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Monday, April 30, 2012

You can't save them all but that doesn't mean you don't try

By Brad Hall

You get attached to students. It happens.

You want to see them succeed and not go (back) to jail.

I subbed at Tiger today. It was great. I saw a few students I knew, and a lot of students I didn't know. Another few months and "my" students will all be gone.

The topic of discussion among the teachers and other faculty was the news that a former student who got out a month ago was arrested earlier this week for possessing a firearm... among other things. I want to read a news report or SOMETHING as some of the information I was given about it are flipping crazy. At least he isn't dead, but if I recall, the sentence for using a gun on someone is life in prison, but the person he was shooting used one on him first (and hit him), but who knows.

I had high hopes I'd never hear of him getting arrested or see him on the news in a negative light. I told him last year that I had bought an automotive class book for him to do work out of since he wouldn't do the normal English work. He thought it was a good idea and was receptive to it (he had previously told me he was interested in working in the automotive repair industry). Then, as an aside, he asked, "How much did you spend on it?" I didn't lie to him, I said, "It was $14." I'll never forget the look on his face as he said, "You spent $14 for me?" He couldn't believe that someone would do that for him.

I loved it when he actually worked on the stuff I assigned out of that book. He never got a problem wrong, even came to me for assistance a few times showing me the question in the book, then showing me where he found the answer in the book wanting to help me reconcile his idea of what the right answer should be among the two he was thinking of. It was great.

Even when I left that assignment, the new teacher assured me she would continue using that book for that student, and she did. I talk to her sometimes about my students. But now, there's only a few left. Oh, there's a full class of 24 students, there's always 24, but of those, only a few are ones that know of my time there.

It makes me sad, but what can you do? Promise yourself you'll work that much harder on the next one? And the one after?

I'm not sure.

There is a fine line between apathy and hopelessness for Duval County’s teachers

There is a fine line between apathy and hopelessness and Duval County’s teachers may have crossed it when only four of the nearly 2000 high school teachers showed up to discuss issues in the district and what the next superintendent should look like.

Only four.

Now I know some didn’t know about it and a great many that did may have either been exhausted from their day of teaching or still at work when the meeting started because there is always more to do but at the end of the day only four showed up.

Only four.

The district prepared a room where several hundred could have sat comfortably and quickly after the meeting started we were all sitting at the same table. Teachers were even outnumbered by board members.

We have big problems here in Duval County and step one to solving them is to figure out why only four of the districts high school teachers bothered to show up and why nearly 2000 didn’t.

Another regrettable oversight by Duval County Public Schools

This one falls somewhere in between pleading poverty while sitting over a hundred million dollars and not providing a curriculum or any oversight for the Schools of the Future. It’s a little worse than not knowing they actually closed the Bank of America School for six months but is totally blown away by the misuse of title one funds.

From the Times Union, The Duval County School District will begin noticing the dates, times and location of meetings its agents have with employee unions.

The district had not been noticing meetings it has with bargaining units or unions, which is required by law.

Spokeswoman Jill Johnson said the meetings weren’t noticed because of an oversight by the district.

“It’s a regrettable oversight that it wasn’t done in the past,” she said. “But we feel that the members of the bargaining units were well informed of the meetings.”

The notices will appear on a bulletin board located on the first floor of the district’s headquarters at 1701 Prudential Drive and on the district’s web site.

Hey what’s one more regrettable oversight? And just who is running the district.

What are your children doing in school today?

Many of the state’s children will be taking end of course exams. Yes that is right end of the course exams. Read that a little slower, end… of… course… exams. As in now the course will be over, or they better be because anything the student was supposed to have learned should have been taught by now.

Why are we having end or course exams nearly six weeks before school ends? Well friends it is because we live in Florida and doing what is right for our children has been thrown out with the bath water. It makes no sense at all.

Welcome to Florida.

Bush, Rhee and Duncan versus Parents

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

PTA’s National Senior Policy analyst, Jacque Chevalier responded to email inquiries this week regarding the National Resolution of High Stakes Testing, and said the following:

We are sending it out to encourage State and Local PTAs to endorse the Resolution.

NPTA isn’t able to officially endorse the resolution – we are in alignment. It would have to be voted on by membership at our convention and we can’t get that to happen at this point – we are sending it out via social media to encourage state and local PTAs to endorse.”

Chevalier also emphasized that PTA already has a similar position statement that reads as follows:

“PTA opposes the use of a national, mandated, standardized test as the sole criterion for measuring a school’s or student’s progress.

An assessment system should evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, and solve problems.

An accountability system should include other indicators of educational quality, such as competency of teaching staff, class size, parent involvement, facility condition, and quality of instructional materials.

PTA also believes that states and schools must have the resources – including adequate financial and technical support – to address specific problems and ensure that schools can meet high standards.

Student assessment should identify how instruction and learning can be improved.

Assessments should be used to help parents and teachers determine the specific academic needs of students and increase opportunities for student learning. Assessments should not be used for high-stakes determinations such as grade promotion or graduation.”

The nations most influential education reformers in Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan would have you believe that they are speaking for the nation’s parents. Yet their test-dominated philosophy is at odds with the nation’s oldest and largest parent organization.

Florida PTA groups were part of the broad parent coalition which defeated parent trigger in March. With reports indicating that other state school boards will be taking up the Resolution within the next few weeks, local PTAs will give board members supportive of the measure the political cover they may be looking for.

Prepping for disaster with the state's ESE children

From the Pensecola News Journal's editorial board

Here's a five-step method toward making education better in Florida, brought to you by . . . well, we're not really sure:

Step I: Take most of the special-education kids and put them in general education classrooms.

Step II: Don't add any funding for more special-ed teachers.

Step III: Test the special-ed kids the same as the general-ed kids.

Step IV: Don't really tell anyone what you're doing, how it's going to work, or whose idea it was.

Step V: Don't get any public input.

Oh, and we'll add a final step:

Prep for disaster.

This morning, PNJ education reporter Erin Kourkounis begins a three-day series on what state-mandated inclusion of ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students into general-education classes will mean to Florida. Here's an abbreviated version.

It will radically change how your children are educated.

It will force schools to make ESE students be evaluated on FCAT the same as general-ed students and have that score count against the school's ranking and the teacher's salary.

The plan is despised by many teachers.

It is criticized by many parents, even those of ESE students.

It has no blueprint for success. Different schools and different school systems have varying knowledge of what is going on.

Other than that, it must be a great idea.

We have no claim of expertise on the issue of ESE students and the benefits, or lack thereof, of inclusion.

But the concept of taking ESE children and mainstreaming them without the support and/or counsel of teachers, within a cloud of confusion and with the goal of ending ESE education as we know it is not just a bad idea, but one that borders on the insane.

Whoever thought of this needs a week's detention. Maybe more.

Every day teachers are challenged with different levels of learning, to be sure. But the addition of ESE students, in many cases without a second, ESE-certified teacher in the room, presents problems far beyond the norm, from learning capabilities to discipline problems.

And who can blame the teachers who believe this is yet another attack on public education? An attack on them individually?

The irony of this is that the inclusion strategy is linked to the state getting a waiver from "No child left behind,'' the federal government's education initiative from the Bush Era.

There will be plenty of students left behind.

But whose?


Will it be the ESE student? Not necessarily, as they might demand all of the teacher's attention.

Will it be the general-education student?

Perhaps so.

Will it help education get better in our state?

It's hard to see how.

But with this plan, it's hard to see anything.

In Florida raw politics trumps thoughtful policy

From the Herald Tribune, By Lloyd Dunkelberger,

In 1980, a powerful state senator decided his hometown university needed a football stadium.

As Senate president, he inserted the provision into the budget bill. But the governor rejected plan, noting the University of West Florida in Pensacola did not even have a football team.

The episode underscores how often raw politics trumps thoughtful policy in Florida’s higher-education system — a point driven home again this month with Gov. Rick Scott’s approval of a new polytechnic university in Lakeland, sought by an influential lawmaker, Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Scott and Alexander say Florida Polytechnic University will help the state meet its growing needs for graduating highly skilled students with degrees in the sciences, engineering and related technical fields.

“I believe that in the long term it’s going to pay off in jobs,” Scott said. “I think it’s going to be very successful.”

But critics say the sudden decision to embrace a new polytechnic university highlights Florida’s image as a state with a haphazard, politically driven university system. It lacks a strong, unifying vision, yielding schools more known for their mediocrity and sports teams than academic stature.

“Florida has a national reputation these days that it has political intrusion on steroids,” said Charles Reed, the chancellor for the California state university system.

Reed, who has run the California system since 1998, also knows Florida well. He was the state’s university chancellor for a dozen years before leaving for California. And in 1980, he was the chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Graham, who vetoed the legislative plan for the UWF football stadium.

“It has no central plan and no central authority,” Reed said of the Florida system. “That’s kind of like the worst of all combinations.

“All of the campuses have a culture now of what’s best for me, me, me — not what is best for Florida,” he said.

The potential for a stronger, more unified Florida university system rests in the Board of Governors, the constitutionally authorized body overseeing the schools.

Graham, the former governor and U.S. senator, pushed the creation of the BOG, which was approved by voters in 2002 — after the Legislature abolished the former university oversight panel, the state Board of Regents, in 2001.

Graham envisioned the BOG as a constitutionally authorized autonomous group that could free the Florida universities from some of the political interference — modeling itself after similar successful governance systems in states like California, Michigan and North Carolina.

“There is no example of a superior system in America that is as politicized as Florida is now,” Graham said.

The BOG had laid out a plan for moving the original polytechnic campus in Lakeland — under the control of the University of South Florida — to an independent status. But the conversion was expected to take years under USF’s supervision.

Alexander and other top lawmakers pushed through the bill (SB 1994), signed by Scott, that will create an independent university on July 1.

Graham said he sees the creation of the new school as a test of the BOG’s authority.

“In my judgment, the board is now going to be faced with the question of what is it going to do?” Graham said. “Is it going to assert its constitutional authority?”

But the powers of the BOG and its relationship with the Legislature remain in flux, with a lawsuit pending before the Florida Supreme Court over the board’s ability to control university tuition and fees as opposed to the Legislature’s authority.

Thus far, state lawmakers have prevailed in lower court rulings by asserting that “the power to raise and appropriate funds remains exclusively with the Legislature.”

The lawsuit, initiated by Graham and other higher education advocates, lays out more than a half-century of fighting between those who wanted a more autonomous university system and lawmakers, who want to control the money and policy decisions.

It dates all the way back to the notorious Johns Committee in 1956, set up by the state Senate to weed out communists, homosexuals and others deemed “subversives” in the university system.

It includes repeated attempts by the Legislature to abolish the then Board of Regents. In 1980, the measure passed the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Graham.

In 2001, lawmakers finally succeeded — after a battle between top lawmakers and the Board of Regents over creating new professional schools.

In a speech before the influential Council of 100 business group last fall, Reed said the state’s lack of a strong, independent body to oversee the state’s universities was devastating to Florida.

“Everyone wants law schools, medical schools and graduate programs because they are prestigious,” Reed said. “So now, schools are creating more grad programs at the expense of undergraduate programs — with the dollars generated by undergraduate enrollment.

“These low enrollment duplicative graduate programs have not served the state well. It’s turned into what the local chamber wants, not what the state needs.”

Like Graham, Reed said he wants to see a stronger role for the BOG. But he said at this point the board doesn’t “have any juice or respect.”

“It takes guts. It takes a governor that is going to back them up,” Reed said. “And they don’t have any of that.”

And as for the idea of Florida creating a polytechnic university, Reed, who has two polytechnic schools in his system, said it is a mistake for Florida, noting the high cost of the school and the question of whether the state can attract students ideally suited for the program.

“The last time I drove around Lakeland I saw a lot of phosphate pits. I didn’t see a Silicon Valley there,” Reed said.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The hidden agenda behind standardized tests

From the Bradenton Times, by Dennis Maley

This week, local schools wrapped up yet another year of FCAT exams. The panic attacks, shot nerves and turning tummies that plague administrators, educators, parents, and not least of which students, can recede to the slightly less vexing anxiety of waiting to receive the scores. Few argue the notion that such tests are far from the best metric of educational success, yet so much hinges on their results. It might be easy to dismiss this as just another bureaucratic snafu, but others see an engineered outcome with a more nefarious goal – dismantling the public education system. A closer look suggests they might be right.

This is a subject that I have taken great interest in over many years. I have talked to countless educational professionals and have not found one who advocates high-stakes testing. In fact, it should be noted that the vast majority of standardized-testing experts and even the companies that produce them, do not advocate their use as a primary method of gauging educational success. In my experience, nearly all parents – especially those most engaged and involved in seeing that their child gets a quality education and schools are held accountable in providing it – loathe the tests. Students, even those who have excelled and prospered under the FCAT system, tell me almost without exception that it is an insulting premise to suggest that such a score is truly indicative of their academic merit.

The exams have come to define the way we teach. Rather than teaching what students need to learn, and then testing in a manner that measures whether they have, we teach based on what the test contains, compounding the problem of an already antiquated learning system. It seems certain that there is no way that we can reasonably expect to improve if we continue down this path, which we now have a large enough body of evidence to not only declare failure, but to confidently diagnose why it doesn't work.

So, why do lawmakers insist on not only continuing this process, but doubling down on it? I believe that there is a fairly well-coordinated effort by those who favor privatized education to dismantle the public education system, and that high-stakes standardized testing is seen as the perfect way to not only bring the system to its knees by tying one arm behind educators' backs, but then provide an engineered metric meant to justify radically reinventing education in a manner that will bring it in line with other class-divided privileges. It is no surprise that the same people who brought you a new FCAT, one that was shown in pre-testing to dramatically increase the number of failing and nearly-failing schools, are the same ones who promoted legislation making it easier to convert those institutions into charters.

It should also be no surprise that the loudest proponents of increasing standardized tests are now the same people advocating for the increased roll of private, for-profit institutions in publicly-financed education. I am not talking about parents who've had good experiences with their children at a charter school, or the talented teachers and committed principals who work in many of them. I'm not suggesting that there is not a roll for charter schools in our education system. I am, however, identifying an ideologically-driven movement with a clear agenda.

For many years, it has been the same policy groups and think tanks, along with their bought and paid for legislators that have told us education must be set on such a path. They've prescribed vouchers, charters and various ways to hamstring public schools, and are now moving on to ways in which to remove them from the system. At first, vouchers might seem like a viable plan. Their origins are actually rooted in altruistic intentions. But they've come to be looked at as a tool to de-fund struggling schools, putting a boot on their neck that they're too weak to break free of.

There's an inherent flaw in the way public schools in the U.S. are funded. Their relationship to property taxes already ensures that more prosperous neighborhoods will have more resources in their schools. Therefore, schools in the most economically-depressed areas already operate at significant disadvantages. To punish them for performing poorly by taking away funding, punishing teachers for working there by tying half of the evaluations to performance on a standardized test, and then allowing parents to opt out of the district and take their student's share of funding with them, will only put nails in their coffin.

To some people, this might sound like a good thing. But at a time when there is little appetite in increasing our public investments in anything not involving long-range ballistic missiles, and great appetite for further slashing government revenues (read taxes), there will likely be less, not more, total resources available. The idea that there is going to be a brighter, better and shinier institution for every child is a pipe dream. This road leads toward an increasingly feudalistic society, where education is evermore a privilege of the gilded class.

We have come to a fork in the American road. One idea is to take a page from a previous playbook that resulted in historic prosperity. To invest in a vital and educated workforce, regain our edge in science and technology, and to empower a new middle class of consumers that can fuel domestic growth. This requires policies like higher revenues (read taxes) and incentivizing investments that make such an outcome more likely. There is a competing idea that suggests America must become more like the rest of the world in order to compete with it. That our growing gap in prosperity simply means more of us must recalibrate our expectations, accept lower wages, more “personal responsibility” and sacrifice quality of life issues like clean water and air in order to become “competitive.”

In this kind of world, we won't need as many engineers, inventors, mathematicians, biologists, etc. They'll continue to come (more cheaply) from places like India and South Korea. We'll need more strong backs with low brows, conditioned to expect and even desire little more than some fast food and reality TV as respite from the warehouses and big box stores, and even the call centers and dirty factories when standards once more get low enough to be “competitive” with the third world nations that have sucked those occupations from our shores.

Yes, it's no surprise that the same people advocating high-stakes testing are the same ones who are pushing a 25 percent top-tax bracket, defend the hedge fund loophole, rail on the “death tax” and tell us that global warming is a hoax, and that we should drill, baby drill. In a feudal society, education is a privilege of wealth, and once the same ivory towers can fence off the primary education system and create an even larger barrier to moving up the social ladder than already exists at the collegiate level, it will be all the easier ensure a social order that accepts such inequality. The children of the privileged will continue to go to the best schools and they'll continue to extract wealth from the economy on Wall Street and in board rooms and executive suites all over the country. The last thing they need is a dissident population of well-educated self thinkers who've been left behind. Skull and Bones forever, I suppose.

Dennis Maley is a featured columnist and editor for The Bradenton Times. His column appears every Thursday and Sunday on our site and in our free Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition (click here to subscribe). An archive of Dennis' columns is available here. He can be reached at

How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars

From Common Dreams by Robert Freeman

The Vietnam War produced more than its share of iconic idiocies. Perhaps the most revelatory was the psychotic assertion of an army major explaining the U.S. bombing of the provincial hamlet of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” If only such self-extinguishing claims for intelligence were confined to military war.

The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. The tear-it-down option is the civilian equivalent of Ben Tre, but on a vastly larger scale and with incomparably greater stakes: we must destroy public education in order to save it. It’s still early in the game, but right now the momentum is with the wreckers because that’s where the money is. Whether they succeed or not will be up to you.

Here’s a three-step recipe for how to destroy education. It maps perfectly to how to make a prodigious profit by privatizing it. It is the essential game plan of the big money boys.

First, lower the costs so you can jack up the profits. Since the overwhelming cost in education is the salaries of the teachers, this means firing the experienced teachers, for they are the most expensive. Replace them with “teachers” who are young, inexperienced, and inexpensive. Better yet, waive requirements that they have to have any training, that is to say, that they be credentialed. That way, you can get the absolute cheapest workers available. Roll them over frequently so they don’t develop any expectation that they’ll ever make a career out of it.

Second, make the curriculum as narrow, rote, and regimented as you can. This makes it possible for low-skilled “teachers” to “teach.” All they need do is maintain order while drilling students in mindless memorization and robotic repetition. By all means avoid messy things like context, nuance, values, complexity, reflection, depth, ambiguity—all the things that actually make for true intelligence. It’s too hard to teach those things and, besides, you need intelligent, experienced people to be able to do it. Stick with the model: Profitable equals simplistic and formulaic. Go with it.

Finally, rinse and repeat five thousand times. Proliferate franchised, chartered McSchools with each classroom in each McSchool teaching the same thing on the same day in exactly the same way. So, for the math lesson on the formula of a line, you only need develop it once. But you download it in Power Point on the assigned day so the room monitors, i.e., the “teachers,” know what bullets to read. Now repeat this for every lesson in every course in every school, every day. In biology, chemistry, geometry, history, English, Spanish, indeed, all of a K-12 curriculum. Develop the lesson literally once, but distribute and reuse it thousands of times with low-cost proctors doing the supervision. The cost is infinitesimal making the profit potential astronomical.

This is the essential charter school model and the money is all the rationale its promoters need. Think about it. There’s a trillion dollars a year spent on public education in the U.S. and enterprising investors want to get their meat hooks on it. Where else in the world can you find a $1 trillion opportunity that is essentially untouched? Not in automobiles. Not in health care. Not in weapons, computers, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, housing. Nowhere.

Oh, to be sure, you have to soften up the public with a decades-long PR campaign bashing teachers, vilifying their unions, trashing schools, and condemning public education in general, all the while promising the sun, moon, and stars for privatization, which is the ultimate charter goal. Voila! You’ve got your chance.

But to really make a killing, you need not just revenues, but profits. That’s why the low cost delivery and “build it once but resell it millions of times” model is so key. It was that very model that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. It is what earned Microsoft 13 TIMES the rate of profit of the average Fortune 500 company in the 1990s and persuaded the Justice Department to declare it a “felony monopolist”. Gates recognizes the model very well, which is why his foundation is pouring tens of millions of dollars into charters. And you thought it was his altruism.

Of course, anybody who actually knows education, indeed, anybody who is simply intelligent, knows that intelligence does not come from rote repetition or parroting Power Point slides at the regimented direction of a room monitor, no matter how perky or well intended. It comes from an agonizingly complex, intricate, sustained set of challenges to the mind that are exquisitely choreographed over the better part of two decades, all intimately tailored to the specific needs of an individual, inquisitive, aspiring student.

That is what real teachers do. And it is precisely what a cookie-cutter, low-content, low-cost, high-turnover, high-profit money mill cannot do. Because it’s not intended to do that. It’s intended to produce profits. Real education, real intelligence, real character are agonizingly slow, dazzlingly complex, maddening difficult things to create. You can’t make a profit off of it, unless you destroy it in the process. That is why not one of the nations of the world that surpass the U.S. in education performance operate charter-based or privatized educational systems.

If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering?

But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such. Why, look what we got from the deregulation of the banking system: the greatest economic collapse of the last 80 years and the greatest plunder of the public treasury in the history of the world.

This is the essential neo-liberal agenda which Obama enthusiastically supports: privatize and deregulate everything, especially public services, so that the money spent on them can be transferred to private hands. This is how Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, earned his bureaucratic bonafides: he converted more than 100 of Chicago’s public schools to charters while the city’s school superintendent. It’s unbelievable how credulous we are but obviously, propaganda works. That’s why the likes of the Gates Foundation keep pouring money into the cause.

The problem with charter schools is that they simply don’t work, at least not for delivering high quality education. Of course, given their formula, how could they? The most thorough research on charter schools, by Stanford University, shows that while charters do better than public schools in 17% of cases, they actually do worse in 37%, a more than 2-to-1 bad-to-good ratio!

If your doctor injured two patients for every one he cured, would you go to him? If your mechanic wrecked two cars for every one he fixed, would you go to him? Yet that is literally the proposition that charter school operators are peddling. And that 2-to-1 failure rate is after charters have skimmed off the better students and run what can only be called ethnically cleansed schools, counseling out poor performers, special needs cases, and “undesirable” minorities, leaving them for the public schools to deal with. For the data show they do that as well.

The irony of all this, indeed, the hypocrisy, is that America is at least nominally a capitalist county. You would think it would be ok to be honest about your intentions to make money by pillaging children’s futures while looting the public purse. God knows the weapons makers, the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and others aren’t bashful about it. But that doesn’t seem to be true here, in education.

Here, it’s all about “the children,” about “streamlining” education, boosting scores, uplifting minorities, making America competitive, and just about every other infantile fairy tale they can invoke to convince the country to hand over the loot. For that’s what it’s really about. The trillion dollars a year to be made by turning “the children” into intellectually impotent dullards but profit producing zombies? Well, that’s just a lavishly fortunate coincidence. Right?

Remember, you can’t save something by destroying it. Which isn’t to say that swashbuckling entrepreneurs aren’t willing to try. All they need is the liberating impetus of that essential American ethic: “I’m getting mine, screw you.” But the cost of this plunder will be incalculable, for it will ripple through the economy for decades. And the damage will be irreversible for, while public education is the most powerful democratizing institution in the world, it only works when the schools work. When they cease to work, it’s over.

So watch out. A destroyed educational system, a desiccated economy, and a debauched democracy are coming soon to a school district near you.

Robert Freeman teaches history and economics at a public high school in northern California. He is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a national non-profit that helps American schools build schools in the developing world with donations of one dollar. He can be reached at

Gerard Robinson, states top educator or states to charter school lobbyist?

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

Gerard Robinson knows he’s being fact-checked. Twice in a weekend interview with Gradebook’s Jeff Solocheck, he clearly sought to unburden the weight of a question. Despite having his guard up, Robinson let loose with some real whoppers. Responding to a probe by Solochek regarding recent instances of serious malfeasance in charter schools, Robinson said this:

There is nothing in place right now that prohibits the local school boards from making decisions. … We’ve had charters for a very long time. We know the ones that work, we know the ones that don’t work. That’s not a new issue. The reason I ask about what keeps you up at night is because there are some of those same challenges in traditional public schools.

Politifact may have a liar, liar pants on fire on their hands. Emphasis mine, by-the-way.

Robinson’s, “there is nothing in place right now that prohibits the local school boards from making decisions” just isn’t true. And he knows it. Robinson is aware of current charter school policies which allow charter school to go over the head of local school boards if they are rejected by them. Seminole, Duval and Orange county districts were overruled in February by the state for rejecting charter school applications. Another failing Duval charter school is looking to appeal the closure of its school by the local board. For Robinson to imply otherwise in the manner he did is to abdicate his responsibility as a public servant.

Moreover, Solochek’s question was about charter schools improperly spending money on religious material and consultants. Robinson’s “there are some of those same challenges in public schools” serves as a smear of the public schools he is supposed to be leading. In the case such troubling events occur in a public school, immediate mechanisms are in place to correct it. In the case of the Pinellas Scientology charter school Solochek appears to be referring to, no immediate recourse was available to parents and children.

By designation of his position as State Education Commissioner, Robinson is supposed to go about his duties as the state’s top educator. Not charter school’s top lobbyist. In his call for equitable funding for charter schools, he completely ignores the reality that charter schools do not provide costly services like transportation, special education services and free and/or reduced meals that Florida’s public schools do. To ignore this in his role as the state’s top educator is further evidence that Robinson is focused on a separate and narrow agenda.

Study shows KIPP Schools are a bad investment

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

There are a few dissenters who have remained leery of the great success story of the KIPP schools, questioning the turnover of students in the acclaimed program. KIPP operates three schools in the metro area and a high school, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, opens this summer.

Now skeptics are about to get some data on attrition and funding that may confirm their suspicions.

In a study bound to raise the hackles of KIPP supporters, researchers at the College of Education and Human Development at Western Michigan University and Teachers College at Columbia University found that KIPP has a high attrition rate among African-American boys.

While the study does not challenge the academic success of KIPP graduates, it raises questions about the funding and whether the high level of private dollars is sustainable. The study found that KIPP schools benefit tremendously by donations and private funding, earning an extra $6,500 on average per pupil.

KIPP sent me a comment and fact sheet rebuttal of the study:

At KIPP, we welcome any rigorous and objective review of our schools. We have participated on several occasions with outside, independent reviews, such as the 2010 study by Mathematica Policy Research.

This morning we received a copy of the report “What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition and School Finance,” by Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, and Nicholas Saxton at Western Michigan University (WMU). In our quick read of the WMU report we observe significant shortcomings in the methodologies used, and must therefore reject the core conclusions made by Miron, et al. about KIPP.

While this report focuses on some very fundamental issues for KIPP—student enrollment, attrition, and finances—the implications of its findings do not hold up. We have identified, based on our quick review of the report, multiple factual misrepresentations and errors of analysis.

For example, the WMU report claims that KIPP received $5,760 per student in private funding for the 2008 fiscal year. However, this result is based on an analysis of only half of our schools, and includes at least two instances where private revenue for regions was misclassified. When we look at correctly classified data for these two KIPP regions, and include all KIPP schools that were in operation that year, the number drops to around $2,500 per student—more than 55 percent lower than the WMU estimate.

Here is the official release on the report:

KIPP, The Knowledge is Power Program, has been widely praised by both the Bush and Obama administrations as a successful charter school model. The program, which operates 99 schools in 20 states and serves 27,000 students, is renowned for its “no excuses method,” by which generally high-poverty students attend school for a longer day and year than local public school students in more traditional school settings. According to the KIPP Web site, “more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have gone on to college-preparatory high schools, and over 85 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college.”

However, while most of the publicity about KIPP has focused on the number of students going on to college, little attention has looked at the kinds of students entering KIPP schools and the number of dollars KIPP receives from school districts, states and the federal government, as well as private sources.

“Outcomes are only half the story,” said Jeffrey R. Heng, Chair of the Dept. of Education Policy & Social Analysis at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Inputs are the other half and this study’s attention to factors like student characteristics, student attrition, and school finance sheds new light on these.”

Among the key findings in the report “What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance:”

– KIPP draws students who are low-income – but are more ready to learn than the typical public school student in the surrounding school district.

While KIPP schools have enrolled high numbers of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch (77 percent as compared to 71 percent at comparable public schools), they have enrolled far fewer students than traditional public schools who are classified as English Language Learners (11.5 percent as compared to 19.2 percent) and a lower rate of disabled children (5.9 percent as compared to 12.1 percent at traditional public schools).

–Nationally, KIPPs schools have substantially higher levels of attrition than traditional public schools. Analysis by the report’s researchers revealed that, on average, approximately 15 percent of students disappear from the KIPP grade cohorts each year. This finding is in line with other research, including KIPP’s own estimate of attrition. Between grades 6 and 8, the size of the KIPP grade cohorts drops by 30 percent.

The actual attrition rate may be higher if any of the KIPP schools do any backfilling of vacated places after grade 6. However, it appears that most KIPP schools do little to fill empty seats as students leave. When these figures are further broken out by race and gender, a full 40 percent of the African-American male students leave KIPP schools between grades 6 and 8. Overall a higher proportion of African-American students than other ethnic groups leave the KIPP schools. Girls are much more likely to remain in the KIPP schools across all ethnic groups.

–The level of funding KIPP receives from government and private sources is substantially more than the funding available to traditional public schools or competing charters. Using the federal dataset on school finance (2007-08), researchers were able to obtain detailed revenue from 25 KIPP schools and their local districts. During the 2007-08 school year, KIPP received more per pupil in combined public revenue ($12,731 per student) than any other comparison group: the national average for all schools ($11,937), the national charter school average ($9,579), or the average for KIPP’s local school districts ($11,960).

KIPP received more in per pupil revenue from federal sources ($1,779) than did any other comparison group: the national average ($922), the national charter district average ($949), or KIPP schools’ host districts ($1,332).

“I am surprised that KIPP gets more money from the federal government especially because KIPP has limited special education services which are subsidized with federal dollars,” said Dr. Gary Miron, the report’s lead researcher and Professor of Evaluation, Measurement & Research at the Dept. of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology at Western Michigan University. “Charter schools traditionally receive less money because they provide fewer services like special education and vocational training. That is why it’s surprising that KIPP receives more money than all of our comparison groups from public sources.”

None of the 12 KIPP districts reported any private revenues in the national school district finance dataset; however, a separate analysis of these districts’ 990 tax forms for 2008 revealed large sums of private contributions. Per-pupil contributions for the 11 KIPP districts that the researchers included in this analysis equaled an average of $5,760, much more than the $1,000 to $1,500 additional per-pupil revenue KIPP estimates is necessary for their program. Two KIPP districts or groups received more than $10,000 per pupil in private revenues.

–The $6,500 advantage: Combining public and private sources of revenue, KIPP received, on average, $18,491 per pupil in 2007-08. This is $6,500 more per-pupil than what KIPP’s local school districts received in revenues. Some KIPP students have as much as a $10,000 advantage over their peers in traditional public schools.

This study does not question the body of evidence on student achievement gains made in KIPP schools. In fact, it is the view of the report’s authors that KIPP’s claims of improving test results of the students who persist in its schools faster than traditional public schools are supported by rigorous and well-documented studies.

“KIPP has been lauded as a successful private operator of public schools,” said Miron, “but this report shows that KIPP is not able to serve the broad spectrum of public school students with the money that is currently available for public schools.”

Added Miron, “If KIPP wishes to maintain its status as an exemplar of private management of schools, rather than a new effort to public schools, it will need to convince policymakers and the public that it intends to recruit and serve a wider range of students and that it will be able to do so with sustainable levels of funding comparable to what traditional public schools receive.”

A former KIPP teacher talks about her experience

From Seatle Education, by Dora

KIPP is one of the charter school franchises that’s been tossed around in Seattle by ed reformers as an option if charter schools were to be legalized in our state. I’ve been following KIPP and several articles that I have come across are listed in the right column of this blog under “KIPP”. It could possibly be the worst example of a school experience a child could have but they do market well.

I was reading a post by Leonie Haimson that is well worth a read “At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day”. The post is an interview that Leonie had with a former KIPP parent and the parent’s daughter who was a student attending KIPP.

At the end of the post was the following comment written by a former KIPP teacher that I wanted to share with you today:

I was a teacher at a KIPP school for 1 /1/2 years. (Not in NYC) It was the most horrible experience of my life. The teachers and students are literally in school for 11 hours a day. You basically have no personal life as it is all about KIPP. The school has a cult like mentality with chants, rituals, and an obsessive focus on “being nice, work hard, get into college”. I saw numerous teachers experience nervous breakdowns from the extreme pressure and harassment of administration. There was a 50% turnover for staff each year. They made me chaperone a week long trip to another city to visit colleges. I had to sleep in the same room as the students. (They do NOT pay anywhere near what would be expected from a district school.) KIPP also made me go door to door in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the city that I worked in to recruit students. The most crazy thing I witnessed was at a KIPP summer seminar that had KIPP teachers from throughout the United States present. One of the main speakers asked the audience of KIPP teachers to stand up if they were first year teachers. About 30% of the audience stood up. Then they asked teachers with 2-5 years of experience to stand up. At that time 60% of the teachers stood up. Then they asked teachers with 5-10 years experience to stand up and 10% stood up. Then they asked teachers with more than 10 years of experience to stand up. At that time I WAS STANDING WITH 2 OTHER TEACHERS OUT OF AN AUDIENCE OF 500 TEACHERS!

This is why TFA, Inc. has come to town in our fair city, in anticipation of populating these charter schools. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen, charter schools that is.

KIPP definitly isn't for everybody

From NYC Public School Parent, by Leonie Haimson

A few months ago, Class Size Matters met with a former KIPP student who lives in the Bronx and her mother to hear about their experiences at the celebrated charter school. What follows are excerpts from this interview. The girl’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Mom: Students who are accepted to KIPP and who have IEP's [individualized education plans] do not get the correct services or help to be successful. The school would rather make it difficult, leaving the parent frustrated and forcing her to remove her child. The principal always invited me to take my child out if I did not like the way she was being treated. My response was always, "She has a right to be here just like any other child who went through the lottery system. She will stay until she finishes." My reasons for her to continue were because the curriculum was good and I knew that she could benefit academically from the rigorous demands, but sometimes they went to the extreme and she suffered for it.

At the very first, I saw the way they were talking to some kids in the line as they’re going in. They’re like (shouting) “Oh you know you’re not supposed to come in here with those!” And I'm saying to myself, it doesn’t have to be like that – they were screaming at them. I said to myself, you know, I really have to find out about this school. So I decided that I was going to be very active.

Well, that’s where my problems started. Because then it became war. I wasn’t welcome there, and I noticed it. Because I used to pop up unexpectedly and I would hear these teachers really being mean! And they would say, “You can’t be here, you’re interrupting, they’re in class, they’re in session” And I said, “I have a right to be here.”

One day Celeste [her daughter] was sick. She was out for three days with a doctor's note. When she returned the teacher tells her, “Oh, take the test, it won’t be counted.” Celeste brings me the test, because parents had to sign the exams. So I said to her, wait a minute, you were out – why did you take the test? And she said, “The teacher said it wasn’t going to be counted.” And I said, “Yea, it’s counted!” So I went to the school and I said to her teacher, “I understand you told Celeste that this test wasn’t going to be counted. She’s been out for three days, you should have given her a chance to study and make up the material.” And she said, “Well, she should have had notes…she is having difficulty in science.” I said, “She was told it wasn’t going to be counted. I think you should give her a make-up.” And she said, “Well I don’t give make-ups.”

So I told the principal that I think it’s unfair. And she goes, “Well-” – here comes the double talk – “you know, Celeste is struggling.” And I said, “I know she is struggling and I don’t think you understand. She has a right to be here just like every other kid. And you guys, as educators need to understand that there are strategies to working with these kids.” But, you see, their strategy is “We’re not working with any difficult kid. We’re here to demand, and you perform.” That’s the attitude.

You know what happens to the “difficult kids”? The parents take them out. And nobody hears about them again. But I’ll be damned if I was gonna take her out. You know why? Because every child has a right.

I knew there was something Celeste needed help with but I didn’t know what it was. So I said to her teacher, “Do you think you could proceed with recommending her for an evaluation and stuff?” I was thinking that maybe they provide the same services as the Dept. of Education.

They said, “Well we don’t do that; we don’t have any help for her. So I submitted an application to have her evaluated with the Dept. of Ed, downtown, and they realized that she did need the help. She started having someone to come in for a half hour every day to work with her on math, English, and whatever other problems. He was a SETTS [special ed] teacher. He confirmed everything that I thought was going on. He said to me, “I can’t believe what goes on in there.” And I said, “Like what?” And he said, “Well there’s a lot of corporeal punishment.”

Celeste: When my mom first told me about KIPP I was happy because they have the orchestra, and I really like music and I love playing the instruments and all of that. Towards the end of that first year [5th grade] is when I started really feeling the impact of it. They give so much homework, and I'm there for so long. I wasn't used to it. In elementary school you get a little bit of homework and you're there for, like, 8 hours. But there you were there for 13 hours. You do five hours’ worth of homework. And then I really started disliking the school.

I had to sit like this. [demonstrates] It’s called S.L.A.N.T.: Sit straight. Listen. Ask a question. Nod your head. Track. Track is, if the teacher is going that way you have to… [demonstrates] follow… If you didn't do that, they'll yell at you: "You're supposed to be looking at me!" [points to demerit sheet] "No SLANTing." They'll put that on there.

If I got into an argument with a teacher, I would have to stand outside the classroom on the black line, holding my notebook out. [Stands up and demonstrates, holding arms out] I would have to stand there until they decided to come out. For 20 minutes, 30 minutes, sometimes they’ll forget you’re out there and you’ll be there the whole period –an hour and forty minutes standing. if you have necklaces you have to tuck them away so they can’t see them – or else they’ll have you write four pages of a sentence about KIPP – “I must follow the rules of the KIPP Academy” or “I must not talk” for four pages.

They would have us stand on the black line for as many minutes as they felt was right for what I did. I would never get my homework during that hour when I was outside on the line. And I'd ask for the homework, they'd be like "I'll give it to you later". And the next day I would come in without homework and it goes directly on my paycheck [the demerit system].

My science teacher got mad once because I sneezed. He said "Get out of class!" And I said, "No, I won't get out of class for sneezing" And he was like, "Yes, you are." He called the principal and I still didn't leave. So they were like "We're going to call your mother. So let's go." And I was like, "Fine." And I just walked out. Then the teacher wrote down everything, like 'Not paying attention.' He would write 'Talking' 5 times so I could get -5 points. He was saying I had a negative attitude.

I noticed that a lot of kids left. In 5th grade, there were about 50 students. 6th grade, I came back and there were 30. 7th grade: 20. About 10 of them were held back and a lot of them left.

A lot of the teachers left too. When I got to 6th grade, the 5th grade teachers had all changed. By the time I got to 8th grade, there were only about four teachers left that I knew. And now it's all new teachers. None of them are there that I went to school with.

The teachers said, "We want you to be the best you can be. No attitude.” But they're the first ones to give you attitude. They're hypocrites. We used to have 'Character Class' on Fridays where they would tell you to be open-minded and stuff. But they weren't open-minded. They were closed. If I needed help, they would say, 'Oh, well you have to figure it out.'

Teachers would scream at us all the time. Sometimes for things we did, and sometimes for things we didn't. A kid would raise his voice. Then the teacher would raise his voice. Kid would raise his voice higher and the teacher raised his voice higher. Until it was a screaming match between the kid and the teacher. And then the principal comes in, and it's three people all screaming at each other. It would give me such a headache!

At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day. Except on Sunday, 'cause that day I didn’t have to go to school. All the students called KIPP the “Kids in Prison Program.”

And now that I'm in this [district high] school I'm relieved. I'm glad I didn't go to KIPP high school. Now, I wake up and I want to go to school. I want to see my friends. I want to see my teachers. It's more welcoming. You walk in there, it's like "Hey! How are you doing?"

The Unintended Consequences of the FCAT

From's editorial board

A backlash against high-stakes standardized tests in public schools is spreading across the nation as critics petition for an overhaul that bases student evaluations on a broader range of learning. The movement began in Texas with more than 400 school districts joining a campaign for reform, and that effort inspired last week's launch of national effort via an online petition drive.

Florida's education policy writers and leaders should take note.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, helped write the petition, which has already attracted support from more than 100 organizations and several thousand individuals. FairTest's mission is "to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial."

The organization's public education director, Robert Schaeffer, put the issue into a perspective that should resonate in Florida. "What we're seeing is a disconnect between the popular support of people saying, 'Enough is enough,' and policy makers who are doubling down on high-stakes testing," he stated in a New York Times report last week. "We're building popular pressure to persuade policy makers to abandon a failed task."

Indeed, the Sunshine State is doubling down -- with a tougher Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that promises to fail more students and more public schools. The test measures proficiency in reading, writing, math and science from third through 10th grades.

As the state continues to transition away from FCAT to end-of-course exams in core classes, with passage a requirement for graduation, Schaeffer has noted in the past that the change is not an improvement.

Earlier this month, Manatee County school district officials even warned parents and students right before the start of this spring's FCAT testing period of that likely disheartening outcome.

FCAT scoring standards have been raised, thousands of additional 10th-graders are expected to flunk, and school districts around the state are bracing for significant increases in the number of "D" and "F" schools as a result of the changes in grading calculations.

The ramifications are greater than the disgrace of a poor grade. Public schools that score higher grades earn bonus funds. Meanwhile, underperforming schools in need of additional resources in order to improve are left wanting.

Promoted as a way to raise education standards and improve school accountability, how could a harder FCAT possibly be productive by excoriating so many more students and schools as failures?

Or is this punitive, designed to undermine public confidence in the school system and drive a wedge between parents and public schools in order to advance the charter school movement? This could be an unintended consequence, but we have our doubts considering the Republican-dominated Legislature has pursued a public policy course in favor of charters for the past six years.

This year, lawmakers failed to pass a measure that would have allowed parents of students in F schools to petition for a conversion of the public school into an independently operated, for-profit charter school. The so-called parent trigger bill, criticized as a way to dismantle and defund the state's public education system, was only defeated by a tie vote in the Senate as several Republicans broke ranks.

The charter school lobby had won impressive victories in prior legislative sessions, but not this year. The movement is certain to return next year with another ambitious agenda to further privatize education.

Meanwhile, critics of high-stakes standardized testing in public schools warn against basing critical decisions on scores. Such testing has resulted in narrower curriculums with instructors teaching to the test -- especially since their salaries are now partly determined by student test scores in Florida and elsewhere across the country.

With high pressure on teachers, cheating scandals have erupted. While a crackdown on cheating is imperative, a comprehensive overhaul of standardized testing should follow. Students are denied a high-quality, well-rounded education by this singular focus on standardized tests to measure achievement, as mandated by the flawed No Child Left Behind law.

Florida's tougher FCAT -- certain to flunk more students and schools -- only exacerbates the current misguided reliance on standardized testing.

Read more here:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Florida teachers discuss ways to help students succeed

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

It is my job to help rescue 90,000 children. It is our duty to save them not from any physical or medical danger, but from something that affects their lives in a much deeper way.

This is how many students fail to complete high school every year and I attended a town hall meeting at WJCT where teachers from across Florida converged to discuss ways to keep students from being left behind.

Moderated by Al Letson, host of NPR’s State of the REunion, this important Forum on Public Education is going to be broadcast statewide on public television stations onMay 24 at 9PM.

WJCT President and CEO Michael Boylan said, “We cannot allow another generation ofour young people to fall through the cracks.”

Stan Cleiland, WJCT director of corporate communications, referred quite accurately to this event as a ‘communion of souls.’ Participant surveys taken before the taping helped to drive the discussion with frank questions and answers about how to resolve this pressing matter.

I was most impressed by how busses carried teachers from Tallahassee, Tampa and other cities to spend their weekend sharing a diverse array of opinions.

Over the course of the taping, they also responded via text to informal polls that asked for their view points on questions like, “Do you have any students at risk ofdropping out?” 70 percent of the attendees responded yes.

The warning signs of dropping out from school are evident long before a student walks away from education. Students who are more than two grade levels behind, are chronically absent from school, lose interest in learning and are labeled as disfluent in reading are the ones who raised red flags.

Notice that these factors are largely centered around what is often beyond the control of administrators and teachers.

“We function within the realm of a greater society,” said a Hillsborough County teacher who said that absent students are the ones who need education the most but cannot be reached if they are not in the classroom on a regular basis.

And, life outside of the classroom, is what drives student’s ability to embrace academia. For example, before second grade, students require 30 minutes a day to learn how to read and they require at least two hours a day after second grade. The problem is that most middle and high schools are only afforded an hour a day for reading instruction. This problem is compounded if parents are unable to create an atmosphere at home for students to extend their learning.

In these circumstances, students are often on their own. Letson shared his own experience where his teachers wrote him off but hehad to motivate himself to make progress. A successful playwright, poet and broadcaster, Letson added that he was able to accomplish his goals without attending college. This helped segue the forum into a talk about society’s emphasis on directing students to college.

AHillsborough County teacher shared his disappointment in the college track forall students, saying, “We look down on students who want to work with theirhands. We stigmatize vocational-technical education.”

As someone who paid through the nose to repair a faulty toilet on a weekend when I lived in Delaware, I have to agree that we do not value those who are skilled laborers and we assume that their work is less than that of someone with a college degree.

What we want to avoid, said another participant, is tracking minority students away from college and into vocational programs simply because of past thinking that reserved higher education for white and/or upper class students. A little more cultural awareness and increased rigor in all academic programs, however, would go a long way toward helping keep students interested in their academic careers.

Florida’steacher of the year and finalist for national teacher of the year, Alvin Davis, cautioned the forum that college preparation is essential because none of thenewly created jobs in the national economy rely on technical skills. He gave as an example of how garbage workers are using more automation and need fewer people to do the same work that a high school graduate could expect to do without post-secondary education.

The conversation shifted toward the bane of many educators’ existence – the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

Another Hillsborough County teacher said, “The extreme high stakes testing plays a rolein the dropout crisis.”

Because of state mandates, students who do not perform well on FCAT are ‘punished’ by being deprived of electives that were originally designed to teach the whole student. What is forgotten, though, is that arts and the humanities enrich the learning experience and can sometimes give children something to enjoy and look forward to. Instead, many of them are herded into intensive reading and math classes that were created from good intentions but turn education into drudgery.

“They hate education because they are over tested,” said one Duval County teacher.

Paramount among the concerns was the teachers’ belief that they were being spread too thin by varying expectations of them to meet the needs of children eligible for Mensa on one end and children who do not speak a word of English on the other end.

The most visceral feelings were reserved for the leadership in Tallahassee. Davis said quite accurately that everyone’san ‘expert’ on education simply because they went to school. I believe that this kind of micromanagement without regard to the resources or needs of students will doom our schools to failure if we do not engage our learning communities in the process for improvement.

“We have to come together as one unit – one voice,” he said.

This was a Saturday morning well-spent for me. I look forward to seeing the final product then it is broadcast later in May.

John Louis Meeks, Jr. has been teaching social studies in Duval County Public Schools since 2002. Meeks is a former teacher of the year (2005) who freelance writes about educational issues.

How a pineapple woke up America

From the New York Times, by Gail Collins

Actually (spoiler alert!) I’m going to use the pineapple as a sneaky way to introduce the topic of privatization of public education. I was driven to this. Do you know how difficult it is to get anybody to read about “privatization of education?” It’s hell. A pineapple, on the other hand, is something everybody likes. It’s a symbol of hospitality. Its juice is said to remove warts. And you really cannot beat the talking-fruit angle.

This month, New York eighth graders took a standardized English test that included a story called “The Hare and the Pineapple,” in which you-know-what challenges a hare to a race. The forest animals suspect that since the pineapple can’t move, it must have some clever scheme to ensure victory, and they decide to root against the bunny. But when the race begins, the pineapple just sits there. The hare wins. Then the animals eat the pineapple. The end.

There were many complaints from the eighth graders, who had to answer questions like: “What would have happened if the animals had decided to cheer for the hare?” They were also supposed to decide whether the animals ate the pineapple because they were hungry, excited, annoyed or amused. (That part bothered me a lot. We’ve got a talking pineapple here, people. You don’t just go and devour it for having delusions of grandeur.)

Teachers, parents and education experts all chimed in. Nobody liked the talking pineapple questions. The Daily News, which broke the story, corralled “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings, who concluded that “the plot details are so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written during a peyote trip.”

The state education commissioner, John King, announced that the questions would not count in the official test scores. There was no comment from the test author. That would be Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education business, which has a $32 million five-year contract to produce New York standardized tests.

Now — finally — we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars.

This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?

Me neither.

It’s not just the tests. No Child Left Behind has created a system of public-funded charter schools, a growing number of which are run by for-profit companies. Some of them are completely online, with kids getting their lessons at home via computer. The academic results can be abysmal, but on the plus side — definitely no classroom crowding issues.

Pearson is just one part of the picture, albeit a part about the size of Mount Rushmore. Its lobbyists include the guy who served as the top White House liaison with Congress on drafting the No Child law. It has its own nonprofit foundation that sends state education commissioners on free trips overseas to contemplate school reform.

An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would be the taxpayer.

If all else fails, the kid could always drop out and try to get a diploma via the good old G.E.D. The General Educational Development test program used to be operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education, but last year the Council and Pearson announced that they were going into a partnership to redevelop the G.E.D. — a nationally used near-monopoly — as a profit-making enterprise.

“We’re a capitalist system, but this is worrisome,” said New York Education Commissioner King.

The Obama administration has been trying to tackle the astronomical costs of 50 different sets of standardized tests by funding efforts by states to develop shared models — a process you will be stunned to hear is being denounced by conservatives like Gov. Rick Perry of Texas as “a federal takeover of public schools.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also begun giving out waivers from the requirement that children in failing public schools be given after-school tutoring. Idea sounded great. Hardly helped the kids at all. But no for-profit tutoring company was left behind.

The pushback against privatization isn’t easy. We’re now in a world in which decisions about public education involve not just parents and children and teachers, but also big profits or losses for the private sector. Change the tests, or the textbooks, or the charters, or even the rules for teacher certification, and you change somebody’s bottom line.

It’s a tough world out there. Ask the talking pineapple.

Rick Scott's education shell game

From the Miami herald, BY KATHLEEN OROPEZA

Gov. Rick Scott played a shell game in front of our kids when he signed the state budget. He insults Floridians when he makes theater out of signing a budget that he claims “restores” funding to public education, when in fact that billion dollars does no such thing.

Last year, at this time the governor’s approval rating was 26 percent. Polls blamed Scott’s poor education performance for that number.

Last week, Scott went from school to school, “ceremonial budget” in hand, using our kids for photo ops and “signing” the budget over and over. Scott’s handlers have him taking victory laps and over-explaining how he alone increased funding to public education.

Last fall Scott repeatedly said he would not sign a budget that does not significantly increase state funding for education. The sentiment is very nice. What’s not nice is the lack of action behind it. Too many Florida politicians fail to understand the simple truth found in the old adage: “actions speak louder than words.”

Scott’s actions leave our schools with the net effect of standing still. For example, Scott knows that if he loses in court, he will have to repay the $1 billion he took from state employees in Florida Retirement System deductions. That money was never escrowed by the state.

Scott refuses to acknowledge that many districts expect a funding cut of at least $100 per student. Here’s the math that amounts to a loss of $950 million:

• $200 million — 30,000 new students;

• $200 million — 3 percent lost property values;

• $550 million — expired federal jobs money.

Scott’s claim that this $1 billion is “new money” to public education twists the truth. This money only offsets losses our schools will incur next year. An estimated 30,000 new students will enter our classrooms. Tax revenues have fallen. Federal stimulus money has expired. If politicians did not add this money, Florida schools would be over $5 billion in the hole.

Parents and voters have a better vision for Florida public education. Political polls pale in importance to our work as parents. Our vision does not include the old status quo of expensive, unproven reforms meant to hurt children, drain funds from districts and privatize our public schools.

We believe in a single well-funded system of public education that offers remarkable choices for every child. We believe in fair assessment and fair accountability. We believe that mutual respect and collaboration between teachers, parents and districts is the key to a new era of public school renewal.

For the first time every child taking the FCAT last week was forced to sign a pledge that they would not cheat on the test. Think about that. Third-graders got the message loud and clear that the state of Florida thinks so little of their character that they need to be admonished not to cheat. Last I checked, cheating and twisting the truth are one in the same.

The heartbreaking irony is written in every posed “budget” event photo. Our sweet, smiling children huddled close to the man who thinks they should sign a pledge not to cheat, yet can’t seem to tell the truth himself. Parents and voters must separate the lovely words uttered at a photo op from the actions of the man.

Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of, a non-partisan Florida-based education advocacy group.

Read more here:

Florida's education system destined to fall appart

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Dave Weber

Florida's runaway school accountability system is destined to fail and take with it the positive goals it was intended to accomplish, the superintendents of Orange and Seminole county schools agreed Friday.

Orange Superintendent Ron Blocker and Bill Vogel, superintendent of Seminole schools, said the state's school districts are being overwhelmed by demands of the continually expanding accountability system. Teacher evaluations based in large part on student test scores — the latest requirement imposed by the Legislature — are unworkable and may be the tipping point, they said.

"We have an accountability system that is going to fall apart like a house of cards," said Vogel, criticizing state leaders for "making up the rules as they go along" without listening to educators.

Comments by Vogel and Blocker came during a "Two Chiefs, Two Decades" program in the Orlando Sentinel's "Florida Forward: Conversations about the Future" series. Blocker and Vogel, both retiring in June, commented on issues the schools will continue to face.

Blocker characterized former Gov. Jeb Bush as a "change agent" in bringing accountability to the schools. "I give him credit for changing the direction of education in Florida," Blocker said.

But what initially started out as testing students to correct their deficiencies has gone astray, Blocker and Vogel said. Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is unproven and costly, they said.

School districts are struggling to come up with required end-of-course tests to evaluate teachers. The existing Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exams cover only reading, writing, math and science.

"The cost is in the millions and it will bring down the entire accountability system," Vogel said.

Blocker said the increasingly heavy student testing schedule "tends to narrowly focus" on immediate results, bringing concern whether students are gaining lasting knowledge.

Blocker said some high school students are so intimidated by the FCAT that they fail repeatedly, yet prove their abilities by passing the ACT college entrance exam, which can substitute for the FCAT graduation requirement.

Vogel and Blocker said growing pushback from the public could help bring the school accountability system back to reason.

Responding to parent complaints about testing, the Palm Beach County School Board this week discussed efforts to "stop this madness in our schools," as Chairman Frank Barbieri characterized it.

Orange School Board member Rick Roach said during the Sentinel program that Barbieri has asked Orange schools to join the protest. or 407-883-7885

Is Florida going to see school choice destroy public education?

from the Washingon Times Answer Sheet,

Here’s Helen Gym’s letter to Philadelphia Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen, who recently announced a plan that will radically restructure the city’s public schools by closing 40 schools next year and more after that, and replacing the central office with “achievement networks” run by outsiders who would bid for contracts.

Dear Mr. Knudsen:

I am the mother of three children in District and charter schools in this city. I have been actively involved in stopping good schools from decline and helping low-performing, violent schools turn around. I believe in the essential role that a high-quality public school system plays and have fought for that vision. My 7th grade son will soon have outlasted four superintendencies, including yours. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not speaking to me.

You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested, and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and “rightsizing” our schools — and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum.

You’re not speaking to me when you plan to close 25 percent of our schools before my son graduates high school. You’re not speaking to me when you equate closing down 64 schools — many of them community anchors — as “streamlining operations,” yet you’ll expand charter populations willy-nilly despite a national study showing two-thirds of Philly charters are no better or worse than District-managed schools.

You’re not talking to me when your promises of autonomy come minus any resources, and when the best you have to offer parents is “seat expansion” — which just means larger class sizes without extra funds.

You’re not talking to me when you say all schools are public schools. They are not.

You’re not talking to me when you’ll go out of your way to spend $1.4 million for six-week consultants with whom you’ll boast of an “intimate, hand-in-glove” relationship, yet exclude community and public voices till you’re ready to drop the bomb.

You’re not speaking to me when you’ll go to any extreme to radically transform “education delivery,” yet the most basic things parents and staff and students have called for — more teachers in our schools, bilingual counselors, nurses, art and music, librarians, fresh food in the cafeteria, new buildings, and playgrounds — are completely and utterly absent from your “plan.”

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been around the block a few times.

We’ve seen how promises of an 85 percent proficiency rate fall flat when all they’re based on is rhetoric and no concrete plan on how to achieve it; James Nevels’ School Reform Commission tried that. Contracts will do that? Sorry, we’ve been around that block, too. Ask yourself where the 2002 purported savior of Philly and Chester education, Edison Schools Inc., is today. Ask the Truebright Science Academy parents how it felt when their five-year contract didn’t work out, or the Martin Luther King High School community — after 10 years of Foundations Inc., they ended up with a school arguably worse off than when it started.

We’ve seen how privatization and charters have done little to radically impact systemic achievement and improve education. There are some great charters out there, but no more than there are great [traditional] public schools.

We’re tired of the ridiculous labeling of schools as high-performing and low-performing. The label mentality assumes schools are in permanent stasis rather than in varying stages of evolution and devolution highly dependent on resources and institutional priority. By simply expanding high-performing seat capacity and closing down low-performing schools, you fail to understand or even seek to understand the very elements that make a level of performance possible. You don’t understand schools, you don’t understand success and failure, and you don’t understand how change happens.

I believe in something.

I actually believe in the value of institutions, despite having been burned by them plenty of times. I believe that professional educators can do a better job than the majority of the hucksters and hustlers and ideologues scoring off of public education’s demise.

I believe in the possibility of school transformation and the role that community and parent voices play in concert with schools and districts. I believe in the value of the public sphere and the responsibilities it owes to the most marginalized of communities — our immigrant students, special needs populations, and young people struggling with disciplinary issues.

I believe in choice options that co-exist to supplement, not destroy, a public school system. I believe in real, creative innovation in our classrooms, not the “drill-and-kill” test prep replicated in too many of these “high-performing” charters you tout. I believe in a vision of schools that is aspirationally led rather than deficit-based. Your focus on the bottom brings everyone down.

I believe our communities have always been there to pick up the pieces after administrations of hubris pass on. And I believe our public schools are worth fighting for.

Mr. Knudsen, these are the things that speak to me. So if you’re not speaking to me, who are you speaking to?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mitt Romney tells kids to borrow money from their parents to pay for education. Must be nice to be a millionaire's son.

From Think Progress, by Annie-Rose Strasser

If you’re young and you want to start your own business, Mitt Romney’s has some advice from you: Borrow money from your parents. At a “lecture” for students at Otterbein University in Ohio today, Mitt Romney told students that, his friend, Jimmy John, started a business by borrowing $20,000 from his parents at a low interest rate. Romney suggested anyone in the audience could do the same:

This kind of devisiveness, this attack of success, is very different than what we’ve seen in our country’s history. We’ve always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.

The advice fits right into the characterization that Romney is ‘out of touch’ with regular people. Most students don’t have parents with $20,000 in disposable capital sitting around to give to their kids to start a business.

At least it’s more than Romney’s surrogates had to offer young people on their youth policy conference call this week.

The FCAT has become an unfunded mandate

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

The Miami Herald calls out the state’s policy-makers for last weeks revelations that 10th graders across the state were sharing information about FCAT questions:

The fretting, anxiety, even cold sweats, during Florida’s big exam week are over. Public-school students wrapped up their FCAT last week in a year when the bar to pass the high-stakes standardized test has jumped higher and the consequences for teachers and administrators loom large.

For 10th-graders who must pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to get a high school diploma, the challenge was finding a computer to take the computerized reading test and resisting the temptation to cheat.

Incredibly, the state’s solution to too few computers in public schools and no requirement to have different reading tests for staggered shifts of students taking them was to demand that students take a pledge to not cheat.

As one testing expert told Herald education reporter Laura Isensee, staggering tests is bad education policy. “It’s far too much time to allow a secure test to be exposed to the entire state full of students and educators,” said Gregory Cizek, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The state failed those students by not providing different sets of questions for the staggered groups. That’s basic test protocol, followed by the SAT and other national exams. Apparently, different exams weren’t part of the deal NCS Pearson struck with the state when it received $250 million to administer the FCAT through 2013. Dumb move.

When do the questions about state republican education policies change from one’s of competence to those involving ethics? While Rick Scott and his legislative allies are putting cash into the pockets of one a Jeb Bush major financial backer in Pearson, they’re not providing enough computers for the kids to take them on. Meanwhile three more state-mandated online end-of-course exams for Algebra, Geometry and Biology loom for high school students in May.

Perhaps this clear example of an unfunded mandate will play well before the justices of the Florida Supreme Court when they hear the failure to fund suit. Coupled with the double jeopardy burden that mandated test have placed on students, schools and teachers, its a small wonder that appelate court called the suit a matter of “great public importance.”

Was the DCSB's decision to cut librarians a mistake?

By Lauren Barack

An effective school library impacts more than student achievement—it also lifts a school's entire educational climate, says a recent two-phase study by Rutgers University's Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) on behalf of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL).

Researchers note that effective school libraries reflect strong cooperation, collaboration, and communication among classroom teachers, administrators and school librarians.

"Collaboration is really the key with an effective school library," says Pat Massey, a former NJASL president and the high school library media specialist at South Plainfield High School in New Jersey.

Studies, such as the recent findings from the Library Research Services study in Colorado, have shown that school libraries can help raise literacy and reading scores in students. The CISSL report couldn't have come at a better time, especially with President Obama's recent proposal to cut school library funding for FY 2013.

Massey notes that most administrators don't know what an effective school library program looks like, and therefore don't understand how they can improve academic achievement.

"Perhaps they didn't have a school library or they had a room where someone read a story or checked out books," she says. "But there were no lessons and nothing that connected to curriculum."

NJASL recently offered their members suggestions on how to strengthen their own programs. A good starting point, Massey says, is building a working relationship with administrators and developing good communication skills. Linking classroom teachers to the web can spark more than higher reading scores—it can also develop a school environment where all educators work in tandem to support each other and ultimately the students.

"You have to have a budget, support from administrators, and cooperation with classroom teachers," says Massey. "Then it all connects with school libraries-a very cost-effective and essential piece of educating our students."

Are you tired of the attack on teachers?

From the Tampa bay Times, By Joan F. Kaywell,

Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach teachers.

Well, I have taught teachers for almost 25 years at the University of South Florida's college of education. I'm tired of those cliches — and of the assault on the profession.

We all know the power of that one teacher in a student's life, and I am giving my student-teachers — all 500 that I've taught over the years — the tools to become that teacher. Sadly, the current concern in the bureaucracy of education is not how to nurture that one teacher. Nope. The focus is on how you measure whether or not a teacher is effective and how you prove it.

We had a critical teacher shortage when Jeb Bush was governor. But instead of examining why, his answer was to let far too many unready people into the classroom. His way to ensure that anyone entering the field was "highly qualified" was to have each prospect pass a test. That's analogous to passing the written portion of the driving test and then being called a "highly qualified" driver.

After becoming "highly qualified," those entering the field are given a temporary teaching certificate and three years to obtain their professional license. A doctor goes through training to become a doctor before taking the state exam, but anyone who's graduated from college can teach without teacher training simply by taking a test. You don't even need a degree in English to do so. It doesn't make sense.

I teach both traditional college students as well as career-change professionals who have started to teach but still need to earn their license. There are too many alternative certification routes to list here — some clearly better than others — but colleges of education such as USF's that are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of English adhere to the highest standards. About half of my students are teachers already in the classroom who are working on that certification.

To be truly highly qualified, a teacher needs to know much more than the subject matter. The artistry of teaching comes with one's ability to match method with student. One way might work with one student but fail with another. Here are a few real-life examples: (1) To "correct" a student's paper at the wrong time or overcorrect it can "teach" a student to stop writing altogether; (2) Given a specific task, mix students who understand with those who do not. It will benefit everyone. The most effective instruction is one-on-one, and since there is only one teacher in the room, more learning occurs by capitalizing on those who understand helping those who don't. And because you best learn that what you teach, those students who understand will have their learning reinforced.

In Hillsborough County, the eighth largest school district in the country, English teachers are given a scripted curriculum called Springboard from which to teach. This curriculum, aligned with the College Board, is designed to ensure college and career readiness for all students. But again, there is no one method that works with all students. Think of your own children or your siblings to realize how ridiculous it is to assume that they will all respond to the same script to make them healthy, charming, rich, college-ready, whatever. As a result, there appear to be three types of "teachers" in the field.

Type One believes that teachers are born, not made. If they don't feel they were blessed by the teacher muse, they give up on the classroom and leave the profession. Proper training could have helped some of them.

Type Two believes that teachers can learn to teach better. They are the ones who come to us at USF's college of education. We instill a basic value: All students can be taught and that is their job as teachers. But we also equip them with tools to make it possible, myriad strategies to employ even if they are required to use a script.

Type Three concerns me the most. Unfortunately, they are the ones most likely to stay in the classroom — and they are the very ones who can harm the education of our students. These individuals do not care. They follow the script they are given and do what they are told, but "their students are lazy," and it's not their fault if their students aren't learning.

It is human nature to shut down and not care when all sense of control has been removed. Unfortunately, with so much of the classroom scripted and standardized, even some exemplary teachers are beginning to feel this loss of control. Few people go into teaching for the money, and systems that reward them solely with "performance" pay are missing the point. The real pay comes when teachers' expertise enables them to help students be more, know more and do more than they ever thought imaginable.

Most of the teachers I have helped to produce have become educational leaders, and many have earned state or national awards in teaching, and acquired National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. I am proud of them, and that's why I believe outsiders need to stop blaming us teachers for America's failings. Excellent teachers need to be given authority and autonomy and not stripped of their control.

Yet what I hear back from some of my students is disheartening. One fears that we are not teachers anymore but "bookkeepers, data keepers and record maintainers." Another one laments that "I cannot teach my students how to love reading unless I can turn 'love' into a measurable data point."

Now the government is imposing a new teacher evaluation system for those already in the classroom. Teachers are having to learn a 50-page flip chart of indicators that will demonstrate whether or not they are effective. Their salaries will be tied to these indicators combined with standardized test scores.

Yet did we ever really need a standardized test to tell us that an 11th-grader can't read? Do we really need more tests to fix what's wrong in education? The FCAT season is again upon us, and it's time to answer the question. It is not multiple choice.

Joan F. Kaywell is a professor of English education in the college of education at the University of South Florida. She is the author of "Dear Author: Letters of Hope."