Questions For The New CEA President – 5

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 Bob Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Bob Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education and Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield. I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted four sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the fifth set of questions, which all deal with issues of funding:

Jeff Leake

10. What are your thoughts about education funding in Connecticut, including Governor Malloy’s current budget proposal to provide tax breaks through 529 plans (CHET) for funding private K-12 education? Using Education Savings Accounts to fund private school tuition and other private education costs is a terrible idea and will further deprive our real public schools with loss of funding

a. I addressed this question in a prior answer – the state is still not doing its part in adequately funding education in CT;

b. Allowing 529 plans to be used for funding any k-12 education is a terrible idea – these tax-sheltered accounts will only drain the necessary resources for schools and other public services;

c. In a report entitled Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, the authors assign CT a C-grade, because CT is still not putting the resources necessary in the school systems with the highest levels of poverty.

11. Do you have thoughts about how Connecticut should address the pension-funding crisis?

a. We must ensure that our teacher pension funding is fixed for good. That will mean re-amortizing the debt accumulated over decades of under-funding;

b.After the re-amortization, our pension board must continue to monitor our investments and work to maximize returns;

c. The state must commit to an ironclad commitment to paying what is required into the teachers’ fund each and every year;

d. I am aware that the Treasurer has other thoughts on this situation.

Bob Smoler

10. What are your thoughts about education funding in Connecticut, including Governor Malloy’s current budget proposal to provide tax breaks through 529 plans (CHET) for funding private K-12 education?

 I am for anything that puts more funds into public education without inappropriate strings attached. The key here is that money contributed to education through 529 plans should be in addition to increased funding from the state, not instead of the State’s funding. As mentioned above, public education should not be viewed as a line item in the budget to be cut, but rather a cherished asset of the state to be continually cultivated and invested in

11. Do you have thoughts about how Connecticut should address the pension-funding crisis?

 I addressed this question in a prior answer.  The CEA already has plans to request that the State re-amortize their pension obligations and that will help.   My first and foremost focus is to make sure the state funds their obligations to the current defined benefit pension plan. We owe it to our current and soon-to-be retirees to make sure the promises they were made are kept.

In addition to the above, I am intrigued by looking at a combination of guaranteed issue whole-life insurance products, social security, and defined contribution plans to meet more of the financial needs of teachers while potentially taking some of the financial risk off of the state. Teacher needs have changed and the state’s situation has changed too. I am very committed to finding a win-win situation where teachers’ financial needs are met during their active years and after retiring while the state’s obligations are also made more manageable.

 

Tomorrow, I will post the candidates’ answers to my last question: What have been your accomplishments over the past three years in your role as either CEA vice-president or president of a local chapter of CEA of which you are most proud?

 I also will post the brief concluding remarks of both candidates.

Tune in tomorrow for the GRANDE FINALE of interview questions! 

 

WHAT REALLY COUNTS

When success of a school is based on numbers – what percentage of the students graduate or how high the test scores are – all kinds of unethical practices occur. Most importantly, the students do not receive the knowledge and skills they need. They leave school uneducated. They suffer as adults. We are weakened as a nation. Read what happens when we set the wrong goals for schools. 

The false reporting of data and the disservice to students and, ultimately, to our country is pervasive. It happens right here in Connecticut, most notably in our charter schools. The graduation rates and college acceptance rates in Connecticut’s charter schools need to be scrutinized. For example, in 2013, Achievement First’s Amistad High School announced that 100% of its seniors were accepted to college. In reality, 38% of those who entered the high school in ninth grade were accepted to college, 25 students out of the original 64 ninth graders. The remaining 39 students were either held back in senior year or were no longer enrolled in the school. So Achievement First’s claim that it graduated all of its seniors was true only if you count the small percentage of students the school allows to be called seniors.

Our children are not manufactured products to be counted. They are human beings to be educated so that they fulfill their potential. We can’t get there by talking about numbers like standardized test scores, which will always be a reflection of the wealth or poverty of the students’ parents, or graduation rates, which can be manipulated simply by redefining the course requirements or eliminating low achieving students.

The only way to tell if a school is truly successful is to go see what the students are learning and how they are being assessed on that learning. Check out your local school and ask questions.

Go and visit Metro Business Academy, a New Haven Public School, and Pathways Academy to Technology and Design, a Hartford Public School. The teachers in both schools are teaching their students to learn and to think. The teachers are also collaboratively working together to keep learning themselves as teachers. And what the students accomplish will absolutely blow you away.

We can do it – one school at a time. We just have to ask the right questions. And those questions are about students learning – not about numbers.

The NAACP Tells It As It Is

An English teacher friend of mine was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year in the mid 90’s.  As one of the culminating steps in the selection process, the four finalists were assigned a topic little was known about at the time. They were instructed to research it and present their findings to an audience.

The topic was charter schools.There were no charter schools in Connecticut at the time. My friend concluded that the worth of charter schools would depend on the answers to two questions:

1) Will the innovations created at charter schools inform and improve the public schools that the vast majority of children and adolescents in the U.S. attend? 

2) Will charter schools be held accountable to address student needs as traditional public schools are required to do?

Fast forward to 2017: We now have had charter schools in Connecticut for 21 years. The answers to my friend’s two questions came from the NAACP.

The NAACP, long concerned about the education of children of color, in 2016 passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on opening any more charter schools across the country. Then, from December 2016 through April 2017, a NAACP task force conducted a listening tour, focusing on seven states (including Connecticut), to gather information about existing charter schools and K-12 public schools in general. The answers to my friend’s two questions were part of the report of the NAACP Task Force entitled “Quality Education For All … One School At A Time” . 

The NAACP Task Force Report answered the first question with an emphatic NO. The report states: “Charter schools were created with more flexibility because they were expected to innovate and infuse new ideas into the traditional public school system. However, that aspect of the promise never materialized”. There has been no carryover from the charter schools to the traditional public schools. Charter schools have not been learning labs, free from the restrictions imposed on public schools, which try out new ideas that benefit the larger population of students in public schools. Charter schools have failed in fulfilling their original purpose.

The NAACP Task Force Report also states that, in addition to not improving education in general, the education that charter schools provide to their students is questionable. The report quotes a large scale study of student data from the Center for Research Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute that found that 17% of charter schools produced academic gains better than traditional public schools, 37% of charter schools performed worse than their traditional public schools counterparts serving similar students, 46% of the schools showed no difference.  The NAACP Task Force Report goes on to state that there are better ways, other than charter schools, to improve student achievement, such as reducing class size.

The NAACP Task Force Report answered the second question with a resounding NOT YET and made specific recommendations for holding existing charter schools accountable.  The NAACP report criticizes charters for taking public tax money but not letting the public know how they spend that money. The report also criticizes charter schools for not accepting its share of children with learning issues and children who do not speak English as their first language and for counseling out students who will not be successful on measures such as standardized tests or graduation rates. In addition, the report criticizes charter schools for giving students inexperienced and uncertified teachers and for suspending and expelling students for behavioral issues at a much higher rate than traditional public schools. 

The report recommends that only local boards of education, which are responsive to the voters in the school district, be allowed to authorize and supervise charter schools, not appointed state boards of education or appointed state departments of education.  Charters then would be required have the same level of fiscal transparency and accountability as the traditional public schools in the district. The report also calls for charter schools to have open enrollment and to “not select and reject students based on their educational or behavioral histories and needs”. In addition, the report calls for charter schools to hire certified teachers and to follow the same regulations as traditional public schools regarding suspending and expelling students. 

The NAACP Task Force Report insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children. How sad that in 2017 that right still needs to be demanded. But it does. The NAACP Task Force Report must be listened to and enacted in order to make real the civil rights of children.

 

 

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.

GO FIGURE:

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

PLUS

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.

 

 

Let’s Make History

Efforts to improve K-12 education over the past 30 years have been a bipartisan mess. Here’s a description, written by Diane Ravitch, of how we got into that mess:

               Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats. The Democrats Paved the Way.

BY DIANE RAVITCH

Of all the corrupt, unqualified, and extremist characters Donald Trump has tapped to lead his administration, none has generated the tsunami of liberal outrage whipped up by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And with all due respect to Jeff Sessions, there’s good reason for the backlash: The billionaire Amway heiress from Michigan, who long ago made “school choice” her passion project, is the first education secretary in history to be hostile to the very idea of public education.

Prodded by grassroots activists and what’s left of teachers’ unions, Democrats went all out to defeat DeVos. George Miller, the former congressman from California, slammed her plan to create a $20 billion “school choice” program that would underwrite private and religious schools, calling it “a perfect storm of ignorance, money, and power.” Senator Al Franken grilled DeVos at her confirmation hearing, drawing out her jaw-dropping ignorance of federal programs. Senator Michael Bennet called her nomination an “insult to schoolchildren and their families, to teachers and principals and communities fighting to improve their public schools all across the country.” And when DeVos was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 50, over unanimous Democratic opposition, Senator Cory Booker went on Facebook, “frustrated and saddened,” to sound a sorrowful note: “Somewhere in America, right now, there is a child who is wondering if this country stands up for them.”

Listening to their cries of outrage, one might imagine that Democrats were America’s undisputed champions of public education. But the resistance to DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth: Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts, and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur. That year, when President George H.W. Bush convened an education summit of the nation’s governors, it was a little-known Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton who drafted a bipartisan set of national goals for the year 2000 (“first in the world” in mathematics, for starters). The ambitious benchmarks would be realized by creating, for the first time, national achievement standards and tests. Clinton ran on the issue, defeated Bush, and passed Goals 2000, which provided grants to states that implemented their own achievement metrics.

The Democrats had dipped a toe in “school reform.” Before long, they were completely immersed. After George W. Bush made the “Texas miracle” of improved schools a launching pad for the presidency, many Democrats swallowed his bogus claim that testing students every year had produced amazing results. In 2001, Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s liberal lion, teamed with Bush to pass No Child Left Behind. For the first time, the government was mandating not only “accountability” (code for punishing teachers and schools who fall short), but also “choice” (code for handing low-performing public schools over to charter operators).

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, educators hoped he would return the party to its public school roots. By then, even Bill Clinton was calling No Child Left Behind a “train wreck.” Instead, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice. Their Race to the Top program was, in essence, No Child Left Behind II: It invited states to compete for $5 billion in funds by holding teachers accountable for test scores, adopting national standards, opening more charter schools, and closing low-scoring public schools.

The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates—whose ranks include the outraged Booker and Bennet—have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.

It’s fitting that Trump and DeVos rely on the same language to tout their vision of reform. They’re essentially taking Obama’s formula one step further: expanding “choice” to include vouchers, so parents can use public funding to pay for private and religious schools. Democrats are up in arms about the privatization scheme, as they should be: It’s a disaster for public schools. But if they’re serious about being the party that treats public education as a cornerstone of democracy, they need to do more than grandstand about the consequences they helped bring about. They need to follow the money—their own campaign money, that is.

As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union-busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools: Among its favorites have been those sharp DeVos critics George Miller, Michael Bennet, and Cory Booker. Conservative funders like the Walton Foundation also give generously to charter schools and liberal think tanks such as the Center for American Progress.

The money had its intended effect. When Andrew Cuomo decided to run for governor of New York, he learned that the way to raise cash was to go through the hedge funders at Democrats for Education Reform. They backed him lavishly, and Cuomo repaid them by becoming a hero of the charter movement. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, often celebrated for his unvarnished liberalism, is another champion of the charter industry; some of its biggest funders live in his state. California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters in the state, and has resisted efforts to make charters more accountable. As mayor of Oakland, he opened two charter schools.

There are plenty of reasons that Democrats should steer clear of the charter industry. Charter corporations have been repeatedly charged with fraud, nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. Many charters make money on complex real-estate deals. Worst of all are the “cybercharters”: mega-corporations that offer virtual schools, with high attrition, low test scores, and abysmal graduation rates. The biggest cybercharter chain is K12 Inc., started by former junk-bond king Michael Milken and listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

But it’s more than a matter of sleeping with the enemy. School choice doesn’t work, and “evidence-based” Democrats ought to acknowledge it. Charter schools are a failed experiment. Study after study has shown that they do not get better test scores than public schools unless they screen out English-language learners and students with profound disabilities. It’s well-established that school choice increases segregation, rather than giving low-income students better opportunities. And kids using vouchers actually lose ground in private schools. Support for charters is paving the way for a dual school system—one that is allowed to choose the students it wants, and another that is required to accept all who enroll.

This is what Democrats should be yelling about. And if there’s ever a moment for them to reclaim their mantle as the party of public education, it’s now. The misguided push for “reform” is currently being led not by Obama and Duncan, but by Trump and DeVos, giving Democrats an opening to shift gears on education—though they’ll lose some of that hedge-fund money. But if 2016 taught Democrats anything, it’s how unwise it was to allow the demolition of organized labor—including teachers’ unions, once a great source of money and grassroots energy. The party needs strong teachers’ unions and it needs their enthusiasm.

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.                                                             ………………………………………………………..

So what does that mean for us in Connecticut? 

There are two immediate actions we need to take: 

1. We have to recognize that our political establishment has failed us. Our Democratic governor sold out for the money provided to him by the charter school industry. The Connecticut State Department of Education has endorsed student and school accountability measured by the lowest level of intellectual endeavors: standardized tests. The Connecticut State Board of Education has permitted profiteers in the form of the totally inadequate Relay Graduate School of Education to train and certify prospective teachers for our neediest schools. Recognizing the vacuum of political leadership concerning K-12 education, we must search for and insist upon new political leadership – both from currently serving Democratic politicians and newcomers to politics. 

 2. We must use the innovative leadership that we already have in our Connecticut schools. Three experiences I had just this week showed that leadership. First, I listened to students in a Hartford high school address an adult and student audience about their projects, such as starting and running a successful business, designing a mural to encompass major elements of African Americans history in this country, making music the center of their lives by creating and performing in a band, and making a documentary about a previously unrecognized medical researcher in order to give fellow students a sense of their own possibilities to achieve and change the world. Secondly, I listened to high school students in New Haven describe their social justice projects to political and business leaders. The students had each identified a societal problem, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the lack of equitable funding of public schools in this country, researched it thoroughly, analyzed causes and possible solutions, and proposed a way to remedy the problem. Thirdly, I was inspired by a suburban middle school principal who described the school’s assessment practices. Teachers do not grade students on a one-time snapshot of their performance but rather work with the students to keep them engaged in rethinking, revising, trying again and again until the students do achieve the goals that the faculty has identified for them.

We have the educational leadership we need for the schools in Connecticut. We just need to tap into it. Our politicians must honor the expertise of the educators who put together these three programs as well as other talented educators across the state. Then, we will move forward. 

Let’s do it. Let’s make history. 

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.