schools. In fact, there is the risk that once charter and private schools have all of the students, they might find it unprofitable and pull out of the business, leaving whole communities without a mechanism to educate their children.

Here’s To Revision!

One of the 42 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts lets students know that revising their first draft is not necessary and that revision has nothing to do with promoting the writer’s expanded and deeper thinking.

That standard is just one of the 41 Common Core English Language Arts Standards that I wholeheartedly oppose (One of the standards about speaking and listening is OK but not tested so, therefore, never taught.). 

So I am beginning the new year happily in defiance of the Common Core. I am revising my last post of 2017 and, thereby, creating a new post to begin 2018. Maybe my thinking is clearer now in 2018  because I was rushing for a deadline late on December 31, 2017. Maybe seeing the new year in by watching the classic film, Harry Met Sally, was a catalyst for my more relaxed thinking. Or just maybe the Common Core is wrong and having the opportunity to revise helped me as a writer to think more clearly and to write something better than when I started.

Judge for yourself. Compare what follows here to my post of 6:00 PM on December 31st, entitled “An Answer For 2018”.

Here goes: 


There is only one answer to improving education, closing the achievement gap, and producing graduates who are capable and have a sense of purpose: Give poor kids what the children of the educated and the affluent already have.

We know that middle and upper class students in the United States receive from their public schools the best education in the world. We also know that the achievement of those more affluent kids does not come exclusively from what their schools offer them but also from what their families and communities give them as well. So let’s give poor kids those same family and community advantages of the more affluent and see what happens.

Harris Rosen did just that. Since 1993, he has given $12 million to a poor community of about 3,000 people in the metro Orlando, Florida area named Tangelo Park. He gives about $500,000 a year, less than his start-up yearly contributions, directly to preschool and prekindergarten programs he established and to all graduating seniors who are going to college.

Tangelo Park has a population that is 90% African American and, until recent years, was best known for its drugs, crime, and shuttered houses. Thank to Mr. Rosen’s involvement, Tangelo now has free preschool for all children ages 2-4 and prekindergarten classes with access to parenting classes, vocational courses, and technical training for their parents. Children, according to their teachers, now arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The high school graduates all of its seniors, most of whom go on to college on full scholarships, funded by Harris Rosen. The scholarships are for anyone who is accepted to a Florida public university, college, community college, or technical school and covers tuition, room, board, books, and travel costs. There is a 75% college graduation rate of Tangelo high school graduates who go to college, which is the highest rate among ethnic groups in the nation. Tangelo now also has increased property values and plummeting crime rates. Harris Rosen’s investment, over the past 21 years, has changed lives and transformed a community.

What created the changed lives and the transformed community?

 For Harry Rosen, the changed lives of the people of Tangelo Park and the transformation of that community is all about an element absent in many impoverished American neighborhoods: hope.

“If you don’t have any hope,” Rosen says “then what’s the point?”

 The children of educated and affluent parents are raised in a culture of hope; they, to quote Emily Dickinson, ” dwell in possibility”. They are also given the cognitive skills to make the possible real for themselves. That is why they succeed.

Harry Rosen questioned why students would devote countless hours to school and their families would emphasize education to their children if college is out of reach. He decided to make hope real for the community of Tangelo Park.

We, as a nation, can do what what Harris Rosen did for Tangelo Park. We can give all kids hope. What it will take is universal early childhood education, which emphasizes cognitive and social development, and college scholarships for all.

Philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, the Walton family (Walmart), and Eli Broad could put their money into funding early childhood education and college scholarships, instead of trying to micromanage something about which they have no knowledge or expertise: what goes on in classrooms. Federal, state, and local taxes could help to fund quality early childhood education and college scholarships instead of paying for useless standardized tests and the curricular materials to prepare students  for those tests. Individual volunteer efforts could focus on developing the vocabulary and thinking skills of 2, 3, ,4 and 5 year old children or in helping high school seniors and their parents to explore college options and complete the required application and financial aid forms.

We could then see in 2018 the beginning of a national effort that would make for real student achievement, for real equity, and for real education reform. We could build a culture of hope. Let’s do it.


Ending A Democracy With A Tax Plan

The crisis that threatens the health of the American economy today is income inequality. The GOP tax plan will markedly exacerbate that income inequality. The rich will get richer, and the poor will get poorer. The rich will educate their children in private schools so that they are prepared for good jobs, earn high salaries, and keep getting richer. The poor will send their children to public schools with decreased resources, increased class sizes, and learning focused on useless standardized tests.  The difference between education for the children of affluence and the education for the children of the working poor will deepen. Public education as the bedrock of a democracy will cease to exist.  The crisis is not just an economic one. We are witnessing as citizens and participating in as taxpayers a moral crisis of immense proportion.

Diane Ravitch, the noted historian about American education, explains how the GOP tax plan will contribute to the moral crisis which foreshadows the end of our democracy. Diane Ravitch writes:

“If you aren’t angry yet about the Trump Tax scam, you should be. An article in The New York Times clearly lays out how it will produce tax savings for private school families while devastating state revenues that now fund public schools. The author, Nat Malkus, is deputy director of education policy at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. After this tax plan, never again let it be said that Republicans believe in local control and states’ rights. They believe in federal dictation, so long as they are in charge.

Nat Malkus writes:

Congressional Republicans, traditional defenders of states’ rights, will deliver an unexpected one-two punch to state tax systems if the current version of their tax bill becomes law as expected.

The tax plan, negotiated behind closed doors, includes an expansion of 529 savings accounts and the partial elimination of state and local tax deductions. These changes will provide new avenues for people to avoid state income tax that states never envisioned. And those states will have a hard time making up the difference.

The first blow would come from expanding 529 college savings accounts, which offer tax advantages to encourage families to save money for college, to cover K-12 expenses, such as private school tuition and home schooling costs.

This amendment by Senator Ted Cruz passed only because of a midnight tiebreaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence. Under current law, earnings on contributions to 529 plans are not subject to federal taxes. These investment vehicles work well for college savings because deposits grow tax-free over a long time. Using 529 accounts for elementary or high school tuition, however, substantially shortens that period, making these accounts a minimal boost to school choice.

While this change would have only a small effect on the federal Treasury, it creates outsize impacts on the state income tax bases in the 33 states that instituted state tax deductions and tax credits to encourage 529 college savings. The federal expansion opens these state incentives to an entirely new area of expenditures, allowing private school families to funnel their tuition payments through 529s as a way to avoid state taxes.

Imagine for instance that a family in New York spends $10,000 on high school tuition but has not yet started saving for college. Congress’s 529 expansion opens New York’s $10,000 state income tax deduction for 529 contributions to private school tuition. This family could now open a 529 savings account, briefly park the $10,000 for private school tuition in it, and avoid about $600 in state income taxes.

That modest $600 for families takes a much bigger cumulative toll on New York’s income tax base. With about 465,000 New York private school students, roughly $3 billion might be cut from New York’s income tax base.

While the federal government limits its benefits to $10,000 in annual distributions per student for K-12 expenses, some states offer much larger state tax deductions, and their tax bases would be affected even more than New York’s will be. Illinois, for instance, allows deductions for $20,000 in contributions a year per beneficiary to 529 plans, while Pennsylvania allows $28,000. Colorado, New Mexico, South Carolina and West Virginia have broader tax loopholes: all 529 contributions are fully deductible, so participants’ entire private school tuition could be free of state tax.

With this law, the Republican Congress would be nullifying the intent of state legislatures by creating tax breaks for private school parents that are paid for by reducing state tax bases that pay, in part, for public schools. States did not choose to create tax-free private school tuitions, Congress did.

Not all states will bear the full brunt of this law. States without income taxes, like Senator Cruz’s home state, Texas, have no state income tax deductions for contributions to 529 plans to interfere with their state taxing sovereignty.

The second blow to state education funding would come from the new federal cap on the deductibility of state and local tax payments. Public schools are primarily funded by state and local taxes, partly by local property taxes, and partly by the state, often through income taxes. When districts are too poor to raise enough property taxes to fund schools, the state contributes funds to even the scales with wealthier districts.

Expanding 529 plans to deliver state deductions to private school families will erode the tax base that funds public schools, affecting high-poverty schools the most. By limiting state and local tax deductions at the same time, Republicans would make it harder for states and cities to raise taxes to make up for those shortfalls.

The easiest fix is to eliminate the 529 expansion, a federal action that transfers state tax dollars from the poor to the rich and which won’t substantively increase school choice for those who do not already have it. Doing so would be a principled stand for the party that professes to protect state sovereignty. Not doing so will affirm the worst caricature of Republicans and education — taking money from the poor to give to the rich.”

Something Is Rotten In The State Of Connecticut

On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.


Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.


The new seats will cost the beleaguered and impoverished Bridgeport Public Schools money it cannot afford and will strip them of much needed resources. The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against the expansion plan because the cost of adding grades to Capital Prep Harbor School requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay additional costs for transportation and other services at an additional location.


The expansion plan for Capital Prep Harbor School, approved by the State Board of Education in 2014, called for three grades to be added in 2017-2018, but Capital Prep Harbor School requested and was granted the expansion to six new grades, which increased the costs of services from Bridgeport Public Schools from $200,000 to $400,000 for 2017-2018.


Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.


Capital Prep Harbor School was approved by the State Board of Education in April 2014 as a school with its stated mission to serve the “diverse communities of Bridgeport and surrounding communities”. Capital Prep Harbor School has failed to implement that mission because of its small percentage of Hispanic students and its total lack of students with English as their second language.


Steve Perry, the founder of the Capital Prep Harbor School and its chief spokesperson at the July 19th hearing, has been found by state auditors to have violated the lottery system at his former school in Hartford, Capital Preparatory School. Instead of the students at Capital Prep being chosen by lottery, he, as principal, handpicked a significant number of students (131 in three years), chiefly for their athletic talents. When asked by a reporter at the July 19th hearing if he was using similar illegal practices at Capital Preparatory Harbor School, he refused to answer.


After the revelations about the lottery violations at Capital Prep in Hartford, state education officials were asked if they intended to audit the lottery at Capital Prep Harbor School. A State Department of Education spokeswoman replied, “Not at this time.” The Connecticut Post surveyed enrollment practices in the six charter schools in Bridgeport. Five of the six schools explained the methods they used to insure the propriety of their lotteries. The sixth school, Capital Preparatory Harbor School, wouldn’t answer the newspaper’s questions.


The State Board of Education scheduled the meeting to approve the new charter seats without informing the Superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools. The Superintendent, Aresta Johnson, was told by the State Department of Education that she had until August 4, 2017 to file a written reaction to the Capital Prep Harbor School plan to expand the number of charter school seats in  Bridgeport.  She found out about the July 19th meeting by chance. She attended that hearing and strongly opposed the expansion of charter school seats, stating that the costs would present a severe hardship to children in the Bridgeport Public Schools.


Nationally, charter schools have no greater record of success than public schools although the student population of charter schools is more select than the population of traditional public schools. Charter schools have fewer special education students, fewer ELL students, and fewer students from unstable homes. A report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut compared student achievement in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and among those students bussed from urban areas to the suburbs and did not find evidence that students in charter schools had greater achievement than other students, even with their more select student body.


Charter schools are not public schools although they call themselves that when it serves the purpose of getting public money but declare they are not public schools when there are requests for transparency in how the public tax money is spent. Charter schools violate the democratic principle that the people should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. In public school districts, the elected school boards provide that oversight. With charter schools, it is all secret, and the profit motive is evident as the numbers of  criminal cases of fraud that have occurred in charter schools demonstrate.


Charter schools promote segregation. The NAACP, in October 2016, recognized the racism inherent in the concept of charter schools and called for “ a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice”  because “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”.

ADD IT UP: There is, indeed, something rotten in the state of Connecticut.

Fighting the corruption is an uphill battle. Big money from the charter school industry funds political campaigns in our state. The State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education are not elected; they are appointed by the Governor. Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are money-making operations. So how do we citizens of Connecticut make a dent in that monied political structure?

Well, we take a deep breath and remember what Edmund Burke said: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Then, we call one another, start talking, and get busy.

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.

Demagogue Alert

This is the sign I carried at the Sister March in Hartford, Connecticut on January 21, 2017.

The events of the first days of the Trump administration reinforced for me that, indeed, we do need to be on alert.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley in this 2 minute 41 second video explains how Donald Trump’s treatment of the media gives us reason to fear for the loss of our democracy.

Everything we deeply care about- equity, civil rights, the environment, health care, education, the economy, national security, and, most of all, our children- depends on us maintaining a democracy.

End the oligarchy we have had. Don’t let a demagogue take hold.

Let’s get busy. Let’s get political.

Clear And Present Danger

What I learned from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

1. Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.

2. Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.

3. Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.

4. Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of special needs children and children with disabilities.

5. Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.

6. Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.

7. Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.

8. Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.

9. Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.

10. Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.

11. Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his Senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is a precedent for that courtesy being extended to Senate colleagues who request additional time for questions. 

What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and by the restriction on the questioning of Betsy DeVos by the Republican chair of the committee:

According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found ten senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the committee chairman.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose. 

      2. That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the public funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money,  but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform”. No reform happened. All that happened was the very rich gained control of the agenda, and those aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. Now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us. 

         3. Be grateful for the clarity.

         4. Fight like crazy.