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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Duval County could learn something from Jones County

The Jones County school system in Georgia has decided not to seek federal Race to the Top funds. Their Superintendent William Mathews said Thursday the money comes with stipulations that are not in the district’s best interests. They were scheduled to recieve $573,000 over four years.

The fist thing I thought when I saw this was. wow. Somebody in education stood up and did the right even if it wasn’t the easiset thing and lets face it in these tough times it’s hard to turn down money.

There are often many strings attached when money comes to town. Strings imposed by far off beaurocrats in ivory towers who have no idea whats going on. School sytems like children aren’t all cut from the same cloth. They have individual intersts, desires and priorities but this money says if you take it, you do this.

Take Jacksonville for interest. Inclusion is the mantra spreading through the city like a wild fire and like a wild fire it brings destruction with it. We are now incorporateing special education children into regular education classrooms and this is happeneing regardless if the teachers, or students are prepared or not. What string was this money attached to. I don’t know but I can tell you the consequences it is having.

Classes are being disrupted and many childrens education is being dumbed down. Children and teachers woefully unprepared are being put in no win situations. It’s another one size fits all solution rammed down the throats of the people education policy makers should be trying to help but once again have handicapped.

I applaud the leaders of Jones County for standing up and saying, no thanks, your money as much as we could use it will make our issues worse not better.

Waiting for sanity in education reform

By George Wood

This fall brought not only the start of another school year but plenty of noise about schools as well. A movie, a manifesto, and a mayoral election in Washington D.C. all amplified the ongoing debate about who the real education reformers are. Noise and more noise.

Thank goodness for the sane voices that arose in the midst of all this. There is Diane Ravich with her continued campaign that brings us back to what is really at stake when filmmakers try to bend public opinion. And Mike Rose, always close to the ground, reminding us of what school reform really involves.

Now comes the news that, in light of whatever is going to happen on Nov. 2nd, the Obama administration is looking for ways to work with the next Congress and has targeted, among other things, No Child Left Behind


With the level of animosity and acrimony currently filling the airways it is hard to imagine that Congress and the president will do anything together, let alone the long overdue overhaul of NCLB. I worry about the common ground they might actually reach: grading teachers by student tests scores, breaking unions, putting every kid in a charter school. None of these strategies has been proven as a recipe for the schools our children need and our communities deserve, but lack of evidence has never stopped us before.

With all of this in mind I have decided to trek off to Washington this weekend and join Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, Why? Because I want to talk to some folks and see if they might accept a few basic principles around what it would take to shore up our public school system. I want to see if they are willing to take seriously the Jeffersonian ideal that public education is vital to a healthy democracy, and the notion that now, as much as any time in our history, we need such a system of public schools.

I haven’t been invited to speak at the rally, but if Stewart calls, here is what I might say:
“America’s public schools are a national treasure and it is past time that we started treating them as such. Every one of you here today probably has a schoolteacher to thank for the fact that you can read, add, and think rationally. A teacher who opened your mind to new ideas, who helped you speak that mind and listen when others spoke theirs. It’s a great system, and it opens its doors to every kid no matter their race or nationality, no matter what language they speak or if they can speak at all, no matter rich or poor, motivated or not, whole or impaired.

“We have spent too much time the blaming our schools for all that ails us. Sure schools could do better—but so could the banks, big business, and Congress. Schools, our teachers, and our kids, are not responsible for the economic strains our nation feels; or for the loosening bonds that threaten the civil discourse our republic requires. They are, however, part of the solution to these threats to our social security. But only if we come together on a few things in the name of a saner approach to making sure every kid has a good public school to attend.

“First, we have to admit that as much as schools can do, they can’t do it alone. It is hard for a child who is homeless, hungry, or in pain to heed the lessons of her teacher. America should, as part of education policy, work to see that every child is safe and secure, has good medical care, a roof over her head, and food in her stomach.

“Second, we must all admit that there is no doing a good school system on the cheap. America is 14th among the 16 industrialized nations in how much we spend on our kids’ education. But it is not just how much we spend, it is where we spend it. In the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that considers all of what it takes to raise a child, the charter schools are spending one-third more than the public schools in the city, and they still are struggling.

"This is not a condemnation of that important work—it just means we should admit that we are going to have to invest heavily and in a targeted way if we want our schools to work for all our kids.

“Third, over 90% of our schools are good old regular public schools—not a charter or a choice, just where kids go to school. If we are serious about every child having a good school, it won’t be by creating a few fancy alternative schools. It will be by improving all of our schools.

“Fourth, we already know what works. All our schools--charters, magnets, public--have had successes, but we don’t seem to learn from them. Successful schools are places filled with good teachers who are well supported, where strong connections are built with students and families, where kids do real work not just read textbooks or listen to lectures, and where kids are evaluated by what they can do not by what test question they can answer. They also are places not segregated by social class.

“So what would a sane person, perchance a sane Congress, do to help and support our kids and schools? Hate to be simplistic, but here you go—We have to shore up our safety net for all kids to have access to health care, food, and shelter; use federal resources to get dollars to kid in the most need; and focus on all schools using the lessons learned from our most innovative and successful schools and getting the regulations and rules that prevent this change out of the way.

“This is what I wish for my school, your school, all schools. We don’t need Superman. We just need some sanity.”

Taken from the Washington Post:


From the Shanker Blog, Posted October 29, 2010

On most sports teams, coaches assess players in part by considering who is available to replace them. Teams with “deep benches” have more leeway in making personnel changes, because quality replacements are available.
The same goes for teaching. Those who aggressively wish to start firing larger numbers of teachers every year rely on an obvious but critical assumption (often unstated): that schools and districts can find better replacements.

In other words, it is both counterproductive (and very expensive) to fire teachers if you can’t replace them with a more effective alternative. Even those few commentators who have addressed this matter sometimes ignore another important fact: The teacher labor market is about to change dramatically, with a massive wave of retirements lasting 5-10 years. Thus, most current assumptions about the stability and quality of the applicant pool over this period may be unsupportable.

The numbers are a bit staggering.

Currently, including retirements, about nine percent of teachers leave the profession annually – that’s around 300,000 teachers every year. Many of them move to non-teaching jobs in education, and some return to the classroom at a later point, but most need to be replaced.

Then there is the upcoming wave of retiring baby boomers. This wave should (depending on the economy) soon begin in earnest (the first boomers turn 65 this year). It is difficult to predict the trend precisely, and its effects will vary by location, but when the flood gates open, annual teacher attrition could increase by up to 50 percent. That means we’ll need to replace around a half million teachers, perhaps more, every single year (retirees plus “normal” attrition). And this may last for several years.

If this scares you, it should. A half million teachers is roughly equivalent to one-third of the annual graduating class of every college and university in the U.S. combined. If every single Ivy League graduate in a given year decided to be a teacher, this would cover only a fraction of the annual demand. So, beginning very soon, there might be a pretty serious strain on the teacher “bench” – it’s a good bet that we’ll have a tough time replacing all these leavers/retirees without a decrease in the quality of the applicant pool, especially in low-performing schools and districts.

And this doesn’t include any possible uptick in the number of teachers fired based on performance.

Now, those who say that there are some teachers out there who just don’t belong in the classroom are undoubtedly correct. Of course they are. And we need to improve the mechanisms (and speed) by which such teachers are identified, given a chance to improve, and, failing that, dismissed.

But on the opposite end of the equation, “normal” attrition – that not from retirement – is abysmal. So, needless to say, if we really care about teacher quality, we must be equally concerned about keeping “good” teachers in the classroom. The best proven means of doing this, in my view, are increasing salaries and improving supports and working conditions (see here for a review of the retention literature).

But those who clamor for the systematic firing of a significant proportion of teachers every year have a responsibility to address the replacements issue. Some do, but most do not. In the former category is economist Eric Hanushek, who regularly proposes that the “bottom” 6-10 percent of teachers be dismissed every year, based on their students’ test scores. When he estimates how this would affect aggregate performance, he assumes that replacements will be of “average” quality (once again defined in terms of test scores).

First of all, many of the “bottom” 6-10 percent leave teaching on their own every year, especially in their first year, simply because they realize they aren’t good at it (teaching has a way of making that abundantly clear). That’s one of the reasons why attrition among newer teachers is so high. I would also point out that a fair number of the “bottom” teachers fired under this proposal would be wrongly classified as such due to the imprecision of value-added models.

But, that said, I’m curious (and this is a real question): What makes Hanushek (and those making similar proposals) confident that the supply of quality applicants will, given the pending retirement wave and already-high levels of teacher attrition, be sufficient to justify the mistake-ridden and expensive dismissal of tens of thousands of additional teachers every year, relative to a focus on retention and improvement?

Put differently, do they really think the bench is that deep?

Duval schools strategic plan focuses on reading: readers have issues

The Times Union printed an article on how Duval County’s revised strategic plan,, and a few readers as many teachers do had legitimate concerns, these are some of their comments.

Targets, by Teacherboy:"... reduce the number of teachers teaching outside of their field ..."
- Why the hell do we have teachers teaching outside their field?

"... and increasing the percent of high-performing teachers who teach in struggling schools ..."
- With all the emphasis placed on teacher accountability, we should no longer have struggling schools. Wait a minute, you mean there is no student accountability or parent accountability? Damn!! I guess we'll still have struggling schools, then.

"... Pratt-Dannals said the goals around teachers are fluid and may change as the state more concretely defines "what is an effective teacher and principal...""
- After all these years, these people STILL do not know how to define an effective teacher or principal? This is just plain crazy!!

"... Board member Betty Burney said she was happy to see the district added to the new plan an objective to reduce the number of students who are two or more years behind grade level from 7.1 percent to 5.8 percent by 2014..."
- Why do we have students two or more YEARS behind grade level? Either they have a learning disability or they aren't interested in learning. There should be special schools to accommodate their needs, or they should get out of the system. These are our future car-washers, janitors and tree-cutters. And nothing's wrong with that.

"... I think the district is truly beginning to take a look at making sure students go in and come out on time," she said..."
- That's a huge pile of crap!! They have ALWAYS done whatever they could to ensure that students go in and come out on time whether they have mastered the material or not. It's called Grade Recovery! Teachers have to pass every single idiot who comes through their doors, or jump through hoops to prove that the kid didn't deserve to pass. Case in point: I have a 9th grader who cannot add 1/2 + 1/4, cannot solve "4x = 36", cannot calculate the radius of a circle if I give him the diameter, cannot multiply 12 x 5 without a calculator, uses his fingers to solve "15 - 4", produces no homework, fails every exam, and is wondering why he got an "F" on his first report card last week. But he passed middle school last year.

"... The new plan did pull out the goal of increasing the number of African-American male teachers in the district. Attorneys told the district it could cause legal problems for the school system..."
- So let me get this straight. In largely disproportionate numbers, the black male students are acting out in class, getting referrals, being suspended, not graduating, ending up in jail, or selling drugs. I think what they need are black male role models. And the attorneys in their infinite wisdom think that's a bad idea? I am a black male and I will tell it like it is. If we don't push these kids off this cycle of dependency, mediocrity and failure that they're on - black, white, green or purple, we ALL lose!!

To Teacherboy: by Cactus 58

For the most part middle schools in DCPS are terrible! I know for a fact that at Southside Middle School if a teacher had too many Ds and Fs the teacher was placed on a Success Plan. (Instead of making the student rise to the occasion). Students knew the teachers were pressured to pass them so many laughed at the system, did little work, did not study....thereby learned very little. They did learn how to work the system however.

Discipline was out of control! The only people who appeared to be held to any standards were the teachers. Pressure stopped with the teachers. Nothing wrong with pressure but it needs to filter down to the students so they feel motivated to learn.

So if you wonder why the students get to high school without knowledge and skills just look at was is going on or not going on in the middle schools.

Cactus and Teacherboy, by Idolfan

First let me apologize to teacher boy for every student he's receieved who could not do their work. I fail many students, but they are passed along to you anyway. Somewhere over the summer, a miracle happens and they vanish only to show up at your front door.

I've recieved many students this year from lower grades who when I pressure them to do work tell me point blank ''I didn't do work last year and passed.'' or "I'll just do grade recovery''. Now what goads me most about these kids is they then sit there and disrupt class for the wonderful students who i do have who are trying to educate themsevles and also disrupt that learning disabled student, and the struggling student who need my extra time but are not getting it because I'm too busy with discipline. I can't write referrals either. Not until I've had a one on one conference, sent them to ''time out'' (and no these are not three year olds), called home, had a parent conference, seat change, etc etc. All of this must be documented with dates on the referral when I finally am able to write it. Then said student heads to the administrator's office where another long list of ''must dos'' must be done before any type of suspension is given. So of course now when I use the phrase ''If you don't stop disrupting I'm going to have to write you up'' I get ''go ahead, nothing happened the last time you did.''

As for African American role models. I'm all for this of course. I worked in an all African American school for awhile and we had great role models who worked with the kids and the kids looked up to. However, those were the good kids and those who just needed a bit of guidance. There are however some real tough characters out there who actualy resent the male role model. Usually it's because the one male they counted on most let them down right from the beginning and because mom resents him, the kid usually does too, along with every other male who comes his way. I've also seen this work opposite, where a mother has abandoned their child and so they resent the female teacher. Not every student is the same, and many bring baggage that really has to be examined in order to determine the best course for them. And that is true no matter your ethnicity. When I grew up I brought a ton of baggage with me, being abused at home, as well as being bullied at school. But I didn't act a fool, and I brought home the best grades possible, because that was what was expected of me. Education was deemed important back then, a necessity. This is not the view of most students these days. Just last week a student (who is reading five grades behind) told me if he could he would drop out now. When I asked him why he said ''I"m young, I have better things to do than be at school. I need to live my life." I like this young man and I can see he does need a lot of guidance. Overall he is a good kid who had been steered in the wrong direction by those he feels are his role models. I thought a lot about him and his words and I wonder what the future holds for him. It's kind of scary to think about.

Teachers should not be teaching out of field. But we must look at what is going on and really see ''are they out of field''. I just got flagged for being out of field and it was a mistake made by the state that i must now figure out a way to straighten up. I've taught the same subject for 11years...also some teachers are purposely put out of field as a way to get rid of them,since they will get fired. I've seen it happen in the past. Supposedly a school CAN NOT put you out of field why is it happening then?

As far as what makes a good teacher? In this county it seems to be the teacher who goes along and gets along...not the one that says ''hey this isn't right, I have a better way.''. If you speak out, you can be retaliated against in your yearly evaluation. And more and more principals are using that as a tool to get rid of teachers who question things, or who go against the county's craziness with test after test, collecting data, putting up matching bulletin boards, etc etc.

But I know teachers in failing schools, who put clothes on the backs of children, who feed children, who guide them into the right choices, who discipline them as their absent parent would, who give a listening ear to a girl who has been raped, or a kid who has seen a parent in jail, or a friend fell by a bullet. These teachers may not see FCAT gains that wow the powers that be, but they have touched the lives of those they teach. And to me that can be just as powerful

Area superintendents get it wrong on amendment 8

Three area superintendents (Duval, Clay and St. Johns) got together to ask locals to vote against amendment 8, the amendment designed to roll back the class size amendment that voters approved eight years ago and I have to say they gave pretty reasonable reasons. (

The only problem is they got wrong. Instead of asking the citizens and parents of north east Florida to vote against something which is good for kids, smaller classes, they should have instead been screaming to the heavens that the legislature fund education in the fashion that the original amendment intended for them to do.

The legislature shouldn’t be putting schools in the positions to cut electives, combine classes and to bus students around. The legislature and our willingness to allow them to fund special interests and give tax breaks to a chosen few industries, not the class size amendment is the problem.

Our area superintendents should be asking them, no make that demanding that to do the right thing.

There are problems with the class size amendment, the solution however should not be to let the legislature off the hook from doing what it is supposed to and that’s taking care of our children.

The Nam

Chris Taylor in the movie Platoon writes home to his grandmother about how veteran soldiers don’t make time for new soldiers. The veteran’s reason the rookies will be killed in the first few days so what’s the point. Where I don’t expect anybody to be killed at Ed White high school (though I have been known to occasionally knock on wood), that’s sort of how I feel about the new reading teachers the school keeps hiring. You see one lasted two days, another three and a third less than a week. A colleague jokingly (I assume) suggested we make squares to bet on how long the last few survive.

When I say reading teachers I may be speaking a bit inaccurately. They are hiring teachers who agree to become reading certified a process that takes about three years to do. So even if these teachers can survive their kid’s behavior, the lack of books, resources and support they still won’t have much of an idea about what they are doing for quite some time.

When the year started many of the kids these new reading teachers will have were in art, home economics and health but after a state visit where faceless low level bureaucrats whose main jobs seems to be justifying their job, told our school these level twos needed to be in reading classes. The kids latest failure was not doing well on assessment number 1 million for the year (I exaggerate, some, but literally we have had about a dozen district and state assessments so far this year alone). So the school gutted its elective department and began the process, which is still ongoing ten weeks later, of hiring five new reading teachers.

Instead of leaving them in the electives till teachers could be hired and trained, the schools first solution was to pout them in the auditorium. Friends it was literally heart breaking to see sixty kids a period sitting around doing nothing. Next we hired subs, but for the most part failed to provide lesson plans or things for the kids to do. Then we started hiring teachers, the first two didn’t last, two more were soon hired and one quit already. The kids are out of control and why wouldn’t they be, it’s not like they have had much supervision or anything to do.

We hire teachers and I have no doubt that they are all dedicated and hardworking but unfortunately they don’t know what they are doing. The 200 kids at my school who were assigned first nothing, then subs and now teachers who are lost will without a doubt lose a whole year of instruction. Then at the end of the year the powers-that-be will point their fingers at the Ed White staff and ask, what’s the problem why can’t you make the arbitrary gains we have set for you? You must be terrible.

Once again the system sets teachers and kids up to fail and then scratches it’s head coming up with the only solution that seems viable to them and that’s teachers aren’t doing their job.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Education Day

Today, teachers across the nation are participating in Education Communication Day in preparation for the Million Teacher March in Washington, D.C. in July. We have been bashed and vilified on a regular basis; and feel it is necessary to speak out on behalf of our students and public schools in general. Public school teachers are NOT the cause of ineffective schools. We are more than willing to work for a positive reform in our school system. The following statements from Chris Janotta, the founder of the SOS Million Teacher March (, sum up our major concerns.

"Teachers want to be part of the reform process, but this means instituting respectful reform that makes sense. Currently, teachers have no input into what should be taught, how it should be taught, or what the best way to measure performance might be. We know that teaching to a test does not prepare students for the real world. We know that pulling students from social studies, science, art, physical education, or other classes just to provide them with more test-taking skills is committing a severe injustice against our students. We know that every student learns in a different style, at a different pace, and with different resources. We know that there is no one single blueprint that will help all students to succeed. Yet we have no say in any of this. Our day-to-day experiences with the children in the public schools gives us a unique viewpoint UNAVAILABLE TO ANYONE ELSE IN THE UNITED STATES, yet our experience and knowledge is being wasted because it is not valued by those who are currently involved in educational reforms. Teachers WANT to do a good job. Teachers WANT to help every student. Teachers WANT to work with those who have similar viewpoints, varying viewpoints, and viewpoints that are at the complete other end of the spectrum AS LONG AS THE END GOAL IS TO HELP AMERICA'S SCHOOL CHILDREN, NOT PUNISH AMERICA'S SCHOOL TEACHERS.

Teachers understand that America's current economic situation makes it difficult to fully and fairly fund ALL public schools, but difficult is not the same as impossible. By using creative means, by working across party lines and across economic classes, by being willing to sacrifice in other segments of society, and by admitting that the education of our nation's children is THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY of any successful nation, we can face this difficult task head on and make sure that every child in America goes to a school that is fully funded and fully staffed no matter in which zip code he or she lives. To not make this happen is to admit to our children that they are not important enough for us to even try. Try we must; succeed we must.

Teachers and students need quality class rooms with safe environments. From the teachers' perspective, this means having the help of community leaders, government officials, and other outside agencies. In order for a teacher to truly be able to focus on teaching, there must be others willing to step up to act as mentors, disciplinarians, counselors, and mediators. These are currently some of the additional roles teachers must take on in order to ensure an environment conducive to learning. However, not only is this causing teachers to be overloaded, it also isn't enough to create a completely safe environment for every student. Beyond this, some issues are beyond the control of the classroom teacher and can only be remedied by those with higher authority. A quality class room must contain all of the tools needed by both teachers and students. Some of these tools include up-to-date curricula, up-to-date textbooks, computers and other technology, and many other modern class room supplies (including desks, chairs, etc.). Right now, what is taken for granted in one school is simply unattainable in others. Equitable class rooms provide for equitable learning opportunities."

It is time for all Americans to claim ownership of the public schools and demand that a true reform take place in the system. Testing is not teaching!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The tests that bind: Questions emerge as Thrasher faces allegations of ties to testing industry

By Julie Delegul

Follow the money trail, my experienced journalist-friends tell me, and you will find the answers. But as possible links have emerged this week between Senate District 8 incumbent John Thrasher, his former lobbying clients, and the company hired to do Florida’s FCAT and new end-of-course testing, I’m finding more questions than answers.

How did NCS Pearson, with its history of bungling tests, get the FCAT contract in Florida in the first place?

Why did Florida switch to Pearson from its previous FCAT test vendor?
Is FCAT even a reliable testing tool? And wasn’t Duval County already administering its own end-of-course exams?

Deborah Gianoulis’ campaign charged John Thrasher with lying about his lobbying connection to the testing industry on Wednesday. (See Tia Mitchel’s story in 10/27 Times Union) Apparently, Thrasher listed the Educational Testing Service (ETS) as one of his lobbying clients in the official 2009 legislative registry, prior to running for and winning the office held by the late Senator Jim King late last year.

But in a Times Union article that appeared in April of this year, just after Thrasher’s teacher tenure-busting Senate Bill 6 was vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist, Thrasher told TU reporter Matt Dixon: “I never had any connection to [the testing companies].”

To understand the weight of the allegation, keep in mind that the company in charge of executing the $254 million FCAT testing contract for Florida, NCS Pearson, did $143 million in subcontract work for ETS from 2006 through 2008. ETS, in turn, was a client of Thrasher’s former lobbying company, Southern Strategy, which is why it was listed among dozens of his “principals,” i.e., lobbying clients, in the legislative registry.

Even if Thrasher never personally represented ETS, as he contends, his lobbying friends from Southern Strategy certainly did. And arguably, beginning with the 2009 session, Southern Strategy had their ringer—Thrasher—in the state senate. Lobbyists from Southern Strategy contributed $7,000 to Thrasher’s 2009 campaign, according to the press release from the Gianoulis campaign.

Advocates will remember that NCS Pearson was fined $14.7 million so far this year for tardy FCAT scores. The fines are still being tabulated as local districts continue to tally the damages they incurred from cramming promotional, placement and graduation decisions for the current school year into a shorter time frame.

The Miami Herald reported this summer that Pearson was hired by the state to run the FCAT despite serious problems the company had in the past with scoring tests for the College Board (an ETS division) as well as other standardized tests in various states. And now NCS Pearson also holds the contract in Florida for developing and administering the new End of Course (EOC) exams for high school and middle school courses. Florida voters should be concerned.

Legislation passed just this year requires that students pass an Algebra I end of course exam (EOC) in order to graduate. Those of us who rallied, called, and emailed against Senate Bill 6 will remember that EOC exams were one controversial part of that bill. Several local school boards argued that the cost of developing more tests would amount to an unfunded mandate for them.

But links between Thrasher and the testing industry might explain why he was so bound and determined to push the EOC bills through the legislature, un-tweaked. Might it be that the senator was less concerned with perceptions of unfunded mandates than with making sure there was law on the books to support an already funded testing contract for EOCs? Could the EOC piece have been included in the NCS Pearson contract even before the legislature mandated the tests?

This EOC development business should raise red flags among taxpayers, and here’s why: Duval County, unlike most counties, has been way ahead of the curve in developing, field testing and validating end of course exams, according to Chief Academic Officer Kathryn Leroy. She says that Duval has already developed dozens of middle and high school tests, at a cost of approximately $12,000 per exam. And while the county has administered its own EOC exams over the past four years, it will yield to using the state sanctioned test—Pearson’s Algebra I test—this year. So what happens to the time, talent and treasure Duval spent on EOCs? Doesn’t the new Pearson EOC contract duplicate hundreds of thousands of dollars of work already completed in Duval? When Folio posed these questions to the district, Leroy answered only that Duval’s tests would continue to be used as early assessments and mid-year benchmarks.

But there’s more that concerns me—not just as a civic journalist who’s been tracking education issues, but as a parent. When the state of Florida switched to NCS Pearson as FCAT vendor this year, public school students lost the “NRT” or norm-referenced test that had been administered to them along with the FCAT until 2008.

The “NRT” is based on the Stanford 10 (a test administered at many private schools) and assigns a percentile ranking for students rather than determining grade level proficiency, as the FCAT does.

As Folio reported on September 28, Duval students who barely passed the state’s FCAT reading subtest for 10th grade, also scored a median 87th percentile ranking for reading on the NRT; that score indicates a higher reading level than 87% of the nation’s 10th graders. That could mean that students who don’t make the cutoff score—students who fail the FCAT and fail to graduate—may also score, on other objective tests, as very good readers.

In that sense, Florida may be manufacturing failure.

The test-industry tie to Thrasher that the Gianoulis campaign alleges may be only a single thread in a much more insidious political tapestry. Specifically, as the centerpiece of Jeb Bush’s education legacy—the FCAT—gets thrown into question, lawmakers may have simply moved to get rid of the things that raise those pesky questions, like the NRT. As an added bonus, removing the NRT as an element from the FCAT testing package would make for a less expensive contract. So switching from the state’s previous FCAT vendor, which had included the NRT piece, to NCS-Pearson-sans-NRT, is going to appear to be a cost-saver. Kind of like french-fries are cheaper at McDonald’s than the whole Big-Mac combo meal.

But it leaves concerned parents asking, “Where’s the beef?” Can we trust that the FCAT or its descendant, FCAT 2.0, reliably does the job, when there’s no GCAT in Georgia or HCAT in Hawaii, to provide any context?

Parents have lost confidence in the FCAT, according to one St. Petersburg Times poll. Fifty-two percent of parents there said they didn’t believe the FCAT is a reliable test of student or school performance. Questions about how the NCS Pearson bidding decision was made, and the ins and outs of the 5-year FCAT testing contract with Pearson, far outweigh, in my mind, the Thrasher-ETS-Pearson connection alleged by the Gianoulis campaign. Although it might prove to be the ragged end of thread woven into the whole lucrative enterprise.

7 Class size myths -- and the truth

Especialy relevent since the legislature is seeking to roll back the class size amendment, through Amendment 8, here in Florida. -CPG

By Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit Class Size Matters, and founder of the NYC Public School Parent blog.

Across the country, class sizes are increasing at unprecedented rates. An estimated 58,000 teachers were laid off in September, at the same time as enrollment was increasing in much of the country. In California, two thirds of the districts have seen jumps in class size, with many early grade classes rising from 20 to 30 students, after rules first established in 1996 governing the state’s class size reduction program were loosened.

As Don Iglesias, superintendent of public schools in San Jose was quoted as saying, "This is not a choice that anybody is making because we think increasing class size is a wonderful thing for our schools. It's a choice because there's ineptitude in terms of our elected officials in Sacramento and their unwillingness to raise taxes or cut programs accordingly."

In Texas, there are proposals to eliminate the state’s long- standing mandate to keep class sizes in grades K-4 to no more than 22 students; recommended by the Perot Commission and implemented by Gov. Mark White in 1984– a reform which has contributed to the state’s black and Hispanic students having some of the highest achievement levels in the country.

In Florida, voters are about to decide whether to amend their state’s class size constitutional amendment, originally passed in 2002, which would freeze class sizes where they were last year ------at school-wide averages of no more than 18 students in grades K-3, 22 in grades 4-9, and 25 in high school, rather than actual classroom caps.

Clearly budget pressures are weighing on school districts, but there has also been a fierce attack on the value of class size reduction. This attack is issuing from many of the wealthy foundations advocating for corporate-style reforms, and commentators who receive funding from these sources.

A recent example was a column originally written for the Hechinger Center and reprinted on this blog by Justin Snider, who teaches an introductory writing class at Columbia University. Snider claimed that class-size reduction programs in California and Florida now “look foolish” and are a “luxury ….we can no longer afford.”

Interestingly, Mr. Snider failed to mention that the writing class he teaches at Columbia is capped at no more than 15 students. Harvard College recently reduced the size of its writing classes to 10 students, in recognition of how labor intensive it is to teach students how to write well – even to these Ivy League students.

Meanwhile, public school teachers working just a few blocks away from Mr. Snider’s classroom endeavor to teach writing to as many as 34 high school students per class –and with total teaching loads of 150 students or more. Many of their students are poor and/or recent immigrants, and far more in need of individualized instruction than the high-achievers enrolled at Columbia University.

So perhaps its time to review what the research really says and what experience shows about the importance of reducing class size. Here are seven myths about class size, commonly repeated as gospel by the corporate-type reformers, juxtaposed with the facts.

1. Myth: Class size is an unproven or ineffective reform.

Studies from Tennessee, Wisconsin, and states throughout the country have demonstrated that students who are assigned to smaller classes in grades K-3rd do better in every way that can be measured: they score higher on tests, receive better grades, and exhibit improved attendance.

The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education has concluded that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement through rigorous, randomized experiments -- the "gold standard" of research. (The other three reforms are one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades 1-3; life-skills training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in phonics – and not one of the policies that the corporate reformers are pushing.

A recent re-evaluation of the STAR experiment in Tennessee revealed that students who were in smaller classes in Kindergarten had higher earnings in adulthood, as well as a greater likelihood of attending college and having a 410K retirement plan. In fact, according to this study, the only two “observable” classroom factors that led to better outcomes were being placed in a small class and having an experienced teacher.

2. Myth: There is a threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.

Since STAR involved comparing outcomes between students in classes of 22 to 25 students and those in classes of 13 to 17, many critics have argued that classes have to be reduced to a certain level to provide benefits.

Yet Alan Krueger of Princeton University analyzed the STAR results for the control group of students who were in the “larger” classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.

Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.

3. Myth: Large scale programs such as class size reduction in California didn’t work.

Actually, every controlled study of the California class size reduction program --and there have been at least six so far—have shown significant gains from smaller classes.

Unlike the STAR studies, nearly all elementary schools in the state reduced class size at once --especially in grades K-2nd—so it was hard to find a control group with which to compare outcomes. Also, the state exam was new, making it difficult to compare achievement gains to past trends.

Yet given these limitations, the results were striking: even when analyzing the achievement of third graders who had the benefits of a smaller class for only one year, as compared to those who were in large classes, the gains were substantial, especially for disadvantaged students in inner-city schools.

In the five largest school districts other than Los Angeles, namely San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, Oakland and Fresno, researchers found that class size reduction raised the proportion of third graders who exceeded the national median by l0.5 % in math, and 8.4 % in reading, after controlling for all other factors. Even larger gains occurred in schools with high numbers of poor students, and in schools that had 100% black enrollment, lowering class size resulted in 14.7% more students exceeding the national median in math, and 18.4% more in reading.

Another researcher, Fatih Unlu, avoided some of the pitfalls encountered by other researchers who were stymied by the fact that the state tests were new and there were few students to use as a control group. In his paper, he instead analyzed the change in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, and by using two different statistical methods, he found very substantial gains from smaller classes.

4. Myth: Class size reduction lowers the quality of teachers.

This urban legend is often repeated by the corporate-style reformers. Typical is the claim from Mr. Snider, that lowering class size in California “had the unintended effect of creating a run on good teachers: the best teachers tended to flee to the suburbs, which were suddenly hiring and which offered better pay and working conditions.”

Actually, though anecdotal reports at the time warned of teacher flight, what the follow-up studies from California showed is that after rising temporarily in all schools, teacher migration rates fell dramatically to much lower levels than before, and most sharply in schools with large numbers of poor students. In fact, for the first time, teacher migration rates began to converge in all schools, rich and poor.

This finding is not altogether surprising, since teachers in high-poverty schools had better working conditions and a real chance to succeed, their incentive to flee elsewhere was substantially alleviated. Indeed, other studies have confirmed that when class sizes are lowered, teacher turnover rates fall. This propensity would be expected to act synergistically to enhance teacher quality over time, as lower rates of attrition particularly in large urban districts would tend to increase the experience level and overall effectiveness of the teaching force.

5. Myth: Class size matters, but only in the early grades.

Although there has been no large scale experiment done for the middle and upper grades, as STAR did in the early grades, there are numerous studiesthat show smaller classes are correlated with achievement gains and/or lower dropout rates in the middle and upper grades as well.

One comprehensive study, done for the U.S. Department of Education, analyzed the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools across the country. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor found to be positively correlated with student performance was smaller classes, not school size or teacher qualifications, nor any other variable that the researchers could identify. Moreover, student achievement was even more strongly linked to class size reduction in the upper grades than the lower grades.

Two recent studies that show that class size matters, even in college. One report from the University of Richmond found that increasing class size to thirty students to 45 had a negative impact on the amount of critical and analytical thinking required in business classes, on the clarity of presentations, the effectiveness of teaching methods, the instructor’s ability to keep students interested, and the timeliness of feedback, among many other key factors of educational quality.

Another study from Italy, found significantly lower achievement and smaller wages after graduation for college students, depending on how large their introductory lecture classes were. The effects were especially substantial for lower-income and male students:

”Our baseline results suggest that increasing class size by 20 students reduces a student’s wage by approximately 6 percent. Given this estimate, it would be hard to dismiss class size reduction as an ineffective and inefficient policy.”

7. Myth: Even if class size matters, it’s just too expensive.

Many studies have shown that class size reduction is cost-effective because it results in higher wages later in life (see the above study, for example), and lower costs for health care and/or welfare dependency.

One re-analysis of the STAR data published in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that reducing class sizes may be more cost-effective than almost any other public health and medical intervention, with large savings in health care and almost two years of additional life for those students who were in smaller classes in the early grades.

Moreover, there are some ingenious school leaders throughout the country who have managed to reduce class size without spending any more money, by redeploying out-of-classroom staff. See this study, for example, by Christopher Tienken and Charles Achilles, showing how a middle school in New Jersey managed to lower student failure rates from 3 to 6 percent to only one percent by reducing class size, at little or no extra cost.

Finally, even if reducing class size is costly, the question should be, compared, to what? As Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

If there are only a few reforms we know have substantial benefits to children, and improve their education, health, and life outcomes, why not invest in these reforms, rather than waste hundreds of millions of dollars, and in some cases billions on unproven policies with possibly damaging consequences, including the rapid expansion of charter schools, more high-stakes testing, and teacher performance pay, as promoted by the “Race to the Top” and other federal programs?

Also, class size reduction is one of very few educational interventions that have been proven to narrow the achievement gap, with students from poor and minority backgrounds experiencing twice the gains as the average student. While many of the high-achieving charter schools, such as the Icahn charter schools in the Bronx, and those highly celebrated such as Harlem Children’s Zone, cap class sizes at 18 or less, class sizes in our inner-city public schools continue to grow.

As a recent issue brief on the achievement gap from the Educational Testing Service pointed out, schools having high numbers of minority students are more likely to feature large classes of 25 students or more, with the class size gap between high-minority schools and low-minority schools larger over time. Don’t we have a moral obligation to provide equitable opportunities to all children?

So the next time somebody with power or influence tells you that class size reduction is a waste of money, ask him what the evidence-base is for the policies he favors instead. Or ask him what class sizes were in the school his own child attends.

Many of the individuals who are driving education policy in this country, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Bill Gates, sent their own children to private schools where class sizes were low and yet continue to insist that resources, equitable funding, and class size don’t matter – when all the evidence points to the contrary.

As John Dewey wrote, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.” If education is really the civil rights issue of our era, it is about time those people making policies for our schools begin to provide for other people’s children what they provide for their own.

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Taken from the Washington Post:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Own Families Race to Nowhere

It should be no secret that is children do not like school they will not do well in school, sadly the powers-that-be have not picked up on this. -CPG

By Christal Watts, wife mother teacher

Moments ago, I finished watching Race to Nowhere, a movie that was recently shown in Vallejo, the district where I teach. The movie struck a chord as I noted the many similarities shown in the movie and the struggles my three children faced in their educational journeys.

My oldest child graduated from high school a few years ago. Manda started off thoroughly loving school and learning. In 6th grade, she received a very prestigious award from her school. This award went to students who were deemed by their teachers to be stellar students and citizens. We were thrilled for her and of course, more than a little bit proud.

Two years later, we would be faced with a knock at the door at midnight by two uniformed police officers. Manda had told a friend that she was planning to kill herself. Looking back on that night, I remember feeling scared and very worried for her future. We got her into counseling and soon discovered that our beautiful daughter was a cutter. This habit was something that she would turn to anytime the pressure became to great.

School for her no longer brought joy. In my conversations with her, what stands out the most was that she felt nothing but pressure to be the perfect child and student. This is something I never wanted for her, but I know that the pressure I put on myself to achieve and do well both academically and professionally more than likely was felt by all three of my kids.

My son Tyler graduated from high school this past summer. Unlike his sister, I don't think that Tyler ever felt much joy being in school. To him, school has meant nothing but living by the rules and conformity. Tyler is by nature the type of kid that will naturally challenge you, regardless of your authority, perceived or not.

Tyler did school, but he never liked it. A trait that he shares with his older sister is creativity. Creativity is no longer valued in our school system. My two older kids never wanted to go the AP or IB route and were both made to feel by both teachers and their peers alike that perhaps there was something wrong with them. Tyler has talked about going to college, but it is not something he wants to do at this time.

For our youngest son, Clayton, this emphasis on performing well hit early in his school career, 3rd grade. As an 8-year-old, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety. (If that doesn't shock you, I don't know what will). Our journey through hell and back during this year of his schooling taught me a lot about the unrealistic expectations our schools put on our kids.

For him, it all began with math. His teacher told us at "Back to School" night that he had formerly taught GATE (Gifted & Talented), and that even though this class wasn't GATE, he was going to proceed to teach these kids as if it were GATE. For this teacher, GATE meant putting unrealistic demands on 8-year-olds. For Clayton, it meant doing everything in his power not to go to school, like running away from school, throwing temper tantrums in the mornings, and other behaviors not normal for an 8-year-old. For my husband and I, it meant too many meetings to count trying to deal with an unsympathetic teacher and administrator who instead of reflecting on their own practice as educators chose to blame the victim, my son. He was quickly labeled as being "oppositionally defiant."

Christmas that year was not one of joy. Clayton was clearly not welcome to attend our neighborhood school. This school had the highest API/AYP scores in the district. The principal told me more than once that Clayton had "embarrassed him" by his behavior in front of parents visiting the school. (Clayton spent a lot of time in the office). In my opinion, this school was more interested in maintaining their test scores than in helping my child through this difficult time.

This behavior was not normal for Clayton. Up until that year in school, he enjoyed being in school. He got a long well with his peers, the office staff enjoyed him, and the previous principal thoroughly enjoyed his sense of humor. This was a kid who had acted in two plays for our local youth theater. Severe anxiety was clearly not the norm.

Before school started up again, we made the decision to start investigating schools in the district where I teach. By February, Clayton was enrolled in a new school, something that is rather anxiety-inducing in itself. Unlike his previous school, the teachers, staff and administrators were willing to help Clayton deal with his anxiety, hold him accountable for his behavior and most important of all, help him feel safe and secure.
Unlike his previous school, their API/AYP scores weren't all that great, but for me as a parent, that didn't matter. I wanted my child back.

I'm happy to report that Clayton is now in 9th grade. He is well-liked by his peers, gets along well with most of his teachers, and is becoming a confident strong young man. He doesn't like math, but he does endure it. I tell him to do the best he can.

As a parent, I've come to realize that it really isn't about the test scores. My goal as their parent is to raise responsible, well-adjusted adults. My daughter, Manda, is still trying to figure out what she wants to do and has been exploring getting her cosmetology license. Tyler is doing well at his new job and is sharing an apartment with his two cousins. He is (in my unbiased opinion, of course) a very talented musician. As for Clayton, he is looking forward to competing in Las Vegas in November for a power-lifting contest as well as the start-up of wrestling season. His grades are okay.

And, I'm okay with that.

If you haven't watched the movie, please do. We need to start having honest conversations about what is truly valued in education. We need to stop putting this pressure on our students to perform at all costs, especially when it jeopardizes their health and well-being.

Taken from the Huffington Post:,b=facebook

Piling On: The United Way, way

A friend said, I thought the United Way just helped pay peoples light bills. Well if that is the case a significant amount of people are out of luck as they recently dedicated a 180 thousand dollar grant to study teacher effectiveness.

“Duval County has many effective teachers”, Connie Hodges, chief executive officer of the local United Way, I imagine begrudgedly so, acknowledged, though I wonder how many effective teachers she thinks we actually have, fifty percent, sixty percent on a good day.

I found the announcement of this study insulting, but even more so ironic and that’s because the local United Way gets much of its funding from local teachers. Every school has a United Way campaign and then they filled with hubris say, we don’t think a lot of teachers are that good, so we are going to have a study to find ways to improve some of you and get rid of the rest and oh by the way, thanks for financing it. Well I for one will not be helping you finance anything anymore and I know several other teachers that will be joining me.

Then Duval County School Board Vice Chairwoman Nancy Broner chimed in saying “People do not always agree on the qqualities of an effective teacher. People consider such things as achievement gains, test score results and helping children overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” I wonder if she knows one of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles teachers face daily is the school board itself.

In its zeal to prove the Duval County school board is the smartest school board in the room the ratcheted up graduation requirements they have destroyed rigor in many classes. They have created dedicated magnet schools, that not only handicap the neighborhood schools by taking many of their best students and most involved families but the fact that we have them and that they play by different rules (can drop kids or academic and behavior issues) have made where you go determine what type of education a child receives, something many believe has no place in a public school system. They have allowed the superintendent to gut discipline by tying principals evaluations to suspension rates, put all children into a one size fits all curriculum by eroding the teaching of trades and the arts, allowed anybody to take advanced placement tests to pump up the numbers and practically weaned out flexibility and creativity in teachers by making them adhere to strict pacing guides and learning schedules.

The real problem ladies and readers is not teachers, though they should always be seeking to improve, it’s our education leaders and the policies they have created that puts many teachers and students in no-win situations. You want to do a study how about one seeing if the 10 extra hours a week I spend compiling data helps, or if the kids even notice the standards based board I am required to spend an hour a day making, or if the two page lesson plan I have to create are more elective than the four to a page lesson plans I used to be able to write ten years ago. How about doing a study on how having no electives affects student performance, or testing kids constantly or how many kids plan to use algebra II and chemistry once they graduate. If you are going to study problems in education ladies and gentlemen there are plenty it seems a little easy to pile on teachers.

Instead of jumping on the blame teachers, while giving administrators, politicians, policy makers, parents, and the children who make no effort in my classes a pass, bandwagon, why not look at yourselves and see what you have done to improve education, ask how are you making things better, because if you think continually dumping on teachers and putting them in no win situations is helping, well then you are incorrect.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vote the ultimate special interest: our children

Every year politicians take care of special interests; bankers, homebuilders, bottled water producers, luxury box owners and even yacht salesmen got a substantial share of the pie last year. Sadly however there is one special interest that routinely loses out which is undoubtedly the ultimate special interest we have and that’s our children.

This November why don’t we say enough is enough. That we’re no longer going to sit on the sidelines and allow the powers-that-be in Tallahassee make a few rich beyond our wildest dreams while at the same time they fund our children fiftieth out of fifty and force them to attend a school system that doesn’t support or value their needs, taught by a group, teachers, that have unfairly become the scapegoats for all that is wrong in education.

I get how people must be frustrated with Teachers. Waiting for Superman, Race to the Top, Senate Bill Six, it seems you can’t turn your head without teacher quality being called into question, and maybe rightfully so, after all they are on the front lines of a battle we seem to be losing.

The thing is you must understand how frustrated teachers are too. They are on the frontlines but at the same time they have had their, weapons, their tools of the trade stripped from them. Gone are creativity and flexibility, replaced by a rigid doctrine that I imagine the powers-that-be think a highly trained chimp could carry out.

I remind you that this debate about teacher quality has only erupted after a decade long failed experiment in high stakes testing and a one size fits all curriculum that tries to fit every child into the same hole regardless of what type peg they might be. It was only after both children and teachers were put in situations where success was hard to achieve that teacher quality began to be questioned.

Teachers did not decide to gut discipline, teachers did not decide to get rid of teaching the trades and the arts, teachers did not promise the moon with the lottery but only deliver cheese and teachers did not replace a whole curriculum with teaching to one test. Yet they are the ones blamed for the failed results. Enough lets hold the policy makers who have never been in a classroom, like John Thrasher and he crafters of amendment 8 responsible and vote them out

Vote against amendment 8, another thinly veiled attempt for the legislature to shirk its responsibility to fund education.

Vote against John Thrasher who has only met one teacher he liked, his daughter and she only did it briefly.

Vote against Rick Scott, whose education plans other than to reinstate senate bill six are vague at best.

When are we going to say enough is enough? When are we as a society going to make providing for our children it’s foremost priority, after all what’s more important, yachts, bottled water, another subdivision, you tell me? There is only one special interested we should insist our politicians take care of. And despite the fact that they don’t vote and they don’t contribute to campaigns, they are still the most important special around and it is time we decided to start treating them that way.

British Kids Log On and Learn Math — in Punjab


LONDON — Once a week, year six pupils at Ashmount Primary School in North London settle in front of their computers, put on their headsets and get ready for their math class. A few minutes later, their teachers come online thousands of kilometers away in the Indian state of Punjab.
Ashmount is one of three state schools in Britain that decided to outsource part of their teaching to India via the Internet. The service — the first of its kind in Europe — is offered by BrightSpark Education, a London-based company set up last year. BrightSpark employs and trains 100 teachers in India and puts them in touch with pupils in Britain through an interactive online tutoring program.

The feedback from pupils, the schools and parents is good so far, and BrightSpark said a dozen more schools, a charity and many more parents were interested in signing up for the lessons. The one-on-one sessions not only cost about half of what personal tutors in Britain charge but are also popular with pupils, who enjoy solving equations online, said Rebecca Stacey, an assistant head teacher at Ashmount.

But the service also faces some opposition from teacher representatives who are fearful that it could threaten their jobs at a time when the government is pushing through far-reaching spending cuts. The 3 percent that is to be cut from the budget for educational resources by 2014 might be small compared with cuts in other areas, like welfare and pensions, but money at schools will remain tight.

Online learning is still controversial in Britain. Some teachers said tutors based elsewhere lacked the cultural empathy and understanding of a pupil’s social environment that could influence study habits and performance. There is also concern about the qualifications of teachers abroad.

At the same time, many parents said they had struggled to find qualified private tutors who were conveniently located and whose fees were affordable. With online learning, they can keep an eye on their children’s progress by listening to the lessons, and many said that being taught by someone in India also opened the children to foreign cultures.
But Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, Britain’s largest teachers’ union, said he was concerned about the precedent BrightSpark was setting. “This is wrong on so many levels,” Mr. Keates said. “What next — do without maths teachers? What about the follow-up lessons for the pupils, and the interaction with teachers?”

Tom Hooper, the founder of BrightSpark, said teachers’ unions were missing the point. “This is supplementary and in no way replacing teachers,” he said. And Ms. Stacey was quick to point out that Ashmount was using BrightSpark’s program in addition to, and not instead of, its traditional math classes.

“For children, it’s a novelty that catches their attention for longer and engages them in a different way,” Ms. Stacey said. “Eleven-year-olds aren’t always enthusiastic about math classes, so any way we can make it more fun for them is good.”

BrightSpark tutors in India are math graduates or former math teachers and go through a month of training on the British school curriculum. Pupils in Britain log on to the service via BrightSpark’s Web site and interact with their teachers via a video phone and a so-called white board on their computer screen, which can be written on by both parties. Lessons can be booked as long as 24 hours in advance for any day of the week, and all sessions are recorded and can be replayed by the pupil or the pupil’s parents.

For Marie Hanson, who runs the charity Storm in South London, the online teaching tool is helpful in keeping children away from drugs and crime. “The kids love it because they love computers,” said Ms. Hanson, “and I love it because it helps them with their education while keeping them off the streets.”

An earlier pilot project for four months with 30 children was successful after parents reported that their children had improved at school, said Ms. Hanson, who plans to seek government funding for more sessions.
Mr. Hooper, 31, said he had discovered there was a market for online teaching in Britain after he quit his job as investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management and took time off to travel. In Panama, he met several U.S. families who had used online learning to give their children an education that would allow them to return to U.S. schools without problems.

When he returned to London, Mr. Hooper realized that there was a shortage of qualified private tutors in Britain and that some parents spent hours driving their children to and from tutors, sometimes paying £20, or $31, per lesson. BrightSpark is charging £12 per session and pupil. Tutors are being paid £7 an hour, more than double the minimum wage in Punjab.
“There is a huge thirst for support in the U.K.,” Mr. Hooper said. “That, combined with a huge pool of skilled and available academics in India — it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the potential.”

Mr. Hooper is aware that offering teaching services from India in Britain could be controversial and that there might be concerns about the quality of the teaching, foreign accents and the impersonal nature of the Internet.

Britain — like Europe as a whole — is also less accustomed to outsourcing such services than is the United States, where similar one-on-one online tutoring from India has existed for the last five years, offered by companies like India-based TutorVista, in which the British publishing company Pearson owns a stake. BrightSpark is also unique in selling its product to schools in addition to single pupils.

Europe’s desire to outsource services in general had been lagging behind the United States, said Martyn Hart, chairman of Britain’s National Outsourcing Association. “There is social resistance because outsourcing here is always coupled with unemployment,” said Mr. Hart.

Mr. Hooper said he hoped BrightSpark’s product would eventually make outsourced services more popular in Britain and quash concerns among some teachers that it threatens their jobs.

But there is little doubt that online learning increases competition, at least for some in the education sector. Lola Emetulu, a trained lawyer who now works as an office assistant, said that she used to drive her 11-year-old son, Jesse, to his private tutor every Saturday but that “it just took so much out of your day.” She recently signed up to BrightSpark and said she preferred the flexibility.

Jesse said he preferred it, too. “It’s better on the computer,” he added. “The teacher doesn’t know you that much, so he takes it easier on you.”

Taken from the New York Times:

The Doublespeak of Education Reform

By Sue Peters,Co-editor of Seattle Education 2010, a blog of education news and commentary

While watching part of NBC's Education Nation (aka the week long made for TV ad waiting for Superman)) last month, I tuned into the Teacher Town Hall where a teacher from a charter school was asked what made her school successful. "Teachers at our school are given the freedom to innovate!" she replied brightly.

Hmm, I thought. Sounds great. So why aren't the teachers in my children's public schools given that same freedom?

Instead, they are increasingly being slipped into the full nelson of a standardized curriculum measured by an ever-increasing barrage of computerized tests, all imposed by a top-down district management. (It feels stifling just to write about it.) Then the education reformers point an accusatory finger at our schools, call them "failing," and hold up charter schools as exemplars of "innovation."

And that's one of the first ironies -- or hypocrisies -- of the current national dialogue on education reform.

The biggest players in ed reform -- President Obama, Ed Secretary Arne Duncan, billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad: the "Superman" crowd, let's call them -- keep pushing privately run charter schools as the answer to all that ails our public schools (the central theme of 'Superman'). One of the main winning traits of charters, they say, is their freedom to "innovate." Indeed, free of public and school district oversight and mandates, privately run charter schools are granted the right to create their own curricula and empower their teachers to, allegedly, "innovate." (They've also been allowed to exclude and expel students who don't perform to their liking a serious flaw that even Secretary Duncan has acknowledged).)

Understandably, charter operations like to tout this precious autonomy they are given. Green Dot Schools site states:

3. Local Control with Extensive Professional Development and Accountability Principals and teachers own critical decisions at their schools related to budgeting, hiring and curriculum customization.
Now, why aren't our non-charter public schools being given the creative and managerial autonomy that these reformers value in charters? Instead, when it comes to influencing or running our school districts with their corporate management trained superintendants, or their agenda-laden grants, these same reformers impose strictures on our schools and kids that quash innovation.

For example, here in Seattle, why is our district, led by a reformist Broad Academy-trained superintendent, taking autonomy steadily away from individual schools and principals and centralizing it? Why is it telling our teachers they need to follow the central office mandated curriculum exactly? Why is it sending "visitors" from the central office to escort the school principal on pop-ins into classrooms to monitor teachers? (I've heard these are called "Learning Walks" -- apparently a trademarked term.) I can understand a principal checking on her/his staff, but why the accompanying Thought Police?)

Some researchers are even determining where exactly in the classroom a teacher should stand in order to deliver the perfect lesson. I can't help but wonder if it isn't an intentional Catch 22 that some people are trying to trap our public schools in: setting them up to fail, making it impossible for them to be creative or independent, and then saying: "See! They're losers! They don't innovate! Let's sell these schools to the private enterprises of KIPP charters, Green Dot charters, Billy Bob's Acme Charters & Co.!"

Unfortunately this is just one of many conflicting messages coming from this latest breed of ed reformers. Those who are driving the national dialogue about the direction of our kids' public education -- from President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and lurking in the shadows with their open checkbooks, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, the Fishers and the Dells -- are saying one thing out of one side of their mouths and another thing out of the other.

Here are some other examples of ed reform doublespeak:

"CLASS SIZE DOESN'T MATTER (except in charters)"
How many times have we heard the reformers declare that "class size doesn't matter"? They claim that an "excellent" teacher can somehow transcend overstuffed classrooms and reach all kids. If this were true, then why do private schools and charters tout smaller class sizes and individualized attention as a key advantage over public schools?

Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone reportedly has a school with class sizes that average 15 kids, with two licensed teachers to every classroom! That's a private school -- and every parent's -- dream. From the Oct. 13, 2010, New York Times,:

In the tiny high school of the zone's Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

And from the Green Dot charter company web site:
1. Small, Safe, Personalized Schools All Green Dot schools are small (no more than 560 students when fully developed), ensuring that each student will not go unnoticed. In addition, small schools are safe and allow students to receive the personalized attention they need to learn effectively. Classes at each school will be kept as small as financially possible with a target student to teacher ratio of 27:1.
So apparently class size does matter to ed reformers when it comes to charters, but somehow not when it comes to the rest of the kids in regular schools.

How often have we heard the line: "The single most important factor in a child's academic success is the teacher"? Here it is in the recent “manifesto” of (soon to be former) District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and NY schools chief Joel Klein et al:
As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents' income -- it is the quality of their teacher.

And here's NBC (in an Education Nation press release) parroting this line:
Research and school-based evidence around the country now confirms that the most important variable affecting the success of the student is the effectiveness of the teacher, and the second most important variable is the effectiveness of the principal. Those two factors far outweigh the socioeconomic status, the impact of parental involvement or class size.

Problem is, these statements are false.

The most significant indicators and influences on a child's success in school are what's going on in these kids' lives at home. In other words, their socioeconomic background and home life. Of course academic ability is not determined by race, gender or economic status. But success -- the possibility of a child being allowed to fulfill her or his potential -- is necessarily influenced by how much support they get at home, the stability of this home life and whether or not this child comes to school hungry each morning.

For the ed reformers to say that none of this matters -- all you need is an "excellent" teacher -- is false and another rigged scheme: rigged for failure. They may as well be dunking teachers in water to see it they are witches.

It defies common sense to say that a teacher, however brilliant, can transcend all challenges a child brings to school, can navigate a classroom of any size and any needs, and if the child does not succeed in school (in ed reformspeak that only means doing well on standardized tests), it is clearly unfair and inaccurate to lay the blame entirely on the teachers.

A great teacher does make difference, for sure. But a teacher alone cannot determine a child's academic success.

Despite this repeated canard, it's clear that Geoffrey Canada, one of ed reforms' heroes, recognizes these facts. Why else would his HCZ offer all the wraparound services that it does -- Baby College, medical and dental care for students and their families? This is a clear acknowledgment of the fact that a child in poverty needs a great deal more than a stellar teacher to have a fair shot at educational success.

"AN 'EFFECTIVE' TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM (but 5 five weeks of training will do!)"

I also find it rather hypocritical for the ed reformers to say they care about pushing academic achievement for all kids, and measure the success of their reforms by how many kids go to college -- one of Canada's benchmarks for HCZ -- and then turn around and utterly dismiss the higher education of professional teachers.

Returning to the increasingly silly "manifesto":

A 7-year-old girl won't make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master's degree -- she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

If master's degrees are so useless, then why don't we just eliminate all academic degrees in all fields and just hire "effective, engaging" young credentialed dentists and doctors too? Does anyone really need an MBA? Or a law degree, for that matter?

On the one hand the reformers say they want an "effective" or "excellent" teacher in every classroom. On the other hand they promote sending Wendy Kopp's Teach for America, Inc. trainees -- who have only five weeks of training and are only required to commit to two years on the job -- into the most struggling and challenging urban schools in the nation. Only 34 percent of TFA recruits stay in the field for a third year. Teachers don't hit their stride until about the fifth. So most TFA-ers quit before they have even become "effective" teachers. (Michelle Rhee herself is a TFA graduate who only stayed for a few years in the field, and tells so,e pretty damning stories about her own miustakes as an inexperience teacher.)

If the ed reformers were serious about promoting and supporting excellent teachers in every classroom, they would support well-trained professionals who are committed to the kids and the profession for the long term. Instead they disparage dedicated lifetime teachers as dead wood and promote young short-termers as the salvation. And their incessant teacher-bashing utterly undermines any claims they may have of "supporting" teachers.

"MONEY DOESN'T MATTER (except in the Harlem Children's Zone)"
"Money doesn't matter" the reformers like to say. I think even heard President Obama say that recently, alas. And yet, the most comprehensive example of a charter model, Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone, has an operating budget and net assets in the multi-millions.

Reports the New York Times:

In 2009, the Harlem Children's Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project's operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

Canada's Zone, at least acknowledges that underprivileged kids need a great deal of support inside and out of the classroom and school in order to succeed. His program offers social support services and medical services to these kids and their families for years, which is great. But he is given millions and millions of dollars to do it. That gives the lie to all those who say that money is not part of the solution to creating better schools. It also gives the lie to the reformers' teacher-bashing mantra that somehow an "effective" or even "excellent" teacher can transcend all society's ills.

It does take money to hire enough teachers to reduce class sizes, to maintain safe and clean facilities, invest in solid and inspiring curricula and enrichment. That's an indisputable fact. We as a nation have not made education a funding priority. All my life, schools have been holding bake sales, as the famous bumper sticker laments, scrambling to pay for basics. It is a national shame. And the Obama/Duncan lottery of Race to the Top is unconscionable in that it does not fund all 50 states equally or at all.

So here's where I'm at with this: Everything good the reformers tout about private control of our public schools via charters could be given to our existing public schools without handing over the control and finances of our schools to private charter franchise operators.

Smaller class sizes, more creative autonomy for teachers, local autonomy for schools, non-standardizing curricula that allow for more innovation, better resources for the kids from greater allocations of money -- all of this is possible in our existing schools, if our superintendent, school board and central administration office would allocate our school district's resources properly. But they don't -- as the recent damning state audit of Seatle’s School District revealed. (That's why a growing number of parents and The Seatle Times support a "No" vote on the school levy Nov. 2 -- unprecedented in a town that always backs school levies).

ALL public schools should offer ALL these things to ALL kids, no private-charter franchise middlemen required, and no lottery required either.

Taken from the Huffington Post:

Are we all created the same

This is a subject I have been writing about for years. –cpg

By Linda Silverman

All people are not created with equal abilities. We are all good in different things. We all can't be doctors or lawyers or car mechanics. The only thing we can hope for is that we find something that we can be good at, enjoy doing that thing and find a way to make a living doing it. Everyone has different abilities and we all peak at different level, depending upon what that activity is. Unfortunately, this view is not shared by the people writing school curriculums now. Somewhere along the way someone decided that everyone should go to college. Kids, regardless of their abilities are being pushed into courses that they have no interest in and have no ability to understand. Because of this, they often act out and cause disturbances in class. Cutting class is the norm. They would rather fail because they don't want to pass than fail because they cannot master the material.

While I am not happy about these kids, I am more concerned with the ones that come to class every day. They don't disrupt. They do all homework and participate in discussions. They still cannot pass because the work is way above their comprehension. I have been working on polynomial in my algebra class since the beginning of the school year. We've been factoring for over two weeks. I gave an exam today. I only looked at a few papers so far and while many were quite good, some of the answers I saw were quite disturbing. In fact, the answers were so off beat that I wonder if I am really teaching anything at all. Maybe I am speaking Russian and some of the kids are learning in Chinese?

I wish the powers that be would wake up and go back to the old diplomas, like when I went to school -- Academic, Commercial and General. Kids took classes relevant to their interests and no matter what the statistics say, and we all know they can be made to say anything, I think most kids did better then. My own mother got a general diploma years ago. She could never get a degree with today's standards, or, if she did get one, she would have a meaningless one. She would have gotten no training and would not have been able get a job to support herself and her family.

A friend of mine, an administrator in a different school told me that it was racist to track kids as to many minorities end up in the lower end of things. I find that hard to believe. I teach in a middle class Queens high school. The five lowest achievers in my class are Jewish, Irish, Chinese, Italian and Pakistani. I don't see how putting these kids in track classes is racist.

If we really care about children and really believe that no child should be left behind, we must change the curriculum. Teach kids things that are meaningful in their lives. If any of them decide that at a later time, they want to go to college, they can always make up the work they missed and attend.

Taken from the Huffington Post:

Think Sink

By Jaxson, Guest Writer

We have done it their way for the past twelve years, and we have very little to show for Republican domination of the governor's mansion and the state legislature.

The only folks who are better off from GOP domination of Tallahassee are the lobbyists who have free rein in the corridors of power.

This is an issue that Alex Sink has not made very often in her campaign for governor - so I will say it.

While I am glad that Ms. Sink brought up the GOP monopoly during last night's CNN debate, I would like to remind Floridians who has been in charge here. Ms. Sink should not let her opponent keep using the same, tired 'Obama liberal' labels against her.

Remember Jim Greer? Remember Ray Sansom? Remember the Taj Mahal courthouse? These are all on the watch of the Republican Party. And this is the same party that believes that teachers should be punished while they get off scot-free for all of their misdeeds.

Tired of the same crooks trying to micromanage public education? VOTE SINK!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More questions for Senator Thrasher

By Jaxson, Guest Writer

Having watched the Gianoulis-Thrasher debate on WJXX this morning, I walked away with some questions about John Thrasher.

1. If you are such a great state senator, why don't you decide to run for the Florida Senate from your real home in Clay County? Deborah Gianoulis lived within the boundaries of Senate District 8 for more than three decades. Having been an actual resident of a district, instead of a carpetbagging opportunist, actually defines the point of representation. Although there is a center of the arts in his name, Senator Thrasher appears to be running away from something in Clay County.

2. Does Senator Thrasher know what political parties are for? He snidely derided Deborah Gianoulis for accepting support from the Democratic Party. Stop the presses! A Democrat is getting support from her own party? Senator Thrasher was very artful in this attempt to distract from the fact that the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida is locked in such a tight race.

3. Does Senator Thrasher realize that he is a liberal? Senator Thrasher opposes new taxes. This means that he is a conservative. Wrong! Although he has been trying to claim that Deborah Gianoulis would be willing to tax anything that moves, Senator Thrasher is really the candidate who is in favor of higher taxes. Senator Thrasher wants to play the hero when he advocates making major cuts in state revenue, but fails to acknowledge that county and municipal government have to raise their taxes to make up for the shortfall. This is one reason why Duval County politicians opposed Amendment 1 back in 2008. Senator Thrasher, however, decided to single out Deborah Gianoulis' opposition because he did not want a few facts to get in the way of a good mudslinging.

4. Does John Thrasher belive in home rule? Not likely. Remember Senate Bill 6? This 'education reform' bill was an epic power grab from Tallahassee that dictated how school districts negotiated pay with educators, that forced schools to adopt expensive new tests, that penalized school districts for not abiding by state mandates. This 'education reform' bill was part of a long line of unfunded state mandates that burdened the school districts. Senator Thrasher should be taken with a grain of salt the next time he complains about Washington D.C. being imperious with its power.

5. Whats up with Senator Thrasher and the teachers unions? Senator Thrasher never hesitates to cry wolf when he gets the chance. Those mean unions are opposed to any meaningful change to education. I am not sure that Senator Thrasher is even aware that Duval County's school system already has a merit pay plan in place (and was approved by the Florida Department of Education). How did the merit pay plan come into place? The district negotiated with the unions. Since then, the merit pay plan has won the support of the teachers. Once again, Senator Thrasher doesn't like to worry about the facts when they get in the way of old-fashioned demagoguery.

Just Following Orders

The expression, just following orders, has a certain connotation. It’s what the German war criminals said during the Nuremberg trials as they tried to defend the indefensible. And where nothing can compare to that, and I hope if you are reading this, you don’t think I am trying but that’s what the powers-that-be at 1701 Prudential Drive say they are doing, they are just following orders.

They are following orders from the Federal Government having to do with No Child Left Behind and orders from the State that has to do with a whole host of issues. Orders issued by far off bureaucrats many of whom if they were in a classroom it was long ago and I would argue none have an idea of what is best for the children of Jacksonville, quite simply because they are not hear walking through the halls of the city’s schools.

The thing is many of the orders we are following and many of the issues Jacksonville is having are orders and issues being followed and had countrywide as well. Districts everywhere are being required to send unprepared and overmatched ESE students into regular education classrooms. Everywhere there is “an everybody will attend college mantra: regardless of the students ability or desire. Then there is the fact that standardized, high stakes tests that force schools to just teach the test is not just a Florida phenomenon but like a sickness it has forced it’s way into the whole body of public education.

The federal and state governments send us money, often just our money back to us with strings attached saying if you want it you have to do this and our leaders seemingly without care pass on these orders to teachers most of who know what they are doing is not beneficial to their children. If I thought for one second, posting the benchmark and having a massive tome of a data notebook would be beneficial to my kids I would do it in a heart beat. After all I and 99.9% of teachers got into the field because we wanted to help make a difference in the lives of children. The thing is they don’t and telling me a rooster is a pig, doesn’t make a rooster a pig.

Somebody has to stand up and say no more. I am not going to administer that shock, or terrorize those inmates; I am not going to follow one more order that handcuffs teachers or sets children back. No more will I be part of a process that is robbing a whole generation of children of the chance to lead productive lives. I will no longer follow these misguided orders being forced down the throats of school districts all across the country, that are not making things better but are making things worse. Somebody has to say enough is enough. Or are we just going to follow orders, even though these orders have disastrous consequences.

Following is easy right; you just do what you are told to do. However we have enough followers right now and in these desperate times we need some leaders. We need somebody to stand up and say, no thanks we have decided to do what’s right not just what we were told to do.

Are We Heading in the Wrong Direction

By Tony Zinni, elemetary school teacher

The other day, I was in surf clothing store and I watched a very interesting situation unfold, or maybe I should say fold. The sales people were so engrossed with a display they were working on that they failed to engage or even acknowledge the customers in the store. I can't imagine the company's CEO touting the emphasis on displays to shareholders while sales plummet! Of course not. We all know that nice displays are not the main objective. They are a means, but definitely not the end when comes to the success or failure of any retail business. This path leads to insolvency.
That's what so great about the free market. It forces organizations to keep the "main thing" the "main thing" or problems ensue.

As I thought more about the irony of what I saw that day, unfortunately it reminded me of what I see unfolding in our nation's much-needed attempt at reforming public education. As a teacher I am excited about the possibility of reinventing a system that was designed around the parameters of the industrial age. However, the path in which we have embarked is one that leads to the same phenomena I witnessed in the store. We are building a system centered on the "displays." We have forgotten the main purpose/objective of public education.

How are we doing this?

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you took a multiple choice test? My guess is that you have not taken one since you completed your education. Or if you have, it has related to attaining a license or similar certification. The reality is that multiple choice tests don't correlate to real life. Yet that is the center piece of "accountability" in the plan to reform education being proposed and implemented. The plans focus on "displays" and not the true objective of education.

Our myopic focus on standardized testing has taken our eyes off the real goal of education which, put simply, is to prepare students to succeed in the world they will face upon completing their education. If passing multiple choice tests equates to success in life, then we are doing a heck of a job, but if they don't, then we are doing our kids a disservice.

We are headed in the wrong direction. The unintended consequences of this well-intended reform will actually exacerbate the problem. If we hope to create an educational system that is second to none we must take a more holistic approach to revamping education in America. It is important to note that many of the steps we are taking to improve education are going to have positive outcomes. Programs designed to improve STEM education and Change the Equation are two examples. Students, educators and society will all benefit from the leadership and vision of all of those involved.

I want to be clear about one thing because I have seen and read things that make it sound like teachers don't want accountability and/or testing. As a teacher, I believe we need both.

The problem with the current focus and direction is that it places too much weight on one test given at the end of the year. Does that sit right with you? We are going to gauge the entire year by a set of questions with four possible answers! This measurement is too narrow. The mistake is compounded by the fact that this assessment has virtually no relationship with the world our children will be thrust into upon exiting the system.

Lest I be misunderstood, I think state testing should be a part of how we assess student learning and teacher effectiveness, but it should not be the only part.

As I person who left business to pursue a passion for teaching, I can say (I know all teachers feel the same) that I am "waiting for Superman" too! Unfortunately, if we don't change the direction in which we are headed, the wait is going to get longer, much longer.

Stay tuned for ideas on the path we should be walking down.

Taken from the Huffington Post: