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Thursday, February 28, 2013

What is shameful about education reform is we have trained a generation of public school teachers to be silent.

The endless war at home
By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

"I see the light at the end of the tunnel."

National Security Adviser Walt Rustow assured the nation in 1967 that there was an end to the calamity in Southeast Asia.

Now, we know how that story ended for a nation that declared an undeclared war on Communism abroad.

Closer to home and in our time, we are in the middle of a domestic war to reform public education.  Much like the conflict in Indochina, we are blindly and aimlessly pouring resources into an effort that seems to bear no fruit for our students.

There will be no light at the end of the tunnel for us if we continue to treat our loyal foot soldiers the way that our returning heroes were treated when they returned home from miles away scarred by battles that we only half-heartedly supported.

There will never be an equivalency between the horrors that my father's generation witnessed as death and destruction were splattered across the front pages and were beamed into our living rooms on the evening news.

There, however, is a weariness that is creeping into the hearts and minds of educators who have never been called 'baby killers' but have been maligned by well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats from the comfort of their ivory towers and their cloistered offices.

The mission of education reform is noble.  The strategy is questionable, but demands the attention of all education stakeholders.  The tactics, in my opinion strike at the hearts of those who are silently toiling in their classrooms and their homes with no real reward but the continued derision and disrespect of those who claim to support better public schools.

What is most appalling in this current quagmire is that educators were not drafted - they volunteered.  They agreed to serve a mission that will never see the glories of victory as each gain is fleeting until the next round of test results.

To borrow a phrase from Pete Seeger, we indeed are waist deep in the big muddy and our leaders tell us to march on.  The allegedly foolish and stubborn gang of men and women who teach have followed their orders to a fault and will continue to do so because it is their ethical and moral obligation to do so regardless of whether the experts are wrong or mistaken.

What is shameful about this education reform is that we have successfully trained a generation or more of public school teachers to be silent.  The fear of retribution trumps any freedom of speech that they would otherwise enjoy.  The fear of reprisal negates any chance that educators have to speak truth to power.

There will be no real casualties in the war on ignorance, but the continued killing of the spirit and morale of those in the teaching profession should be a warning sign that this war will be one that lasts longer than any real conflict ever has or will.

The current regime of siphoning money and resources from public education makes the military-industrial complex look benevolent by comparison.  Test publishers, textbook publishers, charter schools and other hands in the public till depend on the failure of public schools.  They stand to lose a whole lot if we were to announce anything other than continued defeats due to legions of incompetent educators who either do not care enough or are unwilling to do what the taxpayers expect of them.

How many tests must a student take before we afford his educators with dignity and respect?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
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Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature want teachers to fail

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Leslie Postal and Dave Weber

 Seminole County schools are among the highest performing in the stateYet hundreds of Seminole teachers could end up with poor job reviews next year under Florida's proposed system for calculating teacher evaluations.
An analysis by Seminole officials suggests that teachers across Florida could find good evaluations — and job security — harder to come by once the state finalizes its system for crunching student test score data to judge teacher quality.
That's fine with many state leaders who have questioned how some teachers could earn good yearly reviews while their students struggle to meet Florida's academic standards.
But many local educators are worried about the new evaluation system, and Seminole administrators were alarmed when they ran their data showing how their teachers would score under the new state yardstick.
"This has the potential to dismantle public education," said Seminole Superintendent Walt Griffin. "This is not fair to our teachers."
Seminole's data shows the number of teachers falling into the two lowest evaluation categories of "needs improvement" and "unsatisfactory" would jump from fewer than 1 in 100 this year to more than 1 in 7 next year.
Officials worry hundreds of the district's 4,300 teachers could lose their jobs within several years.
That is based on a new standard for calculating test-score data that the Florida Department of Education is now hammering out, as demanded by the state's 2011 merit pay law.
Kathy Hebda, a deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, said in an email that she could not comment on Seminole's findings as she had not seen them. But she said the department, which is holding a hearing on its proposal Thursday in Orlando, welcomed such feedback.
"We are so grateful that districts have been examining their data so closely," she said, adding such reviews are "key to continuous improvement of Florida's education evaluation systems."
The merit pay law, which aims to improve student learning, overhauls how teachers are to be evaluated, paid and promoted and mandates that teachers with a few years of poor evaluations should be fired.
Seminole educators say they fear good teachers will unfairly lose their jobs.
"This evaluation system is inaccurate and is not really capturing the truth about teachers," said Marie Causey, a statistics teacher at Oviedo High.
School principals and other campus-based administrators — even those at A and B rated campuses — would also struggle, with fewer earning good reviews and more getting poor ones, Seminole officials said.
The education department said it had not run a statewide analysis of the impact of its new proposal, though many expected its standards would be tougher those most districts used this past year.

Lake County schools have no firm data "but we see the same trend that Seminole County is reporting," wrote Laurie Marshall, executive director for human resources and employee relations, in an email.
The Orange County school district said it has not run any data using the state's new proposal.
At issue is the rule the department is finalizing for its "value-added model," dubbed VAM, which aims to judge how much a teacher contributed to a student's growth on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The system seeks to determine a teacher's impact while taking into account factors outside their control, such as a student's disability or absentee rate.
The state calculated teacher VAM data for last school year, but allowed school districts to determine how to interpret it. The result: More than 96 percent of teachers did well statewide.
That led to complaints from supporters of the merit pay law who expected a change from the old teacher-evaluation system, when reviews based on administrator observations typically led to 99 percent of teachers getting good marks.
Sally Bradshaw, a member of the State Board of Education, said earlier this month that she was upset that most teachers earned "effective" or better ratings in 2012 even at F-rated schools or in districts where many students struggled on FCAT reading.
"I think something is terribly wrong," she said.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett responded that the new value added standards, which are expected to point out more low performing teachers, would help answer her concerns.
The new standards are slated to be adopted by the State Board in June and would go into effect for the 2013-14 school year.
The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the merit pay law, which bases half of a teacher's evaluation on "student learning growth." An "unsatisfactory" on that automatically means the overall rating must be "unsatisfactory."
"We just think it's really, really not valid," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the statewide teachers union, who labels the state's plan "a ridiculous exercise."
The Seminole School Board is considering appeals to local state legislators, school board and superintendents' organizations and others in an attempt to stop implementation of the new evaluation rules.
"I have great concern about the science behind this," said Ron Pinnell, Seminole's human resources executive. "There are people's careers on the line." or 407-420-5273. or 407-883-7885.

The FCAT, judge, jury and executioner.

By John Meeks

The day of reckoning is near for educators in the Sunshine State.  Fear is the instinctive response to the doom and uncertainty that are born inside of us the moment our students pick up their pencils or log onto their computers.

No matter how administrators and educators try to game the system, they end up getting played by the system that appears to be designed to consign public schools to a status lower than the local brothel and with much less respect from the community.

No amount of practice, preparation or previewing can ever promise success for our schools or students because the system has already been crafted to demonize, degrade and denigrate men and women who care about students but live and work with targets on their backs.

FCAT is a monster not because it was born that way.  Originally intended to diagnose students' needs in the classroom, FCAT has morphed into a handmaiden for elected and appointed officials to destroy what little joy there is in the teaching profession.

Data and accountability are nice but they are used far too often by the party in power in Tallahassee because they know that opposition is toothless, impotent or in hiding.  Every Election Day that comes and goes further cements the lust for power that our so-called leaders place ahead of truly serving our state and our future.
It is only inevitable that schools have become testing factories in which district and school officials are reduced to overseers who have no choice but to monitor and micromanage a chain gang busting rocks in unison for an ever-shrinking piece of hard bread and sip of tepid water.

No matter what we educators do, it will never be enough, so why bother?  It is easier for suits to justify their jobs by telling us how horrible we are than it is to say that we truly are trying and need a break.

Teaching may not be as bad as being in prison, but at least the average convict gets a fair trial.  FCAT, however, is our judge, jury and executioner.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sequestration costs Florida $55.4 million in education funds alone

From the Tampa Times

Statewide, the sequestration could lead to a $55.4 million reduction in Title I funding, or a cut in service to more than 96,000 students in as many as 132 schools, according to the USDOE. And these would not be the only cuts affecting the schools. (See this administration state estimate of cuts for more details.)
Secretary Arne Duncan said in a press release that this represented a "wrong choice," and urged parents, educators and others to "urge (lawmakers) to figure out a solution to avoid this."
See also the USDOE's recent blog post on sequestration for more information.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics, the tools of the education reformer

From Modern School, by Micheal Dunn

For years, free market education reformers have claimed that the U.S. public education system is broken—some have even called it a threat to our national security (Reagan’s Nation at Risk report, 1983). They have used this “crisis” to justify everything from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to attacks on teachers’ seniority, tenure and due process rights. It has led to a decade of accountability and testing mania that has eaten up instructional time and replaced activities that foster creativity and critical thinking with rote memorization. It has taken away billions of dollars that could have been used for teacher training, recruitment and remuneration, and transferred it into the pockets of test and textbook publishers, private charter school operators, and online curriculum producers.

The claims that America’s schools are failing are grossly exaggerated, if not utterly false. For example, the number of students attempting and passing SAT and AP exams has been growing every year and in every ethnic and social group (see here and here). Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time in history, more than 30% of Americans aged 25 or older—56 million people—have bachelor's degrees, while only 5% did 70 years ago—something that would be impossible if K-12 education was not successfully preparing its graduates for college. According to Good Education, more than one-third of these degrees are now in STEM fields. The data also indicates that gender and ethnic disparities are closing, with 30% of women now holding degrees (compared to 31% of men), while the percentage of Hispanic degree holders increased 80% over the past decade, with over 14% now holding degrees.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
Free market reformers love testing because it seems objective and scientific (plus they can massage the statistics to suit their needs). Most people lack the time and expertise to disaggregate the numbers, examine the methodology, and identify biases and experimental errors that can skew the data and influence the validity of their conclusions. Consequently, the media typically report test results without such analyses, proliferating misconceptions and inaccuracies like the notion that U.S. students’ test scores are substantially lower than those in other wealthy nations (as measured by the PISA test).

However, as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) correctly points out in a new report (that you can read here), lower income students in every country perform more poorly on the tests than affluent students. However, because economic inequality is greater in the U.S. than in virtually every other country with which we are compared, our national average appears comparatively low. To make matters worse, there was a sampling error in the most recent PISA test, resulting in an over-representation of students from the most disadvantaged U.S. schools, thus further depressing the average U.S. scores.

When EPI re-estimated PISA scores, adjusting for the disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged students in the U.S., it found that average U.S. scores in reading and math were substantially higher than the official numbers. Using EPI’s corrected numbers, the U.S. moves to sixth in reading (up from the officially reported 14th) and 13th in math (up from the officially reported 25th) compared with other OECD countries.

Although U.S. students still performed worse than those in the top three countries (Canada, Finland and Korea), the difference was markedly narrowed when adjusted for socioeconomic differences. Perhaps more significantly, economically disadvantaged students in the U.S. performed better than their social class peers in most other countries, including in these three top scoring countries.

Thus, while U.S. educational outcomes appear worse than those of its trading partners (due mostly to its greater levels of social inequity), it is actually doing a better job than its trading partners at boosting the test scores of its poorest students. Furthermore, the performance of the poorest U.S. students has been improving over time, while the performance of poor students in other similar countries has been on the decline, suggesting that U.S. schools are doing a better job addressing the needs of their economically disadvantaged students.

Today's history lesson

Note, no history:

The JPEF blames teachers for the problems in education

The JPEF is an organization dedicated to improving the lot of local education. In a recent post o their site they bemoaned if only so many teachers didn’t suck it would be a lot easier.

I paraphrase some but their meaning couldn’t have been clearer. There premise was if only we had more excellent teachers, i.e. we have too many bad teachers then children would be more successful.

They start their misinformation campaign by saying the US spends more per capita on education than any other nation in the world. Unfortunately they leave out the fact to get to this number they have to include what we spend on college too.

The next so called fact they use is how despite these vast expenditures we rank way down in the middle of the pact. What they leave out is that when you adjust for poverty our scores shoot up to the top. Not that they mention poverty at all. It’s like it doesn’t even exist and poverty is the number one measureable factor for determining how children do in school. Kids in poverty don’t do as well as those that don’t. If you didn’t know, a fifth of our kids live in poverty and another fifth just above it.

If anyone is serious about improving our schools, then tackling poverty is where we NEED to start because until we do that nothing else will matter. Furthermore just so the JPEF knows the overall quality of our teachers is exemplary.

Where is the JPEF post on poverty? Where are their ideas to mitigate it? Nowhere, that’s where because instead they would rather blame the teacher.

I have met several members of the JPEF staff and have found them earnest and committed people, sadly however I must now add misinformed to the list.

To read the JPEF piece, follow the link:

Dissecting the JPEF’s ideas

After blaming teachers for the malaise American Education finds itself in, (high stakes testing, poverty, people who have never been in a classroom making decisions anybody) the JPEF offered a few suggestions to right our so-called sinking ship. Below are their suggestions, my remarks and then a few suggestions of my own.

Class-size changes: Not simply increasing all class sizes to push more students into fewer classrooms, but allowing more flexibility at the school level to determine which teachers and subjects can handle a few more students without sacrificing quality, and which students and teachers would benefit most from even smaller group sizes. I don’t understand why they don’t get, if you give me a few more students I will be a better teacher, said no teacher ever.

Specialization: Having top teachers, particularly in elementary school, teach only core subjects while developing teachers learn by example and take care of students the rest of the time. I guess this could work, though I know there already is a lot of specialization going on in many schools especially in the upper elementary grades.

Multi-classroom leadership: Having top teachers take on a coaching and oversight role that puts them in charge of several classrooms - allowing them to expand what they know works to reach students across multiple classrooms, while rising in their own career path as well. My problem with this is a lot of these corporate reformers can’t conceive that many teachers just want to teach. They don’t have the desire to be principals, assistant principals or multiple classroom leaders. To them teaching is the brass ring.

Time-technology swaps: Investing in new ways to incorporate classroom technology to handle the reinforcing of basic skills lessons and practice to allow top teachers more time for small group and individual instruction with more students. Every few years teachers are forced to use a new program that experts say will revolutionize education that is quickly replaced by a new one. Thus far there has been no technological silver bullet, please do not hold your breath waiting for one.

These suggestions won’t do a bit of good unless we decide to tackle poverty and then as you may have detected I am still skeptical about some of them as well. If the JPEF is serious about improvement, mitigating poverty is the route we need to take and here are some ideas.

There are many things we can do to mitigate poverty in our so-called struggling schools. We should have social workers and mental health counselors because quite often why a student doesn’t try or acts up has nothing to do with school. We should hire skill, trade and arts teachers because this one size fits all, everybody is going to go to college curriculum that we force every kid into doesn’t play to many children’s strengths and aptitudes and because we can’t continue to make school such drudgery for kids and then wonder why they perform poorly. Then we need to have more summer school opportunities because some kids need more time to learn it and less time to lose it. Finally at least in Duval many students are taking too many classes that are too long at the same time, we should get rid of the A/B block.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is the Times Union in love with Rick Scott? Two papers, two point of views.

The headline of Kristopher Brooks’ piece read: Gov. Rick Scott to send extra state money to improving Florida schools, First Coast school districts will share $12.1 million.

Well gosh isn’t that nice of the governor. The only problem is the headline is not all that accurate. The money being sent to several of our schools is school recognition money and the program has been in place for years. Scott might be signing the checks but it is not his idea, not even close.

Just a little detail the Times Union left out.

The Orlando Sentinel had a different take and that’s the governor may be trying to take credit for a program that has been around for longer than he has lived in Florida (14 years to 10).

To be honest and this may not be popular with some. I think the millions spent on school recognitions funds should be spent to pay for raises for all teachers or to create programs such as art, music, trades and skills at schools where students could benefit from them. Regardless it wasn’t Rick Scott who came up with the idea.


The hypocrisy of the Charter School movement

Let me tell you about a little charter school in Sarasota. They were so poor they barely kept their kids, um, err, equipped with basic school necessities. Sorry, I was doing a Beverley Hillbillies rift there. The parents got together and decided that they were paying Imagine Charter schools too much in management fees and this led to a lack of resources that was really detracting from the quality of education that their children were getting. So they voted to get rid of the management company. Sounds suspiciously like the Parent Trigger bill that the Florida Legislature is trying to push down people’s throats if you ask me.

What did the management company do? They sued. They didn’t say, well the parents are making a choice about the education of their children so we'll back off. They sued. They didn’t say we’ll reduce the management fees which take money out of the classroom and put it into the pocket of board members. They sued. They basicaly said, parent choice, schmarent choice, we'll do what we want, and they sued.

To be honest I don’t have much sympathy for the parents after all charter schools steal resources from public schools but I do find this battle interesting. It shows the hypocrisy of the charter school movement.

Bob Sykes of Scathing Purple Musings has done several pieces about the battle between these charter school parents and the management company. To read more check out the links below:

More McKay Scholarship abuses

Do high stakes tests develop a love of learning?

To be fair, they never claimed that high-stakes tests would develop a love of learning. On the other hand, they never mentioned the tests would develop a loathing for school and a fear of failing. -Chris Spiliotis

Monday, February 25, 2013

Money should never follow the student or why do the parents of charter school students think they are special?

Let me ask you a question. Is it just the parents of students who attend charter schools or who go to private schools that pay taxes? Are they the only ones that foot the bill? What, you say, even people without kids have to pay taxes, and people whose kids have grown up have to pay taxes too? Then why is it voucher and charter school proponents think their taxes should follow the money to the school that they are sending their kids too?

Let me ask you another question. Are parents forced to home school their kids or to send them to charter schools or private schools? What, you are saying that is their choice? Then why should the public subsidize those choices? Also did you know very few parents pay in taxes what the state pays to educate their child? The system depends on people without children or whose children have graduated to chip in too.

I believe if some people don’t like the public option they are presented and want to opt out then they not the public should be responsible for that choice and it is a choice that they are making. Furthermore we all pay into a public education system, whether we have kids in it or not is because that is one of the institutions that benefit us all. The stronger it is the better all of society is and once again that applies whether we have kids attending public schools or not.

I bring this up because of the chutzpah that some of the parents have demanding that their tax money follow their children and the nerve of charter school operators to demand local public school systems tax money. Nobody has forced parents to send their kids to charter schools and nobody forced charter schools to open and certainly owner operators knew what they were getting into when they took the task upon their shoulders. Or you would hope so anyways.

Since 1992 of the 6700 charter schools that have opened over a thousand have failed and of those about half was because of financial reasons. I wonder of those how many were paying their principals, usually the owner operator too, hundreds of thousands of dollars, or who were paying their relatives high salaries for no show jobs or jobs that traditionally pay a lot less.

Here in Florida we don’t have any idea because of the lax accountability standards the Florida Legislature has bestowed upon charter school. Remember it was just in 2011 that the operator of a failed charter school with an enrollment of about 120 took home 800 grand after years of taking home salaries higher than most public school superintendents. Furthermore you can’t go a week without reading the story if this charter school or that closing, having financial irregularities or demanding more taxpayer dollars.

And this is where we want our money to go?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What teachers are doing wrong!

John Meeks, the danger of professional learning communities (PLC)

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.
It only takes a public school system to turn the word 'community' into a bad word.

We are born into communities, we choose communities, and we support communities that foster our humanity and growth.

My running assumption is that communities are like families, but transcend the blood ties that we inherit.  In a community, we are all brothers and sisters who have the same vision and the same values - if not the manner in carrying them out.

You might ask why I believe that community is somehow an issue with the public school system.  I would answer in the affirmative.

There is a new movement in public education that is called "Professional Learning Communities."  It was created to connect teachers within a grade level or department to help them work well as a team.  This teamwork, I believe, is necessary.  I remember when I first began teaching in 2002 and felt like an island unto myself where I had to produce lessons and assignments independently of the veteran educators who could be of assistance to a rookie teacher.

The Professional Learning Communities (PLC) movement is the cure to this sense of disconnect among educators of all ability levels.  Department and grade levels collaborate in PLC meetings on a regular basis and they meet to find ways to make the grade for our students and our schools.

The pursuit of professional growth through using best practices and proven practices is most beneficial to educators as they make the best use of their time, talent and treasure for the common good.

I like to begin my criticism with an inventory of the good before I list the 'deltas' - or areas where I believe can be improved.  I have three deltas with regard to the darker side of the PLC movement:

1.) PLC = Professional Learning Conformity.  Many administrators use the PLC movement as a guise under which they can mandate conformity among their faculty.  The sharing of resources, in my opinion, should be up to the teachers who do the sharing.  When we have administrators demanding to know why lesson plans are not identical and demanding to know why teachers are not doing the exact same thing at any given moment, we are losing an important autonomy that we trust other professionals with when they do their work.

2.) Differentiation only applies to students.  Speaking of lack of autonomy, we are deluding ourselves when we demand that teachers behave like Cathy and Patty Lane the famous identical cousins on The Patty Duke Show who laughed alike, they walked alike and sometimes they even talked alike.  We are very mindful of the different ways that students learn.  We are equally stubborn in expecting teachers to set aside their talents to teach exactly the way their peers teach.  The problem with PLC, in my opinion, that the voting majority in any grade level or department can impose their will on the minority simply because they agree that their way is better.  As the old maxim goes, democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner.

3.) When we meet, who will bring the cookies?  The nature of data and accountability is to meet regularly to count the beans.  The downside to the meetings and collaboration that they are supposed to foster is that many educators are required to meet for the sake of meeting.  In this age of electronic communication, we still have schools that demand that teachers schedule time for meetings as often as once a week to set aside their planning and working to help the school prove that they indeed are having meetings.  This, in my opinion, is the most wasteful aspect of PLCs.  We expect educators to step away from their actual work to organize meetings that may or may not have a purpose not for the sake of helping students but to show the bureaucrats that the school is pledging its ongoing fealty to the almighty PLC.
The best way to organize a community of teachers is to be faithful to the vision and mission of the PLC movement without forgetting the aspects of community that actually inspire us to belong and serve.
Folow John on:

Jeb Bush has done enough damage to our schools

By Jac Versteeg, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Former Gov. Jeb Bush has an undeserved reputation as an education reformer. Florida’s recent education progress has come not from implementing Mr. Bush’s policies but from cleaning up after them.
Mr. Bush has been visiting legislators in Tallahassee to talk about education policy. Get out the mops and buckets. Taxpayers also should reach for their wallets, since the former governor’s new big ideas involve transferring more public dollars to the for-profit companies behind him.
Mr. Bush’s biggest idea, enacted immediately after taking office in 1999, was to give each school an A-to-F grade based on student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That misuse of the the FCAT continues. The test’s many shortcomings were even more serious when Gov. Bush initiated FCAT tyranny. The test covered only a few subjects, students took it long before the end of the school year, and half of elementary and high-school students didn’t even take it. Yet the entire school received a grade, on which parents, students and Realtors fixated.
Gov. Bush also instituted one voucher program the courts ruled unconstitutional and another “corporate voucher” program that, ironically, lets low-income students avoid taking the FCAT.
The Legislature gradually is replacing the FCAT with end-of-course exams. In yet another revision to the grading formula Gov. Bush perversely and prematurely treated as infallible, Florida made FCAT scores count less in some school grades. Still, Florida in 2011 also required teachers to be evaluated based on FCAT scores, even if a teacher had no students who took the FCAT.
This is not “creative destruction.” It’s harassment, and it has created enormous ill will. Gov. Rick Scott’s frantic reversals in preparation for a reelection run — he has called for teacher raises not linked to the FCAT — show how unpopular Mr. Bush’s education legacy is.
With the FCAT writing test looming this week, a Palm Beach County school board member spoke for many educators when she lamented that “this is one test on one day that means more than it should.” But urging students and parents not to stress out is futile. Failing the FCAT still has out-sized consequences — such as no diploma.
Mr. Bush’s fans note that Florida’s education rankings and results have improved. The dubious rankings give Florida credit simply for having “accountability,” systems even if those systems are bogus. Improving test results and graduation rates are incremental and could have been achieved — and surpassed — more quickly without the turmoil Mr. Bush inflicted.
Now Mr. Bush heads several foundations pushing for a rapid expansion of charter schools and virtual schools. His Foundation for Excellence in Education accepts donations from private companies that would profit from lax new laws that Florida and other states are rushing to enact. The sort of careless “reform” Jeb Bush advocates will end up with taxpayers fleeced and students and parents cheated. He has a reputation for reform. He has a record of making messes.

John Romano asks, why charter schools?

1. If a majority of parents are on board with this rapid expansion, why are so many charter schools closing due to low enrollment?

2. If charters are such a wonderful alternative, why were they four times more likely to receive an F in the statewide grading system last year?

3. If accountability is important, why are the rules so lax that the salary of a charter school's principal can be double the size of the school's entire education budget?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

SB 744, A Charter School bill even I can get behind

Its been no secret that the Florida Legislature has been full speed ahead with their privatization agenda the last few years and their main mechanism has been the charter school. They have not so subtlety stacked the deck in their favor and this despite inferior quality, dubious results, and scandal and charter school closing after scandal and charter school closing. It’s shameful.

However this year maybe there is a bit of a push back going on and a few legislators have introduced a bill to hold them accountable or what I like to call, the bill least likely to pass the Florida legislature.

 SB 744, by Sens. David Simmons, R-Maitland, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, would require an applicant wanting to establish a charter school to submit information on annual employee compensation and to demonstrate financial capability to open, operate and maintain a high-quality charter school.

You would think above would just be common sense but sadly here in Florida when it comes to education common sense is extremely rare. It is way past time Florida if it insists on going down the charter school route makes sure they are putting in place financially accountable high quality schools or what I like to call the opposite of what we have been doing up till now.

Good luck Simmons and Montford, you are going to need it. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Just who wants the Parent Trigger again?

Apparently just the republicans in the Florida legislature, Jeb Bush and charter school operators who are salivating at the prospect of a free school. Since this is the case it shows the hypocrisy of the situation.

Why? Look who has come out against it.

Teachers and their representatives, the democrats in the Florida legislature, the civil rights organizations the NAACP and the LULAC and they have been joined by the PTA, SOS, Fund Education Now and several other parents groups.

Jeb Bush’s response, parents should have lots of choices as long as they choose what I am offering.

Only in Florida can a bill be so reviled by all the stakeholders have a better than good chance of passing.

It is not the interests of parents and children that the state legislature is concerned with but the pocketbooks of charter school operators and their own campaign accounts.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

John Meeks: "Student-centered" learning is a joke!

By John Meeks

"Student-centered" learning is a joke.  The problem is that there is nothing humorous about this new piece of education jargon that seems to be more designed to frustrate and intimidate teachers who are working to serve our students.

George Orwell would be proud of how education leaders and bureaucrats define "student-centered."  In reality, students do not appear to be served much by forcing teachers to put on the dog for the sake of keeping up appearances.

What is frustrating most to me as an educator is not that we are not trying.  The trouble is that there are legions of educators who sacrifice their time to follow orders only to scrap their work when someone with a wild hair decides that something else better has come along.

It is foolish and silly for professionals in any field to put in the time to comply with directives that will only give way to something else the next week, month or year.  This capricious and arbitrary leadership, in my opinion, is abusive and would not be tolerated in any other sector of employment.

The refrain from on high, however, is that we have to do this for the students.  This is a cheap shot that implies that educators do not care about their students when they fail to see the value of investing time and effort into labor that will be disrespected and discarded.  This is a cheap shot that fails to trust teachers to do the right thing for their students.

In this age of data-driven instruction, we all find ourselves fretting over the numbers.  When the statistics rear their ugly head, everyone from principals down to paraprofessionals must jump like servants answering their master's bell.

And, where are the students in this equation?  They are consigned to being used as weapons with which to condemn the good work of those whom the public trusts to help.  It should be no surprise that bullying is increasing in schools because the metrics in modern education do not give any reason for administrators or teachers to care.  Evaluations are centered around student performance, but not student morale, happiness or safety.

While we cannot paper over student test scores, we can easily ignore and under-report student discipline because it is convenient to focus solely on the math and reading scores.  The failing of this mindset is that students who do not feel safe on campus and do not feel supported by their schools are the same students whose families will eventually opt to remove them from public schools.

Parents and families of public school students should be alarmed that educators are being trained either overtly or covertly to look the other way because any sincere attempts to protect their students is perceived as distracting from the mission to create employees for the workforce.

In my opinion, the school system is currently designed and organized around benign neglect of the social and mental needs of students who come from broken homes, abusive families, low-income circumstances, and other situations that will never factor into why our schools face challenges.  To speak up about this horrible situation is to be dismissed for making excuses.

Can I afford to stick my head into the ground like an ostrich?  I would benefit greatly from doing so as it helps my numbers and gives my superiors the impression that I am a busy beaver.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I have a different idea of what "student-centered" means.

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Florida outgains students in other large states, but why?

Let’s string some statements from an article about the improvement in the Tampa Times, together with my observations about them.

First, when talking about Florida’s improvement over the last decade, including a 16 point improvement for 4th graders, Jack Buckley commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics said, I am fairly confident in saying there is something real going on there.

He later added, he was "skeptical" of anyone who ventured to link these scores to policy decisions. Not that hasn't stopped Florida's policymakers from doing so.

Then in response to the improvement Tony Bennett, Florida’s education commissioner pointed to the state's third-grade reading retention policies and A-F school grades as two causes of the growth.

"While there may not be a strict causal relationship between these actions and Florida's steady improvement, we cannot ignore that prospect" Let’s look at the inverse of that statement which would be, but if the causal reasons are something else we can ignore them. Which is interesting because Mr. Bennett left something out, they same thing Jeb Bush, Gary Chartrand and every other corporate education reformer does and that’s the class size amendment.

The final statement is, critics of Florida's education reforms have typically credited smaller class sizes for performance increases.

Perhaps the critics are a little hasty too. I think the A-F grading system has been a disaster but I also think that there is something to be said for holding kids back that haven’t mastered the material. I would say the improvement definitely has to do with Florida’s third grade retention policy. I don’t think retaining kids is a bad thing because I think education should be a journey to prepare kids, not a race to do it in 12 years. I however personally feel an extended school year for some is the way we should go.

But at the end of the day what do we really have here? There has been improvement and we can’t just ignore it, now we have to have an honest data driven conversation as to why things have improved. Unfortunately to paraphrase Bennett he and his ilk aren’t interested in causal data, they are interested only in sound bites and anything that can potentially back up their corporate reform minded policies. Getting it right isn’t their objective, seeming to get it right so they can continue to privatize public education is.

The thing is, shouldn’t we make sure we are getting it right? Isn’t that what should be important?

Charter Schools in Ohio cost twice as much as public schools

Not the value I am sure they were sold at. I mention this here in a blog mostly dedicated to Florida education issues because as more and more evidence becomes available people are beginning to realize charters aren’t that great of a value here either.

To see the study click this link:

When is good news not good news? When we are talking about education in Florida.

Good news, the town crier yelled as the results from all our kids A.P. tests came out. Florida first in the amount of kids taking A.P. tests for years is now among the leaders in kids passing them too. All is right in the world and this is proof that the education reforms are working. Except it isn’t.

Last year 27.3 percent of students passed an A.P. exam, both up from the previous year and above the national average of 19.5 percent. Furthermore last year more than twice as many kids graduated with at least one AP test passed (4 year career) than did in 2002. That’s good news right?

Here however is the problem, in Florida over half of our kids take A.P. tests, a score which is inflated because if you are in an A.P. class you have to take the test whether you think you will pass it or not. What’s the rate of the rest of the nation? 32.4%

That’s right friends in the rest of the country less than a third of their students take A.P. classes while here in Florida partly because A.P. classes give schools cover and easy points in the school grading formula over half of our kids do. Could the sheer volume of students taking A.P. classes have led to some of our improvement? Yeah I think so too.

Oh, did you know the state pays for the tests too? Which means since we pump so many kids into A.P. classes and then make them take the test, the state spends tens of millions of dollars a year on failed tests. Tests which more than few have no business taking and do so knowing they will fail.

One last thing, ask an A.P. teacher, preferably one who has been doing it for a while what they think about the progress we have made, if they think what we have been doing is good news or not. I think you may be surprised.

So yeah, I guess there is some good news here but at the end of the day it’s more cherry picked, inflated stats that come with serious questions and reservations. Welcome to Florida.

Follow up, below is from the Miami Herald: And despite the state’s overall success, there are some troubling concerns about AP Florida’s high schools.

Fifty-six percent of the exam scores from last year’s class were 1s or 2s, with more than 32 percent of those at the lowest level. That shows students did not master the concepts and skills taught in the class. In recent years, some educators have questioned the value of students taking classes they are not ready to tackle.

Florida high schools routinely schedule ninth-graders into some AP classes, though the practice is discouraged by the College Board because the failure rate is so high. Many Florida schools, for example, enroll freshmen in AP human geography, where nearly 49 percent of students scored a 1, recent data shows.

Teacher job satisfaction at 25 year low!

From the Hechinger Report

Job satisfaction among public school principals and teachers has decreased in the past five years, with teacher satisfaction reaching its lowest levels in 25 years, according to survey results released Thursday. Only 39 percent of teachers reported being very satisfied in their job, and more than half said they felt under “great stress” several days a week, the 29th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found.
The findings come at a time when nearly every state around the country has adopted some sort of significant education reform in the past two years, including revising academic standards and implementing new teacher evaluation systems. Advocates say that many of these reforms, such as merit pay and the elimination of seniority-based layoffs, will help attract a higher-quality candidate to the profession.
But Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit group that promotes higher academic standards, said he was concerned by the job satisfaction numbers and what they said about the general public’s view of educators. “What struck me most,” he said during a conference call hosted by MetLife to discuss the findings, “[is that] they are operating in an environment of public discourse that is often focused on blame.”
The survey also found that three-quarters of principals said that their job was too complex. “We’re asking principals to do a lot more with – at best – the same, or fewer resources,” Mel Riddile, an associate director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said on the call. “They’re encountering a perfect storm of Common Core implementation, new teacher evaluations and state accountability systems.”
Both Riddile and Cohen stressed that full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, a new set of k-12 academic standards that 48 states have adopted, would be a huge shift for virtually all schools.
Ninety percent of principals and 93 percent of teachers reported that teachers in their schools had the skills necessary for implementing the new standards, according to the survey. They were less sure, however, of the impact Common Core would have. Just 22 percent of principals and 17 percent of teachers said they were very confident the standards would increase student performance.
“Different surveys produce different findings of how supportive teachers are of the standards,” Cohen said. “None of this is going to happen quickly. These are long term changes.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Florida plans to abandon its most vulnerable children.

They will anyway if people like Senate President Don Geatz, state board of education member Sally Bradshaw and Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and get their way.

The first two can’t understand how teachers at supposedly poor performing schools, re: don’t do well on standardized tests can get effective or higher evaluations. The last says when we have a system that links school grades to teacher’s evaluations then the system will exhibit more common sense.

Let’s do something we should never do and forget for a moment that school grades and teacher evaluations are not designed to sync up and let’s forget for a moment that teachers are playing by a system that was developed in Tallahassee to the chagrin of most of them and instead let’s just focus on where the vast majority of these supposedly poor performing schools are located and who attends these schools.

The vast majority of these so called underperforming schools are in neighborhoods wracked with poverty and lacking opportunity. Crime is higher in these neighborhoods than in the suburbs or the more affluent areas of town where you will find your high performing schools, re: does well on standardized tests. Poverty by the way, is not an excuse, it is the number one quantifiable measurement in determining how students do in school. Those kids that live in poverty as a group don’t do as well as those that don’t.

Many of these children live with extended family members or come from one parent households. Some are homeless and others live in foster care. Many of these students don’t have enough to eat and worry where their next meal is coming from. Some of their parents don’t see the value of education and some of the ones that do are too tired from working their low paying jobs to be very involved. Many of the students at these schools have to worry about violence in their neighborhoods and have had the classes they enjoy like art and music eliminated, because rich kids get to take them and poor kids only get tested. Then every one of them is shoved into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of their desire or ability. Now because a few politicians in Tallahassee don’t understand how evaluations work they want to take away their teachers, for some the only stable adult in their lives, too.

Who is going to want to work at one of these schools, with our most vulnerable children if they know they can be let go because of how they do on a test score? People forget that five years ago we were recruiting in Canada, India, and the business world because we couldn’t find enough teachers. There won’t be enough Teach for Awhile, make that America recruits to fill the classrooms, not that we should want them to anyways because putting them there is the exact opposite of best practices. I am not saying we shouldn’t have any accountability. I am saying we shouldn’t blindfold teachers, tie their hands and then ask them to build a bike.

Some people might say charter schools are the answer as many have set up shops in these poor neighborhoods and siphoned both resources and children away from the public schools there. The problem is charter schools don’t do any better than our public schools do and many do worse. In Florida last year according to State Impact if your child were to have attended a charter school they were 7 times more likely to have attended a failing school. Furthermore charter schools are often manned by an ever rotating door of neophytes or once again what we know to be the opposite of best practices. No the answer is not more charter schools many of which are operated by corporations far more interested in the bottom line than educating our children.

I have an idea, why doesn’t the state legislature pass a law telling districts they have to flip the staffs at the best performing school, re: does well on standardizes tests with the worst performing school, re: doesn’t do well on standardized tests. The state has already seized local control when they started over riding charter school decisions and telling districts how to evaluate teachers. By the states logic the children at the low performing school will see their grades sky rocket, except we all know that will not happen. Well everybody but those actually pulling the strings that is. I guess there is a chance that if staffs switched Mr. Geatz and Mrs. Bradshaw would realize that teaching even great teaching can only take a child so far if a child is hungry, afraid and doesn’t have a parent who cares. Though who knows they might want this new set of teachers fired too when the inevitable happens and their scores say stagnant. By the way, I’ m not saying these schools can’t improve. I am saying if we want them to then we need to stop tackling the wrong problem.

If Geatz, Bradshaw and Bennett were really interested in improving the schools in our poorer neighborhoods they would give up their obsession with evaluating and punishing teachers and would instead come up with ways to mitigate poverty.

We need to put social workers and mental health counselors in our struggling schools because quite often why kids act up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school. We need to make school year around for many of our children by providing legitimate summer school opportunities and I am not talking about throwing kids in front of computers. That way kids can make up losses and have less time to lose gains. Then we need to make school more relevant to children by offering multiple curriculums (skills, trades and arts) that play to their strengths and desires and are less drudgery to them, furthermore every kid should have one elective of their choosing on their schedule. And speaking of schedules we must adjust them to meet our student’s needs and abilities, right now for many of our kids, not only are they taking too many classes at a time, but they are too long and meet too infrequently.

Sadly however instead of tackling the real problem and coming up with real solutions, these powers-that-be are more interested in fixing a problem that isn’t there. Geatz, Bradshaw and Bennett are truly doing our students, especially are most vulnerable ones a disservice and maybe that was their plan all along.