Resist Now. In The Name Of Equity.

Governor Malloy’s proposed budget gives a tax break to the rich.

Here’s what it is:

He advocates extending the 529 college savings plans, called CHET (Connecticut Higher Education Trust), to savings plans that can be used for K-12 education as well as college. As reported in the well-researched and comprehensive article in The CT Mirror  by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on January 16, 2018, the state currently allows parents to avoid paying state income taxes each year on up to $10,000 that they put into a college savings account. In addition, they don’t have to pay taxes on the earned income when the money is withdrawn to pay for college.

Using 529 accounts to fund K-12 education in addition to college is part of the new Republican/Trump tax plan. States can go along with that tax plan or become decoupled from it. Governor Malloy has chosen to keep the state and federal tax plans coupled and go along with Donald Trump. The Connecticut General assembly will decide whether or not to go along with Dan Malloy.

Here’s how it will work:

According to figures compiled for The Connecticut Mirror by the financial services company Vanguard, this is the picture for Connecticut families.

  1. Family A has a baby and, as soon as the baby is born,  puts $200,000 into a 529 savings account for the future education of that baby. The family then withdraws $10,000 a year to pay for the child’s K-12 private school education. The family avoids paying $49,800 in federal taxes over the 13 years. At the end of the high school years, the family will have $382,000 in the account to pay for the child’s college education.
  2. Family B has a baby and, as soon as the baby is born, puts $66,000 into a 529 savings account for the future education of the baby. The family withdraws $10,000 a year to pay for the child’s private school K-12 education. The family avoids paying $18,200 in federal taxes over the 13 years. But the family will have no money left in the account to pay for college.
  3. Family C has a baby and does not have any money to deposit in a chunk to a 529 savings account at the baby’s birth but saves what it can over the following 18 years for college expenses. All savings are needed for college; there is no money available for private K-12 education. There, probably, is not enough to fully fund college education.
  4. Family D has a baby and has no ability to save in any way for college.

So the only people who will profit from the plan that Governor Malloy is proposing are the very wealthy, only those who qualify as Family A. Donald Trump’s tax plan and Dan Malloy’s budget proposal have no benefit for Family B, Family C, and Family D.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots widens. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor – and the middle class struggles.

And here’s the real kicker: The rest of us will pay for that tax break for the rich. The Governor’s Office of Policy and Management estimates that 529 plans for K-12 education will cost the state $39 million per year.

Here’s why the Governor’s proposal is wrong:

  1. We barely have enough money to keep the lights on in the state, yet the Governor is asking all of the citizens in Connecticut to fund this substantial tax break for its wealthiest citizens.
  2. There will be less money available to fund public schools, especially those in high poverty areas that depend on state funding, because of the added strain on the state budget caused by the state supporting the extension of the 529 savings plans to K-12 education.
  3. The access to private school will not be extended to middle income families. In Connecticut, private high schools cost day students between $43,600 and $48,080 for tuition alone. Catholic high school tuition is between $14,300 and $19,800 per year. Private elementary schools cost over $40,000 per year, and Catholic elementary schools charge about $8,000 for tuition.                                                                                                                    Middle income families cannot fund a private K-12 education; it is clearly an option for only the wealthy The total cost of a private K-12 education in Connecticut is between $260,000 and $570.000. Even an education at a local K-8 parochial school and a regional Catholic high school costs between $130,000 and $150,000. Paying for any of these schools is out of reach for middle-income families who are saving for college. So those who claims that Donald Trump’s tax plan and Governor Malloy’s proposal is extending school choice to anyone other than the incredibly affluent are not realistic. In fact, they are wrong.
  4. Lastly, there are questions about exclusion of students based on sexual orientation and learning disabilities in non-public schools. Some religious schools have been found to be discriminatory concerning the sexual orientation and life style of their employees.  A case about that kind of discrimination in a Connecticut school is currently in the courts. State funds should not support schools that do not meet state standards for anti-discrimination.
  5. Connecticut has excellent public schools. Connecticut also has a problem with poverty. State funds are best directed to address the underlying causes of poverty which inhibit the learning potential of children mired in poverty rather than give tax beaks to those who already can afford private schools.

Here’s what you can do:

Call your state legislator (https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgafindleg.asp) and tell him or her to reject the Trump and Malloy proposal. Tell your state legislator to reject the extension of the 529 college savings accounts to 529 savings accounts for K-12 education. Tell your legislator that having 529 savings accounts for K-12 education is unfair, undemocratic, and fiscally irresponsible.

Then call your state legislator again, saying the same thing.

And then call again.

And again.

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. 

Wanted: The Best Teachers

Betty Sternberg, former Connecticut Commissioner of Education says that Connecticut education has “lost its way”.  I agree. Education in Connecticut has lost the capability to attract the best new teachers and to keep many of the best experienced teachers because it is clear that people with excellent minds, innovative spirits, and collegial leadership are not valued. The Connecticut State Department of Education has put in place an evaluation system that mandates ordinariness and compliance.

Let’s change the message. Let’s give our  teachers an environment to work in that values them as strong thinkers and independent learners.  Only then will our children discover their own potential as thinkers and learners.

 

Moving Forward By Going Back To A Basic: Reading Literature

The fate of the nation may well rest on what two high school English teachers from Glastonbury High School, Steven Nicastro and Timothy Sanderson, point out in their op-ed piece in The Hartford Courant (December 20,2015), which is printed below.

The say, and all of us in the field of English know, that the Common Core has greatly reduced the amount and quality of literature read in our classrooms from kindergarten through grade 12. That reduction diminishes the lives of our children and adolescents as they have limited ideas and questions in their heads about the human experience, fewer challenges to their imaginations, and fewer examples of the power of language. That reduction in the teaching of quality literature even undermines the very intent of the Common Core: to build a competent workforce.

The Common Core is supposed to make us more internationally competitive, but how can it?

With the Common Core, the United States is the only nation in the world to set limits on the teaching of literature and to privilege the teaching of informational texts. Students are taught to read informational texts to understand the writer’s point of view and to gain the information that the writer presents. Reading literature, however, provides a much different challenge to readers. There isn’t just one set of facts to be gained from a poem, short story, play, or novel. There are possibilities to be explored and various interpretations to be created and supported. What the author intended is of no consequence; rather the individual meaning that the reader creates from the evidence the text offers is what matters. Reading literature fosters inquiry, requires speculation, demands interpretation, and honors creativity- all skills necessary for thoughtful careers, including in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

I have seen, as an English teacher and as a supervisor of English teachers, how reading literature enriches the lives of students and enables them to be deeper, stronger, more whole individuals than they would be without reading literature, without discussing in class a wide range of questions and perspectives about that literature, and without writing about the ideas offered by that literature. Witnessing students’ personal and intellectual growth from reading literature is what inspires me more than knowing that reading literature will help to produce their increased competitiveness in the global marketplace. But even for that goal, our children and adolescents need to be taught how to read literature.  

How to make that happen in Connecticut?

Easy. 

Rescind the Common Core and go back to the Connecticut State Standards. The Connecticut State Standards require that we teach all students in kindergarten through seniors in high school the two different ways of reading: reading for information and reading in response to literature. The Connecticut State Standards acknowledge that reading literature teaches students a valuable and unique way of thinking.  The Connecticut State Standards require that we truly educate Connecticut’s children and adolescents. We must reinstate those standards. Now.

 But first, read on……….

 

Classic Books Disappearing From Schoolrooms

STEVEN NICASTRO and TIMOTHY SANDERSON
Emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math squeezing out literature classics

“Give me my students, give me my books and close the door on your way out.”

A colleague used that pithy mantra whenever a new trend in education emerged. This was not a refusal to embrace new initiatives; it was a statement about our priorities as English language arts teachers — students, books and a place to bring them together.

With those three essential ingredients, our teaching and our students would be successful. Now, however, one of those fundamental ingredients is disappearing: books.

You read that right. Books are disappearing from our classrooms. Books — the be-all and end-all of teaching kids to be better readers, writers, thinkers and human beings — are going the way of the dinosaur. It’s an alarming trend we can’t ignore.

Many schools are eliminating the classics of literature, the backbone of any self-respecting English language arts class, in favor of “choice” books such as pulp fiction that offers comparatively little challenge.

Anyone with affection for reading and the study of literature has to wonder how this could happen, why school officials would allow it to happen and why there isn’t more outrage.

In part, the cause of this terrifying trend is the Common Core State Standards emphasis on short articles and excerpts of nonfiction, particularly historical and scientific documents, which are easily assessed on a standardized test. The Common Core website indicates that “fulfilling the standards requires a 50-50 balance between informational and literary reading.”

This translates to fewer works of great literature, more nonfiction.

Of course, we can’t separate the curriculum changes wrought by Common Core from the forces driving those changes: the realization that the U.S. lags behind other countries in education and the resultant emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). According to the Common Core website, “It’s no secret that most of the best jobs out there that today’s students can hope to find are in the STEM fields.”

You don’t need to be an English teacher to read the writing on the wall: The increased focus on STEM minimizes the humanities, placing ever-decreasing importance on liberal arts and resulting in a nation of job-ready graduates with a limited view of what it means to be a human being.

Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post that the dismissal of a liberal arts education comes from a misunderstanding, particularly about America’s international rankings on math and science tests. “Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math,” Zakaria wrote. “And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.”

Even the staunchest proponents of STEM-centered education would have to concede that minimizing language arts is at best premature, at worst, unnecessary.

Sadly, students who once embraced the classics, including Shakespeare, now flinch when given lengthy novels and dramas — books that might get in the way of math and science homework. As literature slowly disappears, our more than capable students become reluctant to read, analyze, discuss and connect with complex books. They miss the value of immersing themselves in books, of reflection, particularly on others’ ideas, and of the sustained focus needed to work through difficult material.

No one contends that STEM subjects aren’t important. We often remind students that if they don’t learn algebra, they will never learn to think in certain abstract ways. Beyond their ability to stimulate cognitive function — a worthy goal — STEM skills are essential in today’s global economy.

But books, the soul of humanity, are essential, too.

The solution is a matter of balance: Offer high-caliber STEM courses and preserve literature in our language arts classrooms while using nonfiction to supplement the themes of such literature. For the ability to read literature effectively can produce smart scientists, trustworthy techies, ethical engineers and mindful mathematicians, individuals who understand the power and the responsibility they hold and the effects their innovations will have on humanity.

To school administrators, school board members and state legislators, we offer this slightly altered version of our colleague’s stance: Give us our books, give us our students and come visit our classrooms to see what happens when you bring them together.

Steven Nicastro and Timothy Sanderson teach English language arts at Glastonbury High School.

Not One Step Further: Stop Now

Here is your holiday gift from this blog which advocates for real learning. Your gift is: The magnificent use of the English language. And a call to action.

In The Hartford Courant (December 18, 2015) piece below, Gina Barreca beautifully and pointedly uses metaphor and imagery to show how  the Common Core, with its invalid and unreliable claims of “college and career readiness” and its hugely expensive and equally unreliable standardized tests, destroys learning for all children and adolescents in K-12 schools and dooms the underclass to remaining the underclass. She argues persuasively against bringing that injustice to the young adults in Connecticut universities. Hooray for Professor Barreca!

As Connecticut parents, politicians, and educators, let’s take her message into the new year and act on it. Opt out of standardized testing. Rescind the Common Core. Evaluate students as learners, not as test-takers.

But first, enjoy this wonderful piece of writing:

Universities Teaching To Test: A Disaster
by  Gina Barreca

Achieving accountability through testing is like achieving truth through waterboarding, achieving affection through bribery or achieving beauty through plastic surgery: You can’t actually trust the results.

To emphasize metrics and measurement at the expense of learning and understanding is to marginalize what can’t be measured. It puts pressure on precisely the wrong points and, like a chiropractic adjustment gone terribly wrong, can cripple rather than cure.

Connecticut is considering implementing a new version of outcomes-based funding for universities and colleges, thereby bringing policies already shown to have some disastrous effects in K-12 schools to a new level.

As someone who has taught at a state university for almost 30 years, I have a horse in this race.

I choose my words carefully: The language of gambling has pervaded the vocabulary of education, especially when it comes to standardized testing, and that should make us jittery.

The thousands of articles and hundreds of books on testing, both pro and con, regularly refer to “high-stakes testing,” and “gaming the system.” Most recently, when reading Connecticut’s task force notes, I was struck by the fact that the consultants hired to advise the politicians and other committee members suggested offering “momentum points” when students in colleges reached certain milestones. Our local casino offers “momentum dollars” when you put enough money into the machines and pull the handle enough times. It was tough to avoid the comparison. Isn’t assessment by outcome a version of waiting to see whether you can get three lemons in a row and thereby judge yourself a winner?

While it’s fine at the race-track or the roulette table, it’s corrosive to talk in binary terms about winners and losers when it comes to learning. It’s deeply misguided to evaluate students, teachers and educational institutions by seeing how profitable they can be when they cash-out on their returns for the lowest possible investment.

Part of the movement toward “outcomes-based” support is an emphasis on preparing graduates to enter jobs where there are “workplace shortages.” Yet as my friend Barbara Cooley put it, “Teaching to the corporate demand is not exactly a recipe for original and independent thinkers.”

While vocational training is an important and vital mission of some distinguished institutions, they are usually proud to identify themselves as such. To make all educational institutions into training grounds to meet the immediate needs of in-state corporations or large-scale employers has never been the mandate of any great university or college, whether public or private.

According to Timothy A. Livengood, a research astronomer at the University of Maryland, perhaps the greatest error of standardized testing is “The insufficiently scrutinized belief that the test evaluates the thing it is advertised as evaluating. Resulting in [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia believing that African-Americans who score poorly on such tests are actually less capable, or less genuinely well prepared than people who score highly. And Larry Summers ignoring decades of research to argue to a bunch of women that the reason they weren’t all math professors is that they just aren’t up to the task.” Test results can be rigged, too, in their interpretations.

According to a 2014 Gallup-Perdue Index, three of the most important factors in educational success are excitement, encouragement, caring. These are not delivered by teachers who whip their students into crossing finish lines. If we extend policies that fail in schools to colleges — teaching to the test, teaching so that everything can be “measured” by some useless standardized grid devised by the impoverished minds of egregiously overpaid consultants — we’ll usher in a new level of diminished possibilities for students who do not attend private, expensive universities.

To do so will add to what’s called the “education gap” — except that the division is not a gap; it’s a moat, a separation constructed and vigilantly maintained so that the poor and underserved will not be able to cross over into the territories held by the rich and privileged.

How much do you want to bet that Ivy League schools are not teaching to test? How much do you want to bet that they’re not adopting the short-sighted goals of performance-based funding? Why should the ambitious, dynamic and intellectually driven students at public universities be offered anything less than their more privileged counterparts?

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.

Should the Legislature Vote for Expansion of Charter Schools In the State Budget?

There IS truth in humor. Read and enjoy Colin McEnroe’s wonderful op-ed piece, which was in The Hartford Courant on May 17, 2015. Then please participate in the poll that follows the article.

Stop Spending Money on Charter Schools 

by Colin McEnroe

Every time you refuse to support charter school funding, God kills 1,000 kittens.

This point has been driven home repeatedly in Connecticut at rallies — one of which is taking place on your front lawn right this minute — and in advertising and by lobbying.
Once you’ve washed the kitten blood off your hands, I would urge you to join this movement. The first thing you must do is start a semi-mysterious advocacy group. By statute, the name of your group must contain the words “excellence,” “achievement” and “families.” Excellent Families for Achieving Excellence would be a good choice, but I believe it’s already taken.

Then you will need one or more jillionaire capitalist underwriters, such as Tony Stark, C. Montgomery Burns or Lex Luthor, although several of those are already taken too.

All set? Great. Time to work on your message. What are you going to say?

YOU: “Ummm, it’s time to stop flushing money down a non-functioning public school system. Why should they get all the money while we charter schools get the short end of the stick?”

Well done. It bears no resemblance to reality, but that may not be important. In fact, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposes new funding for charter schools while keeping public school funding essentially flat. So the charters, which currently educate only 1.5 percent of the school population, would get the prize while everybody else eats the Cracker Jacks.

Democrats in the legislature have pushed back against this plan, and the charter school advocacy community has responded by going nuts with advertisements, surface mail, rallies and email blitzes to legislators of such a staggering volume as to call into question whether they teach McMahon’s Law in the charter schools. McMahon’s Law, named after spending pioneer Linda McMahon, posits a definable tipping point at which money spent on your behalf will abruptly begin causing people to hate you.

How much money? Here I can rely on the excellent reporting of the Courant’s Kathleen Megan and Matt Kauffman and the Connecticut Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas. All three are currently being held by Charter Moms for Family Excellence in Education Kidnapping Achievement, but I am confident of their future release, possibly in time for the Festival of the Beheading of Jonathan Pelto, the most sacred day on the charter school calendar.

Simple number: the charter advocacy groups have spent roughly $1 million during the current legislation session. It has been the kind of push legislators usually experience when private industry wants to store spent nuclear fuel rods in Gillette Castle or something. Weird number: they spent $14,000 at Subway recently to feed the people they bused to the state Capitol. What did we say about ordering those steak and bacon melts, people? You can scream just as loud on something from the $5 menu.

Disclaimer time! Many charter schools are full of hard-working people who get good results for their somewhat niche student bodies. Second disclaimer: anti-charter school paranoiacs can be as weird and obnoxious as their opponents.

But still, $1 million in influence peddling money does not come from people in mom jeans listening to Los Lonely Boys on their earbuds. It comes from Lord Business. What do the wealthy charter backers want? It seems like an odd stew of altruism and the never-ending goal of making education align more perfectly with the human resources department. Plus, it’s always fun to break one more union.

Here’s what I don’t get: why should the state spend any money — $32 million over two years as proposed by Malloy — to start new charter schools and expand old ones? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on our truly public schools, the ones that currently educate 98.5 percent of our students? You like charter schools? Fine. You start them.

Everybody knows Connecticut is facing an “education crisis” and that many of our schools are “broken” and “failing.” But the primary source for this kind of rhetoric is ConnCAN, one of the major charter advocacy groups.

There are probably a lot of nuances about the topic that have eluded me. Fortunately, some of the people for Achievement For Every Child Through Family Excellence are ringing my doorbell right now.

Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant

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New Seats For Public Charter Schools Are Not The Answer

The other night, I was making shrimp scampi for the first time.  The man behind the fish counter at Whole Foods had talked to me about the importance of de-veining the shrimp exactly right and predicted unpleasant results if I didn’t follow his directions precisely so I wasn’t paying attention to the news on the small kitchen TV.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an ad which told me that this sweet, forlorn little girl was about to have her locker, her school desk, her teacher, her friends, and even “her very self “taken away from her if the Connecticut legislature did not fund new seats in her public charter school.

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Moreover, the ad said that 861 children would be denied access to new seats in public charter schools.  The ad concluded with a plea to Connecticut legislators to live up to their responsibility for all of Connecticut’s children.

I continued to de-vein the shrimp.

Several shrimp later, the ad came on again, and I watched it more intently.

I heard again about the sad plight of the lovely little girl and was shown how happy she had been before everything was taken away from her (See below).

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When I finished with the shrimp, I put the water on for the pasta. As I placed the cutting board I had used for the shrimp into the dishwasher, I looked to the TV, and there was the ad again. I saw once more how the little girl was overcome with sadness without her locker, without her desk, without her teacher, without her school, and without her very self.

 When the water boiled, I added the pasta. The pasta took seven minutes to cook.  As I drained the pasta, the ad came on once again.  I heard for the fourth time that the sweet little girl would have her locker, her desk, her teacher, her very self taken away from her, and it was the fault of the Connecticut legislature because legislators were threatening to not fund new seats in her charter school.

By this time, I had a lot of questions:

First of all, how would this little girl have her existing seat, locker, friends, and teacher taken away from her since it is new seats, not her seat, that are at stake in the state budget?

Also, who has the kind of money to run this ad four times in the time it took me to make a meal that the recipe said took 30 minutes?

 Why would that child in the ad be denied a locker, a desk, a teacher, and a school? Don’t we have public education in this country with lockers, desks, and teachers to which all students have a right?

Why would this child lose “her very self”, her whole identity, if she didn’t have a charter school?  What disservice was being done to her that she would feel adrift in the world without the identity of attending a charter school?  Who would foster that kind of cult-like allegiance?

 What happened to Brown vs. the Board of Education and Sheff vs. O’Neill?  Aren’t all children better off in classrooms of diversity?  The children in the classroom in the ad, as typical of charter schools, are all children of color.

 Why are the 861 children who could fill new seats in publicly funded but privately owned and privately managed charter schools more important than educating 98.5% of children in Connecticut who attend publicly funded and publicly accountable traditional public schools? Governor Malloy’s proposed state budget does not increase funds for traditional public schools but does call for an increase in funding for public charter schools.

 Watching this ad convinced me that the governor has the wrong priority in requesting the funding of new charter schools seats and not increasing funding for traditional public schools. Even more importantly, I became aware of how parents and children in Connecticut’s inner cities are being taken advantage of by those who own and run publicly funded, profit-making charter schools. Parents in Simsbury, South Windsor, Fairfield, and Mansfield, or any other suburban community would not tolerate a publicly funded but privately owned and managed charter school in their town.

 Can you imagine a neighborhood in West Hartford in which two or three of the children on the cul-de-sac attend a charter school, funded with $11,000 per student per year of taxpayer money and promoted as a superior school, while all the other children in the neighborhood attend what is said (by the charter school advocates) to be an inferior school also funded by taxpayer money?

 Can you imagine Avon supporting a public charter school although that school has no greater performance record than the Avon Public Schools? Measured by standardized test scores, which is the current American way of determining school excellence, 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. What is clear from reviewing the studies of charter school performance is that charter schools have not lived up to their claim to provide an education significantly and dependably better than traditional public schools.

Can you imagine New Canaan parents sending their children to an elementary school in which 23.78 % of the children are suspended as at a charter elementary school in New Haven (Achievement First’s Amistad Academy)? Or can you imagine Wethersfield parents sending their high school students to a charter school that suspended 58.6% of its students (Elm City College Prep) or 53.5% of its students (Bridgeport Achievement First) as compared to 25 % of high school students suspended from reform districts of “failing” schools and 12.3% as the state-wide average for high school suspensions?

Can you imagine a high school in Glastonbury in which 50% of the students who entered the school as ninth graders would be pushed out of that high school by senior year, thus producing a graduation rate of 50% although touted to be 100% because 100% of those not pushed out of the school did graduate? 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.

 Can you imagine a school in Madison having 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 as in most charter schools, including Achievement First schools in Connecticut? High teacher turnover affects the quality of the education because it impedes the development of instructional cohesion within the school or school district. Teacher turnover rate in charter schools is much greater than in traditional public schools, and teachers in charter schools are more likely to leave the profession than teachers in traditional public schools.

 Can you imagine the taxpayers of Greenwich supporting a school budget in which 10% of the budget went to a charter management company with no oversight by local or state taxpayers through the local Board of Education or the Connecticut General Assembly?

The answer to all for all of these questions: Of course not.

 Families For Excellent Schools, though, is asking the state legislature to give to our inner cities, through the funding of new charter school seats, a kind of education that would not be tolerated in our more affluent towns.

Below is the last frame of the ad:

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The words of this last frame of the ad are correct. The Connecticut legislature must stand with all of Connecticut’s children, most of all those being victimized by the charter school establishment, funded by billionaires such as the Walton family, owners of Walmart. The Walton family underwrites the organization called Families for Excellent Schools and, among others who do not give their names, is responsible for the ad I saw four times before dinner.

Connecticut legislators have a public trust to deliver to ALL Connecticut children a well-funded, taxpayer-accountable, integrated, PUBLIC school with experienced, knowledgeable teachers and administrators involved in the school for the long term, dedicated to providing the best learning experiences possible, and committed to graduating all the students who enter their schools.

 It is the responsibility of legislators to give our inner city children the same quality of education that children in more affluent towns in Connecticut receive.  Those children do not deserve to be shuttled into academically limited, segregated, restrictive learning environments of  publicly funded but privately owned and privately managed charter schools. The legislature should not vote to fund the expansion of charter schools.  It makes no sense. It is simply wrong.