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OP-ED | Coalition Of The Factual

by | Mar 23, 2012 10:21am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion

(Updated 4:39 p.m. Sunday) Wednesday’s Where We Live with John Dankosky featured three members of the alphabet soup coalition that supports SB24 (CBIA, CCER, CAPSS, ConnCAN, CAS and CABE). 

Dankosky asked a great question – why aren’t teachers in their coalition, because that was what worked in New Haven. Bob Rader of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education replied: “Teachers have some different ideas and that’s why we’re seeing this rhetoric across the state.”

Despite the fact they are unable to work with teachers in their coalition, they all realize that teachers are essential to successful education:

Ramani Ayer, Vice-Chair of Connecticut Council on Education Reform: “We believe that notwithstanding poverty-related deficits, excellent teaching and excellent leaders in school makes the maximum amount of difference, even with children of poor background.”

We shouldn’t make major policy changes based on on Mr. Ayer’s “beliefs.” When I was in school, long before NCLB and Race to the Top high stakes testing insanity, we were taught to do research and evaluate ideas using critical thinking skills.

I also don’t believe that such changes should be made for one of Governor Malloy’s oft-cited reasons, echoed in a recent Hartford Courant editorial , because they “have been adopted in many other states.” My parents always warned me that just because my friends engaged in risky behavior, it wasn’t a reason for me to do it too.

I’m writing this op-ed on the behalf of a coalition that hasn’t had nearly as much airtime as the Gang of Six, perhaps because they don’t get funding from hedge fund millionaires, and foundations funded by billionaires, and thus don’t have the resources for “six-figure ad buys”. 

We are parents, we are speech and language pathologists, we are current and former teachers, we are social workers, we are Board of Ed members. We are multi-lingual and racially diverse. Some of us are married, some of us single parents. Some of us are in unions and some of us aren’t. But we share a common goal – we care passionately about ensuring all children get an effective education that will prepare them with the skills necessary for the 21st Century global workplace. We want what is best for our children based on proven research, not political ambitions or profits. I call us the Coalition of the Factual.

Messers Rader, Riccards and Ayer were joined in their support of SB 24 in a Hartford Courant editorial that accused the teacher unions of misrepresentation and went on to state:

“Make no mistake. Mr. Malloy’s governorship is on the line in this battle for better schools. He’s pushing reasonable, practical changes that have been adopted in many other states…Instead of spreading misinformation, why don’t the unions — or a nonprofit or a university — invite teachers from states that have already adopted reforms to come to Connecticut and tell their stories? That beats a half-baked ad.”

Well, since the Courant et al want to judge teachers on data, how about we look at data from other states that have implemented such changes? That beats a “half-baked” editorial.

For assistance in this endeavor, I spoke to Michael Marder, professor of physics at the University of Texas – Austin and part of the faculty at the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics.  Marder is also the co-director of the university’s UTeach program, which focuses on preparing and encouraging university graduates to become secondary math and science teachers.

When Professor Marder actually looks at the test score data from across four different states, Texas, California, New York and New Jersey, the trend continues. Poverty is the distinguishing factor in test performance, and further, that there is no evidence that charter schools outperform public schools.

Who is spreading the misinformation now?

Charter school advocates try to claim that CT is different. But let’s look at the numbers in our state. When we look at 8th grade CAPT math scores it appears, on the face of things, that charter schools have some benefit. However, by the 10th grade CAPT, it’s a different story, and same when we look at SAT scores. So if there is an actual benefit, it is temporary.

But are gains charter schools students make over public schools at the 8th grade based on a realistic comparison? It turns out we’re not looking at an apples to apples comparison. Professor Bruce D. Baker, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers analyzed the relative percentages of English Language Learners, students receiving free lunches, and students with disabilities, at public and charter schools in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. It becomes clear that charter schools have significantly lower populations in all of these groups. It’s hardly surprising that they are able to achieve higher scores, and in fact given this, it’s really appalling that they aren’t achieving better results vs public schools on the CAPT and SATs. Bear in mind that the schools themselves report these figures to CTDOE and NCES.

In light of actual research and evidence – and believe me, I have much more should legislators be interested in passing a bill based on what is best for our children rather than what is deemed politically expedient by a Governor with an eye on higher office or on the failed policies pushed by former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – we need to ask ourselves what components of SB24 actually address the achievement gap based on the research, not on ConnCan propaganda. 

Early childhood education is one of them, but 500 additional seats is a drop in the bucket. Legislators should also be asking if this bill really tackles the funding issues at the heart of the CCJEF vs Rell decision.

While the Governor and the Gang of Six have staked their souls on tenure reform and linking teacher certification and pay to test scores, despite substantial research showing that this is not in the best interest of either teachers or students, my hope is that our legislators actually review the facts. The Governor and his allies are trying to frame this as a “union issue” but it isn’t. It’s about education. And those of us who are passionate about education, who read the research and care about the facts, know that many provisions of this bill are deeply flawed and will damage our kids for years to come. 

But perhaps the most important question legislators should also be asking themselves for the future of this state is if the bill is helping to create graduates with the skills necessary for to be competitive in the 21st century global workplace.

What are those skills? Here’s an example from one of the most successful companies of the early 21st Century, Google.

Our Googley advice to students: Major in Learning

…At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.”

The Google advice echoes something a wise teacher told me when I was in school: “I’m not here to teach you facts; I’m here to teach you how to learn.”  We can teach kids to cram and regurgitate facts for multiple-choice tests, and those facts will be forgotten soon after the test is over. Meaningful education takes place when we’re able to get kids engaging higher order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation. That is true learning, which will carry through to the workplace and last for a lifetime.

Increasing the emphasis on high stakes testing isn’t going to help students achieve these skills. In fact, it achieves exactly the opposite effect.

The OECD report: 21st Century Learning: Research, Innovation and Policy , which discusses “New Millenium Learners” should be required reading by legislators before voting on SB24.

SB24 will prepare students for the 20th Century workforce, but being “so last Century” isn’t our objective, is it?

Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU

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(28) Archived Comments

posted by: brutus2011 | March 23, 2012  3:21pm


The explanation of data by Prof. Marder is telling. (by the way, he can achieve tenure, K-12 teachers cannot)

He asks the question as to why our policy makers have not been able to solve the achievement gap problem?

I ask, is allowing the same policy makers to scapegoat teachers a rational thing for voters to do?

If you don’t believe me, then at least give Prof. Marder’s “technical analysis” your serious consideration.

posted by: eastrivertype | March 23, 2012  3:57pm

To Sarah Darer Littman and her “Coalition of the Factual.”
How factual is your comment that the “Gang of Six” is “funded by hedge fund millionaires and foundations funded by billionaires?”  How about being some semblance of factual when you check out who funds the CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) and the CT Association of Schools (CAS).  That is half of your so called gang of six.  They are not funded by those evil people with money. 
Last time I checked none of them seemed to put the welfare of the Boards of Education, the Superintendents or the Schools ahead of what is best for students. 
Then you toss out Marder’s data as “extremely relevant and informative” even though it is not CT specific.  So much again for factual.
I recognize that it is an op-ed piece and intended to spark debate.  But how appropriate is it to stereotype the “gang of “six” based hatred of “the rich?”  And then to toss out one academic’s position as relevant to CT when the data is not CT specific, is further evidence of lazy journalism at best.  So Sarah, yes you will spark debate, but grow up and try being a real member of the “coalition of the factual” rather than part of a coalition of opinionated.

posted by: saramerica | March 23, 2012  10:48pm


East River Type - If you read piece 1) I am going to be getting CT data from Marder. He was traveling at the time. 2) It is relevant and informative because the “coalition” promoting SB24 AND Governor Malloy have consistently pointed to the fact that other states, specifically our neighboring states of NY, NJ and RI, have already implemented such reforms as a reason that CT should proceed, and with haste. Therefore, the data for these states, showing that charters are no more effective at raising scores than public schools is completely relevant.

2) ConCann received $800K from the Walton Foundation in 2011 to lobby for charter schools in the state of CT.  http://wapo.st/GLMR0H. Not exactly chump change. And here’s the donor list from the organization’s own annual report. Some very recognizable names from the Wall St Journal. http://bit.ly/GJQxWa

I’d be very interested to know how many of the donors on ConnCAN’s list actually sent or send their kids to public schools.

posted by: saramerica | March 24, 2012  12:13pm


Another thing East River: listen to Bob Rader’s response to Dankosky’s question about if Superintendents can lose their jobs if test scores go down the same way teachers will. Apparently test score driven is isn’t applicable but can be up to 45% of a teacher’s evaluation. How are we going to evaluate PE teachers? Media specialists?  Foreign language teachers? More state testing? Great. Less actually learning.

posted by: saramerica | March 24, 2012  2:41pm


PS: Here’s some specific and relevant CT data for you:


posted by: Braemar | March 24, 2012  5:00pm

Teachers teach, the best they can for the most part.
Learners must do the learning. It takes focus and work.

If you have visited most schools in need of improvement you have noticed that many students exhibit a lower level of student commitment to the work of learning. There are many more disruptive students in classes and hallways distracting and intimidating other learners. There is no learning in a classroom where behavior is out of control.
Yes,  teachers should have control of the room. Most places they do. Check those places in need of improvement.
When children can shout obscenities at staff or threaten staff and other students and teachers are supposed to keep them in the classroom no matter what, education is not happening.
Some students need to be removed for others to feel safe and free to learn.

posted by: Linda12 | March 24, 2012  8:21pm


“Teachers have some different ideas and that’s why we’re seeing this rhetoric across the state.”

What does that mean? We have different ideas?

Teachers care about teaching and learning;we care about the kids and not drill and kill. Is that another derogatory comment about teachers? We are not intelligent enough to know that they know what’s best and since we don’t agree with a group of philanthrocapitalists, then we have no clue?

If this passes as it is written, it will be a disaster. The experienced teachers at the top of the pay scale will jump ship. There will be a mass exodus within the next 3-5 years. Achievement First and Teach for America can take over. Once they have ALL the kids including the special Ed watch the test scores plummet.

As a matter of fact, I suggest Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee start up SFA, Superintendents for America, since evidently they no longer need certificaition nor do they need any experience teaching in a classroom.

SB 24 has nothing to do with teaching and learning.

They want to apply a business model to public schools with a cheap labor force to lower costs…less experienced, less educated, teachers….a high turnover of young recrutis who are too naive to ask questions. The newbies can be brainwashed into spending 181 days on test prep and test taking.

I will not be sending my kids to CT public schools under their plan.

posted by: Jeff Klaus | March 24, 2012  10:25pm

Sarah, Is this your source of the data you are posting? “School Finance 101”?


posted by: RJEastHartford | March 25, 2012  10:09am

Maybe Ramani Ayer can get results similar to those as he achieved as CEO of the Hartford? As the Vice-Chairman of Connecticut Council on Education Reform it is unlikely he will cash out for millions at the end of his tenure, well compensated for a lack of vision and execution.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 25, 2012  12:06pm


Here are some of the “unpopular” things that are working.

Legislation to end social promotion. Florida demonstrates great success by integrating testing and remediation at early ages putting a full stop on social promotion of 3rd grade kids who can’t read.

The kids get IEPs, summer session, and are held back if necessary. Parental invovlement is solicited early and often to avoid retention or summer remediation of students where possible and attemtps to get parental buy in as early as possible. Waivers are hard to come by. It’s the tough love approach.


OTOH the Texas and Georgia versions of a social promotion laws are lightly enforced and frankly a travesty.

States like Kansas and New Mexico had similar robust tough love antisocial promotion legislation voted down by one house or the other these last two years with heavy union opposition.

The New Mexico situation was a tragedy: a 62-5 vote in the House and the legislation was buried in the Senate by the Majority leader. It’s a robust social promotion law too with the financial resources attached to identify and remediate and do the parental outreach first before mandated retention.

OTOH Tennessee and Oklahoma passed similar legislation. I expect to see the legislation expanded to 5th or 6th grade as well. It draws a hard line in the sand and forces the necessary remediation and accountability into the system.

As far as parental involvement goes that is why I support voichers. I often find people proposing parental involvement are really proposing their non-profit should be making choices as parental surrogates.

The beauty of vouchers: no one as to use them. But they do. And parents love them and vote with their feet. Public, parochial, charters, and homeschooling. The more the merrier.

As near as I can tell the money saved from vouchers could be plowed back into preschool programs and robust, tough love,  anti-social promotion programs.

posted by: saramerica | March 25, 2012  3:39pm


Jeff: you can argue with the man, but you can’t argue with the data, which was provided to the agencies by the charter schools themselves.

Linda, I have no idea what that was supposed to mean. You’d have to ask Bob Rader. But I thought it was an odd thing to say, and I agree with John Dankosky - if they’d included teachers from the beginning, they’d have been better off.

posted by: Linda12 | March 25, 2012  3:49pm


They don’t want to include teachers because they do not respect us. They claim to want to put students first, but they put teachers last. The two really don’t go well together. We are constantly disregarded and demeaned. This plan will benefit one group only: the philanthrocapitalists.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 25, 2012  4:37pm


What’s important with Charter Schools is fair timely and rapid assessment and quick dissolution or reconstitution of Charters that are performing in a sub standard manner.

Many of these alternate programs have one thread in common: well-managed programs succeed. Poorly managed programs don’t. it’s one of the reasons parental triggers are so important. When 51% of the parents tell you to dissolve the school you know you have a problem.

The recent 5-year Milwaukee studies are relevent since they are both new and are a study of a mature choice system which had some very visible Charter school Disasters in the Early 90s.


Some highlights:

* The growth of voucher students was higher than that of public school students in reading and math.

* Students in the voucher program graduate high school and attend four-year colleges at higher rates.

* (The report showed) higher reading scores, graduation rates and enrollment in four year schools, and the students are also staying in college.

Methodology: A random sample of voucher students, then picked a control group in the Milwaukee Public Schools by matching (the voucher students) to (public school students) by similar neighborhoods and baseline test scores in 2006, and then took into account their gender and race.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 25, 2012  4:48pm


Are you suggesting that the teachers need new representation?

That the union representation isn’t getting the important ideas out there? 

That the teachers now have a plan? Where is their plan? Where is their model school? Is John Dankosky hiding the teacher’s great Hartford Proof-of-Concept Charter School or other? Why are so many ex-teachers behind some of these reforms?

The union adds nothing to the discussion as they are bound to represent the fiduciary demands of the teachers and aren’t bound to any notion of academic reform or competitive school choice like vouchers where non-union shops can play.

The teachers have fiduciary representation. Are you saying they want more now? They want to put student outcomes before their paychecks? Is that what John Dankosky is saying?

posted by: Jeff Klaus | March 25, 2012  5:39pm

Sarah, sorry but Baker is an admitted manipulator of data, so yeah we can argue with it.  Can’t you reference reliable data sources?  You might want to try ConnCAN.

posted by: Braemar | March 25, 2012  5:41pm

Several years ago the CT legislature did mandate no social promotion in grade three (It was only for 16 districts in need of improvement at the time).
The legislature also mandated Summer School for any grade four students who did not make Proficiency in reading or math areas and retesting afterward or they would not go to the next grade either, strict attendance requirements as well. Then the money stopped for those programs.
These mandates were not for all towns though. It seemed discriminatory. If a child performed at the same low level, but was in another district not under mandate, no Summer School was required.

The staff must have individual learning plans for every student not proficient in CMT. Their is huge focus on students in planning, flex grouping, remediation. Often students are playing catch-up for 2-3 years of below grade level language understanding at Kdg entry.(We’re not talking bi-lingual here.)

Families must be given understanding that children learn many years before formal schooling and they have to foster that. Learning and the interest in learning does not begin in school.

posted by: Linda12 | March 25, 2012  6:59pm

Snapshots of CT charter school data:


posted by: Noteworthy | March 25, 2012  10:04pm

I’ve come to the conclusion that this entire bill should be scrapped. The players involved don’t agree on the solution and the governor has no credibility on the subject. Aside from the fact there are a number of troubling fringe elements to the central issue of the bill, what is more difficult to swallow is the plethora of special interests, corporate big wigs and others whose goals are less than transparent, completely intermingled and comingled that seems to have bastardized a good intent for profit and power.

There is a long history of claiming that more money will be the great solution. Nearly every time, it just means more money trades hands - think bailout of Wall Street; New Haven’s school construction program; the state budget on and on. Now comes education “reform.”

posted by: Linda12 | March 26, 2012  5:51am

To Jeff K.

ConnCan (a.k.a.ConnCON) -

Reliable data and ConnCan in the same sentence?


Now, that’s a good one!

posted by: saramerica | March 26, 2012  6:11am


Jeff: Seriously? You’re telling me that his data isn’t valid based on a video made by THIS GUY? A sleazy manipulator of video who claims to be a “journalist”?  Try again… http://www.npr.org/2011/03/14/134525412/Segments-Of-NPR-Gotcha-Video-Taken-Out-Of-Context

posted by: saramerica | March 26, 2012  6:17am


Braemar - you are SO RIGHT that learning begins before K. The low-income kids are entering school behind the starting line and then we wonder why they aren’t keeping up in the race. 500 early education seats doesn’t go nearly far enough to address this deficit. We have to address the problem where it starts.

posted by: Jo Lutz | March 27, 2012  4:58pm

1.)  All of the data in this article is several years out of date, and is absurdly selective to the point where many measures focus on only on 4 out of Connecticut’s 17 charter schools. One wonders why the vast majority of CT charter schools were excluded from a study which purports to generalize about CT charters. If you look at growth scores in ALL CHARTERS over ALL GRADES (that take the CMT) over FIVE YEARS (2006-2010), you will see that individual cohorts of students gained 4.3 more percentage points in Math each year than the same cohorts in their host district, and 3.9 more percentage points in Reading. Looking at growth allows us to put aside the question of equivalent populations, for all students should show improvement from year to year over their own performance (in fact, this sort of analysis tends to favor cohorts that start out low-achieving).
2.)  SB24 contains a provision that addresses ELL/SPED discrepancies: charters must attract and retain the priority populations. The charter community fully supports these goals.
3.)  The average charter school right now educates a student population that is 11.6% special education, which is a fraction of a percent below the state average and only a couple of percentage points below the average host district. This is hardly enough to explain away good test scores, even if SPED students did take the CMT - WHICH THEY DON’T, SO THE WHOLE ARGUMENT IS MEANINGLESS.
4.)  Of CT’s 17 charter schools, 5 have SPED populations above that of their local district.
5.)  Of the 12 schools with lower SPED populations than their districts, 10 begin in the early elementary grades. Much difference in the rate of SPED identification might be attributed to rigorous pre-K and Kindergarten and early intervention for more slowly developing students, such that the need to identify children as special education is reduced.
6.) Based on the ELL graph above, the 2-out-of-17 charter schools you have chosen to profile don’t even do badly. One appears to slightly above and one slightly below the median ELL school. There are plenty of schools with fewer ELL or SPED or Free lunch populations… would you reduce their funding to $9,400 per student?
7.) Most charter schools receive little or no private funding. Also, fundraising is not the sole purview of charters. Traditional schools receive such money as well, the difference is that charter schools HAVE TO fundraise to provide the same level of resources that would be available to their students at another public school. Most simply don’t, and as a result facilities, teacher salaries, extracurriculars and foreign languages take a hit. It’s just not fair to kids.

posted by: Braemar | March 27, 2012  5:29pm

Do not forget that Charter School students, SPED or ELL or not, are those whose family is involved enough to advocate for them for a charter school experience. That is what is mostly missing in public school achievement puzzle, parent involvement.
Special education students do take the CMT. Some get more time or small group. A very low number of Special Education students get a check list instead and must be very low functioning to do so.

posted by: saramerica | March 27, 2012  9:29pm


Jo, you clearly deal with so many SPED students that you have no idea that they do take the CMT. My son was in SPED and he took the CMTS. He had certain accommodations, like being able to write the essay portion on a laptop because of fine motor issues, but he took the tests just like all the rest of the kids. Yet another example of Charter school lobby giving out false information.

posted by: Tom Burns | March 27, 2012  9:53pm

Thank you Sarah—-as a parent myself these are things we all need to know——CT is where this movement will be defeated—and to East River about CABE,CAPSS and CAS—when was the last time or any time they spent time in the classroom teaching—These groups disappoint me as they are fighting against their own team—the teachers—why would they do this——because they arent on the ground(working with kids)they sit in a room far away from the work of teaching and learning and come up with ideas to validate their job and existence at the expense of the children and their team—too many chiefs making decisions for the Indians and then blaming the Indians when their Cockeymamy ideas dont work—-come on down and give us a hand—our doors are open—Tom

posted by: Kerri | March 28, 2012  7:21am



One of your points is false. Students with special needs do take the CMT. Some are given accommodations, but they take the CMT. There are some students with special needs who are given the MAS (modified assessment system). The way you have presented your argument makes it sound as if students with special needs are exempt from standardized testing. Not true.

posted by: Background Check | March 28, 2012  7:42pm

Jeff Klaus is connected to the CEO of Achievement First—the privately-run, for-profit charter school company which was slated to get $10 million of state money if Malloy’s original bill was passed.

If you are truly interested in the effectiveness of charter schools, look at this site. http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/on-education/2009/06/17/charter-schools-might-not-be-better

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 29, 2012  12:51am


SDE data is problematic.

One example is special ed funding per school or district.

Buried in the Malloy initiative are requirements to use the same Chart of Accounts and presumably reporting standards.

One look at the SDE site and you can see that Charters are not reporting their special education expenditures as a separate bucket.

This chart below from Baker’s site is an example of why it’s always problematic using 3rd party data and why data needs annotation and scrubbing (I’ve built a few datawarehouses in my day).

The drill down data at the SDE reveals the problem: different reporting standards for special education in Charters that lead to the appearance of non-funding.


Nice. Pretty. Entirely Meaningless.

I could go on for hours with some of the data abberations I found at SDE.

I give the raw data a ‘C’ on the GIGO scale—“Garbage In, Garbage Out”.

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