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A lack of or an impressive commitment to education, you be the judge

The Times Union says, when talking about the recently completed United Way study on teacher improvement and empowerment, it shows and impressive commitment to education.

There is some things you should know and then you can be the judge whether it is impressive or not.

First, only 2 of the 45 people on the United Way improve education committee are current classroom teachers. Could you imagine having a medical conference where only two doctors went? Would people take their results and findings seriously? Most likely not but for some reason we continue to treat teachers like they have no clue about what they are doing in their classrooms, how to do what we pay them to do or how to teach, when the truth is they have the best ideas about what works and what doesn’t work.

I talked to Julie Delagal one of the members of the United Way committee, a writer and homemaker by the way not a teacher and she said another 11 were former teachers, wow now we are up to 13 out of 45, and 11 of them quit being teachers. Why wasn't it 32 teachers and 13 community members, which would have made sense? The bottom line is we need to engage teachers and stop marginalizing them if we want things to improve.

What debate was Times Union reporter Topher Sanders watching?

I believe Topher Sanders mischaracterized my closing remarks at the district 5 debate. He said I used my closing remarks to criticize my opponent Mrs. Hall and nothing could be further from the truth. During my final remarks I commented about how people had a real choice in candidates, the establishment candidate Mrs. Hall, supported by several school board members and other big wigs in the district or someone with a fresh set of eyes, either myself or Pervaila Gaines Macintosh. Now it’s true I did say, “if the establishment drove us into the ditch, how do you expect the establishment to get us out of the ditch.” That however is not a criticism, that is a sentiment that many people in Jacksonville share.

Mr. Sanders went on to say Mrs. Hall ignored the slight. I don’t know if Mrs. Hall took it as a slight or not but I definitely take it as a slight, that the establishment thinks they can force the same insiders on the city over and over, the ones that did drive us into a ditch, and they expect us to shut our mouths and take it.

District 5 and the city desperately need a new set of eyes, not more of the same, that’s not a criticism, that is a fact.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Let’s compare Betty Burney and Chris Guerrieri’s data

After the district 5 debate she pulled me aside and seemed very angry that I was critical of the current school board and superintendent, after a little non-productive back and forth she announced she knew what type of teacher I was. I asked her how she would know anything and she said, you are terrible, I have seen the data. As you can imagine things went down hill from there.

I thought I would take this opportunity to compare our data.

Last year I was surplussed and told it was because of some data on Pearson. After weeks of pushing they finally told me my sample size was 23 special ed kids in four classes taking two very different subjects, earth space science and biology, I very liberally say I co taught, accept the taught part, I was more like a high priced para. Of those 23 special ed kids, in four classes, two different subjects, 9 took the pre and post test and of them 4 improved 5 didn’t.

Oh by the way I have been telling the district for years I am not a science teacher.

Welcome to Duval County

Now lets look at Mrs. Burney’s stats.

The district letter grade dropped to a C.

We were the 50th ranked district out of 67. It’s a good thing Florida doesn’t grade on a curve right? It means we have eight of the bottom 25 high schools in the state including number 404 out of 404 and our middle schools are in a similar predicament. It means less than two thirds of our kids graduate on time and that is with grade recovery and teachers being “encouraged” to pass kids whether they have the skills or have done the work or not. For African American kids we come in at just over 54% graduating on time.

Less than half our kids arrive to high school reading on grade level and if we didn’t force so many level ones and twos into Advanced Placement classes, where they have no business being, then we would be in real trouble. By the way our kids only pass one in four A.P. tests and since we pay for all the tests that’s over a million dollars we spend on failed tests. Then once our kids graduate sixty percent have to take remedial classes in college and businesses report having a hard time finding qualified applicants.

Teacher morale is at an all time low and discipline is out of control to boot.

That’s her data.

If Mrs. Burney wants to have a conversation about data it is one I am more than comfortable having.

Common sense policies the Duval County School Board doesn’t have

The school board is not notified when a principal is fired during the year, which I would think is a pretty big deal. Likewise they are left out of the loop if a teacher is being investigated by the DCF for inappropriate contact with a child, another really big deal.

How hard would it be for them to get an e-mail when these things happen?

Apparently common sense isn’t all that common at 1701 Prudential drive.

Is no one in the DCPS responsible for the Chris Bacca sexual allegation case?

Sonita Young said from the 2009 allegations, the investigator, director of HR and head of Professional standards have all resigned or retired.

Hmm what about the super and at least 4 members of the school board? Or does the buck stop a lot lower than the top in Duval County?

If it turns out he is guilty then the district blew it but don’t expect anybody at the district level to take responsibility, they only do that when good things happen.

Is Connie Hall offering a quid pro quo to Doug Ayers

Connie Hall is running for the school board, Doug Ayers has applied for the superintendent position. Doug Ayers donated to Connie Hall’s campaign The appearance of impropriety is all over this. If Connie Hall is elected and the school board hasn’t chosen a superintendent, Mrs. Hall will have to recuse herself or her judgment and integrity will be called into question.

Speaking of integrety issues does that remind you of anybody else that came out of district 5? Perhaps Mrs. Burney, Halls mentor?

The Duval County School Board doesn’t practice what they preach

According to Times Union editor Jeff Reece, school board meetings typically start late. I wonder what would happen if teachers typically started their classes late? I know it’s a little thing but as leaders of the district shouldn’t they practice what they preach? These meetings are always scheduled days in advance and I imagine only after the school board has been consulted to see what time is good for them.

We can’t even get a meeting time right.

Politifact gives Gerard Robinson a false on the FCAT

From Politifact

The perennial cry from parents and teachers who criticize the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is that students are spending too much time on those tests. And that cry grew louder when the state announced that FCAT scores plunged in 2012 after a revamping of the test.

Students take the high-stakes exam for math, reading and other subjects in grades 3 through 10. Third-graders who get low scores are at risk of being held back. Students ultimately must pass the FCAT -- or earn an equivalent score on the SAT or ACT -- to graduate with a standard diploma.

Gov. Rick Scott said in July that it’s time to take a second look at the FCAT after the state has received so many complaints from parents about the tests. Scott told a conference of newspaper editors that between the FCAT and other tests, students may be tested too much.

Scott’s education commissioner appointee, Gerard Robinson, has been playing defense about the FCAT since the state announced earlier this year that a new grading formula would result in a drop in school grades. Statewide, the percentage of A schools dropped from 58 to 48 percent.

Reflecting a backlash against testing, more than a dozen individual school boards in the state, including Broward and Palm Beach, have passed a resolution against the FCAT. The Florida School Boards Association passed its own version of a resolution criticizing the FCAT in June.

Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."

There are a few interesting claims in Robinson’s statement, but the one that caught our eye was that tiny figure: The FCAT accounts for "less than 1 percent of instructional time." Heck, we wonder if lunch or recess could add up to more than 1 percent. So we decided to research whether Robinson’s 1 percent claim was correct.

The Education Department’s explanation

Robinson’s chief of staff John Newman told us in a July 19 interview that the education department staff pulled together figures for Robinson about a month ago in response to the public’s concerns about the amount of time spent on the FCAT.

He sent us a copy of an excel spreadsheet showing how much time is spent taking the test. This refers only to the minutes to take that exam -- not the amount of time spent preparing for it during regular school hours or after-hour extra sessions that some students participate in.

By dividing the number of minutes spent on the FCAT by the number of minutes in a school year (54,000 minutes based on 900 minimum hours of school instruction a year), the education department determined that students spend anywhere from .26 to .90 percent of their time taking the test.

But Robinson used the phrase "instructional time" in his claim, which could fairly be interpreted to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.

School districts aren’t required to track how much time they spend preparing students for the test. For example, multiplication and division are included on the FCAT for certain grade levels, but math teachers don’t have to document how many minutes the class spent on multiplication versus division. And an English teacher doesn’t have to document how many minutes are related to reading comprehension portions of the FCAT.

That’s why determining how much time is spent "teaching to the test" is somewhat subjective.

"I guess you could say the whole year is test prep," Newman, Robinson’s chief of staff, told PolitiFact.

We asked Newman: Why is it valid to only look at the minutes spent actually taking the test and not factor in how much time is spent preparing for the test?

He said it’s up to the school districts to determine how to teach those standards that are assessed on the FCAT -- and those methods can vary from school to school.

"If they choose to do that sitting there drilling practice tests all day, that’s their choice," Newman said.

A state law says that schools can’t suspend "a regular program of curricula for purposes of administering practice tests or engaging in other test-preparation activities for a statewide assessment." But the law also says that schools can administer sample tests, teach test-taking strategies and teach the skills that will be assessed.

What educators say

We asked a few Florida teachers how much "instructional time" they spend on the FCAT. Our teachers from Miami-Dade included Alexandria Martin, an English teacher at Carol City High School, Whitson Carter, a math teacher at Filer Middle School, and Cassandra Harley, a third-grade teacher at North Beach Elementary School. In Broward we interviewed Angel Welsh, who teaches sixth-grade language arts at Nova.

All three of our Dade teachers said that FCAT preparation accounts for the majority of their school year -- or at least through the dates in the spring when the students take the FCAT. Students take practice tests at certain points during the year so schools can measure their progress toward the FCAT and prepare students to take timed tests. And FCAT prep isn’t limited to school hours -- districts have the option of adding extra help before or after school or on the weekends.

"The tests are always on the forefront of teachers’ minds, students’ minds," said Martin, who has taught for seven years.

Throughout the year, teachers have benchmarks to prepare students for the FCAT. So if Martin’s class is reading Othello, she makes sure they understand vocabulary, the author’s purpose, and reference and research skills.

"Hopefully I am preparing them for the real world, but the test is always at the forefront," she said.

Welsh, who has taught for 23 years, said that about six weeks before the FCAT she spends about half of each 90-minute period on FCAT preparation. But she also spends time throughout the year on teaching vocabulary and reading comprehension, which is assessed on the FCAT.

"I know what I’m going to cover and how I’m going to cover it, with or without FCAT," she said. "I feel good teaching leads to a good FCAT score. … I know (the test) is in my peripheral vision back there. I really try not to let it guide my instruction, but does it sometimes? I’m sure it does."

Our ruling

Robinson said that the FCAT tests "account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year." This was a prepared statement, based on research done by his staff, in response to FCAT critics who say that schools devote too much time to the tests.

Readers could assume that by "instructional time" Robinson was including regular lesson time in the classroom preparing for the FCAT. He wasn’t. His office says that referred to the number of minutes taking the test out of the total minutes of instruction per year. But he didn’t provide that explanation in his statement.

In reality, there is no clear way to quantify how much time teachers spend preparing students for the test. Some teachers say they spend practically all their time on the FCAT.

Robinson’s goal was to deflect criticism that too much time is spent "teaching to the test." He is suggesting that the FCAT eats up only a smidgen of a school year. But for students, parents and teachers who spend months preparing for those tests, Robinson’s words are misleading.

We rate this claim False.

http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2012/jul/30/gerard-robinson/florida-education-commissioner-says-fcats-equal-le/

How algebra wrecked the country

From the New York Times, by Andrew Hacker

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn't.

My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that “to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out.” For those who stay in school, there are often “exit exams,” almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.

California’s two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of two-year schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take.

“There are students taking these courses three, four, five times,” says Barbara Bonham of Appalachian State University. While some ultimately pass, she adds, “many drop out.”

Another dropout statistic should cause equal chagrin. Of all who embark on higher education, only 58 percent end up with bachelor’s degrees. The main impediment to graduation: freshman math. The City University of New York, where I have taught since 1971, found that 57 percent of its students didn’t pass its mandated algebra course. The depressing conclusion of a faculty report: “failing math at all levels affects retention more than any other academic factor.” A national sample of transcripts found mathematics had twice as many F’s and D’s compared as other subjects.

Nor will just passing grades suffice. Many colleges seek to raise their status by setting a high mathematics bar. Hence, they look for 700 on the math section of the SAT, a height attained in 2009 by only 9 percent of men and 4 percent of women. And it’s not just Ivy League colleges that do this: at schools like Vanderbilt, Rice and Washington University in St. Louis, applicants had best be legacies or athletes if they have scored less than 700 on their math SATs.

It’s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it’s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.

Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that “mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school.” Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials — science, technology, engineering, math — considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in “machine tool mathematics.”

That sort of collaboration has long undergirded German apprenticeship programs. I fully concur that high-tech knowledge is needed to sustain an advanced industrial economy. But we’re deluding ourselves if we believe the solution is largely academic.

A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn’t to blame. Isn’t this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable — especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists.

Peter Braunfeld of the University of Illinois tells his students, “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.” He’s absolutely right.

Algebraic algorithms underpin animated movies, investment strategies and airline ticket prices. And we need people to understand how those things work and to advance our frontiers.

Quantitative literacy clearly is useful in weighing all manner of public policies, from the Affordable Care Act, to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation, to the impact of climate change. Being able to detect and identify ideology at work behind the numbers is of obvious use. Ours is fast becoming a statistical age, which raises the bar for informed citizenship. What is needed is not textbook formulas but greater understanding of where various numbers come from, and what they actually convey.

What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It’s true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there’s no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x² - y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.

Many of those who struggled through a traditional math regimen feel that doing so annealed their character. This may or may not speak to the fact that institutions and occupations often install prerequisites just to look rigorous — hardly a rational justification for maintaining so many mathematics mandates. Certification programs for veterinary technicians require algebra, although none of the graduates I’ve met have ever used it in diagnosing or treating their patients. Medical schools like Harvard and Johns Hopkins demand calculus of all their applicants, even if it doesn’t figure in the clinical curriculum, let alone in subsequent practice. Mathematics is used as a hoop, a badge, a totem to impress outsiders and elevate a profession’s status.

It’s not hard to understand why Caltech and M.I.T. want everyone to be proficient in mathematics. But it’s not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. Demanding algebra across the board actually skews a student body, not necessarily for the better.

I WANT to end on a positive note. Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

It could, for example, teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed, what is included and how each item in the index is weighted — and include discussion about which items should be included and what weights they should be given.

This need not involve dumbing down. Researching the reliability of numbers can be as demanding as geometry. More and more colleges are requiring courses in “quantitative reasoning.” In fact, we should be starting that in kindergarten.

I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet. If we rethink how the discipline is conceived, word will get around and math enrollments are bound to rise. It can only help. Of the 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2010, only 15,396 — less than 1 percent — were in mathematics.

I’ve observed a host of high school and college classes, from Michigan to Mississippi, and have been impressed by conscientious teaching and dutiful students. I’ll grant that with an outpouring of resources, we could reclaim many dropouts and help them get through quadratic equations. But that would misuse teaching talent and student effort. It would be far better to reduce, not expand, the mathematics we ask young people to imbibe. (That said, I do not advocate vocational tracks for students considered, almost always unfairly, as less studious.)

Yes, young people should learn to read and write and do long division, whether they want to or not. But there is no reason to force them to grasp vectorial angles and discontinuous functions. Think of math as a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions? Thus far I haven’t found a compelling answer.

Andrew Hacker is an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and a co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/is-algebra-necessary.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Nancy Broner: Public opinion, not evidence should drive education reforms

In an article about increasing teacher effectiveness, Mrs. Broner said, The coalition can’t force anyone to implement the recommendations. But it wields the power of public opinion, Broner said.

“The voice of the community through the coalition and the networking that took place is hoped to be heard by the union as well as the district. This is where the community can have some impact,” Broner said.

They I read this is it doesn’t matter if some of the recommendations are bad or not. Such an amazing display of hubris but I guess shouldn’t expect more from former school board members.

Mrs. Broner here is a clue, just because you and this crew of non teachers recommend it, it doesn't make it a good idea

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2012-07-30/story/northeast-florida-coalition-offers-recommendations-increasing-teacher?cid=hp-mostcommented#ixzz2286I1xuN

Chris Guerrieri: The marginalization of teachers continues

The Northeast Florida Coalition of Education made recommendations to improve teaching. The coalition had 45 members of which only two were teachers. Their recommendations ranged from ridiculous, having students evaluate teachers, to decent, have mentors spend more time with new teachers, but not practical, who is going to teach the mentor’s classes? They also tried to push merit pay once again even though study after study says it doesn’t work. When wil they understand that teachers aren't bankers and they operate and think differently and we need solutions based on evidence not on non-educators guts?

We have problems in education but they are never going to be fixed as long as blue ribbon panels like above continue to ignore and marginalize teachers.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Another blue ribbon panel excludes teachers: only 2 out of 45 making recommendations are teachers

Today in the Times Union there was a big article about improving the teacher evaluation process. 45 members made up the group and of them only two were 2 teachers. That’s right friends, they brought two token teachers on board to discuss improving teaching.

We wonder why we have problems in education? Maybe its because those charged with educating are the ones always left out of the loop.

Finally I would just like to say that if you look at the list you will find a lot of the usual establishment suspects and if they establishment got us to where we are at, why should we continue to listen to anything they say.

Management Team 1.Terrie Brady, President, Duval County Teachers United
2.Nancy Broner, Duval County School Board
3.Zachary Champagne, 2010 Teacher of the Year
4.Trey Csar, President, Jacksonville Public Education Fund
5.John Hirabayashi , CEO, Community First Credit Union
6.Connie Hodges, President, United Way of Northeast Florida
7.Crystal Jones, Executive Director, Teach for America
8.Vicki Reynolds, Chief Human Resource Officer, DCPS

Coalition Members 1.The late Ann Baker, Community Volunteer
2.Joey Baker, FSCJ student and graduate of Peterson Academy
3.Martha Barrett, Duval County School Board and Bank of America
4.Tammy Boyd, Principal, Ft. Caroline Middle School
5.Jennifer Bridwell, Principal, Ft. Caroline Middle School
6.Dr. Carole Byrd, Dean of Education, FSCJ
7.Nancy Carter, Principal, Hyde Grove Elementary
8.Dr. Matt Corrigan, Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of North Florida
9.Becki Couch, Duval County School Board
10.Dr. Larry Daniel, Dean of Education, University of North Florida
11.Julie Delegal, Save Duval Schools, journalist
12.Nancy Dreicer, District Administrator, Department of Children & Family Services
13.Dr. Lissa Dunn, Supervisor Teacher Induction, Duval County Public Schools.
14.W.C. Gentry, Duval County School Board and Business Leader
15.Karen Hanson, Supervisor, Community and Family Engagement, Duval County Public Schools
16.Preston Haskell, Chairman, The Haskell Company
17.Deborah Gianoulis Heald, Save Duval Schools
18.Charles H. Hood, Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Rayonier (Strategic partner)
19.Melissa Kicklighter, President DCCPTA
20.Barbara Langley, President & CEO, Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership
21.Linda Lanier, President, Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Incoming Chair Florida Children’s Services Council
22.Wally Lee, President, Chamber of Commerce
23.Sherry Magill, President, Jessie Ball duPont Fund
24.Susan Main, Executive Director, Early Learning Coalition
25.Jim Milligan, Chief Financial Officer, Swyft Technology
26.Leon Mungin, Teacher, N.B. Forrest High School
27.Aron Muse, Director of School Based Staffing, Duval County Public Schools
28.Melanie Patz, Lead Staff, United Way of Northeast Florida
29.Roslyn Phillips, Chief Community Officer, City of Jacksonville
30.David Sillick, President and Publisher, Jacksonville Business Journal
31.Richard Spruill, Music Teacher, Chaffee Trail Elementary School
32.Jeff Stiles, Customer Response Director, State Farm
33.Dr. Crystal Timmons, UF/Duval Professor, Lastinger Center for Learning University of Florida.
34.Nina Waters, President, The Community Foundation
35.Mike Weinstein, State Representative
36.Chris White, Coordinator, Lastinger Center for Learning University of Florida.
37.Tina Wirth, Director, Chamber of Commerce
38.Colleen Wood, Executive Director, Save Duval Schools
39.Paula Wright, School Board Member

The Northeast Florida coalition on education wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars on teacher evaluation study.

Going through their recommendations one by one:

- Allow mentors more time during the day to work with new teachers.
I like this idea but are we now going to have our best teachers out of their classes? Who is going to teach their classes?

-Offer substantive incentives, compensation, rewards or recognition to improve the quality and pool of effective mentors.

- Seek local and national foundation funding to recruit and train more mentors.

Here is the thing about mentors, the current merit pay system disincentivises teachers and mentors from helping each other. Why would I want to help another teacher and share my secrets if it is going to cost me money, furthermore I have to spend all my time on my classes to make sure I keep my job.

- Use a consistent evaluation tool and ensure all principals and other administrators performing teacher evaluations undergo extensive training.

- Hire teachers by May to get the most effective ones.

- Seek opportunities to pay highly effective teachers more money and give them more autonomy.

Teachers aren’t bankers, and study after study says merit pay doesn’t work. Now more autonomy is something most teachers could get behind.

- Base 30 percent of the teacher evaluation on multiple unscheduled classroom observations, 10 percent on student feedback and 10 percent on teacher initiative in professional development. The remaining 50 percent is governed by state mandates.

Having kids evaluate teachers is ridiculous, likewise is basing evaluations on professional development, teachers may not need it or relative ones might not be available, plus prof dev here in the county is spotty at best.

- Advocate that Florida lawmakers revise the statute governing notification to teachers who won’t have their contracts renewed, from March to May.

You know who doesn’t get reappointed? It’s not always the “bad” teachers it is just as often the teachers that the principal for whatever reason doesn’t like.

- The process for getting rid of ineffective teachers should be completed within 180 days or less.

Nobody wants ineffective teachers in the classroom but teachers should be supported and given the chance to improve before being let go.

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2012-07-30/story/northeast-florida-coalition-offers-recommendations-increasing-teacher#ixzz227tyxjW1

More Dumb ideas about evaluating teachers

The United Way joined the bash teachers movement two years ago when it accepted a large grant to study teacher quality, why no grant to study bad policies or a lack of resources I wonder. Two years later they came up with the wonderful idea of having students evaluate teachers and by wonderful I mean wow how absolutely stupefying.

I have had students after receiving referrals announce to the class that nothing would happen to them and that I would be the one who got in trouble. Kids today also use grade recovery to game the system to cut down on attendance and work. Could you imagine how they would be if they could grade their teacher? Their little brains would pop with power

Are you sure Mr. G you don’t won’t to give me an extension on my assignment, you expect me to do homework or I have to do this book report? After all your grade is on the line too. Quid pro quo, scratch my back if I scratch yours and out and out black mail will occur and this is the suggestion the United Way and their blue ribbon panel obviously devoid of professional educators came up with?

This idea is so bad it makes all their other ideas questionable.

Ridiculous.

To read more check out: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2012-07-30/story/northeast-florida-coalition-offers-recommendations-increasing-teacher?cid=hp-mostcommented

What do some top education reformers have in common?

If someone told you that you lived in a country where no leaders would send their children to the schools they designing for 90 percent of the population, you would say you must be talking about a feudal society or third world dictatorship, but unfortunately, you are talking about the United States in 2012. Whether it's Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, the wealthiest and most politically influential supporters of school reform send their children to private schools where none of the tests and evaluations they are deluging public schools with hold sway. If I was a cynical person, I would say they are trying to transform our children into an obedient low wage labor force that will work for the companies their children will run, but that would be unfair, right? -Mark Naison

Ashley Juarez-Smith went to the Bolles school and undoubtedly wants to privatize our public schools too. -cpg

Florida for profit charter school uses public money to lobby for more public money

From Scathing Purple Musings by Bob Sykes

A remarkable story from Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas was published last night which traced the money trail that fuels the candidacies of state republican legislators. Legal under campaign financing laws, the Republican Party of Florida takes in donations and passes it on to PACs belonging to the incoming leaders of both legislative bodies – Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) in the House and Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) in the Senate. Here’s Klas’ summary:

Here’s how the money breaks down:

Leadership money in legislative races:

Sen. Don Gaetz — $3.6 million raised

* $2.6 million — raised by the Republican Party of Florida, $2.6 million transferred to Gaetz’s committee, Florida Conservative Majority

* $3.5 million — raised by the Florida Conservative Majority, $2.2 million transferred to Gaetz’s Liberty Foundation of Florida

* $2.3 million — raised by Liberty Foundation of Florida

Rep. Will Weatherford — $3.8 million raised

* $2.5 million — raised by the Republican Party of Florida and spent on House races or political committees controlled by House members

* $1.3 million — raised by Weatherford’s Committee for a Conservative House

* $30,000 — raised by Weatherford’s committee, Citizens for Conservative Leadership

Source: Florida Division of Elections

This blog’s theme revolves around the intersection between education policy and politics with special attention to what’s happening in Florida. Its not a secret that the republican party has a strangle hold on power in Tallahassee. Its education agenda is no longer a secret. Lets look at two entities who stand out in the money its sent to the RPOF to be filtered to selected candidates.

No more hated figure exists in the minds of democrats and liberal groups than do the Koch brothers. Their legislative arm, ALEC is responsible for driving and writing several divisive pieces of legislation in Florida, including those on prison privatization, parent trigger, union dues and state worker pensions. Koch Industries gave $40,000 to the RPOF in separate $20,000 amounts in January this year money, money which eventually went to the PACs of the house leaders in Tallahassee

Charter Schools USA has 36 schools in Florida and will be opening more. Its CEO Jonathan Hage is well-connected, and was a member of Rick Scott’s education transition team. He’s closely associated to former governor Jeb Bush as former director of one of his foundations. Hage’s Charter Schools USA gave two separate donations to the RPOF on the same day in January totalling $52,700. The for-profit charter school company gets its money from taxpayer dollars.

The realities of who wields the power and why in determining education policy may be of interests to Floridians. Especially now that the test-based accountability system that was set up to benefit guys like Hage and the Koch brothers has become a political hot potato – even for members of the party they want to support.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/how-the-koch-brothers-and-charter-schools-usa-filter-campaign-cash-to-floridas-republican-legislators/

Does Ashley Juarez-Smith believe in larger class sizes and that teaching experience doesn’t matter?

Her mentor and employer Gary Chartrand is on record saying smaller classes don’t matter, which is strange because it is the one reform that has evidence that says it does work and Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson recently praised smaller classes as one of the reasons that Florida’s school system has improved. How far does Mrs. Smith-Juarez’s apple fall from the tree?

Then on the Chartrand Foundation site (Mrs. Smith-Juarez is the executive director), she uses misleading information to tout teach for America. If you didn’t know it Teach for America takes non-education recent college grads, puts them through a two-week access course and then places them in the districts struggling schools. To be honest I do think TFA does have a role to play but it is as a supplement to fill holes if needed, not the front of the line position that the school board has seen fit to give it over professional teachers and college of ed grads.

These are questions people need to ask.

Ashley Juarez-Smith raises more than three years worth of school board salary

Mrs. Smith-Juarez has raised 113,165 dollars. Three years worth of school board salary is 111,900.

Most of her contributors donated the maximum amount of 500 dollars. I wonder how many of them were the parents of a public school student. I also wonder how many parents of public school students can afford to donate 500 dollars? My guess is not that many.

It’s been said, she doesn’t have donors, she has investors.

Ashley Juarez Smith’s (candidate district 3) credibility problem

There is no question Mrs. Juarez Smith is smart and successful however when it comes to her credibility we can have several questions. A few months back she told Kent Justice on his morning show that she worked at a local independent school. That school turned out to be the Bolles School, a school every resident in Jacksonville has heard of but for some reason she wanted to keep quiet about.

Example number two comes from the Chartrand Foundation home page. If you didn’t know it Mrs. Juarez Smith is the executive director of the Chartrand foundation.

When talking about Teach for America, they write: The most recent Policy Studies Principal Survey found that 83% of Jacksonville principals reported that Teach For America teachers’ impact on student achievement was equal or better than the overall faculty at the school, even when compared with teachers.

What a great statistic justifying the Chartrand Foundation bringing TFA to Jacksonville, the only problem, is it is not quite true or as you are about to learn even close to true.

This is what Gary Rubinstein said about above on his blog, Teach for Us:

The National Education Association recently passed some kind of resolution to oppose TFA sending corps members to cities that are not suffering teacher shortages. This, of course, was the original intention of TFA. We are not supposed to take jobs away from people who are planning to become career teachers — just to go where we are most needed.

Here is the wording of New Business Item #93 from their website: “NEA will publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.”

In response to this decision, a former corps member named Laura Cunliffe, who now works for the Progressive Policy Institute, wrote a scathing critique. Near the end, she writes:

“Policy Studies Associates, Inc. recently published a report that may explain why the NEA is kicking up such a fuss about Teach for America. “Ninety-five percent of the principals rated corps members as effective as other beginning teachers in terms of overall performance and impact on student achievement; sixty-six percent rated corps members as more effective than other beginning teachers, ninety-one percent of the principals reported that corps members’ training is at least as good as the training of other beginning teachers, sixty-three percent rated corps members’ training as better than that of other beginning teachers, and eighty-seven percent of the principals said they would hire a corps member again.”

I was a struggling first year corps member 20 years ago. Now I’m a veteran teacher and I still feel like I’m struggling many days. Teaching is hard. For a new teacher it’s nearly impossible. So I decided that I’d look at the report and see if there was anything in the report that could help put those fabulous numbers into some kind of context.

So I clicked on the link and it did not get me to the actual report, but to the one page summary by TFA. At the top of the report, it referenced the source as “Teach For America 2009 National Principal Survey,” Policy Studies Associates, July 2009. So I looked up the company and went to their published research reports and the report was nowhere to be found. So I emailed the company and they referred me to TFA to get the report. I emailed the TFA contact, and she was away for a few days. I was starting to fume. Then someone did get back to me. She was actually very helpful in providing what I needed so the tone of this post will not be so angry this time.

I learned that I could not get the actual report for several reasons. The main one is that the purpose of the survey is partly a contractual obligation that TFA has to certain school districts. Also, the data is provided to TFA funders. It is not intended to be used as a way of proving that TFA teachers are miracle workers, as Laura Cunliffe of the Progressive Policy Institute does.

In short, as I suspected, the numbers are misleading. The survey was send out to about 2,200 principals who had a first year CM at their school that year. Already, this is a biased sample since there might be plenty of principals who had bad experiences who don’t hire TFAers anymore, who are not part of the survey. Then, the response rate was just 60%, which may or may not be good. I’m not a statistician to know if that’s a good return rate. I do think that this is a self-selecting group, though. So if a principal is fed up with TFA since they’re not satisfied with their people, maybe they won’t do the survey — or maybe they are more likely to. The TFA researcher offered that even though the principals are instructed to just consider the first year CMs, it is possible that they have second years too (who, I think are generally excellent teachers) which they could have considered which would certainly bump up the numbers. Finally, I learned that this was one of those 5 choice surveys where you disagree strongly through agree strongly. If the principal picked 3, 4, or 5 it counted as ‘agreed.’ Most schools that have new CMs have several. So if a school has five CMs and two of them quit, they may very well pick a 3 on this survey, and they are included in the 95% who are satisfied.

This puts these numbers, I hope, into proper perspective. Remember that only 89% of CMs even finish the 2 year commitment so when you see that 95% of principals say that new CMs are as effective as other beginning teachers, that number seems a bit high.

Being as good as other first year teachers, of course, isn’t saying much. First year teaching is incredibly hard. I struggle when I have to teach a new course. If I had to switch to a new school, that would be another challenge. Being a first year teacher, teaching at a new school, teaching new topics. It’s crazy. The difference though between TFA teachers and non-TFA teachers is that, at least in theory, the non-TFA teachers are planning to have long careers so the tough first year gets averaged out with a bunch of good ones.

Exaggerated claims of success are rampant in this current ed reform debate where there is a lot of money to be made off the backs of poor kids. NEA is a great organization and does not deserve to be attacked by a TFA alum.

Now the question becomes why does Mrs. Juarez-Smith want to keep the public in the dark about her past and why does she feel the need to exaggerate or use dubious information to get her points across.

Florida Ed Commisioner Gerard Robinson, for profit charter schools are okay, public run ones are not

From the Ledger, by Melissa Green

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said he doesn't have enough information to make a decision on whether to allow the Polk County School District to open its at-risk charter schools.

Lake Gibson, Haines City, Kathleen, Lake Region, Tenoroc and Winter Haven high schools have been chosen as sites for the at-risk charter schools based on student performance at each. Mulberry High also was selected as a site but the opening is being delayed.

Robinson became involved in the matter after Superintendent of Schools Sherrie Nickell asked him during his Monday visit to Polk County what was causing the delay.

Nickell said the seven proposed schools have not received school identification numbers to start recruiting students and to hire staff, and the district has been waiting since February for the designation. After looking into the issue, Robinson said he has questions of his own.

Among his staff's concerns is the need to see the level of interest from parents and potential teachers. Charter schools typically are driven by parental choice, he said Thursday during an interview with The Ledger.

Charter schools in Florida receive identification numbers after "seeing if there's parent interest or educator interest by hosting information sessions," he said. "While I'm not saying the ID doesn't help the process, the absence doesn't stall gathering parent, teacher and student support."

In addition to understanding the interest, Robinson called the School Board's approving its own application for the seven charter schools a "unique situation."

"As a result of that, we want to make sure we understand what they are trying to accomplish and what is their intent," he said.

After further review of documents associated with the district's request, Robinson said he hopes to have a resolution.

If the district received an answer from Robinson within the coming days or weeks, it would not be enough time for the charters to open when school starts Aug. 20, Nickell told School Board members at a special meeting Tuesday. District officials would have to wait until January.

The delay has prompted a recommendation from School Board lawyer Wes Bridges to request public records from the Education Department. Some board members proposed suing the state agency.

The Step Up Academies would be the first time the district creates its own charter schools, according to the district.

The purpose of the schools is to help kids catch up on credits, to re-enroll in high school and to find success, according to plans for the school.

Each of the charter schools would be run by newly hired teachers, and each would have about 150 students the first year, beginning with ninth and 10th grades. Students would be in small, personalized learning environments.

While the application was proposed by the School District and was prepared in conjunction with the School Board, the charters will act independently from the School District, said Carolyn Bridges, the district's senior director of magnet, choice and charter. Bridges said the district has no problem fulfilling the education departments requests because district officials know the interest is there for the charters.

"There is certainly no shortage of children interested in getting back on track towards graduation," she said.

For instance, Lake Gibson High has 122 applications so far.

But in earlier conversations with board members this week, Carolyn Bridges said giving the Department of Education application information was a challenge because the principals haven't done any recruiting. She said that is still true for some principals because they didn't want to make a promise to a potential student if they wouldn't be able to open the charter school. She only learned about Lake Gibson's interest level Thursday.

She also responded to criticisms that the charters wouldn't have accountability and the district didn't consider other options of serving the at-risk students. In earlier interviews with The Ledger, State. Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said she worried about the district charters having oversight and was concerned that the district saw a charter format as the only option to serve the students.

Stargel, who is a member of the House Education Committee, said the district could serve the population in the form of a career academy, which is a program and not an independent charter school.

While career academies would work for some dropouts, it is not the option to serve all at-risk students, Carolyn Bridges said. As a charter, the district could have flexibility and freedom in the way it hires staff and how it schedules classes, she said.

Because the Step Up Academies would be considered as alternative education schools, the schools would be rated as improving, maintaining or declining rather than be assigned traditional school grades from the state. Changes in charter law address what happens when charter schools fall into either the D or F categories, but do not address what happens if schools fall into alternative-education grading, Bridges said.

To ease the concerns of the Department of Education and others, Carolyn Bridges said she is preparing an "assurances page" that both the School Board and the charter school governing board would sign. It states that if the charter school receives an evaluation of declining, the district would treat that designation the same as it would treat a charter school that earned a grade of F.

[ Merissa Green can be reached at merissa.green@theledger.com or 863-802-7547. ]

http://www.theledger.com/article/20120726/NEWS/120729453?p=all&tc=pgall

Florida's accountability system has become a bad joke

From the Daytona Beach News Leader, by Marie Eggert

As we get ready for a new school year, let's review what we know about Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores:

Initially, when this year's scores were announced, they were very low and provoked an outcry from both educators and parents. Twenty-four hours later, after a conference call and a vote, a new passing score was announced.

Later, the individual schools' grades were announced based on the new passing score with the caveat that no school could drop more than one letter grade.

Recently, it was announced that six Volusia County schools earned higher grades than originally reported because of errors in the way their earlier ratings had been calculated.

Now, let us review the impact these scores have on our schools:

These ever-shifting scores are used to determine student placement in classes.

They are used to determine who will graduate high school and who will pass from third to fourth grade.

Schools that have not improved must develop remediation programs both within the school setting and contracted with outside providers.

Starting this school year (2012-2013), 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be determined by students' test scores.
Now, this raises the following questions:

If the same test-scores are changed so frequently, how can they have any validity?

How can the same test scores be used to judge how much each student has learned and to evaluate a teacher's performance in the classroom?

How can teachers be expected to know what they must do to receive a good evaluation when scores keep changing even after the test has been taken?

Are you, the taxpayer, satisfied with the way $70 million of your tax dollars are being spent? Do you think you are getting your money's worth?

http://www.news-journalonline.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2012/07/28/test-presents-challenging-questions.html

Who do you want in control of our local schools?

So the question to you, the voters and the taxpayers, is this: Who do you ultimately trust to make the decisions that impact our public schools? Is it the locally elected boards and superintendents who will meet with you face to face, answer your questions, talk with you in the grocery store, lose sleep over our students and be willingly accountable for student performance — or the corporations, big-money contributors and political appointees who may never have stepped foot in a classroom and don’t answer to you?

Citrus County school board member Pat Deutschman

Does Peter Rummel understand his school board picks?

Businessman Peter Rummell went from hero when he crossed republican party lines to support Alvin Brown over a tea party candidate to zero when he said he was considering running four businessmen in the school board races. It got so ugly that former mayor Jake Godbold even eluded to Rummell being a nazi for thinking such a thought.

Mr. Rummell is right though, our city has been suffering and one of the biggest reasons is our school system, saddled with bad leadership, has not lived up to its potential. Since this is the case it makes his picks for school board that much more head scratching.

He picked Cheryl Grimes over incumbent Martha Barrett in one, which makes sense because they are only two running but in Districts 5 he has decided to support the hand picked successor Burney, Hall. In short he is backing Betty Burney part 2.

Mr. Rummell if poor leadership got us to where we are at, why on earth would you support a continuation of that leadership.

Friends think about this, if following the establishment’s picks has gotten us to where we are at, does it make sense to keep following them?

What should be the number one priority of Duval's new superintendent?

The new super needs to insist we do things the right way. They must be resolute that we have rigorous classes, disciplined schools and that our teachers are treated like professionals, you know, things we should have been doing all along. Doing things the right way has to be the jumping off point, the foundation that we use to rebuild our district.

Does Duval County need to raise taxes or cut programs?

This is a question I am frequently asked and the answer is neither at least right now.

I don’t think we have to raise taxes or cut services, we just need to prioritize our needs. Recently the district has thought it needed more high priced administrators and its own legal team, I on the other hand think we need more art teachers, guidance counselors and para-professionals.

Several south Florida districts have combined their capital and operating budgets so they can better prioritize their needs. This is something we also need to do in Jacksonville.

Now make no mistake there are needs going unmet in our schools but right now I believe if we gave each school a money printing press but continued to do things the way we are then we would still lag behind the state and never meet our potential. Proper leadership is more important than more money at this point.

Scott Maxwell: Florida's accountability system lacks accountability

from the Orlando Sentinel, by Scott Maxwell

Once again, the Florida Department of Education has fouled up on a grand scale — this time handing out the wrong grades to 213 different schools.

And once again, it's making excuses and trying to downplay the goofs.

It's quite a strategy for an agency that constantly preaches accountability ... for everyone else, anyway.

Think about it. The politicians and bureaucrats have no problem threatening teachers and schools with everything from their paychecks to their autonomy — all in the name of accountability.

But when they mess up — repeatedly and in big ways — all that chest-thumping about holding people responsible suddenly disappears.

So I'm here to help … with the SCATS (Scott's Comprehensive Analysis of Testing Shenanigans).

If you guys want accountability in the form of simplistic letter grades, now you've got it.

Accuracy: The level to which the state got these scores wrong is really quite impressive. We're talking 213 schools in 40 of the state's 67 districts. That's one out of every 12 schools. Even more amazing, these incorrect scores were issued after the state had Florida State University "independently validate" that they were right. Go 'Noles! SCATS grade: D.

Credibility: If I had to call 40 school superintendents and tell them that I had given their school the wrong grades, I would be embarrassed and apologetic about it. Not Florida's education chancellor. Instead, Pam Stewart tried to spin it all as a good thing, saying, "I think we should have confidence in the fact that the process worked as it was supposed to." That's a scary thought. Imagine if it went poorly. SCATS grade: D.

Talking points: As silly as Stewart's comment sounds, it was very similar to one made by Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. According to The Ledger in Lakeland, Robinson said that learning about the errors was proof that "our system review is in place and working well." SCATS grade: A for consistency. D for believability.

Common sense: The department says it caught the mistakes in the normal "review process" that takes place after the school grades have been released. Here's an idea: Review those things before you release them. SCATS grade: F.

Coming clean: When education bureaucrats in this state mess up, they don't 'fess up. Earlier this year, 73 percent of fourth-graders flunked their FCAT writing tests. This massive failure proved that Florida's test-obsessed version of education "reform" wasn't working. But instead of admitting as much and making changes, the state turned to grade inflation. Bureaucrats lowered the bar they had yapped so much about raising and — voilà! — everyone's scores suddenly looked better. SCATS grade: F.

Excuses: These are just lame — like when state officials blamed all those sorry writing scores on "miscommunication," saying the teachers didn't really understand what was expected of them. Poor, dumb teachers. This was like one of those classic nonapology apologies: "I'm sorry if you didn't understand what I was saying." SCATS grade: D.

Transparency: This is one thing Florida seems to do OK on. Based on most of what I've read, the state came clean about the mistakes pretty quickly after realizing them. SCATS grade: A.

To be honest, I'm not dying to see anyone's head roll. All I want is something painfully absent from all the discussion: Honesty.

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-07-24/features/os-scott-maxwell-florida-education-fcats-072512-20120724_1_school-grades-scats-grade-inflation

Why economists should stay out of education

…Abraham Maslow said “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” It appears that many (though not all) economists see teachers and students only through the lens of financial incentives.

Chris Guerrieri answers Times Union's education questions, in 40 words or less

What should be the #1 priority of the new superintendent?
The old super was about numbers and quick fixes, the new one must be about people and doing things the right way. They must insist we have rigorous classes, disciplined schools and we treat teachers like professionals.

What role will you play in improving teacher morale?
Teachers need to be supported with discipline, allowed to be creative and innovative and given a degree of autonomy instead of being micromanaged and marginalized. If I am on the board I will insist those things happen.

What policies should be in place to address the district’s overage student issue?
We need more trade, skills and arts programs that play to student’s strengths instead of continuing to stuff them all into a one size fits all curriculum. Not every kid is going to go to college and that is okay.

What needs to be done to improve the district’s communication with stakeholders?
First we need honest communication. The current administration has sold an “all is well” message that the city hasn’t bought. We do need to celebrate our victories but we can’t continue to gloss over our weaknesses and failures.

A few facts about education

A few facts:

1) the US was never first on international tests. When the first test was given in 1964 (a test of math), our students came in 11th out of 12.

2) On the latest international tests, students in American schools with low poverty (10% or less) came in FIRST in the world

3) As poverty goes up in American schools, test scores go down.

4) The U.S. has the highest child poverty rate–23%– of any advanced nation in the world.

Borrowed from the Diane Ravitch blog

Talking about Team Up

From Jill Johnson, the districts director of communications

This is a really great question. Team Up funding comes from a variety of sources:

The 21st Century Learning Grants that were referred to as "pass through" funding are federal grants. JCC writes and manages the grants on our behalf. This constitutes $1,916,289 of the Team Up funding provided through the Children's Commission.

Duval County provides roughly $300,000 in SAI funding to JCC to support Team Up. This would be funding the district could use elsewhere, as Mr. Gentry stated.

The Children's Commission and the Jacksonville Journey (all COJ dollars) contribute approximately $3,500,000 to Team Up, as this is one of their priority programs/populations.

Altogether, the Team Up program sponsored by JCC in DCPS sites costs roughly $5,700,000. Approximately a third of the funding comes from pass-through 21st Century Learning Grants.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you need any additional information.

The FCAT, the farce that keeps on giving

From the Miami Herald, BY LAURA ISENSEE AND MICHAEL VASQUEZ
LISENSEE@MIAMIHERALD.COM

State education administrators, who are in charge of grading schools and students, failed to follow their own formula.

In fact, they forgot part of it.

The error means 48 schools in South Florida will get higher, revised grades: 31 in Miami-Dade and 17 in Broward.

The mistake has piled more doubt on the state’s accountability system.

“A flawed accountability system that forgets to embed a critical element in its formula ... is an accountability system that needs reform,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho Monday. “And those that lead it need to consider the implications of their actions.”

The state’s accountability system has come under fire by parents who think their children take too many tests; by teachers whose evaluations now depend in part on test scores; and by educators who believe the state has made too many policy changes, too fast. The state Department of Education announced the revision of letter grades at 213 schools statewide —with the most in Miami-Dade — in a news release late Friday night. All had their grade raised one letter grade.

Carvalho joined the chorus of criticism, even though Miami-Dade schools benefited from the correction. “I have lost confidence in an accountability system that is not only ever-changing but fails to accurately depict student learning and the effectiveness of teachers,” he said.

Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie was more forgiving, saying it was understandable that the state would have some hiccups when working with a new grading formula.

“The state probably made some errors on this,” Runcie said. “They’ve acknowledged that there was a problem, and they did it fairly quickly ... so I don’t know what else folks want out of that.”

Runcie suggested that the focus should be less on school grades and more on improving learning outcomes for every student —if that happens, he said, higher school grades will take care of themselves.

“No one can argue that we’re not anywhere near where we need to be as a state,” Runcie said.

Among the South Florida schools that got newly minted A’s: Sunrise Middle, Silver Lakes Elementary, Ruben Dario Middle and West Hialeah Gardens Elementary. In all, Broward gained another 11 A-ranked schools; Miami-Dade, an extra 13.

Find a complete list in the database at MiamiHerald.com/Schools.

The grade revision follows other turmoil with the state’s testing system. In May, so many students failed the writing exam that the state Board of Education changed the passing score. In June, the Florida School Boards Association passed a resolution opposing the amount of high-stakes testing in schools.

Student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, drive the school report cards. Schools that make D’s and F’s can face harsh consequences, including the threat of closure or conversion to a charter school.

This year, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson revamped the formula for calculating school grades. In all, more than 30 changes were made.

Among them, the state board decided to give extra credit to students who previously earned a low score on the FCAT, but who learned more than expected during the year. Robinson’s special task force on English language learners and students with disabilities suggested the change, which the board adopted.

“Simply put, if these children somehow demonstrated learning gains — growth — that exceeded that of one full year of instruction, they should get an extra credit, extra points,” said Carvalho, who served on the task force.

But when the state DOE released school grades earlier this month, schools didn’t get credit for all of those gains. At some point after the release, state education administrators reviewed the grades and “found the missing piece of the calculation,” spokeswoman Cheryl Etters wrote in an email. On Friday afternoon, Chancellor of Public Schools Pamela Stewart called superintendents across the state to alert them.

Robinson said in a statement Friday: “While I am pleased that the continuous review process has resulted in better grades, we will continue to look for ways to improve the grade calculation process.

Yaset Fernandez, principal at Jose de Diego Middle, said his students studied extra on Saturdays, during spring break and before and after school.

“It was heart-breaking news to hear that we were a D school,” Fernandez said. “So you can imagine how happy we were on Friday to receive the call that in fact the Department of Ed had made a mistake. And as a former employee of the Department of Ed, it’s a bit embarrassing.”

His school ended up with a C.

Allyn Bernstein recounted how the numbers didn’t make sense when she learned her school, Nautilus Middle, dropped from a B to C. On Friday, she learned her school is back to a B. “We could not understand what went wrong,” she said. “I’m not glad the state made an error, but I’m glad that somebody caught it.”

Carvalho said his staff will review all the data for schools and students to make sure there are no other errors.

In terms of reform, Carvalho said he wants to focus first on students who are learning English and special needs students.

In addition, Carvalho said he was concerned about teachers’ evaluations, which will rely heavily on student data this year.

“When there are so many questions being asked, we have to pause and ensure, before we take the next step, that all the cogs are aligned,” he said.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/23/v-fullstory/2908074/miami-dade-to-see-grades-revised.html#storylink=cpy

John Romano: The state is dedicated to tests not teaching

from the Tampa Bay Times, by John Romano

The state's devotion to standardized testing is admirable.

It is also foolish, political, expensive, dangerous, maniacal, shortsighted, suspicious, self-serving, arbitrary and unfair.

But, man, you got to admire the devotion.

It allows officials to look past their flaws. It permits them to ignore your complaints.

The state's Department of Education is on a three-month bender, and still acts as if it is everyone else who is unable to navigate a straight line.

You may recall they botched the writing portion of the FCAT in May and had to pull new standards out of thin air. Now they've admitted they screwed up the grades handed to more than 200 state schools, including 18 in Pinellas County and 17 in Hillsborough.

And Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson was so chagrined by this that he tried to spin it as if his office had done something magical by correcting its own mistake.

But that's not the worst of it.

The bigger issue is that for the past three months, the people who do the actual job of instructing our children have been crying for someone in Tallahassee to listen to them.

And Robinson has acted as if he is tone deaf.

Just in case you haven't been following:

The folks in Tallahassee love their standardized tests. (And love to give tens of millions of dollars to the companies that come up with these tests.) This allows legislators to talk tough when it comes to educational standards, and it gives them easy to follow measures.

Once upon a time, that wasn't such a bad thing. Florida lagged behind other states in producing college-ready students, and some kind of reform was necessary.

But then they got carried away. They started seeing standardized tests as the answer to every problem in every classroom. The tests became a cure-all for student curriculum, teacher evaluations, school funding and male pattern baldness.

So now parents, teachers and administrators have begun pushing back. They have pointed out flaws in policies and inconsistencies in execution.

More than 20 school boards have passed resolutions asking the state to reconsider its overemphasis on standardized tests.

And they've been greeted mostly by silence.

"None of us are afraid of accountability. Accountability is critical, and it must be measured to understand where we need help,'' said Hernando County school superintendent Bryan Blavatt. "But by the same token, we've lost sight of our mission statements. We're supposed to be here to help the students learn, and instead we're focused on school grades. How is that helping students?

"Measuring student progress is a good concept, but it's gotten lost along the way. The idea is to teach, not to penalize. You talk about a love for learning? They're killing it.''

Accountability is the mantra in the Department of Education, and yet officials there don't seem to understand the meaning of the word.

For accountability suggests transparency. Consistency. Fairness. Trust. And those qualities are completely absent in recent decisions.

No one is asking to abandon the idea of accountability in our schools. But it would be nice if those who were pushing accountability were also embracing it.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/john-romano-state-blinded-by-its-devotion-to-school-testing/1241860

Jon Heymann or WC Gentry one is right, one is wrong about Team Up

Mr. Heymann says the money that finances team up programs doesn’t take away from other programs. WC Gentry said he wants to know if team up is enhancing kids academically and if not says we should spend the money elsewhere.

Mr. Heymann told me yesterday: In fact, even the School District Team Up dollars are federal "Pass Through" funding -- in other words, the Children's Commission writes the grants for these pass through federal dollars which "pass through" the school system as required by law --- these dollars are not bilking any local funding for teachers and/or programs.

Gentry must see it differently: From the Times Union: Gentry instructed the district staff to find a way to measure the effectiveness of Team Up, “because if we’re not making a difference, I think we should spend the money elsewhere.”

Mr. Heymann has a vested interest in being right but unfortunately I can’t see how both could be. Since millions of dollars are on the line I think they should get their stories straight.

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/schools/2012-07-23/story/duval-school-board-seeks-separate-legal-team#ixzz21Uz8FkLB

The Duval County School Board's misplaced priorities

Duval County School Board wants to add a legal team.

That 100 million they found in the couch cushions last February is really burning a hole through their pockets. On the heels of creating several administrative positions the Times Union says the board is looking into hiring a legal team. This while the custodial staff hasn’t had their pay reinstated (they took a 7% cut), magnet school transportation is still gone and many of those elementary schools lucky enough to still have art see the teachers teach double classes.

Well friends so much for priorities.

Jon Heymann clarifies; he will occasionally have a conflict of interest.

Earlier today I wrote Jon Heymann has often said he wouldn’t have a conflict of interest being on the school board because the school board provides partial funding to Community in Schools. I got that wrong. He has said he will occasionally have a conflict of interest he will just abstain from being involved during those times and for getting that part wrong I sincerely apologize.

He also said: First, I have never, ever, ever said that I have no conflict on interest. Please read my response to one of your other ill quoted blogs.

Second, not all money from the Team Up contracts come to CIS. We began the first 4 Jacksonville Team Up programs in 1998, and there are now many more (I think 45), of which CIS operates 20. All the rest of the schools that you think are laundering dollars from school board money are three other major programs NOT funded through TeamUp.

In fact, even the School District Team Up dollars are federal "Pass Through" funding -- in other words, the Children's Commission writes the grants for these pass through federal dollars which "pass through" the school system as required by law --- these dollars are not bilking any local funding for teachers and/or programs.

Not sure why you are bothering to twist the facts into accusations. How bizarre.

Now he has said in the past that he gets very little funding from the district and if I read above correctly he is changing his tune just a bit, acknowledging he does get money from the district (millions of dollars in fact and the bulk of his funding) just after it passes through the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

The School Board, Jacksonville Children's Commission and John Heymann's, candidate district 7, money laundering scheme

Does John Heymann (SB candidate 7) have a conflict of interest?

John Heymann local CEO of communities in schools has said over and over again that there would be no conflict of interest with him being on the school board despite the fact his organization (that pays him six figures) receives money from the school board. He has even said quite dismissively that CIS receives very little funding from the school board. He is right too. The CIS receives the vast amount of their money from the Jacksonville Children’s Commission from whom they received nearly 8 million dollars over the last 2 years.

That’s the set-up, here is the rub.

The 7/23 school board agenda includes:

Item: Agreement with the Jacksonville Children’s Commission for the Team Up program and submission of 21st Century Community Learning Center grant proposals

What it means: The board will decide whether to continue using the after-school learning program for kids needing extra help in their studies. The price tag is $2.21 million. The board will also decide whether to ask the state education department for grants totaling $1.91 million. The program is used at 27 elementary schools, 14 middle schools, two student centers and a charter school.

From the Communities in school web-site: Communities In Schools of Jacksonville is the leading dropout prevention organization helping kids successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life. We reach more than 6,600 at-risk students in more than 40 Duval County Schools through mentoring, literacy tutoring, after-school enrichment, and case management.

Hmm, don’t they seem to be serving the same amount of schools?

Is the JCC laundering money from the school board for Heymann and CIS? Even if CIS doesn’t get the bulk of their financing directly from the school board they do get it indirectly and if Mr. Heymann doesn’t realize that, well that’s another issue altogether.

I am not saying CIS doesn’t do a good job. I am not saying their services are not important. I am however saying, why the subterfuge, why aren’t these things done above board?

Mr. Heymann has some explaining to do.

The Duval County School Board is wasting your money... again!

The school board pays the Jacksonville Children’s Commission millions of dollars to run after school team up programs. The Jacksonville Children’s Commission then turns around and pays Communities in Schools millions of dollars to run after school team up programs. Oh and who usually staffs the team up programs? School board employees and friends that is right where we started at.

I wonder how much in administrative costs are being lost along the way and whose pockets are being lined? It couldn't be the six figured salaried admins at the JCC and CIS could it?

The difference between public education and business

The number one goal of education is to provide a service, an education. The number one goal of business is to make money, a profit. There may be overlapping similarities, budgets employees, capital costs, etc. but don’t forget at the end of the day they are very different.

Who do you want in charge of your children’s education?

Public education has issues, many of which were created by those now seeking to privatize public education, but the answer is to fix those problems not to outsource our children’s education to corporations whose top priority is not education but the bottom line.

Our public schools are up for sale!

Hundreds of schools to receive grade changes

From the Orlando Sentinel, By Marlene Sokol and Cara Fitzpatrick

More than 200 schools statewide received incorrect grades, a mistake that comes after months of state education officials' efforts to restore confidence in Florida's testing system.

School officials in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties confirmed that dozens of schools were shortchanged.

The news trickled out Friday, with some, like Hillsborough and Broward, learning each had 17 schools that were affected. Other districts, like Pinellas and Miami-Dade, were waiting for more details — and expecting higher grades.

Pinellas superintendent John Stewart, who was on vacation in Los Angeles, said he received a phone call from the state's public schools chancellor. He didn't have an exact number of affected schools, but estimated it to be about as many as in Hillsborough — and that the grades would be going up.

"She mentioned that a goodly number would be moving from a B to an A and from a C to a B," he said.

School grades were released for elementary and middle schools last week. High school grades are expected later this year.

Statewide, the department has identified 213 schools that will receive improved grades and those corrections will result in higher grades for nine districts, said state Board of Education vice chair Roberto Martinez, who was informed of the changes late Friday.

It was unclear Friday how the mistakes happened and state education officials did not put out any official release. Instead, the department was quietly calling superintendents.

The state already has been under intense criticism from parents and school leaders because of a series of rapid changes this year to the testing system. It started with plummeting writing scores, followed by an increase in the number of failing third-graders, an overall decline in FCAT scores and a statewide drop in school grades.

School districts have signed onto resolutions against excessive testing.

Even Gov. Rick Scott suggested earlier this month that the state was doing too much testing — and he acknowledged there have been more complaints than ever before, particularly about the FCAT.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has held public forums across the state in recent months to hear from parents and community members. Robinson has put the blame for too much testing on the school districts, though, not the state.

State officials tried to cushion the blow from falling test scores by agreeing that no school would drop more than a letter grade this year. Some other requirements of the grading system were waived.

Cynthia Sucher, director of communications for DOE, said that every year some school grades are adjusted. Typically, though, school districts appeal a handful of school grades.

"Some of the adjustments could affect the school grades and in turn, the school grades could affect district's grade," she said.

For example, the state had given Hillsborough a C. It's really a B.

Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia commended the state for correcting its mistakes.

"This is cause for celebration at those schools; they maintained or improved their grade even during a year of tougher standards," Elia said in a news release issued late Friday. "And it's gratifying that we as a district were able to maintain our B grade during this difficult year of transition to tougher standards."

Pinellas fell from a B to a C this year; it was unclear Friday if the district's grade would go up. Miami-Dade kept its B and Broward fell from an A to a B. In Palm Beach County, nearly a dozen schools were affected.

Broward superintendent Robert Runcie said Friday that 11 of the district's schools will go from a B to an A.

"I actually have run into a number of principals at these schools who said they worked really hard," Runcie said. "I think folks will be really happy to see they came out even better than they first thought."

Miami Herald staff writer Laura Isensee contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/grades-miscalculated-for-more-than-200-schools-statewide/1241388

Duval County School Board what are you waiting for?

From the Palm Beach Post,

Palm Beach County public school teachers will not have to worry about receiving a poor overall review for the next school year as part of the upcoming merit-based pay system, according to a school district negotiator.

Chief District Negotiator Van Ludy told the union at a meeting Thursday that the school board has agreed to relax how it evaluates teachers for one year. The district wanted more time for both more intensive training of the observers, and to try to make the process as objective and standardized as possible.

Lynn Cavall, executive director for the Classroom Teachers Association, applauded the move. “It’s the right thing to do and we are certainly glad the district is doing it,” said Cavall, whose union represents the district’s roughly 12,000 teachers.

Ludy said all teachers who receive a score of lower than “effective” — such as “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement” — on the new Marzano Evaluation System the district is adopting, will automatically get bumped up to “effective.”

The district’s concession basically “holds (teachers) harmless” for the first year the new evaluation system is being used because they cannot end up with a less than effective evaluation on their record for next year, according to Chief Union Negotiator Brian Phillips.

Cavall said the idea of a one-year amnesty from bad evaluations was discussed by the Joint Teacher Evaluation Committee, a group of union and district officials that has been trying to come up with ways to implement the state-required merit pay system for teachers. Ludy said the school board agreed to the amnesty during an executive session Wednesday to discuss the district’s ongoing contract negotiations with the union.

Ludy said district officials were concerned that they were finding “too many inconsistencies in the evaluation process” in the testing of the administrators — like principals who will be responsible for observing and grading teachers.

“It’s like a huge ship at sea,” Ludy said. “It takes a long time to turn.”

Teacher’s salary levels are not actually effected by the new merit-pay system until the 2013-2014 school year, so the change would not mean any additional pay this coming school year for teachers who have their poor evaluations bumped up to effective, Ludy said.

But according to the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, veteran teachers on a long-term professional contract who receive poor evaluations for two out of three consecutive years must be changed to an “annual” contract and if there is still no improvement in their evaluation after that must be terminated. Annual contract teachers in general can essentially be let go at the end of each year without cause by the district simply not renewing their contract.

The one-year amnesty gives all teachers a little bit of a reprieve from having to worry about getting two bad evaluations out of the next three years, Ludy said. Now no teacher can end up getting that first poor evaluation mark on their record this coming school year.

http://wap.pbpost.com/post/db_/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=0Fy6DL0b&full=true#display

Florida may be the worst “misuser” of testing of any state in the nation

From the Diane Ravitvh blog,

The roiling controversy about the legitimacy of Florida’s testing regime is growing by the day.

Many school boards have passed their version of the Texas anti-high-stakes testing resolution.

FAIRTest says that Florida may be the worst “misuser” of testing of any state in the nation. Students spend 38-40 days each year preparing to take tests and taking tests. That is a bit more than 20 percent of the school year. What reasonable person would want their child to spend 20 percent of his or her school life on testing? That time should be reallocated to instruction, to physical education, to art and singing and play, to activities that stimulate the mind and body, not to the arcane skill of bubble guessing.

When the Florida School Boards Association passed their own resolution and voiced their disapproval of the state’s obsession with testing, State Commissioner Gerard Robinson accused them of giving up “hope.” Somehow, he suggested, they were giving up on the children.

This is such errant nonsense that one hardly knows where to begin or when to stop sputtering. The children of Florida don’t get “hope” by taking more tests and spending more time preparing to take tests. The FCAT mania is solely for the benefit of the adults, who parade around the country boasting of the test scores that “they” increased by turning up the pressure on children and teachers.

Commissioner Robinson should take the Florida high school tests and publish his scores.

You gotta wonder if these people even care about children.

The good news, as blogger Coach Sikes predicts, is that public confidence in the accountability system is rapidly declining. He says it is near collapse. I hope he is right.

The idea of giving letter grades to schools is absurd. Schools are complex institutions. They do some things well, some things poorly. A letter grade cannot capture their quality or their challenges. And the whole testing enterprise is highly political. The passing score is set by the State Department of Education, which works for the governor. The standards are politically derived, not based on some objective scientific measure.

The sooner the public realizes this, the sooner this whole child-abusing structure should collapse. And good riddance!

Once the debris is cleared away, Florida can begin to improve its public education system and aim to make it good for all children.

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/19/credibility-of-floridas-accountability-system-near-collapse/

The FCAT continues because it is a cash cow for adults who care absolutely nothing about our children

From the Miami Herald, BY FREDERICA S. WILSON
WILSON.HOUSE.GOV
As a former school principal I believe in accountability, but it must be transparent. As we digest the release of school grades from the Florida Department of Education, I want to say one thing — this is madness.

For 14 years I have fought against the FCAT. As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs? How ridiculous. This is nothing but hoodwinking parents and the community by putting grades on a school. No other state in America deceives their communities by devising formulas that no person or school can decipher. For far too long students have been treated as experiments in petri dishes, and life-altering decisions have been made with a callous disregard for children’s futures.

Unfortunately, I can think of no better example than the recent administration of the FCAT writing test.

The FCAT is obviously not “performance-based testing.” It has become an instrument through which administrators unilaterally deem children as passing or failing. This seriously jeopardizes the development of our students. I’m also waiting to see what impact this has on our state’s teachers. To connect their salaries to test scores is simply wrong. Fifth grade teachers are held accountable for the kindergarten through fourth grade teachers’ performances.

Whatever happened to pre-test and post-test? Are doctors’ salaries connected to how many patients they cure? Parts of the FCAT are administered on the computer. This is discriminatorily unfair to children who are victims of the digital divide. It is very difficult for any teacher to single-handedly level this playing field.

Tallahassee has changed the administration and scoring guidelines of the FCAT every single year.

• One year they include the scores of special needs students, the next year they don’t.

• One year they take into consideration the socioeconomic status of a child, the next year they don’t.

• ESOL is a factor today, and next year it isn’t.

When I served in the Florida Senate I demanded to see every version of the FCAT administered to third graders that year. There were 30. I spent an entire day ranking them in the order of their difficulty, and by dinner I had examined tests that ranged from one a first grader could pass all the way to one I don’t think a high school freshman could pass. I immediately demanded to know who decides which schools get which test. Nobody on the premises knew, and to this day I have never received an answer.

After years of complaining and pointing out missteps, and at times borderline criminal activity, I have reached the conclusion that the FCAT continues because it is a cash cow for adults who care absolutely nothing about our children.

I love children so much that to stand by any longer would betray who I am at my core. It’s time for parents, teachers and those of us who care to stand up and speak out against the injustices of the FCAT as if the lives of our children depend upon it — because they do. I tried to order an audit of the FCAT in Congress, but it is out of my federal jurisdiction. I call on Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators to demand that Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability begin a forensic study of the FCAT now. There is too much at stake.

Every time a young black male commits murder in Miami, or even at times a lesser crime, I check their school records to see if they have a diploma. Most of them are casualties of the FCAT. I call them the FCAT kids. Whatever happened to career and vocational education?

Not everyone is going to college, period. But everyone needs a key to the next level of education. For goodness sakes, let’s stop this FCAT madness and allow these children to enjoy the music, arts, and sports that we enjoyed in school.

Teach them a trade; teach them life skills. Teach them how to write a check, save money, balance a check book, and manage a budget. If we are ever going to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline and close the achievement gap in Florida, it is time that we as a state take back our children’s education from the hands of the FCAT. It is time to teach, teach, teach — not test, test, test.

U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 17th District, which includes parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/18/2901645/fcat-doesnt-serve-students-or.html#storylink=fbuser#storylink=cpy

The cult of standardization serves almost no one, except for companies like Pearson that make the tests

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

College english professor and newspaperman John Young unpacks the flawed rhetoric of Florida’s education policy-makers by using a letter-to-the-editor from Florida student Alyssa Sturgeon. The Vero Beach fourth-grader wrote the Vero Beach Press Journal to ask how the state could flunk 73 percent of students in her grade across the state in FCAT Writes. She reasonably asserted that something must be wrong. Was there ever. Professor Young explains that debacle ccurred because Florida “bought into the folly of “raising the bar” on standardized tests.” From Hays Free Press:

Almost nothing is good when policies are driven by the belief that standardization is education and competence is excellence.

The cult of standardization serves almost no one, except for companies like Pearson that make the tests.

Overemphasis on testing narrows the curriculum. Students above grade level are dragged into the monotony of test-prep drills they don’t need. Students below grade level find themselves imprisoned by a drumbeat on sore core subjects, at the expense of all else most of us consider to be education. Those in the middle are simply bored.

Floridians know this reality. They furthermore have come to realize when policy-makers are asked to justify the laws they passed, they respond with empty “raise the bar’ metaphors, vague “accountability”themes and buzzwords like ”rigor.” More from Young:

The deceit behind “raising the bar” is the attempt to make criterion-based testing what it is not, something that can serve everyone’s needs. Norm-referenced tests like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or SAT – challenging to everyone – can do that, because they truly stretch students in showing their respective aptitudes.

But, then, a state can’t build a test-based, fear-based curriculum around something that reaches out into the realm of academic possibility.

What states need to do, rather than “raising the bar,” is acknowledge the limits of testing. Instead of making the tests tougher, they should set reasonable basic thresholds, put the assessments online (in diagnostic formats that help with learning), let students test multiple times to show competency if necessary, and back off.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has the floor right now in defending Florida’s rigorous, raise-the-bar, test-based accountability system. This from his townhall meeting in Fort Myers yesterday:

“When we talk about tests most look at it as being punitive,” Robinson said. “I focus on progress. I want to know where we are.”

Robinson said it’s also important for adults to not reinforce the idea in students that the FCAT is “high-stakes.”

“As adults there is one thing we can do, when we say it’s a high-stakes test, the term is politically driven,” said Robinson. “Because the SAT is high stakes and we don’t say it’s high stakes. Just call them what they are. They’re assessments. We’ll do what we can to make them better and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Robinson continues to advance an argument that’s intellectually indefensible. Young points out why. Robinson bristles at “high-stakes-tests” because it’s what Floridians have come to know his “assessments” to actually be. Simple assessments aren’t used to establish school grades, close schools and fire teachers. As it’s the same line he’s been advancing since the FCAT Writes debacle, its clear he doesn’t have anything else. Floridians just aren’t talking about it in the right way, you see.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/the-deceit-behind-raising-the-bar-in-florida/