Following the State’s Effort to Undermine School Desegregation in CT

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Over the last few weeks, the State of Connecticut, represented by the Attorney General’s Office, took another step in its effort to undermine racial desegregation of schools in Connecticut. The key part of this recent step has been to attack the specific reduced-isolation goals in the Sheff v. O’Neill case’s stipulated agreement and order.

Under the Sheff agreement, school desegregation is accomplished through voluntary school choice programs (e.g. Open Choice, interdistrict magnet schools) and a controlled lottery to produce schools that have not more than 75% Black and Latino students. The idea is to carefully create racially diverse schools and to do this without explicitly taking individual students’ race into account in school assignment in order to avoid violating past U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

As WNPR reported, the State wanted to raise the percentage of Black and Latino students in a program (e.g. magnet school) to be considered desegregated, or in a “reduced isolation” setting. The Sheff plaintiffs fought back, asking the Court to put a stop to this plan.

In particular, the State wanted to change the desegregation goal to be 80% Black and Latino on the grounds that the previous goal of 75% was numerically unreasonable. As Dr. Bilal Sekou wrote in his blog, the State wanted to change the definition of a desegregated school from 7 out of 10 Black and Latino students in a school to 8 out of 10, This change would have the effect of further concentrating Black and Latino students in choice programs like interdistrict magnet schools rather than using these choice programs as way to reduce racial isolation.

As I mentioned in the WNPR piece above, the Governor and State increasingly favor interventions such as segregated charter schools and education funding reforms, rather than choice programs for the purpose of racial desegregation. Thus, the attack on desegregation programs and the Sheff case in particular. In its effort to undermine desegregation, the State has listed a number of complaints about desegregation that get  close to being “dog-whistle” politics. (To learn about “dog-whistle” politics, read Ian Haney López’s, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.)

But on June 16, the Court balked at the State’s argument for greater racial segregation of magnet schools that were designed to assist desegregation. The State’s attempt to turn back the clock on desegregation is over for now. Matt Kauffman at the Hartford Courant and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas at the CTMirror covered the story and Judge Berger’s ruling (check out the links for their coverage). Still, the episode raises key questions about the State’s effort to undermine desegregation that I hope to tackle over the next few weeks.

Discussion on the Hartford Public Schools Budget 2017-18

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Tomorrow (6/9/2017) at 12:30 p.m., the Hartford Board of Education* will vote on the Superintendent’s proposed budget with significant cuts to programs and schools. The vote will take place in the Superintendent’s Conference at 960 Main Street, Hartford, CT. HPS faces uncertainty for a variety of reasons and possible cuts in State education funding, along with flat funding from the City of Hartford. As I wrote in 2016, this is the same situation that has happened over the last few years.

This year, HPS faces a $26 million budget gap. This gap includes about $13.5 million increase in costs and $12.6 million in cuts to State education funds and other grants. Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 3.30.58 PM

In order to make up part of the gap, HPS requested $3 million more from the City of Hartford. In order to make up the rest of the gap of about $23 million, HPS proposed cutting that much in services and staff. Although this is not the biggest cut ever, it’s still substantial with a reduction of more than 80 positions in total for about $6 million in savings, plus reduction in services and contracts.

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Up until recently, the budget appeared to be balanced based on this plan. However, when the City of Hartford (Mayor and City Council) passed its budget, it did not include the additional $3 million in funds for the schools. After even more cuts, HPS still faces an additional $2 million gap.

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Hartford relies heavily on State grants, so the flat funding, cuts, and uncertainty here complicate the issue. To be sure, flat city funding is also an issue that Hartford and other school districts face. As a comparison, some other school districts in the region requested and got more funds from their town and cities this year (e.g. Farmington (low turnout), West Hartford). Some towns, like Windsor and Berlin (lack of turnout), rejected their proposed budget increases through a referendum. And Bloomfield reduced its contribution to the schools.

The problem for HPS may be sharper since it hasn’t had an increase in City funding for almost a decade. And State funds and cuts have made up the difference. But those are uncertain this year, again.

Check out the proposed budget, budget presentation, and Finance Committee documents below and stay tuned!

*I am an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education.

Download (PDF, 1.9MB)

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The state of Bi-lingual Education at the CT Puerto Rican Agenda Founding Assembly, June 3, 2017

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This Saturday, June 3, 2017, the CT Puerto Rican Agenda will have its founding assembly in New Haven. I’ll be participating in the workshop entitled, “The State of Bi-lingual Education in CT.” In addition to this workshop, there will be plenty of other key discussions on topics that Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) face in Connecticut. (Schedule here)

One aspect of bilingual education that I hope to discuss is dual-language approaches to bilingualism. Right now, the CT Mirror has a series running on dual-language approaches, so this discussion is timely. And for Hartford residents, we had robust dual-language instruction, had it stripped away in the education “reform” years, and advocates are now trying to get dual language back as one aspect of a broader bilingual education effort. Below I share some documents about my efforts to push the Hartford Public Schools to reconsider dual-language approaches.

Join us Saturday and you’ll hear more about my interpretation and other speakers such as Rose Reyes and Daisy Torres. The assembly begins at 9 a.m. and this workshop (below) starts at 10:30 a.m.

The state of Bi-lingual Education in CT (Moderated by: Yanil Terón, Executive Director of the Center for Latino Progress)

Documents

Download (PDF, 75KB)

Download (DOCX, 15KB)

Download (PDF, 1.51MB)

Download (PDF, 507KB)

Download (PDF, 80KB)

 

New report on charter management fees in Connecticut

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Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 2.56.12 PMSource: CT SDE, 2016; Rodriguez, 2016

A few years ago, I wrote in ctnewsjunkie.com about charter management fees charged by private companies that manage charter schools in Connecticut. The total management fees added up to millions in state dollars diverted from charter schools to these management companies. A new report from CEA, the state’s largest teachers union, (prepared by Rodriguez Data Solutions, LLC) shows that these charter management fees are growing at a higher rate than overall State spending on charter schools in Connecticut.

Not all charter schools in Connecticut charge pay management fees. In fact, most charter schools do not pay management fees, so the report looks closely on the handful that do: Achievement First, Domus, Great Oaks, and Our Piece of the Pie. The charter management schools charge fees at charter schools in the cities that serve mostly Black and some Latinx students.

You can take a look at the Executive Summary of the report below and the data here. As a result of these findings, the CEA has urged legislators:

  • to review the revenue sources and expenditures of corporate-style charter schools and is specifically calling for
  • The prohibition of management fees in all Connecticut charter schools
  • More accountability and transparency of all charter schools
  • An investigative audit of all CMOs
  • Total disclosure of CMO finances
  • Public disclosure of all CMO information through the state’s Freedom of Information Act
  • A moratorium on future charter school expansion

What do you think?

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Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case

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“If the emperor was a weak man, the sight of his mark would evoke laughter and contempt, but if he was a stern and powerful ruler, his mark would instill fear and obedience.”

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, p. 213.

In the book Lords of Discipline, based on the Citadel military college, the general offered his cadets words of advice at their ring ceremony: be the powerful ruler that instills obedience and fear, otherwise suffer defeat. When I first read the judge’s decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case, it struck me as similarly militaristic. Judge Moukawsher, a lawyer and graduate of the Citadel military college, ruled that his problem with Connecticut public education was an issue of discipline, not necessarily a lack of resources. Rather than declaring a war on inequality or inadequacy, the judge declared war on a “slack system”. While news accounts called the judge’s decision an “overhaul”, the ruling was more of a directive to continue public education’s most regressive tendencies.

The valiant CCJEF argument against the State relied on a common-sense idea: every child has a right to a rich, well-rounded education for all children that is adequately funded by the State. Advocates and parents in towns and cities brought the case forward as a Constitutional challenge more than a decade ago believing that public education was inadequately funded, particularly in less wealthy towns and cities. Past court cases, such as the Horton case, argued that Connecticut’s method of funding schools mainly through local property taxes was unfair to towns and cities with a limited ability to pay for public schools. The CCJEF case made a different argument.

There were three parts of the CCJEF argument. First, Connecticut has broad goals for public education such as ensuring that kids become productive members of society and engaged citizens. Second, the State needs to provide adequate or enough funding to accomplish those goals. Third, funding must be equitably distributed, or the funds needed to reach those goals might differ from town to town because students might require more or less help to reach the same goals depending on where they live and other characteristics like poverty, town wealth, language status, and racial identification.

The CCJEF plaintiffs acknowledged that Connecticut’s current method of funding schools was progressive, but inadequate and increasingly inequitable. Over the last thirty years, Connecticut supplemented local education funds from property taxes with State funds in order to create a progressive funding system. That system eventually became called the “Educational Cost Sharing” (ECS) grant and it has produced a certain degree of equity in educational funding. (e.g. Less wealthy towns get more State funding; wealthier towns get less State funding). But the State was underfunding that ECS fund and increasingly favoring wealthier towns by never taking away funds. In some cases, wealthier towns got even more funding as poorer districts lost state funds, a point made painfully clear by the judge.

As a fight for resources towards these broad goals, the CCJEF paralleled past fights for the educational rights of Black and Latinx children, children living in poverty, bilingual children, as well as children with disabilities. However, these civil rights battles also included claims for greater control over the resources and type of education provided to Black and Latinx students. Neither the CCJEF plaintfiffs, the State, nor the judge deliberated these issues.

Still, after years of hearings and testimony that documented public schools without sufficient resources (and funding) to provide an education worth its name, the CCJEF finally had its days in court over the last year. This year’s legislative session might also feature some response to the judge’s orders.

Watch a video version of this lecture here.

Contrary to the argument presented by the CCJEF plaintiffs, the judge found that Connecticut already, “spends more than the bare minimum on schools” (Moukawsher, 2016, p.23). The judge dismissed evidence from teachers and parents that their schools lacked adequate resources as “anecdotal” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). According to the judge’s reading of the law, as long as public school students got classrooms with desks, chairs, air to breathe, a teacher, textbooks, and a curriculum, the State had fulfilled most of its obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity. He concluded that, “there is no proof of a statewide problem caused by the state sending school districts too little money” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). The CCJEF plaintiffs lost this major part of their argument. At that point, the judge could have stopped his ruling, but he went further.

Going further than the initial lawsuit required, the Judge redefined an adequate education to mean one that could be measured through “objective” tests in elementary and high school. When all kids passed standardized tests that would mean that there was a rational and adequate education. And if kids did not pass the tests, then they should not be able to just “pass” to the next grade. To that end, the judge ordered the State and its subordinates to “define” education by using “exit exams” for students to leave the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade. Here, the battle turned against the plaintiffs. The judge outflanked the plaintiffs by conflating standardized testing with equal educational opportunity.

For the judge, the State spent enough money on schools, but the State failed to compel everybody to implement the basic goals of education: kids passing basic reading and math tests. He stated his reasoning here:

…the state must propose a definition of what it means to have an elementary school education that is rationally and primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school. No definition without force behind it can be rational, especially since the state would already say that is has amply laid out what elementary schools should achieve by adopting common core standards. Here the difference between a definition and a constitutionally adequate definition is that the former may have no real consequence while the latter requires substantial consequences. (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 59-60)

For the judge, third grade and high school students in the State’s resource-poor cities could not read at the “basic” level because their basic training had failed. Education, like the military, requires authorities to provide orders to their subordinates, who must follow. Although the state already has content standards and standardized tests connected to graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school ratings, and so on, the judge believed that these tools were not wielded with sufficient authority and discipline by the State. If kids were not passing basic standardized tests, then somebody must suffer negative consequences. As the judge stated, “There is no room for a slack system to support cities like Bridgeport” (Moukawsher, 2016, 37). Poor student test results must mean somebody is slacking off and should be removed, fired, or dismissed. For the court, the educational system would only be rational and adequate when the State removed the weakest links, or the people and funding that don’t raise test results. This sweeping social analysis of Connecticut’s education system came as a surprise to those that have experienced the blunt force of the No Child Left Behind Act or Race to The Top, or other educational reforms that do, in fact, target various people to punish.

This vision for an educational system was Spartan and contradictory. It hinged on ranking kids, teachers, schools, and districts, then removing the weakest links. In the case of special education, the judge argued that, “school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from elementary or secondary school education” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 76). Presumably, money could be saved by cutting services for these students with disabilities to save the funds for the kids that “can learn”.

Somebody should be punished when “objective” tests showed that kids could not read at basic level. Only when kids passed tests and moved onto the next grade or graduation, then they could be said to have an “adequate” education. If they didn’t pass, then they couldn’t move forward. Showing a misunderstanding of standardized test results, the judge did not see much value in measures in which everybody could pass. He stated, “An inflated teacher evaluation system, like a graduation or graduation system where everyone succeeds, is virtually useless (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 63).” Useful tests and standards rate people and some people must fail by design. But the judge did not take up the question of what happens when kids and adults are punished for never passing tests and evaluations that fail some people by design. As Wendy Lecker and other lawyers suggested, this ruling emboldened past and current corporate education reform initiatives. Rather than an overhaul of education, the judge ordered schools to escalate their most regressive tendencies such as testing, sorting people, removing “weak” links, and punishing non-conformists.

In terms of educational leadership, the judge wanted public schools to be more “tightly coupled”. In other words, schools must pick a goal, measure the goal, meet the goal or suffer consequences. It either did not matter or did not occur to the judge that schools might require “loose coupling”, or a set of broad goals implemented with a different type of leadership and management given the complexity of American schooling (Weick, 1976; Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

A positive aspect of the judge’s order for the plaintiffs was that it allowed the State to provide more funding for schools if schools wished to provide these opportunities, but it was not required to spend any more because it was already funding the bare minimum it needed. Redistribution of state funds was also possible, but not required under this ruling. Sadly, the things we find help kids in schools such as support professionals, arts, music, health, computers, recess, and fun were just irrational “extras” for this judge (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 40). Rich districts might be able to offer these opportunities through their own local funding, but the State is not required to fund these opportunities in middle and working class schools where the majority of Black and Latinx students reside.

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that economic status, targeted school funding, and other factors can influence academic success. Connecticut only needed to make a funding formula, connect it to test results and evaluations, then stick to it and deliver punishments for not complying and performing.  By radically redefining adequacy to “rational” discipline as measured by test scores, the ruling was a regressive departure from the idea of a rich, well-rounded public education for children, particularly for Black, Latinx, and children of all ethnic groups living in poverty.

With his Citadel ring on his finger as he read the ruling from the bench, the Judge told the State of Connecticut, be the stern and powerful school emperor that instills fear and obedience through tests and punishments. Only that would be a “rational, substantial, and verifiable” public education, even if it’s not adequately or equitably funded by the State.

Note: The State of Connecticut (defendants) and CCJEF (plaintiffs) have appealed the decisions and the Supreme Court has allowed that appeal to move forward.