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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

America's education priorities

A third of Jason Fischer’s campaign contributions come from outside the city.

He raised 30 and 10 came from outside the city. It is troubling that so much money came into his campaign from people he can’t represent, or make that, he shouldn't represent.

Ashley Smith-Juarez rakes in 35 grand from outside Duval

A quick look at her financial disclosure forms and we find that Mrs. Smith-Juarez brought in about 35 grand from outside the city limits.

Jenkins on the other hand brought in a smidge over 4,000 from outside the city.

I find it troubling that so much outside money is being funneled into the Smith-Juarez campaign from outside the city especially since so little of the other money she raised came from public school parents and teachers inside the city. It makes me wonder who she is really going to represent.

Anne Romney: Let teachers eat cake

From Think Progress, by John Israel
Ann Romney told Good Housekeeping magazine that the campaign issue closest to her heart is taking on teachers unions and dismantling public education as we know it. In an interview, she told the publication:
I’ve been a First Lady of the State. I have seen what happens to people’s lives if they don’t get a proper education. And we know the answers to that. The charter schools have provided the answers. The teachers’ unions are preventing those things from happening, from bringing real change to our educational system. We need to throw out the system.
This attack on public school teachers echoes one that has been frequently heard in her husband’s stump speeches and debates. In his Friday economic speech, he said “It matters for the child in a failing school, unable to go to the school of his parent’s choosing, because the teacher’s union that funds the President’s campaign opposes school choice.”
Both Romneys have it wrong. President Obama has also consistently supported charter schoolsas a supplement to traditional schools. In May, he declared in his “Charter School Week” proclamation, “charter schools serve as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country.” Obama has opposed, however, proposals to take taxpayer money out of public schools and to fund private and parochial schools that do not have to achieve the same standards. Romney has embraced a risky school voucher scheme. Studies have also shown thatcharter schools may not necessarily improve children’s education.
Unlike Mitt Romney, President Obama’s campaign has not taken a single contribution from political action committees — teachers’ unions or otherwise. The National Education Association’s super PAC, NEA Advocacy Fund, has not made a single expenditure on the presidential race. While some individuals employed by the union have donated to the Obama campaign out of their personal funds, those contributions amount to less than one 1/100th of a percent of his total contributions.
Mitt Romney has made the questionable boast that as governor of Massachusetts, he made the state’s public schools number one in the nation. Those schools — with great union teachers — show that standards and certification are part of the solution, not the problem.

Who is Kim Ward and why should we listen to anything she has to say?

Don’t you just love foundations that are named after the people that founded them? The Michael and Kim Ward foundation comes to mind. I kid a little but I do wonder why rich people should think we should listen to them just because they are rich.

Mrs. Ward wrote a letter to the Times Union expressing outrage about the Jenkins (3) and Fischer (7) school board campaigns. Coincidently enough she also mentioned she is supporting the Ashley Smith- Juarez (3) and the John Heymnn (7) campaigns. Um, yeah, hmm.

You will have to forgive me if I find this a little incongruent. For the most part the same people who are supporting Fischer, charter school groups, politician that don’t live here and other outside interests are also supporting Smith-Juarez. Furthermore the same people that are supporting Jenkins, local parents and businesses and the ones supporting Heymann. Mrs. Ward is all across the board. She is basically saying I support Obama and I’ll go ahead and support Romney too. Rich people really are different.

Mrs. Ward also comes off as a hypocrite too. The mail out supporting Jenkins that Ward complains about came out months ago. Shouldn’t she have expressed her outrage then? But worse the mail out supporting Jenkins was correct. Make no doubt about it Gary Chartrand and outside interests are trying to buy a school board seat. Look at Mrs. Smith-Juarez’s donors list and if you had any doubts they will be quelled.

Visiting the Michael and Kim Ward foundation web-site it looks like she has a good and noble mission but rather than interjecting herself into politics, she should probably concentrate on that.

Jason Fischer, candidate district 7, thinks I should run CSX

If you go to his website, he says: As a businessman and a concerned parent, I believe that I can provide the leadership necessary to transform our schools from failure into success.

First our schools aren’t failures, do they have issues, yes, are some struggling, yes, but failures, not even close and many of the issues our schools are experiencing are because of the policies of his backers, Bush, Thrasher and Wise but more on this in the future.

I am a teacher and have been on a train; maybe I should run CSX, where Mr. Fischer works. Or wait I have been to the doctor, maybe I could start performing surgeries. Instead of running for school board, maybe I should have run to be a judge, why not; I have seen a lot of Law and Order.

Education is the one field that people who have nothing or very little to do with think to themselves, hey I can run that or do that and it is partly because of this mindset we are in trouble.

The truth is we need people like Mr. Fischer to be involved, to donate their time and to give ideas but just like we wouldn’t want me running a hospital we don’t want people like Mr. Fischer running our schools.

6 Reasons not to vote for Ashley Smith Juarez for school board

1. She raised 142 thousand dollars, or roughly four years worth of school board salary. Some might argue this just shows her popularity but if you examine who gave her the money, very few were teachers and public school parents. The vast majority and that says a lot because of how much she raised came from the gated community crowd whose disdain for public education is readily apparent. She isn't so much running for the seat, more like she is attempting to buy it.

2. Her mentor is Gary Chartrand. Mr. Chartrand is the go with his gut facts be damned chairman of education appointed by Rick Scott and where that should be enough I’ll give you a little more. Friends he went from top fifty in grocery store news to running our schools and now he wants to put his protégé on the school board. To say he knows very little about how education works would be insulting to people who know very little about how education works. He is for race based academic goals, high stakes testing, larger classes and doesn't think teachers are professionals, that their experience and education should count for nothing.

3. She was endorsed by Jeb Bush. You know the former governor who has had his Florida miracle debunked, whose high stakes testing mantra has met resistance statewide and who compared teaching children to picking milk.

4. She isn’t for fixing public schools she is for privatizing public schools. More charter schools, more vouchers, less local control, larger classes, teachers without experience or education and merit pay are all tenets of the corporate reform movement that she embraces.

5. She’s less than honest. On the Shannon Ogden show when talking about her experience she mentioned she taught at an independent school. Um friends that school was Bolles. Was she afraid nobody in Jacksonville had ever heard about it before? And if she is going to be disingenuous about that, well what else is there? Then in an interview on channel 4 she said she was a small business owner and didn't mention her association with the Chartrand Foundation. This shortly after Chartrand came out for Race Based academic goals.

6. Finally have you heard her speak? She has really mastered talking for three minutes without saying anything. And if you don’t believe me ask her to answer a specific question about education and see if you don’t get anything but, and every child deserves a first class education as an answer. How do we improve reading? Every child deserves a first class education. What do we do about discipline? Every child deserves a first class education. And so on and on and on it will go…

I used to love teaching, now not so much

From Middle Grades Mastery, by Kris Nielsen

 I love teaching. Or, I did love teaching. I loved teaching when my job was to teach. Now, I don’t love teaching, because my job is no longer teaching.

Was that introduction awkward enough? That’s kind of how my job feels: awkward, frustrating, backwards, stifling, and redundant. Breaking away from the comparison to the introduction, I’d like to add demeaning, thankless, exhausting, fruitless, unappreciated, lonely, undemocratic, unfulfilling, and major energy drain.
But, please, let me explain my whining. I’m not generally a whiner, so I feel that when I do moan and complain, I should have some good reasons, and maybe even some solutions. (Before you get your hopes up, I’m not going to offer any solutions. I’ve tried that; it’s pointless.)
I look back and I believe that my entry into the world of teaching had the worst possible timing. I got my teaching certificate late 2006 and spent the first two years of my career teaching Earth science to 6th graders. I created my own curriculum, based loosely on the New Mexico state standards. My kids loved it! I kept them busy with hands-on, student centered learning that built vocabulary and concepts along the way. I based my lessons on real-life problems, invited community scientists into my classroom, let students create their own projects, and had a solid stream of parent volunteers and visitors in and out of my door. My students led their own parent conferences, with me sitting close by to monitor the discussion and answer clarifying questions. My students had good grades and, much less importantly, had high scores on the New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment at the end of the year.
After two years, I believed I had gained enough valuable experience to become more mobile. A college professor told me that teaching was awesome because you could go anywhere in the United States and always have a job. So, I gave my colleagues a fond farewell and moved to Oregon, a state that I had always dreamed of living in. I was lucky to get my job there—I beat out over 80 other applicants to teach math to middle school kids. I taught the Connected Math curriculum and worked closely with a group of professionals who shared my goals. It was awesome. I taught math like I taught science: hands-on, student-centered, constructivist, discovery learning. Again, I saw great success, especially with minority students and English language learners. I had students coming from the high school thanking me for giving them hope when they were sure they wouldn’t make it past 9th grade. Two girls—children of immigrant parents—told me they knew they would be the first to go to college in their families, and they thanked me for it. Teaching in Oregon was amazing.
Then, the floor fell out. I could blame conservatives for the bone-cutting budget reductions, but it was everyone’s fault. My district found itself in deep shortfall and cut over 350 teaching jobs. Having been there only two years, I was on the chopping block. My principal was dismayed, my colleagues were shocked, parents were mad, and kids were upset. My union was apparently powerless, despite my pleas, to do anything. Seniority stays. I was not seniority.
In shock and sadness, I spent over four months looking for a job. I filled out over 300 applications and had three interviews. Those three interviews represented my competition with hundreds of displaced teachers. I was not hired. So, I looked outside the Oregon state borders. After a Google search for cities that were hiring teachers, Charlotte, North Carolina was number two. I went from looking at the nine classified jobs in Salem, Oregon (none of which I could do), to sifting through over 350 teaching jobs in Charlotte. It was mindblowing. How did this city need so many teachers? I applied for about 15 jobs, got callbacks on ten, and interviewed over the phone with three. The first interview landed me a job over the phone. My family and I packed up and drove across the country.
Let me emphasize that: my incredibly supportive (and adventurous) family sacrificed and adjusted just so I could keep teaching.
It was an exciting and daunting prospect and I was nervous. The staff at my new school was pleasant, helpful, and upbeat. The district orientation was disheartening (I felt like I was being hired at Kmart). The students were initially eager and well-behaved. The union was non-existent, which I didn’t really mind after my ordeal in Oregon. The administrators were generally professional and friendly, with only a minor “corporate” stench. I felt good about the arrangement.
What they didn’t tell me in orientation was that I would not have time to teach anything meaningful. I was hired to teach science and the exact same math I had taught in Oregon, but this was different. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a district that is drowning in its own mandates, risk-taking, and testing culture. I think CMS is a microcosm of what’s to come in American education. It’s depressing. I didn’t like it, so I did some research. An adjacent district was hiring some math and science people and I was attracted to two main things: it was closer to home and they had rolled out a one-to-one laptop initiative recently. Every student was carrying a laptop in class every day. I had to get into one of those classrooms!
To make that story short, I did. It’s no different. Despite the lofty ideals and motivating speeches from administration, everything is the same. I’m not an educator, by the definition I had comes to terms with; I’m an employee of a system that has an agenda. My job is to frontload a small encyclopedia of knowledge to a group of students so that they can pass a test at the end of the year. There are now more shallow and meaningless tests, and my job now depends on the scores. That’s not teaching. That’s not what I do.
I’ve heard this several times already: “If you’re teaching students to learn and letting them discover the knowledge, then shouldn’t they be able to pass those tests easily?” At first, I thought, “Yeah! Totally!” But after trying it, I don’t think it makes sense. Standardized tests are rigidly specific in the knowledge kids should have. They are bent way over into the realm of vocabulary and multiple-choice answers–and they don’t even come close to teaching 21st century skills. If I teach my kids how to think and how to learn, then they will not be prepared to pass state tests, because that’s not what those tests are measuring. The tests measure two things: memory and application. The second one is important, but not in a multiple-choice or short-answer sphere.
So that’s the long story. Here are some more reasons I can’t do this anymore.
I’ve gotten to the point where I feel good about how a lesson played out, only to check my email afterwards to find no fewer than five menial tasks that I must dedicate my time to. This is time when I should be planning more lessons, conferencing with parents, and learning.
I fight against poverty every day, knowing that I can’t save everyone. And no one in power seems to care. All I hear are excuses. I hate excuses.  I’m teetering on the poverty line myself, always running out of money by the third week of the month. And my family lives very frugally.
I have no health coverage for my family, because it would cost over a quarter of my pay.
My take home pay is roughly equivalent to that of a full-time customer service manager at Wal-mart. I make less if you take into account the hours I work.
I worked diligently through a master’s degree program to increase my efficacy as a teacher. I was rewarded with being treated like a disposable cog in a broken gear.
My coworkers are downtrodden and frustrated.
My students are falling apart. They have little hope. I don’t blame them. They are reminded every year of their failure to pass meaningless tests and they watch the news that tells them they are dumber than the rest of the world. That piece of information is not true, by any means, but you can tell it affects them. And no one stands up to tell them they are doing fine.
I wanted to be part of the fix. I wanted to save the world. But every day I see powers greater than me stomp us down and tell us to get back into the classroom and be glad we even have jobs. If this is the way that public education treats professionals, then it’s time for me to find a new field.
I give up. They win. I have joined the ranks of parents who have come to realize that we are only empowered to do one thing: take care of our own. I hope that things change, but I don’t have the energy, the money, or the time to continue beating my head into a wall. And if the choices have run out for my toddler when he’s ready for school, I will do it myself. Maybe I’ll do it for others, as well. Who knows.
I will follow this with my decision(s) soon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Koch brothers should not be able to buy Florida's Supreme Court

From the Miami Herald BY CARL HIAASEN


The new stealth campaign against three Florida Supreme Court justices is being backed by those meddling right-wing billionaires from Wichita, Charles and David Koch.
They couldn’t care less about Florida, but they love to throw their money around.
Last week they uncorked the first of a series of commercials from their political action committee, Americans for Prosperity. The targets are Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.
They were three of the five-vote majority that in 2010 knocked down a half-baked amendment slapped together by state lawmakers seeking to nullify the federal Affordable Health Care Act.
The Florida Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions in finding that the proposed amendment contained “misleading and ambiguous language,” the hallmark of practically everything produced by this Legislature. Stoned chimpanzees have a keener grasp of constitutional law.
Conservative groups have gone after local justices before. In Iowa, a place which has nothing but vowels in common with Florida, three state justices were fired by voters after being vilified for ruling against a ban on gay marriage.
On the November ballot, Lewis, Pariente and Quince are up for merit retention, meaning voters can choose to retain them or not. This simple system was put in place to keep the state’s high court above the sleaze of political races.
The mission of the Kochs, hiding as always behind their super PAC, is to get the three justices dumped at the polls so that Gov. Rick Scott can appoint replacements.
This is worth repeating: If the Kochs have their way, Rick Scott — yes, that Rick Scott — gets to pack the Supreme Court with his own hand-picked crew.
Yikes is right.
The head of the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity is a person called Slade O’ Brien, whose job is to keep a straight face while saying things like: “We’re not advocating for the election or defeat of any of the justices. What we’re attempting to do is call more attention to them advocating from the bench.”
Meanwhile the state GOP’s executive board is less coy. It voted to oppose the retention of Quince, Lewis and Pariente, branding them “too extreme.”
Well, let’s have a peek at these dangerous radicals.
Justice Pariente, 63, has been on the court for 15 years. She was graduated from George Washington University Law School and clerked in Fort Lauderdale under U.S. District Judge Norm Roettger, who was no softie.
Justice Lewis, 64, who was graduated cum laude from the University of Miami Law School, has been on the court almost 14 years. Both he and Pariente were appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, not exactly a wild-eyed liberal.
Justice Quince, also 64, is the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. A graduate of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, she worked for years prosecuting death-penalty cases in the state Attorney General’s office.
In 1999, she was jointly selected for the high court by Chiles and that wacky left-winger, Jeb Bush.
Twice before Floridians have voted to keep these justices, but now the Kochs from Wichita say they know better. You won’t see David or Charlie in any of the campaign commercials because they don’t like people to know they’re prying.
Their multinational fortune comes from oil refineries, fertilizers, cattle, commodities, chemicals and paper mills. Next time you reach for Angel Soft toilet paper, think of the Koch brothers.
Both are MIT grads, philanthropists, unabashedly ultraconservative and anti-Obama. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to defeat the President and lesser officeholders all over the country who won’t bend to their will. Some Florida Republicans — respected judges and lawyers — are disturbed by the sneak attack on the Supreme Court, which they view as a bald attempt to politicize the judiciary.
The two other justices who voted against the inept Obamacare amendment were similarly singled out two years ago, when they were up for merit retention. Tea Party groups bought TV time blasting justices Jorge Labarga and James Perry, and urging voters to remove them from the court. It didn’t work.
Labarga was retained with about 59 percent of the vote, Perry with 61 percent. Those aren’t bad margins, considering that the justices can’t campaign in their own defense.
This time is different because Americans for Prosperity has a bottomless war chest to use against Lewis, Pariente and Quince. Be assured that Gov. Scott is rooting for the Kochs. He’d love to have three openings to fill on the Supreme Court.
The last thing these guys want is fair judges who know the law; they want partisan judges who’ll obediently support their political agenda
It’s worse than just trying to buy an election. It’s trying to hijack Florida’s justice system at the highest levels.
And all the Angel Soft in the world won’t wipe away the stink.

Read more here:

Cutting higher ed is no way for Florida to attract business

From the Tampa Times Editorial Staff

A decade after Florida voters decided they wanted a centralized Board of Governors to oversee the state's public universities, Gov. Rick Scott's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education is poised to recommend to a recalcitrant Legislature to finally let it happen. But the task force's acquiescence on the other major issue facing higher education — diminishing state funding — is disappointing. The state can't keep expecting students to pay for most of the costs of a State University System vital to the entire state.

The governor created the task force earlier this year after vetoing a plan that would have allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University the autonomy to raise their tuitions as long as they met certain accountability measures. The universities' proposal was an understandable, if flawed, reaction to broken promises in Tallahassee, where the State University System has seen its spending slashed, including $300 million just this year. Even though state universities have raised tuition significantly in recent years, it's not been enough. Students in Florida now pay more than ever for a university education, but due to cuts in state spending less money is being spent to educate them.

Central to the task force's recommendations, which are expected to be delivered next month, would be for the Legislature to turn over budgeting authority to the Board of Governors in exchange for implementing performance-based funding mechanisms for each of the state's 12 universities. Such measures, for example, would include quality of research, academic rankings, and whether enough students were graduating into high-wage, high-skill, high-demand jobs.

It makes sense to have a single governing board shaping the missions and distinct identities of universities. And coordination from one governing board — as well as the power of the purse — would help build a unified system that minimizes duplication and avoids political travesties such as the unneeded Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland.

But when it comes to funding, the task force disappointed. The group calls for universities to have tuition matched to their national peers, but it gives the Legislature a pass. The working draft says, "In the absence of state support, the Legislature and Board of Governors, working together, should evaluate tuition strategies to compensate for state funding."

That's no way to fund a higher education system that Republican leaders say can help diversify the state's economy. Scott, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford and incoming Senate President Don Gaetz need to look past short-term budget issues to make a long-term commitment to building a system Florida can be proud of. Universities are not simply vocational schools churning out graduates to meet the needs of the marketplace, and a bachelor's degree is not merely a meal ticket. A well-educated citizenry is a benefit both to the state and to the individual. Expecting both parties to pay their share is the smarter approach.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Charter schools have to go

Charter schools are supposed to be public schools where parent/teacher driven innovation occurs. Instead many have become cash making enterprises for business more concerned with the bottom line rather than educating our children. They even have their own lobbies as they attempt to get bigger and bigger pieces of the education pie. Something that actual evidence says they do not deserve.

Consider these recent charter school stories (John Romano Tampa times).

A charter high school in Orlando was recently closed due to poor performance. The principal, who was drawing a salary of $305,000 and was paid a severance of  $519,000 in taxpayer money. The enrollment of the school was 180 students. Our super for 176 schools and 123,000 students makes 275 thousand.

Then there is the case of the charter in Manatee County, which recently ran a newspaper ad offering a free Nintendo handheld game system to any student who enrolled by a certain date.

How about the charter school in Dunedin that operated for more than two years and siphoned more than $1.6 million dollars from the public while failing to provide basic class supplies and posting the worst standardized test scores in Pinellas County.

The list could go on and on… and on. Seriously how many more example do you want me to give, 10, 20, 50?

There may be some great charter schools but to many operators see Florida as a cash cow that requires little accountability, regulation and oversight.

What does Florida get for this money? Charter schools have more than triple the rate of F grades and that doesn't even count the dozens of charter schools the state didn't even bother to grade.

Why is accountability something we only require from public schools?

The state in their zeal to privatize public education through charter schools has completely abdicated its responsibility to educate our children and instead of continuing to rob public schools of state funds it is time we said enough.

The answer is to fix our problems, not starve our public schools to death.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Ann Romney: very disappointed in Mitt’s education policies

Good housekeeping asked Anne Romney,

What campaign issue is closest to your heart?

AR: I've been a First Lady of the State. I have seen what happens to people's lives if they don't get a proper education. And we know the answers to that. The charter schools have provided the answers. The teachers' unions are preventing those things from happening, from bringing real change to our educational system. We need to throw out the system.

I am sorry but according to Mitt Romney, Massachusetts was number one in education. He says it all the time on the campaign trail and seems very proud of it. I wonder if he knows how fundamentally disappointed in his education record his wife is? Or is she just being disingenuous, talking about things she has no clue about?

Just so you know, Massachusetts is one of the best places to get a public education in the country; they invest in education, are highly unionized and have some of the most restrictive charter school laws in the country. In the education business since they are successful we call that best practices.

And if all these facts seem incongruent to the Romney’s positions, yeah, I agree but after following them for the past couple years we should all be used to it.

How do you measure the worth of a teacher?

By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

How to measure the worth of Los Angeles math teacher Kyle Hunsberger?

The teacher at Johnnie Cochran Jr. Middle School works 60-hour weeks, constantly searches for new teaching ideas and makes every minute count in class. During a fast-paced review of square roots and perfect numbers, he punctuated explanations with jokes, questioned his students to check their understanding and engaged them in group work.

His principal, Scott Schmerelson, praises him as a leader who heads the math department and started a campus program to give struggling students extra help.

Some of his students say he's the best math teacher they've ever had — a caring, funny mentor who explains well, pushes on homework and most of all believes in them.

"He always tells us nothing will stop us from learning and nothing will stop him from teaching us," said Edwin Perez, a gregarious 12-year-old, as three of his classmates nodded.

Yet, according to a key measure of teacher effectiveness used by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Hunsberger is average.

Two years ago, he said, he was rated above average. Then last year his ratings fell. He doesn't know what changed and there's nothing in his scores that will tell him.

The rating "didn't tell me anything about how I can get better at teaching [weaker] students," Hunsberger said. "The truth is, I don't know and I would love to know."

Hunsberger isn't the only instructor questioning the results of the Los Angeles school system's new approach to measuring teacher effectiveness. Academic Growth Over Time, as the district calls it, is based on students' progress on standardized test scores. The method estimates how much teachers added to — or subtracted from — their students' academic performance.

Whether it is a fair, accurate and useful assessment of educators is a heated issue in the nation's second-largest school system. L.A. Unified is under court order to use test scores in teachers' reviews by December, and officials are in negotiations with the teachers union.

United Teachers Los Angeles bitterly opposes the ratings as too unreliable for use in firing, tenure and other high-stakes decisions.

School districts in more than half the states have added students' test scores along with other factors to their teacher reviews, a direction promoted by the Obama administration.

L.A. Unified began giving teachers their scores two years ago for informational purposes only.

But it is now pushing to use it in a new teacher-evaluation system, along with classroom observations, student and parent feedback and contributions to the school. About 700 teachers and administrators from 100 schools volunteered to test the new observation portion last year.

That will give teachers like Hunsberger specific information about where to improve and how.

He questions whether his ratings were higher two years ago because he had a class of "rock star" algebra honors students, but fell last year when he had less-skilled students, many of them learning English.

"I did my best. I tried things. I worked hard," said the 30-year-old New York native who sports a neat beard and a receding hairline that he jokes about with students.

Hunsberger's questions recently deepened when he noticed a graph on the district's website that seemed to show that schools with stronger students have higher growth. It coincided with his experience that honors students were easier to push forward.

"I have to be reassured that I don't have to lobby for honors students," Hunsberger said. "I have to know that I have a shot at a good evaluation if I teach lower-performing kids."

But the rating system controls for outside factors that could influence growth, such as past test results, gender, race, income and English ability. Those controls give every teacher an equal shot at good performance ratings regardless of their students, according to Noah Bookman, the district's director of performance management.

"The important piece for people to understand about [Academic Growth Over Time] is that it allows us to level the playing field," Bookman said.

Bookman also said that the graph questioned by Hunsberger shows not that stronger students boost scores, but that good teachers produce stronger students at any level — an outcome possible for all educators, he said.

"Teachers with low, middle and high-achieving students have the same opportunity to demonstrate growth as each other," Bookman said.

Hunsberger understands the math but is not sure about the claims.

He was an early champion of the new system. The issue was personal: In 2010, Cochran's years of low test scores resulted in placement on the district's list of campuses eligible for takeover by charter schools or other groups with a credible improvement plan.

The South Los Angeles campus of 1,300 students, nearly all of them low-income African Americans and Latinos and a third who are learning English, consistently ranked in the state's lowest 10% of middle schools. Only about a quarter of students were at grade level in reading and math. The school scored in the low 600s on the Academic Performance Index, a 1,000-point achievement measure based on standardized test results that does not control for outside influences.

But down in the trenches, Hunsberger felt the picture was not that bleak. When L.A. Unified released schoolwide scores for the first time last year, the results confirmed his instincts. Although Cochran's student achievement was low, its rate of academic growth was significantly higher than the district average in English, algebra, science and social studies in 2010-11.

He and a colleague, Rustum Jacob, found "huge inconsistencies" at other schools between the state's API achievement scores and the district's scores. They urged school officials to include district ratings to identify schools for the takeover list. Last October, the district did just that.

"I very much embraced the idea that AGT [Academic Growth Over Time] represented a far better measure of a school's impact on student outcomes than API," Hunsberger said.

He became a bit of an evangelist. He agreed to test the district's new evaluation system, despite the union's urgings that teachers not participate. He joined a new group of educators, Teach Plus, whose proposed evaluation plan would count the district scores for a minimum 10% of a teacher's ratings.

But he and other instructors are still concerned — even those who embrace the idea of using objective student achievement measures in their evaluations.

Lisa Alva, a Roosevelt High School English teacher, said her score for last school year was based on 12 students and wonders how that can be valid or fair. Philip Gerlach at Markham Middle School got sterling scores but said they were skewed downward by counting students he had for just two months and don't measure his strongest suit — teaching writing.

Sujata Bhatt, another highly rated teacher who taught fifth grade at Grand View Boulevard Elementary, said the formula needs revision to account for different ranges of poverty, for instance, or English fluency.

Hunsberger's colleague, English teacher Daniel Badiak, said his below-average scores last year have pushed him to "teach to the test" more this year. Time for work on what his seventh-graders most need — basic lessons on where to put periods and question marks, for instance — is being eaten up by drilling on vocabulary that might appear on the state test, he said.

Hunsberger said he still thinks the use of the scores is "the right idea" but he intends to keep asking tough questions.

"It's got light years to improve," he said.,0,592261,full.story

Palm Beach abandons Race to the Top

From the Palm Beach Post, by Allison Ross

The Palm Beach County School District’s goal to win a federal grant worth up to $40 million is over before the application was even submitted.

The decision was made Sunday afternoon, after school officials and representatives from the county’s teachers union could not come to an agreement over the Race to the Top grant proposal, according to a statement the district released Sunday evening.

The Palm Beach County School Board had been expected to hold a special meeting Monday to vote on whether to approve the application, which would have been due Tuesday. That meeting has now been canceled. The grant required that both the county’s teachers union and the school board sign off on the application.

Palm Beach County’s is not the only district struggling with whether to apply for the federal grant. Nearly 900 districts across the country in August sent in notices that they they intend to file for a piece of the nearly $400 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. But since then, a number have fallen out of the running.

For instance, Waterloo (Iowa) Community Schools decided not to compete after filing an intent to apply, saying it decided it was not as competitive as it would like to be.

Meanwhile, school districts such as the Glendale (Calif.) Unified School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District are also making eleventh-hour decisions on whether to apply as they ntodegotiate with their respective teachers unions.

It’s expected that only 15 to 25 grants, worth $5 million to $40 million, will be handed out as part of this Race to the Top competition.

Debra Wilhelm, president of the Classroom Teachers Association, said there simply wasn’t enough time for all the questions and suggestions to be sorted out before the grant application was due.

“We’re not any worse off than we were before,” Wilhelm said. She said the teachers union had been hopeful to get more money into the pockets of teachers with this grant, but that “there wasn’t time to come to an agreement.”

“We’re all part of the same district,” Wilhelm said, adding that she hopes to work with the district again on securing grant money to help everyone in the district.

District and union staff repeatedly have stressed that this latest district-level grant competition is different than the 2010 state-level Race to the Top grant that Florida applied for and got.

Back then, Palm Beach County was one of only a handful of districts in Florida that refused to support the state’s application, after the county’s teachers union said the money came with too many strings attached. That meant the district missed out on millions in additional money.

“The primary thing is that this grant is the district’s creation as opposed to something that was outlined by the state,” said school board vice chairwoman Debra Robinson, who said Sunday she was disappointed the grant application is dead.

Robinson said she believes that there was miscommunication and misinformation among some in the community over the grant proposal. And, she said, there may have been some continuing “post-traumatic stress” over 2010’s Race to the Top competition.

“The people that I heard from were people who were basically still a bit traumatized by the one-size-fits-all experience and were fearful that we were trying to go down that path again, which was definitely not the case,” Robinson said.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Diane Ravitch, invest in charter schools, get a green card

From the Diane Ravitch blog

Wealthy investors from around te world are pouring millions of dollars into new charter school construction in the US. In return, they get a green card, thanks to a federal program known as EB-5.
Reuters investigative journalist Stephanie Simon has once again broken open a little known story. Here is a link to some of her earlier stories.
An investor forum in China last spring, for instance, touted U.S. charter schools as a nearly fool-proof investment because they can count on a steady stream of government funding to stay afloat, according to a transcript posted on a Chinese website.
Arizona educator Holly Johnson, who runs three charter schools and plans to open a fourth next year, said she couldn’t believe how easy it was to secure $4.5 million in funding from abroad.
“We didn’t have to do anything at all,” she said, other than open her schools to potential investors. They didn’t ask many questions, she said. Their concern was more basic: “They wanted to come over and make sure it was real.”

If Florida Department of Education officials and lawmakers fail to slow expansion and tighten loopholes in charter school regulations, they should all be dismissed as hypocrites or fools

From the Tampa Bay Times, by John Romano

No more excuses. No more self-serving propaganda.
If Florida Department of Education officials and lawmakers fail to slow expansion and tighten loopholes in charter school regulations, they should all be dismissed as hypocrites or fools.
That's not hyperbole, and it's not intended to shock. The simple truth is the current standards and policies have been exposed as a joke, and can no longer be ignored.
Case in point:
A charter high school in Orlando was recently closed due to poor performance. The principal, who was drawing a salary of $305,000, was handed a parting gift of more than $519,000 in taxpayer money, according to an Orlando Sentinel report.
The principal's overall pay in the last year was more than double the school's entire education budget.
Under charter school laws, this was perfectly legal.
Case in point:
A struggling charter in Manatee County recently ran a newspaper ad offering a free Nintendo handheld game system to any student who enrolled by a certain date.
This was a bargain since the Nintendo was worth $150 and the school would reap roughly $6,000 in taxpayer funding for every public school student it could entice before the state did a final head count.
This is also perfectly legal.
Case in point:
A charter school in Dunedin operated for more than two years and siphoned more $1.6 million in public funds while failing to provide basic class supplies and posting the worst standardized test scores in Pinellas County.
Turning a profit, however, was perfectly legal.
"We have some amazing charter schools. Schools doing exactly what charters are supposed to do, and that's provide a different style of education,'' said Christine Sket, regional director for Fund Education Now, which has sued the state over school funding.
"But what we're seeing with a lot of new charters is a cash grab: How can they teach the most children possible with the least amount of money?''
The state's response? Let's make an unscientific goal of doubling charters right away.
Legislators have promoted charters with reckless zeal and have shown zero willingness to regulate them. They allocated $55 million for new construction of charter schools last year and not one penny for public schools.
So what's the state getting for all this money?
Charter schools did receive state grades of A or B at a slightly higher percentage (72.1) than public schools (68.8) in elementary and middle school this year. On the other hand, charter schools have more than triple the rate of F grades, and that doesn't include dozens of at-risk charters the state didn't even bother to grade.
There are politicians who have made a career out of whining about public school accountability, yet see no problem giving charters absolute freedom.
The state is so eager to get in bed with for-profit charter companies it has completely abdicated its responsibility to education. And meanwhile public schools are being robbed of state funds.
You cannot bark about accountability in public schools and simultaneously give charters carte blanche with taxpayer money. It's dangerous and disingenuous.
So if state leaders do not provide more charter school oversight is it wrong to suggest they are either hypocrites or fools? Perhaps, I suppose.
After all, they could be both.

Jason Fischer, candidate district 7, fails the smell test

A mailer has gone out in District 7 from Fischer supporters that is less than accurate about his opponent John Heymann.

Mr. Fischer said he trashed the mailer, which would seem to indicate he didn’t believe it was being truthful but he also said (from the Times Union), As far as the validity of the mailer’s statements, Fischer said he doesn’t know Heymann’s full background enough to agree with everything the mailer asserts. But because it was mailed to voters, he said, “I would assume that at least some of it is probably accurate.”

By that logic I could send out the following mailer.

Mr. Fischer believes in larger class sizes.

He doesn’t think teachers are professionals nor does their education matter.

He is in favor of high stakes testing.

He told people he was a navy engineer when he never was one.

He ran for the soil and water board, which begs the question, what’s more important to him our children or our soil and water.

He ignore facts and evidence and supports programs that his gut and his donors tell him too (vouchers).

Jason Fischer beats his wife

If I got a mailer, which said above, I could say with certainty, but because it was mailed to voters, I would assume that at least some of it is probably accurate.”

The difference between my mailer and the one sent out to discredit John Heymann is my mailer would be completely accurate except for the last line and then only Fischer and his wife know about that.

Charter school backers pump money into Duval’s school board races

I am just going to get right to it. Jacksonville businessman John Baker is a big donor to charter and voucher school causes. He is also a big donor to Jason Fischer and Ashley Smith Juarez.

People might not like to say it but there is a conflict of interests between public schools and voucher programs and charter schools. Voucher programs and charter schools seek to siphon away resources from public schools.

Some people say this is about choice; I believe where there may be a few true believers the vast majority instead see an opportunity. Not an opportunity to help kids but an opportunity to make money.

There are actual studies, with actual evidence that say students as a group in charter schools or who take vouchers don’t have better education out comes. Before we siphon money from our public schools shouldn’t we make sure it goes to programs that are going to do better than our public schools?

Furthermore, charter schools and private schools that accept vouchers don’t have the same accountability or oversight that public schools do. Either their student’s progress isn’t measured or their finances aren’t regulated. Take for example NorthStar charter school in Orange County, the principal at a school with 180 kids took home over 800,000 thousand dollars in 2011 and despite the fact the school closed because of poor performance is still being paid 7,500 dollars a month with public money. If the public is going to give money away to educate our kids shouldn’t we make sure the money is going to educating them and that education is occurring?

The backers of Fischer and Smith-Juarez don’t think so and since that is the case it is not a leap of faith to think those two school board candidates feel the same.    

We need school board members who want to improve our schools, who despite their problems are far from broken, not school board members who want to dismantle our public schools and send public moneys to institutions without accountability, oversight and that don’t perform better.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

They love testing and charter schools, they don't love teachers

From PolicyMic, by Allison LaFave

 During Monday’s final presidential debate, Bob Schieffer spurred a collective American chuckle when he cut off Romney’s long-winded brown-nosing with the knee-slapper, "I think we all love teachers..."
I'd love to believe Mr. Schieffer, but as someone who hails from a family of public school teachers and spent last year teaching third grade in a New York City charter school, I have to say, “Bob. You’re adorable. But America’s teachers haven’t felt loved in quite some time.”
Last spring, my principal corralled our school's third grade teaching team around a kidney-bean shaped table and apologetically explained that we needed to sign forms acknowledging the weight of our students’ test scores on our end-of-year evaluations. Ultimately, our students’ math and ELA scores would comprise as much as 40% of our annual rating. 
Now, I don't know a single educator who outright opposes the idea of fair evaluations and/or some level of teacher accountability. But as I sat quietly in that little red plastic chair, a voice in me cried:
"You want to evaluate me? Great. No problem.
"But let's also evaluate the misaligned (or nonexistent) curriculum I was given to plan for my classes."
"Let’s evaluate the number of chairs huddled around single desks, because there are more students in the room than there were last year, and the copy machine, the one that never works.
"Let’s evaluate the number of students with IEPs that aren't being adequately serviced, and the number of English Language Learner students sitting voiceless in the back of the room, because they have yet to be admitted into nonexistent ELL classes.
"Let’s evaluate the employers who are smugly underpaying/underemploying my students’ parents or guardians, forcing them to work multiple jobs, likely without ever securing benefits for themselves or for their families. Or the number of students who have lost parents or loved ones due to gang violence, substance abuse, or the labyrinth that is our failing criminal justice system. Or the number of my students who didn't eat dinner last night.
"Let's evaluate how many hours of sleep I got last night, because I was not afforded adequate prep time during my 10 or 11 hour day in the building, or how many times I've skipped out on doctor's appointments and family events to be here for my students.
"And, finally, let's evaluate my motivations for being here  because it sure as hell isn't for the money."
Last week, Deborah Kenny wrote an op-ed piece decrying the heavy influence of test scores on teacher evaluations. Kenny rightfully claimed that the practice “undermines principals and is demeaning to teachers” and leaves little room for innovative teaching and learning. She went on to say that test-based evaluations inhibit the “culture of trust" between principals and teachers and “discourage the smartest, most talented people from entering the profession.”
While I agree that test-based evaluations are inherently flawed (when was the last time our politicians, Democrats or Republicans, truly analyzed a Pearson test?), I am baffled by Kenny’s ultimate argument. It seems that Kenny bashes test-based evaluations because ... wait for it ... they make it harder for her to fire teachers she doesn’t like – specifically a teacher whose students performed “exceptionally well” on the state exam.

Teachers aren’t statistics, but they also aren’t part of some school-wide homecoming court. Administrators shouldn’t cast votes for the teachers they like or dislike. They should work to support all teachers who act in the best interest of students.

Ms. Kenny also takes a not-so-subtle jab at teachers' unions, attacking evil tenured teachers in America, who are clearly exploiting their glamorous roles as K-12 educators. However, unions don't grant tenure; PRINCIPALS grant tenure. And, moreover, Ms. Kenny, like nearly all charter school administrators in America, likely prohibits her teachers from joining their local union.
As someone who has worked in a non-union school, I can tell Ms. Kenny what violates trust between teachers and administrators. Knowing that you can be fired for your personality.  Knowing that there is a fresh crop of well-intentioned, starry-eyed Teach for America kids who can take your place in the time it takes to make a phone call. Knowing that you will be scorned for using your allotted sick days and guilted into working through lunch, during prep time, and hours after the final school bell rings.
I encourage our presidential candidates (and all Americans) to listen to the voices of practicing teachers, who are so often talked about and around during national education debates.
Says Kelly G., a third grade teacher in Brooklyn:
"These teacher evaluations are complex. I honestly used to think that a teacher could indeed be evaluated and held accountable using test scores. And then I started teaching at school that didn't allow me to do the kind of teaching I thought needed to be done in order to develop intelligent children. There's nothing quite like having your teaching micromanaged and then being told it was your fault the kids didn't achieve exemplary scores on the state exam.
“My kids are capable of so much already. Come in and look at their writing. Listen to their discussions. Watch them solve math problems. Their tests scores will not reflect their growth from the school year. A one shot assessment does not give a good picture of student achievement. Have you read those exams? Have you been in the room during testing? Test anxiety vomiting is a real thing in the third grade. Too bad they don't evaluate me on sick child comforting andvomit clean up. I'm sure my scores on those evaluations would be proficient."
In popular media, teachers are cast as heroes or villains. They are either lazy, money-grubbing, ne’er-do-wells or Jaime Escalante, the “teacher savior” of the acclaimed film Stand and Deliver.

The truth is, as in most professions, the majority of teachers lie somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Such romanticized notions of teaching make great stories, but that’s just it; they are stories that too often exaggerate and obscure the truth. Jaime Escalante spent years preparing his students for the AP Calculus exam, not a few inspired semesters. Does that mean that he was an inadequate teacher during the years he spent honing his craft and teaching foundational math concepts to his students? How would Escalante have been rated under the New York City evaluation system?
In his research paper entitled “Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth,” David C. Berliner (Regents’ Professor Emeritus in The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University) finds that “Outside-of-school factors are three times more powerful in affecting student achievement than are the inside-the-school factors.”
Consequently, he concludes, “The best way to improve America’s schools is through jobs that provide families living wages. Other programs…offer some help for students from poor families. But in the end, it is inequality in income and the poverty that accompanies such inequality that matters most for education.”
America’s education system is in crisis; of this, we can be sure. But let’s stop blaming the dentists for their patients’ cavities.

A lack of charter school oversight worries many

By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel
The principal of a failed Orange County charter school took home a check for more than $500,000 as the school closed down in June and is still being paid thousands of dollars a month to wrap up the school's affairs.
The check for $519,453.36 in taxpayer money was cut to Kelly Young, principal of NorthStar High School, two days after the Orange County School Board accepted the school's plan to close in lieu of being shut down for poor performance.
The payment, which was authorized by the charter school's independent board, appears to be legal.

State Sen. David Simmons called for a thorough investigation. "There's no room for abuse by charter or traditional schools," Simmons said. "All it does is hurt children."But Orange County School Board chairman Bill Sublette is outraged at the payout, calling it "a shameful abuse of public tax dollars" and "immoral."
Leftover money from a charter school that shuts down, minus grant and capital dollars, are supposed to go back to school districts upon closure.
NorthStar, which had a balance of $717,293 at the end of the 2011 school year, has not turned over any money to Orange County Public Schools.
A statement provided to the district by the charter school showed a balance of less than $10,000 on June 29.
Young's payout was based on a contract that called for her to be paid about $305,000 per year through 2014, even though the school's contract was up for renewal in 2012. She was paid 85 percent of her remaining contract.
Her yearly pay and bonuses to run the school, which served about 180 largely at-risk students in east Orange County, was higher than that of Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of the 181,000-student Orange County Public Schools.
The highest-paid principal at a traditional Orange school this year made $116,565.
According to a required annual audit of the NorthStar received by the district Oct. 1, Young is still being paid $8,700 bi-monthly to shut down the school.
The district was unaware of the principal's pay because the school is not required to report it under Florida's charter school law. Earlier audits by an outside firm hired by NorthStar had noted the school had contracts that would require payouts to several employees, but no dollar figure was calculated.
"The law is very clear that school boards cannot put limits or control how a charter school spends their money, including payouts like this" or salaries, said Sublette. He called the payment "immoral and unethical" and noted that it could have paid the salary of five district principals for a year.
Because charter schools do not have to report their principals' salaries in Florida, it is unclear how many might have contracts or salaries similar to Young's.
None of the charter board's members returned calls for comment Wednesday. But they adopted a resolution June 14 calling her payout "well-deserved and earned for her years of dedicated service at a below-market rate of compensation."
Charter schools are privately run public schools with fewer regulations than traditional public schools. Like all public schools in Florida, they get state money based on their student population.
School boards must authorize charters – but have little oversight authority once they are opened. Expanding charter schools and school choice are priorities of Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Legislature.
But Sublette and other local school leaders across Florida have been calling for stricter regulations after a number of charter schools failed to provide even basic educational services to their students.
Young opened the school 11 years ago, in part to provide a charter high school option for her daughter. She initially made about $45,000 a year, said attorney Larry Brown, who spoke on Young's behalf.
"Here's a lady with no retirement, who at that point had put six years of her life into the school, feeling like she had to make provision for retirement in her contract," Brown said.
The school, which earned two "D" grades, one "F" and one "B" from that state between 2006 and 2010, was never an academic standout, but served as a haven for a group of students who felt they didn't fit anywhere else.
Students at the school, which was based in a group of concrete portables on Curry Ford Road, had no access to computers, a library or cafeteria service. An evaluation of the school this past spring found that it lacked appropriate materials to teach struggling readers or English language-learners.
"It wasn't the best school out there, but she was an excellent principal," said Melissa Stites, a 2011 NorthStar grad, of Kelly Young.
Two other charter school principals in Orange County said they make less than $100,000 a year. A charter school principal's contract does not usually last longer than their school's agreement with the district, they said.
"I'm sure the letter of the law was followed," said Ronnie DeNoia, principal of the A-rated Lake Eola Charter School. "But there's a difference between legal and moral."
DeNoia, who was part of the panel that evaluated NorthStar in the spring, said the money would have been better spent on scholarships for students or given to charity.
Osvaldo Garcia, principal of B –rated Passport Charter School in Orange County, said he was "shocked" by Young's pay.
"It is unfortunate that the poor actions of a few give us a bad name," he said. or 407-420-5120. Follow her on Twitter @RothLauren.