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 He can be reached at

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant

Please Take This Poll

Speaking Truth to Power

I contributed to the Connecticut conversation about standardized testing by speaking before the Education Committee of the General Assembly on March 19, 2015 because I think that legislators, like many citizens, believe the media spin about the Common Core and SBAC testing.

For example, they could believe that the Common Core standards are rigorous since that is how the standards have been marketed and believe that the SBAC tests are also rigorous since so many students fail them. In reality, the low pass rate is a pre-determined decision, and the standards are mundane.  Many of us, if we wanted to, could create tests in such a way that very few of our students could pass. But why would we want to?   Why does Connecticut want to?  The SBAC tests are not intellectually challenging; they are just very effective “gotcha’s”.

The truth is that SBAC tests measure the wrong things because they are based on the wrong standards.  They do not promote student learning and do not equip students for their future.

I tried to explain the harm in SBAC tests to the legislators by summarizing my opposition to SBAC (explained more fully in my prior post) and recommending a call to action.  I waited more than three hours for my turn to speak and spoke for the allotted three minutes.  And what did it change?  Exactly nothing – at least not at that time in that place.

However, I wholeheartedly believe that educators should keep speaking out, and someday we will make a difference. Tuesday’s rally in Hartford against SBAC testing was a hopeful sign. It would be great if the teachers unions become champions of real learning and authentic, curriculum-based assessments and keep their focus on speaking out against the damaging SBAC tests and the inadequate standards to which they are aligned.

Connecticut educators have the experience and the expertise to know the truth about what real learning is and what good assessments are. Educators must keep telling that truth to those in power.

Here are my remarks to the Education Committee::

Testimony of Ann Policelli Cronin

Before the Education Committee of The Connecticut General Assembly

Re: S.B. 1095 An Act Concerning Students Assessments 

Good afternoon Chairman Fleischmann and Chairwoman Slossberg and Members of the Education Committee. My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been a designer of nationally award–winning English curricula and a supervisor of English teachers in Connecticut for 22 years.

I am here to tell you that that the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the SBAC test for high school English lack rigor and will not make students “college and career ready”. If Connecticut continues with SBAC testing, all of Connecticut’s high school students will be harmed, and it will be impossible to solve Connecticut’s greatest educational problem: closing the achievement gap.

All students are harmed because the SBAC English test doesn’t measure what it means to read thoughtfully and write effectively. Not one English teacher, not one college English professor, and not one professional with expertise in adolescent cognitive development worked on the committee that wrote the standards on which the SBAC test is based. Instead the standards were written by test makers who decided what was good for students to learn was only what they could measure on a standardized test. That is not literacy.

The SBAC test hasn’t been field-tested and even the executive director of SBAC, Joseph Willholt, has said that, without field-testing, the test lacks validity. No one knows if a good score means a student will succeed in college, and no one knows if a poor score means a student will struggle in college. SBAC also doesn’t assess any of the key skills for the global workplace: questioning, collaborating, effective communication, and metacognitive (learning-to-learn) skills.

Students in schools with histories of low test scores will be hurt the most because, in an effort to raise test scores, much instructional time is spent on test prep. So the very students who need experiences of reading, writing, and collaborating the most will be denied them. The gap between these students and their more affluent peers in schools with traditionally high test scores and, therefore, less test prep time will widen. The rich will get richer as readers and writers, and the poor will get poorer without those literacy skills.

Also with the passing rate set at 40%, many labeled as failing will be students from poverty because scores of standardized tests always correlate with family income. How long will a student be motivated to learn and how long will that student stay in school if he or she fails the test each year? Not only are impoverished students receiving an inferior education, but also their dropout rate will increase.

So what is the solution?

I have three recommendations:

  1. Don’t spend money on SBAC. If we want to assess how we are doing as a state with standardized measures, use, without cost, NAEP, the most respected of standardized tests.
  1. Truly “level the playing field” not by testing and punishing students but by addressing the learning needs of those disadvantaged by poverty and racism.
  1. Empower Connecticut educators to design assessments to measure what students need both for their future in the global workplace and for developing their potential as learners and thinkers.

What we need to standardize in Connecticut is what we as educators, citizens, and legislators do to create opportunities for real learning for ALL Connecticut’s students. The first step is to stop inadequate and damaging SBAC testing.