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Monday, December 31, 2012

2012, the year Florida pushed back against corporate reforms

From the Tampa Times, by Jeff Solochek

Forget the top 10 story list. In Florida education, take the longer look at Big One. 2012 was the year that the "reform" movement faced its first significant pushback after a more than a decade of ineffective complaining.
The story actually began in the waning days of 2011, when the Florida Board of Education adopted its first set of new FCAT passing scores in years, along with new school grading rules that affected special education students as well as children still learning English.
Civil rights activists, superintendents and even some south Florida Republican lawmakers, along with the state board's longest-serving member (a Jeb Bush appointee), criticized the changes, and called for reconsideration to take into account the people whom the reforms were affecting. The debate continued late into the year, as the state gave several special education centers F grades as district leaders challenged the methods and philosophy behind such a move. 
Jump forward into January 2012, and up came the introduction of the "parent trigger" bill that sparked one of the biggest controversies of the 2012 legislative session. Parent groups quickly denounced the measure, saying they didn't support it or request it, while outside organizations such as Michelle Rhee's Students First and the California-based Parent Revolution stepped up to back the Republican-sponsored legislation.
By the end of the session, Republicans were splitting among themselves over the legislation to give parents more control over revamping their struggling schools (mostly the power to convert them to charters). Charter schools proved another flash point in the session, with GOP leaders again divided as they failed to push through bills that would have funneled even more tax money intended for school districts to the privately run operations.
Mid-May brought the state's attention back to testing, when the announcement came that students' FCAT writing scores had plummeted under new scoring rules that many educators said they had too little time to digest and implement. The state board's reaction: Change the grading system again.
Hoping to avert a larger public rejection of the accountability program that Florida systematically had put in place since the late 1990s, education commissioner Gerard Robinson hit the road with forums and meetings aimed at explaining what the state was up to: Increasing the rigor of academics being taught, so our kids could compete globally.
The effort had worked before, with rising scores on national tests and increased participation and performance on exams such as Advanced Placement, particularly among previously under-served groups, Robinson said. But his words did not assuage the anger. In fact, some of the things he said stoked the flames of discontent. By mid-June, several Florida school boards were calling for the state to back off its testing regimen, a core piece of the outcomes-based system begun under former governor Bush.
Mistakes in the state's school grades released a month later didn't help the cause. Days later, Robinson abruptly announced his resignation. Feeling empowered, many parent groups began clamoring for a new commissioner more in tune with the will of the public.
Gov. Rick Scott, sensing the pitch rising, launched an education "listening tour" within weeks, promoting a kinder-gentler approach. He called for more money for schools, said he wasn't keen on over-testing, and indicated he would push for changes in mandates and red tape bureaucracy that parents and teachers could support. (He notably did not back away from his support for charter school and voucher expansions.)
While Scott talked, the state board received no significant interest for its vacant commissioner post, extending the search for two months in hopes that someone with gravitas might come available after the November elections.
Scott won mostly postive reviews for his initiative. And more positive news began to emerge about the state's academic performance, including a December announcement that Florida fourth-graders were among the top in the world in reading. Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett, a leader in the national reform movement, wasn't popular enough to win reelection in the Hoosier state, but that made him available for Florida.
Amid those highlights for the leadership, though, came more seeds for the discontented: Teacher evaluation results that showed the same level of "effective" teachers as ever before, then followed by what state board members deemed the embarassment of having to recall the results because of errors. Teachers all the while criticized the system as confusing and unfair, adding that the state mistakes suggested the new evals simply weren't ready for prime time.
Superintendents and some of the lawmakers key to implementing all the state's "reform" measures began saying that the time had come for Florida to slow down, take a breath and make sure everything is being done well. Indiana's Bennett, now commissioner-select, made clear thatproper implementation and alignment of efforts would be key to his work as he takes over in mid-January.
That promised to make the big story of 2012 the prelude to what will likely also be the big story of 2013. Look for the debate on vouchers, testing, charter schools, school grades, parent trigger and all the rest to remain in the limelight, with the opponents still pressing hard. Happy new year!

School Board Member Ashley Smith-Juarez’s disingenuous continues

I just want to mention one more time the utter disatisfaction I have for Mrs. Smith-Juarez. When she, the benefit of smaller classes her entire life, said there was no evidence that they provided an advantage, made all the worse because there is lots of peer reviewed studies outlining their benefits it becomes hard for me to take anything she says seriously.

The Times Union is running an article about how she is losing her day job as executive director of the Chartrand foundation, a group by the way who doesn’t think teachers are professionals and neither does their education and experience matter. 

My problem however is while running for school board during an interview with channel four she represented herself as a small business owner (a restaurant) and didn’t mention once she was associated with the Chartrand foundation. I believe she did so to distance herself from Gary Chartrand who was in the middle of making one gaff after another as chairman of the state board of education.

It is completely disingenuous of Mrs. Smith-Juarez to present her self alternately as a small business owner and then as Executive director of the Chartran foundation, emphasizing one while ignoring the other when it is politically expedient to do so.

Was she really the best we could have done? 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Florida Charter School Scandals

From Scathing Purple Musings

Among others

* A May Miami Herald report found that schools in the Academica charter school network were “double-dipping” federal grant money. The state’s agency chief, once a  close associate of Academica, found no wrong doing as the federal government  “let states exercise discretion in determining when schools are distinct.”
Orlando Sentinel reporter Lauren Roth had a December story detailing the outrageous payouts of close to $1 million that were made to the principal and her husband after the Orange county charter school closed.
* The sordid affair that was Miami’s Belare Language Academy came to an end in foreclosure earlier this month. Parents had reported that adult-themed parties were being held after hours at the facility. They became suspicious when they would arrive with their children in the morning and see empty beer cans everywhere and the  building would smell of stale cigarette smoke.
* Of 36 school failures in Florida this year 15 were from charter schools. None of the failing charter schools were Title One schools or those which have high percentage of impoverished kids.
* A February Tampa Bay Times story about the extremely high rent Imagine Schools  paid it’s own leasing company proved to be another embarrassment for governor Rick Scott. Imagine’s president, Dennis Bakke was on Scott’s education transition team. Earlier this month, the Pinellas school board announced it’s intentions to shut down one of Imagine’s charter schools in downtown St. Petersburg.
* Accusations emerged in a lawsuit in April that Maverick’s Charter Schools “falsifies records and fabricates students’ grades in classes the students did not attend.”
* A principal, teacher and employee at a Miami charter school were suspended in April for suspected “opening sealed test booklets, taking handwritten notes on the questions and distributing “study guides” to teachers.” Two Palm Beach county charter schools were also investigated for FCAT cheating.

Why don't poor kids deserve music or art in school?

From the Jersey Jazzman blog

Saturday, December 29, 2012

So just how much did your high school really improve?

From the Palm Beach Post's editorial board, By Jac Versteeg

Florida’s high school grades for last year are out, and they show… what? For an alleged accountability system, the state-assigned grades show very little.
The state Department of Education warned that parents and students can’t learn much by comparing new grades with previous ones because the formula for computing them has changed significantly. Still, top-level education officials touted the sharp increase in A-rated high schools — to 231 from 148. Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand said it shows that “Florida’s teachers and students continue to meet the challenge of higher academic expectations. When we expect more from our students they achieve more.”
Sounds good. In fact, the state inflated the grades by using what the state DOE called “temporary safeguards…to help smooth the transition” to tougher standards.
High schools that didn’t do a good job improving scores of their lowest-performing students got a break. That’s the opposite of No Child Left Behind. Science skills, or lack of them, didn’t count because the science FCAT has lapsed. The acceptable graduation rate for at-risk students was dialed back to 65 percent from 75 percent. Participation in Advanced Placement classes counted more than actual scores on AP tests.
This grading scheme is an improvement because factors other than the FCAT count for 50 percent. Rather, it will be an improvement if the state ever puts in place all the valid components it promises, including meaningful end-of-course tests in most subjects. Still, assigning a grade to an entire school always will be suspect. What’s the point, particularly if the state fudges the figures? Individual grades matter. School grades remain a function of politics, not academics.

When did public schools in Duval County become second-class citizens? (rough draft)

A couple things school board members have said over the last few months have really bothered me.

At the end of last summer when discussing the renewal of Education Directions Fel Lee said to the owner, we are appreciative of all you have done but at some point we need to stand on our own, we need you to give us a template for what to do.

Then more recently Jason Fischer said he wants to compare the data of comparable public and charter schools to see which is being more successful so we can duplicate it.

On the surface there is nothing wrong with wanting to duplicate success. It is even laudable. My problem is whom theses two school board members want to copy. Instead of copying the model at one of our successful public schools and we have many, they would rather copy the model from an Education Management Company or a charter school. It’s as if the successes that our public schools are having and once again there are many don’t matter.   

They say, great job public school so and so but instead of doing what you are doing in our schools that are struggling, we would rather pay somebody to tell us what to do or copy what schools that erodes local control are doing. I think we have plenty of great schools and we should be copying what they are doing instead. The only problem with that is it is impossible.

Most of our schools that are truly doing well are magnet schools and just by their nature we can only have a finite amount of them or are in more affluent neighborhoods that tend to have more parental involvement.

Sadly we can’t replicate income and parents that care from neighborhoods that are doing well to neighborhoods that aren’t. You know who else can’t do that? EMOs and charter schools.

If we want to have real success we must put in place programs that mitigate poverty. Everything else is just window dressing or kicking the can down the road. Unfortunately EMOs and charter schools won’t tell you that. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Jason Ficher, school board district 7, on school autonomy

There is a contingent that believes that school districts should use their authority to regulate charter schools as though they are traditional schools, essentially striping them of their autonomy. I regularly attempt to re-frame the argument to be that school districts should instead be pushing the state to deregulate traditional schools and grant them the same autonomy charter schools have. 

Jason Fischer explains his data comment (rough draft)

I spoke with Jason Fischer and he explained his data comment to me. In a nutshell he doesn’t think it is fair to compare all charter schools to all public schools. Instead he wants to compare the individual data between comparable schools.

Say little Johnny attends Charter School A but is zoned to attend Public School B. Mr. Fischer wants to compare those two schools scores to see if Johnny is attending the school with the best data. That actually seems like a fair comparison and it is hard to understand why just a few days before 2013 we can’t do it but even that won’t tell the whole story.

We have to look at student populations to make sure problematic students aren’t counseled out thus bumping up the numbers and what other requirements like extended time or parental involvement that the charter schools put in place. Also it shouldn’t be ignored that charter school parents just through the mere fact their children attend them are typically more involved parents.

I know what some of you are thinking, how many more barriers am I going to insist on that would skew charter schools performance, what would make me happy? The thing is we should want to know all these variables because what we need is an accurate picture of what is going on, what is really working and what isn’t if we are going to improve our schools.

Also have you ever noticed that charter school proponents always say one of the reasons that charter schools are successful is they don’t have some of the onerous regulations and policies that public schools have and they can do different things but have you ever noticed they never say, you know what, we should get rid of some of the onerous regulations and policies that public schools have to endure and allow them to do different things too. It’s like it never occurs to them. Instead of fixing or improving what we have, they would rather replace them but I digress.

I think charter schools as parent teacher driven laboratories have a small role to play as a supplement to education. The problem is many of our education leaders and drivers want them to replace public education and at least right now, the aggregate data and I suspect the overall data even when closer comparisons are made doesn’t bare out that is a good move. Shouldn’t we slow down and get it right?  
I will take Mr. Fischer’s word that he will be data driven when making his decisions. I just hope other education leaders follow his lead. 

Hypocrisy runs rampant on the Duval County school board

Paula Wright’s instances are legion.

Ashley Smith-Juarez who greatly benefited from smaller classes doesn’t want them for public school kids and now Jason Fischer has joined the list.

He lauds the few charter schools that are doing well while ignoring the fact a disproportionate amount of charter schools that are doing poorly and then at the same time he demonizes the public schools that are doing poorly saying they have failed our children and doesn’t acknowledge the vast majority of public schools that are doing great.

Mr. Fischer is solidly in the privatization camp and his hypocrisy reveals it isn’t about what’s best for our kids; he is in it because he thinks it is best for his political career.

The Times Union reveals their bias towards charter schools

The headline read, Nikolai Vitti says public schools outperform charters at some levels. The article however showed that public schools out perform charter schools at both the elementary and high school level, with charter schools doing better in middle school.

I am not a math major but I believe 9 is greater than 3. Some might say three times greater. Thats not some, thats most and furthermore it underlines Vittis point that public schools as a whole were doing much better than charter schools.

He also discussed wanting to have a conversation based on facts not opinions, apparently the Times Union missed that part. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Superintendent Vitti is about to have real problems with the school board

I have to say I am impressed thus far with the superintendent, he is not just saying but doing the right things as well. He has pushed back against to much testing, value added teacher evaluations and today he said we should have conversations about education reform based on data, you know facts and evidence rather than ideology and therein lies the problem.

Jason Fischer and Ashley Juarez Smith are driven by ideology and things like data, facts and evidence don’t matter and if you want proof look at their latest comments about charter schools and smaller classes. Mrs. Smith-Juarez said there is no evidence that smaller classes are beneficial where there is a lot and Fischer said he wouldn’t be swayed by data when it comes to charter schools and that’s because he has already made up his mind. Charter schools are good, public schools are bad..

These ideologues aren’t concerned with what’s best for our kids, teachers or schools, they only care about Jeb Bush and Gary Chartrad’s marching orders, two other prominent education leaders who don’t care about facts and evidence either. 

I like the superintendent but I can’t imagine his already very tough job being made any easier by school board members who don’ care about facts, data or evidence.  

School Board member Jason Fischer says he won’t be swayed by data

In a I can’t make this stuff up moment, Jason Fisher in a Times union article on charter schools said: he wouldn’t make any conclusions based on the data.  Fischer said because the data is aggregated it misses successes by charters like KIPP, Duval Charter School at Baymeadows and River City Science.

Data, facts, evidence why should he be swayed by these things after all fellow board member Ashley Smith-Juarez isn’t when it comes to smaller classes and neither is most of the education reform movement.

Nobody is saying there aren’t quality charter schools but what people who believe in things like facts, evidence and data are saying is why the rush to privatize lets slow down and make sure we get it right and our schools and reforms should be data driven.

Mr. Fischer will apparently go with his gut and data and our kids be damned.


Everyday is judgement day in public schools

From Peace of Mind, by John Meeks

Every day is judgment day in our public schools. This sounds like hyperbole on my part, but there is a kernel of truth to what I am saying on behalf of educators who are responsible for shaping our future. 

At a time when administrators are being trained to nitpick teachers over the most minute of details, such as whether their students are in single-file line, paying perfect attention during lessons or are prepared for class, we overlook the items that fall outside of the rubric with which we judge and ultimately will decide how to pay the troops in the war against ignorance and poverty. 

It will never be reflected in the evaluations, observations, or feedback that I receive, but I wish to advocate for one seemingly small experience that I had in the classroom. It has to do with a student who came close to leaving Duval County Public Schools because he feared for his own safety. 

Once it came to my attention that this sixth-grade boy was being bullied on a regular basis by a classmate who appeared to be more interested in terrorizing than learning, I worked with administrators and counselors to help this victim overcome the challenge to his own education. 

I took the time to listen to the boy's parents as they expressed frustration with what they felt was the glacial pace of a system that had to maintain low disciplinary statistics and pressured its schools into under-reporting incidents for the sake of not losing face in the community. The unintended consequence was an atmosphere where the victims were fleeing for greener pastures such as private schools, charter schools, and homeschooling. The inmates, however, continued to run the asylum. Incidentally, the student who was doing the bullying ended up being arrested for assaulting another schoolmate with a knife later in the year. 

Because there was no metric or data to gauge efforts to cooperate with the boy's family and to listen to their concerns, it went overlooked. The state-mandated evaluation system focused more on the superficial aspects of what could be considered "poor" teaching on my part. For example, many teachers get low marks on their evaluations for petty points such as students talking about something other than their work during a lesson. Yes, off-task conversation may reflect negatively on a teacher's ability to keep the focus on the lesson, but we must never lose sight of the fact that there are indeed factors that even the most firm and focused pedagogy cannot deter. 

Do not get me wrong here: I did not seek to save a child from chronic bullying and harassment because I wanted to earn a medal or praise for what I was doing. I merely wanted to serve my fellow human being in a way that I would have expected to be helped if I had been a student in the same situation. 

On the last day of school before spring break last year, I stayed after work to grade the last of my papers and decided to have a brief meeting with the student's family on my way home from work. Even though I was off the clock, I knew that my vacation could wait until I handled what was a more important matter than packing my suitcases for a week down in Naples with my goddaughter and her family. 

I explained to the parent that I was willing to be his child's advocate and that I didn't mind being contacted at any hour, by email or telephone, to remedy their child's situation. After all, he wasn't just a source of funding for our school system; he was a talented young man who had the potential perhaps one day to play major league baseball, report on sports for the media or coach a team when he realized his bright future. 

The parents were grateful for the work that our school did on their behalf and they ultimately kept their son enrolled in Duval County Public Schools. They even left a message with my school, thanking us for the work we did for them. Somewhere along the line, the gratitude was ignored and lost in the maelstrom of criticism and stereotyping of rank-and-file teachers as being selfish, lazy bureaucrats who were only in the field of education to collect a paycheck and spend their summers off. 

Contrary to popular belief and demonizing, we teachers truly do care. We do what we do because we are giving back to the community that inspired us to answer a higher calling. We have teachers, coaches, administrators and counselors who believed in us and we believe that we can pay it forward. 

I should know, because I was a "late talker" in my younger years. My parents feared that I would be mute for the rest of my life. Thanks to speech therapy at W.E. Cherry Elementary School in Orange Park, I learned to become confident in verbally communicating what I had been thinking all along. I learned to express myself thanks to people who didn't give up on me. I, in return, cannot give up on the young people whom I serve every day. 

In my own junior high school years, I faced problems that I was able to solve with support from an educational community that helped this introvert learn how to make friends, in spite of losing so many peers to military relocations, and an educational community that helped me to overcome insecurity over my short stature in the shadow of peers who seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds over a child like me who seemed destined never to reach 5 feet tall. 

I understand that not all will appreciate with work that we do, because there will always be students who resist our attempts to help them grow academically. But, thanks to remediation, interventions and other methods, we are learning to serve every student who enters our schoolhouse doors. 

Bean-counters and micromanagers aside, I continue to soldier on because it is more than a profession for me; it's a moral duty that I must fulfill to justify my continued existence on this earth. It is an obligation that allows us to bear the slings and arrows of "reformers" who wish to visit upon us so-called improvements that are aimed more at punishing us than enriching us. It is something of which we should all be proud, because we keep going in spite of it all. 

This is why I continue to do what I do when it's not reflected in the judgment that we receive. The days when I have guest speakers, like the supervisor of elections, the state attorney and members of city council, are days that my former students remember. The times when we have international food days, mock elections and trips to New York are times on which my former students reflect fondly. The memories of students whose funerals I attended, and one where I served as pallbearer, are what I believe to be the true indicators of our dedication. 

Perhaps our friends in Tallahassee will never recognize our true value in our work, but I continue to teach not for them, but for the future. 

Meeks has been teaching social studies in Duval County since 2002. He is a 1998 graduate of the University of North Florida. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How Rudolf did in school

The problem with education

From a teacher friend on Facebook

That's the problem with the education in this country- they want everyone to FEEL successful and accomplished for doing very little. Its sad really.

Why doesn’t the times Union call the school board on things they get wrong?

 Why doesn’t the times Union call the school board on things they get wrong?

A couple weeks back Paula Wright said she has lost money being on the school board. Well according to her financial disclosures forms being on the school board has been very lucrative for her.

Then more recently Ashley Smith-Juarez said there was no evidence that smaller classes make a difference. First this makes her a hypocrite because during her whole academic career she benefited from smaller classes but there is LOTS of evidence that says smaller classes make a difference.

I don’t understand why the Times Union gives them a pass on this. Don’t the people of Jacksonville deserve to be informed and isn’t that the Times Union’s job? One of the reasons we are in the hole that we are in is because those supposed to help get us out of it, our elected leaders and a free and impartial press have fallen down on the job.

Chris Guerrieri
School Board

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

So there is no evidence that says smaller classes are important?

By John Louis Meeks

The first day of school is a rite of passage that teaches young people something more than just their entry into their education; it also plays a significant role in their socialization.  They enter a setting where their world has expanded beyond a world in which they were the center of attention.  They must now face a world in which they share their needs and wants with others.  Educators have been aware of this as they must play a parent figure to the offspring of a community and labor to craft differentiated and individualized instruction for the masses.  It is more than just an idealistic dream for public education to support the community’s desire to help students in their formative years by reducing class sizes to allow students to grow in an atmosphere that can afford them the type of instruction that values their unique needs that do not have to be left behind when they enter the schoolhouse doors.
            This issue gained unprecedented attention in 2000 when the federal government funded efforts to reduce K-12 class sizes.  On a more local stage, Florida’s voters amended their state constitution to mandate school districts to reduce the size of classrooms in both primary and secondary schools.  While the debate appears to be resolved, questions still linger about how the desires of the voting public can translate into better results for our students and our economy.  Existing research, however, points to the advantages of teaching and learning that is targeted more on quality and less on quantity.  The return on investment, of course, is at the heart of these studies as the investments that our society makes in our schools requires accountability to prevent waste and inefficiency.
            Alan B. Krueger of Princeton University writes of a study in Tennessee (Project STAR) that raises the issue of justifying the seemingly expensive price of class size reduction.  He estimates that reducing a class size from 22 to 15 has a return of six percent.  Even with a discount rate of four percent, the benefits of reducing class size would be around twice the cost of implementing it, says Krueger.  The success of students also bears out Krueger’s point.  During the STAR experiment, primary-school students who were randomly assigned to classes with 15 students outperformed those who were placed randomly in classes with 22 students.  This success rate continued to reap dividends for the smaller-class students as they reached the twelfth grade.
            New York-based Class Size Matters supports the STAR findings regarding the long-term benefits of smaller class sizes.  In Nashville schools, according to Class Size Matters, 16.7 percent of students from smaller classes were retained through their sophomore year of high school, compared to 43.5 percent of those who were in more conventional classes with more students.  At a time when social promotion and grade recovery are floated as solutions to retention rates, research on smaller class sizes creates a new way to help students realize their potential and avoid falling below their peers’ grade level.
            The federal efforts to leave no child behind are based on tackling the achievement gap.  The government’s solutions, while well-intentioned, were more draconian in their scope.  More oversight and accountability morphed into unrealistic benchmarks and punitive sanctions that have left this legislation shot full of waivers and exceptions.  Congress has yet to address the reauthorization of this controversial legislation.  Smaller class sizes, according to Peter Schuler of The University of Chicago Chronicle, have actually reduced the achievement gap that exists between white and minority students.
            The same STAR study, “tracked the SAT and ACT scores of the Tennessee students when they graduated from high school and established that the students enrolled in small classes during their first four years of education had higher average test scores than students enrolled in regular-size classes during those early grades,” said Schuler.  Black students trended better than whites on tests that were seemingly impossible for minority students to pass. 
“We found that black students in small classes from K to 3 had a dramatically increased probability of subsequently taking the ACT or SAT,” Kruger’s research partner Diane Whitmore said. “The black-white gap is reduced by 60 percent, which is huge.”
Education Week, although it questioned the research behind smaller class sizes by comparing American schools to those in other industrialized nations, admitted that “[f]ollow-up studies through the years have found the students who had been in small classes in their early years had better academic and personal outcomes throughout their school years and beyond.”
In high school said Helen Bate-Pain, students who had been in smaller classes had significantly lower drop-out rates, higher grades, and received better results on their college entrance exams…the difference between black and white students taking college entrance exams was cut in half.”

Works Cited

Class Size (July 1, 2011).  Retrieved from

Krueger, Alan B. (Copyright 2002).  Economic Considerations and Class Size.  Retrieved from

Haimson, Leonie (June 2010).  The Benefits of Smaller Classes.  Retrieved from

Schuler, Peter (April 1, 2004).  Small class size helps to bridge gap in achievement.  The University of Chicago Chronicle.  Vol. 23.  No. 13.  Retrieved from

Why we need the arts!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Minding the gap, the problem with value added teacher evaluations

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, By Jack Jennings

American tourists are often amused when traveling on the London “tube” to hear the announcement at each station to “mind the gap.” This attention-getting advice is meant to warn passengers exiting the subway car to step over the space between the car and the platform.
American education has its own gap, and it might be helpful if we repeatedly heard public announcements to “mind” it. This gap is the distance between what policymakers are putting in place and what research has found.
The most controversial example of this gap between policy and research relates to the current fight to change the methods used to evaluate teachers’ classroom performance. The Obama Administration, charitable foundations, conservative critics of teacher unions, and various others are encouraging state governments to revise teacher evaluation systems to consider the impact of individual teachers on their students’ achievement. The states are responding. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, 36 states and the District of Columbia have made policy changes in teacher evaluation since 2009, and 30 states now require these evaluations to include objective evidence of student learning.
The stakes are high because teachers could lose their jobs if they have low ratings on these new evaluations. Their salaries and promotions could also be affected, as well as their standing among their peers.
Proponents of change rightfully argue that current teacher evaluation systems are inadequate. Often, these involve a short “walk in” visit by the principal or another type of cursory review. Clearly, better ways of evaluating teachers must be found.
The problem comes with many of the alternatives being proposed or implemented, especially those that rely heavily on tests. In particular, the Obama administration, through its Race to the Top competitive grants and its waivers of No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requirements, is putting pressure on states to incorporate student test scores as a significant component of any new teacher evaluation system.
To fulfill the conditions for receiving Race to the Top grants or No Child Left Behindwaivers, states are often turning to the reading and math tests used for NCLB accountability. Since those tests are already administered to almost all students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, it’s understandable that states would choose to use them for teacher evaluation purposes.
The common sense rationale for linking teacher evaluations to student test scores is to hold teachers accountable for how much their students are learning. The favorite way of measuring gains, or lack thereof, in student learning is through “value-added” models, which seek to determine what each teacher has added to the educational achievement of each of his or her students.
Even though it seemingly makes sense to look at individual gains attributable to particular teachers, this method is fundamentally flawed due to the nature of current state tests, as well as the methods used to assign students to teachers and other reasons. These tests were not designed to be used in that way, and various aspects of their administration make this use improper.
In a briefing paper prepared for the National Academy of Education (NAE) and the American Educational Research Association, Linda Darling-Hammond and three other distinguished authors reached the following conclusion: “With respect to value-added measures of student achievement tied to individual teachers, current research suggests that high-stakes, individual-level decisions, as well as comparisons across highly dissimilar schools or student populations should be avoided.” The paper goes on to say that “in general, such measures should be used only in a low-stakes fashion when they are part of an integrated analysis of what the teacher is doing and who is being taught.” (Disclaimer: Although I am a member of NAE, I did not research or write that paper.)
The paper highlights three specific problems with using value-added models to evaluate teacher effectiveness, especially for such important decisions as teacher employment or compensation:
  1. Value-added models of teacher effectiveness are highly unstable. Teachers’ ratings differ substantially from class to class and from year to year, as well as from one test to another.
  2. Teachers’ value-added ratings are significantly affected by differences in the students who are assigned to them, even when models try to control for prior achievement and student demographic variables. In particular, teachers with large numbers of new English learners and others with special needs have been found to show lower gains than the same teachers who are teaching other students.
  3. Value-added ratings cannot disentangle the many influences on student progress. These include home, school and student factors that influence student learning gains and that matter more than the individual teacher in explaining changes in test scores.
Cautions about value-added testing have also been expressed by a group of testing and policy experts assembled by the Economic Policy Institute. This group concluded that “[w]hile there are good reasons for concern about the current system of teacher evaluation, there are also good reasons to be concerned about claims that measuring teachers’ effectiveness largely by student test scores will lead to improved student achievement.”
In a similar vein, W. James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA and test design expert,has concluded that the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers “runs counter to the most important commandment of educational testing — the need for sufficient validity evidence.”
Despite this strong advice based on research, states are pushing ahead to incorporate value-added models into their teacher evaluation systems. In Louisiana and Florida, two states that have made sweeping changes, the state legislatures eliminated teacher tenure and instituted systems that rely to a substantial degree on test scores to determine employment and salary. Many other states are not far behind.
Why have politicians and others decided to ignore the research and use defective systems to make major decisions about retaining teachers or determining their pay? Why are we not “minding the gap”?
Possibly, proponents of change felt they had to push hard to eliminate a defective system. In addition, some research, including an ongoing study of measures of effective teaching supported by the Gates Foundation, gives credence to the use of student achievement measures when combined with other measures, such as teacher observations and student feedback, as part of an effective teacher evaluation system. It is also possible that the researchers who raise serious concerns about the emphasis being placed on test score measures have not effectively stated or publicized their objections. Regardless of reason, there is trouble ahead.
In Florida an administrative order already temporarily stopped that system. In that state as well as others, groups are planning to litigate as soon as a teacher is fired or teacher salaries are lowered based on the results of a value-added model. Research findings will likely be used to discredit the value-added approach.
The shame of all this is that there is another way. As the National Academy paper points out, some other tools to measure teacher effectiveness are more stable and sophisticated. These include assessments of the actual performance of teachers and on-the-job evaluations, both of which rely on professional judgments.
Are states not fully embracing such options because they are more complex and have higher training costs than simply using test scores? If so, they are being very short-sighted.
We have ignored the advice to mind the gap for too long. The way we educate our children and treat our teachers should be based on facts, not on impulses.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How do we become a society that takes care of its children?

From the Huffington Post, by 

In his remarks at the Newtown interfaith vigil on December 16, President Obama reminded grieving families and the nation that "This is our task -- caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right." If anything is clear from the loss of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it is that we are not getting it right.
We are not getting it right in our country when a child was permitted to grow into a young man capable of such indescribable violence. We are not getting it right in our country when we ignore the pleas of help from teachers, parents, and even children themselves to help our youth grow into productive citizens.
For the past nine years, I have been teaching in a public school in one of Philadelphia's most impoverished neighborhoods. The students I teach have seen and experienced things that no child -- no person -- should ever have to. Their plight ranges from seeing syringes on the way to school, to not having winter coats, to having parents who work overnight and must leave them to care for younger siblings. Don't get me wrong: the vast majority of our families do all they can to provide for and raise their children. I recently sat in a conference with a very loving single dad, and I listened as he told me that he wants his son to get out of the neighborhood. The violence is too much, he said, and "I just want better for him than I had."
As I think about the tragedy in Newtown, and the complex stumbling blocks many of my students face, President Obama's words keep repeating in my head. "Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return?" No. We simply cannot.
Each day, I come to my school ready to work in partnership with my students, my colleagues, and their parents to foster a love of learning and a sense of joy in our school community. But we cannot do it alone. We cannot raise our children in isolation. Until policymakers see the effects of poverty, mental health issues, and access to quality behavioral health services, we will remain stagnant. Until we facilitate real, meaningful dialogue between the stakeholders in our schools and our policy-makers, our commitment to our children will simply not be enough.
So how do we become a society that takes care of its children? How do we move beyond rhetoric and into action? With honest commitment to the following, I think our government has the potential to implement real change in society:
*Listen to our teachers. We have been left out of the discussion surrounding mental health and children's learning needs for too long. There should be a protocol to follow when a child exhibits certain behaviors, and teachers and psychologists should be instrumental in developing such protocol and determining how to best monitor its implementation.
*Make government agencies and health care providers accountable for working in conjunction with schools to help students who are exhibiting special needs. Calls to human services and referrals to mental health agencies should not be taken lightly. Those agencies must work with teachers and parents to ensure the safety and health of our children.
*Encourage schools and teachers to foster creativity and growth in all domains. Allow time for character development in curriculum. Move away from the identification of students by their test scores. End the unrelenting blame of our students, teachers, and parents for the flaws of the system.
*Listen to the ways in which poverty affects our children. Let our communities tell you about what we need to counteract our uneven playing field. Do not take our asking for help as a sign of weakness or as an excuse.
"We know we're always doing right when we're taking care of them, when we're teaching them well, when we're showing acts of kindness," Obama reminded us. Let us be advocates for our children. Let us be their voices when they cannot. Let us prepare them for success. Let the loving care that parents and teachers demonstrate extend all the way up to the policies enacted by our federal government. Let us do right by our children.

The state of Florida says we should close Stanton and Paxon

I took a little liberty but please follow.

Ribault and the aforementioned academic magnet schools all earned an A grade from the state of Florida. That makes them the best of the best. So it stands to reason that if students can get a best of the best education at a neighborhood school then we no longer need academic magnet schools. The academic magnet school is an idea that has come and gone. That is if you believe the states grading scale. Sadly you probably shouldn’t.

The recipe for school improvement includes, one part get rid of your lowest performing students, two parts have everyone takes an AP class (you don't have to pass the test, you just have to take the course) and the ACT or SAT and a dash of have the state change the grading system so failure is nearly impossible. Presto Jackson goes from the lowest performing school in the state to a B and Ribault gets its A grade.

I know there are hard working teachers and students at Ribault but I also know there were hard working teachers and students at Ribault when they earned all the F and D grades too. I also believe it is likely their miraculous turn around is at least partly the result of a numbers game that the state of Florida and the district are all to willing to play.

We should celebrate our successes but we should be cautious about this news unless you think an A at Ribault and an A at Stanton mean the same thing.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Tony Bennett has a history of favoring charter schools over public schools

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

From reporter Dan Goldblatt of Indiana Public News:

A Marion County judge has decided that the Indiana State Board of Education misappropriated several million dollars of funding to charter schools. The money was being withheld from Indianapolis Public Schools.
When private companies took over four Indianapolis Public Schools to become charters, the State Board of Education counted the number of kids enrolled in the takeover schools during the 2011-2012 academic year, the last year IPS was in charge.
When the charter schools took over this year, enrollment in those four schools dropped by almost 50-percent. However, according to a statement from IPS, the state gave the charter schools funding based on the previous year’s enrollment.
Furthermore, IPS charged, the money tied to the kids who transferred from a takeover school back to IPS did not follow the child; it stayed with the charter school.
A judge this week decided the state should have looked at this year’s enrollment when distributing funding to the schools, and ruled that more than $6 million must be returned to IPS.
Three of the four schools taken over are now operated by Charter Schools USA.  Spokesperson Colleen Reynolds says while she doesn’t know if or how the state will recoup the money, it does not plan to change its model.
“We are going to provide the educational services and the caring environment that we’ve established so far,” she says. “We’re going to continue what we’ve been doing.”
The Department of Education says it is currently reviewing the ruling to determine next steps
Floridians are seeing the way that Tony Bennett can be expected to do business in Florida. Small wonder he received $5000 from Charter Schools’ USA real estate development arm late during his campaign. Two separate departments whose heads answer to Bennett will provide oversight to Charter Schools USA. Moreover, Bennett’s position on the state board allows him to vote on disputes Charter Schools USA has with local school boards.
Bennett was never properly vetted and the only version of his Indian tenure came from extreme partisans. The campaign cash that went to support Bennett’s Indiana run from Florida included donations from three members of the state board who hired him. Such an obscene misappropriation of funds likely will get a shrug from this state board. You see, the “school choice” ends justifies any shady means which cronies engage.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Size does matter

Size does matter.

Our state’s voters amended our constitution to require that our public schools attend to the needs of their students that finally changed the education funding calculus towards teachers that virtually said, “Stack them deep and pay them cheap.”

The extended recession that has gripped our nation cannot be an excuse, however, for abandoning the will of our state’s voters.  The actual benefits of smaller class sizes has been confirmed by a Princeton study that would make us pennywise to the relative low cost of teaching smaller classes where students receive more differentiated and individualized instruction.

We cannot pretend, either, that smaller class sizes and targeted instruction have no factor in drawing students from overcrowded public schools.  Even homeschoolers enjoy the greater benefits of an education that is less of a cattle call.

John Louis Meeks, Jr.