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Friday, November 30, 2012

Ten years of ed reform has only produced blame the teacher, make money off or ed results..

 Dov Rosenberg

"Education Reform, beginning with the No Child Left Behind Act and continuing with Race to the Top, has produced no US score gains on international tests in science, math, or reading. There has been no shrinking of the "test score gap" by race or class, no reduction in child poverty, no narrowing of income inequality, & no diminution in the prison population. However, it has resulted in huge profits for Pearson & other testing firms; the reduction of teacher morale to its lowest level in history; expansion of "Teach-For-A-While" elite programs where teaching is viewed as a career stepping stone, and the proliferation education consultants & charter school leaders making 6-figure salaries. Look at what's going on in your city & your community since high-stakes testing has been imposed (2001). Have students in poor & under-served communities been empowered? Are they enjoying school more? Are their families being energized by the new choices they now have? Or, have precious portions of the school day, arts, music, sports, gym, been sacrificed as schools are deluged with tests? Have special needs & English Language Learners been marginalized because they might lower a class or school's test profile? There is a story to be told here, school by school, city by city, state by state. Your TV, radio, and newspapers haven't told it yet. It's up to you to tell it. Be heard." - Inspired by Mark Naison

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For-profit online charter schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising

From the USAToday by Greg Toppo

If your local public high school has empty seats, the district might lay off teachers. If it's operated by K12 Inc., the company will take out an ad on CNN, The Cartoon Network or and fill those seats.
An analysis by USA TODAY finds that online charter schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising over the past five years, a trend that shows few signs of abating. The primary and high schools -- operated online by for-profit companies but with local taxpayer support -- are buying TV, radio, newspaper and Internet ads to attract students, even as brick-and-mortar public schools in the districts they serve face budget crunches.
Virtual schools have become lightning rods for critics who say their operators are profiting from students' dissatisfaction with neighborhood schools, but don't produce better results. Supporters say the schools, operating in more than 30 states, are giving kids and families second chances.
Nationwide, about 275,000 K-12 students attend school online full-time, according to the Evergreen Education Group, a Colorado consulting firm. Many virtual students are former home-schoolers taking advantage of the schools' public funding — virtual schools typically get most of the per-pupil allowance that a local school does.
The USA TODAY analysis finds that 10 of the largest for-profit operators have spent an estimated $94.4 million on ads since 2007. The largest, Virginia-based K12 Inc., has spent about $21.5 million in just the first eight months of 2012.
The analysis is based on ad buys and rates compiled by Kantar Media, a New York-based provider of "media and marketing intelligence," but the figures are only estimates. In an interview, K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski wouldn't say whether the estimates are accurate or provide actual K12 figures. But he said the company's agreements with local school districts and charter school authorizers require K12 to publicize its programs, often over large geographic areas.
"We try our best to ensure that all families know that these options exist," Kwitowski said. "It's really about the parents' choice — they're the ones that make the decision about what school or program is the best fit for their child."
A look at where K12 is placing the ads suggests that the company is also working to appeal to kids: Among the hundreds of outlets tapped this year, K12 has spent an estimated $631,600 to advertise on Nickelodeon, $601,600 on The Cartoon Network and $671,400 on, a social networking site popular with teens. It also dropped $3,000 on, which calls itself "the Web's largest community for dark alternative culture."
Kwitowski declined to say what percentage of K12's per-pupil expenses goes to advertising, but Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado professor who tracks virtual schools, estimated that K12 is on pace this year to spend about $340 per student on advertising, or about 5.2% of its per-pupil public expenditures.
Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, which has been critical of virtual schools, said that "will put immense pressure on other schools to compete by diverting similar amounts of money to advertising." He estimated that if every public school spent just $250 per student, taxpayers would pay more than $12 billion annually. "That's a lot of tax money spent on something so far removed from actually helping children learn," he said.
So far, 2012 has been a rocky year for K12, which operates in more 32 states and over 2,000 school districts. In spite of healthy earnings, it has been the subject of several investigations. The Florida Department of Education's inspector general is looking into whether K12 illegally used uncertified teachers and whether it asked others to lie about how many students they oversee. One U.S. lawmaker, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., last month called for a federal investigation into the charges.
"We're leaders in the digital learning space and with that comes additional scrutiny," said Kwitowski, "but we welcome that."

What is fatally flawed, constantly "waivered" and/or "adjusted" and costs a whopping $1.7 billion dollars a year?

According to Ed Week, that's what the nation spends on standardized tests each year. I wonder how many art teachers that would be?

The Duval County School Board show their disconnect from teachers

I am just going to jump right to it.

Last year school board members made 37,300 or what a first year teacher makes. This year several are accepting a 2800-dollar raise or a little less than what a 9th year teacher makes. A teacher would have to be on step 20 before they saw a raise approaching that much.

That first year teacher? They received a raise of 139 bucks.

I also wonder if those janitors who were forced to take a seven percent pay cut ever got it back.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Note: Fel Lee and Becki Couch turned down the rise and Ashley Smith-Juarez a multi millionaire who raised nearly 200 grand for her campaign isn’t sure if she will take it or not.

Paula Wright pleads poverty. How poor is she really?

When talking about taking a 2800-dollar raise Mrs. Wright said: she’s like everyone else across the country who has been feeling the pinch of a down economy. The extra money will help, she said.

“I’m going to accept it,” Wright said. “I work hard and despite what people think, this isn’t a part-time job. I’ve actually lost money being on the board and so, I’m not different, when I go to the gas pump, it’s the same price for me.”

I looked at her financials from last year and she declared a net wealth of $182, 796.25 and a 2011 income of $75,552 or about 12 grand more than the highest paid teacher in the district.

As for her claim that she is losing money, in 2010 she claimed a net worth of 122 thousand dollars and an income of 51 thousand dollars. I am not a math major but it doesn’t seem like she is losing any money there.

So yes Mrs. Wright I guess things have been tough, for some tougher than others, tougher still for those who you want to take you seriously.


Jeb Bush's education reforms bomb (rough draft)

A few months back I asked then education commissioner Gerard Robinson why higher standards (i.e. Jeb Bush reforms) got so much credit for Florida’s improvement and not the people enacted class size amendment. What he said really caught me off guard.

He replied, to me it is a combination of both.

This was remarkable because for a while our state government tried to do away with the amendment and when they couldn’t do that they seriously watered it down. The chair of the state board of education Gary Chartrand, who went from top 50 in grocery store news to running our schools, is even on record saying that there is no evidence that says smaller classes work. Strange, because smaller classes, not vouchers, not charter schools and not merit pay, is the only reform being used in Florida with evidence that says it really does work.

A few months later Robinson is out of a job, Jeb Bush is touring the nation saying look at me and my reforms and never once mentions that the class size amendment may have played a role..

He might have continued to do so unchecked had the federal government not dropped a bomb on Florida.

In case you missed it the fed announced Florida’s graduation rate and it was abysmal. We were behind academic powerhouses such as Mississippi and Alabama and came in at a less than stellar 45th place. Coincidently enough the National Center for Education Statistics puts us at 42nd in per pupil spending. I bet Jeb Bush doesn’t mention those things as he sells his Florida miracle.

If you ask me the only real miracle going on is why anybody gives him the time of day. After over a decade of Jeb Bush’s blame the teacher, close the school, privatize education, reforms, Florida graduates just 70 percent of its kids. Why are people still listening to him? How does he have any credibility?

This man is so disconnected from reality he recently compared education to buying milk. At the National Republican Presidential Conference he said, Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose. Go down any supermarket aisle - you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla — and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?

Gary Chartrand who as I previously noted, knows something about grocery stores probably loved this but for people who know something about education and who care about public education this was horrifying. The problem is he is not really talking about choice. He is talking about privatization. He is talking about replacing public schools with private schools that avoid accountability like Gary Chartrad avoids facts and charter schools most of which are run by for profit companies that siphon money out of public schools and who are more interested in their bottom lines than educating children and who fail at a rate seven times greater than public schools.

Some people might point to the fact our graduation rate has gone up since Bush was elected back in 1998 and enacted his education reforms which is true, though I hope these aren’t the same people who discount the class size amendment. I would also like to point out that our graduation rate has leveled off in recent years and this coincides with the Florida legislature gutting the class size amendment. Furthermore ask yourself do schools seem better now than they were 15 years ago? The truth is that when schools don’t have to worry about being closed they are a little more discriminating with who they graduate. The rate might be up but the quality of a high school education is way down.

Jeb Bush also likes to say if it wasn’t for the interference of teacher’s unions Florida would be doing even better. Teachers unions by the way supported the class size amendment, again the only reform with evidence that says it works while Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature sought to first cancel and then undermine it. I also want to remind everybody that teachers unions don’t create budgets, hire or fire teachers or set policy, no Jeb Bush and the republican dominated legislature have done that here in Florida for the last 14 years and it is them that has led us to where we are now.

We live in a state that threatens to close low performing schools, rather than fix them and replace them with publically funded private schools (charters) that don’t have the same accountability and who for the most part are staffed with an ever rotating roster of novice teachers or what people in education call the opposite of best practices.

We live in a state that is test obsessed, that sees hundreds of millions of dollars annually taken out of the classroom and given to testing giant Pearson. That has seen us gut the teaching of the arts, skills and trades in favor of remedial math and English (while cutting money for summer school) and put every child into a one size, regardless of ability, aptitude or desire, curriculum.

We live in a state that is okay with sucking the joy of learning out of students and the joy of teaching out of teachers and where teachers have gone from valued and respected members of the community to easily replaceable money hungry cogs whose only concern is to protect their jobs; where their experience, education and opinions don’t matter.

We live in a state where the high standards has produced more graduates that have to take remedial classes in college (60% of them) or who have graduated ill prepared for anything.

And finally after 14 years of Jeb Bush’s reforms we live in a state our graduation rate is a disheartening 70%, though if you are a black male then subtract 12 from that number.

Closed schools, broken neighborhoods, a demoralized and disrespected teacher workforce, cookie cutter fly by night charter schools and too many kids wrecked lives are what Jeb Bush and his reforms have created and to think otherwise is to be okay with having more bombs dropped on Florida and if Jeb Bush has his way across the nation too!

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Florida puts fox, charter school operator, in charge of hen house, public schools

From Scathing Purple Musings by Bob Sykes

Only in Florida can this happen.

Fresh off his victory for a Senate seat in which an ethics complaint against him was filled, John Legg hit the lottery in bagging a key chair of a committee for which he will be driving policy which will financially benefit him. Founder of Dayspring Academy Charter School, John Legg is now listed as the school’s “business administrator. It must be lost on senate president Don Gaetz that Legg has a conflict of interest in his position as chairman of the powerful K-20 Education Policy Committee.

Freshman state Sen. John Legg, R-Pasco County, announced Wednesday that he has been named the chairman of the K-20 Education Policy Committee. He also will serve on the K-20 Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Legg was chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee two years ago, before becoming speaker pro tempore for 2011-12. He runs a charter school in New Port Richey, and has sponsored several high-profile education bills including the state’s move to end-of-course exams from the FCAT. Lately, he has been visiting area high school career academies looking for ideas to improve school-to-work connections and to make junior- and senior-level course work more relevant and challenging to students.

“Education especially, being entrusted as chairman, brings a unique opportunity to invest in Florida’s most important asset, our children,” Legg said in a news release. “As a father of five, a certified classroom teacher and school administrator I understand how vital public education is and how equally important it is to Florida’s employers to have a solid workforce to draw from. It is time we develop a workforce to fit the needs of our business community while providing first class education for our children to succeed not only in the workforce but in life.”

Even Legg must know he’s getting away with something as he misrepresents his own resume. Another example of why Florida screams for ethics reform.

Florida wipes out Brown V Board of education for race based goals.

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Kathleen Oropeza   

It's been 58 years since Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools. In a single moment, "separate but equal" was no longer the law of the land.
The Florida Board of Education's 2012-18 Strategic Plan sets up separate educational tracks, where some children are expected to be proficient and others are allowed to hover below grade-level expectations. Despite this, the board will claim its system to be a success.
The board's plan states that "90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 82 percent of Native American students, 81 percent of Hispanics students and 74 percent of African-American students will be reading at or above grade level" by 2018.
What the board did is bad for children. This latest No Child Left Behind waiver scheme is another cowardly effort by the board to manipulate data to help its members escape accountability. Since Florida is not even close to the 100 percent proficiency required by NCLB, the board was forced to seek relief for itself and apply for a waiver.
There is no "relief" from NCLB for Florida's children, schools or teachers. There's no change to the ever-increasing high-stakes tests. The only thing these new race-based goals do is acknowledge that it's easier to let a quarter of our children fail in our public education system than tackle the hard work and expense of helping them to do better.
Addressing substantial differences in student achievement is not easy. But deciding that certain children should spend six years — half their time in public school — and never achieve proficiency is immoral. Instead, schools could start by using current data to customize targeted interventions designed to give every child the opportunity to succeed.
There is value in examining the performances of subgroups. Breaking down data in this way is meant to prevent large numbers of children in any group from failing. The guidelines for the waiver state that Florida must set "separate measurable annual objectives for continuous and substantial improvement" for each group of children sorted by a number of identifying factors including race, ethnicity, economic disadvantage and English language proficiency. It does not mention establishing acceptable losses based on race.
If the board wanted to impact student proficiency, members would persuade Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to invest in proven methods. Portfolio assessments as an alternative to high-stakes tests and Individualized Education Plans for students both have a significant impact on grade-level performance, but both require skilled staff that has been depleted by budget cuts.
School social workers, guidance counselors and support staff that connect children and families with supportive services significantly improve achievement — but have also fallen victim to shortsighted budget cuts.
Florida board members have used race-based goals to codify an "acceptable" achievement gap, thinking that by merely acknowledging the gap, they have absolved themselves of all NCLB accountability.
These race-based goals benefit the system, not the child. They allow the board to ignore the children who need the most help. It's not that the children stuck in their race-based categories cannot learn; it's that the board has given up. Its members are waving the white flag of surrender. The board is not closing the gap; it is just moving it.
Children deserve more than another round of the same old Florida Board of Education excuses for why students of a particular racial and ethnic background are being deliberately left behind.
Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of, a nonpartisan, Florida-based education-advocacy group.

Why aren't private schools that get public money held accountable?

Several confounding questions surround yet another alarming situation at a private school owned by a man whose financial track record can only be described as wanting at best. The Prep Academy is now the fourth school owned by Hendrik Lamprecht to fall into deep trouble, though its exact status remains hazy.
Prep's former principal, Theresa Kern, exposed the dire situation in a detailed article by Herald education reporter Katy Bergen last week. Incredibly, Kern often had to produce copies of textbook pages because classrooms lacked books.
Yet parents paid a $250 book fee, never saw textbooks in classroom, and their children never came home with any.
Kern and other teachers did not receive paychecks for months -- just like employees at other Lamprecht schools.
In the latest lawsuit against Lamprecht, the property owner of the building that housed The Prep Academy is seeking more than $57,000 in back rent and damages. Lamprecht has not paid rent since March, the civil action states, and the building owner wants the school evicted.
This case follows several other lawsuits against Lamprecht. A dozen former teachers claim he owes them more than $200,000 in unpaid salaries.
In the past two years, Lamprecht operated three other private schools in Manatee County, and all closed over foreclosure, insufficient funds or other misfortunes. The Bradenton Prep, The Prep Learning Academy and New Path Academy all disappeared.
Now The Prep Academy is distressed. The school opened in July 2011 with state approval to receive taxpayer money in the form of McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. That's easy money since state monitoring is almost nonexistent and private schools enjoy most control by simply filing compliance forms.
The Prep Academy accepted the first quarterly payments of at least one student's $14,000 scholarship and another's $11,000 scholarship. Fewer than 10 of the school's 50 students receive McKay money. Statewide, the program paid out an average of about $6,850 per scholarship this school year.
This leads to those disconcerting questions:
n Why does the state of Florida impose exacting regulations on public schools but allows private ones to rake in McKay Scholarships and operate fairly free of oversight or accountability?
n Why would parents place their children in a school without thoroughly checking the owner's background and educational expertise?
n Why would educators take employment at a place where the owner has a history of not cutting paychecks and quickly closing schools?
Gov. Rick Scott, state education leaders and top legislators all promote charter and private schools as a panacea for parental choice, contending that competition with public schools will raise learning standards and student achievement. While that's a laudable goal, the reality is far different in many cases -- with numerous charter schools failing.
Private schools are another matter, being free of the state rules that govern charter and public schools. Florida law doesn't require private schools to certify that teachers are qualified to instruct students with special needs before receiving McKay funds, nor do statutes mandate oversight on how a school spends McKay money. Once parents endorse a scholarship check over to a school, they have little influence.
Amazingly, the state does not ask private schools about curriculum. On its website until early October, The Prep Academy claimed to hold accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and from an organization that ceased to exist after merging with another accreditation group in 2008.
Once informed of the misrepresentation, the school deleted the erroneous reference.
Lamprecht's private academies rank as the poster children for mismanagement.
The state of Florida cannot claim to be working toward improving an education system with teacher merit pay and new standardized tests and then allow private schools to hold a free pass on accountability.
The Legislature and governor should address this failure and set standards for any school that receives taxpayer money.

Read more here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Garbage in, Garbage out: Florida's teacher evaluation system

From the Times Union's editorial board

Garbage in, garbage out, the saying goes about computer programs. So it is with a flawed evaluation system for Florida’s teachers.

Accountability is needed, no debate there. The effectiveness of the teacher is the most important factor in education.
But make evaluations credible. If Florida’s new evaluation system is as incomplete, unreliable and unfair as it is being portrayed, then it will damage public education.

Isolating and measuring teacher performance is subject to all kinds of variables.

Enter a new value added system that is being introduced into the public schools. It’s a key part of Florida’s award of a federal Race to the Top grant.

As described by the Florida Education Association, it is likely to do much harm.


It could penalize good teachers unnecessarily, drive good teachers from struggling schools and even drive teachers out of public education.

According to a news release from Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, there are major flaws. For instance, students may be inaccurately assigned to a teacher or students may be missing.

Outstanding teachers — teachers of the year, in fact — have been told they need to improve based on faulty or deceptive measurements.

Even the much-maligned Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test isn’t given to the vast majority of students in Florida.
In many cases there aren’t end-of-course exams available. So teachers may not be assessed on the performance of their own students. That’s just wrong.

Or a teacher may be assigned a score based on tests given to students in other subjects. That’s absurd.

Or a teacher’s evaluation may be based on schoolwide test scores. And that’s inadequate.

The value added model itself is being questioned. Quoting a RAND report, such estimates “will often be too imprecise to support some of the desired inferences.”


Nikolai Vitti, Duval County’s new superintendent, told Times-Union reporter Topher Sanders that the evaluation system still has bugs that need to be fixed. He’s not convinced it’s an accurate representation of teacher effectiveness.

If this flawed system is put into effect, the result could be demoralizing, an incentive for good teachers to get out. It would put teachers under more needless stress.

A total of 50 percent of the evaluation of teachers under the new model will be based on this flawed data.
The system clearly is not ready to be used for high-stakes reasons, such as firing teachers or determining pay. At the start, it ought to be used to help spotlight those few bad teachers, then gradually phased in as it earns credibility and respect.

The system needs to be accurate enough that teachers themselves ought to buy into it. The concerns being raised appear valid.

There’s a saying in medicine: First do no harm. That applies to public education, too.


Florida 42nd in per pupil spending

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Dave Weber

"You get what you pay for.”
I haven’t been able to nail down who said it first, but some argue it is applicable to Florida’s schools.
And what we are paying to run our public schools in Florida ranks 42nd in the nation according to new data out from the National Center for Education Statistics.
The report indicates that for the 2009-10 fiscal year Florida spent $8,863 per student.
That’s less than half of the amount shelled out by big spenders such as New York ($18,167), New Jersey ($17,379), or champion spender  District of Columbia ($20,910, although the agency points out that is a unique situation).
But Florida doesn’t even stand up that well in the South, where we are bested by neighbors Georgia ($9,432), and Alabama ($8,907.) Topped by Alabama? What is this, football?
Naysayers will argue that the amount spent does not have anything to do with quality of education. But there must be a cut off point where even that argument does not hold. Have we reached it?

Stopping the war on public education

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

I believe that it is time that we take a serious look at former governor Jeb Bush's biased view toward education reform.  Contrary to the national and state media portrayal of a benevolent benefactor who merely wants to improve our schools, I believe that Mr. Bush has more 'devious' motives when he takes every opportunity to bash teachers unions.

Firstly, we should never forget that teachers unions helped to keep Mr. Bush from joining the wave of Republicans who swept into power in 1994.  Organizations like the Florida Education Association worked tirelessly to reelect Governor Lawton Chiles, a man who helped to implement the statewide assessment known as FCAT.  Originally designed to diagnose student learning and needs, the test was eventually perverted by Mr. Bush into the monstrosity that even today's state leaders are scrambling to repair.
Furthermore, Mr. Bush neglects to mention that he has a direct role in the corporate education machine that stands to profit from turning our schools into testing factories.  When he claims that he wants to move public education away from the 'industrial model,' it would be reasonable to ask what he seeks to implement in its place.

Yes, labor unions are an integral part of Florida's education system.  It was the teacher's union that took a brave stance in 1968 to demand that a fast-growing state invest properly in the schools that serve all young Floridians.  Before the ground-breaking strike, no state had ever experienced a teacher walk out on the scale that the Sunshine State faced under Governor Claude Kirk.  It was necessary, not because of featherbedding and goldbricking bureaucrats and 'educrats'.  The system was broken as administrators and teachers had to reach deep into their pockets to supply even the most basic of necessities for their students.  I doubt that any of us want to return to the day when closets were converted into classrooms and teachers were forced to purchase toilet paper.

The labor movement rose to this challenge and fought to include in the state constitution the right of public employees to transform the system from collective begging into collective bargaining.  When management and employees had a more level playing field, our public schools benefited because collaboration and cooperation replaced antagonism and antipathy.

Would there be no unions in our state's history, I shudder to think of teachers who spent their lunches babysitting their students, had no time to plan during the day, scrambled for simple necessities as bathroom breaks and often faced termination for committing the sin of having children of their own.  The work of our unions helped to create a better atmosphere in which teachers could spend more time teaching and less time worrying about the most basic of working conditions that other professions enjoy.

We like to compare our schools to those elsewhere, as the former education commissioner Gerard Robinson pointed out at a recent town hall meeting in Jacksonville.  He was prepared to tout Vermont's example of having better schools than our own.  I pointed out, however, that Vermont is a union state where per-pupil spending dwarfs our own.  Vermont also is a state where the state leaders to not opt to bully their educators into submission.  No, Vermont is not 'throwing money at the problem,' they are investing to avoid the mess that we are in today.

For all of the ills of the education system, we should avoid pointing fingers at the rank and file who truly do care about our students on a daily basis.  If the Supreme Court says that corporations are people, would we not extend this to the unions that simply ask that we enjoy decent working and teaching conditions?  After all, Mr. Bush succeeds by demonizing teachers unions to score political points with his base.  What he fails to understand is that the membership of our teachers unions consists of men and women who do not deserve to be relegated into yet another service industry that can be manipulated by a man with an agenda toward harming the very public schools that he claims to be saving.

No, Mr. Bush, we do not need to destroy the village in order to save it.  We do, however, need leaders who would heed the call of former president George H.W. Bush to have a 'kinder and gentler' approach toward creating schools that work for all.

A more cooperative approach should always include listening to the stakeholders who are affected by the changes that our government proposes.  After all, we would not implement health care reform without hearing from the medical profession, we would not draft environmental regulation without listening to industry and we would not lock out neighborhoods when designing public works projects.  Mr. Bush, however, has no problem with ignoring the teachers when he adopts an attitude that education reform is something that has to be done to teachers instead of with them.

I read in the news recently that school choice is reaching a turning point in states like Michigan, where even the charter school movement is seeing diminishing returns in their zeal to force 'choice' onto their communities.  The newer charter schools are beginning to plunder the existing charter schools merely because, like shopping centers, the novelty of the new is attracting from the existing schools regardless of their performance or results.  The creation of an unstable educational system may benefit those who have a direct interest in the privatization of our institutions of learning, but we end up leaving many children behind and creating a caste system where every family is on their own.  This, I believe, is part of a systemic effort to divide an conquer our education community.  Parent trigger laws, for example, do little to address the social ills that we all have a part in fighting and I believe that conservatives' education reform work ignores the underlying problems for the sake of scapegoating the men and women who are indeed in the trenches trying to deal with factors such as poverty, abuse and neglect.  Teachers and their unions get little credit for working with the children who walk into their schools.

Having attended public schools from Kindergarten through graduation, I belonged to a cohesive community that believed in me.  I am where I am because of the support of my teachers, counselors and administrators.  I know that many others benefited from an education that Mr. Bush seeks to malign on a daily basis and it is time that we recognize that our schools need more help and less politics.

John Louis Meeks, Jr. is a member of the Florida Education Association.  A former teacher of the year in Atlantic Beach, he has been teaching social studies since 2002.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Education needs real world solutions

Below is my response to a critic in the Folio. A couple weeks back they printed a piece of mine advocating for real world solutions. -cpg

Mr. Egan might be surprised but I actually agree with him on several points. College by far is the best option. People who graduate have more opportunities and over a lifetime make about a million more dollars. I also do see the value of higher math and sciences as they open up a whole new world and develop critical thinking skills, though I also think art and music, classes that are being cut for more math and science, do too. Where Mr. Egan and in fact most of our education leaders differ is I live in the real world and they live in some fantasy world where they think if they wish it really hard then every kid will go to college and be a doctor or an engineer. Well friends it “aint” going to happen.

Look at No Child Left Behind. It said by 2014 all our students would be proficient in reading and math. Well how has that worked out? If you answered not so well then you have been paying attention. To give you some scale, in Florida we graduate about 70% of our kids and of those that go to college 60% have to take remedial classes. Heck half our high school kids in the city don’t do math or read on grade level.

We can no longer cross our fingers and wish upon rainbows that every kid is going to get it and go to college because while we have been doing so to many kids have graduated ill prepared for anything. No, we need real world solutions to our real world problems. That’s not giving up on kids, that’s giving many a chance they haven’t had, that’s what I want for them, a chance. We don't have the students we might wish we did, we have the students we do and we should plan accordingly.

I however can see where some of our disconnect comes from. Mr. Egan has spent his career working in the districts crown jewels, the magnet schools, while I have been working in the neighborhood schools and some of the toughest the district has. He gets to see children excited about learning and I get to see kids that to them school doesn’t have much meaning to them or their families. I have spent my career working with kids who we should throw parades for if they graduate and get a job with room for some advancement, where Mr. Egan works at schools where if one doesn’t go to college that is the exception. Mr. Egan might not like to admit it but we have a two tiered education system here in Jacksonville, the magnet schools verses the neighborhood schools and in the neighborhood schools because of our everyone is going to go to college mantra we have done many students a disservice.    

I would also disagree that I am a one-note samba. For years I wrote about how tying principals evaluations to suspensions and referrals was a recipe to destroy discipline and not support teachers. The school board recently ended it. I also have written among many other things about how our teachers are forced to teach to the test, how we need wrap around services at some schools and mandatory summer school for some kids. All changes the board and new super have made or initiated.

Mr. Egan, I admire your idealism, however many of our children need you to join me in the real world where the solutions are.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Jeb Bush debunked

By Stephanie Simon (Reuters) 

A simple graph, it tracked fourth-grade reading scores. In 1998, when Bush was elected governor, Florida kids scored far below the national average. By the end of his second term, in 2007, they were far ahead, with especially impressive gains for low-income and minority students.

Those results earned Bush bipartisan acclaim. As he convenes a star-studded policy summit this week in Washington, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential education reformers in the U.S. Elements of his agenda have been adopted in 36 states, from Maine to Mississippi, North Carolina to New Mexico.

Many of his admirers cite Bush's success in Florida as reason enough to get behind him.

But a close examination raises questions about the depth and durability of the gains in Florida. After the dramatic jump of the Bush years, Florida test scores edged up in 2009 and then dropped, with low-income students falling further behind. State data shows huge numbers of high school graduates still needing remedial help in math and reading.

And some of the policies Bush now pushes, such as vouchers and mandatory online classes, have no clear links to the test-score bump in Florida. Bush has been particularly vigorous about promoting online education, urging states to adopt policies written with input from companies that stand to profit from expanded cyber-schooling.

Many of those companies also donate to Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has raised $19 million in recent years to promote his agenda nationwide.

Sherman Dorn, a professor of education at the University of South Florida, says some of Bush's policies as governor, such as an intense focus on teaching reading, made a real difference to Florida students. "It's pretty clear Governor Bush should get credit for giving a damn," he said. But by teaming with for-profit corporations to push cyber-schools, which have produced dismally low test scores in many states, Bush is "throwing away whatever credibility he had coming out of Florida," Dorn said.

Bush's allies disagree. For them, the former governor - widely considered a top contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination - is a visionary striving to build on his record of success.

"I've been very impressed with the thoughtfulness of his policies," said Joel Klein, who ran New York City schools for eight years and now heads News Corp's education division, Amplify, which donates to the Bush foundation.

Klein and officials at several other education companies that support Bush's foundation say they do so not for their own financial interest but to promote a broad policy debate.

Any implication "that corporate donors give to us for us to advance their agenda" is simply false, said Patricia Levesque, the foundation's executive director.


Bush, who declined to comment for this story, says often that he has one abiding goal: to give all students the chance to reach their "God-given potential."

His "Florida formula" rests on the principles of increasing accountability and expanding parental choice. Among its tenets:

* Grade schools on an A-to-F scale, based mostly on student scores and growth on standardized tests. Give students in poorly ranked schools vouchers to attend private and religious schools.

* Hold back 8-year-olds who can't pass a state reading test rather than promote them to fourth grade.

* Expand access to online classes and charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, sometimes for profit.

In Florida, Bush paired his tough-love measures with generous support. Schools that improved their grade or got an "A" received extra funding. Teachers got bonuses for successes like getting more kids to pass Advanced Placement tests. And students required to repeat third grade got intensive help at free summer reading camps.

States adopting the policies now, in a time of austerity, tend to leave out the costly support systems. That has stirred protests from school superintendents, school board members, teachers unions and parents who see the policies as punitive, humiliating and too narrowly focused on a single test as a measure of success.

Voters have spoken loudly, too. In this month's election, overwhelmingly Republican electorates overturned Bush-style reforms in Idaho and South Dakota and ousted the Indiana state schools chief, who had enacted much of the Florida formula.

In Florida, meanwhile, the durability of the Bush-era gains has come into question.

High school graduation rates rose during Bush's tenure but remain substantially lower than in other large and diverse states, including California, New York and Ohio, according to new federal data. Students' average score on the ACT college entrance exam has not improved and remains well below states such as Missouri and Ohio, where a comparable percentage of students take the test.

Florida's scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, widely considered the most reliable metric, dropped on all four key tests last year - fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. On all four tests, low-income students fell further behind their wealthier peers.

Jaryn Emhof, a spokeswoman for the Bush foundation, said the slipping scores are an indication that "schools were getting complacent" and need to be pushed with higher standards.

Opponents contend Bush's reforms never deserved much credit for the gains in the first place.

Other factors were at play, they argue. Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment to limit class size in 2002, for instance. And Bush's tenure coincided with soaring property tax receipts, thanks to the housing boom, which led to more local funding for schools. Per-pupil spending in Florida jumped 22 percent from 2001 to 2007, after accounting for inflation. It has since fallen sharply.

"There's this single-minded notion that only the programs has supported yield improvements," said Ruth Melton, director of legislative relations for the Florida School Boards Association. "There's more to this than meets the eye."

Some recent research has cast doubt on the long-term effectiveness of the Bush policies.

A Harvard education research group reported this summer that Florida students who were held back in third grade notched a big boost in test scores initially, but the effects faded to insignificance before they entered high school. And annual studies commissioned by the state have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private schools do any better at reading or math than their peers.

As for Florida's charter schools, a recent report found their students consistently outscore kids in traditional schools on state tests. The charters, however, serve fewer poor and special-needs students and fewer students still learning English.

Meanwhile, researchers have found that other states, such as Massachusetts, have boosted achievement without Florida-style reforms, using more old-fashioned remedies such as increasing spending and imposing rigorous curricular standards.

After an exhaustive study of state-by-state academic gains, the Harvard researchers concluded in a July report that "the connection between reforms and gains ... thus far is only anecdotal, not definitive."

Emhof, the Bush foundation spokeswoman, said that while "there is no silver bullet" to improve schools, the Florida formula "is the path with the most proven results." The state's size and diversity mean "if something works in Florida, it can work anywhere," she said.


Indeed, the Bush foundation touts the Florida test gains as "perhaps the greatest public policy success story of the past decade" and aggressively presses its formula on other states.

Hundreds of emails obtained under a public records request by the nonprofit advocacy group In the Public Interest, which opposes privatization of schools, show the foundation working closely with allies in Maine, New Mexico, Florida and elsewhere to craft public policy.

Foundation employees write legislation and edit proposed bills line by line, then send in experts to testify on their behalf, the emails show.

The Bush foundation also funds trips and events to introduce Bush's donors to policy makers. At last year's national summit in San Francisco, the foundation set aside two hours for several state superintendents of education, dubbed "Chiefs for Change," to meet the foundation's sponsors.

In an email forwarded to Executive Director Levesque, an official from Apple Inc also requested access to the chiefs to tout the company's products.

"This is a great opportunity. ... But there are a dozen other companies that want access," Levesque responded. She couldn't accommodate Apple, she wrote, unless the chiefs first found time to meet with "all the other companies including those actually funding" the Chiefs for Change network.

Apple declined to comment.

Bush foundation donors include family philanthropies, such as those established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Corporate donors include Connections Education, a division of global publishing giant Pearson; Amplify, the education division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp; and K12, a publicly traded company that runs online schools.

Many of these donors sit on a Digital Learning Council that helped draft the Bush foundation's policy agenda. Key planks call for states to require online course work in high school and to lift restrictions that hinder cyber-school growth, such as limits on class size.

Studies in several states including Pennsylvania and Colorado have found that online students fare far worse than their peers in reading and math. Bush has said bad programs should be shut down, but he believes online schools have great potential to offer personalized, self-paced education.

"This is not about our commercial success," said Sari Factor, chief executive officer of E2020 Inc, which develops online curricula and recently signed up as a foundation sponsor. "We're focused on what's right for kids."

Still, Factor acknowledged that E2020 has "absolutely" benefited from Bush's advocacy.

In particular, Bush often talks up an Arizona charter school called Carpe Diem, which uses the E2020 online curriculum, employing just four teachers for 225 students because the kids do so much work online. Bush has flown policy makers from across the country to admire the school's innovation and cost cutting. That has brought more clients to E2020, Factor said.

Arizona data shows Carpe Diem test scores have fallen sharply over the past two years, a drop founder Rick Ogston attributes to a new curriculum and the sudden death of the principal.

That has not slowed its momentum; after visiting Carpe Diem on a trip paid for by the Bush foundation, Indiana officials urged Ogston to apply to open a branch there. The head of the state charter school board, Claire Fiddian-Green, says the school's "fairly strong track record" impressed her despite the recent slip in test scores. The new Carpe Diem campus in Indianapolis opened this fall.

Ogston said he and other charter and online school operators count on Bush's foundation to remove obstacles to their growth, such as state laws that require students to put in time in a physical classroom.

"We come to them to say, 'These policies are in the way, and it would be great if you could change them,'" Ogston said. "That's what they do better than anyone."

(Reporting by Stephanie Simon; editing by Lee Aitken, Prudence Crowther and Douglas Royalty)