Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Transform Duval County Public Schools

Once again within the last decade, we face another transition in the office of the superintendent of schools for Duval County. Once again, we are facing the task of finding another person who can transform our school system for the better. I hope that we can ensure that local education reform is something that includes buy-in from the community at-large - including the students, the parents, educators and our local business partners. Real educational change is going to need input from the people whom our schools serve.

If I were to run for the school board, I would take into consideration the following issues that continue to haunt our school system:

1.) Discipline --- Do we wonder why so many parents are opting to send their kids to private or charter schools? It is because they do not feel like they can trust the public school system to create a safe learning atmosphere for their children. Why do so many parents in the public school system move Heaven and earth to get their kids even considered for attending a magnet school? These parents rightfully seek to place their children in schools that are a safe learning atmosphere for their children. Because of politics, however, all of Florida's public schools lose points in their school grade if they actually enforce their respective Codes of Conduct. Yes, there are fewer suspensions in a school district. It is not because students are learning to get along better. It is because of bureaucratic games that our administrators play to curry favor with the state Department of Education. It is cold comfort for a parent to know that the schools are more interested in papering over real danger as opposed to rooting out the student behavior that harms the overall learning atmosphere.

2.) Programs --- My mother had an uncle who worked for Sonoco in South Carolina. One day, he was fired from his job. The next day, he shaved his mustache and applied for his old job. He was hired back with no questions asked. The problem with Duval County Public Schools is that they do something similar. They bring in expensive programs and ideas. To implement these programs, they hire expensive consultants to tell the district what it needs to do. After the teachers are goaded into playing along, the program disappears into the sunset. Is it any wonder that many teachers are skeptical when the district administration decides to embrace something new and novel. Our school district is fickle with these fly-by-night programs and this means that they are being fickle with our tax dollars. What is most frustrating is how the downtown administrators immediately blame the teachers for not being competent at carrying out these ever-changing orders and how the downtown administrators tend to stifle dissent. Once the program has failed, though, the district is about as likely to issue mea culpas for thair failure as Yassir Arafat would have kept to a kosher diet. Some programs have longevity, like the reign of terror in the form of a state consent decree regarding the education of English Language Learners (ELLs). To better serve students for whom English is a second language, the school system threatened the certificates of otherwise highly qualified teachers. One teacher who was forced to retire for 'failing to accommodate her ELL students' was someone who was teaching an ELL education class at the University of North Florida. This nationally certified teacher chose to quit altogether than deal with the serpentine bureaucracy that claims to know best.

3.) Accountability --- My third point is closely related to the second. If the school board's strategy is to light a fire under the teachers to best serve our students, they are failing in their cause. Too many good teachers are either leaving or thinking about leaving because they are spending more and more time on tinkering around the edges of the learning gap. The content of the lessons often does not matter in the eyes of bean counters from downtown who routinely terrorize administrators and teachers alike with their gotcha 'focus walks' that seem to be intended merely to catch teachers doing something wrong. Mind you, this wrongdoing is not even remotely connected to over abuse of the students. The teachers ills and sins include the shameful failure to post a Stepford bulletin board that looks exactly like the other bulletin boards in the same hallway or in the same district. A teacher can put on a show for these inspectors by putting up a 'word wall' that seems to draw only the attention of adults. This is all in spite of research that claims that students are going to learn more because they have everything laid out for them in a way that saps any creativity from what the teacher as a professional can contribute to the learning process. Cookie cutter classrooms are nice for people who are looking to check off boxes but fails to realize that they are forcing schools to kowtow to adults who have nothing better to do during the day except for point out the misgivings of others while retreating to offices there they have not had to deal directly with children in a long time. Their only interaction with students is during their 'focus walk' inspections where they deliberately choose the children who will answer their probing questions in ways that draw aspersion on the teacher's competence. We should redirect their expertise and knowledge on the part of downtown administrators from bullying our schools toward taking proactive steps to mentor our educators in a more constructive atmosphere that encourages teachers to do their best for our students.

4.) Feedback --- For far too long, the Duval County School system has been very punitive with its personnel regarding feedback regarding local education policy. Dissenters are immediately labeled as troublemakers and are targeted for harassment and/or dismissal. These games are akin to what happened in that Tim Robbins film, 'Arlington Road.' The establishment, however far-fetched as it sounds, manages through its inner workings to portray their critics as loony. This is part of a larger paradox. When the rank-and-file 'reasonable minds' are cowed into silence, the alleged extremists are the ones who are left to fill the void. To add to this paradox is how our schools' leadership treats those who speak up after leaving the education profession, deriding them as 'disgruntled' as if these critics only have a chip on their shoulder and want to bring about the downfall of those in charge out of sour grapes and not from a desire to improve things for those who remain in the classroom. The school system is very effective at marginalizing these people but not necessarily as successful at fighting the issues that caused such discontent in the first place. The members of the school board may nod their heads in agreement with those who speak out during public discussion time, but they go back to their work maintaining the status quo as they always have. Transformation of our school system should include a mature public dialogue that really challenges the way that things are done in the schools. I guarantee that employee morale would improve drastically if the educators and education support professionals are able to shape the system for which they work instead of being forced to tow the line for a system that dictates how everything is done. I sincerely believe that the best working conditions for educators are the best learning conditions for our students.

I can honestly say that none of these above ideas would cost a dime to our school district. There are no hidden interests or agendas behind my ideas. I only seek that common sense be our guide in educating the students and developing citizens in a community that works for all...

That is just my two cents, of course...



John Louis Meeks, Jr.

The Duval County school board consistently avoids taking responsibility

Giving away our intervene schools and millions of dollars to an EMO because they couldn’t come up with solutions
Schools of the Future
The Bank of America School
Low teacher Morale
One of the worse graduation rates in the state
8 of the bottom 25 high schools (middle schools just as bad)
Grade Recovery
A lack of discipline
A lack of rigor
Shoving all kids regardless of aptitude or desire into a one size fits all curriculum
160 million hidden dollars

And now they can’t take notes at the biggest school board meeting in years? They say they followed the letter of the law; experts say maybe?

They take responsibility for absolutely nothing but oh they will tell you in a heart beat we’re a B district (ranked 50th out of 67 districts) and our grad rates are up (the result of social promotions and grade recovery) about Read it Forward (glorified baby sitting because the classes were to big) how discipline is better (only in their dreams and on their spread sheets) and how we have the highest standards around (which has all but wrecked rigor because passing kids not educating kids is their priority).

Friends, when is enough enough?!?

How much are our teachers and children supposed to endure?!?

Orange and Seminole counties stand up to the state. Will Duval?

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Dave Weber

Orange and Seminole school districts should be forced to allow two charter schools they turned down, the state Board of Education ruled Tuesday.

The state board sided with a recommendation from the charter school appeal commission that Renaissance Charter out of South Florida be allowed to set up shop next fall in Orange.

But the state board ignored the appeal commission recommendation that it reject the application of Florida Virtual Academy to open charters in Seminole and Duval counties because the proposed schools failed to meet certain standards. Board members said the virtual schools should be given the benefit of the doubt because the state is encouraging a shift to virtual education across Florida.

Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel said the district immediately would file a court appeal aimed at preventing the charter from opening.

"I am extremely disappointed with the decision," Vogel said.

Charters are public schools funded by taxpayers, but must follow fewer state rules than traditional schools. While charters operate largely outside control of local school districts, the districts are held responsible for their performance.

State Board Chairman Kathleen Shanahan said she hoped no one would think that in ignoring its appeal commission recommendations the board routinely was siding with charters, a common criticism.

Orange's rejection of Renaissance was overturned in part because the district last year approved another Renaissance school, and organizers said the applications were nearly identical. The first school has yet to open, but organizers said both are planned for this fall.

Orange held that because Renaissance planned to give control of its operation to the Charter Schools USA management firm, the school organizers would not have adequate oversight. Hiring principal and teachers as well as budgeting all would be handled by the management firm for a fee that Orange contended could be excessive. or 407-883-7885,0,806135.story

Charter schools want more public money

From the Tampa Bay Times, by Jell Solochek

A bill to expand the scope of Florida's charter schools is in trouble. HB 903 has hit the Florida House floor unable to win support for language that would dedicate a portion of school districts' revenue to charters for capital project expenses.

The Florida Charter School Alliance still has hope for the "equitable funding" effort, which remains in play in the Senate. So the organization, which boasts board members including former ed commissioner Jim Horne and Jeb Bush education foundation executive Patricia Levesque, has launched a new website to make it easier to show lawmakers your backing for the initiative.

"Provide your name, age, email and zip code. With this information, an email will be sent to your legislator, expressing your support of our efforts to equitably fund public charter school students," alliance president Cheri Shannon said in an e-mail to supporters. "In addition, the Alliance will be in touch with you if, and when, we need your support in reaching out to your local newspaper or community paper to further express your support of Florida’s public charter school students."

The site urges people to sign up to help:

"Remove the estimated 50,000 children from public charter school waiting lists, allowing them to be admitted to a school of their choice. Employ more teachers for public charter school students. Provide parents with more school choice. Ensure that public charter school facilities are safe and affordable. Parents should continue to have the freedom to send their children to the school that fits their academic needs and goals, with the guarantee that their full contributions as taxpayers will follow their children to whichever school they choose. Sending a child to a public charter school should be just that: a choice, not a sacrifice."

As noted, the bill has struggled in the House despite intense pressure from charter lobbyists, who have had no problem with Senate support. There's been talk of resurrecting the funding language in a House amendment or in conference, if the bill lands there.

One lobbyist told the Gradebook there's been murmuring of a compromise that would limit funding only to charters that don't send public funding to private enterprise for rent, but that such a thought hasn't gained much traction. We've been unable to unearth any such language or find anyone willing to confirm it. An interesting idea, though, given all that money that flows out of the state to companies like Imagine.

Florida raises tuition, cuts funds to higher ed, so much for it being important

From the Tampa Times, by Kim Walrath

Students from public universities across the state on Thursday will protest what they see as "aggressive attacks" on higher education in Florida. That includes tuition hikes and cuts to universities' funding -- both of which are currently being considered by the House and Senate as they work out a final budget.

The Florida Alliance for Student Action is advertising events on seven university campuses:

Students from the University of Florida will rally outside Senate President Mike Haridopolos's office on the UF campus, where he teaches a political science course. Florida State University and Florida A&M University students will march from their Tallahassee campuses to the Capitol. University of South Florida students will stage a walkout from classes then walk across campuses. Florida Atlantic University students and teachers will hold a joint teach-in. University of West Florida students will gather on the campuses' main lawn, and at the University of Central Florida, students will construct a "Wall of Debt" out of bricks representing individual students' loan burdens.

This is the same group that rallied last year against what it saw as similar "attacks" on higher ed by Gov. Rick Scott. Scott's office fought back on the issue, firing out a memo to media that said Scott didn't deserve blame for the tuition hikes, as they were not included in his budget proposal. But he did sign a final budget that included an 8 percent base tuition hike last year.

At the time, Scott's communications director said that Scott did not have the authority to veto tuition increases in the budget -- even though Gov. Charlie Crist did that in 2007. Some have argued that Crist's veto could have been overturned in court, but no one challenged it.

Scott has now come out strongly saying he opposes hiking tuition, but he has not gone so far to say he would try to veto it.

The higher education budget now on the table for the House and Senate does not include base tuition hikes, but it assumes universities will increase tuition up to the 15 percent cap as part of a program known as tuition differential.

This School Board has a recent history of not knowing the rules

In case of a tie, the tie goes to the side the chair voted for. This very seldom plays a role because the board has seven members. However when Martha Barrett abstained from voting on the Bank of America School a tie occurred. The school board didn’t realize the vote to close the school had actually been passed for six months.

Whether they didn’t understand the rules or if they just asked the wrong questions is immaterial. At the same time the board was pleading poverty, closing programs and firing people they were unaware of over a hundred million dollars in reserve.

Then where it was perfectly legal by the rule of the law it was very bad form, when they used a procedural trick to remove from public discussion the decision to hire three new public relations positions at a cost of between 2 and 3 hundred thousand dollars.

Finally when the decision was made to fire the superintendent and let’s face it that’s what happened, the board met and conveniently felt keeping complete notes was not required. Hmm you would think a call so big should have been recorded for posterity.

This is what passes for local control of education in Florida

From scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Few observers were surprised yesterday when a stacked state board of education overruled Orange county school district for rejecting a Charter Schools USAmanaged school. It was predicted here that CSUSA CEO Jonathan Hage – also a member of Rick Scott’s education transition team – would prevail in the end. But the state board’s stunning denial of its own charter school appeals commission on two Florida Virtual School applications should give voters pause. From the Florida Times-Union on the Duval county FVS application:

On Oct. 4, the School Board denied the application from Northeast Florida Virtual Charter School Board Inc., which wanted to open a kindergarten-to- ninth-grade school with a proposed enrollment of 620 students.

The organization failed 12 of the 19 sections of the application of which at least 15 sections must be met to pass.

District staff also said school representatives did not attend any of the provided meetings or help sessions scheduled to discuss the requirements and procedures to complete the application, school system records show.

Why have charter schools even apply anymore to local school boards if they can go about it so willy-nilly and still not be held accountable by the state board?

The state board of eight is composed of three appointees of Jeb Bush, three from Rick Scott, one from Charlie Crist and ed commissioner Gerard Robinson. One board member, Scott appointee Gary Chartrand, is on KIPP schools board of directors in Jacksonville and, like Hage, was on Scott’s education transition team. Hardly a group one can be confident will act in a fashion which demonstrates independent thinking.

If corporate reforms are so good why don't private schools use them?

From School Finance 101

Lately it seems that public policy and the reformy rhetoric that drives it are hardly influenced by the vast body of empirical work and insights from leading academic scholars which suggests that such practices as using value-added metrics to rate teacher quality, or dramatically increasing test-based accountability and pushing for common core standards and tests to go with them are unlikely to lead to substantial improvements in education quality, or equity.

Rather than review relevant empirical evidence or provide new empirical illustrations in this post, I’ll do as I’ve done before on this blog and refer to the wisdom and practices of private independent schools – perhaps the most market driven segment and most elite segment of elementary and secondary schooling in the United States.

Really… if running a school like a ‘business’ (or more precisely running a school as we like to pretend that ‘businesses’ are run… even though ‘most’ businesses aren’t really run the way we pretend they are) was such an awesome idea for elementary and secondary schools, wouldn’t we expect to see that our most elite, market oriented schools would be the ones pushing the envelope on such strategies?

If rating teachers based on standardized test scores was such a brilliant revelation for improving the quality of the teacher workforce, if getting rid of tenure and firing more teachers was clearly the road to excellence, and if standardizing our curriculum and designing tests for each and every component of it were really the way forward, we’d expect to see these strategies all over the home pages of web sites of leading private independent schools, and we’d certainly expect to see these issues addressed throughout the pages of journals geared toward innovative school leaders, like Independent School Magazine. In fact, they must have been talking about this kind of stuff for at least a decade. You know, how and why merit pay for teachers is the obvious answer for enhancing teacher productivity, and why we need more standardization… more tests… in order to improve curricular rigor?

So, I went back and did a little browsing through recent, and less recent issues of Independent School Magazine and collected the following few words of wisdom:

From Winter 2003, when the school where I used to teach decided to drop Advanced Placement courses:

A little philosophy, first. Independent schools are privileged. We do not have to respond to the whims of the state, nor to every or any educational trend. We can maximize our time attuned to students and how they learn, and to the development of curriculum that enriches them and encourages the skills and attitudes of independent thinkers. Our founding charters and missions established independence for a range of reasons, but they now give all of us relative curricular autonomy, the ability to bring together a faculty of scholars and thinkers who are equipped to develop rich, developmentally sound programs of study. As Fred Calder, the executive director of New York State Association of Independent Schools, wrote in a letter to member schools a few years ago: “If we cannot design our programs according to our best lights and the needs of our communities, then let the monolith prevail and give up the enterprise. Standardized testing in subject areas essentially smothers original thought, more fatally, because of the irresistible pressure on teachers to teach to the tests.”
Blasphemy? Or simply good education!

And from way, way back in 2000, in a particularly thoughtful piece on “business” strategies applied to schools:

Educators do not respond to the same incentives as businesspeople and school heads have much less clout than their corporate counterparts to foster improvement. Most teachers want higher salaries but react badly to offers of money for performance. Merit pay, so routine in the corporate world, has a miserable track record in education. It almost never improves outcomes and almost always damages morale, sowing dissension and distrust, for three excellent reasons, among others: (1) teachers are driven to help their own students, not to outperform other teachers, which violates the ethic of service and the norms of collegiality; (2) as artisans engaged in idiosyncratic work with students whose performance can vary due to factors beyond school control, teachers often feel that there is no rational, fair basis for comparison; and (3) in schools where all faculty feel underpaid, offering a special sum to a few sparks intense resentment. At the same time, school leaders have limited leverage over poor performers. Although few independent schools have unionized staff and formal tenure, all are increasingly vulnerable to legal action for wrongful dismissal; it can take a long time and a large expense to dismiss a teacher. Moreover, the cost of firing is often prohibitive in terms of its damage to morale. Given teachers’ desire for security, the personal nature of their work, and their comparative lack of worldliness, the dismissal of a colleague sends shock waves through a faculty, raising anxiety even among the most talented.
Unheard of! Isn’t firing the bad teacher supposed to make all of those (statistically) great teachers feel better about themselves? Improve the profession? [that said, we have little evidence one way or the other]

How can we allow our leading private, independent, market-based schools to promote such gobbledygook? Why do they do it? Are they a threat to our national security or our global economic competitiveness because they were not then, nor are they now (see recent issues: fast-tracking the latest reformy fads? Testing out the latest and greatest educational improvement strategies on their own students, before those strategies get tested on low income children in overcrowded urban classrooms? Why aren’t the boards of directors of these schools – many of whom are leaders in “business” – demanding that they change their outmoded ways? Why? Why? Why? Because what they are doing works! At least in terms of their success in continuing to attract students and produce successful graduates.

Now, that’s not to say that these schools are completely stagnant, never adopting new strategies or reforms. They do new stuff all the time (technology integration, etc.) – just not the absurd reformy stuff being dumped upon public schools by policymakers who in many cases choose to send their own children to private independent schools.

In my repeated pleas to private school leaders to provide insights into current movements in teacher evaluation and compensation, I’ve actually found little change from these core principles of nearly a decade ago. Private independent schools don’t just fire at will and fire often and teacher compensation remains very predictable and traditionally structured. I’d love to know, from my private school readers, how many of their schools have adopted state mandated tests?

Private independent schools pride themselves on offering small class sizes (see also here) and a diverse array of curricular opportunities, as well as arts, sports and other enrichment – the full package. And, as I’ve shown in my previous research, private independent schools charge tuition and spend on a per pupil basis at levels much higher than traditional public school districts operating in the same labor market. They also pay their headmasters well! More blasphemy indeed.

In fact, aside from “no excuses” charter schools whose innovative programs consist primarily of rigid discipline coupled with longer hours and small group tutoring (not rocket science), and higher teacher salaries (here, here & here) to compensate the additional work, private independent schools may just be among the least reformy elementary and secondary education options out there.

That’s not to say they are anything like “no excuses” charter schools. They are not in many ways. But they are equally non-reformy. In fact, the average school year in private independent schools is shorter not longer than in traditional public schools – about 165 days. And the average student load of teachers working in private independent schools (course sections x class size) is much lower in the typical private independent school than in traditional public schools. But that ain’t reformy stuff at all, any more than trying to improve outcomes of low income kids by adding hours and providing tutoring.

None-the-less, for some reason, well educated people with the available resources, keep choosing these non-reformy and expensive schools. Some of these schools have been around for a while too! Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they are doing the right things – providing good, well rounded educational opportunities as many of them have for centuries, adapting along the way (see: . Perhaps they’ve not gone down the road of substantially increased testing and curriculum standardization, test-based teacher evaluation – firing their way to Finland – because they understand that these policy initiatives offer little to improve school quality, and much potential damage.

Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from market based systems. But perhaps we should be looking to those market based systems that have successfully provided high quality schooling for centuries to our nation’s most demanding, affluent and well educated leaders, rather than basing our policy proposals on some make-believe highly productive private sector industry where new technologies reduce production costs to near $0 and where complex statistical models are used to annually deselect non-productive employees.

Just pondering the possibilities, and still waiting for Zuck (an Exeter alum) to invest in Harkness Tables for Newark Public Schools and class sizes of 12 across the board!

The superintendent laughed all the way to the bank while people lost their jobs

While the superintendent laughed it off, his and the boards lack of communication caused lives to be disrupted as programs closed and people lost their jobs.

As I understand it school districts are supposed to keep three percent in reserves, which represents about 25 million dollars for Duval County. It turns out we have upwards of 160 million dollars. For the last few years the district has been pleading poverty as it squirreled away tens of millions of dollars.

I went to two meetings one last year and the other in 2010 where the superintendent droned on about what a sad financial state we are in and not once did he mention the 100 million plus in reserves, was that just a communication problem he was having with the public?

Magnet transportation was limited severely, sports were in danger of being cut, the mayor had to take his hat around the city looking for money to save ROTC at several schools and people lost their jobs, read that again, people lost their jobs while we had all this money.

The superintendent laughs it off as a miscommunication between him and the board. I wonder if the custodians, para professionals, district staff and teachers who lost their jobs because of our supposed poverty are laughing. I wonder how their lives are now?

Why do we have this money if it is not to be used during tough times and maybe the superintendent didn’t notice it because of his 279 thousand dollar salary but times have been very tough for a lot of people?

The superintendent laughed all the way to the bank while people suffered.


So which Duval County School Board members aren't key?

From a piece about the time for new leadership in the Times Union, Pratt-Dannals said both he and key board members arrived at the same conclusion, that he should call it quits at the end of his contract.

Um which members aren’t key? Friends you do know that there are only seven school board members right? It’s not like there are a hundred or anything.
Let’s try and figure out who is and isn’t key.

Paula Wright, she wasn’t even deemed worthy enough to get a phone call when a principal in her district was replaced midyear.

W.C. Gentry? Rich, elderly, white guys are always considered key.
Betty Burney? She is the chairwoman; I will begrudgedly put her on the key list.

Becky Couch, no, not even close, she doesn’t seem nearly as interested in the job now that she has it.

Fred “Fel” Lee, he will eventually be an old, rich, white guy so I initially thought definitely but then his silence over the last week has spoke volumes.

Martha Barrett, I can’t imagine her being considered key about much but she and the superintendent have worked closely together for the last 12 years (that’s right folks she has been on the SB for 12 years now and is seeking a fourth term) so it’s a possibility.

Tommy Hazouri, enough said.

Regardless, isn’t this a decision, which I feel is way over due, that the whole board should have made together?

So friends, is your representative key or are they just there collecting a check?

The inexplicable logic of newspaper editors

Sometimes I feel like the Time Union editors are messing with me. You know like how a friend does when they bring up a touchy subject to get a rise out of you. The difference though is friends will stop before it gets too far, where the Times Union editors keep on going well that and how their unwavering support of the superintendent and their willful ignorance about what is happening in our schools has led to people’s lives being ruined and kids not getting the education they deserve. They continued to go too far today in a piece about the superintendent.

For the last two years the Times Union has steadfastly said we have the right superintendent for the job, now that he has been fired the headline reads, Time is right for new leadership.

They wrote, Wise’s commitment to Advanced Placement exams looked good on national metrics but included students in college level courses who couldn’t even read at grade level. Um nothing has changed, we still put low level kids in Advanced Placement classes that they have no business being in. Why was it bad for Wise to do so but okay that Pratt-Dannals continues to do so?

You know what other metrics look good on paper but fall apart with any critical thought? Our graduation rates and our school grades but the editors can dismiss that and choose not to delve any deeper because that doesn’t fit the narrative they have decided for Pratt-Dannals.

Let me give you an example, later in the same piece they wrote: Similarly, Duval is a state leader in the number of high school graduates who are ready for college, a key quality indicator. Well Florida State College has said, 70% of our grads have to take remedial classes once they arrive, I wonder what kind of indicator that is? To me it is another indicator the Times Union doesn’t know what it is talking about.

Their article is full of double speak, poorly used numbers and high praise for a man many teachers, those most in the know, feel has run our district into the ground.

But hey it’s just an editorial on their part, not fact and we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of their opinions.


The misinformation campaign about Jacksonville’s graduation rate continues (rough draft)

The Times Union praised Pratt-Dannals for the rise in graduation rates and frequently likes to mention how we have some of the highest standards around, what the Times Union doesn’t mention is how one helped cause the other . Another problem they have is they just look at the numbers and as we all know, sometimes numbers can lie.

Six years ago Duval County much to the chagrin of many of its teachers increased its graduation requirements. Algebra II no longer became a subject that just the nerdy kid took but now every kid had too and the same went for chemistry or physics as well.

(I don’t mean to digress but how many of you use advanced algebra in your everyday life?)

Do you know what happened as a result? Our graduation rate went down.
The year before the change our rate was 56.3 and the year after it was 51.4 though it has steadily climbed since then.

When Pratt Dannals became superintendent five years ago, the graduation rate was 51.5% and this last year it was 63.3% which is a significant increase but now that we know the higher grad requirements led to the superintendent's low starting point, let’s look beyond the numbers.

Duval County for the last few years has relied heavily on grade recovery to graduate many of its kids. Grade recovery used to be for kids that tried hard and just didn’t get it or for kids who missed a lot of days for a legitimate and documented reason. Sadly it changed under Pratt-Dannals and now any kid, can take it any time, under any circumstance. Now kids that made no effort, never came or spent the majority of their time disrupting class are eligible and using it to make up classes. Rigor, accountability, heck even supervision have all been compromised as a result.

The Times Union did an article a while back which said 15,000 kids had used GR to make up classes. Say just half the kids who took advantage of it didn’t deserve too (I think it is closer to ninety percent) well that could explain as much as a six percent increase in our graduation rate. Unfortunately there is no way to adequately tell and I believe the district likes it that way.

But it is worse than that friends. Teachers are told all the time with air quotes that they can only fail a certain amount of kids, or if they fail to many their jobs will be in jeopardy. Many people think rigor in our schools has been seriously compromised and kids that give just a minimal effort are passed through. How much of a role did the district’s unofficial gentlemen’s C policy affect graduation rates? I would guess more so than even grade recovery did.

So what’s our legitimate prepared to be successful in life or college, graduation rate. I don’t know but I do know that businesses report having a hard time finding good applicants and 70% of our grads have to take remedial classes at Florida State College. I don’t know but I know it is significantly less than the grossly inflated graduation rate we have now. The Times Union and the district should know that too but they instead look the other way. Numbers not kids being what is important to them.

Graduation rates by year:

2011- 63.3%
2010- 58.3%
2009- 55.8%
2008- 53.5%
2007- 51.5%
2006- 51.4%
2005- 56.3%
2004- 57.2%
2003- 52.2%

The Times Union can’t even get the Golden Rule right

Despite the fact my belly was empty I about threw up in mouth reading the Times Union’s latest blathering love fest directed at Superintendent Pratt-Dannals but what really got me was The Times Union can’t even get the golden rule right.

The Golden Rule since time began has been, you should treat others the way you would like to be treated. The TU suddenly changed it to, did you leave things better than you found them.

Pratt-Dannals neither followed the golden rule nor left things better.

More on this later.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More Florida school districs lose local control. State takes over

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Signs that the end of local board control of schools – and its own finances – continued today when the state board of education overruled Orange and Seminole counties rejection of two charter schools. From Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel:

TALLAHASSEE – Orange and Seminole school districts should be forced to allow two charter schools they turned down, the state Board of Education ruled Tuesday.

The state board sided with a recommendation from the charter school appeal commission that Renaissance Charter out of South Florida be allowed to set up shop next fall in Orange.

But the state board ignored the appeal commission recommendation that it reject the application of Florida Virtual Academy to open charters in Seminole and Duval counties because the proposed schools failed to meet certain standards. Board members said the virtual schools should be given the benefit of the doubt because the state is encouraging a shift to virtual education across Florida.

Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel said the district immediately would file a court appeal aimed at preventing the charter from opening.

“I am extremely disappointed with the decision,” Vogel said.

Charters are public schools funded by taxpayers, but must follow fewer state rules than traditional schools. While charters operate largely outside control of local school districts, the districts are held responsible for their performance.

State Board Chairman Kathleen Shanahan said she hoped no one would think that in ignoring its appeal commission recommendations the board routinely was siding with charters, a common criticism.

The realities of whom overruled who defies logic. Political appointees from both the state board and the charter school appeal commission overruled elected school board members. To think that such a dynamic was set up by other elected officials in the Florida legislature is equally appalling.

The state board’s justification to reject the appeal commission’s recommendation on a Florida Virtual School demonstrated just how conflicted the state board members are in their decision-making. Doing so because “virtual schools should be given the benefit of the doubt because the state is encouraging a shift to virtual education across Florida,” is based on neither merit nor reason. Shanahan’s “hope” rings hollow and her boards’ decision stinks of pure patronage.

Florida takes away local control of schools from Duval

From the Times Union

by Teresa Stepzinski

The state Board of Education in a split vote Tuesday ruled in favor of Florida Virtual Academy at Duval County, which had its application previously rejected by the Duval County School Board.

The state board voted 3 to 1 with one member abstaining in support of the school, and therefore overturned the decision of the Charter School Appeals Commission, said Cheryl Etters, a state Department of Education spokeswoman.

The Duval School Board and district administrators will "review the order from the Board of Education to determine whether we think it is advisable to appeal," said Jill Johnson, school system spokeswoman.

On Oct 4, the Duval board denied the application from Northeast Florida Virtual Charter School Board Inc., which wanted to initially open a kindergarten through ninth grade school with a proposed enrollment of 620 students.

School district staff recommended denying the application because the organization failed 12 of the 19 sections of the application of which at least 15 sections must be met to pass.

District staff also said representatives of the proposed school did not attend any of provided meetings or help sessions scheduled to discuss the requirements and procedures to complete the application, school system records show.

Has Jacksonville lost faith in its public schools?

More Duval County residents think school is important; that’s a good thing. More Duval County residents have lost confidence in public schools; that’s a bad thing. More Duval County residents say they don’t want to pay any more towards our schools; that’s an understandable thing, especialy in light of the hundred plus million the district had been squirling away for a rainy day. By the way it has been raing for a couple yers now.

I get it. The truth is we have some amazing schools and not just the nationally acclaimed magnet schools but neighborhood schools as well. Then even at our quote, unquote, struggling schools, there are great things going on. Teachers showing up with their sleeves rolled up dedicated to their students but despite all of that our district as a whole puts out a mediocre product. Quite frankly I don’t want to pay any more either and I am in the schools and see the needs going unmet. Despite this I completely understand how many of my neighbors feel. I get it.

Somewhere along the way, the Duval County Public School system lost its way. Appearing to do well and the f-cat replaced doing what is right and the mission of schools, which should be to prepare our children to be productive citizens with whatever they choose to do when they finish; whether they decide to continue their education or enter the workforce.

For some reason disciplining kids became passé to do. Despite the districts insistence that behavior is better, what’s really better is teacher’s ability to ignore bad behavior and endure toxic learning environments. We ignore so much stuff that would have gotten me suspended 25 years ago when I walked the same halls as a student that I now do as a teacher. There are too many battles to fight them all. It’s exhausting.

The district then tries to inflate its numbers by doing accounting tricks. We put advanced programs in all the high schools (and why do we have advanced magnet high schools if we can get the programs anywhere) and have more and more kids take advanced placement classes. Kids don’t have to pass an A.P. class to help a schools grade; they just have to take the test.

Then we stopped failing kids. A colleague commented the other day; if you come to class you really have to work hard to fail my class. We go through such lengths to make sure these kids get by, not learn mind you but get by and if it wasn’t for the gentlemen’s C pushing a fifth of the kids through we would have a log jam at certain grades.

Not that teachers aren’t subtlety cajoled into passing kids all the time either; no more than ten percent Ds and Fs we are told in memos and at meetings and if you do your evaluations, potential merit pay (which is a joke here in the county) and jobs may hang in the balance. Though with learning recovery it practically doesn’t matter what a kid does in class anyways. They could not show up or worse show up do nothing but disrupt the class everyday and still be eligible for it. In my day there was no makeup unless you had an excused absence and then after so many days that didn’t matter. Now nothing matters as every kid is eligible regardless of the reason.

At some point those in the ivory tower at 1701 prudential drive became enamored with the successes at Stanton and Paxon and thought, hey let’s do that everywhere, accept everywhere didn’t have the same kids or the ability to kick children out who didn’t cut the mustard with either their academics or behavior.

Then at some point we decided every kid was going to go to college regardless of desire and aptitude. So we destroyed the skill and trade based programs and put everyone into a one size fits all curriculum. The greatest generation that saved us from the Nazi hoard was made up of carpenters, plumbers and tradesmen of all types, but suddenly those jobs are devalued.

Teaching to the test became all we did and still do. Benchmarks, PMAs, and a whole host of other tests replaced actual critical thinking and learning skills as we created a generation that can regurgitate answers for a test but do little else. We make school miserable for kids and then wonder why they don't do well.

Finally when did teachers go from valued, collaborative, colleagues, to dime a dozen cogs easily replaced, cajoled and intimidated by the district if they do’t subvert to its will. Teaching today has little to do with teaching. Instead we have become statisticians forced to create mountainous data notebooks which give little more than what a teacher can learn by working with a student for a few days. We spend so much time getting our agendas and word wall right that we have little time for actually teaching. Sir that two page lesson plan that I spent two hours creating is not for me or my children’s benefit. No it’s for the administrators so they can justify their positions by having something to check.

Speak up and say goodbye to your room or the class you want to teach. Question and see your evaluation suffer. Teachers are demoralized for several different reasons but chief among those has to be they see the promise our schools have and how far away we have moved away from it.

It’s no wonder the community lost faith because so many teachers have too. It’s also no wonder the community said we don’t want to chip in anymore. Though the crazy thing about faith is if it is important enough and most of us believe our education system is important, teachers show up day in and day out even thought they know they are fighting a losing battle, then schools can get the faith back, they just have to start doing the right things.

We have to have rigorous classes. Kids can’t be pushed through without the skills they need and with us hoping they will somehow catch up. We should also ditch the current learning recovery model completely, it might be good for the districts stats but it’s bad for education. If a kid acts up or skips all the time they should not be rewarded with multiple bites at the apple. Then for those kids that need extra help we need to have after school and legitimate summer school programs. If that’s not enough, then we should then retain the kids. We shouldn’t be so preoccupied with children graduating in a certain amount of time; we should be preoccupied with preparing them to be successful in life even if it takes longer.

Our schools have to be disciplined. We don’t have to be cruel, strict and fair will suffice. Consequences for bad behavior should be swift and meaningful and remember for a consequence to be meaningful they must mean something. We can’t send kids to their rooms where their ipods, face book pages and game boys are and expect them to learn anything. We must have them picking up trash, mopping floors, staying after school or wearing school uniforms. You want to wear what you want? Then you need to stop making Mrs. So and So’s room miserable. If that didn’t work for a few, we have to have the ability to let them go. We could achieve great addition through a little subtraction.

Then we also need multiple curriculums. We have to realize we don’t have the kids we wish we did, we have the kids we do and then plan accordingly. Not every kid is going to college and we should be okay with that, heck we should embrace it. Every day I hear a story about how some plumber, mechanic or electrician charged some crazy high fee and those are jobs that won’t be outsourced to India. We have denigrated the trades and skills when those are the noble professions that built this country, plus if kids are doing what they are interested in, well there is a good chance they will do better in school. Friends unless you are teaching rocket science, teaching isn’t rocket science.

We also have to stop teaching to the test. We don’t want robots or autotrons that can just pass a test, we want well rounded students who can critically think and our engaged with what they are learning and we should be able to get that everywhere not just in pockets here and there and at the dedicated magnet schools.

Like I said the school district lost its way and went from doing what’s right being important to our numbers being the end all be all that there is.

People talk all the time about how parents need to step up and do what’s right, well they are not the only ones. Schools need to do so too. Right now the way we do things often makes things worse. If a kid isn’t going to learn any discipline, manners or a work ethic at home then it is paramount they get those things at school because if not there then where?

If we can do what is right by our kids, then our system will improve. If our system improves the community will regain their faith. Instead of being a source of pity and revulsion our school system will become a source of pride. A crown jewel we can rally around.

The city has lost its faith in our schools and I don’t blame them but it’s something our schools could get back and it’s as simple as doing them doing the right thing.

Florida changes school grading formula... again!

From the Miami Herald

by Kathleen McGrory

The state Board of Education on Tuesday approved plans to revamp the school grading formula - but made significant changes to the original proposal, which had unleashed a barrage of criticism from parents, teachers, superintendents and business leaders.

State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson backed off the so-called proficiency trigger, which would have schools get an automatic F if fewer than 25 percent of students were reading at grade level.

Under the revised plan, schools that don't hit the 25 percent mark would instead be docked by one letter grade. The trigger would not kick in until the start of the next school year.

The board approved one of the most hotly debated provisions of the new formula: a plan to include students with disabilities and those who are learning English in the grade calculation. In years past, the formula has only considered whether those students were making improvements, and not whether they were at grade level.

But there was a caveat: The board directed Robinson to convene a task force of educators, experts and parents to review that part of the plan - and make sure it was both necessary and sound.

"It's a move in the right direction," said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who had requested many of the changes. "In the process, we moved to a more reasonable policy that serves all students."

It was not clear how the formula as adopted on Tuesday would impact school grades.

Under the original proposal, hundreds of Florida schools would have dipped into the failing range, according to estimates from the state Department of Education. Miami-Dade would have seen the number of F schools jump to 50 from five. In Broward, the figure would have grown from five to 27.

The state Board of Education had to change the school grading formula - both to incorporate new state exams and to qualify for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The proposed changes raised the standards, placed a greater emphasis on reading and awarded extra points to students achieving at the highest levels.

But some of the early ideas met strong resistance from school superintendents, business leaders, parent groups and advocates for children with disabilities. Among their arguments: students with disabilities and those just learning English should not factor into the school grades formula the same way as typical children.

“Schools with 30, 40, 50 or 60 percent of students who are not native English speakers are going to be at a disadvantage in terms of this as a performance metric," Carvalho said at Tuesday's meeting. "That does not mean there is not quality instruction taking place in that school.”

Carvalho said he feared children with special needs would be perceived as "dragging down a school's grade."

"This is not in the best interest of anyone, and I don’t believe it represents the intent of the department or this board," he said.

But other speakers at Tuesday's meeting made the case for measuring all children equally.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, said she spoke on behalf of her 3-year-old son, Luke, who has special needs.

"Nothing in the current state accountability ever makes sure that Luke will learn how to read, because his learning how to read is not part of our school grading system," she said.

The foundation, created by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 1994, supports the tougher grading formula and increased accountability measures.

In the end, board members said that fully incorporating students learning English and with disabilities was necessary for Florida to receive the No Child Left Behind waiver. But board members said they looked forward to hearing recommendations from the task force - and would reconsider the idea at next month's meeting in Miami.

Other provisions revisions to the grading formula had been as controversial.

Some parents were outraged after noticing that specialized schools for disabled children had received letter grades in simulations of the new grading system. Robinson later said the so-called ESE center schools would not be graded.

The Florida Association of Special Education Attorneys opposed the final outcome.

"If there is no accountability for schools that serve only disabled students ... schools will continue to have an incentive to place children in these more restrictive environments," the association said in a statement Tuesday. "We instead urge that there be incentives to serve these students effectively so they can learn in regular classrooms in their local schools, participate in extracurricular activities, and make friends with students who are not disabled."

The proficiency trigger had also raised concerns, particularly in communities where historically low-performing schools are making progress.

Miami Jackson and Miami Northwestern high schools, for example, had recently received an A and B grade respectively. Had the trigger been approved, both would have dropped to an F.

"We finally started to make big gains," said Cleveland Morley, the vice chairman of the Miami Northwestern Alumni Association Board, who traveled to Tallahassee for the meeting. "It wouldn't have been fair."

Morley was joined by two dozen representatives of Miami-Dade's inner-city high schools: Booker T. Washington, Carol City, Central, Edison, Norland and Northwestern.

"I feel better knowing that our showing up made a difference," Morley said. "But it isn't over yet."

Miami Herald staff writer Laura Isensee contributed to this report.

Read more here:

The bill that no parents wanted makes it out of committee

From the Tampa Bay Times

By Jeff Solocheck

The "parent empowerment" bill that many Florida parent groups have fought against barely made its way out of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations committee today, with two Republicans — Evelyn Lynn and Nancy Detert — joining Democrat Bill Montford in opposing the measure. Lynn then challenged the 4-3 outcome, saying the committee had not followed Senate rules in discussing and voting on the bill.

The legislation — a priority for Jeb Bush's education foundation — would give parents the right to petition for a school turnaround option if their school receives an F grade from the state. Sponsor Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, submitted a strike-all replacement that she said attempted to answer the many concerns raised by critics of the idea.

Changes included ensuring that students in both charter and traditional schools would not have a teacher rated as unsatisfactory or needs improvement in two consecutive years, and setting strict rules for collecting parent signatures. Benacquisto suggested that many of the provisions for school turnarounds already exist.

"We are just seeking to give parents a meaningful voice in the turnaround program for the school and their students," she said.

Detert noted that changes to school grading, which the State Board of Education was voting on at the same time, would lead to more F schools — not because the schools are changing but because of new ways of measuring performance. She said that would lead to more time and money spent on structure, taking away from money spent on students and education.

Because of time constraints set by leaders, the panel had just 20 minutes to talk about the bill from start to finish. Public testimony was limited, as was member debate. After Lynn complained about the process, chairman David Simmons said he would bring the concerns to the rules committee. If that panel says there was a problem, he will ask for another special meeting for reconsideration.

A companion House bill is scheduled for floor consideration Wednesday.

Local teacher Tom Altee wants the next Super to walk a mile in teacher's shoes

One of the most important trait needed in the hiring of a new school Superintendent would be accountability to the Teachers of Duval County.

The Superintendent and School Boards members remind me of the chateau generals of World War I. Generals that formulated tactics from on high ensconced inside their comfortable villas and chateaus while the captains (Principals), Lieutenants (Asst. Principals) and Sergeants (Teachers) dealt with the daily minefields and barbed wire of No Man’s land (F Schools). They have little idea of what really goes on in the classrooms in Duval County Schools beyond dog and pony shows in Potemkin villages. Or what their chateau bound (School Board Building) tactics mean to the teachers who daily wade into educational combat or educational triage ala M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals).

Below are three initial startup remedies for the new Superintendent and School Board Members to follow in comprehending and understand many of the problems so specific to our schools in Duval County.

1. The Superintendent should be required to work four days each month assigned to teach or work as a House Administrator (Asst. Principal). It must not be announced what school he/she is assigned to beforehand. The school and subject selection should be drawn out of a hat and kept secret.

2. Each School Board member will be assigned to teach or work as a House Administrator (Asst. Principal) for one week every 3 months at a randomly chosen school. The subject selection and school will randomly be drawn out of a hat and kept secret.

3. Any School Board Member or Superintendent should be required to obtain Florida Classroom Teaching Certification before being allowed to become Superintendent or being allowed to be seated on the School Board.

This “walking a mile in our Moccasins” will go a long way in Superintendent and School Board understanding of the real problems that Duval County Schools face.

Tom Altee
Geography 7
Southside Middle School
34 Year Classroom Teacher

I almost feel sorry for the Duval County School Board

They are a like a little girl at a family get together trying to tell tall tales. The adults ignore her having grown weary of her antics. The board pleads, come on what about our graduation rates, more of schools being A, B or C and how we have some of the highest academic standards around, but like the adults in the setup nobody listens.

You see the school board doesn’t get it. The people of the city might not always be able to put their finger on it but they know something is wrong. They have a teacher friend who is miserable or they know a kid who doesn’t seem to be learning much. The see the articles about grade recovery and here the stories about fights in the hall and they instinctively know that is more real than anything the board is saying.

Maybe the board got tricked by a charismatic snake salesman and just went along with whatever he said. Maybe they were in it with him and thought, if we can just keep the smoke and mirrors going the public won't kick us off our gravy trains.

Regardless the public is waking up; they don’t care if the board is clueless of just plain bad. All they know is they want better for their children and the city than what the board has delivered.

I almost feel bad for them, but who I really feel bad for is the teachers and families who had their lives messed with and the kids who didn’t get the education they deserved under the Pratt-Dannals reign. Yeah, that’s who I really feel sorry for.

Middle school P.E. is still on Florida's chopping block


Normally, less meddling from Tallahassee in local affairs is welcome, but not a plan to de-emphasize physical education in middle schools.

A bill by Rep. Larry Metz, a Republican from Lake County, would drop the P.E. mandate for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. School boards could use gym and playground time to teach math, reading and other core academics.

School boards would have the option, and we'd like to think that most would choose not to neglect the important physical side of a student's development. But some, no doubt, would. Budget shortfalls, required coursework and the quest for ever-higher test scores would lead some districts to kid themselves that youngsters can get all the exercise they need after school.

If they were active outside of class, nearly one-third of Florida's boys and girls would not be overweight. When not doing their homework, school children these days are drawn to computer games, the Internet, social media and TV. You don't see many playing ball, riding bikes or building tree houses.

Metz argues that schools should be free to use limited resources to pursue their highest goals. But they're not really free, considering the many academic mandates they face.

If the goal is not to micromanage, as bill supporters say, then why not let locally elected boards drop math or reading if they choose? Why just P.E.?

The P.E. requirement is a mandate that attempts to force balance. The pressure is all from the academic side.

Everyone agrees that Florida schools must be competitive with the rest of the nation and the world. Eliminating P.E. may seem like a cheap way to improve scores.

And a staff analysis of the bill says it would have no apparent fiscal impact. That means it wouldn't cost anything to keep students in class instead of introducing them to a sport or activity that they could enjoy the rest of their lives.

That no-cost estimate holds up only in the short run. The American Heart Association, an opponent of the no-P.E. bill, notes that obesity is on its way to replacing tobacco use as the leading cause of preventable death in this country.

Nationwide, the health costs of obesity are enormous. The state's goal should be to produce well-rounded students, not a generation of overweight bookworms.

Not only is this generation of students hooked on computer games, fewer of them walk or ride their bikes to school. The trend seems to be to put everyone on a bus or in a car. A new federal transportation bill would cut all federal funding that creates safe bicycle and pedestrian paths to schools.

Physical well-being and mental health go hand in hand. Even unathletic students benefit from exposure to the physical side of life. Sports and exercise can reinvigorate and allow better concentration. After a workout, children are less excitable and less frustrated with having to sit at a desk.

Students who aren't paying attention won't learn no matter how long they stay in class. But there are other important lessons to be learned outside the classroom.

In physical activities, students learn teamwork, how to follow the rules, and the importance of discipline and morale. They get to practice leadership and appreciate good sportsmanship. They feel the thrill of victory and learn how to deal with defeat. And they learn the value of exercise, which should reward them the rest of their lives.

If the state is going to require anything in school, it should require P.E.

Is Florida Ed Commish Robinson here to help or hurt schools

Don’t pull ‘F’ trigger
The Miami Herald Editorial The Miami Herald

OUR OPINION: Give more time to proposed grading formula
By The Miami Herald Editorial Board,

The Florida Board of Education meets Tuesday to decide new rules to rank public schools and make them more accountable. The focus is in the right place but Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson wants to move too quickly and too broadly to institute the new rules.

It’s a recipe for failure, which is why the Florida PTA, the parents of children with disabilities, the parents of students learning English for the first time — as well as the superintendents of large school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward — are asking for a transition period for the new requirements.

The so-called “F trigger” would grade schools an automatic F unless at least 25 percent of students score proficient in reading in the new FCAT 2.0. That’s a fine goal to have, but to insist on implementing it in one year, just as the tougher test is also in the works, would be a disaster for urban schools that have high concentrations of students who are poor, disabled or first-time English learners.

Mr. Robinson has backtracked on imposing such draconian requirements on disabled students, but that’s not enough. At the very least, urban high schools should get credit for how far their students have come year to year. Before the state pulls the punishment trigger, let’s give those schools more time, say, two more years, to help students get it right.

Read more here:

When Jeb Bush says jump, Florida legislature says, how high?

From the Tampa Bay Times

by Kathleen McGrory

When Sen. David Simmons needed his colleagues' support on the education budget last week, he dropped a powerful name on the Senate floor.

"I had a conversation last week with former Gov. Jeb Bush in which we discussed this and his support of it," Simmons said of the provision to spend $119 million on reading programs at low-income schools.

The name comes up more than you might think. The former governor, who served from 1999 to 2007, still plays a significant role in shaping state education policy.

This session, Bush and his nonprofit organization, the Foundation for Florida's Future, have helped to fast-track a stream of legislation that could reset the education equation in Florida. The bills, moving steadily through both the House and Senate, could gradually shift the financial and competitive advantage away from traditional public schools to private schools and charter schools, which are often managed by for-profit companies. Other proposals push virtual-learning initiatives.

The foundation says it supports high standards and accountability for all schools: public, charter, private and virtual included. Its supporters say the efforts will lead to dramatic improvements in student achievement — and make the Sunshine State a national leader in education reform.

"It is about equalization," said Sen. Stephen Wise, the Senate Education Committee chairman and a supporter of the foundation's agenda. "We need to challenge the status quo so that parents and children have choices."

Critics, on the other hand, see targeted strikes meant to chip away at Florida's traditional public schools by diverting more tax dollars to private corporations through voucher programs and charter schools.

"There is an attack on public education as we know it," said Rep. Dwight Bullard of Miami, the ranking House Democrat on education issues. "Corporations are looking at it as an opportunity to siphon off dollars."

There is little debate over the influence Bush and the foundation have had in driving the agenda.

"They have huge sway in the Legislature, in part because of Jeb Bush and in part because they are almost the only game in town," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber a Miami Beach Democrat.

Foundation spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof said it is no secret that Bush stays involved in public policy. The foundation releases a legislative agenda annually — and follows it through the state Legislature and Board of Education.

Bush declined requests to be interviewed for this report.

Since its creation in 1994, the foundation has amassed money and influence, developing close ties to conservative think tanks, including the James Madison Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. At the end of 2010, the organization had nearly $1 million in assets, the most recent records show.

Among its legislative priorities this year:

• A bill that would expand the statewide tax credit cap, enabling more children from low-income families to earn vouchers to attend private schools.

• A controversial bill known as the "parent trigger" that would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools. In some cases, parents could petition to have the school converted into a charter.

• And a bill that would expand digital learning options.

The foundation has also been pushing for more rigorous student standards — and a tougher school grading formula. The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a new formula today. The state's simulations show that the number of F schools under that formula would rise dramatically.

The overall agenda has been controversial. The parent trigger measure, for example, has met fierce resistance from parent groups, who say the bill would benefit for-profit school management companies by giving them access to failing district-run schools.

But when the foundation gets behind an issue, lawmakers usually listen.

"The foundation's policies get carefully considered," said Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Last year, the foundation was successful at pushing performance pay for teachers, a measure that the unions had fought back the year before. The foundation also successfully lobbied to make virtual education a requirement for high school graduation.

"They are batting pretty close to 1000 on the issues they put before the Legislature," said Wayne Blanton, executive director for the Florida School Boards Association.

Part of the success stems from political pull.

The foundation's board of directors reads like a who's who of former lawmakers, top education officials and other power brokers. Among them: former Senate President Toni Jennings, former House Speaker Allan Bense, former state Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair and former Board of Governors member Zachariah Zachariah.

Executive director Patricia Levesque is equally influential. Her connections run deep, particularly in the state House, where she once served as staff director of education policy. Her husband, George Levesque, is a staff attorney in the House and has the ear of Speaker Dean Cannon.

Then there's Bush's himself.

Said Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs: "When there are big issues like (the education budget), I contact him and try to get his advice and support. He's very much involved in education policy in the Legislature. His advice is greatly respected."

Democrats are skeptical. "I'm afraid (Bush) is going to co-opt the entire education agenda," Bullard said.

Another alarmingly bad bill from the Florida legislature. This time high school sports in the crosshairs

From the Miami Herald

By Linda Robertson,

If you think recruiting in high school sports is rampant now, wait and see what happens if two bills snaking their way through the Florida House and Senate become law.

There will be a whole new game in town — that of student-athletes criss-crossing attendance boundaries and switching schools with dizzying frequency. Inducements and flattery will teach the most talented players cynical lessons rather than values about fair play, teamwork, determination — all those quaint character traits that competition is supposed to build. Watch the gap widen between the haves and have-nots.

An alarmingly bad athletics bill passed through the House Education Committee on Monday. Another one has received approval from the Senate Education Committee. The proposals, mainly supported by Republican lawmakers, would allow private, charter and virtual schools to form their own athletic league and would reduce the power of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which has regulated sports for 92 years.

“The bills would benefit those with a predisposition to cheat,” said Roger Dearing, FHSAA executive director. “Many schools think this legislation would produce bedlam in interscholastic sports.”

The FHSAA represents 300,000 athletes at 690 member schools, of which 230 are private. Athletic directors and coaches are blasting the legislation, saying it would lower eligibility standards, open the floodgates for transfers and damage a system that has been a model of success for other states.

Bill supporter Sen. Ellyn Bodganoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she doesn’t see much wrong with athletic recruiting since magnet schools recruit top students. She must not be aware of how recruiting has ravaged public school teams.

The proposals are part of the effort to privatize education. For the past decade, lawmakers have been giving education steroids to charter and private schools — which are privately owned — while weakening public schools. Jeb Bush has been busy pushing this corporate agenda. Turn everything over to private enterprise — prisons, hospitals, schools — and let competition drive quality. If the privileged win the economic spoils and the underprivileged suffer, well, that’s survival of the fittest.

Other bills would shunt construction and maintenance money from public to charter schools and toughen state school grading guidelines, thus rendering dozens of additional schools — especially those with a higher proportion of special-needs or foreign-language-speaking students — failures with a capital F. Of course that dovetails nicely with a proposal to enable parents to take over an F school and turn it into a charter school.

All in the name of choice for parents who are angered by poor performance at their neighborhood public school.

So why not invest tax dollars into improving public schools? Paying teachers higher salaries, refurbishing crumbling old facilities instead of diverting money to charter schools and private school vouchers?
Despite noble talk about the importance of education to Florida’s future, funding for our schools is always low on the list with the dregs of the nation.

Parents, students, principals, teachers and coaches are fed up. At two recent PTSA meetings at Coral Gables High and Ponce de Leon Middle, you could hear the frustration and despair in people’s voices. Not enough chemistry lab equipment, a lack of math textbooks, no uniforms for the track team. Sports are cut. Arts are cut. What can we do to save once-proud schools that are skeletons of their former selves?

The athletics bills reek of sour grapes. A group of 11 small, independent schools — most of them ruled guilty of cheating by the FHSAA — formed the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association in 2008. The group includes Orlando West Oaks Academy, fined $26,500 by the FHSAA, and The Rock of Gainesville, known for its array of tall international basketball players, which left the FHSAA in 2010. At Lakeland High, three athletes were ruled ineligible for submitting fake addresses. Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, submitted the House bill.

Arlington Country Day of Jacksonville, has a curious history. Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who filed the Senate bill, and Jim Horne, a charter school lobbyist who was state education commissioner under Bush, used to be partial owners of Arlington. Horne’s brother David was administrator of the school. Arlington left the FHSAA when it was under investigation for having overage players on its powerhouse basketball team. Three players had no record of actual grades.

David Horne, head of the SIAA, would be its commissioner and plans to have 100 members within two years.

Let’s hope legislators listen to their constituents instead of their campaign donors. Let students compete on an even playing field for the right reasons and not for profit.

Read more here:

The Florida Legislature tries to make it teachers versus parents

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

In posting on news that New York City would be posting the controversial decision to make the city’s teacher’s value-added evaluation public, Gradebook’s Jeff Solochek explained that the same is on the way for Florida. Only legislators are doing so in a particularly stealth way by embedding details within parent trigger legislation. Solochek explains:

Florida’s public records law already makes its teacher evaluations open for viewing a year after they’re filed. SB 736 required the state to create an annual list of teachers by their new evaluation ratings (highly effective through needs improvement), while also mandating that schools inform parents if their children are in classrooms with teachers needing improvement.

The parent trigger bill now coursing through the Legislature would amp up these requirements, going so far as to bar schools from placing children in a classroom with a teacher needing improvement two years running.

The parent trigger legislation, titled Parent Empowerment in Education (HB 1191), makes it to the House floor tomorrow. Opposition to the bill has been focused on the school takeover provisions which has shown to be easily manipulated by charter school operatives. The authors of the bill probably didn’t even want to admit that the other half of the bill was about making teacher evaluations public. In a story yesterday from Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory, she reminded us that Jeb Bush’s public support for parent trigger made no mention of making teacher evaluations public. Predictably, Bush would not be interviewed for the story.

Still, there’s amazement in the details. From one of HB 1191′s official analyses:

The bill creates new requirements for school districts and charter schools regarding the assignment of students to classroom teachers. The bill prohibits consecutive student assignments to teachers with an annual performance evaluation rating of unsatisfactory or needs improvement; authorizes a parent to request the performance evaluation of any classroom teacher assigned to his or her child; and requires that parents of students assigned to an out-of-field or chronically low-performing teacher be informed of the availability of virtual instruction delivered by an in-field, high-performing teacher.

Florida law does not prohibit school districts and charter schools from assigning a student in consecutive years to a low-performing teacher. School districts must notify each parent when his or her child is assigned to an out-of-field teacher or chronically low performing teacher; however, notification that virtual instruction is available as an alternative to such teacher assignments is not required. School districts and charter schools are not expressly required to provide a teacher’s performance evaluation to parents who request it; however, such evaluations become public records after one year, at which time the evaluation must be furnished to any parent or member of the public who requests it.

The bill does not have a fiscal impact on state or local governments.

The bill takes effect on July 1, 2012.

Clearly the authors of the bill took note of JD Alexander’s desperate haste to have USF Polytech made an independent institution when they established this timeline. The ink on SB 736 isn’t dry yet, but legislators and Bush want to use it in such a controversial and potentially reckless manner. And now; and even though SB736 won’t go into effect until 2014. Even one of Bush’s major financial backers, Bill Gates, thinks making teacher evaluations public is a bad idea.

The authors, sponsors and whomever wrote this analysis lose credibility in insisting, “the bill does not have a fiscal impact on state or local governments.” Really? Just communicating such massive amounts of information to parents will be costly. It will require additional personnel and administrative oversight. Nevermind what the DOE will have to add.

Can anyone say, “unfunded mandates?”

The superintendent has a habit of taking credit for things he shouldn’t

He has talked about how the graduation rate has gone up under him and it has, but the reasons are a way the score was calculated and policies on his part, the districts gentlemen’s c policy and grade recovery, that have hurt the district.

He has talked about how 85% of our schools have received a grade of C or higher but once again he doesn’t mention how a scoring change led directly to the grade inflation. He has also been complaining about how the next scoring change will drive down our school’s grades. Look I don’t like the way the state grades our schools but I’m not a hypocrite about it. I don’t celebrate when scoring changes send grades up and complain when scoring changes send grades down. I don’t have my cake and eat it too.

He talks about the high standards in Duval County but he doesn’t mention how the high standards have had the opposite effect than intended. Instead of better preparing kids they are worse prepared than ever. We pass them along without the skills they need and then dump them out ill prepared for anything.

This is the credit he should be receiving, undisciplined hall ways, classes without rigor, low teacher morale and graduating way too many kids ill prepared for life.

Promoting his cronies, pals and sycophants to high paying district positions who did nearly as much damage as the super did.

And doing the district a huge disservice with his, all is well, message. Though I guess he had to continue to say so because if not more may have realized that many of our problems are of his making. It will take us years to recover from the damage this man has created.

Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Was superintndent Pratt-Dannals fired?

He says he is not being forced out or fired, that instead he is just retiring. I wonder how much the letter the school board gave him saying his contract would not be renewed played a role in that decision.

The superintendent should not be able to mess with people lives, which is what he did to hundreds if not thousands of school board employees and prevent kids from getting the education they deserved and just be allowed to walk away.

You know what gets me the most about this? The school board allowed him to gut discipline, destroy teacher morale, ignore rigor, mess with peoples lives, prevent kids from getting the education they deserve and steward several disasters, Duval Partners, Schools of the Future, Educational Directions but it wasn’t until he basically called them morons that they decided to do something and not fire him.

He held up a piece of paper with revenues and expenses that showed the extra hundred million dollars the board recently discovered (after pleading poverty, ending programs and firing people) and basically said, can’t you read?

It was then and only then that the board said enough is enough, or they didn’t, and he just retired. You be the judge.

Welcome to Duval County.

The superintendent and lame duck school board should not search for his replacement

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. The superintendent said he would help the school board find his replacement. Neither he nor most of this school board should find his replacement, which is the last thing the cities teachers and children need but that goes for Barrett, Burney, Hazouri and Gentry too. They, if there is any justice in the world are lame duck members of the board and are at least partly responsible for the hold that we find ourselves in and make no bones about it we are in a hole.

“I’m not being fired, ousted, resigning or any other terminology” Pratt-Dannals said Monday. He says he discussed the idea with the bard and him leaving in December is a mutual decision.

Yeah it’s a mutual decision they sprung on his at 4:30 on a Friday.

If the board had any sense of decency it would send him on his way now even if it had to eat the rest of his contract, him and about a dozen of his cronies that have helped run the district into the ground. We now know we have the money in reserve to do so.

W.C. Gentry's break from reality

Today to Channel Four he said: "Ed's done a great job of leading the district and really creating a great foundation for us,"

Last Friday he told the Times Union: “…quite candidly I rely on what they [district staff] tell me.”

My question is since he isn’t in the schools and doesn’t listen to teachers how would he know what kind of job the superintendent has done, did the district staff tell him?

And folks he wants four more years too.

Is the superintendent trying to mislead the public?

At his press conference he mentioned how under him over the last four years the graduation rate went up fourteen percent. I am not sure if the district gentlemen’s c policy where kids are promoted up and out regardless if they have the skills or not and how he used grade recovery to rob kids of a work ethic and accountability and reduced many class rooms to meaningless after thoughts are good for the district. But what I am sure of is the graduation rate did not go up by fourteen percent.

A formula change caused all the rates in the state to be bumped up significantly (because it omitted thousands of kids, who dropped out) and next year the formula is being switched to the federal governments one.

According to the federal government our graduation rate in 2011 was 63.3 percent which is up 11.8 percent from 2007 (see above for the reasons why) but it is also up only 6.1 percent from 2004.

2011- 63.3%
2010- 58.3%
2009- 55.8%
2008- 53.5%
2007- 51.5%
2006- 51.4%
2005- 56.3%
2004- 57.2%
2003- 52.2%

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rick Santorum loses it when talking about college

He actualy sort of had me until he hit the indoctrination line, then I thought, oh my what a nut job. -cpg

From the Associated Press by way of the Washington Post

When Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum calls President Barack Obama “a snob” for wanting all Americans to attend college, he may be out of step with the public’s overall view of higher education.

Many Americans are suspicious of the culture of academia, and most are angry about rising costs. But they overwhelmingly — and increasingly — agree that higher education is important and aspire to it for themselves and their children.

On the campaign trail, Santorum has criticized what he perceives as the liberal nature of the higher education community. He upped the ante on his arguments leading into Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan and Arizona.

“President Obama has said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob,” Santorum said Saturday. “There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, who aren’t taught by some liberal college professor (who) tries to indoctrinate them. I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

Santorum mischaracterized Obama’s comments. In fact, the president has called for all Americans to obtain some form of education beyond high school, although not necessarily four-year colleges as Santorum has repeatedly implied, and for the United States to regain the global lead in those with college degrees by 2020. Many of Obama’s higher-education initiatives, including a proposed $8 billion fund unveiled as part of his budget proposal earlier this month, focus on workforce development at community colleges that award certificates and degrees of less than four years.

The president, addressing governors at the White House on Monday, emphasized that goal again.

“When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree,” he said. “We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney later said that he didn’t believe Obama was specifically reacting to Santorum’s “snob” comment. But Carney addressed it directly: “I don’t think any parent in American who has a child would think it snobbery to hope for that child the best possible education in the future, and that includes college.”

Santorum’s main challenger, Mitt Romney, steered clear of pointedly agreeing or disagreeing with either Santorum or Obama.

“There’s no question but that those who have the skills and the interest in going to college we’d like to see have that opportunity, but there are some people of course who have a different course in their lives,” Romney said Monday in an interview with Detroit radio station WXYT. “Not all of our people are going to graduate from college, and we need to let people have their own course in life. But surely if someone wants to go to college we hope that the tuition cost of college will be affordable so people can make that choice for themselves.”

Santorum and Romney each have three college degrees — a bachelor’s, an MBA and a law degree. Obama has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree.

Interviewed Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Santorum recalled a statistic that suggested more than 60 percent of kids who enter college committed to a faith leave without it. He said there are “some real problems at our college campuses with political correctness, with an ideology that is forced upon people who, you know, who may not agree with the politically correct left doctrine.”

In December, at a campaign stop in Iowa, Santorum attacked the culture of higher education, telling voters that colleges and universities have become “indoctrination centers for the left.” He also took a swipe at Harvard University’s motto, “Veritas,” which is Latin for truth. “They haven’t seen truth at Harvard in 100 years,” he said.

Santorum, a former two-term U.S. senator from Pennsylvania who lost re-election in 2006, has often criticized what he views as elitist. Some of his greatest levels of support have come from voters without a college education, said Chris Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

Santorum’s more recent comments on education appear part of an effort to energize blue-collar Republicans, and the topic provides a backdrop for him to define his conservatism, Borick said.

Elite colleges have long faced accusations they are out of touch politically with ordinary Americans. And in recent years, polls show eroding confidence in the integrity of colleges and that they have students’ interests ahead of their own bottom lines.

However, in the last decade the proportion of Americans saying higher education is essential for success has roughly doubled from about 30 percent to roughly 60 percent, said Patrick Callan, president of the California-based Higher Education Policy Institute.

“There’s a strong American sense ... that everybody ought to have a chance, and if they don’t it’s not a fair system,” Callan said. While resentment and frustration over affordability are building, “I’ve never seen anybody elected to governor or state legislature by saying, ‘We’re letting too many people go to college,’” he said.

According to a Pew poll from last March, 94 percent of parents with at least one child under the age of 18 think their child will go to college.

In a 2010 Phi Delta Kappa poll conducted by Gallup, 75 percent of Americans called a college education “very important” and 21 percent called it “fairly important,” with just 4 percent calling it not important.

“Nobody in any of (our) focus groups ever said, ‘I’m so suspicious of those colleges, my kids not going. I’m going to home-school my kids for college,’” Callan said.

In January, the national unemployment rate stood at 4.2 percent for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 7.2 percent for workers with some college. The rate was 8.4 percent for people with just a high school degree, and 13.1 percent for those without a high school diploma.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on political communications at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center, said Santorum’s comments are simply a “strategic misstep.”

“You don’t ever attack the aspirations of the American people, and the American people aspire to have children and grandchildren get a college or university degree, and they do it on simple economic grounds,” she said.

Even conservative leader Ronald Reagan, who campaigned for governor in the 1960s against student protests at the University of California, Berkeley, was supportive of higher education once elected, said John Thelin, professor of higher education at the University of Kentucky and author of a history of American colleges.

While it’s true on balance that college faculty probably lean left, generally colleges are fairly conservative institutions turning out students who “aim to be employable, to fit into existing organizations,” Thelin said.

“I think a candidate possibly in desperation will look for something to latch onto. Once in a while it may be convenient to cite a campus or colleges in general as a fall guy for something,” he said. “It’s never the full basis of a campaign.”

Hefling, Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn, AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report from Washington.