Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Problems with Florida’s School Grade Formula Cannot Be Fixed

By Greg Sampson 

Perhaps the most pressing issue generating consensus among the attendees at the Clearwater Education Summit is the school grade formula. The consensus: something needs to happen to restore the fairness, accuracy, and credibility of Florida’s School Accountability scheme.

Thus the vision statement from the Department of Education: School grades must be fair, simple, clear, understandable and transparent, based upon student learning outcomes and objective measures. The school grading system should be statistically valid, trustworthy and sustainable. It must accurately reflect school performance and motivate achievement.

They don’t get it. The Department of Education and the State Board of Education have monkeyed around with changing standards, performance levels (known as “cut scores”), and emergency rules that they have lost credibility with educational professionals, parents, and the general public alike.

Even NASCAR, which changes the rules every time they don’t like the results, applies the changes moving forward—to the next race. Florida’s Department of Education, however, along with the State Board of Education, thinks it appropriate to retroactively apply rule changes—grading formula changes—whenever they don’t like the results the formula produces.

When I read the statements on FLDOE’s website, I come across references that vaguely refer to provisions that will reset performance levels upward, thus lowering assigned school grades, if too many schools in a given year make an A or B under the formula.

To state it clearly, they change the rules until they get the results they want.

Do you wonder why teachers feel they are merely grist for the mill?

 The school grading formula is constantly tinkered with to produce two statements of propaganda for the media: one, that Florida’s schools excel because of the politicians and bureaucrats forcing these awful schools to improve (that’s right, they take the credit for the achievement of people who actually work in the schools); two, they have to continue to punish the people who work in the schools because they are the reason schools are failing.

Wait a minute—the schools are outstanding and awful at the same time?

Does anyone still believe these people?

There is the problem. The Clearwater summit assumes that the Department of Education and the State Board can be trusted on this. We have learned they cannot be trusted, even though we do not have a scandal where the grading formula was changed to accommodate a political donor.

Imagine how that would work in the classroom. Teacher Jane Doe changes her grading formula so that Johnny, the star quarterback, no longer has the F he deserves but now passes with a C. When called into the principal’s office, Ms. Doe justifies her grading change because it helped 20 other students also.

Tony Bennett resigned, to the expressed chagrin of our politicians in the State. The logical conclusion is that they own the problem themselves.

Do you still trust them to be able to objectively grade Florida’s schools?

Until the State of Florida outsources its accountability program, which we know as school grades, to an independent organization outside the influence and control of the politicians and bureaucrats, you cannot believe in any school grades they assign.

(Greg Sampson is a DCPS teacher on special assignment as the instructional math coach for his school, which is located on the Westside.)

Step up for Students takes Florida’s taxpayer to the cleaners, spends 1.5 million in tax payer money to lobby for more tax payer money

Only in Florida is this possible. The state of Florida gave Step up for Students 6.9 million dollars in 2012 to manage the states voucher program. Step up for Students then turned around and spent 1.5 million dollars to support pro voucher candidates who would presumably funnel more money into the states vouchers program meaning the state would give Step up for Students even more money.And if you just said “what the beep” then you aren’t the only one.

According to the state’s own voucher expert, students that attend private schools with vouchers don’t experience better education outcomes than their public school counterparts which means the state government would rather line the pockets of private enterprises with management fees (see most charter schools as well) than invest in our students and schools.  

Rick Scott's education record.

This year's per student funding is the highest of Scott's three years as governor. But it is still lower than each of the five previous years under his predecessors, Charlie Crist and Bush. Scott also signed into law the legislation that siphons off school construction money to privately run charter schools. And the governor's last two handpicked education commissioners have shown more interest in advocating for charter schools and expanding voucher programs than in creating successful public schools.

He also stole three percent of teacher’s salary to balance the state’s books, ended teacher’s worker protections making them at will employees, called for but did not fund merit pay and created an odious and unworkable teacher evaluation system

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jeb Bush’s money woes

Jeb Bush says we are spending too much money on education and that we are not getting a return on our investment. I wonder if he thought the same way when he sent his children to a private school that cost 28 thousand dollars a year and had small classes to boot.

It’s okay for him to throw money at HIS children’s education and for them to have small classes and a well-rounded curriculum but YOUR child’s school spends too much. Speaking of spending too much money, we are the richest nation in the history of the world, shouldn’t we be spending the most? Why is that a bad thing? Bush obviously thinks it is okay to spend a lot of money on his kid’s education.

Furthermore don't think for a second, having a student centered approach to education is his goal? What does that mean anyways? Do you think any student ever chose to be tested 20 days a year, be put in a one size fits all curriculum and had those things that made school bearable to so many sucked out? No friends it is money, as in the money his family, friends and supporters stand to make.  

In his video he goes on to say our schools lag behind the rest of the world but the truth is when you factor out poverty, something bush has never heard of, our school’s scores zoom to the top of list.

So at the end what do we have from Bush? Half-truths and hypocrisy. 

There have been ZERO formal discussions about teacher raises in Duval County

That’s right friends despite the money being allocated months ago there have been zero formal discussions between the union and the superintendent.  According to the union they are waiting for some dates from the super to get talks going. I guess if you make 270 grand there’s no real since of urgency, not that there seems to be much on the union’s part either. The problem is teachers don’t make 270 grand and a lot I know are hurting. People don’t realize it but the vast majority of us went two months without pay checks and yeah it’s true at the beginning of the summer we may have been sitting pretty, here now at the end it is the opposite for way to many.

Where it has been slow going in other parts of the state as far as I can tell at least it has been going.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Corey Booker needs to get it together

This blog’s first title was, the more Corey Booker talks the less I like him. Don’t get me wrong. I agree with almost everything he says, like we do have a system that sets up a lot of people, mostly minorities to fail and ones sexuality should not matter, only ones character should. Then he catches Obamaitis and laments about the nations failing school and how they have let so many down.

I would like to ask Mr. Booker a few questions.

Has a school ever cut a budget?

Did schools create the drill and kill testing culture that sucks the life out of education.

Are schools responsible for crippling poverty, absentee parents and the privatization movement that takes the resources out of schools that can least afford to lose them?

Did schools pass the punitive and unrealistic No Child Left Behind or the bill that turned education into a game, Race to the Top?

How were schools involved with pushing measures that have no evidence that says they work, merit pay, or who experts say shouldn’t be used, high stakes standardized tests?

Finally did schools fail neighborhoods or did society fail schools?

Mr. Booker you need to get it together and stop blaming schools for the problems government created or my next piece will go with my original title.  

Was the Jacksonville Public Education Fund watching the same education summit as the rest of us?

Oy Vey. The JPEF does some nice statistical work. If you go to their web site they have some easy to navigate tools that take you to some good information about schools. But come on now, can they please get on the right side of one education issue?

They touted this dog and pony show as a success. Sure it was if you are Pearson or stand to make money off Common Core, then it was a rousing success.  However if you are a parent, teachers, or student things did not get better.

Common Core is a roll of the dice. Sorry make that an expensive roll of the dice.

Merit pay is still unfunded and still doesn’t have any evidence it works.

The teacher evaluation system is still a disaster only slightly trumped by the A-F grading system double disaster.

Charters and Vouchers are still siphoning money away from public schools and providing substandard options.

Where is the success here again?

Then they quoted Rick Scott. "All of the participants and attendees share a common goal: Making sure that each child in Florida is prepared to succeed," said Governor Scott. "The discussion and ideas generated this week will guide our future decisions and steps we will take through either legislative proposals, action by the State Board of Education or executive action."

That’s not even close to true, voucher and charter concerns were there to make money, more money that is. And please don’t color me optimistic that this pro-privatization commissioner and legislature are going to do anything to make things better because first they would have to admit they made things worse and that’s never going to happen. 

JPEF how about standing up for students and teachers for a change. 

What do 5 year olds, scan trons and art have in common in Duval County?

From a reader: Today, new Kindergarteners were required to Write their first and last name on a scan-tron sheet and "bubble" their answers for the Art and Music Baseline CAST Assessment!!!!! REALLY???!!! How developmentally inappropriate!!

Why should people believe anything Gary Chartrand says about education?

Gary Chartrand backed away from his values, keep homosexuals in the dark remarks that he may or may not have made at the recent education summit. He said, he was merely saying what he feared other people might say. The Tampa Times however stuck with their story.

The thing is why should the people of Florida believe anything he has to say? He voted for the safety net that allowed schools to fall only one letter grade regardless of performance. Now I think the school grading system is fatally flawed and inaccurate, however he doesn’t, which means he basically said, let’s try and fool the people of Florida.

Then he has played fast and loose with the facts about KIPP, who he loves and the class size amendment, which he hates. He also stood up for Tony Bennett, who basically admitted his wrong doing by resigning just two days after the scandal that he changed the grade of a charter school that was run by a donor, broke.  Friends as far as I can tell Chartrand is not above saying anything to anybody depending on the situation he finds himself. If he told me today was Thursday, I would have to check my calendar and get two independent sources.

John Thrasher, Gary Chartrand, Jeb Bush and Rick Scott walk into a bar...

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke right? Instead of a bar they are scheduled to have dinner tonight in Miami. From the Herald Tribune:  Scott will have his own chance to talk education issues today, when he is scheduled to have dinner with former Gov. Jeb Bush, state Sen. John Thrasher and Board of Education chairman Gary Chartrand, said Thrasher, who was at the three-day summit. Thrasher said it will be a chance for him to brief Scott and Bush on the sessions.

What weren’t Steve Wise and Beelzebub available? I certainly am glad Bush can get a private briefing not that he didn’t already have a dozen representatives at the summit and since the summit reaffirmed funneling money to testing companies, I am sure it went just as Scott had hoped.

Scott is just a political animal, I believe he would cut education to the bone if he thought he could get away with it but at the same time, I think he would throw billions into it if it helped him get reelected. Woe to education if he does, a lame duck Scott could do some real damage. Bush, Thrasher and Chartrand are another breed all together. They have collectively done incredible damage to our schools and I sincerely believe when the state wakes up, and it has started too, that they will be considered the villains of the story.  

It turns out it is a bad joke after all.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

White men praise Rick Scott for inviting so many white men to education summit.

State senator Dwight Bullard criticized governor Scott for inviting so many white men to the education summit (scroll down my main page to see what he was talking about). Senate President Don Gaetz and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, both known to be white men disagreed.
“Governor Scott should be commended for elevating the conversation on education in the State of Florida,” Legg wrote in a statement last week. “It is of utmost importance to convene the stakeholders to create a comprehensive strategy and I am honored to take part."
Gaetz said the summit would "provide the leaders of our Senate committees on education and education appropriations the opportunity to collect various perspectives and ideas."

By Stakeholders and Leaders of Senate Committees of course they meant more white men.

Bullard also hit the nail on the head when he said: "In order to get it right you have to recognize where you went wrong," Bullard wrote. "Over testing, misdirection of dollars, failure to listen to stakeholder input, and countless other misfires that have now muddied the water of education. Clean up the mess and start from a good place in which all ideas are weighed on the value of their merit and not the size of their checkbook or political affiliation."

Common Core, the New Coke of Education Reforms

I think one of the big problems with common core is the scope of it. We are going to totally change everything that we do and on a little more than a whim. What if we spend billions of dollars and then five years from now somebody says, oops, man we got that one wrong. Let’s face it Florida hasn’t done well on reinventing education, charters, vouchers, A-F grading scale, merit pay anyone?

I am also reminded of the recent Advanced Placement scandal. For the last decade kids unprepared for them were thrown in those classes because of some anecdotal evidence that said it would improve their lives. Well after a decade we now know that wasn’t true and in many ways prevented kids form getting the skills they needed.

I have other concerns, increased testing, the hit schools will initially take will energize the privatization crowd and all the resources siphoned out of the classroom, but mostly nobody really knows if this is the best thing since sliced bread or if it is new coke.

Why don’t we slow down and get it right or make sure it is right anyways. Carvalho in Miami seems to love it, why don’t we put it there for three years and see if it works before we blow up what we have now.

Is it too much to ask that we get things right? 

Chartrand denies homophobic remarks. Tampa Times stand by story

I wonder if anybody asked him, if he still beats his wife too?

From the Miami Herald:  In the midst of a good explanatory piece, the Tampa Bay Times wrote this State Board Chairman Gary Chartrand recommended that reading lists for students be screened to avoid potentially upsetting subjects such as socialism and homosexuality. Later, his group suggested that instructional materials be "aligned with Florida's values and culture."
But Chartrand is adamant: He never said this.
Instead, Chartrand said, he was explaining to the group why some others oppose aspects of Common Core.
"Some people are anti-Common Core, and particularly on the far right, because they object to some of the reading materials that would reference such things as homosexuality or socialism or some contentious issues," said Chartrand, recalling his comments. "That’s all I said. That was my comment."

You see he’s not a bigot he just thinks people on the far right are. Oy Vey, open mouth, insert foot. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is Gary Chartrand homophobic too? Union members, black kids, poor kids, who is next?

Is Gary Chartrand homophobic too? Union members, black kids, poor kids, what is next?

How is this guy allowed near education again? From the I can’t make this up category, today at Florida’s education summit he said: Florida Board Chairman Gary Chartrand suggested that the state look for a curriculum or instructional materials for Common Core that "align with Florida's values and culture." He said reading lists could upset people; particularly in they mentioned topics such as socialism or homosexuality.

Where do I start? Oh I know, throwing up in my mouth a little bit.

Replacing professional teachers with scabs is not a value I share but it is a value he has. I am not a big fan of raced based goals or handicapping those schools, neighborhoods and students that can least afford it either.  Charters, A-F grading scale and ignoring poverty anyone?

Next reading lists should be about expanding horizons and boundaries, opening up student’s minds and allowing them to explore.  They shouldn’t be narrowed to reflect Gary Chartrand’s supposed values. 

Chartrand talks about values and then proposes we ignore homosexuals as if they didn't exist. I guess for him it would be better if thye were all back in the closet.

Money obviously does not equal tact or intelligence. 

Shameful: How Duval County used A.P. tests to end teacher's careers and shortchange students and continues to do so.

What happened to accelerated courses of study in Duval County?

There is a reason you don’t make policy based on anecdotal evidence. It’s so if that evidence proves false you haven’t made a mess of everything. Drug companies are required to go through many trials to prove their product is both safe and does what is advertised. Unfortunately education policies don’t work that way, they get enacted when the powers-that-be, who are rarely educators, read a pamphlet during a flight delay, or their sister’s neighbor’s cousin says “hey try this.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of advanced placement classes here in Duval County and Florida.

For years people went around saying there was evidence that said just exposing regular or poorer performing students to advanced classes led to a life time of enrichment. The problem is according to a recent study by the College Board just exposing them to the classes has not led to a lifetime of enrichment. On the contrary it has held many back from acquiring the skills they needed. Teachers actually teaching the classes have known this for years. You see they were forced to either dumb down the classes, handicapping the students who were their legitimately or to pass the kids who weren’t despite the fact that hadn’t come anywhere close to mastering the material.

It is even more insidious than that in Duval county because many of the students were put in classes that were over their head not to expose them to higher material but so the county could get bonus points on school grades which would mask the problems the county has. For years Ed Pratt Dannals and the school board would say look at us we are a B district, when the truth was they were using accounting tricks to hide the district’s problems. And all it cost us was millions of dollars and the futures of some of our children.   

Prerequisites were in place In Duval County Prior to 2000. Students were required to meet defined levels of performance in courses prior to registering in Advanced Courses in middle school, Honors and Advanced Placement Courses in high school. These practices ensured the readiness of the student to handle the rigors of this level of study. As a result, accelerated courses could move at the pace required to ensure students would cover the necessary material with the depth and breadth essential to meet the academic integrity of the respected course. Most, if not all, prestigious private schools still follow this model as well as most school districts in the nation. The logic is simple: past performance is an indicator of future success. The College Board recognizes this and publishes the AP Expectancy Tables. This illustrates the percent of students who pass Advanced Placement Exams as a correlation of their PSAT math and verbal scores. Parents who felt adamant that their child should be enrolled in these courses against the recommendation of the educators could over-ride this policy. Students also had to be recommended to sit for the administration of the exam. This policy ensured the prudent expenditure of public funds ($80 per exam) consistent with probability of the student receiving a passing score of 3 or better based on course performance.

Around 2000, with former Superintendent Dr. Joseph Wise and with former Governor Jeb Bush’s A+ school grading scheme, common sense went out the window while school statistics were manipulated to present the facade of high performance. This mirrors the corporate business model in which many outside the educational profession seek public schools to emulate. With the A+ plan, the number of students enrolled in AP courses bolstered the school grade provided they merely sat for the exam. Dr Joseph Wise’s decision to add many students who were ill prepared to enroll in these courses were at best an attempt to artificially inflate school grades, or at worse, self-serving since he had a working relationship with College Board and sought to join them in their employment in the future.

The District’s adopted an unrealistic policy that every child will receive a college ready diploma was soon copied by the state as a failed attempt at social engineering. Students with FCAT reading scores of 1 were enrolled in AP English Literature courses and, against the recommendations of the College Board, the average 14 year old 9th grade students were enrolled in AP courses. Teachers were under pressure to pass the students along through Grade Recovery and through the deflation of course content. Algebra II had the same content as the Algebra I of a decade ago. Honors Classes had less rigor that the Standard Classes of the same time span. Add to this the Florida Virtual School in which some students have admittedly paid people to sit for the exams and cheated by pulling up two screens on two computers at home and looked up the answer on one while being tested on another. The structure of delivery of accelerated course content moved from one of intellect, emotional maturity and personal responsibility to how can I trick the students into learning a minimum level of content while not requiring the students to complete homework assignments, taking notes, or studying. Research papers once comprised research cited in APA or MLA styles were reduced to posters and dioramas.

With this, students had little ownership in their performance and received weighted grade which were not reflected in the body of knowledge for which they were responsible.  Consequently, it is common practice for students to simply not show up for AP exams and faces no consequences, or sleep through the exams since it has no bearing on their graduation or GPA.  As a result educators which teach these classes are evaluated on the number of students who pass these exams are powerless to control the fate of their careers.  Students have used this to blackmail teachers by telling them they will intentionally fail exams to have the teacher receive a poor evaluation and possible have them fired if they do not receive a good grade in the course. It is very hard to fail in Duval County; you really have to work at it.

Failed curricula such as Math Investigations, CPM Math, Chemistry in the Community, Active Chemistry, Active Physics and Readers and Writers workshops were and are still pervasive. We will suffer the effects of these choices for years to come. Teachers asked to select curriculum and instructional material were overrode by administrators who never taught these courses, taught decades ago, or who don’t even hold credentials in these disciplines. Recent evidence of this is apparent in the selection of the Active Chemistry. An overwhelming number of chemistry instructors rejected this curriculum only to be overridden by Ms. Leroy, who is no longer working in this district. Prior to this CPM (College Preparatory Math) and Math Investigations were instituted against the recommendations of an overwhelming majority of math teachers. Until recently, Math teacher were forced to use this curriculum until parental outrage ended these practices

Now students are not counseled out from courses in which they do not perform well. In turn, the educator is asked to reduce expectations to ensure success. These policies affect the retention of educators who are forced to accept students who are ill prepared to undertake or accept the rigors these classes. Now the educators who teach these courses will pay for these decisions as their continued employment depends on the performance of students on district, state, Advanced Placement, and national common core examinations, which are due to be implemented. The tax payers of Florida will pay to have students enrolled in AP Classes with little probability of achieving a passing score and who will sleep through the AP exam at a cost of $80 per test, Duval County routinely spends over a million dollars on failed tests. I have heard administers say, “The grade a student receives in your AP class should have no bearing on what the student receives on the AP exam.” I have seen many gifted and talented educators leave the profession rather than run down this rabbit hole.

The state and district cannot continue to put students and teachers in positions where success is unlikely and then scratch their head wondering why they failed.  The state and the district should not be allowed to use accounting tricks to make it appear that we are doing better than we are and the state and district should just do better, Florida deserves better.  

Attrition at Ed White Should concern us all

I have to tell you; at one time Ed White was something special. It had a huge art department and a model U.N. Team, physics club and drama department of some renown.  However with 4 principal changes in six years and a tremendous turnover in staff Ed White is just a shadow of its former self.

Every year there is turnover at our schools and in the five years I was at Ed White we probably had about a hundred new teachers come through the doors, though the vast majority of the new arrivals came after Jim Clark the long time principal there retired. I remember one staff meeting towards the end where we met two 
new reading teachers who we then never saw again.  

Sadly though since I left three years ago turnover has occurred at an unprecedented rate, with about 140 teachers leaving.  I am told there are about 65 new faces this year alone. Why the turnover? Well part of it is because teaching isn’t the country club job that the blame the teacher crowd would have the public believe. It’s stressful, for college educated professionals the pay isn’t that great and the pressure especially for content areas at a high school is unbelievable. A good leader however can mitigate some of this, and 65 teachers leaving should tell you about the type of Leadership Ed White has.

Another reason people flee is because of poor leadership. They don’t have that leader that can mitigate the hazards of being a teacher but teachers also avoid principals that see them as numbers rather than individuals. They don’t want to work for principals who use fear and intimidation as motivational tactics.  Some principals treat teachers in a fashion that if teachers treated students similarly would see them in the unemployment line. True leaders inspire, they don’t threaten, brow beat or cajole.

Furthermore when there is constant upheaval with teachers it trickles down to their students too. No veteran teacher ever said they were better when they first started which means more kids are getting shortchanged by having an ever revolving door of new teachers. Furthermore unhappy teachers aren’t nearly as effective as happy ones. They don’t stay late, they don’t grade from home and they physically can’t give their all.

Under the previous reign (or error) who one new rather than one’s ability often determined who was promoted.  Superintendent Vitti who moved a record number of principals got a glimpse of that but he didn’t go nearly far enough, merely moving some around while inexplicably keeping some in place.

Vitti said he wanted to usher in a new era where teachers were valued colleagues not easily replaceable cogs and the quickest way to do this is to insist all his principals treated their staffs with respect and to send the ones who are incapable of doing so on their way.

Ed White has had 4 principals in six years but the truth is it should have been 5. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reality Check: Obama is Standing for Students

Since when did an effort to ensure that students receive a high-quality affordable education in exchange for their financial aid become unconstitutional micromanagement of colleges and universities?

This is where the rubber hits the road, folks. Where the needs of a particularly elite form of academia comes into conflict with the average student's right to an affordable public education. And apparently it's about to get ugly. 

Don't believe the hype. President Obama is not attacking faculty, he is not seeking to destroy public colleges and universities which are the workhorses of higher education, and for pete's sake he is not proposing a pseudo-NCLB for higher education.

The President's main goal is simple:  After decades of hoping that students could hold institutions of higher education and states responsible for providing a high-quality, affordable college experience that leads to degrees, he's calling the nation's attention to the fact that the market isn't working on its own and some really serious regulation is needed.  The federal government is a major financial player in higher education, far more so than in k-12, and it has a responsibility to ensure that the schools it funds do right by their students.  

Despite their loud claims to the contrary, many schools are not currently doing right by their students. Some of them are setting prices so as to absorb all available financial aid and providing students with few supports and long-shots at completing degrees. Others are taking advantage of the availability of student loans to charge the middle-class sky high prices while hiding behind "admissions standards" to leave the majority of students from the 99% out in the cold.  In addition, there are a lot of federal dollars spent unnecessarily, supplanting resources from institutional endowments. Finally, there are plenty of childish states, pulling back on their investments when the federal government provides support. 

All of that should be stopped by holding colleges, universities, and states to the standards that we now hold students.  The problems we face in higher education today are largely due to the behaviors of those institutional actors--not students.  The federal government must use the strings associated with Title IV to ensure that college administrators, boards, and state legislatures behave themselves and let the students and faculty get back to the hard work of education.

That's the goal. It's where Obama is headed, if you'll just give him a chance to get there.

And when he does: NO, this will not make student aid more complicated.  Instead of rules for millions of students we can have a much smaller set of rules for the few thousand institutions. Done right, this will not punish students for the acts of their states and institutions. It will not further push education towards earnings and away from learning.  It should do the opposite-- it focuses on the actual problem-- schools that claim to educate students while merely sifting and winnowing out the ones it doesn't want, schools that recruit students only to leave them behind once checks are signed. It helps direct students towards the states and institutions where their aid will be used well.  It helps ensure that students get degrees--which is the very least they deserve (and come on, don't tell me that in your day you really earned your degree...).

Suggesting the opposite-- suggesting that this effort will hurt students-- is a red herring. It's a line tossed about by privileged elites who have claimed to serve America's middle class while restricting enrollment through selective admissions, and promoting rhetoric that allows some elite colleges to stand on high above their peers, endlessly wealthy and exerting strong influence, helping to push millions of Americans into debt. 

Beware of these scare tactics. The President isn't going to cut students' Pell dollars. He's never going to assign letters grades to each colleges and university.  He's not bringing in standardized tests or value-added modeling for professors, or giving colleges incentives to get rid of teacher tenure or privatize.

Unfortunately, he's also not about to make college--or at least community college-- free.  Now there's something worth critiquing him for.

Sure, the President did make some errors in his plans. He should never have likened this effort to the ridiculous College Scorecard or called them "ratings"-- that trivialized the approach.  He should have challenged schools to improve to certain standards before the move to link aid to institutional performance rolls out.  Race to the Top should never have been a part of this at all, since doing this fast has never been a good way to bring about quality change. He should never have mentioned MOOCs or other such untested approaches to cutting costs, and in fact, he needn't have mentioned specific practices for cost-cutting at all.  That can and should be left up to the institutions to deal with-- he simply needs to tell them what goal posts to aim for and what the rules of engagement are.   For example, he should have reiterated the importance of educators to education, and assured the faculty of their very real place in affordable higher education. He should have placed much more emphasis on the importance of public institutions and the role that states must play in adequately funding them if those states want to get any Title IV funds for their private or profit schools.   

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.  The fact is that the current financial aid system has benefitted colleges and universities-- and states-- far more than students for a very long time, and President Obama is finally going to try to do something about it.  Did he get the plan exactly right on this initial roll out?  Nope. Will it be accomplished in the next few years? No way.   But that isn't and wasn't the point.  He is standing up for students and families and telling higher education administrators and states that they must get some skin in the game-- or get out of Title IV.   It's about damn time. 

The Florida education summit, recap day 1: Usual suspects meet to kneecap education

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart leads a discussion at the opening day of the education summit Monday.

Look at the picture; it is from the Florida’s education summit happening in Clearwater. What they couldn’t find anymore-rich old white guys? I do see one back guy in the picture, ironically enough sitting in the back.

There are obvious problems in education, if there wasn’t then why are we having this summit? My question then is why are the same people that drove us off the road and into the ditch the same ones at the summit. Now there are a few faces but for the most part there are a lot of the usual suspects, people who would like to drown public education and profit off our children there too.

This is Rita Solnets observations: It's seems clear to me that the following is the outcome the leaders of this education summit are looking for - they're driving the meeting this way:

1) Dump PARCC assessments entirely
2) Re-confirm their support for Common Core though (political reasons)
3) Write all new assessments for FL (no doubt driving business to Pearson)
4) Endorse and reiterate that FL has a terrific accountability system - "we are the leaders!"
5) Reconfirm and support Florida's Grading system

Oh, yes, and don't ask silly questions about students or learning or achievement gaps.

More of the same friends, more of the same.

Education needs a game changer, lets start with getting rid of Arne Duncan.

From the Washington Post, by Matt Farmer

By Matt Farmer
A lot of my friends are public school teachers. They’re scattered throughout the country, working in classrooms from New York to California. And as students head back to school, many of my teacher friends are already wondering how their local districts plan to “change the game” this year.
Talk to enough veteran teachers and you’ll get an earful about the annual roll-out of new initiatives and assessments that get handed down to them in August, only to serve as the educational “flavor of the month” until the following year, when those programs are supplanted by a whole new set of acronyms, benchmarks and buzzwords. (“I’ll take Rigor for $600, please, Alex.”)
Why, these teachers wonder, does the game keep changing?
Look no further than Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. School superintendents from Maine to Montana know that the 6’5” small forward from Chicago is “a big fan” of “game-changers,” so many of those administrators undoubtedly look to please the Big Boss by constantly changing the game in their own districts.
Unfortunately, though, so many things seem to “change the game” for Arne that it’s getting harder and harder for state and local school officials to figure out what game he’s even playing on any given day.
Think I’m joking? Let’s go back to 2010.
That February, Duncan called a proposal for increased funding of student loans “a real game-changer.” 
His thinking had obviously evolved by the end of July, when he concluded that “the big game-changer is to start measuring individual student growth rather than proficiency.”
August, however, brought another epiphany. Duncan realized that the “big game-changer…revolves around the issue of teacher quality.” 
And Duncan, like a lanky philanthropist filling the tin cups of educational panhandlers, continued doling out change in 2010.
In November, he hit Paris to address the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Arne changed the game so often during that speech his UNESCO audience needed copies of “According To Hoyle” just to keep up with him.
After noting that in “the knowledge economy, education is the new game-changer,”Duncan assured the crowd that the sweeping adoption of “common college-ready standards that are internationally benchmarked . . . is an absolute game-changer.”
The secretary of education then called a “new generation of assessments aligned with the states’ Common Core standards” a “second game-changer,” even though it was actually the third “game-changer” Duncan had offered the assembled UNESCO masses during that difficult-to-diagram, five-minute rhetorical stretch.
And Duncan hasn’t lost a step over the last three years, recently calling digital badges “a game-changing strategy,” while also noting that increasing Latino enrollment in pre-school “could be a huge game changer.”
I recently asked some of my teacher friends what they thought of Arne’s seemingly endless supply of “game-changers.” They told me to a person that the one “game-changer” they’d like to see come out of Washington, D.C. during the new school year would be the appointment of a Secretary of Education who actually has a background in education.

What subbing in Duval looks like

This is from a reader and dozens and dozens of classes started the year with a full time Sub

I have subbed in one class since the first day of school.

My classroom has no supplies. I had to bring a marker from home.

Every day, students are added or removed from one period and moved to another one. Students in fifth period will be moved to eighth period and then to first period. This of course makes grading (and keeping track of grades) difficult. I also do not get paid well enough to grade papers at home. Nor am I given any kind of gradebook to keep track of grades.

I did manage to repurpose an attendance sheet set to be a rudimentary gradebook, but they are running out of space and are falling apart.

One of my classes has forty students in it. Is that even legal?

I have no idea.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

11 reasons not to like Common Core

By Mike Harris

Common Core............
1. Developmentally inappropriate especially for Pre-k-8 kids.
2. Tied to high stakes testing that is used to judge schools and teachers more than student learning.
3. Tied to Privatization efforts and the dismantling of Public Education.
4. Tied to Corporate efforts to get taxpayer $$$ from privatizing.
5. Takes away community control of education.
6. Not supported by research yet being rushed.....a giant expensive gamble that makes kids guinea pigs.
7. Several states are withdrawing as local and state legislators start learning and listening to educators.
8. Along with Common Core, testing regimen will cost huge $$$ for technology requirements.
9. Narrowing of curriculum as schools scramble for "good" test scores in order to maintain funding.
10. Diversity of learning styles and teacher use of differentiated instruction to be replaced by "scripts", provided handsomely by such self-interested corporations such as Pearson.........
11. Assumes, without credible evidence, that public education is in dire need of drastic and radical change.

To read more click here:

Point/Counter Point on Teach For America from the Onion

My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids
By Megan Richmond, Volunteer Teacher
When I graduated college last year, I was certain I wanted to make a real difference in the world. After 17 years of education, I felt an obligation to share my knowledge and skills with those who needed it most.
After this past year, I believe I did just that. Working as a volunteer teacher helped me reach out to a new generation of underprivileged children in dire need of real guidance and care. Most of these kids had been abandoned by the system and, in some cases, even by their families, making me the only person who could really lead them through the turmoil.
Was it always easy? Of course not. But with my spirit and determination, we were all able to move forward. 
Those first few months were the most difficult of my life. Still, I pushed through each day knowing that these kids really needed the knowledge and life experience I had to offer them. In the end, it changed all of our lives.
In some ways, it's almost like I was more than just a teacher to those children. I was a real mentor who was able to connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.
Ultimately, I suppose I can never know exactly how much of an impact I had on my students, but I do know that for me it was a fundamentally eye-opening experience and one I will never forget.


Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?

By Brandon Mendez, James Miller Elementary School Student
You've got to be kidding me. How does this keep happening? I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don't have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn't know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? That would be terrific.
Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don't think it's too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn't desperately trying to prove to herself that she's a good person.
I'm not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I'm an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won't get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.
How about a person who can actually teach me math for a change? Boy, wouldn't that be a novel concept!
I fully understand that our nation is currently facing an extreme shortage of teachers and that we all have to make do with what we can get. But does that really mean we have to be stuck with some privileged college grad who completed a five-week training program and now wants to document every single moment of her life-changing year on a Tumblr?
For crying out loud, we're not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends.
Look, we all get it. Underprivileged children occasionally say some really sad things that open your eyes and make you feel as though you've grown as a person, but this is my actual education we're talking about here. Graduating high school is the only way for me to get out of the malignant cycle of poverty endemic to my neighborhood and to many other impoverished neighborhoods throughout the United States. I can't afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone's inspirational narrative.
But hey, how much can I really know, anyway? I haven't had an actual teacher in three years.

Measurement in pre-school? Measure this! Ten things to measure

 Testing in pre-school? I thought pre-school existed so kids could have fun in a safe place while their parents did something other than watch over them.  I guess I was wrong.

Last week I had a conversation with my 4 year old granddaughter in which she told me she knew the names of all the planets and proceeded to name most of them. I asked her what a planet was. She had no idea. I asked her older brother. He said they were like big rocks.

Does anyone ever wonder about all this? Must we continue ramming facts down kid’s throats so that the people who make tests can get rich?

Below is a piece from the Washington Post that appeared today:

The (D.C.) board set out to provide parents with a clearer picture of how charter schools compare with one another. It also wants to provide educators with a way to measure progress toward the goal of better preparing children for school, a goal that led city leaders to make a historic investment in universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.

So we will test in preschool now? So more testing companies can get even richer. Last I looked there was $300 million being spent on simply grading tests in Florida alone.

And now preschool? Aren’t the testing companies rich enough? 

And what is all this preparation they talk about supposed to be for? If you listen carefully it is really about preparing kids for college. At 4?

When I talk about education one on one with a professional adult, I often start by saying: I don’t know where you went to college or graduate school or what you studied, but let me make a guess: none of what you do every day in your professional or personal life you learned in school. I have never heard anyone respond with anything stronger than “well maybe a little bit.”

Let’s be clear about what schools are for. Schools are not for education. We have deluded ourselves so greatly with this myth that we actually think we are measuring something about how well it is working.

You want something to measure? Measure what schools really do:

  1. Is my kid being kept safe so I can work (or play)?
  2. Is my kid learning to control his impulses and sit still for long periods of time?
  3. Is my my kid being fed lunch?
  4. Is my kid being properly indoctrinated to be a model citizen who can say why the US is a great country?
  5. Can my kid defend himself from the bullies?
  6. Does my kid have the right clothing so that other kids won’t make fun of him?
  7. Is my kid being taught enough meaningless stuff to memorize so that he doesn’t look foolish when asked who George Washington or Abraham Lincoln was?
  8. Are they making sure that my kid is really afraid to express an outlandish thought that no one he knows agrees with?
  9. Are they making sure that if there is something my kid really wants to do that it will be designated an "after school activity?"
  10. Are they making sure that my kid believes that only losers don’t go to college?

I suggest we start admitting that these are the real purposes of preschool or any school. Maybe we should start measuring schools on how well they do at teaching them.

The attended consequences of charter schools

From the reader Surfed

Here's what's going to happen to my school. We're down 250 students. Over the year they will start trickling back in as their parents get tired of taking them to schools across town or they get tired of riding a bus for an hour each way or as they get booted out of the Charter schools or just leave the Charter school to come hang with their neighborhood peeps. We will have already surplussed our excess teachers. As the students trickle back in our class sizes will swell because the students are returning without the money to hire more teachers. 

That money will have already been given to the Charter schools. They will also return in many instances without a focused look at the subject matter vis a vis FCAT. We will then test them at FCAT time and reap the consequences of the Charter student being unprepared for the test. Our teaching ass and our schools grade is on the line and we have little control over the outcome. This is what happens when you let politicians try to social engineer society whether it's education, health care, whatever. It's a train wreck.

Charter schools may be here to stay whether we like them or not.

By Greg Sampson

Charter Schools Will Not Go Away

At a recent presentation to Assistant Principals, Instructional Coaches, Deans of Displine, ISSP teachers, and District personnel, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti spoke of the competition that public schools face from charter schools and virtual academies.

They are not going away, he said. We have to begin to look at our parents as customers. We must market ourselves to our neighborhoods. Dr. Vitti wants these students to return to DCPS traditional public schools. He presented data that showed that charter schools in Duval County perform at the same levels as traditional public schools.

But parents think charter schools are a great option, Dr. Vitti continued, because charter schools market themselves as the way for parents to get a private school education using public money.

I believe what Dr. Vitti said and I applaud his goal to market our schools so parents return their children to our classrooms. However, the truth is that we are rowing upstream against the mighty Mississippi when it comes to bringing children back from charter schools.

The strategic plan published by the Florida Department of Education includes these goals: increase the number of charter schools from 518 in the 2011-12 school year to 829 schools for the 2017-18 school year, with 8.5% growth in the number of schools for a total of 60% growth over the six-year period; increase the number of students enrolled in charter schools from 179,940 to 359,880 over the same time period, a 12.5% growth in the number of charter school students for a 100% growth total over the same six years.

Since the overall number of children in schools will not grow over that period, the implication is clear. The State Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education are working to reduce enrollment in Florida’s traditional public schools. Here is the link to the strategic plan (look at items 3.4 and 3.6):

No matter how hard we try or how well we market our schools, charter schools will not go away.

(Greg Sampson is a DCPS teacher on special assignment as the instructional math coach for his school, which is located on the Westside.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What We Need to Hear from the President

Reviewing the range of responses to President Obama's plan to reduce college costs, and the questions that are being raised on Twitter, it seems important that the Administration clarify a few things sooner rather than later.

1. This effort to reduce college costs is a first step and thus it is not intended to solve all problems.  The President should say something more specific about the ultimate goal and what it would look like in practice. Are we working towards a free community college education? Are we trying to close achievement gaps?  What is the intended outcome down the road?

2. This is not NCLB for higher education.  The President needs to assure the public that he is not calling for standardized testing, the end of professorial tenure, or a focus on specific fields or majors.  He is trying to help more Americans access the quality post secondary education they seek, not water down quality or redefine what matters.

3. This is an effort to protect public higher education, not destroy it.  This needs to be said loud and clear, and the President's commitment to community colleges in particular must be emphasized.  Too many community college leaders are distressed at the roll-out of these plans, and I did not think that was intended.

4. This is also not an attempt to end for-profit or private higher education.  The purpose is to ensure that Title IV is spent in ways that support national needs, not to define the entire range of opportunities that can exist.  It is certainly possible to support private and for-profit educational providers without insisting that the federal government should also subsidize them.

5.  The President is not insisting that everyone must go to college-- he is  trying to help make the American Dream a reality by decoupling family income from educational opportunities.

Now, if I'm correct that these are all statements the President and his Administration can agree with, let's move on to figuring out how to take aim at the underlying inefficiencies in the current financial aid system using institutional accountability.

I think it would be a mistake to subject all institutions to metrics anytime in the near future. Most colleges and universities are good actors, keeping college costs down as long as states do their part. What we need to do as a starting point is to get a handle on (a) the bad actors and (b) federal investments that are ineffective and unnecessary.

Which schools fall into those categories? Here's a start.


1. Institutions whose primary revenue source is Title IV.  Let's say those who get at least 75% of funding from Pell and/or student loans, for example.  These schools aren't operating based on market demand but rather are propped up by federal aid.

2. Institutions with selective admissions (say less than 75% admitted) and low average graduation rates (less than 50% over 5 years).


1. Institutions with large endowments per student.

2. Institutions serving very few Pell recipients (regardless of whether this is due to admissions practices, costs, or a decision to simply be small).

If we could ensure that federal student aid no longer supported these schools, we would see fewer students attend these schools, their prices would likely fall (or they would close), and/or at minimum we'd save money that could be spent elsewhere.

If that were the first stage, then the Department of Education could begin by publishing these lists of problematic schools, issuing a warning that they have three years to get off the list or lose Title IV.

The other big issue is how to get states back to the table.  There could be a separate list of states that are put on probation based on a failure to match federal investments in higher education with state investments.  All colleges and universities in those states should be put at risk of losing Title IV-- including the privates and for-profits-- and given 5 years to address the problems.

None of this is perfect, of course, but they get us thinking about a more targeted, incremental approach to reform.  What do you think? What would you include?