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Monday, October 31, 2011

Duval County lacks leadership

Does it seem to you like Superintendent Pratt-Dannals is just playing out the string? He gave away control of seven schools to an EMO when he didn’t have to and he recommended despite the well-documented failure of the first KIPP school that they be alowed to start two more.

His answer to our cities education problems seems to be, let somebody else take care of it. Is this really the leadership we are paying more than a quarter million dollars to receive?

Is Duval Superintendent Ed Pratt Dannals in the pocket of the KIPP School?

From the Times Union, by Topher Sanders: The board will vote on whether to approve two new elementary schools for KIPP Jacksonville. KIPP Jacksonville’s current school, KIPP Impact Middle School, opened in the 2010-11 school year and earned an F grade. KIPP passed enough sections of the charter school application to receive a recommendation from the district for approval.

So let me get this straight, the school is a F school but they did well enough to warrant being able to open two more schools. Somebody is going to have to explain that one to me.

What’s wrong in waiting to see if they have some success first?

Does the Duval County School board lack vision

It’s fitting that tonight is Halloween as the Duval County school board is just hours away from potentially playing the grim reaper to 18 teachers careers, voting whether to let them go or not. As they are thinking about their decision I wonder if they will consider that just a few years ago the district was so desperate for teachers that it was recruiting for them in Canada, India and in the business world.

I wonder if they will have the foresight to know that if the economy ever turns around they won’t be able to find enough qualified applicants to man our classrooms. Why would young teachers want to come here when they could go to other states that actually care about education and respect their teachers?

Things will be even worse if the school board votes to rift teachers during the middle of the year. Everyone will now know what many teachers already believe and that is the school board thinks of them as little more than easily replaceable cogs.

Peoples livelihoods hang in the balance and furthermore at this point these teachers will have no shot of finding teaching positions in the greater metropolitan area, something they may have been able to do had they been let go five months ago when nearly 300 other teachers were given pink slips.

The school board may be able to save some money in the short term but in the long run if they make this decision they will lose much more than that.

A few things people should know about poverty and education

A few things people should know about poverty and education

1. It is the number one quantifiable measure when looking at how children do in school. Children who live in poverty as a group do a lot worse than children who don’t.

2. Over a fifth of our children live in poverty and another fifth just above it.

3. Corporate education reformers deny and overlook poverty but they profit off it at the same time. Just look where most of the nations charter schools are and which children they serve.

4. The nations one-size fits all system poorly serves children who live in poverty. Six hours a day and 9 months of the year may be enough time for the kids in the suburbs and the affluent neighborhoods but it’s not enough time for the kids on the wrong side of the tracks. Public schools and their teachers aren’t failing these kids, the system is.

5. Finally we don’t have the kids we wish we had, we have the ones we do and we better start meeting the kids in poverty where they are not where we wish they were. If we don’t things are just going to get worse.

When is too many tests too many

From the Miami Herald

By Laura Isensee

A long line of tests stand between students and summer — baseline exams, interim tests, FCAT and end-of-course state exams, to name a few.

Many Miami-Dade students can scratch some tests off the list. No more midterms or finals for students in grades 6 through 12.

The longtime staples have been quietly eliminated by the Miami-Dade public schools and the school board. Approved at the October meeting, the policy makes midterms and finals optional.

Many students are elated, even shocked.

“It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about a midterm or a final. It’s a lot easier to get a better grade,” said Katie Goldman, a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High.

Midterms and finals, which cover large amounts of material, can weigh heavily on the course grade and grade point average — an increasingly precious number for students vying for college admissions. “It’s a lot less stressful. People freak out about their grade,” said Goldman, 18.

On the flip side, students who hope to ace a midterm or final, boosting their grade, may be bummed. That’s why Hope Wilcox, the student advisor to the school board, first doubted the policy. Students’ incredulous, but strong support changed her mind. She didn’t question the board about it on the dais.

To be sure, tests are not going away. Teachers can give midterms and finals if they want. And students may take quarterly exams. Plus the other state and federal tests and local Miami-Dade assessments that are packed into the year and provide data on students.

District officials say the change is an effort to ease the testing burden on students in secondary grades.

Millie Fornell, Miami-Dade’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said in an email that the timing for those other assessments often coincided with midterms and finals.

For example, the testing schedule gets extra busy at the end of the year: Advanced Placement exams, other college-prep tests and the end-of-course exams.

The change comes as Florida moves to common end-of-course exams. Last year, Algebra I debuted and in 2012 will see geometry and biology.

Those state exams don’t take the place of classroom midterms or finals, said Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman with the state’s Department of Education. “If they already have a system in place — if they had a midterm or final exam — there’s nothing to keep them from doing that,” she said.

In fact, when Virginia moved to state end-of-course exams, Mel Riddile, a former Virginia principal, said he kept midterms and finals, considering it a more comprehensive approach.

“We didn’t want to wait until the end of the year to find out if students were on target to master the course,” said Riddile, now associate director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Other reasons: teachers could get final grades quicker; finals could serve as a testing warm-ups and there was no match-up between the end-of-course exam — meant as a minimum bar — and an actual course grade.

Karen Aronowitz, president of the United Teachers of Dade, said the district’s change takes away from the value of the work being done by teachers. Teachers typically design the midterm or final for their class, so the exam matches what has been taught up until that point. Other tests that will remain obligatory are more standardized, Aronowitz said.

“When we want to talk about what is really happening in curriculum, you’ve once again made some generality that trumps the work that is going on in the classroom,” Aronowitz said.

Fornell said the district considered teachers and the policy gives them the opportunity to “exercise their professional judgment” and decide what’s the best way to assess learning. The district recently released new grading guidelines.

Some teachers are pleased with the change. “I think this helps alleviate some of the pressure,” said Betty Fritz, who teaches intensive reading at Palmetto Middle School. “It seems like every time you turn around you’re testing or you’re preparing for a test or you’re reviewing a test. It’s a lot of stress.”

Said School Board Vice Chair Lawrence Feldman: “For students, the elimination of the midterm and final exams will allow our students additional opportunities to concentrate their efforts on mastering concepts and skills.”

Even with the change, not everyone will escape midterms or finals. Wilcox, a senior at Miami Lakes Educational Center, said her calculus and computer networking teachers have announced they are keeping midterms and finals.

“Me personally, I’m fine with it,” Wilcox said. “But I know a lot of my peers probably wouldn’t be.”

Read more:

The assult on science

From the Art of Teaching Science

by Jack Hassard

Is There An Assault on Science?

Yesterday, I wrote a brief post introducing a new book by Shawn Otto entitled Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America. For the past four years, Otto has co-led, a grassroots organization that has tried to influence the 2008 and the 2012 presidential elections. The goal is to sponsor nonpartisan debates among candidates for the office of President of the United States. The basis for is reflected in this quote from their website:

By bringing candidates together with scientists, the media and the public in a safe and nonpartisan debate setting, science can be restored as an electoral value, a foundation of American democracy, and a non-partisan basis for sound and effective policymaking, helping to “unstick” the United States from decades of paralysis on the largest policy challenges facing the country.

Otto believes that America has a “science problem” and the problem is how science is discussed (or not discussed) in the media, in the Congress, and in his case, in presidential debates. His book is a good primer on science in American society, and I think provides people with a view that ought to be considered.

Otto points out that many important public policies challenges revolve around science, but he wonders if those in the position of decision making understand science, or understand how science-related decisions should be made. He says this:

In an age when most major public policy challenges revolve around science, less than 2 percent of congresspersons have professional backgrounds in it. The membership of the 112th Congress, which ran from January 2011 to January 2013, included one physicist, one chemist, six engineers, and one microbiologist.

In contrast, how many representatives and senators do you suppose have law degrees—and whom many suspect avoided college science classes like the plague? Two hundred twenty-two. It’s little wonder we have more rhetoric than fact in our national policymaking. Lawyers are trained to create a compelling narrative to wind an argument, but as any trial lawyer will tell you, that argument uses facts selectively and only for the purposes of winning the argument, not for establishing the truth.

We witness arguments in Congress, on TV, on the Internet, and in presidential debates on science-related issues, and it makes you wonder about the literacy of those who have chosen to run for America’s highest office. But, it’s really not as simple as that. Scientific knowledge develops within a social context, and Otto notes the importance of discussing issues that connect science to society. Medical breakthroughs, medical research, environmental sustainability, global warming, alternative energy, health care, cancer research, the teaching of evolution, bioengineering, and space exploration are some of the science areas that directly relate to policy making and the laws that Congress makes.

Otto believes that science is often assaulted when debates on policy making that require scientific knowledge are held. Using a technique that the media loves (the split screen), all issues that are discussed have two sides—the left or the right; the Republican or the Democratic. Although making public policy is not the same as how a theory is developed in science, it’s probably important that scientific knowledge be used in a way that represents science in making important decisions. Years ago, the tobacco industry used the technique of arguing two sides of the smoking issue, but selectively used its own research, or denied what science research had shown about smoking, or simply raised doubt about the “science” of tobacco research in order to “win” the argument, not seek the truth about smoking.

We see similar tactics being used when climate change and global warming are debated. Of course, the issue that has impacted science education is the teaching of evolution. The same tactic that “big tobacco” used continues to be used. Over the years, there have been attempts to show that there is another side of the theory of evolution—creation science or intelligent design. We’ve used the courts to settle scientific and health issues, such as abortion, teaching evolution, and so forth.

Otto claims that a narrowness in thinking emerges when science related issues that lead to policy making are on the table. Science research that could impinge of policy making is sometimes prevented from being shared, or is altered. For example, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s chief scientist on climate change, has had some of his work censored and modified by White House (Bush) staff. An Editorial in the Washington Post on Politics and Science discussed this case, and pointed out that a NASA spokesperson, appointed by the White House, interfered in the work of scientists at NASA:

Mr. Deutsch (A NASA media spokesperson) prevented reporters from interviewing James E. Hansen, the leading climate scientist at NASA, telling colleagues he was doing so because his job was to “make the president look good.” Mr. Deutsch also instructed another NASA scientist to add the word “theory” after every written mention of the Big Bang, on the grounds that the accepted scientific explanation of the origins of the universe “is an opinion” and that NASA should not discount the possibility of “intelligent design by a creator.”

In science education, teachers have had to deal with topics in the science curriculum that are viewed as controversial including the teaching of evolution, discussions of birth control, theories of the origins of the universe, such as the Big Bang, global warming and climate change. School boards, parents, and politicians have gotten involved in trying to pass rules restricting what and how “controversial” topics are taught, and have lately used the pedagogy of “critical thinking” to make sure that “all” sides of each controversial topic are discussed. Although the teaching of evolution, or I should say creation science/intelligent design was settled by Federal Judge John Jones in the famous Dover, Pennsylvania case when the judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, and had no place in a science class. The judge had this to say in his ruling:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy. With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

In my own view, case like the Dover intelligent design issue, the Kansas science standards controversy, attempts by legislators and state school boards in Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana to legislate the content of the science curriculum to satisfy their own (often religious beliefs) opinions is an assault on the integrity of the teaching profession to make professional decisions on curriculum and pedagogy.

There is an assault on science and science education, and as I’ll discuss further in the days ahead, there is an assault on public education.

Some states starting to get it about charter schools, of cource Florida is not one of them

From the Hechinger Report

By Sarah Butrymowicz

The New Jersey Department of Education surprised many this fall when state administrators approved only four new charter schools out of an applicant pool of 55. In a different round of applications just nine months earlier, the Office of Charter Schools had trumpeted its decision to grant 23 charters—or about half of applicants—as part of Gov. Chris Christie’s pro-charter education reform agenda.

Of the four charters most recently approved, three will be located in cities, a victory for many suburban towns that vigorously fought proposals to open charters in their school districts.

Some experts are suggesting that New Jersey has made a conscious decision to slow charter growth, reflecting a national trend to focus on quality over quantity. The move could also be considered a peace offering to suburban voters, who are unhappy with the proliferation of charters in the state. Still others are describing the decrease in the number of new charters as political sleight of hand, designed to distract from and ultimately stop legislation that would significantly overhaul New Jersey’s charter school law, by mandating financial transparency and requiring a local vote for charter approval.

“We don’t quite know what limits we’re hitting, but somehow we may be reaching the dollars required and collective enthusiasm necessary to open up charter schools,” said Bruce Fuller, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley who studies charter schools.

In the past decade, about 400 new charters have opened nationally every year, even as charter critics have pointed to research showing that the majority don’t do significantly better than traditional public schools. In response, charter advocates have stepped up their calls for greater charter-school accountability, supporting laws and practices that make it easier to shut down low-performing charters and make it tougher to start a charter in the first place.

Some states, like Minnesota and Ohio, have hit the brakes on charter-school expansion to ensure quality among those that do open. Now, New Jersey may be joining them.

Charters have been a key focus of Gov. Christie’s education agenda since his election, but both he and acting state education commissioner Chris Cerf tempered their enthusiasm for charters over the summer. In speeches and press conferences, they said that charters may not have a place in districts that beat statewide averages on standardized tests. Christie has said, for instance, that if a charter were to open in a suburb, “there should be a need for that school and a demand for that school.”

Still, Todd Ziebarth, vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, argues that while charter-school authorizers in some states have become more discerning and slowed expansion, there are still new areas in which the charter movement can grow. “The charter phenomenon is spreading to other states,” he said. “Within states, it’s spreading to different” communities.

He acknowledged that New Jersey seems to be slowing down charter growth, however. “It seems like the state has raised the bar on what they want to see in the quality of the application,” Ziebarth said. “It’s not surprising to see a low percentage this time around. We’ll see if it adjusts.”

This fall’s charter approval process was the toughest yet after the Office of Charter Schools aligned its standards with the “national best practices” recommended by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. They include having a well-rounded board of trustees and experienced school operators.

Some of the new requirements were not included on New Jersey’s charter application, said Jutta Gassner-Snyder, whose application to open a Mandarin-immersion elementary school, Hua Mei Charter School, in Maplewood was turned down.

Gassner-Snyder was among the many would-be charter operators who spent the summer battling public school districts. In New Jersey, the opposition to charters has been strongest in the suburbs, where residents are worried about competition for state funding between traditional public schools and charters.

The state’s schools receive the bulk of their funding based on a per-pupil allotment. When a student attends a charter school, the charter gets 90 percent of that student’s funding allotment, while the district keeps the remaining 10 percent.

Nationally, as school budgets continue to be cut, there’s a possibility that both Republican and Democratic governors will hedge their support of charter schools, especially if suburban voters see them as a growing threat, suggested Fuller.

“The White House has been romantically taken by the potential of charter schools,” he said, referring to an increase in federal funding under the Obama administration as well as incentives in grant competitions for states to lift charter caps. “But the fact that a state, even with a Republican governor, would be so cautious about expanding charter schools probably spells political trouble for the Obama initiative.”

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, a Newark-based law firm focused on public education, suggested that the state education department may have rejected most of the charter applicants not out of quality concerns or in reaction to parent protests, but to slow down or derail legislation introduced earlier in the year that would strengthen the state’s charter law. This summer, the State Assembly passed bills to require local approval of charter schools and to demand more financial and educational transparency from charter schools. The bills are now before the State Senate.

It “raises a lot of red flags of what’s really going on behind closed doors at the [New Jersey] Department of Education,” said Sciarra. “Because of the lack of public disclosure about it [and] refusal to be open and transparent, the public is left in the dark about what happened here.”

Hua Mei’s supporters haven’t given up, however, despite the fact that New Jersey’s charter school debate rages on. The group reapplied on Oct. 17 for consideration in the next round. Decisions will be announced in January 2012.

The new application saw some significant revisions, including the fact that only two districts—Maplewood-South Orange and West Orange—would be the source of students, down from five in the original proposal. All five districts wrote letters to the State Department of Education opposing the charter when it first applied.

The would-be charter has ended its battle with Millburn—an affluent town with schools typically considered among the state’s best—when the district announced this fall that it would reintroduce strategic global languages at the elementary school level, said Gassner-Snyder.

Livingston is also off the list of districts from which Hua Mei would potentially draw students. Gassner-Snyder explained that the “animosity and the legal muscle they can flex [are] just not something we can withstand.”

Bill Gates might know computers but he doesn't know education

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet

By Anthony Cody

Bill Gates was just in the news again, bemoaning the sorry state of America’s schools, insisting that business leaders like him have a lot to teach us about measuring performance.

Mr. Gates, in years past, has worried about the fact that we rank poorly on international educational comparisons, suggesting this will cause us to fall behind economically. The answer, according to Mr. Gates, is that we must get rid of bad teachers. He said, during his appearance on Oprah last year, that if we got rid of all the bad teachers, “our schools would shoot from the bottom of these rankings to the top.”

In order to be able to fire all these bad teachers, we need to be able to measure their performance. The measurements he wants to use are the data from our students’ test scores, which tell us how much “value” we have added to them. These students are our raw material, and just like any manufacturing process, we ought to be paid and evaluated according to how much value we have added to the product as it passed through our hands. His foundation created the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, which has come up with something they call “multiple measures” of good teaching, but unfortunately it appears all these measures lead back to test score data.

One great thing about the past decade is that teachers have become good at analyzing data. But we are now being presented with data that goes beyond the test scores, and I am wondering if Bill Gates has any interest in this. I think it might be germane. It sheds some fresh light on where the United States is in relation to other countries on some other indicators.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow just wrote:

“We have not taken care of the least among us. We have allowed a revolting level of income inequality to develop. We have watched as millions of our fellow countrymen have fallen into poverty. And we have done a poor job of educating our children and now threaten to leave them a country that is a shell of its former self. We should be ashamed.

Poor policies and poor choices have led to exceedingly poor outcomes. Our societal chickens have come home to roost.

Here are some of the data points Mr. Blow shared, citing a report called “On Social Justice in the OECD.” The OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has 34 country members and helps governments tackle the economic, social and governance challenges of a globalized economy.. The report summary states:

Poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor is a major problem in the OECD. Of the 31 countries examined, on average, 10.8 percent of the people are poor. This means they have to live with less than half the national median household income.

U.S.: 21.6 percent of children affected by poverty

Particular concern is the phenomenon of child poverty: on average about 12.3 percent of children live below the poverty line. Therefore, it lacks many places on the basic requirements of social justice and participation. The differences within the OECD is alarming: While in Denmark only 3.7 percent of children affected by poverty, the rate in the United States at alarming 21.6 percent (rank 28). Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico cut worse than the largest economy in the world.

Education needs to invest!

Many of the 31 participating OECD countries have significant deficits in the question of equitable educational opportunities. Again, it is the Northern European countries, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, which are particularly successful in this respect also. The U.S. major economies (ranked 20), Britain (21) or Germany (22) land on the other hand only in the lower third of the rankings. Including school systems and increased investment in early childhood education are key tools to continue to provide more equal opportunities in education.

So the United States, according to this report, ranks next to Greece, Turkey, Mexico and Chile in terms of the percentage of children in poverty. Here is the data. (And interestingly, if you want to connect the dots, and you break out the international test scores according to the poverty level of the students, you will find that American schools NOT afflicted by poverty rank among the top in the world.)

Teachers see this data in a different way. Here is a note from my friend Sarah Puglisi, who teaches third grade in California,

“Homelessness and poverty up close is hard. It smells, actually in my room this year, it takes from the very fiber of a being, it is destructive to those that stand in uselessness looking as well as those suffering it. I’m dealing with a woman and her child suffering terribly now — she should never be alone in this, her faculties are not good enough to deal. She can’t go grow food on some family place, she’s like a forgotten being. And so are the supports that should exist, dysfunctional. But my concern is a child, one not washing, that can’t get into a shelter til after 9 at night that’s out by 5AM, that hasn’t had a real bath in a month. No costume for him. And I need to go buy him a pair of pants or two really, couple shirts and get his clothes and wash them. Among the realities in my teaching work I think I’m beginning to understand what I really need to articulate is what poverty is like to a learner. A child that didn’t pick, nor make any of this. And who is so sweet.”

Many teachers see poverty up close, although our students do their best to hide it. Like wounded birds, they do not want others to see their weakness. They tease one another about buying clothes at Salvation Army, or living in a cardboard box. Those of us who have worked in schools with children in poverty are very familiar with this data.

Are our billionaire education reformers interested in any of this information?

We can choose tax structures that underfund our schools, we can believe that we are collectively “broke” while some people stack up the billions, and still need tax breaks. But the data is in. The gulf between rich and poor is obscene. And the schools alone will not fix this. Sending more children to college will not fix this. Only social policies that aim to reverse the concentration of wealth will make a real difference.

Bill Gates can produce the most elaborate teacher evaluation system in the world, but any system built upon the two dimensional data provided by test scores will be trumped by the smell and taste of poverty in our classrooms, and the cold hard data that shows we are failing to provide the most basic level of support for our children to live healthy lives and learn well in school.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The right has engaged in class warfare for years now

It always amuses me when the right talks about class warfare. They have had union members, teachers and civil servants, i.e. the middle class in their cross hairs for the last few years now.

Protect the millionaires and billionaires they scream but at the same time they are willing to throw the middle class under the bus. There is class warfare going on and it's the middle class who has been taking the beating. It's time enough was enough.


Florida spending less on, expecting more from, education

From the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board

Florida has made extensive changes to boost academic rigor in public schools and buff its national reputation, but benchmarks such as the National Assessment of Education Progress show that Florida's still eating the dust of pacesetters like Massachusetts. So state officials are wise to propose raising the bar for passing the state's overhauled Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT 2.0.

It's a proposal that new state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson rightly declares "represent(s) the next great step in our journey to create a model education system for the nation." But it's a journey doomed for frustration — if the Legislature doesn't provide adequate traveling money.

The FCAT helps guide decisions on student promotion, course assignment and graduation. Last month a panel led by Florida school superintendents, including Orange County's Ron Blocker, and also composed of education and civic group members, reviewed recommendations from an educators' panel to raise passing scores for the test. The superintendent-led group pushed the bar a few points higher.

The panel also tweaked the scoring system to even up the percentages of students passing the test from grade to grade. Currently, students in earlier grades do better on the test than high schoolers.

The State Board of Education could OK the plan in December. And it should. Changes would take effect next year.

Increased rigor will help Florida compete both on the national and global stage. But educators rightly worry about the fallout.

Last year, 16 percent of third-graders couldn't manage a passing score on the FCAT reading test. The proposed scoring would have raised that to 18 percent, meaning an additional 36,400 students in jeopardy of repeating third grade. That would create a need for more teachers and classrooms to re-teach the holdovers.

Not to mention a burning need for struggling kids to receive intensive reading and math coaching — largely a memory after years of deep budget cuts.

If, as Gov. Rick Scott insists, Florida's future depends on "world-class schools," ratcheting up academic rigor is the right thing to do. Now, lawmakers need to do right by schools.

With yet another multibillion-dollar deficit looming, expecting the Legislature to beef up school spending may be tilting at windmills. But maintaining level funding shouldn't be a quixotic expectation.

Blocker got it right when he told the Sentinel that educators are "willing to do the job, but legislators need to put some grease behind it and make it work.",0,4354988.story

Florida continues to shortchange its universities

From the St. Petersburg Times Editorial Board

At least credit former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux for being half-right: Tuition at Florida's public universities is too low. But so is the state's direct support. The hard fact that no one in Tallahassee's majority party seems willing to acknowledge is that the state, not just students, must invest more in higher education if Florida's universities are ever going to rank among the nation's best and help diversify the economy.

LeMieux, seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, made his remarks last Sunday on Political Connections, a weekly television show produced by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9. "If we're going to create great jobs in this state, we need better education," LeMieux said, adding: "It requires money, and this is a controversial thing to say … tuition at our universities is way too low." In fact, it's 45th lowest in the nation, the College Board reported last week.

But also too low is the state's contribution to universities, down 27 percent during this recession. The upshot of such disinvestment by taxpayers: Florida's four largest universities now spend far less on students than similar-sized counterparts across the Southeast — particularly those with national reputations and higher aspirations.

For example, taxpayers in North Carolina in 2009-10 sent almost as much money to Chapel Hill to support the well-regarded University of North Carolina, $11,300 per student, as this state spends in tax and tuition dollars combined at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Add tuition dollars and UNC-Chapel Hill spent 70 percent more per student — nearly $19,500 — than the University of Florida's $11,500. To be sure, students paid more to attend UNC: $8,200 average tuition and fees compared with UF's $4,800. But at both institutions, students contributed 42 percent of costs, based on the data the institutions submitted to their accreditation agency, the Southern Regional Education Board.

The spending is even more depressingly low at the Universities of South Florida and Central Florida, where per-student spending was just $9,500 and $8,730, respectively. The result is all too clear to those on campuses: bigger classes, more online classes, temporary faculty members, and salaries that lag behind other institutions such as UNC that have far more resources at their disposal to lure top-flight faculty — the lifeblood of any academic institution.

Yet UF, USF and UCF are three of the 11 state universities that Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature claim will lead the state's drive to diversify the economy — even as they appear poised to strip more resources from them.

Facing another $2 billion budget gap in 2012-13 and unwilling to consider new revenue sources, Scott last week launched a review of the state higher education system, intimating he questions why universities cost as much as they do even in cheapskate Florida. Earlier this month, the governor suggested universities weren't correctly channeling resources, saying on a radio talk show that the state doesn't need any more anthropology majors. And he's asked for a survey of which college majors get the best-paying jobs. It's little more than an effort to apply the same bottom-line measurements to higher education that Scott used to wring profits out of private hospitals.

The governor frequently claims his goal is to provide the best higher education in the nation. But the governor has yet to define that, other than to suggest universities need to expand science, technology and math degrees. The Legislature cannot allow Scott to fuse a solution for improving STEM education with a mission to cut spending elsewhere. If all Republicans do in the coming legislative session is reallocate measly resources in the name of economic development, the state will only lose more ground academically.

Florida universities need more investment, not less. And they need state leaders who understand that the best education is never the cheapest.

The right continues to ignore poverty in education reform

From the Art of Teaching Science

by Jack Hassard

PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, released results last month, and you would have thought the sky was falling if you listened to our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. PISA is an international assessment that is administered to 15 year-old students in participating countries. The PISA assessment has been administered in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The 2009 test results were released in December 2010. In 2009, 65 countries participated in the test. In general average scores are used to make comparisons among countries. The U.S. average was 502 (OECD average was 501). According to the 2009 report, among the other 64 countries and education systems, 18 had higher average scores, 33 had lower average scores, and 13 had average scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average score. If we rank order the countries according to average test score, the U.S. is in 19th place, and using the sports analogy, we are not at the top, and that that’s what causes politicians, corporate leaders, and state departments to make dire assessments of the quality of American education. The leaders of the U.S. government actually said that these test results (coming in 19th) was a “sputnik momement.”

Sputnik moment or not, this is the predicted reaction of “leaders” when ever international (or national) test results are released. In fact, the headlines of many nations’ national newspapers often are headlined with claims that the “sky is falling” and that the educational system is a failure. Politicians, corporate heads, and others rush to make judgements, and lead their nations down paths that are harmful to the educational systems they claim is failing.

One problem here is the over reliance on test scores to make judgements about systems of education that in some cases are huge (the U.S. has 15,000 different school districts), very small (Singapore is City-State, perhaps comparable to one U.S. district), distinctly different in terms of how many students live in poverty, differences in the way schools are funded, teachers prepared, and curriculum developed and implemented.

The current wave of “reform” based on core standards, and student test scores would have us believe that the major factor influencing the performance of students is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Out-of school factors, and the variety of differences among school leadership, curriculum, and teacher collaboration are not considered. If educators bring up the issue of the effects of poverty on student achievement, education leaders such as Joe Klein, formerly of the NYC schools, and Michelle Ree, formerly of the D.C. schools insist that performance in school by all students should be the result of the effectiveness of the teacher; poverty levels should have no effect. Nonsense.

In an extremely interesting analysis of the latest PISA test results, Mel Riddle, in his blog post, the Princpal Difference, reported the results of a different analysis by National Association of Secondary Schools Executive Director, Dr. Gerold Tirozzi. Tirozzi “took a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores compared with the rest of the world’s, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government’s free and reduced lunched program for students below the poverty line,”
according to Cynthia McCabe. The analysis led to this finding:

■In schools where less than 10 percent of students get free or reduced lunch, the reading score is 551. That would place those U.S. students at No. 2 on the international ranking for reading, just behind Shanghai, China which topped the ranking with a score of 556.
■Of all the nations participating in the PISA assessment, the U.S. has, by far, the largest number of students living in poverty–21.7%. The next closest nations in terms of poverty levels are the United Kingdom and New Zealand have poverty rates that are 75% of ours.
■U.S. students in schools with 10% or less poverty are number one country in the world.
■U.S. students in schools with 10-24.9% poverty are third behind Korea, and Finland.
■U.S. students in schools with 25-50% poverty are tenth in the world.

Riddle’s analysis is an important contribution to the conversation about the meaning and implications PISA-type test results. As he says: It’s Poverty Not Stupid. American schools have been maligned by politicians and especially corporate leaders such as Bill Gates, and for the last decade, starting with the NCLB Act, the Race to the Top, the parallel development by the National Governor’s Association of the Common Core Stands, and the movement to link teacher evaluation to the student test scores—we are running down (or up) a path that will do great harm to the American public school system.

Jacksonville is front and center of the National Charter School debate

From Grumpy Educators

by Sandra

While charter school expansion continues in Florida, so do the challenges to local decision-making. KIPP is a nationally recognized charter operator; however, KIPP Jacksonville operates a middle school with an "F" performance. The charter's application to open two new charters was questioned by the Duval School Board, which asked KIPP to explain why they should approve an application for more schools when they are operating one with an "F". Duval will vote on the application on November 1; however, KIPP has said they will appeal if their application is rejected.

Parents, community members, and taxpayers rely on school boards, who have the mandated responsibility of approving applications to open charters, monitoring them, and closing those who are non-performing. The application itself does not include reporting on a charter's performance history. Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson does not believe the application should include such information; however he does believe that school boards must consider charter performance as part of their decision-making process. In a Florida Department of Education statement, Robinson's views were clarified:

The Commissioner contends that performance of charter schools should be taken into consideration prior to any new charter school development because providing a quality learning environment for all students is paramount.

The Florida Times-Union quotes Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who said that "a poorly performing school shouldn’t be approved to open new schools."

“KIPP nationally is a great organization, but every school still has to earn its own way,” Richmond said.

“So if you’re an 'F’ school, you’ve got to bring that grade up before you can start talking about opening some more schools.”

The November 1 decision is one to follow as well as Charter USA's challenge to the recent Polk County School Board's rejection of their application.

With mounting challenges to a local school board decision, what can parents rely on to make informed decisions on school choice?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Rick Scott's latest villian, college professors

From the Herald Tribune

by Eric Ernst

Parade magazine publishes an annual article looking at what people earn in a variety of jobs across the country.

Each entry includes a thumbnail photo, the subject's yearly pay and a notation of where he or she lives and works.

It's one of the magazine's most popular issues, appealing to the voyeur in all of us, but done playfully, in good humor and with the cooperation of the subjects.

That's not the case with Gov. Rick Scott's recent publication of the salaries of state university employees. He requested the top 50 from each school.

In and of itself, the request might seem innocuous enough. But, coupled with the governor's publicized disdain for liberal arts, his request for other performance data, his announced intention to upend the tenure system and his comments about purging unproductive professors (that definition still to be determined), his salary "revelations" come across less as informational and more as mean-spirited and threatening.

Their publication implies that professors and staff at Florida universities get paid too much, and the governor seems to invite the public to rise up in indignation.

That isn't happening for several reasons.

First, presidents, medical school profs, deans and coaches dominate the highest-paid list. No surprises there.

Second, if one digs a little below the surface, as reporter Zac Anderson did in a Herald-Tribune article published Wednesday, it turns out that the average salary of Florida professors is about $6,000 less than the average of $86,653 at research universities nationwide.

It's difficult to draw too much from that considering that the cost of living varies from one area to another, but it does suggest that Florida's pay is probably not out of whack on the high side.

Third, even if professors at major universities get paid more than most of us, so what? Education of the young is the hallmark of civilized society. Those who engage in it deserve high status and pay to go with it. University professors represent the epitome of that system. They should be paid accordingly.

And fourth, the public has numbers other than professors' salaries to lament when it comes to disparities in pay.

In 1965, CEOs in major U.S. companies earned about 25 times more than the average worker. Now the ratio is anywhere from 275 to 1 or 350 to 1, depending on whose figures you believe.

That type of discrepancy has some lamenting the decline of the middle class, in which professors are fully embedded.

Eric Ernst's column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at or (941) 486-3073.

Florida union challenges amendment that would allow state funding of religious schools

From the Sun Sentinel

The statewide teachers union, backed by other school and religious officials, challenged a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would pave the way for state lawmakers to direct tax dollars toward school vouchers or religious-affiliated institutions.

It was the second day in a row that the Florida Education Association was in Leon County Circuit Court arguing against legislation that was passed by Republican lawmakers last spring, following up on Wednesday's case over changes to the public employee retirement system.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which would go on the November 2012 ballot, would eliminate a constitutional prohibition — referred to as the "Blaine Amendment" — that bars state funding of religious institutions.

But the FEA, which led the suit, did not focus on a church-and-state argument, instead choosing a strategy frequently employed by groups seeking to knock amendments off the ballot. The group contended that the title and summary of the proposed amendment were unclear and would confuse voters.

The ballot title is "Religious Freedom," which FEA attorney Ron Meyer argued was confusing because it makes no mention of state funding.

"The requirement is that it be clear and unambiguous so that everybody who goes in and reads it understands what it will and won't do," he said.

Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for the Secretary of State's Office, countered that the ballot language and summary did not use terms that were "inconsistent" with the amendment and therefore would not confuse the voter.

A separate part of the case challenged a new law that would allow the state attorney general to rewrite ballot language if a court struck an amendment because it was unclear. Meyer said that raised separation of powers concerns.

Scott Makar, the state's solicitor general, argued that the attorney general has the right to "repair" defective language and that language in the law assured the changes would not affect the intent of the amendment.

Judge Terry Lewis asked both sides to prepare potential orders for him by next Friday, but he did not indicate when he will issue his ruling. or 850-224-6214. Follow her on Twitter @khaughney.,0,4311706.story

Jeb Bush just can't help bashing teachers, this time he does it in the name of religious freedom

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Leon County circuit court judge Terry Lewis began hearing arguments yesterday regarding a ballot initiative (Amendment 7) that would strike down the ”Blaine Amendment”. Blaine bars state funding of religious organizations. The FEA joined other religious groups in opposing the measure. In July, Jeb Bush excoriated Florida’s teachers for their suit:

“Amendment 7 is not about vouchers. It is about providing Floridians high-quality public services (social, healthcare, and education), irrespective of the provider’s religious affiliation. The amendment simply aligns the Florida Constitution with protections that already exist in the U.S. Constitution. Unions are more interested in protecting political monopolies than ensuring every Floridian has access to the high-quality services that best fit their needs. By making this about vouchers and educational choice, the teachers unions are again proving they care more about power than equipping Sunshine State students for success.”

Really? Consider this from this morning’s Orlando Sun-Sentinel:

The proposed constitutional amendment, which would go on the November 2012 ballot, would eliminate a constitutional prohibition — referred to as the “Blaine Amendment” — that bars state funding of religious institutions

But the FEA, which led the suit, did not focus on a church-and-state argument, instead choosing a strategy frequently employed by groups seeking to knock amendments off the ballot. The group contended that the title and summary
of the proposed amendment were unclear and would confuse voters.

The ballot title is “Religious Freedom,” which FEA attorney Ron Meyer argued was confusing because it makes no mention of state funding.

“The requirement is that it be clear and unambiguous so that everybody who goes in and reads it understands what it will and won’t do,” he said.

Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for the Secretary of State’s Office, countered that the ballot language and summary did not use terms that were “inconsistent” with the amendment and therefore would not confuse the voter.

A separate part of the case challenged a new law that would allow the state attorney general to rewrite ballot language if a court struck an amendment because it was unclear. Meyer said that raised separation of powers concerns.

Scott Makar, the state’s solicitor general, argued that the attorney general has the right to “repair” defective language and that language in the law assured the changes would not affect the intent of the amendment.

Judge Terry Lewis asked both sides to prepare potential orders for him by next Friday, but he did not indicate when he will issue his ruling.

Jeb Bush has done more than anyone else to besmirch the reputation of the state’s teachers. He just doesn’t seem to be able to help himself when he has the opportunity. Be sure to understand that if Bush says its not about vouchers…its about vouchers. If they are so virtuous, why not try to do it above board?

Bush and his republican legislative allies know that vouchers – when standing alone – have already been struck down by state courts. Amendment 7 is another transparent, back-channel attempt to impose vouchers on the state. This gambit has nothing whatsoever to do with religious freedom and its disingenuous for them to imply otherwise. By labeling it in such a misleading fashion they are demonstrating their contempt for voters and their need to trick them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Follow the money, right to the Bush family as they profit off of education reform

From Common Dreams

by Walter F. Roche Jr.

A company headed by President Bush's brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush's company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president's signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite's portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.

But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.

The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.

Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that "some districts seem to feel OK" about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, "and others do not."

Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite's program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite's rapid growth.

"As our business matures in the USA we have plans to expand overseas and to work with many distinguished individuals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa," he wrote. "Not one of these associates by the way has ever asked for any access to either of my political brothers, not one White House tour, not one autographed photo, and not one Lincoln bedroom overnight stay."

Funding laws unclear

Interviews and a review of school district documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found that educators and legal experts were sharply divided over whether Ignite's products were worth their cost or qualified under the No Child law.

The federal law requires schools to show they are meeting educational standards, or risk losing critical funding. If students fail to meet annual performance goals in reading and math tests, schools must supplement their educational offerings with tutoring and other special programs.

Leigh Manasevit, a Washington attorney who specializes in federal education funding, said that districts using the No Child funds to buy products like Ignite's would have to meet "very strict" student eligibility requirements and ensure that the Ignite services were supplemental to existing programs.

Known as COW, for Curriculum on Wheels (the portable learning centers resemble cows on wheels), Ignite's product line is geared toward middle school social studies, history and science. The company says it has developed a social studies program that meets curriculum requirements in seven states. Its science program meets requirements in six states.

Most of Ignite's business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite's COWs under a $1-million grant.

Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.

Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times' inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — "entirely political."

Big supporters

Bush's parents joined Neil as Ignite investors in 1999, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents. By 2003, the records show, Neil Bush had raised about $23 million from more than a dozen outside investors, including Mohammed Al Saddah, the head of a Kuwaiti company, and Winston Wong, the head of a Chinese computer firm.

Most recently he signed up Russian fugitive business tycoon Boris A. Berezovsky and Berezovsky's partner Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Barbara Bush has enthusiastically supported Ignite. In January 2004, she and Neil Bush were guests of honor at a $1,000-atable fundraiser in Oklahoma City organized by a foundation supporting the Western Heights School District. Proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of Ignite products.

Organizer Mary Blankenship Pointer said she planned the event because district students were "utilizing Ignite courseware and experiencing great results. Our students were thriving."

However, Western Heights school Supt. Joe Kitchens said the district eventually dropped its use of Ignite because it disagreed with changes Ignite had made in its products. "Our interest waned in it," he said.

The former first lady spurred controversy recently when she contributed to a Hurricane Katrina relief foundation for storm victims who had relocated to Texas. Her donation carried one stipulation: It had to be used by local schools for purchases of COWs.

Texas accounts for 75% of Ignite's business, which is expanding rapidly in other states, Deliganis said.

The company also has COWs deployed in North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia and Florida, he said.

COWs recently showed up at Hill Classical Middle School in California's Long Beach Unified School District. A San Jose middle school also bought Ignite's products but has since closed.

Neil Bush said Ignite has more than 1,700 COWs in classrooms.

Shift in strategy

But Ignite's educational strategy has changed dramatically, and some are critical of its new approach. Shortly after Ignite was formed in Austin, Texas, in 1999, it bought the software developed by another small Austin firm, Adaptive Learning Technology.

Adaptive Learning founder Mary Schenck-Ross said the software's interactive lessons allowed teachers "to get away from the mass-treatment approach" to education. When a student typed in a response to a question, the software was designed to react and provide a customized learning path.

"The original concept was to avoid 'one size fits all.' That was the point," said Catherine Malloy, who worked on the software development.

Two years ago, however, Ignite dropped the individualized learning approach. Working with artists and illustrators, it created a large purple COW that could be wheeled from classroom to classroom and plugged in, offering lessons that could be played to a roomful of students.

The COWs enticed students with catchy jingles and videos featuring cartoon characters like Mr. Bighead and Norman Einstein. On Ignite's website, a collection of teachers endorsed the COW, saying that it eliminated the need for lesson planning. The COW does it for them.

The developers of Adaptive Learning's software complain that Ignite replaced individualized instruction with a gimmick.

"It breaks my heart what they have done. The concept was totally perverted," Schenck-Ross said.

Nevertheless, Ignite found many receptive school districts. In Texas, 30 districts use COWs.

In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.

Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a "good working relationship" with a school board member.

Another Ignite official asked a Texas state education official to endorse the company. In an e-mail, Neil Bush's partner Ken Leonard asked Michelle Ungurait, state director of social studies programs, to tell Houston officials her "positive impressions of our content, system and approach."

Ungurait, identified in another Leonard e-mail as "our good friend" at the state office, told her superiors in response to The Times' inquiry that she never acted on Leonard's request.

Leonard said he did not ask Ungurait to do anything that would be improper.

Houston school officials gave Ignite's products "high" ratings in eight categories and recommended approval.

Some in Houston's schools question the expenditures, however. Jon Dansby was teaching at Houston's Fleming Middle School when Ignite products arrived.

"You can't even get basics like paper and scissors, and we went out and bought them. I just see red," he said.

In Las Vegas, the schools have approved more than $300,000 in Ignite purchases. Records show the board recommended spending $150,000 in No Child funding on Ignite products.

Sources familiar with the Las Vegas purchases said pressure to buy Ignite products came from Sig Rogich, an influential local figure and prominent Republican whose fundraising of more than $200,000 for President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign qualified him as a "Bush Ranger."

Rogich, who chairs a foundation that supports local schools, said he applied no pressure but became interested in COWs after Neil Bush contacted him. Rogich donated $6,000 to purchase two COWs for a middle school named after him.

Christy Falba, the former Clark County school official who oversaw the contracts, said she and her husband attended a dinner with Neil Bush to discuss the products. She said Rogich encouraged the district "to look at the Ignite program" but applied no pressure.

Mixed reviews

Few independent studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of Ignite's teaching strategies. Neil Bush said the company had gotten "great feedback" from educators and planned to conduct a "major scientifically valid study" to assess the COW's impact. The results should be in by next summer, he said.

Though Ignite's products get generally rave reviews from Texas educators, the opinion is not universal.

The Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District no longer uses the Ignite programs it purchased several years ago for $43,000.

"I wouldn't advise anyone else to use it," said Supt. Paul Vranish. "Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here."

Ignite's website features glowing videotaped testimonials from teachers, administrators, students and parents.

Many of the videos were shot at Del Valle Junior High School near Austin, where school district officials allowed Ignite to film facilities and students.

In the video, a student named India says: "I was feeling bad about my grades. I didn't know what my teacher was talking about." The COW changed everything, the girl's father says on the video.

Lori, a woman identified as India's teacher, says the child was not paying attention until the COW was brought in.

The woman, however, is not India's teacher, but Lori Anderson, a former teacher and now Ignite's marketing director. Ignite says Anderson was simply role-playing.

In return for use of its students and facilities, a district spokeswoman said Ignite donated a free COW. Five others were purchased with district funds.

District spokeswoman Celina Bley acknowledged that regulations bar school officials from endorsing products. But she said that restriction did not apply to the videos.

"It is illegal for individuals to make an endorsement, but this was a districtwide endorsement," Bley said in an e-mail.

After budget cuts, P.E. one of the first things to go

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Jeff Solochek

Fifth- grader Noah Hauser loves his physical education classes, whether riding the stationary bicycle in the school fitness center or pushing himself on a monthly 2-mile challenge run.

It doesn't bother him a bit if it's just his class participating, or if 80-some kids from four classes are out in the field together.

"It's still fun to play," said Noah, 10. "We always do fun things in P.E."

That's the goal at Wesley Chapel Elementary, Pasco County's only elementary school to win a Bronze Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. But with budget cuts since then, including the elimination of 13 physical education teacher jobs district-wide, keeping up has become more difficult, P.E. teacher Chris Gorman said.

"We have taken a huge step backwards," said Gorman, a past district teacher of the year finalist who also was the first Pasco elementary P.E. teacher to earn National Board certification. "This year is definitely more challenging."

While slashing spending by $54 million this year, the Pasco School Board made every effort to at least maintain "specials" classes such as physical education, art and music, as well as support in media centers and instructional technology. That meant cuts without elimination.

For that, instructors are grateful.

"I know at some schools it's a lot worse than at mine," said Vivian Garner, a P.E. teacher at Mary Giella Elementary School.

But as principals created schedules to focus on increasingly demanding academic standards, with fewer teachers on their staffs, they had to make choices about how to assign everyone's time.

For many schools, nothing changed in the way they offered P.E. The certified physical education teachers taught 90 minutes weekly to each class, while the classroom teachers made sure their students met the rest of the state-required 150 minutes of weekly physical activity.

"It's just caused us to be creative," Calusa Elementary principal Kara Merlin said. "It's always been tight."

But for others, including Wesley Chapel Elementary, getting all the students in with the P.E. teachers for even 90 minutes a week has proven "virtually impossible," principal John Abernathy said.

"Our district has been really good in trying to give us what we need," he said. "Where it falls short is in state funding. ... We have to balance quality with quantity at some point, and sometimes the quality suffers."

To attain rising reading requirements, Wesley Chapel assigned its P.E. teachers to 30 minutes of daily reading instruction. The school at the same time lost one of its two-day-a-week P.E. teachers.

That meant the P.E. teachers realistically could be scheduled to work only 80 minutes each week with every class, often with them doubled or tripled up.

"It does make it difficult to give positive, specific feedback to every student when you've got a 40-minute period, especially when you're teaching a skill," Gorman said. "Instead of our students getting more exercise, they are getting less."

Garner said she has been helping with reading lessons at Mary Giella Elementary, too — three days a week for 20 minutes each time.

"I'm not certified in reading. I'm certified in P.E.," she said, noting that the school faces a lot of pressure to perform.

Meanwhile, the P.E. staff is bare bones, having lost a part-time teacher as well, and the classes have swelled (P.E. is not subject to class-size rules) while the funding for new equipment shrank.

"The quality of your instruction goes down," said Garner, a 25-year teaching veteran. "You have to play crowd control."

The teachers said they initially welcomed legislation requiring elementary children to have at least 150 minutes of physical activity at school every week, in blocks of no less than 30 minutes. It was good for kids, and they looked forward to making it happen.

They've never been able to fully implement the program themselves, though, because of budget limitations and other academic demands. And things don't look to be getting any better. Already economic forecasters are predicting a dim 2012-13.

"You wonder, if they're doubling us up now, what are they going to do next year if we're short?" Gorman said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

Florida's GED programs being closed because of a lack of funding

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Justin George

In his early 20s with no high school diploma, Gino Voltere was languishing at North Boulevard Homes, a public housing complex south of downtown. He wanted to move away from the hopelessness and corner drug deals, a place where he, too, had been pinched for a drug-selling charge in 2005. The last place he thought he'd find a ticket out would be on the same streets — and from a drug dealer. The peddler saw Voltere and his brother looking aimless and handed them a flier he had found. It was an advertisement for the federally funded YouthBuild program, which offered a GED, construction classes and a career. The dealer apparently wanted a legitimate, steady job, too, but had looked into the program's details and found that he was too old to join.

"I took that as a sign," Voltere said. "A drug dealer actually telling me I should do it."

Voltere enrolled but almost quit multiple times. YouthBuild kept bringing him back until he succeeded.

"I used to walk around with my head down, but now I can walk around with my head up," he said. "I have a job."

Voltere became part of YouthBuild's first class of students when he joined early last year. The program turned his life around, and he hoped his brother might give it a chance.

But he may never get that opportunity. YouthBuild's funding has dwindled and, while it won't completely run out until next summer, the program cannot accept new applicants. Now local organizers are looking for a way to save a program that they say has rescued men like Voltere from the streets.

• • •

YouthBuild, a 23-year-old national program, helps low-income 16- to 24-year-olds earn diplomas at 273 chapters spread across 45 states. There are offices in St. Petersburg and Lakeland. Most local offices are funded by U.S. Department of Labor grants.

YouthBuild programs last between six and 24 months. Participants learn job skills and receive stipends, as well as bonuses for benchmarks. They are placed in colleges or jobs and have caseworkers supporting them over several months.

In Tampa, the program opened last year, partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority. It was funded by a $1 million Department of Labor grant that allowed the program to reach 60 participants over two years of programs and one year of followup.

The Tampa program, however, based in a strip mall at 1803 N Howard Ave., helped 67. Of those, about 80 percent remain in their jobs or in colleges they were placed in, program manager John Arroyo said.

Participants came from throughout Tampa. Each class of qualifying applicants was put into a two-week "Mental Toughness" boot camp, where applicants were required to show up — sometimes at 6 a.m. — and perform mental and physical challenges. They ran about a mile to MacFarlane Park, up and down hills, and back. They were given hammering, sawing, ladder-climbing and other construction skill challenges. It was a weed-out process to see who wouldn't give up. Some quit. Others stopped showing. The field whittled down to about 20 in each of three consecutive classes.

On the last day of boot camp, participants were put to a test that included construction challenges and math problems. Voltere finished first in his class.

He was in. In the back of YouthBuild's office, he learned to install mock tile floors, working toilets, electrical switches, a ceiling fan, stoves, cabinets and water heaters. His colleagues and he put epoxy on a concrete floor, stuccoed walls and shingled a fake roof.

"I've worked with nonprofits for 12 years," YouthBuild case manager Kelly Huff said, "and this is the closest thing that does what it says."

But money problems at home prompted Voltere to drop out repeatedly and look for full-time jobs. Each time, the program director he called "Mr. John" found him riding his bike on nearby streets and talked him into returning.

"The last time I was going to leave, he stopped me and said, 'If that's what you want to do, do it,' " recalled Voltere. " 'But YouthBuild has something better.' "

He finished the program and started a maintenance job with the Tampa Housing Authority at North Boulevard Homes, where his six-month probationary status ended last week.

He changes light bulbs, installs light switches, repairs stairwells, peels linoleum, paints walls and buffs floors. He said he can't wait to invest in a retirement plan. He feels proud helping his mother with her bills.

"I feel like I'm the role model to all my friends," Voltere, 24, said.

Other YouthBuild graduates also have found jobs at the complex. Two others have worked as assistant superintendents on the 40-acre Encore building project downtown for more than a year, Arroyo said. Some are in college.

But for a reason Arroyo and other officials don't know, Tampa's YouthBuild program's funding wasn't renewed. A call to YouthBuild USA officials this week was not returned.

Right now, the Tampa program can only do case management and support program graduates. It cannot start new classes even though applicants repeatedly come by the West Tampa office daily looking for spots.

The program will completely cease June 30, 2012, unless it comes up with new funding sources.

The Tampa Housing Authority has pledged to try to keep the program alive in some form, and Arroyo is in discussions with the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance and construction companies, looking for help.

"Instead of society complaining about our kids," he said, "let's do something about it."

Wesner Toussant, 20, said he's proof the program works. Like Voltere, he is a maintenance worker at North Boulevard Homes.

Last week, both men cleaned and remodeled a vacant unit, scraping roach waste from cabinets, peeling and replacing damaged linoleum and buffing floors.

"I love the job," Toussant said. "I really didn't have anything before I went to the program."

In 2006, he had been shot and run over. For the past few years, he said, he has been looking for opportunities off the streets.

"I never wanted to sell drugs," he said.

Since being hired, he bought a car and said he also helps his mother with bills and bought his younger siblings their first birthday presents.

He had ridden his bicycle several miles from East Tampa to West Tampa daily during YouthBuild and had perfect attendance.

"I feel like this was such a blessing to me," Toussant said. "They should help keep the program going. I know it can help someone else."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or

The war on science picks up steam

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The Florida ethics commision makes me vomit

The state of Florida’s ethics commission proved they had no understanding of the meaning of the word ethics when they said Representative Eric Fresen didn’t violate them when he voted for House Bill 7195. House bill 7195 greatly expanded the privileges given to charter schools and Fresen’s brother in law operates charter schools (his sister also works for them). He didn’t disclose this until 9 days after the vote and then only after the Miami Herald did a story on it.

How is this not an ethics violation? At the very least he should have revealed his family members stood to profit greatly and disqualified himself.

With this obvious disregard for what is right, the deck is stacked against public education.

Only in Florida is this not an ethics violation. Only in Florida.

Rick Scott working overtime to make Florida less appealing

From the Sun Sentinel's editorial board

Is Gov. Rick Scott trying to make Florida less appealing to top-notch research professors? Because he seems to be working overtime to get the job accomplished.

There is his idea — based on what is being done in Texas by Gov. Rick Perry — to base some tenure decisions on student ratings of a professor's effectiveness, along with the number of students that professor has taught.

Then there was the governor's decision to post the salaries of professors at public universities online, in what one has to conclude was an obvious attempt to have the public question whether the professors are worth their pay.

Gov. Scott has also said the state should spend less on education programs that aren't related to current workforce demands — he particularly singled out anthropology. He said more money and time should be spent on fields like technology and engineering and math.

The fact is, University of Florida President Bernie Machen, among others, has said that eliminating tenure would threaten UF's recruitment of faculty. That is hardly a way to keep Florida's universities competitive with the rest of the country.

The posting salaries of backfired on Gov. Scott, too. He claimed it was simply a matter of transparency, not politics. But it turns out the average salary of full-time professors in Florida — about $80,879 — is about $6,000 below the national average, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Yes, the salaries are public record, but the only thing transparent about putting them online in such an abrupt, unexplained way is the attempt to sway public opinion about overpaid professors.

As for Gov. Scott's ideas about what subjects students should be studying, the American Anthropological Association responded by questioning whether the governor understands the contributions to biological and medical research that the anthropology field has made.

Now, whether one agrees with the governor's positions on these individual issues is not the point. Certainly, the public needs to know how we spend faculty pay money, and whether across-the-board tenure is feasible. And it's worth scrutinizing whether universities are properly prioritizing academic disciplines.

Our beef with the governor is this: He's throwing out ideas and making decisions without fully thinking them through.

An example: When the governor visited the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board last month, we pressed him on the tenure issue. We pointed out that unlike Silicon Valley or North Carolina's Research Triangle Park or the Austin region in Texas, Florida's university enclaves haven't matured into world-class research centers. Eroding tenure, we said, could undermine our ability to attract professors needed to build our own hubs.

The governor's answer? He threw up his hands and immediately conceded, "Then we don't do it."

In his inability to defend his position, the governor displayed a disturbing lack of depth on the very issues he is raising. He simply isn't thinking them through.

Florida's state university system needs reform, and modernization. But that can't be done with half-baked measures.,0,3151332.story

In Florida how well Charter Schools do doesn't matter

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said Tuesday the state application for opening charter schools doesn’t need to address performance.

The application doesn’t take into account whether a charter organization already has schools open and how those schools are performing.

KIPP Jacksonville has applied to open two new elementary schools in the Duval County even though KIPP Impact Middle earned an “F” after its first year.

Robinson was in Amelia Island Tuesday as part of a panel at the annual National Association of Charter School Authorizers Leadership Conference. The association focuses on improving the policies and practices of organizations responsible for authorizing charter schools.

Oh NO HE DIDN”T! Even the host director of the charter school organization wouldn’t go that far.

Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said a poorly performing school shouldn’t be approved to open new schools.

“KIPP nationally is a great organization, but every school still has to earn its own way,” Richmond said.

“So if you’re an ‘F’ school, you’ve got to bring that grade up before you can start talking about opening some more schools.”

Someone needs to call Robinson on this. Maybe it will be Sen. David Simpson who’s been expressing concern for the high number of failing charter schools. The education commissioner is going to have to walk back this comment as he gives the appearance of running interference for his boss. It’s Rick Scott’s KIPP schools cronie,, Gary Chartrand, who’s seeks to open more charter schools. Why on earth – in this climate of hyper accountability – would Robinson in any way infer that performance doesn’t matter?

Market based education reforms are killing our public schools

From the Washington Post's Answer Street

By Stan Karp

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level. These proposals include:

*increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education

*elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights

*an end to pay for experience or advanced degrees

*closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters

*replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management

*vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition

*increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff

*implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:

These proposals are being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of astroturf political groups, and canned legislation from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).

Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under No Child Left Behind, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable and less expensive professional staff. Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), test-based sanctions are increasingly targeted at teachers.

A larger corporate reform goal, in addition to changing the way schools and classrooms function, is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining and teacher unions and in the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. These policies undermine public education and facilitate its replacement by a market-based system that would do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and employment: produce fabulous profits and opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many....

Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. They’ve become the credit default swaps of the education world. Few people understand how either really works. Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals. And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge. Yet these deeply flawed tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison.

Let’s look for a minute at what corporate reformers have actually achieved when it comes to addressing the real problems of public education:

First, they over-reached and chose the wrong target. They didn’t go after funding inequity, poverty, reform faddism, consultant profiteering, massive teacher turnover, politicized bureaucratic management, or the overuse and misuse of testing.

Instead, they went after collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and seniority. And they went after the universal public and democratic character of public schools.

Look again at the proposals the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state: rapid expansion of charters, closing low performing schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation.

If every one of these policies were fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college.

There is no evidence tying any of these proposals to better outcomes for large numbers of kids over time. The greatest gains in reducing gaps in achievement and opportunity have been made during periods when concentrated poverty has been dispersed through efforts at integration, or during economic growth for the black middle class and other communities, or where significant new investments in school funding have occurred.

Or take the issue of poverty. Most teachers agree that poverty is no excuse for lousy schooling; much of our work is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms. But in the current reform debates, saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.

Corporate reform plans being put forward do nothing to reduce the concentrations of 70/80/90% poverty that remain the central problem in urban education. Instead, educational inequality has become the entry point for disruptive reform that increases instability throughout the system and creates new forms of collateral damage in our most vulnerable communities.

The “disruptive reform” that corporate reformers claim is necessary to shake up the status quo is increasing pressure on 5,000 schools serving the poorest communities at a time of unprecedented economic crisis and budget cutting. The latest waiver bailout for NCLB announced recently by Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan would actually ratchet up that pressure. While it rolls back NCLB’s absurd adequate yearly progress system just as it was about to self-destruct, the new guidelines require states that apply for waivers to identify up to 15% of their schools with the lowest scores for unproven “turnaround” interventions, “charterization,” or closing.

Teachers and schools, who in many cases are day to day the strongest advocates and most stable support system struggling youth have, are instead being scapegoated for a society that is failing our children. At the same time, corporate reformers are giving parents triggers to blow up the schools they have, but little say and no guarantees about what will replace them.

The only thing corporate ed reform policies have done successfully is bring the anti-labor politics of class warfare to public schools. By overreaching, demonizing teachers and unions, and sharply polarizing the education debate, corporate reform has undermined serious efforts to improve schools. It’s narrowed the common ground and eroded the broad public support a universal system of public education needs to survive.

For example, there is actually a lot of common ground on the need to improve teacher support and evaluation. There’s widespread agreement among educators, parents, and administrators on the following suggestions for improvement:

*better preparation and evaluation before new teachers get tenure (or leave the profession, as 50% do within 5 years)

*reasonable, timely procedures for resolving tenure hearings when they are initiated

*a credible intervention process to remediate and if necessary remove ineffective teachers, tenured and non-tenured

Good models for each of these ideas exist, many with strong teacher union support, but overreaching by corporate reformers has detached the issue of teacher quality from the conditions that produce it.

Their experiments are staffing our most challenging schools with novices or Teach for America temps on their way to other careers. Corporate reform plans are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into data systems and tests designed to replace collaborative professional culture and experienced instructional leadership with a kind of psychometric astrology. These data-driven formulas lack both statistical credibility and a basic understanding of the human motivations and relationships that make good schooling possible. Instead of “elevating the profession,” corporate reform is downsizing and micromanaging it.

Right now, my home state of New Jersey is getting ready to implement a so-called “growth model” developed in Colorado, where they are now giving first graders multiple choice questions about Picasso paintings and using the results to decide the compensation level and job security of teachers.

This is not “accountability.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ricks Scott's goal, give our children a third world education

From the Palm Beach Post

by Mark Allen Peterson

Gov. Scott has declared that Florida doesn't need any more anthropologists and needs to cut back on psychologists and other social scientists as well. Oh, and Florida doesn't need humanities, either.

The governor is pushing a plan that would starve liberal arts and social sciences in the state's public universities, with the backing of the state Legislature's GOP majority. His rationale is that to create jobs, Florida needs rigorous programs in math, engineering, science and technology, like they have in India and China, so we can stay competitive.

Which makes me realize that Gov. Scott doesn't know jack about how education and business work in India and China.

Let's look at India. There are two basic layers of education, public and private. Unlike the U.S., all the best schools are public, and they are paid for by the national government. To obtain this free education, one must pass a national exam, which includes not only quantitative and language measures, like the SAT or ACT in the U.S., but also a significant category called "General Knowledge."

To pass the general knowledge exam, most Indian students start reading newspapers at an early age. They read international literature, review art and follow politics. When I talk to students in engineering, math or chemistry, they can speak intelligently about problems facing the EU, the novels of Naguib Mahfouz or the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King.

The liberal arts core - humanities, social science and basic science - that Americans get in college is built into the exam system. Students go into college with their liberal arts already learned, then focus rigorously on a topic. These students often go on to become India's innovators and leaders in business and other ventures.

But the same is not true of the private schools popping up all over India. One enters these schools not by passing a rigorous national exam but by paying fees. Classes often are taught by experienced businessmen, engineers and laboratory scientists rather than Ph.Ds. These companies turn out specialists. But increasingly, Indian companies are realizing that they need only so many engineers who only know engineering.

"In India, it takes engineers two to three years to recover from the damage of the education system," one corporate executive told me. And students who can afford it often choose to get their degrees in the U.S.

Indian and Chinese companies value U.S. college degrees because students who come from the U.S. arrive not only with engineering and science knowledge but general creativity, problem solving, decisionmaking, persuasive arguing, and management skills.

How do I know all this? Because I am an anthropologist (one of those fields Florida needs less of), who has been studying globalization and media in India since 1992.

In addition to private funding agencies, the U.S. government has invested nearly $100,000 of your (and my) tax dollars in my research through the National Science Foundation. Because of this, I feel ethically indebted to share my findings with government officials like Gov. Scott, should any of them ever ask me - which they don't.

Business people ask me to consult sometimes, but never politicians. Why let facts get in the way of a rousing, provocative, common-sense approach to the state's jobs crisis?

But I've no beef with Gov. Scott, because once he finishes turning Florida's higher education into one more closely resembling those in the Third World, churning out engineers who know only engineering, and programmers who know only programming, we'll invite all the Chinese students and Indian students currently seeking better educations in Florida to come to Ohio, where we still have great science and engineering programs embedded in a liberal arts core.

And when they go back to India and China (or stay here) to become entrepreneurial leaders, they can hire cheap labor from Florida.

Mark Allen Peterson is professor of anthropology and international studies at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.