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Sunday, September 30, 2012

What they keep telling us

By Shawn Barat

“Waiting for ‘Superman’” told teachers they were terrible, callous, and incompetent, that only magnanimous charter school operatives could save victimized children from their rapacious clutches.

NCLB told teachers they would only be considered successful if 100% of their students passed 100% of their tests.

Condoleezza Rice told teachers they were so ineffective that they were a national security threat.

Chris Christie told teachers that when two or more of them gather, they are thugs. Suddenly, the apple-themed knit sweater is a symbol of American menace rivaling the leather biker jacket.

“Won’t Back Down” actors Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhall, Ving Rhames, and Holly Hunter used their art to communicate that teachers only want union protections so they can lock poor children in closets, and that the only way to protect children from the plague of heartless unionized miscreants mal-educating them across this land is by letting their parents hand 
over local schools to wholly benevolent charter school operators led by the friendly Mother Teresas behind Parent Revolution.

Teachers learned from Bobby Jindal that public schools are so lousy that Louisiana is better off paying for its children to attend private schools that no state official has ever visited, that teach any curriculum whatsoever, and that are exempt from any accountability mechanisms at all because, you know, the free market will ensure their quality. (Though choice will allow children to vote with their feet by leaving public schools too, you can bet that arcane accountability measures will remain firmly in place for them.)

StudentsFirst told America to distrust its teachers.

Eric Hanushek told America that larger class sizes will improve education and, gee-whiz, they’re cheaper too, so why wouldn’t we grow them? Bill Gates seconded the motion.

Barack Obama told teachers he hated teaching to the test, and then he built Race to the Top of Test Mountain.

Teachers are telling you, let us teach and the sky is the limit. 

The Times Union made me throw up in my mouth a little

The Times Union gave themselves a shout out when talking about education resources in an editorial welcoming the new superintendent. Up just became down and black just became white because the Times Union does not deserve our praise and admiration.

The Times Union’s love affair with the superintendent is long documented. They rarely print anything other than the districts all is well message. Did you know the district dropped from a B to a C this year? Probably not if you depend on the Times Union for your education news. 

They like accomplices to a crime have kept the public in the dark about the inner working of our education system, they don’t investigate and they don’t ask tough questions, then they have the nerve to say hey look at us, we did a piece on homeless kids we are awesome.

No sir, they are not awesome.

How can we have an honest debate about education when those charged with giving us the facts are not doing their job and they act as a defacto public relations arm of the district. What’s obvious too is that the city knows something is wrong with our schools. More housing starts in St. Johns county, more people moving to the suburbs and our enrollment staying steady despite population growth are all red flags that the people who live here aren’t buying what the Times Union and the school district are selling.

So Times Union how about you do your job and then we will pat you on the back when you deserve it but until then you should know that we know that you are part of the problem, a big part. 

The Duval County school system deserves every ounce of negativity that surrounds it.

The Times Union thinks the school system itself does not deserve much of the negativity that surrounds it. There are more than a few pockets of excellence in this system. I disagree with the first part of the statement.

In recent years, we have gutted rigor, destroyed discipline, shoved all our students into a one size fits all everybody is going to go to college curriculum, given teachers all the responsibility and none of the authority and support and we have shifted our problems down the road like the queen in a game of three card Monty. Teachers have been run out of the profession and kids have graduated ill prepared for anything.

We do have pockets of success but they are happening in spite of the school system we have not because of it and the really maddening thing is we could have had a top tier district if our leadership would have just insisted we did things the right way. Disciplined schools, rigorous not advanced classes  more curriculum options for kids that suited their abilities and desires, if we would have treated teachers with respect and given them support and if instead of putting our resources into the ivory tower we would have put them in the classroom. Instead we chose to manipulate numbers to give the appearance we were doing well and those chickens came home to roost.

The Times Union one of the biggest culprits around for where we find ourselves because they don’t do the investigating, ask the tough questions and parrot the districts all is well message may be willing to give the superintendent and school board a pass but I am not. The leaders of our district chose to do things the wrong way and because of that the district deserves every ounce of negativity that comes with it.


Gary Chartrand consolidates his education power base

You have to hand it to Mr. Chartrand, from top 50 in grocery store news to running our schools. It’s just too bad Mr. Chartrand goes with his gut rather than evidence when making up his mind about education. He doesn’t believe in teacher experience or education, he thinks larger classes are just fine and high stakes standardized tests are cool too. Throw in merit pay and the expansion of charter schools and he is on the wrong side of just about every education issue, I mean if you go with evidence that is.

None of this however has stopped him from expanding his power base. Despite never being a teacher or working in a school he was appointed chairmen of the board of education. His protégé Ashley Juarez Smith is in a run off to be on the school board. He practically handpicked our next superintendent and three organizations he fronts, the Chartrand Foundation, the J.P.E.F and the Champions for Education all got a shout outs from the Times Union as being important education resources. All that remains is for the outgoing board to name a school after him.

The Times Union dismisses teachers… again

The editors from the Times Union wrote an open letter to the incoming superintendent where they talked about all the positive education resources that Jacksonville has. They went on and on and at one point even mentioned themselves, heck I believe the kitchen sink got a shout out.

One group however they did not mention was the city’s teachers. You know that hard working group of men and women who have been on the front line and have had to endure the horrendous policies of the last superintendent and current school board over the years. You know those who were give all of the responsibility and none of the authority or support.

Once again the Times Union treats teachers as an after thought, heck make that gives no thought to teachers at all.

We are never going to improve as a district as long as we continue to marginalize and ignore our teachers and that's not hyperbole that's just how it is.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The problem with the American student of 2012 isn’t as cartoonishly simple as evil unions protecting bad teachers

From the Educator's Room, by John Kuhn
With the 2012-2013 American school year still in its infancy, it’s worthwhile to note that the people doing the actual educating are down in the dumps. Many feel more beaten down this year than last. Some are walking into their classrooms unsure if this is still the job for them. Their hearts ache with a quiet anguish that’s peculiarly theirs. They’ve accumulated invisible scars from years of trying to educate the increasingly hobbled American child effectively enough that his international test scores will rival those of children flourishing in wealthy, socially-advanced Scandinavian nations and even wealthier Asian city-states where tiger moms value education like American parents value fast food and reality TV.
The American child has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Many shrill voices argue that teachers must change, too, by simply working harder. The favored lever for achieving this prescribed augmentation of the American schoolteacher’s work ethic is fear, driven by a progressively more precarious employment situation.
But teachers by and large aren’t afraid; they’re just tired.
Meanwhile, no one is demanding American non-teachers change anything. Michelle Rhee wastes none of her vast supply of indignation on American public policies that leave a quarter of our children in poverty while, not coincidentally, the profits of Rhee’s corporate backers reach new heights. And no one but Paul Tough dares to hint at the obvious-but-politically-incorrect reality that a swelling army of kid-whipped or addiction-addled American parents have totally abdicated the job of parenting and have raised the white flag when it comes to disciplining their children or teaching them virtues like honesty, hard work, and self-respect. Americans have explicitly handed off character education to schoolteachers. Such a practice says a great deal about our nation’s expectations of its parents.
The problem with the American student of 2012 isn’t as cartoonishly simple as evil unions protecting bad teachers. Nor is it as abstract and intractable as poverty. The problem is as complex, concrete, and confront-able as the squalor and neglect and abuse and addiction that envelope too many American children from the time they step outside the schoolhouse door at 3:30pm until the moment they return for their free breakfast the next morning. Meanwhile, the campaign to understate the impact of devastating home and neighborhood factors on the education of our children has done little more than curtail any urgency to address those factors. “No excuses” hampers the development of a holistic wraparound approach that would foster education by addressing real needs rather than ideological wants, because it holds that such needs are mere pretexts and not actual challenges worthy of confronting.
Like many educators, I’ve smelled on my students the secondhand drugs that fill too many of their homes with bitterness and want. There is sometimes a literal pungency to low academic performance that remedial classes won’t scrub from our kids. But it isn’t kosher to declare that any parent is failing. And it isn’t okay to note that some families are disasters. So out of courtesy, the liberal says the problem is poverty and the conservative says it’s unions.
Truth is, the problem with the American student is the American adult. Deadbeat dads, pushover moms, vulgar celebrities, self-interested politicians, depraved ministers, tax-sheltering CEOs, steroid-injecting athletes, benefit-collecting retirees who vote down school taxes, and yes, incompetent teachers—all take their turns conspiring to neglect the needs of the young in favor of the wants of the old. The line of malefactors stretches out before our children; they take turns dealing them drugs, unhealthy foods, skewed values messages, consumerist pap, emotional and physical and sexual traumas, racist messages of aspersion for their cultures, and countless other strains of vicious disregard. Nevertheless, many pundits and politicians are happy to train their rhetorical fire uniquely on the teachers, and the damnable hive-feast on the souls of our young continues unabated. We’re told not to worry because good teachers will simply overcome this American psychic cannibalism and drag our hurting children across the finish line ahead of the Finnish lions.
Yeah, right.
Today, teachers across the land dutifully cast their seeds on ever-rockier ground. We were all told that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and we all became adamant about education; but no one told us not to waste kids’ hearts or weaken their spines or soften their guts, and we long ago abandoned our traditional cultural expectations for children’s formation. I’m not calling for picket fences and Leave it to Beaver; I’m calling for childhoods that aren’t dripping with pain and disenchantment and a huge chasm where there should have been character-building experiences from the age of zero to five. That aren’t marked by an empty space where there should have been a disciplinarian. And a gap where there should have been a rocking chair and a soft lap waiting when the child was hurting. I am referring to missing ingredients that I now recognize as the absolute essentials, things I took for granted when I was too young to realize I had won the parent lottery.
Adults—not merely teachers—have caused these little ones to stumble, but journalists and nonprofits and interloping government experts offer not a hand to the young but rather a cat-of-nine-tails across the backs of their teachers. Injustice for teachers is confused with justice for kids.
Waiting for ‘Superman’” told teachers they were terrible, callous, and incompetent, that only magnanimous charter school operatives could save victimized children from their rapacious clutches.
NCLB told teachers they would only be considered successful if 100% of their students passed 100% of their tests.
Condoleezza Rice told teachers they were so ineffective that they were a national security threat.
Chris Christie told teachers that when two or more of them gather, they are thugs. Suddenly, the apple-themed knit sweater is a symbol of American menace rivaling the leather biker jacket.
“Won’t Back Down” actors Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhall, Ving Rhames, and Holly Hunter used their art to communicate that teachers only want union protections so they can lock poor children in closets, and that the only way to protect children from the plague of heartless unionized miscreants mal-educating them across this land is by letting their parents hand over local schools to wholly benevolent charter school operators led by the friendly Mother Teresas behind Parent Revolution.
Teachers learned from Bobby Jindal that public schools are so lousy that Louisiana is better off paying for its children to attend private schools that no state official has ever visited, that teach any curriculum whatsoever, and that are exempt from any accountability mechanisms at all because, you know, the free market will ensure their quality. (Though choice will allow children to vote with their feet by leaving public schools too, you can bet that arcane accountability measures will remain firmly in place for them.)
StudentsFirst told America to distrust its teachers.
Eric Hanushek told America that larger class sizes will improve education and, gee-whiz, they’re cheaper too, so why wouldn’t we grow them? Bill Gates seconded the motion.
Barack Obama told teachers he hated teaching to the test, and then he built Race to the Top of Test Mountain.
The educators I’ve known aren’t the goats they’re held up to be. There are certainly goats, and they’ve made a terrible mess of things. There are indeed Americans doing grievous harm to children; they just don’t happen to always be their teachers.
We feel uncomfortable being honest about who they are and what they do (and neglect to do) to devastate these babies. So we usually don’t speak out about it. We leave out the damning details because they are unkind.
When it comes to America’s shamefully overflowing crop of ravaged children, trembling pundits, bumbling policy-crafters, and bombastic governors lead us in a chorus in which we either blame their teachers, or we blame something amorphous like poverty, or we blame no one. It is impolite to point at the blood dripping from the hands of well-meaning devastators when they happen to go by names like Mom and Dad.
And so we fix nothing.
The American schoolteacher is exhausted. I am exhausted.
Tom Petty once sang, “Let me up, I’ve had enough.”
That. Please.

The education rhetoric that obscures what’s really going

From AlterNet, by Kristin Rawls

5 Biggest Lies About America's Public Schools -- Debunked

Here's the truth behind 5 of the most destructive myths about public education.

Just weeks into the 2012-2013 school year education issues are already playing a starring role in the national conversation about America’s future. Because it’s an election year, the presidential candidates have been busy pretending there are many substantial distinctions between them on education policy (actually, the differences are rguably minimal). Meanwhile, the striking Chicago Teachers Union helped thrust teachers unions into the national spotlight, with union-buster Democrat Mayor Rahm Emanuel reminding us that, these days, Republicans and Democrats frequently converge on both education policy and labor-unfriendliness.
Since pundits and politicians often engage in education rhetoric that obscures what’s really going on, here are five corrections to some of the more egregious claims you may have recently heard.
Lie #1: Unions are undermining the quality of education in America.
Teachers unions have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but as education professor Paul Thomas of Furman University tells AlterNet, “The anti-union message…has no basis in evidence.” In fact, Furman points out, “Union states tend to correlate with higher test scores.” As a 2010 study conducted by Albert Shanker Fellow Matthew Di Carlo found, “[T]he states in which there are no teachers covered under binding agreements score lower [on standardized assessment tests] than the states that have them… If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a positive effect on achievement” – by as much as three to five points in reading and math at varying grade levels.
Even so, Thomas doesn’t believe that high test-scores should be taken as the primary indication that union teachers are good for kids, noting that “union states tend to be less burdened by poverty while ‘right-to-work’ (non-union) states are disproportionately high-poverty” – and poverty, as we well know, has its own, profound impact on student performance.  
For these reasons among others, union presence can never be isolated as the sole relevant factor in producing higher student achievement. But teachers unions are still important to student success. Why? Most importantly, perhaps, because they fight for equality of opportunity in education by, for example, opposing attempts to resegregate American schools. One of the reasons the CTU so resolutely opposed the school closures Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education threatened was because closures have proven to have disastrous consequences for displaced students in Chicago, who are generally forced to move from one underfunded, low-performing school to another. Teachers unionsoppose such injustices because they support the rights of all children to have access to high-quality education -- not just the kids whose parents can afford high property taxes. That’s a good thing for America’s education system, not a bad one.
Lie #2: Your student’s teacher has an easy and over-compensated job.
One talking point that circulated around the Chicago teachers’ strike was that public school teachers are overpaid for easy jobs with plentiful time off. This is a longstanding gem that has little basis in fact. As political scientist Corey Robin of Brooklyn College/CUNY Graduate Center writes in the Washington Post, when he was growing up his affluent childhood community was embattled every year because the community so looked down on teachers. “Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game” in the minds of local parents and the assumption, according to Robin, was “there could be only one reason for that: they were losers.”
But is teaching actually overcompensated? It’s hard to imagine how. The New York Times points out that “The average primary-school teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of an average college-educated worker in the United States.” (And given the student debt bubble currently crippling so many young people, this is and will remain an area of real concern for recruiting future teachers.) And notably, the Times points out, the ratio of teacher pay to that of other college graduates is wider in the U.S. than in most other developed countries.
Let’s not forget, too, the very long work hours that define most teaching jobs. Former high school English teacher Carrie Rogers tells AlterNet that most of the young teachers she’s known in North Carolina “leave the profession after their second child” because of the extensive demands on their time. She says the “amount of time and effort it takes to teach effectively is [no longer possible] by the time they have two kids.” A “teacher's salary…minus two daycare bills for the total amount of time [teachers] spend at work doesn't work.” In many states, teacher pay falls into a lower-middle income bracket, and Rogers says teachers “never work 40 hour weeks. They spend nights grading; Saturdays and evenings at grad school and continuing [education] programs; and lunch hours monitoring cafeterias.”
Overcompensated? By whose standards?
Lie #3: If your child doesn’t get picked in a charter school lottery, he or she is doomed.
The popular film Waiting for ‘Superman characterizes charter schools as a silver bullet perfectly positioned to save public education -- if only they could replace traditional public schools as quickly as possible. The film picks up on the consequences of social inequality, but goes a step further, presuming that traditional public schools cannot be redeemed, and charters are the last hope for education.
Yet as it turns out, there’s no proof that charter schools are intrinsically better than traditional public schools. A 2009 Stanford study found that charter school students generally perform no better than students attending traditional public schools. In fact, the study found, “academic growth in 37 percent of charter schools is significantly worse than traditional public schools. In addition, 46 percent of charter schools have the same academic results as traditional public schools. The six states with the largest number of charter schools—Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas—fared most poorly in the study.”
But in spite of the evidence to the contrary, the public is often told that charter schools are indeed a better option than traditional publics. That’s what has caused so much trouble in the affluent Silicon Valley school district where Eric Lundberg’s children are enrolled. Lundberg tells AlterNet, “The local school district is one of the best in the state…The district is committed to giving our students the best education possible and is supported by an amazing community.”
But Lundberg says the transformation of a public school into a charter school has caused major upheaval in the community. The charter school is currently demanding the closure of an excellent traditional school so it can take over the school building, but traditional school proponents are fighting back with some strong arguments on their side. First of all, Lundberg notes, the charter school doesn’t serve its “share of special needs or low income students” (privately run charter schools can – and frequently do – turn students away whom they fear may lower their standardized test scores, including students with disabilities). In addition, “They have an unelected board that is not accountable to anyone,” and “the board made what appears to be an illegal personal loan ($250,000) to the principal/superintendent.”
This isn’t just a problem in Silicon Valley; mismanagement and exclusionary policies have characterized the proliferation of charter schools throughout the U.S. Combine those facts with their dubious record of academic achievement and it’s clear charters just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Lie #4: Your child will automatically be better off if your school district adopts a “school choice” assignment plan. 
One way charters often take root in communities is that they’re introduced through “school choice” plans that purport to give parents a measure of autonomy in choosing their child’s school. In some cases, this means parents are offered vouchers that can be used to transfer public school dollars to private (often religiously affiliated) schools;  in other cases, parent are asked to select two or three of their top school choices, and will be assigned to one of them. The fact that poor parents working multiple jobs might not have the capacity to fully research their options is never discussed.
If this weren’t problematic enough, “choice” can cause other headaches for parents. In Wake County, NC, parents have widely expressed outrage about the effects of their temporarily instituted school choice plan. Promoted as “convenient” for families, in practice the plan has resulted in widespreadtransportation problems that have left students stranded at schools well into the evening hours. And in Harlem last month, parents complained to The New York Times that they were not given any “high-performing” school options to choose from in their much-touted school choice plan.
School choice tends to resonate with parents, but as Thomas tells AlterNet, “The evidence on choice shows [that]…parents do a terrible job with that choice.” This is in part because though market-based solutions like “choice” sound good on paper, they are rarely any match for the complex needs of our nation’s schools and the children they educate. And as Thomas has previously noted, both pro- and anti-school choice think-tanks and researchers are now finding that choice yields no academic gains. This has happened both at the local level (a conservative think tank called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute reported that it was “disappointed” to admit that school choice had failed in Milwaukee) and at the national level, as well. To prove this latter point, Thomas cites a voucher-specific 2008 study, the most comprehensive look at school choice done yet, which argues that,
“… what little evidence exists about the likely impact of a large-scale voucher program on the students who remain in the public schools is at best mixed… [and the] evidence to date from other forms of school choice is not much more promising. As such,…one should not anticipate large academic gains from this seemingly inexpensive reform.”  
The short of it? There is just no conclusive evidence that school choice programs actually work. Don’t get caught up in the hype.
Lie #5: Your student’s teacher sees your constructive involvement in your child’s education as an annoyance.
A narrative that pits parents and teachers against each other is part and parcel of the politicized rhetoric about education that you hear in the news. Educators have known for some time that parental involvement is a key component of student success. Indiana University’s Career and Postsecondary advancement centerreports that, “66 different studies came to one conclusion based on the evidence: families matter. Whether changing TV viewing habits, providing diverse readings materials around the house or volunteering at school, parents can help their children succeed as students.” But corporate reformers are actively promoting antagonistic relationships between parents and schools.
The Center for Public Education cites a 2008 study by the National Center for Education Statistics which found that parental involvement is one of the top predictors – if not the top predictor – of academic success. But common anti-teacher rhetoric has created some unproductive relationships between parents and teachers. Public school teacher Madeleine Bolden of the Atlanta area tells AlterNet that she’s noticed “parents becoming more adversarial with…teachers.” More than ever before, she says, “I have felt bashed by parents who mask either their children's failings or their own failings by the rhetoric” of school failure. Often, she says, parents approach teachers as if “we are doing everything wrong.”  
She concludes, “This kind of attitude erodes teacher student relationships in the classroom. When parents consistently put down the teacher,” it’s not easy for teachers and parents to “bond in a way that promotes optimal learning. Students are suffering as a result.”  
Whatever else you may have heard, the truth is, most teachers do welcome constructive parent involvement -- especially involvement that doesn’t put them on the defensive from the outset. The Center for Public Education cites a 2003 study: “Two-thirds of teachers surveyed (Public Agenda, 2003) believed that their students would perform better in school if their parents were more involved in their child’s education.” And the center notes further that “virtually all schools welcome parent involvement,” from attendance at teacher conferences to PTA membership to parental help with homework.
As with much of the other disinformation being spread about public education, the key here is to do your homework: Check in with your child’s teacher before there is a problem, and check the assumptions that he or she doesn’t want you there at the door. Most teachers will be glad to find that you’re an active, willing partner in your child’s education.

More tests coming for Florida's kids

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Leslie Postal

The FCAT, long Florida's most important and sometimes most reviled exam, is headed for a retirement of sorts.
But when the state shuts the door on the math, reading and writing sections of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, it will usher in a new set of tougher standardized exams in those same subjects.
So Florida's public school students still will be taking tests. In fact, they'll be taking more exams — and asked to do more on them, with writing and "show your work" math problems part of the mix in all grades 3 to 11.
Florida plans to begin pilot testing the new exams this school year, even as it weathers continued criticism that it tests students too much. The new tests are to replace corresponding FCAT exams in the spring of 2015.
They are meant to be better, more-comprehensive assessments. In both language arts and math, students are to take a series of exams with the scores combined into one final mark for each subject.
In language arts, for example, sixth graders will have three writing tasks — literary analysis, narrative writing and research simulation exercises — as well as an end-of-the-year reading comprehension exam.
The tests are to encourage a "close reading" of texts rather than "racing through the passages," and a focus on "words that matter most" rather than "obscure vocabulary," according to examples released on Monday.
They are also to provide students good-quality texts to read. One middle school example used the award-winning novel Julie of the Wolves.
The math tests aim to have a strong focus on important topics "instead of randomly sampling a mile-wide array of topics."
Both exams will include some paper and pencil work but lots of computer-based items, with students clicking, "dragging and dropping" and shading text, among other options.
"They are designed to be work worth doing rather than a distraction from good work," said Laura Slover, senior vice president of Achieve, the management partner for the new exams, in a statement.
The introduction of the new tests will come at a time when the state is facing increasing criticism about what some call its "testing mania." Some complain the state relies too heavily on scores from one-day FCAT exams to make key education decisions, from student promotion to teacher evaluations.
The criticism reached a high point this spring after the state ratcheted up scoring standards for FCAT and the FCAT-based grading formula for schools.
State leaders pushed for those changes, they said, to get Florida ready for what's coming in three years.
The new exams may answer some of the criticism as they move away from a one-day snapshot of academic skills and aim to provide a more complete picture of student achievement. But with more exams, they may heighten the criticism that testing eats up too much of the school year.
The tests are tied to "Common Core," new, national academic standards that Florida and most other states have adopted. They aim to judge whether students are on track for "college and career readiness."
Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said the Common Core standards "gets us in the right direction."
But he said most of the teachers union's criticism of FCAT is not about the test but about "how the test is used." Those complaints likely would remain, if the new tests continue to be used to make high-stakes decisions.
The new tests are being created by Florida and 22 other states in a cooperative arrangement they call Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known by its acronym PARCC.
For Florida students, the most obvious change will be more language arts and the math exams, some given in late winter and some given very close to the school year's end, said Vince Verges, Florida's PARCC director.
Students in all grades are to write more than they do on FCAT, as they are to be asked to read texts and then write responses. Currently only students in grades 4, 8 and 10 take FCAT writing, an essay-writing exam. Students will also be asked to write on the math exams, explaining how they reached their answers.
"We hope it's a bit more authentic and in keeping with the college and career ready expectations," Verges said.
For high school students, PARCC end-of-course math exams in algebra 1 and geometry will replace the state's end-of-course exams in those subjects. PARCC also will include an end-of-course exam in algebra 2. or 407-420-5273.

Rita Solnet, Change a School Change a Neighborhood

By Rita Solnet
"Change a school, change the neighborhood.”
That's a line from the controversial, star-studded movie, "Won't Back Down," scheduled to be released on September 28th.
I attended a Washington D.C. screening of this compelling movie over the weekend.  I carried a small notebook and a long list of preconceived notions about what I expected to see in this film. I walked out with a long list of of questions as to what I didn't see portrayed in the film.
The synopsis describes this movie as: "Two determined mothers,  one a teacher,  who look to transform their children's failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education of their children.”
However, the messages in this feel-good, underdog-winning movie go far beyond what this summary depicts.

Within the first few minutes, projected on the screen in large letters are the words, "Inspired By True Events.”   That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere in our nation.  That never happened.  I suppose that sells better than opening the film with, "This is Fictitious.”
Outstanding performances by star-studded and new young actors will put this movie on the Academy Award nomination list, I'm sure. The actors did a superb job of drawing you into the movie.
 I cried several times despite knowing that this movie was funded by charter school privatizers seeking fistfuls of dwindling education dollars.
I cried despite knowing that the story behind the “failing” school was not told.
I knew that the divisive and unsuccessful “parent trigger” laws that have been passed in California and a few other states — and are being considered in about 20 others — was intentionally disguised in this movie as a fictitious law cleverly named "Fail-Safe," yet I still wept.
 I wanted to jump into the movie and help these moms win.  The audience audibly cheered for the underdogs every step of the way. Who wouldn't?  Moms in the face of adversity knocking down barriers to help their kids chances for a better future.  Of course, I'm on their side. 
Unfortunately, this film depicts a story that is more about good vs. evil than about the truth behind public schools today and the movement to privatize them. Portraying a complex public education system as irretrievably broken — and blaming abusive, older teachers and their rabidly protective unions is much easier than illustrating the complicated truth, I suppose. 
Realities that make true school reform so hard were left out of the film.
Despite many classroom scenes, you never once saw a child even taking a test — and we know that standardized tests take many weeks out of instructional time, with even more for test prep.
You never heard why the school was labeled "failing" or what the criteria was for receiving a “failing” grade. Instead you heard teachers in their unusually large break room complain about other teachers who had "the highest salary with the lowest performance.”   You heard comments like, "We don't coach teachers here; we protect teachers.”
As a parent volunteer in public schools for 16 years, it startled me not to see anyone working on the problems together in this movie. I didn't see parents talking to teachers to help improve the school. No sign or talk of School Advisory Councils, of PTAs, not even parent friends talking to each other over coffee about how they could organize to speak to the principal or district or board to improve the school. Not all principals are underhanded and despicable as they are in this movie.
There were no scenes or discussions of parents at school board meetings to formally complain and formally request solutions be put in place. When you organize and speak as a group, you can be heard.
Why was this mom and teacher's first step to conduct a takeover?   Because it is fiction.
Yet I worry about the dynamic a movie like this creates.
Will this movie launch open season by shrewd for-profit charter operators — including some with abysmal academic records — to stir a commotion and skip directly to the takeover step?
Disgruntled parents and guardians will see this film that is supposedly "Inspired by True Events”  (but those events are never mentioned or referenced) and think it's appropriate to storm the school board to demand a school takeover.
But before our nation agrees that it is a neat idea for parents to demand takeovers, everybody has to know the real issues that caused the problems. People can choose to blame teachers unions, but they should remember that the problems people are trying to fix in public education are the same in states with unions and without unions.
Are there teachers who don’t belong in a classroom? Yes. They should be removed. But the difficulties that schools face are long and deep, and they start with the impoverished conditions in which many children live. That doesn’t mean kids can’t learn. It does mean that ignoring their issues will make it much harder for even a great teacher to reach them.
There is no question that  children who need help should get it now. But the answer isn’t the parent trigger. In fact, in Florida earlier this year, an effort to pass a parent trigger law died afternot a single major parent organization — including the PTA — endorsed it for fear it would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies.
Of course we need parent involvement in improving schools. But that isn’t enough.
We need significant change at the state and federal level. The failed No Child Left Behind bill, which has been sucking the life force out of our public education system, must end once and for all, and many of the policies states adopted to win federal dollars in President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative must be reversed.
And parents, grandparents, retired educators, and local citizens can partner with schools to improve the quality of public education. That creates good will among citizens vs. divisiveness, turmoil, and uncertainty inherent in a parent takeover.
"Change a school; change a neighborhood.”   I'd modify that to  'Change school reform rules; change a neighborhood.”

Education Nation, style over substance

From the Nation, by Donald Earl Collins 
This weekend, for the third year in a row, NBC will kick off their Education Nation Week in New York City. It will involve MSNBC's rising stars like Melissa Harris-Perry, Chuck Todd and Alex Wagner. It will include a two-day summit broken down into a series of case studies about the various issues in K-12 education and how to improve it for America's children. It will also include a teacher town hall and a student town hall.
In the end, it will all be a staged pageant of concern about kids, a subliminal message of corporatized education reform, a series of half-baked ideas that wouldn't have been good for schools a hundred years ago, much less now. I don't normally trash events before they begin, but I've seen this movie before. It's the one that's been given a bad title, a poor script worked on by five writers, with poor character development, mediocre actors and a wholly implausible ending.
NBC's Education Nation Week fits all of those because its hosts know about as much about the nuances of education as I do about the interactions of neutrinos with the Higgs boson particle. The week-long event is sponsored by University of Phoenix, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ExxonMobil, Target, Citi and the General Motors Foundation (the last one as a "Knowledge Partner"). Seriously? A for-profit institution with a ten (10) percent graduation rate? The biggest funder of ill-conceived education reform efforts, ones that have little chance of actually creating better conditions for teachers to effectively teach students of all stripes? Not to mention a bunch of corporations that have little incentive to reform public education for America's low-income students in a way that would truly level the playing field? Are you kidding me?
In light of the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike and the serious issues that the union, Chicago's parents and the local (notthe national) media raised about the corporate-based assumptions behind education reform, NBC's should (but won't) call off this year's Education Nation Week. High-stakes testing and a concentration on teacher effectiveness as reflected by test scores is the mantra of the mainstream education reform movement these days. Along with charter schools as "choice" for low-income families, battles to weaken teacher's unions, an insistence on STEM fields as the content-based focus of reform, and the creation of a standard curriculum that is neither standard nor a full curriculum.
All in all, a prescription that would make the technocrats at the Gates Foundation and ExxonMobil feel better. But given the lack of funding at the state and federal level these days for everyday school needs -- much less funding to implement such reforms -- it simply cannot work. Without any concentration on critical thinking, writing comprehension skills, physical education, music, art, creativity, the leaders and hosts of Education Nation Week expect teachers and students to do more with less in a system that was never meant to work for most students in the first place.
Harris-Perry's all-over-the-place commentary on the CTU strike in The Nation this week is an example of media ignorance of what reforms would actually look like in the long-term, even in the case of a prominent political science professor. Her piece "Casualties in the Education Reform Wars" is based on a suffer-the-little-children (and parents) premise that demonizes all sides of the education deform battles. It shows that she has little understanding of education history, policy and politics.
This is by far the most disappointing piece I've ever read by Harris-Perry. It's a piece based purely on emotion, and not on the challenges that educational policy/politics have forced on teachers, administrators, students and parents. A system based on high-stakes testing and the corporatized education reform movement doesn't work for anyone. Evaluating teachers based primarily on exams created by technocrats from afar and taken by their students means a watery gruel of education for all of our kids.
Unlike Harris-Perry, cursing all sides isn't an option for most of us. Engaging and engaged teachers, school leaders, and yes, being involved in our kids' education is where we need to start. Holding our politicians' feet to the fire on real education reform is another piece. And also, holding columnists' feet to the fire when they write a piece short on facts and long on hand-wringing when writing on educational issues is something we as parents and educators must do. Especially since folks like Harris-Perry only write about these issues after a strike or a tragedy.
I can guarantee, sadly, that NBC's Education Nation Week, with the vapid thinking of thinkers like Harris-Perry involved, will be yet another media event devoid of substance and full of style points. In other words, endless drivel.

And we wonder where the money went

Won't Back Down by the numbers

From Save Our Schools: Education Activism Resources

Won't Back Down has opened! Here's a little required reading:

Why is there controversy surrounding the movie “Won’t Back Down”?
Many people believe that the film “Won’t Back Down” promotes the notion that privatizing public schools will improve them, capitalizing on and exacerbating a political climate in which teachers are unjustly disparaged and blamed for the effects of poverty and the inequality of educational resources & opportunities for children across the United States.

What is “Won’t Back Down” about?
The film tells a story about a group of parents and teachers who use a law often referred to as the “Parent Trigger” in order to take over a school that is failing their children. While the movie is billed as being “Inspired By Actual Events,” it is only an inspiring work of fiction.

Who Is Behind “Won’t Back Down”?
“Won’t Back Down” is produced by Walden Media (owned by Philip Anschutz) and is distributed by 20th Century Fox (owned by Rupert Murdoch). Mr. Anschutz also co-produced the controversial film Waiting for "Superman" in 2010, which is often derided as “anti-teacher.” After taking over his father’s drilling business in 1961, Mr. Anschutz became a natural gas billionaire and major proponent of laws that permit hydraulic fracturing (commonly referred to as “fracking”) across the nation. He also contributes to organizations that oppose gay rights and support teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution in public schools.

What does the Parent Trigger do?
The Parent Trigger Law enables parents, when they present a petition to local authorities with at least 51% of parent signatures, to force one or more of the following actions: 1) The school district replaces the leadership & half the staff (district turnaround); 2) The school is closed; 3) An outside agency is hired to convert the school into a charter school.

From where did the Parent Trigger come?
The Parent Trigger was first conceived by a Los Angeles-based organization called Parent Revolution (founded by a charter school operator and funded by the Eli Broad, Sam Walton, & @Bill Mels). The legislation was introduced in California by then-State Senator Gloria Romero, who now heads the California branch of the pro-privatization organization, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Parent Trigger legislation, promoted by conservative organizations like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), has been passed in a handful of states, including California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, (but not Pennsylvania, where the film takes place) and is being considered in others (

Has the Parent Trigger worked before?
As of today, there have been only two instances when the Parent Trigger was put into effect. Both attempts happened in California and neither attempt was successful. In both instances, efforts were led by billionaire-funded supporters of public school privatization and have sparked acrimony and division in their respective local communities. Opponents of Parent Revolution refer to the Los Angeles-based nonprofit as an "astroturf" organization fronting for outsiders who want to privatize public education (Astroturf: well-funded non-profit organization that falsely claims to have grown organically from the grassroots). The first time the Parent Trigger was attempted, Parent Revolution paid folks to go into Compton, CA to ask parents to sign a petition asserting that their local elementary school should be turned into a charter school. Some parents who signed the petition said later that they been misled and, after becoming mired in lawsuits, momentum ultimately fizzled ( More recently, folks paid by Parent Revolution urged parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, CA to sign two different petitions. One petition called for smaller classes and other positive reforms, while the other petition demanded that the school be turned over to a charter school operator. After Parent Revolution submitted only the latter petition to local authorities, nearly 100 parents asked to withdraw their signatures. Even Gloria Romero, the author of the Parent Trigger law, criticized Parent Revolution’s tactics, saying that the use of two separate petitions was “needlessly confusing.” ( 

What’s wrong with Parent Trigger?
Most parents want to see their neighborhood public schools strengthened with small classes and less emphasis on standardized testing. Even Ben Austin, the Director of Parent Revolution, has admitted that most parents are not interested in turning their community’s schools into charter schools, but would rather focus on improving them as they are ( Some question why a public school, which is built and maintained with taxpayer funds, should be handed over to a private concern only because 51% of current parents are persuaded to sign a petition.

What about Parent Empowerment?
Parents usually have less input into charter schools than public schools. Many impose harsh disciplinary procedures and some support religious activities. According to a major study out of Stanford University, only one in six charter schools are more successful than nearby public schools and have even less accountability to parents. If a parent is unhappy at a public school, they may go to the principal, the superintendent, the school board, or even the state. At a charter school, parents can go no higher than an individual charter school’s board of directors. If a child is bullied, punished unfairly, or has been expelled unjustly (which sometimes happens in anticipation of state tests to ensure higher scores), the parent must either return the child to the local public school or search for another charter school. Either way, the parent is alone. Organizations like Save Our Schools (, Parents Across rosAmerica - North Carolina, & United Opt Out National support true parent empowerment with real solutions devised from the ground up, not imposed from on high (

What about Teacher Unions?
NC is a right-to-work state, which means that there is no collective bargaining or striking allowed. Unlike the story portrayed in “Won’t Back Down,” it is not necessary for parents to rise up against teachers and their unions in order to improve our schools. Because teacher’s unions do not exist in every state, the argument that unions are impeding our student’s education is a fallacy. In reality, the US states with the lowest student test scores are also the ONLY states without teacher unions.

How Can I Help?
Last spring, Florida parent groups, including Parents Across America, banded together to fight Parent Trigger legislation that had been introduced in the state legislature. By holding rallies and press conferences, calling elected representatives, and speaking out about how the Parent Trigger benefits charter operators and not children, Florida parents prevented the legislation from being passed ( Speak out in your state to give real parents a real voice. We need real change in our schools, not false solutions.

One Parent’s Reaction:
"’Won’t Back Down’ really nailed the frustration of both parents and teachers with the school system and its lack of results for students. As I'm getting ready to put my child in her first days of third grade, what bothered me about the movie is that, if a parent can get all those signatures, make t-shirts for hundreds, and get teachers on board to change the school, couldn't she have started a seriously killer PTA?! If she was able to get over 150 parental signatures and have them come out for a televised march on the school, couldn't she get those very same parents to participate in the school culture itself and make changes that way? All before fomenting a coup d'etat in the hood? With all the time Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character spent outside of the school getting those signatures, couldn't she have been in the classroom volunteering, setting up a school breakfast or just helping around the school for whatever they needed? Perhaps if she had volunteered in the classroom or spent time with the teacher, she could have found either that the teacher could be worked with or through her perseverance and relationship with the school, found a way for her daughter to be transferred out. Schools actually do try to accommodate reasonable requests."