Letter to State Board of Education (public comment): Relay teacher training program – November 2, 2016

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Dear members of the State Board of Education,

Thank you for your service and the chance speak to this morning. My name is Robert Cotto, Jr. and I am a certified teacher in Connecticut, educational researcher, and resident of the City of Hartford. Based on the evidence and my experience, I have deep concerns about the Relay program proposal. I come today to ask that you reject the Relay proposal and explore new and existing alternatives to diversifying the teacher force.

Relay is an inferior teacher training program compared to existing university-based and alternative teacher certification programs. As a certified teacher, I can remember the hours of fieldwork, lesson planning, student-teaching, and reflection with mentor teachers and university professors that had decades of K-12 experience. This experience in MA allowed me to earn my CT teacher certification. Relay deviates wildly from the structure and guidance required of other programs in CT that educate and certify new teachers. Created by the charter school industry and venture capitalists, Relay places its students into classrooms before extensive preparation, provides online modules in place of coursework, and assigns a teacher partner to supplement this “on-the-job” training. Relay calls this inferior preparation “a graduate school” and says it is for the good of Black and Latino students. As Ken Zeichner and other scholars have noted, there is no rigorous evidence to suggest this approach as an improvement or innovation to teacher and public education. By comparison, imagine that another white entrepreneur offered Black and Latinx communities similarly trained novices for performing surgery in hospitals or practicing law in courthouses. The program would be called exactly what is: racial discrimination.

By delivering an inferior program, Relay exploits the hopes of prospective Black and Latinx educators. Despite the lack of program approval, the State Department of Education reports that Relay recruited 70 students for its program, 50 of whom are self-identified as people of color. These people are eager to enter the teacher profession and should be commended. Relay exploits that desire by selling a subpar training program as a “graduate school” despite lacking real professors, courses, accreditation, or even State approval as a school or program. The combination of limited training and placement into primarily charter schools with high teacher turnover nearly assures that Relay students will leave the teaching profession quickly. When this happens, Relay will not hold any responsibility since they are not accountable in the same ways as other teacher education programs in Connecticut. Instead, the Relay teachers and their students will be left to pay the debt for this ill-planned venture. This approach simply exacerbates the national and local trend of healthy numbers of Black and Latinx teachers entering, but quickly exiting the profession because of poor working conditions and compensation, and other forms of discrimination.

There are alternatives that the State could consider for diversifying the teaching force. The State could restore and expand its Alternative Route to Certification and Minority Teacher Incentive Programs. The latter offers grants to prospective teachers of color already in Connecticut teacher education programs. However, the Governor and Legislature cut these grants by about $50,000 and $80,000 this year respectively. The State Board could also use its authority to encourage efforts to diversify students and faculty in the existing teacher education pipeline and to ensure that approved programs respond and adapt to the needs of our diversifying K-12 student body. Finally, whatever intervention this Board takes, it must do so with actual evidence of the issues, concerns, and needs of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American educators and students rather than with the clever marketing and weak evidence provided by the charter school industry. Connecticut can and must do better for teachers of color. Please reject Relay.

Thank you,

Robert Cotto, Jr., Ed.M., M.A.

Member, Hartford Board of Education

A Guide to Understanding the Hartford Public Schools “Equity 2020” Committee

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HBOE October 18 2016 Equity 2020 Committee members LaKeisha McFarland, Natalie Langlaise, Shontá Browdy speaking to the Hartford Board of Education on October 18, 2016 at Hartford Public High School media center with concerns about consultant proposals to close schools given to the Equity 2020 Committee. 

What is the Equity 2020 Committee?

The Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools selected members of the Equity 2020 Committee to 1.) improve quality education for all students and 2.) create a facilities plan that will “streamline” the district, including school closing and consolidations. These two goals are in potential conflict.

Download (PDF, 228KB)

Learn more about the committee here: Hartford Public Schools “Equity 2020”

How did we get here?

In 2007, the Hartford Public Schools started an educational reform that relied on intra- and inter-district school and hyper-accountability using standardized test results. The “theory of action” was to close schools with low test results and expand school with higher test results. This theory of action is based on the ideology that public education is better when schools compete, and when schools don’t meet standardized test targets, then private enterprise can manage all or parts of school functions. As a market-oriented reform, these policies promoted competition between schools for students, space, and funds.

From one perspective, this reform was a well-executed way to destabilize the most vulnerable schools that would set up business opportunities for private enterprises to exploit (e.g. Achievement First charter schools, Capital Prep Schools, Inc., Teach for America, Opportunity High School-Our Piece of the Pie, Jumoke/FUSE). On the other hand, these reforms were poorly designed to ensure quality education for all students and left many schools severely under-enrolled through the process of unregulated/unplanned school choice and constant crisis from high-stakes testing.

Inter-district magnet schools were one of the components of the school choice strategy. The State created these schools to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. Magnet schools have been primarily used to fulfill the Sheff v. O’Neill court order and have doubled in enrollment across the state over the last 15 years or so. Magnet schools are public schools operated by either Hartford Public Schools, Capital Region Education Council, or local colleges, and can be considered a controlled-choice program. In addition, Hartford student participation in the Open Choice program has also increased.

(Note: When students leave to private charter school districts such as the segregated Achievement First and Jumoke Academies, this does not help in fulfilling any State integration goals. The growth of charter schools in Hartford is faster than magnet schools, but magnet schools have higher overall enrollment.)

The State of Connecticut oversees Hartford-area magnet schools and has limited planning for enrollment and implementation of this policy. Hartford students have enrolled in HPS and CREC magnet schools and that has caused some of the decline of HPS enrollment. But the HPS magnet schools and Open Choice have also brought in more than 4,000 students from outside of Hartford. This influx of regional students and dollars has mitigated the some of the financial and enrollment issues that Hartford faces. Magnet schools and Open Choice are one part, but not the whole story of how we got here.

In addition to poorly planned market-oriented reforms (e.g. school choice), Hartford and the region have fewer births and children than a decade ago. The City of Hartford simply has fewer children than past decades. The combination of school choice, poor planning, fewer children/declining population have combined so that some schools have low “occupancy” rates. With the budget crisis at the State and City level, there is increased pressure to save money. Closing schools can be viewed as a way for the City of Hartford to save money.

The schools that Milone and McBroom proposes to close are mostly Black and Latino non-magnet schools that the District and State diminished through unplanned school choice, taking away funds when kids leave a school, and overall neglect of program and building. (Remember, the HPS “theory of action” is that school choice and high-stakes testing would force schools with low test results to improve and get more students, or get closed and turned over to private managers.) As I mentioned previously, closing these particular schools (all but one are in the North End) would likely compound the historic, class-based neglect and institutional racism that these schools have already faced.

What were the proposals from the hired consultant to the Equity 2020 committee and Hartford Board of Education?

The company Milone and McBroom offered 3 plans for school closings and consolidations. Depending on the plan, MLK, Milner, Burns, Wish, Simpson-Waverly could potentially close. Weaver would be rebuilt and Achievement First private charter school would use the whole Lewis Fox building rent-free. These proposals were created by Milone and McBroom, not the full Equity 2020 committee membership.

Here are the enrollment findings:

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Download (PDF, 3.52MB)

Download (PDF, 6.69MB)

You can see the possible plans here:

Download (PPTX, 655KB)

Who hired Milone and McBroom and for how much?

The appointed Hartford School Building Committee hired Milone and McBroom to create enrollment projections for the Weaver High School renovation project (see the signed contract below). Since that time, the enrollment projections for Weaver have changed twice. In order to do an updated facilities planning, the Hartford School Building (and HPS staff) hired Milone and McBroom at a price tag of $180,000 and the City of Hartford has paid them $81,000 of that total to date using Capital Improvement Funds. Milone and McBroom have partnered with the SLAM collaborative to create the Equity 2020 plans. SLAM collaborative is the architect for the Weaver High School renovation project.

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Download (PDF, 59KB)

Download (PDF, 373KB)

Download (PDF, 144KB)

What is the current and proposed HPS School Closing Policy

In September 2016, the Hartford Board of Education proposed a new school closing and consolidation policy. The revised policy would make it easier for the School Board to close schools and with less community input.

Current Policy

Download (PDF, 199KB)

Proposed/Revised School Closing & Consolidation Policy

Download (DOC, 58KB)


What are other groups’ opinions on the consultant plans?

The Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP has called for a halt on all school closings, citing the potential for civil rights violations.

Mayor, City of Hartford

Download (PDF, 123KB)







The Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP Demands a Halt to All School Closings

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Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.33.53 AM(Photo credit: screen image of Greater Hartford Branch NAACP website)

Letter sent via e-mail from President Imam Abdul-Shahid Muhammad Ansari of the Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP to the Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools; and cc: to administrative staff of Hartford Public Schools, Board of Education members, City Council & Mayor of Hartford, NAACP-CT President Esdaile & Education Committee Chair on Monday, October 17, 2016, 8:50 a.m. (Letter in PDF and full text below)



From: Greater Hartford NAACP

To: Superintendent@hartfordschools.org,

Date: Mon, Oct 17, 2016 at 8:50 AM

Subject: Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP Demand a Halt to All School Closings

Dear Dr. Schiavino-Narvaez:

In a time of severe budget cuts, Hartford’s school officials have focused their attention on closing schools with low performance in the hopes of cost savings, and improving system inefficiencies.  The Hartford Board of Education’s proposed closures are the result of both deliberate policy decisions and significant disinvestment in public education over time.  Following a national pattern of destructive education reform policies and practices, the Hartford Board of Education is proposing similar reforms resulting in school closures primarily in the north-end of Hartford, which is predominately comprised of low- income African-American and Latino neighborhoods.  This proposed action by the Hartford Board of Education will violate Title IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It also constitutes negative treatment and would have an unjustified disparate impact on African-American and Latino students.

This school closing plague is not unique to Hartford.  Across the country residents of poor communities in several cities such as, New Orleans, Chicago and Newark have filed Title VI complaints with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights demanding that the Department investigate the racial impact of school closings in their cities.

The Hartford Board of Education has neither been forthright nor transparent with the community.  The Mayor, the Court of Common Council, the Hartford Board of Education, and the Superintendent of Schools assured the community that the Equity 2020 Advisory Committee would analyze school data across the city, (with input from the community), and  would develop a proposal on how the educational system should move forward.  This proposal was to be presented to the Hartford Board of Education for consideration.  Instead, the opposite occurred.

The hired private consulting firm drafted proposals for school closures and consolidations that were presented to the Equity 2020 Advisory Committee.  The north-end of Hartford will be negatively impacted with the proposed school closures.  Empty school buildings will become prime real estate for new charter schools.  We have observed the proliferation of charter schools led by interested parties seeking to profit from the vulnerabilities of a disenfranchised north-end community.

The Greater Hartford Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), could not turn a deaf ear to the cries of the parents and residents in the Hartford community regarding education and the closing of schools in the north-end of Hartford.  The adoption of multiple educational reform strategies has devastated our community schools leaving them grossly unequal compared to their Magnet School counterparts.  There has been a total disregard for Black and Latino culture and heritage with the closing of John C. Clark, Jr. School and the proposed closing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School, Dr. Frank T. Simpson-Waverly School, and Thirman L. Milner School as these schools are named after prominent local and nationally- recognized African-Americans.

Based on our findings, we are deeply concerned and disturbed by the actions of the Hartford Board of Education, for systematically divesting in schools located in the north-end; leaving our students and families ill-equipped to compete educationally.  We must reclaim our schools and our children who are at risk of educational failure.  We must demand that the Hartford Board of Education and the Hartford City Council refrain from closing any schools in the north-end of Hartford and reaffirm the need for quality public education.

As such, we the Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP make the following demands to the Mayor, City Council, Hartford Board of Education, and Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools:

  • Racist and discriminatory practices in our educational system, whether intentional or not, must stop;
  • Board of Education stop the closures of neighborhood schools; stop using closures as an educational strategy instead of providing the supports needed for students to be successful;
  • The Hartford Board of Education transform all neighborhood schools into quality elementary and secondary schools;
  • Respect our heritage and culture by maintaining schools named in honor of prominent African-Americans, (e.g. John C. Clark, Jr. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thirman L. Milner, and Dr. Frank T. Simpson-Waverly);
  • Stop the alienation of African-American and Latino community- based organizations with strong ties in the communities from being at the table and factored into the social, cultural, and academic practices within our schools;
  • Call for a moratorium on privately managed charter schools;
  • Stop the practice of disingenuous strategies, (e.g. community meetings and hearings offered only after decisions have been made outside of transparent processes), that puts profits before students and alienates the communities from neighborhood schools; and
  • The Hartford Public School district must immediately deliver a strategy which will result in the increased employment of African-American and Latino teachers.

Irreparable harm will be inflicted on this community by deliberate disinvestment, neglect and the closing of John C. Clark, Jr. School and the proposed closing of three additional schools in north Hartford by the Hartford Board of Education.

The Greater Hartford NAACP will seek the support of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches Scot X. Esdaile, President; Dr. Benjamin Foster, Education Chair and Attorney Darnell Crosland, Legal Counsel to get the approval of National Board of Directors to file complaints with the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice Offices for Civil Rights.

In the Pursuit of Freedom, Justice and Equality,

Imam Abdul-Shahid Muhammad Ansari,

President, Greater Hartford Branch NAACP

cc:  Scot X. Esdaile, President Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches

Dr. Benjamin Foster, Education Chair, Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches

Dr. José Colón-Rivas, Chief Operating Officer, Hartford Public Schools

Hartford Public Schools Superintendent of Schools Cabinet Members

Hartford Board of Education Members

Luke Bronin, Mayor of the City of Hartford

City of Hartford Court of Common Council

Why did the NAACP propose a moratorium on charter schools? Will the Connecticut NAACP support this moratorium on charter schools? (Updated)

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Update: The NAACP Board has approved the moratorium on new charter schools. Read the Tweet below and a statement from the NAACP here.

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Continue reading Why did the NAACP propose a moratorium on charter schools? Will the Connecticut NAACP support this moratorium on charter schools? (Updated)