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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Florida's top ten education stories (rough draft)

Florida’s top ten education stories

A lot happened on the Florida education scene over the last year and sadly not much of it was good. Let’s start with the second biggest story of the year, Florida’s top educator.

Gerald Robinson was brought in from Virginia by Rick Scott to be education commissioner; since Rick Scott isn’t really a Floridian himself I imagine he didn’t think any local educators were up for the job. Commissioner Robinson was already a big wig in charter school circles, which means to Rick Scott and Republican Legislature he fits in nicely. The commissioner has already made a splash here by ignoring educators and increasing the FCAT cut scores and announcing the state never intended to pay for the merit pay mandate they passed last spring, despite the fact they passed it before he was hired.

Gerald Robinson is also directly related to the third biggest story, a change in the FCAT cut scores. It’s not common knowledge but what it takes for a student to get a three (passing) in elementary school is a lot lower what it takes a student to get a three in high school. As a result it makes it seem like the state has a lot of excellent readers in the lower grades and a lot of poorer readers in the higher grades. Educators have long thought an adjustment of the scores; a rise in elementary school and a lowering in high school were appropriate. So what does Robinson do? He goes against what most educators wanted and raises the scores across the board saying, our children will meet the challenge. I wonder how the additional fifteen thousand students that are projected to fail a grade or the 4500 that won’t graduate from high school feel about the challenge?

I also wonder how this will affect merit pay, which brings us to our forth-biggest story, Senate bill 736. Senate bill 736 did four things. It ties teacher’s pay to how their kids do on standardized tests; tests that because of the higher scores more kids are likely to fail. It takes away teachers right to due process and makes all new teachers at will employees that can be fired at the end of any year. It assures the teaching profession will dwindle away. A few years ago districts were recruiting in Canada, India and the business world because they couldn’t find enough teachers and that was when times were good and teachers were valued, now that times are bad it makes me wonder who will want to be a teacher when the economy turns around because of all the new restrictions/obstacles/uncertainty that now burdens teachers and it assures more school closings and most of those schools will be in Florida’s poorer neighborhoods.

Where will those children go? Well that brings us to story number five, the rise of charter schools. A charter school was supposed to be a school where innovation and experimentation could occur. Unfortunately here in Florida many have become little more than publicly funded private schools run by hedge fund manages and real estate moguls. Furthermore despite the fact that if your son or daughter went to a charter school they were 740% more likely to have attend a failing school, the laws to operate, increase funding, decrease oversight and deregulate them came out of Tallahassee in a fast and furious manner. As a bonus, since a disproportionate amount of minority kids attend charter schools, that have also been called a back door to segregation.

Why are charter schools despite dubious qualifications on the rise? Well that is story number six, the cozy relationships many charter schools have with the Florida Legislature. Dozens of legislators take contributions from charter school operators and several either has stakes in charter schools or their family members do. The evidence shows that how much money these charter school organizations can contribute to legislators coffers dominate the reason for their growth not what is best for our children.

Speaking of charter schools, story number six is the spectacular failure of Jacksonville’s own KIPP School. The new KIPP School had the lowest score in northeast Florida and it is reported the children there even regressed. So what does the Duval County School Board do? They approve the formation of two more KIPP schools of course.

Another Jacksonville story is Duval Partners. This hand picked group was created to run our intervene schools. After months of secrecy they finally emerged and announced they would sub contract another education management organization to do it instead. The school board quickly cut their losses and Duval Partners disappeared into the night. This was just the biggest of a long list of gaffs by the Duval County school board over the last year which included a beach retreat, paying fifty thousand dollars for a speaker and begging the state to give them one more chance with our intervene schools, right before they gave control and two million dollars to an EMO to run them.

Education cuts also dominated Florida this past year and that’s the eighth biggest story. It probably would have been higher on the list but Florida has been slashing education for a few years now. Despite promising not to cut education one of the fist things Rick Scott did when becoming governor was to cut the education budget by 1.3 billion dollars. He further poured salt in the wound by taking three percent of teacher’s salaries supposedly to shore up their pensions. The money however went to local districts and they used the infusion of cash for a variety of things.

It wasn’t just K-12 public schools that were targeted by Governor Scott but it was higher education too as his attacks on our university system showed. This comes in as the ninth biggest story of the year. Governor Scott wants to transform our university system taking away tenure for professors and increase their focus on technology, engineering and math degrees. Many in higher education think the governor should have taken a, if it’s not broke don’t fix it approach.

Finally the biggest story of the year is the Republican Florida legislatures push to privatize public education. They have a two pronged plan, first close schools and drive teachers out of the field, which they have done through the FCAT and senate bill 736. Then they plan to divert resources away from public schools into charter schools, virtual schools, and private schools in the form of vouchers. They claim this gives parents more choice, but choice actually means privatization which in the future will lead to fewer choices because once public schools are gone they will not be coming back. Research also shows that as a group these “choices” don’t do any better than public schools. What they do have is less oversight. Despite all the efforts of the Florida Legislature, once again public schools have proven that they are the best value around but how much longer can public schools stand this constant attack?

Some honorable mentions, Steve Wise and his various education related gaffs too numerous to mention here, back door tax increases on the middle class though the rising of college tuition and the diminishing of bright future scholarships, the rise of virtual schools, for the same reason charter school growth has been bad, dubious quality and close ties to legislators; how Florida annually diverts about a half billion out of classrooms to the makers of standardized tests and their related products; how the Florida legislator refused to fund the class size amendment instead deciding to gut it: then there is how Jeb Bush continues to dominate Florida's education scene despite the fact he has been out of office for five years and his use of dubious statistics and catch phrases and finally the appearance of Michelle Rhee in the state who was brought in to advise the Governor and treated like a rock star while local educators were all but frozen out of the process.

It has been a rough year.

There is a bit of good news. This November if you care about education and Florida’s children you can vote out much of the Florida legislature and I urge you to consider education and our children when deciding who to vote for.

1 comment:

  1. As above give a nice post. Educators have always thought that adjustment scores rise in primary school,high school is an appropriate reduction. So Robinson do? He wants to go against what most educators, and lead to the score board said, our children will meet the challenge.

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