The $5M Question

By , December 5, 2012 11:38 pm

Did the Hartford Public Schools receive a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?

On paper, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving was awarded the money.

The sum will not be evenly distributed to all of the schools in the district, as it may seem when described by some sources as being given to the Hartford Public Schools. Rather, it is primarily earmarked for Achievement First and Jumoke Academy. David Medina, the Hartford Public Schools’ Director of External Communications, says this money is intended to “deepen collaboration” between the district-charter school partnerships.

Of the $5 million, three percent ($150,000) will go to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for its role as a fiscal agent.

In all, approximately $1.5M of the $4.9M awarded is actually dedicated to the Hartford Public Schools.

Jumoke Academy Management Team

According to the grant proposal submitted at the end of August, one way this money is slated to be used is in opening a total of three “transformed schools,” led by a Jumoke Academy “transformation management team.”

The takeover of Milner was the one school marked for 2012. The Hartford Public Schools will purportedly determine which other district schools to hand over, though the deal is that HPS will work alongside Jumoke Academy so that the charter school implements district policies and meets other operational procedures. Jumoke Academy will take over a second school in 2013 and a third in 2014.

There is no language within the proposal suggesting an alternate plan in the event that no other schools are identified as “low-performing” in years two and three of the three-year grant period.

The outcome of this transfer of autonomy is being termed “access to high-performing schools.” In the proposal, “communication and community engagement” have been named as potential risks and challenges.

When Milner was shut down at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, not all parents welcomed this change with open arms. There were complaints that this move happened without adequate notice or community engagement. Months later, the MOU for the Jumoke Academy at Milner, which was claimed (in the proposal) to be in process of ratification, continues to present issues with the Hartford Federation of Teachers (union) which had rejected it.

Still, the grant was awarded, with this section of the budget reading:

Teacher Coaching and Evaluation

Beyond giving two additional public schools over to the quasi public-private model, funding from this grant will enable HPS staff to attend Achievement First‘s New Coach Training.

Achievement First is a charter school management company.

Additionally, under the category of “teacher effectiveness” is that of evaluation. The proposal states that “knowledge and materials related to the implementation of its Teacher Career Pathway, including lessons learned around sequencing, communication, stakeholder investment, and staff capacity and training needs” will be shared between Achievement First and the Hartford Public Schools.

Residency Program for School Leadership

A portion of the grant is intended to fund a residency program run by Achievement First for “district assistant principals, coaches and teacher leaders.” The proposal states that this program’s aim is to “recruit, train and support future leaders for HPS.”

The proposal states that one paid year-long residency will be at an Achievement First charter school; the other will be at a Hartford Public School. Because of limited space, “the annual capacity of the
Residency  is limited to three Hartford residents,” according to the proposal. There are two residencies planned in the 2012-2013 school year; three are planned for each of the following two school years.

A portion of the money would go toward providing cell phones and laptops for each program resident.

The existing leadership program funded by the Travelers Foundation was described in the proposal as lacking a “robust professional development structure.”

Ultimately, the plan is for HPS to build its own leadership development program.

The Achievement First residency program raises questions, as one of the challenges described within the proposal is how best practices can be transferred from the charter model to that of the traditional district school model.

Common Core

Testing.

The Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) will be replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in 2014-2015. The SBAC is said to be aligned with Common Core State Standards, which Connecticut adopted in July 2010.

This part of the grant will fund the sharing of Common Core transition materials; in this case, the HPS will be sharing its resources with Jumoke Academy and Achievement First.

It’s stated that the conference alone during year one (2012-2013) would cost $12,000.

Goals

The grant proposal states that the ultimate aim is to have 80% college readiness by 2027, though the four initiatives appear disconnected from this goal.

Deep into the proposal it is stated that the Achievement First-Jumoke Academy-Hartford Public Schools collaboration seeks to close what they are calling a “funding gap.” They say that they are “working together for equitable state funding” of charter schools.

Vicki Phillips, the director of education, College Ready, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says: “They have moved beyond the question of whether charters or district schools are better.”

If the Teach to the Test model of education has taught us anything, it is just that: critical thinking has become a relic. Damn the logic, full speed ahead!

Docs: grant proposal and budget

2 Responses to “The $5M Question”

  1. Jim C says:

    That is one gnarly piece of education reform/improvement/funding news that I can’t quite get my head around but I appreciate you digging out the details. The Courant article also dealt with the labor/management issues centered around charter schools.
    The comment by Phillips, on behalf of the Gates Foundation, that “they have moved beyond the question of whether charters or district schools are better” caught my eye. Did you speak to her?

    • This was in the glowing press release sent out yesterday, the one that apparently all media organizations used without ever glancing at the actual proposal or budget.

      If something seems too good to be true…

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