Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reformers spend 10s of millions of dollars; learn teachers are doing a good job.

That’s not what they wanted to learn though. They wanted to be able see look, teachers are living off of society’s trough getting fat and happy at the expense of the nations children. Unfortunately their own evaluation systems that in many cases were enacted with teachers and their unions fighting tooth and nail against, have shown what most of us who care about public education have known for quit some time and that’s the vast majority teachers are doing a good job.

Unfortunately this isn’t going to stop the debate as people like Senate President Aaron Bean. Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee won’t rest until more teachers are rated ineffective, they can’t fathom for a moment that even the best teacher can do so much when our system decides to ignore poverty and the negative elements it brings with it.

Friends the powers-that-be can blame teachers all they want and start one charter school or voucher program after another but as long as they decide to continue to ignore poverty our children especially the most vulnerable will suffer.  

To read the New York Times exhaustive piece on the subject click the link:

Net Price Confusion

Today's NY Times notes the importance of considering the net price families pay for college, not the sticker price, using an example from Wisconsin. Specifically, in a column by David Leonhardt, Professor Sarah Turner presents data from the College Navigator tool (which in turn draws on the 2009-2010 IPEDS information) to show that "at the less-selective campuses in the University of Wisconsin system, for example, the average net annual cost for a year of tuition, room, board and fees in 2010-11 was almost $10,000 for families making less than $30,000, Ms. Turner said. At the flagship campus in Madison, by contrast, the equivalent net cost was $6,000."

While I'm certainly friendly to Turner's primary point-- that because of institutional financial aid attending the state's flagship may be effectively less expensive for needy students than attending another public university-- the recitation of this figure gave me cause for concern.

First, as I pointed out here, $6,000 remains a darn lot of money for families making less than $30,000.  We need to stop and realize that paying (or borrowing) at least 20% (and probably more) of your income for college is beyond the realm of possibility for most low-income families.

But secondly, and more importantly this particular conclusion is outdated.  Look at UW-Madison's website for its net price calculator for 2013-2014.  There, a Wisconsin resident family with an expected family contribution of $0 (incomes usually well below $30,000) is said to face a net price of $13,635.   That's way up from 2010-2011.   So, either these numbers reflect enormous increases in net price over time at Madison, or something else is off.  Using those current numbers, the comparison for  UW-Oshkosh is a net price of $10,101 for a Wisconsin resident with an $EFC of $0 and at UW-Platteville it is $8,593.

Despite claims at our rapid tuition increases were being offset by financial aid holding the poorest students "harmless" things have rapidly changed at UW-Madison. We went from offering one of the lowest net prices for poor students in the state to being among the least affordable for those same people. This seems to be because the cost of attendance at Madison jumped from $21,617 in 2010-2011 to $24,404 in 2013-2014, increases were not nearly so substantial at the other System schools, and aid did not increase at the same rate.

Punchline: despite what the New York Times and federal data indicate, today it is not cheaper for a low-income student to attend UW-Madison compared to another in-state university. It once was, but things have changed for the worse.   The payback at Madison may be greater, but let's not pretend that simply "knowing the net price" makes this decision simple or easy.

Book Review: Hope Against Hope by Sarah Carr

A couple of months ago, I tweeted an inquiry to find out who was doing thoughtful, critical research on the transformations in education taking place in New Orleans.  After reading Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and getting a better picture of the grander aims some people have for New Orleans as a "great experiment," I wanted to gain insights into the lived experiences of parents and children going through it.

As usual, Twitter was incredibly helpful: multiple sources directed me to the work of Adrienne Dixson and Sarah Carr.  After reading some of their work, I immediately invited them to participate in Ed Talks Wisconsin, and the Educational Policy Studies conference that followed it.

I then began carving out time each evening to work my way through Sarah's new book Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America's Children.  After two nights, I found myself genuinely looking forward to reading more, rushing through my evening activities to get back to the book. This is a rare experience for me; I found Carr's writing at least as engrossing as Rebecca Skloot's and Jason DeParle's, and think that's high praise.

There are many distinctive features of Hope Against Hope and some of them are clearly attributable to Carr's experiences as a Spencer Foundation-supported fellow and part of the Hechinger Institute collective. Her writing on school choice is well-informed by academic research on all sides and she clearly sampled her cases of schools, teachers, and families to provide substantial opportunity for both proponents and opponents of school choice--and those caught in the middle--to share their stories.  Carr is also comfortable with conflict and tension; the arc of her narratives lead us to no easy conclusions and much uncertainty about placing any normative judgements on what's "right" or "wrong" about school choice.

That attribute proved most helpful to me.  After reading the book and listening to Carr speak about it on a panel moderated by Gloria Ladson-Billings, and having a rich discussion with my colleague Michael Fultz, I found myself rethinking the way in which Progressives, myself included, talk about the choices made by African-Americans in contexts like New Orleans. In a nutshell, until reading Carr, my arguments gave Black families very little agency and White public school proponents too little responsibility.  Essentially, knowing the ways in which market-based regimes were capitalizing on the inequities in the public school system to promote alternative, distinctly non-public, non-democratic solutions, solutions that I strongly suspect will worsen the conditions of Black schooling over time, I wanted everyone to flat out reject them.  Engaging in school choice was tantamount to endorsing the work of the neoliberal project, and thus should be avoided.

What the book makes clear is that this is a bit much to expect, and is even inappropriate because it manages to romanticize a public school system that is undeserving of such treatment. While I reject the idea that the public schools are "broken" or "failing" I also reject the idea that they are achieving their mission at this point, especially for marginalized families and students.  I've come to think that it's not only idealistic and naive but also arrogant for me, a wealthy, well-educated White woman, to demand that anyone persist in that system while we work to improve it.  We can wish they would, we can beg and plead, we can explain the long-term consequences of moving outside it in the near term, but we denigrate the decisions of Black and Latino families to seek school choice right now at our peril.  Not only will we perpetuate the worst parts of the public system, but we will lose valuable allies and voters.

Hope Against Hope helped me understand the depth of the rut in which we're stuck.  The school choice options provided by schools like KIPP are clearly stratified, intended for some peoples' children and not others.  It seems highly unlikely that the leaders of KIPP schools will send their own kids to them.  That's not to put down the hard work of the KIPP teachers-- boy are they impressive, and how angry was I to read about how exploited and overworked they are!  Why are we burning out these people, instead of building their capacity for long-term good.  But no matter how good they are, the way they run schools, teaching conformity and obedience, will never be the way that middle and upper-class children are schooled. It's thus no more equitable an option than our current system, and with its undemocratic managerial practices, ultimately a worse one.

On the other hand, the public schools, while full of amazing hard-working teachers and staff who give their everything to kids, are hard-pressed to bring their best practices to scale.  Carr's portrait of a public school principal is heart-breaking.  The only way in which she fails is in her efforts to garner more financial support. That's obviously not a personal failure but one facilitated by the Progressives, who haven't engaged in systematic developments of strategy and narratives in any way akin to what the Right has achieved. As Mike Apple reminds us, we simply must begin doing this. It's already practically too late.

In her writing, Carr strikes me as incredibly balanced. I honestly wasn't sure where she stood politically on school choice until I heard her speak at Madison.  There, she made some beautiful statements about the grey spaces in the debate that will stay with me for a long time. Corporations are occupying spaces meant for teachers and parents in education conversations, but teachers and parents must not only join but find clear things to demand.  She noted that the narrative of "ceaseless unending change" is allowing charter schools to try whatever they see fit with Black children.  Where is "change" in the public school narrative?

These are important questions, and I urge you to pick up this book and engage.  You can also check out Carr with Barbara Miner and Gloria Ladson-Billings in Ed Talks here:

Senator John Legg, Charter school Operator, sponsors bills that will make him rich

He recently became chairman of the K-20 Education committee and sits on the education appropriations committee too. Talk about conflicts of interests.
"How is it OK for a senator to chair one education committee and serve on another, run a charter school in New Port Richey, and sponsor bills that will benefit him and his charter school? " 
Well, Florida, whats the answer?

The Fairy Tale Education reformers tell

Florida makes the right move by revamping graduation requirements.

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Beth Kassab

Our state lawmakers aren't known for putting politics aside to reach a compromise that solves a problem.
When they do, they deserve credit.
So kudos to Sen. John Legg and Rep. Elizabeth Porter.
"Somebody was listening," said Walt Griffin, superintendent of Seminole County schools.They are two of the main architects behind a proposed revamp of high school graduation requirements that will give students more choices in how they prepare themselves for college or careers but will keep the rigorous standards Florida grads need to be competitive with the rest of the world.
Here is why Griffin is happy — and parents and students should be, too.
The proposed new graduation requirements ease back from some of the must-pass exams the state established three years ago.
Under the proposal, all students must pass year-end exams in algebra and 10th-grade English to graduate. But year-end exams in biology and geometry, as well as chemistry or physics, are no longer "must-pass," but they will count toward 30 percent of the student's grade.
On top of that, Algebra II would no longer be required.
If you're worried that requirements are being dumbed-down, don't be. These are reasonable adjustments to an overhaul of graduation requirements approved three years ago.
At the time, critics said those requirements would be too tough and were focused only on students who wanted to go to a four-year university.
They were right.
"We are addressing the forgotten half of our students," said Porter, a Republican from Lake City.
Legg, a sponsor of the 2010 changes, said the old standards amounted to a virtually worthless diploma and the state took "three steps forward."
"This moves back about a half a step," said the Port Richey Republican.
These new requirements wouldn't be the equivalent of Basket-Weaving 101. That could have happened with an earlier version of a House bill that would have allowed some students to graduate without taking geometry and some standardized tests.
That would have been a giant step back. A diploma with too-low standards could have put poor or minority students at risk of being steered to less rigorous course work from an early age.
Florida would have been right back to the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that former President George W. Bush talked about when all students aren't held to the same high standards.
There would be one diploma under the new proposal, and the standards could continue to increase as Florida moves toward the top-notch math and English curriculum called "Common Core."
In addition, the proposal comes with the option for students to earn "scholar" or "gold" distinctions on their diplomas.
The "scholar" level means a student passed all of the year-end exams and is prepared for college. The "gold" level means the student passed rigorous "industry certification" classes in subjects such as nursing or cyber-security.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett supports the proposed requirements.
"I in no way see what the House and Senate did as backing up," he said. "It's more doubling-down."
That's an important endorsement, because Bennett is a longtime champion of higher standards in public schools and using Common Core to get there. Jeb Bush's education foundation, a leader in the education reform movement, also supports the changes.
Even the teachers union, typically at odds with Bush and other conservatives who want to reform public schools, didn't oppose the change this week.
A rare day in Tallahassee, for sure. or 407-420-5448,0,6267428.column

Florida: How to discourage the best and brightest from going into education.

From News, by Christopher Giller

I am extremely concerned with what is happening in Tallahassee regarding education. Dangerous legislation is in the process of being passed by our state representatives.

In particular, House Bill 7011, which is an effort to reconstruct the Florida Retirement System. This reconstruction would not only discourage our best and brightest graduates from going into education and other important public occupations, but it would harm hard-working taxpayers and those who are already participating in the Florida Retirement System.
House Bill 7011 is an attempt to end the Florida Retirement System and force new employees into a 401(k) style retirement plan. Legislators are attempting to fix something that is not broken.
The Florida Retirement Fund is operating very effectively. If this bill is passed, the base of future teachers and other public workers needed to fund the system will be depleted because the new teachers will be putting their retirement money into a private account. Where will the money come from to fund those who worked for 30 plus years making contributions to a plan that was promised as part of their contract?
Two places: First, public employees will be asked to contribute more to their retirement plans, which were negotiated as part of the compensation in their contract.
Next, taxpayers will have to foot the rest of the bill.
So why would our legislators want to privatize the Florida Retirement System when the math is clear that it is not a responsible decision? Eventually, legislators argue that it will save taxpayers money because the state won’t have to pay into the retirement system at the current rate. Instead, participants will depend on the market to gain interest, but what happens when the market suffers a correction and it is a public employee’s turn to retire after a dedicated career?
These people will have to turn to other government programs that are funded by taxpayers. It is very simple, people pay into the Florida Retirement System, the state matches contributions as part of the public employees’ contract, the money is invested in conservative bonds and funds, and people get the money they have been counting on after working a long career.
This is another attempt at taking short cuts to try to balance the state budget. Many argue, why should public employees get a pension plan when other workers have to fund their own retirement?
To begin with, the retirement contribution that the state makes should be viewed as part of a public employee’s salary, which in Florida, for teachers, is around $10,000 less than in other states. Second, teachers and many other dedicated workers, with equal or sometimes superior credentials, make much less than those in the private sector.
Therefore, they have less money to contribute each month to a 401(k). My father has always preached, “You get what you pay for.”
Florida, what caliber of people do you expect to attract to public service jobs when short cuts like the one in House Bill 7011 are taken at the expense of public employees?
Please contact your local representatives and Governor Scott. Tell them that House Bill 7011 is an irresponsible bill. It is vital to teachers and other public employees that these representatives hear from you as soon as possible. This bill is in danger of being passed in this current legislative session. The quality of education your children receive will be greatly impacted by this bill.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

How Florida killed the teaching profession

Today when speaking about the proposed changes to the Florida Pension Fund, long considered one of the best in the nation and not currently needing any changes Vice President of the FEA Joanne McCall pointed out the changes to the teaching profession that Florida has made over the last few years.

"Because of the actions of our political leaders, teachers have no expectation of continuing employment, no due process and a performance-based pay system that is not funded and based on bad or irrelevant data. Now they want changes to the pension system that guarantee retirement insecurity. These proposals make it more difficult to recruit and retain high-quality teachers."

She could have added how Florida’s teachers were some of the poorest paid in the nation too.

So before you complain about the state of education in Florida, consider what teachers have to deal with (and not just from their students or in their classrooms) first.

Read more here:

Meanwhile back at education headquarters.

Are guns coming to a school near you?

From the Tampa Times by Kathleen McGrory

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would allow school employees to carry weapons on campus won the support of the House education subcommittee on Wednesday.
Under the proposal, HB 1097, principals and superintendents could designate school employees to carry concealed weapons. The employees would have to undergo extensive training, said sponsor Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.
Steube amended the proposal shortly before Wednesday's meeting; it now requires the firearm to remain on the employee throughout the school day. Steube also expanded the proposal so that it applies to both public and private schools. "I've been getting feedback from principals all over the state about how strongly they support an initiative like this," Steube said.
Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said the law would place a "huge" liability on school systems. Plus, Blanton added: "Our teachers and principals are role models. You are going to send the wrong message to these students."
Still, most members of the subcommittee supported the proposal, including two Democrats — Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Orlando, and Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor.
The bill still has a long way to go. To advance to the floor, it must now win the support of three additional committees. And the window for committee meetings is quickly shrinking.
Steube hopes the bill continues to move. "Most counties do not have the funds to put a school resource officer in every elementary school," he said.

Low Performing Charter School Operator begs for more public money

By Jason SchultzPalm Beach Post Staff Writer
A West Palm Beach charter school that the Palm Beach School District is trying to close has appealed, arguing the school district has no right to shut its doors because the district didn’t do enough to help the school.
“Charter School Students are Public School Students like everyone else, and Palm Beach Public Schools has an obligation to them, no less than to any other student,” wrote Christopher Norwood, consultant for the Excel Leadership Academy in an e-mail detailing Excel’s appeals arguments to fend off its closing. “They are responsible for providing, operating, controlling and supervising all free public schools within its boundaries.”
The school board voted 5-1 on March 6 to close Excel starting next school year. A district report recommending the closure cited 13 alleged failures by the school to comply with state rules and its charter contract with the school district. The alleged Excel failures ranged from academic problems such as not having all the required core subjects for a reading program to having “deteriorating financial conditions,” with a $38,000 deficit found by auditors.
Excel filed its appeal on Friday stating that it disputed the facts of each of the alleged failures cited by the district “in whole or in part.” The appeal also argued that the school district is obligated to provide support and services to charter schools under state law and additional support to low performing charter schools under the district’s own policies.
The appeal also argues that the school district is not properly utilizing the fee of 5 percent of its state funding that Excel and other charter schools pay to the district for certain administrative and educational support. It asks a state administrative law judge to issue an order recommending the school district keep Excel open and pay its legal fees for the appeal.
“Not only do we dispute the grounds the School District asserts for non-renewal. We also dispute the District’s process for review,” Norwood said. “It was done in haste, under conditions where the District is clearly either misinformed or negligent in its understanding of its statutory role in providing administrative and support services.”
District Senior Counsel Bruce Harris said the district does not comment on pending litigation. He said the state would set a date for the appeal hearing within 60 days.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why art education is important

We could throw in music and physical education too.

Politfact gives Rep Carlos Trujillo a false about the parent trigger. Will this guy ever tell the truth?

From Politifact

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, says he doesn’t know why his "parent trigger" bill is creating a partisan fight in the Capitol.
Yes, it’s supported by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, but it’s also popular with supporters of President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, he said.
"This legislation was drafted by President Obama's top advisers. It was drafted by President Clinton’s top advisers," he said on March 18, 2013, during the House Education Committee hearing on his bill. "Gov. Bush is a big supporter of this, so it’s not a partisan issue. I’m not sure why it’s turned into that."
We wondered if Trujillo was right about the roots of the parent trigger bill. Did state Democrats miss the bipartisanship memo? The bill in question is HB 867, "Parent Empowerment in Education." The law allows parents at failing schools to demand changes, including asking for public schools to be turned into charter schools.
Opponents say this power already exists under state and federal law, and teachers unions don’t like that public schools could be turned into charter schools. Supporters, like Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, said it gives parents at those schools a "legal seat at the table" in turning around a school.
California became the first state with a parent trigger law in 2010, and states including Texas and Indiana have followed in its footsteps. The nonprofit group Parent Revolution launched the California initiative and is supporting Trujillo’s bill.
Asked to support the claim, Trujillo’s legislative aide Alex Miranda pointed us to the executive director of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin. Austin played a role in drafting the original California legislation, which was introduced by California Democratic Sen. Gloria Romero. That legislation was used as a model for Florida.
Austin’s online biography says he has worked on several Democratic presidential campaigns and inside Clinton’s White House "in a variety of roles." Plus, he was "an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign," the website states.
We asked Parent Revolution for more details about Austin’s working relationship with the presidents, as well as seven other board members and staffers whose bios included Obama or Clinton ties.
Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps told us the group designed California’s legislation to help that state qualify for a grant under Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. But he also said "the usual political definition of ‘top adviser’ " would not apply to their board members and staff.
"President Obama has spoken frequently (as has Education Secretary Duncan) about the need for parents to be full partners in the decision-making process around their children's education," Phelps said. "Parent trigger and our work at Parent Revolution is a proactive response to those Obama administration calls."
Phelps was not aware of Obama or Clinton publicly endorsing the measure. He also stressed that Florida is not using a carbon copy of California’s parent trigger law, as each state "has its own specific priorities and educational needs, and state legislators write bills accordingly."
We caught up with Pat DeTemple, Parent Revolution senior strategist. DeTemple winced a little when we told him Trujillo’s statement. "I don’t want to speak for Rep. Trujillo," he said. He touched on Austin’s "political" role in Clinton’s White House and ticked off a series of Austin’s Democratic credentials.
Okay, but does that make him a top adviser to either Clinton or Obama?
"No, no," DeTemple said. "I was a general election director for Barack, and I was not a top adviser to him either, you know?
Still, Trujillo has a point about the law attracting national Democratic support, even if Florida Democrats aren’t into it, DeTemple said. He pointed to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as examples of high-profile Democrats who support the concept, as well as Obama's former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Opponents of the parent trigger movement, such as Orlando parent advocacy group Fund Education Now, say talking up liberal credentials is an attempt by supporters of parent trigger "to blur political lines and to declare support from Democrats for this conservative free-market effort."
Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now, stressed the parent trigger law was picked up as model legislation by the conservative, pro-business advocacy group American Legislative Exchange Council after California’s parent trigger law survived a legal challenge.
She called Trujillo’s Clinton/Obama claim an overreach.
"Ben Austin and Mike Trujillo each worked on Obama and Clinton campaigns," she said. "That does not mean that Obama asked to have the trigger law written, or that he supports it."
Our ruling
In trying to persuade Democrats to support his parent trigger bill, Trujillo said, "This legislation was drafted by President Obama's top advisers. It was drafted by President Clinton’s top advisers." He makes it sound as if the legislation were written in the West Wing.
Parent groups, unions and activists may disagree vehemently on the bill, but they sound in agreement on one thing: The concept was not drafted by "top advisers" to Clinton and Obama. The people who had a hand in creating the legislation would more accurately be described as supporters of Obama and Clinton, not "top advisers." We rate his statement False.

How Sticker Shock Happens

A colleague who is skeptical of my argument that students and families are susceptible to sticker shock, and that this particularly affects the choices of those without financial strength, raising a good question: If these students and families don't know about financial aid (or changes in financial aid), why would they know about institutional sticker price (or changes in institutional stick price)?

The answer appeared during a trip I took on the New York City subway today. Look at this ad and you tell me-- isn't the message quite clear?  If this is the number you see as you stare at subways ads for an hour commute to work, don't you think it will sink in?  With so many ads all the time telling the buyer "Trust us, big discount! Just file papers!" why would anyone believe another one, let alone one that comes with a long complex set of forms.

It's a mistake to focus merely on the question of whether a net price intervention can move the dial a bit, helping some students overcome sticker shock. That's just a tiny chip at the iceberg. Instead, consider the massive iceberg we're created, allowing sticker prize to escalate, and begin to melt it.

Even Florida Lawmakers who vote for them over and over again, know charters are a bad deal

I can’t imagine there being such a resistance to charter schools if the powers-that-be were interested in getting things right, if charter schools were parent-teacher driven laboratories of learning. But since they are not, since what most have become is publicly funded private schools designed not to teach children but to line the pockets of corporate profiteers there has to be resistance. I just can’t help but wonder why there isn’t more resistance in Tallahassee especially since legislators even republican legislators are now admitting many charter schools have dubious qualities.

The Following is from a Palm beach Post article by John Kennedy:  Gov. Rick Scott’s pitch to lift enrollment limits on charter schools is drawing lukewarm support from fellow Republicans in the Florida Legislature, with many saying they are cautious about giving a green light to expansion.

The high-profile collapse of some charter schools – including Excel Leadership Academy in Delray Beach – is contributing to the Legislature’s go-slow approach, lawmakers said.
“I support the charter school movement, but schools that have not been accountable hurt all of them,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Responsible charter schools are the ones who should demand that we don’t have any more black eyes.”

Simmons’ area was rocked last year by the closing of NorthStar High School, a charter school with 180 students where the principal was earning more than $300,000 annually and received a $519,000 contract buyout even as the school was failing.

Friends here is a republican legislator admitting the way Florida does things is wrong. Shouldn’t we slow down and get it right?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who is for and against the parent trigger?

The Bush foundation, Michelle Rhee’s student first and Parent Revolution, the group that started the parent trigger in California.

Even if I were to say Parent Revolution was made up of parents (its not) they would be California parents.

Now look who is against it, The Florida School Board Association and the Florida Education Association (the teacher’s unions) and where you might be able to dismiss them it will be harder to dismiss the following, the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Fund Education Now, Florida School Boards Association, Florida Gifted Network, Marion’s United for Public Education, Testing is Not Teaching, PAA-Florida, Citizens for Strong Schools, 50th No More, Support Dade Schools, and the Florida PTA.

Florida’s parents have overwhelmingly said no, while special interests groups and their representatives and make no mistake Jeb Bush’s foundation is nothing but a shill for special interests group are for it.

Once again the Florida legislature is looking for ways to undermine Florida's public school system

From the Tampa Times Editorial Board

Once again legislators are looking for ways to undermine Florida's public school system by giving more taxpayer dollars and freebies to charter schools, including those run by for-profit management companies. At a time when school district budgets remain squeezed for cash, two House bills would give charter schools more opportunities while undercutting traditional public schools where most Florida students attend. Public schools are bought with public money, and they should not be given away to schools operated by private interests.

The bills would turn on its head the notion of charters as alternative schools with considerable autonomy in exchange for less district support. Instead of being outside the system, charter schools would gain favored status yet still lack taxpayer accountability. One bill, HB 7009, would require districts to give unused school space to charters for free, or only for maintenance costs. And HB 1267 would guarantee that charters receive about $1,200 per elementary student — and more for high school students — for construction and maintenance from general revenue dollars when the Legislature has now failed for two years to invest construction and renovation dollars for public schools.
The Legislature should end its fixation with charter schools as the answer to all that ails Florida's school performance. Some charter schools are successful, but many aren't. Stanley D. Smith, a professor of finance at the University of Central Florida, has done an analysis, controlling for poverty and minority characteristics of elementary schools, that shows "we should question the state's increasing emphasis on charter schools because as a group they underperform traditional public schools." He also studied high school test scores and, using the same methodology, found that charters and traditional schools performed the same.
Gov. Rick Scott, with his newfound interest for public education and teachers, should tell legislative leaders that traditional public schools must come first and that charter schools, while they are here to stay, should not be getting guaranteed tax dollars every year to build and maintain schools that are run by people who don't answer directly to the voters.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

John Meeks: CASTing out fear in our schools

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

If Florida’s teacher assessment system was designed to improve learning for students, it was way off the mark.

The Collaborative Assessment System for Teachers (CAST) is supposed to be an objective way to grade educators on their classroom performance.  It is supposed to be a way for administrators to observe classroom work and combine their observations with student data.  Instead, we have what I call FEAR (Failing Educators through Alienation and Retribution). 

Education reformers initially designed CAST because they felt that teacher evaluations were letting too many teachers off the hook when too many students were not making the grade.  CAST was initially created to expose the teachers who were not contributing to student success.

After the first year of this experiment, however, a disproportionate number of educators received ‘Effective’ ratings or higher.  This did not bode well for a system that was supposed to align teacher performance (or lack thereof) with student success and failure.

There is rumbling in many quarters today that Tallahassee’s message is loud and clear – there will not be another year of ‘effective’ teachers in a state of ineffective results.  The heat is now on for school districts and administrators to lowball educators in advance of our test results. 

It should be no surprise that administrators now have taken the message from state legislators to be marching orders to downplay and belittle the work that their subordinates are doing. 

Principals and assistant principals know what they are doing when they observe a classroom with their minds already made up who they are going to scapegoat for their respective schools.  They know how to take the smallest flaw in a teacher’s lesson and how to magnify it into the observed teacher’s inability to do the job that they were hired to do.

If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, it likely is one because the administrators manage to cover themselves in the event school test scores stagnate and the state legislature manages to justify their merit pay plan that supposedly rewards the good teachers that CAST is supposed to identify.

And how do we identify good teachers?  CAST is a narrowly-defined metric that expects educators to teach to the metric in a way that abandons their individual teaching styles and negates their professional skills in favor of a cookie-cutter method of teaching that allows for no differentiation within the teaching profession.

Our state government chose to force this long-term damage into our schools for the quick fix of winning federal money in the Race to the Top program.  The same legislators who will fight to the death to oppose Medicaid expansion are the same ones who would gladly take any strings-attached funds from the U.S. Department of Education to make a point about how we indeed should hold our teachers in such low regard.

Teaching is supposed to be about creating hope for our communities to build a better future.  By playing politics with teacher evaluations the way we are, however, is creating a climate of fear in which teachers are destined to fail no matter what they do.  It is not too late to repair and reform CAST, but it is up to Florida’s educators to finally evaluate the tool that does such a poor job of judging them.

To remain silent is to tell our leaders that we are on board with this travesty.  I, for one, am not.


Somewhere along the line, Tallahassee stopped caring what you think.

From the Tampa Times, by John Romano
Somewhere along the line, they stopped caring what you think.
They would never admit this. In fact, they often spout the opposite.
But it's hard to come to any other conclusion when you consider how legislators in Florida consistently ignore the voices of those they supposedly serve.
To put that in context, I'm not sure you can get 90 percent of Floridians to agree that April should follow March on the calendar.
So it's safe to say there is overwhelming evidence that lawmakers should be looking into this idea of universal background checks.
Yet what has our Legislature done? Next to nothing.
A bill on this topic was introduced weeks ago and hasn't even gotten enough traction for a committee hearing. Which is not so different from last year. Or the year before.
"It's almost like, at times, Tallahassee legislators and the executive branch are living in their own little world,'' said Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "They're not hearing what people back home are asking them to do.''
Not convinced? Then consider Medicaid expansion.
Two different polls conducted in February showed about 62 percent of Florida residents were in favor of expansion. An amendment on the ballot in November also indicated a majority of residents supported the Affordable Care Act.
Even Gov. Rick Scott, one of the nation's loudest critics of Obamacare, looked at the polls and understood the need to support Medicaid expansion.
Yet legislators in the House and Senate voted against it. Instead they have taken it upon themselves to find some alternative form of health insurance.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples.
You've got lawmakers who, year after year, take up the cause of for-profit charter school companies despite resistance from groups as mainstream as the Florida PTA.
Last year, the Legislature heard opposition from the students, the faculty, the Board of Governors and the senator representing the district involved, and still decided to turn USF Polytechnic into an independent university.
You had a handful of legislators trying to sneak prison privatization through a back door in 2011. You have a poll suggesting 70 percent of Floridians have a favorable view of medicinal marijuana, but even the current sponsor of a bill doubts it will go anywhere.
Not exactly the picture of representative government, eh?
"Absolutely, this has become a bigger problem in the last 10 years,'' said Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, who was in the Legislature from 2000-10.
Justice and Fasano point to legislative gerrymandering as one of the likely causes. Districts have been drawn in such loaded fashion that lawmakers don't have to worry what the average Florida resident thinks, just the likely voters in their custom-made districts.
This means they're more concerned about primary challenges in their own party than a general election. And that makes them less likely to buck party leadership.
"If you don't think that impacts how legislators vote, you're mistaken,'' said Justice. "The districts are drawn in more extreme ways than in previous cycles. My (old Senate) district goes from Treasure Island to Tampa. There is simply no reason for that."
You might also thank special interest groups that wield outsized influence. A thumbs-down from the National Rifle Association, for instance, can keep legislators awake at night. Not to mention the impact of campaign contributions from corporate interests.
"The special interests have more pull in Tallahassee today than ever before,'' Fasano said.
It's also worth considering the idea of safety in numbers. While Scott has been busy changing his views in recent months to reflect public opinion polls, it's much easier for individual legislators to hide in the weeds.
Now I'm obviously generalizing here. There are still some legislators who care deeply about the opinions of their constituents. Those lawmakers are just harder to find.
Instead we have politicians who will say whatever is necessary to get elected, and then do whatever they please once they have a place in Tallahassee.

Large Charter Chain buys republican votes in Florida

K-12 Inc, also under investigation for fudging results, ponied up the maximum 500 dollars to 46 Florida candidates for the house and senate. 45 were republicans and one was a democrat. Of those 46, 43 won.

Friends we should all be asking the following question, is this rush to privatize education a rush to improve outcomes for students or a rush to line the pockets of for profit companies?

I think if we are being honest with ourselves we already know the answer.

Local education non-profit chiefs make six figures

Trey Czar of the JPEF (129k), John Heyman of Communities in Schools (118k) and Deborah Gianoulis of the Schultz Center (120k) all make well over a hundred thousand dollars. They aren’t the only ones either, in 2010 the last year data is available and at the height of the recession, some 47 school board employees made over a hundred thousand dollars. Of those, a few were principals but the vast majority were downtown administrators. That also represented about a thirty three percent increase from just three years before.

Good work if you can get it right? All this while Jacksonville’s teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country.

I am all for people making as much money as possible but why in education are the people that do the actual teaching paid so much less than the people in education who don’t?

Where not a fan of the governor I applaud his efforts to bring teacher salaries up so they are more in line with the rest of the nation, though in all honesty it won’t make up for three percent pay cut teachers got two years ago and I wonder what speaker of the house Will Weatherford and Senate president Don Geatz are thinking when they try and block his efforts.

Finally for those of you who say merit pay is the way to go, you should know that study after study says it doesn't work. If you want to improve education step one should be to increase teacher’s salaries to at least the national average and to give you some scale, for me a 12th year teacher that would mean an additional 12 thousand dollars.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Florida's private schools that take public money, say no to accountability.

From State Impact by John Connor

A coalition of private schools which acceptpublicly funded scholarships for students with disabilities says a majority of their members would no longer take the scholarships if they were required to administer the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
In a letter posted on the redefinED blog, the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools says their member survey results conflict with the conclusions of a study by The Fordham Institute.
From the letter:
The Coalition sent a survey to the 1,155 participating McKay Scholarship schools in February. It received 474 responses, representing approximately 40 percent of the McKay schools. Results indicate that 1) nearly all of the schools are conducting norm-referenced assessments of their students; 2) these education professionals do not believe the FCAT is an appropriate measure for their students with disabilities; and 3) 61 percent of the schools responding reported they would no longer participate in the McKay Scholarship Program if required to give the FCAT to their students.
The McKay Scholarship Program was designed so parents of children with disabilities would be able to identify and participate in programs that would meet the needs of their children. Many parents choose to participate in the McKay program because they do not believe the FCAT and a one-size-fits-all approach to education are in the best interest of their children who have disabilities and do not fit the “norms.” The McKay Scholarship Program has been very successful and popular with parents because it provides them with the ability to choose a school that best meets the unique needs of their children.
Indiana is among the states which requires some private schools to administer the state’s standardized test. Gov. Rick Scott has said he believes any private school which accepts public funding should have to administer the new Florida standardized test scheduled to start in the spring of 2015.
The Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools says 97.5 percent of schools surveyed administer a test approved by the Florida Department of Education “or another educationally appropriate measure” to their students.

Anyway you slice it, the Schultz Center is a bad deal for our schools.

Get this, the district owns the buildings, takes care of upkeep and maintenance and then provides the staff for all the training too. For all of this the district then pays the Schultz Center two and a half million dollars a year and has been doing so for a decade.

Oh and we charge them a dollar a year for rent too.

Are you back? I figured you probably fainted.

I have been to dozens of trainings and I would say only about a quater were at the Schultz Center but at none of them did I think, wow I am glad this is here we couldn't have done this in my school library (or computer lab, or the great big closet at the end of the hall).

Superintendent Vitti in an editorial in the Times Union spoke about the need to end the deal and I agreed with him on every point except when he wrote:

“Difficult decisions will need to be made, not based on emotion but rather to maximize every cent of taxpayers’ dollars to increase student achievement.

This should not be a difficult decision. It is an easy one. 

To read his piece in its entirety, click the link:

Rep, Trujillo doubles down on his lies about the parent trigger

In a Redefined Ed Piece he said:

“Let’s not make this a partisan discussion. Let’s not be concerned of this boogieman of phantom interests. Opposition is coming from “the unions and the establishment that are trying to control the debate and trying to control jobs.”

Yeah all those union led parent groups and civil rights groups that have come out against it are trying to control the debate.

Trujillo throws out the word union because he knows it will get a small and vocal group salivating but the truth is, teacher’s unions are just one part of a vast coalition that includes the PTA and the NAACP who have come out against the bill.

Just like the evidence that says the parent trigger bill is a good idea, Trujillo,s statements aren’t based in facts.

To read the entire Redefined Ed piece, click the link:

Georgia rejects Parent Trigger legislation, will Florida follow suit

By Wayne Johnson, Atlanta Journal Constitution
House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, withdrew his parent-trigger charter school legislation Thursday as members in his own party expressed concerns about it.
Lindsey’s legislation, House Bill 123, had already passed the state House of Representatives and seemed to be on a glide path to passage in the Senate. But the bill — which would force school boards to consider a petition from parents or teachers to change a traditional public school into a charter school — ran into problems in the Senate’s Education and Youth Committee.
Instead of the bill being voted out of that committee Thursday, Chairman Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, announced that Lindsey had asked that the legislation be withdrawn.
“It didn’t have the votes,” Tippins said.
Lindsey, his party’s vote-counter in the House, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. It is possible the legislation could be added to another bill, but Tippins said Lindsey plans to let the issue rest for the remainder of this legislative session, which ends next week.
“Rep. Lindsey realized there were some concerns about it,” Tippins said. “It is late in the session, and I think Rep. Lindsey just felt that, rather than have it be a point of contention, he’d just wait.”
Lindsey’s legislation would have made Georgia the eighth state in the country with a parent-trigger law.
Under HB 123, school boards would have had to consider a request to change a traditional public school into a charter school if that request came from a majority of the traditional school’s student households. A majority of teachers and instructional staff could also force school boards to consider changing a traditional public school into a charter school.
If 60 percent of student households or 60 percent of teachers and instructional staff petitioned for a traditional school to be changed into a charter school, the local school board could only reject that petition if two-thirds of its members voted to do so.
If the traditional public school was a low-achieving school, parents and teachers could force the school board to also consider several turnaround options for the school, some of which include removal of the principal.
Teachers and parents could sign a public petition or hold a meeting and vote in secret, something Lindsey argued would protect them from possible retribution.
Lindsey had touted the legislation as a way to spur meaningful dialogue between parents and school boards.
But Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said he worried that the bill would open the door to teachers being pitted against administrators.
“I just think you’re opening Pandora’s Box and putting teachers in a very difficult position,” Millar said when the bill was debated during a subcommittee meeting Wednesday.
Tippins said he would not back the bill if it allowed parents and teachers to vote in secret.
“I’ve got a problem with secret ballots,” Tippins said. “I just believe people ought to stand up and be counted.”
The bill was opposed by a variety of public education groups. Officials from those groups, mindful of Lindsey’s influence in the Legislature, were careful in discussing the bill’s fate.
“I think the bill needed more evaluation and more understanding of its impact before becoming law,” said Tracey-Ann Nelson, government relations director for the Georgia Association of Educators. “We can’t just pass laws because they sound good.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Who is worse? Rep. Carlos Trujillo or Rep. George Moraitis.

Trulilo says if you vote against the parent tricker, err trigger bill you don’t want to have parents at the (education) table. The problem is with this is parent have overwhelmingly come out against the parent trigger bill. Read that again, overwhelmingly against. Trujillo like most republicans is all about school choice as long as they or their friends can make a profit off it or if parents choose the option they are ramming down their throats.

Moraitis on the other hand wants public school districts to give their assets to for profit corporations. Oh and maintain them too. Home rule and the public’s property will be damned if he gets his way.  He tries to give himself cover by saying, “There are lots of other things in here intended to encourage innovation,” Moraitis told the House Education Committee Friday, noting that proposal would also allow high-performing charters to expand. But the truth is he wants to dismantle public education and I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually hopes to make a buck off it too.

Sure there are some great charter schools but unless there is a heroic effort they aren’t over coming poverty and they aren’t doing any better than public schools and when it comes to charter schools friends make no mistake there is a rush to make a buck not a rush to improve children’s lives.

They are both equally as bad.

To read more check out this link:

Cautions for Chancellor Blank

It seems UW-Madison's system of shared governance may be a new act for Chancellor Rebecca Blank to learn.  An interview conducted with journalists today shows her on the record weighing in on both tuition strategies and the composition of the student body.

A word to the wise:  This year the University Committee charged two committees to work on these exact issues.  The tuition committee has been meeting and working hard all year long -- hiking out-of-state tuition and differentiating tuition further by school or college are strategies that come with significant potential consequences.  Reciprocity with Minnesota is costing the university a great deal of money and ending it should not be dismissed out of hand.  Regardless, these are not choices made simply by the chancellor, but by the shared governance system.  In addition, the Committee on Undergraduate Recruitment, Admissions, and Financial Aid was tasked with developing a profile of the ideal freshman class and working on ways to achieve it.  Chancellor Blank does not decide where students "should" come from-- we all do.

Hopefully these are just initial missteps on her part. Hopefully the next time she is asked about these things, she'll inform reporters that it's impossible at this stage to say what will come next, since she hasn't spent time on campus in decades.  And hopefully she will schedule a "telebriefing" with shared governance groups soon, seeing as how the one with reporters is now over.