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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is Save Duval Schools worried about whom their pal Gary is inviting over?

Yes, I know what a terrible title. Moving past it, you should all know that the barbarians are at the gate. Gary Chartrand in a Times Union article about raising money said he hopes national philanthropic groups will pitch in, too. He mentioned the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as ideal targets for added monies.

WHAT!!!! These are the people that are behind the public education privatization movement. They aren’t here to help improve public schools they are here to bury public schools. These are the same people Save Duval Schools and everybody who cares about public education has been fighting against.

Yeah we need resources but if Race to the Top has taught us anything, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. The county should either say no thanks or make darn sure there are no strings attached.


The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Gary Chartrand and the JPEF

Color me confused, the JPEF does a study that says Duval County has a hard time keeping teachers and then the next day the Times Union says the JPEF will manage a fund that will spend 11 million dollars to support TFA teachers and we all know 90 percent or so won’t stay past two years. What am I missing here?

Shouldn’t any money we get be used to foster teachers who will spend a lifetime in our classrooms? Not just stay for a cup of coffee and then be off to the next big thing in their lives.

TFA does have a role to play but as a supplement and they should only be called on after other options to staff our classrooms have been exhausted.  Hillsborough County (among others) refuses to use them because they want lifelong teachers in their classrooms.

Is the board asking how high when Chartrand says jump?  

Stop the presses, Teachers are dissatisfied in Jacksonville?!?

I would say it was the worst kept secret in the city that teachers were dissatisfied except it hasn’t been anything close to be a secret. I mean except to the JPEF and the Times Union who were apparently in the dark.

Here is the recipe for how it happened.

One part incompetent superintendent and a rubber stamp board. The previous superintendent must have had compromising pictures of the long term board members because they rubber stamped everything he brought to them and much of it was to the detriment of the district. Not that things were perfect before him but he gutted student accountability and turned teachers from valued colleagues to easily replaceable and marginalized cogs. I also can’t emphasize enough how he gutted student accountability a huge problem that continues to plague us. Then as a bonus he put people in leadership positions not based on ability but who they knew and sadly now many of our schools are filled with bullies masquerading as administrators. Despite Vitti’s impressive beginning, it will take the district years to recover from Pratt-Dannals, Burney, Barrett and Hazouri.

Throw in Jeb Bush and his debunked Florida miracle and teaching went from a field that prided itself on creativity and flexibility to one that filled in bubbles and taught to the test. Jeb Bush has done more to harm education than most people know or it sometimes seems, want to know.

Add a sprinkle of the Times Union and the rest of the local media giving the previous super and board a pass. I must have read a half dozen editorials in the Times Union that said Pratt was the right man for the job, this as he drove quality teachers to the surrounding counties or out of the field all together. Pass after pass they gave him as our schools, teachers and students languished.

Then throw in low pay, Florida teachers are some of the worst paid in the nation and expensive benefits, that’s right, they aren’t as great as people have been led to believe. As altruistic as many teachers are they still have to feed their families. Then when you couple those with an ever increasing demand to drill and kill kids, rich kids get taught poor kids get tested, and mountains of superfluous paperwork and then a lot of teachers decided to look elsewhere for employment. I mean if they are going to be miserable they might as well be getting paid for it.

John Thrasher and Steve Wise, two local legislatures constant anti-teacher drum beat also played a role as did all the anti-teacher/public education legislation that has come out of Tallahassee over the last few years. Instead of fixing our problems they have exacerbated many as they have sought to privatize our schools.

Finally the well financed campaign to besmirch teachers, portraying them as money grubbing self-indulgers who couldn’t care less about kids, you know the opposite of what is true, hurt.

With all that what really surprises me is it’s just 50%.

The good news is we can turn this around and listening to teachers concerns and suggestions would be a good first step.

Jacksonville really isn’t interested in retaining teachers and I can prove it

The headline read, Group looks to raise $50 million to strengthen Duval teachers, principals, administrators. A laudable goal I guess but when you get to the fine print it loses some of its luster. Over 11 million of the dollars would go to Teach for America. Teach for America’s business model is the exact opposite of what people in education call best practices. They take recent grads without education degrees and put them first through a six week access course and then into the toughest classrooms the city has to offer where they serve a two year commitment; after which 90 percent of them leave.

This is made particularly ironic because another article in the paper talks about the difficulty in retaining teachers. Sadly the district by using TFA to fill openings tells its teachers it really interested in doing so. Instead preferring an ever revolving door of cheap and malleable fodder.

Wouldn’t the money be better spent developing teachers who would be in the classroom for a lifetime? Wouldn’t that strengthen our teachers?

The hypocrisy really is dizzying if you think about it.

Michelle Rhee’s ever growing credibility problem

Michelle Rhee used to talk about what a great teacher she was until people looked into her claims. Now she is silent on the issue though for some reason she does like to tell the story about how she once ate a bee.

This was followed by a disastrous turn as the Chancellor of the Washington D.C. school system. As more and more comes out, the achievement gap increased, scores went down, they lost money by closing schools and the cheating scandal which gets bigger every day, her legacy is quickly unraveling.

Then there is the Students First, her anti-public school teacher group, petition she passed off in Florida that supposedly supports the parent trigger. Filed with duplicate signatures and with people who report not having signed it, it cannot be taken seriously.

I’m starting to wonder what she was ever right about. I long ago wondered why anybody would listen to her.

The irony of Michelle Rhee of using petitions to sell the parent trigger

The Parent Trigger if passed would allow parents to petition to change the school that their children attend. Since this is the case does anybody find it ironic that the petition Kelli Stargel, R-lakeland presented as support for the parent trigger legislation (provided by Michelle Rhee), is so full of problems? We are talking about duplicate signatures, and the signatures of people who say they were either tricked about what they were signing or who say they didn’t sign it.

If the supporters of the parent trigger are willing to lie and use subterfuge now even before the bill is passed, what won’t they do once the bill is passed?

To read more click the link:

3,2,1… Down go Bush and the Parent Trigger

First I would like to thank the handful of republicans that voted against the parent trigger, Senators, Nancy Detert, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Greg Evers and Charlie Dean. Education should be non-partisan and what’s best for kids is what we should do. It’s nice to see a handful of republicans agree.

Now to Jeb Bush:

First the RNC, Jeb’s own party, came out against the Common Core, his baby.

Then his mother said; there had been enough Bush’s in the white house.

Finally Florida changed the graduation requirements something he fought against and voted against the parent trigger something he fought for.

Bush like the trigger which has failed two years in a row now is hopefully down for the count.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why all the decption around the Parent Trigger?

From MyEducationNext, by Rita Solonet

Watching the Florida Senate debate the so-called Parent Empowerment bill, is like watching an episode of Truth or Dare.
The bill's sponsor, Senator Kelli Stargel (R)- Lakeland,  clumsily danced around answers to pertinent questions, like,  "Why is a parent trigger even needed in Florida?"  or, "Who supports parent trigger in Florida."

I'm tired of the non answers, the wrong answers, and frankly, the lies presented with gusto such as the fabricated parent group with the slick video that support this bill. The truth about SB 862, aka, the Parent Trigger bill is as follows:

1)    Does the parent trigger bill offer a new option to parents?
No, it does not.  Florida already has a law permitting public school conversion to charter school. That law gives the parents power to initiate a conversion of a school to charter. It was used in Key Biscayne and in Lakeland.

2)     Does this bill truly empower parents as the title suggests?
No, it does not. Parents are actually less empowered when a school is converted to a charter.  Charters frequently select students for admission. Oftentimes, they avoid disabled children, English Language Learners, those dubbed hard-to-teach.  Further, charter schools expel children at any time they desire.  Parents have no appeal process. Oftentimes charter schools don't allow parents to attend board meetings.  Charters change school attendance days (including Saturdays) and hours. Parents have no say.  Many charters now demand volunteer hours from parents dictating that students will be expelled if parents don't volunteer.  This is empowerment?
3)     Do parents have a voice in Florida's public schools now?
Absolutely they do. Whether they are involved in the school or not, parents can seek out a peer parent on a School Advisory Council (SAC).  SACs are mandated by law and their boards must comprise, by law, 51% or more with parents and business leaders.  SACs actually write school improvement plans.  Parents gather input and help to write plans to improve the school. That's empowerment!  Any parent can and should attend SAC meetings with issues or seek out parents to help with issues.  I've been on SACs over a decade and we help every parent who comes before us. 
4)     Do charter schools have the same accountability?

No.  Contrary to Senator Stargell's remarks, charters do not close after two years of F-ratings.  First, by law, they are not graded until after the second year. Then, if they receive F-ratings, and a district wants to close them, charters turn to the State Board of Ed to appeal the closure.  At best, you cannot close a failing charter for three years. Just look at all the failing charters that still exist!

5)     Florida needs to offer parents more Choice

Florida has more choice than any other state in the nation. Florida offers:  McKay Scholarships;  Vouchers;  Florida Virtual;  600+ charter schools;  Magnet schools;  Homeschooling;  Cyber Charters and 100% Virtual schools for parents; along with an existing conversion clause to charter.
6)     Does FL need more avenues to open more charters such as the parent trigger?
Florida has 600 charter schools in operation today. When you consider Florida has more charters than Texas, you need to consider that Texas has 4.8M students to educate vs. Florida's 2.4M.  Perhaps it's time to slam on the brakes and fix the charters in existence vs. opening the floodgates for more that are not needed.
7)     Who opposes parent trigger in Florida?
Senator Stargel shamefully misled the Senate with her answer today. Over 1M citizens oppose parent trigger. Groups such as:

 and many more...

FACT:   There is no entity - no grassroots parents group that has chosen to form support for the concept of parent trigger of their own volition whatsoever.  That lie was exposed in Kathleen McGrory's Miami Herald article on April 26.

8)  Why do parents oppose parent trigger?
Simply - we oppose the conflict it inflicts upon communities pitting parents against principals, teachers against parents, parents against parents and students against students.  You only have to look to California for proof that this law divided communities such that families moved away.  NO AMENDMENT will resolve this conflict you are willfully inflicting upon Florida's citizens.
PLEASE LISTEN TO CONSTITUENTS AND VOTE NO ON PARENT TRIGGER!I am not a teacher - not a union member - and I haven't got a clue what the so-called union talking points are.  I'm a parent, a business woman who spent her own savings to beg you to say no to a very destructive bill.

What raise did teachers get again?

The Governor reverted to form taking a victory lap over the legislature agreeing to give teachers at least a 2,000 dollar raise, which for most is less than the 5% they have lost over the last two years.

However buried in the fine print is the raise isn’t suppose to kick in till the 14-15 school year.  The governor doing his best Last of the Mohicans impression told teachers, to hang on, submit, to somehow survive and then eventually he would throw us a few nickels.

Governor Scott if you are hoping to buy my vote, you are going to have to do a bit better than that.

To read more click the link:

DCPS is a horrible place to work

That was the start of Reader 422's comment on a Times Union piece about why teachers leave the district. This is the rest of it.

DCPS is a horrible place to work. I have decades of experience and am National Board Certified and I just got my evaluation today. My score: 58/100. Retaliation for asking a question of my dictator, I mean principal. Petty comments are on my evaluation such as:
"Put everything in one binder." Really? Do they make 3 ft. binders?
This job involves paperwork!
One child spoke without raising his hand, so I got a Needs Improvement in Managing Student Behavior.
"Some of my notes are handwritten." Can I not jot down a phone #?
Anonymous complaints were made about me. Undoubtedly parents of children who failed. How can I respond to that?
I thought their goal was to recruit and retain great teachers. Every day is a demoralizing experience. I work all day, every evening, every weekend. I spend every Saturday morning going to garage sales looking for books for my students.
The illiterate bimbo who evaluates me gave us a lesson plan form and sent an email acknowledging that it takes 2-3 hrs. to fill out at first, but gets easier. That's my whole planning!
I hate my job. I won't work nearly as hard next year. Why should I? The evaluation is all about who shuts up and sucks up!
My son told me he wants to be a teacher. I told him I wouldn't pay for college if he majored in education and I mean it.

I am at a good school now so I don't feel Reader 422's angst but for the last 3 years I was at Ed White I felt it everyday and its a sentiment I hear frequently from teachers throughout the district. -cpg


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Common Core will provide the bullets for the parent trigger

If you have been following Tallahassee recently you know that the DOE has made a mess of how they grade schools. Constant changes to the formula mean nobody knows exactly where they are or where they will be when the system is finally decided upon. Take last year for instance when they decided schools would only be able to fall two letter grades whether they deserved to fall farther or not.

So when the supporters of the parent trigger bill say it will only affect 25 schools or so, the truth is it will most likely effect a lot more. Then once we add common core to the mix, the system designed to toughen the standards that bring a whole new set of standardized tests with it, who knows how many schools will now be eligible for the parent trigger. Some estimates say the number will be in the hundreds.

Two things, some of you might be thinking, failing schools should be taken over. Well friends as long we ignore poverty any improvement will be slow but at the end of the day who do you want working with the kids a corporation whose bottom line is the bottom line or professional educators.

Then shouldn’t the solution be to fix our problems, to provide the resources that mitigate poverty, rather than giving away the public’s resources to for profit companies. Doesn’t that make more sense?

The common core will undoubtedly cause problems and school grades to drop and the powers-that-be in Tallahassee have acknowledged this. So yes right now the parent trigger might just affect a handful of schools but who knows how many it will in the future.

My bet is a lot more and I think the Florida legislature and their charter school backers are betting on it too.

Kelli Stargel, todays latest greatest worst Florida politician of all time

Kelli Stagel R Polk County told the Miami Herald that she “has no reason to doubt the signatures” on a pro-parent trigger petition she floated.

Um how about all the people who have come forward and said they didn’t sign it? At best she is ignorant, though disingenuous and deceptive also come to mind

Jeb Bush, Kelli Stargel and Michelle Rhee are not above using deception to pass the Parent Trigger Bill

First no parents want it! Read that again. Second no parents want it! Since that is the case why has it passed the house and is the Senate now considering it. Third, NO PARENTS WANT IT!

The astro turf groups Parent Revolution, Michelle Rhee’s Student First and Jeb Bush’s Foundation and their corporate backers are the ones pushing for it, while parents, civil right groups and teachers has been fighting against it. Unfortunately the well-financed corporate shills are not above using deception.

Kelly Stargel the enemy of all things public education and the Florida Legislatures queen of privatization recently began passing off a petition supposedly signed by Floridians who support the parent trigger. The main problem however is that a lot of the signers are crying foul. Not only did they not sign it but they are against the parent trigger all together.

This sadly wasn’t the pro-privatizations first attempt at trickery. They also tried floating a pro trigger video; unfortunately nobody would take credit for it.

Finally the pro-trigger crowd has taken to bad talking the PTA and all the other groups that are against the trigger saying they are nothing but shills for the teacher’s union. Friends, no matter what you might think about the teachers union, you have to know, they aren’t nearly powerful enough to control the PTA and the NAACP along with other parent and civil rights groups. and

So what we have is a bill sponsored by corporations whose supporters aren’t against being deceptive that ignores parents and their wishes, which has already passed the house and has a good chance of passing the senate. Welcome to Florida

Bob Sykes at Scathing Purple Musings has done some nice work on the subject. To read more click the links.

No Rich Child Left Behind, NRCLB

From the New York Times, by Sean F. Reardon

Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Poverty is not an excuse and if we really truly want to see improvement in our struggling schools, if we really truly want to break the cycle the answer is not to outsource our children's education to corporations but to put into lace things that mitigate poverty.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Florida blames teachers for society’s problems. (rough draft)

And if you want proof just look at what they are doing to Lacoochee Elementary in Pasco County; the state is demanding the district fire the entire staff, rookies and veterans alike. Now the Florida Department of Education admits that Lacoochee elementary is a poor school in a rural and poor part of the state. They admit that the county has had a hard time staffing the school with over half of the staff leaving over the last few years and they admit the vast amount of its students lives in poverty, they however just don’t care and want the entire staff replaced.

Poverty by the way is the number one measurable factor that determines how kids do in school. Students that live in poverty don’t do as well as those that don’t. Poverty is also the number one ignored factor in schools. The powers that be like to dismiss poverty and instead point to this guy or that girl who made it out. You know who they don’t point to? All the people who didn’t!

Pasco County had a plan to mitigate poverty. According to the Tampa Times, The district's original plan for the school was to increase teacher training, add more instructional coaches and bolster other resources for the school, which serves a high-poverty, heavily minority rural community.

Instead the state said fire everyone. Not that a high turnover wasn’t already a problem something many schools mired in poverty face which is exasperated by the introduction of Teach for America into many of our highest need schools. Teach for America recruits, none of whom have an education background, attend a six week access course and then serve a two year commitment. Undoubtedly there are some fine TFA teachers but most just as they are starting to understand what it takes to be a teacher when they are off to the next phase of their lives.

Pascoe County with no other option is going to advertise for “top replacements” offering a 2,500 hundred dollars signing bonus. Let’s see, after taxes that’s about 1,750 dollars, divided by 26 pay checks, that comes out to around 67 bucks every two weeks. If you were a “top replacement” at an “A” school, because the state would have you believe that is where all the top teachers are, there can’t possibly be good teachers at the schools that don't do well on standardized tests, would you leave that school to work at a school where the last thing done to improve the school was fire the entire staff? Would you leave that school to work at a school mired in poverty where you would probably have to supply many of the essentials your kids need? Would you leave that school to go to a school where you were under the thumb of the state and their incessant demands for word walls, posted standards and dozens of other requirements that have nothing to do with education? Would you leave your “A” school and potentially give up thousands of dollars in school recognition money, you know the system put in place that practically guarantees the best teachers at so-called good schools never leave? Probably not for 2,500 dollars anyway, not that teachers often make decisions based on money, if they did most wouldn’t be teachers.

Gone will be all the first year teachers, who aren’t responsible for all that happened before they got there. Gone will be all the veteran teachers who have dedicated years working with kids who nobody else wanted to work with, their only sin they couldn’t overcome poverty. Gone will be the principal who has been there just since 2010 and it doesn’t matter that there have been improvements in reading and writing scores. I just can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen if they somehow turn it around and the school grade goes from a D to a C. Is the state going to say, “oops my bad”?

Where are the social workers and therapists because often why kids act up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school. Does the school have art, music and PE classes, those subjects that often make school worth going to for many? I couldn’t tell from my research but if they are like many poor schools my bet is either no, or kids get to go to them once every couple weeks. A lot of kids in poverty get it coming and going, there home life is often unfulfilling and they come to school and it is not much better.

Friends as long as we ignore poverty and its debilitating effects, as long as we blame teachers for things they don’t have control of we are never going to improve. The best teacher in the world can’t control if their students have enough to eat, if their parents are involved or not, if they are too worried about where their next meal is coming from or the violence in their neighborhoods to focus on school. They can’t control, if the policy makers have decided to eliminate those classes like art and music that make school enjoyable to kids or if every kid is shoved into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of desire or ability or not. There are so many factors that teachers can’t control it’s not hard to believe that some of the best teachers in the world are at some of our “struggling” schools, even where their kids do poorly on standardized tests. Firing the staff is not fairy dust, a magic wand or a silver bullet, firing a staff is not going to improve any school. All it does is show the ignorance about education and what it takes to be a teacher by those who are unfortunately in charge.

Perhaps 11 year old Ayala can sum up the tragedy better than me. "I don't think it's a good idea, my teacher barely started this year, and she's a good teacher. . . . We don't need them gone, because they make a difference in our lives."

To read the Tampa Times piece click here:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meanwhile back at Education Headquarters, part III

John Stewart teaches us about the Constitution!

T. Willard Fair trades children’s futures for 30 pieces of silver

Willard T. Fair a former chairman of the Florida State Board of Education, the president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Greater Miami Inc., and a member of the Foundation for Florida’s Future board of directors started an editorial in the Sunshine State News saying Senator David Simmons was talking bad about poor parents.

“Put bluntly, it goes like this: Poor people make poor parents. “

I was initially outraged and ready to take the senator to task but then I read the whole article and I realized it was Mr. Fair that has lost all sense of reason.

This is what the senator said, "Let's face it, the parents are the very people who haven't been involved in their own children’s lives so as to cause the school to improve. What kind of credibility do you give to the parents in those kinds of circumstances?"

I don’t disagree with the senator one bit. By hook or by crook too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities and that has led to many or our school problems especially those in our poorer neighborhoods. This is not to say all poor parents are bad far from it. What Mr. Fair doesn’t realize, probably because he was too busy being outraged is that there are wonderful things going on even at our so called struggling schools. The thing is the vast majority of these successes are occurring with the students of parents that act like parents. Successes are far and few between for the kids of parents who don’t care.

Mr. Fair then goes on to complain about the historic neglect of these schools and insinuates that school districts and unions have used them as out-of-sight, out-of-mind depositories for ineffective personnel. Now I don’t doubt that in the past there was neglect and some districts did staff them with questionable personnel, not that the union has ever staffed anyone anywhere but this is 2013. Title one makes sure our poorer schools get more resources and it is Mr. Fairs own school choice crowd that makes sure those schools are staffed with an ever revolving door of novice teachers. It is Gary Chartrand, Jeb Bush and Fair himself who set up those policies.

Yes parents do deserve some of the blame perhaps even the lions share but don’t discount the role that Tallahassee has played. They have had a devastating effect on the schools in our poorer, predominately minority neighborhoods.

His righteous indignation hits a fevered pitch when he talks sarcastically about how parents can’t be trusted with improving their children’s schools. He suggests “they will get bamboozled into turning their school over to some nefarious profiteer. And during the process, they will squabble amongst themselves and create discord in the community.”

Well the history of the parent trigger says he is right but the bigger point is parents already have tremendous options. They can join the PTA, every school has a SACommittee, they can volunteer in their children’s schools, petition their school boards for change and even get involved in local politics themselves. Their options are legion!

Giving away public assets to for profit companies more concerned with the bottom line who have a terrible track record should not be one of them. Disregarding democracy which is something you don’t get with a corporation should not be one of them. Furthermore public schools whether they are in our personal neighborhood or not, whether we have a child attending one or not belong to all of us.

His final point after some more union bashing is, “the reason there are a growing number of charter schools, the reason for the long waiting lists, the reason why vouchers are so coveted, is because parents want them. And of course the only intellectually honest rebuttal to that demand is that these parents don’t know what is best for their children.

To which I reply, lies, big lies and damn lies. 226 charter schools have closed in Florida alone over the last 12 years, vouchers often take kids to schools without qualified staffs or effective curriculums and the long waiting list argument has been thoroughly debunked. Those are some things the Fair obviously doesn’t want you to know.

Fair has jumped the shark and any pretence that he cares about the poor kids he laments about is just that, pretense. He has thoroughly joined the corporate reform movement taking his 30 pieces of silver all the way to the bank.

For shame Mr. Fair, for shame.

To read his piece, click the link:

Florida Republicans snub their nose at local control or today’s worst Florida legislator ever Lizbeth Benaquisto

Funny I thought local control was a big deal with republicans. I guess Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto missed that memo because she filed an amendment Monday to the parent trigger bill which said the state not the local school board would have final say.

It is so bad here in Florida that poor locals are unable to make decisions about our kids.

So much for local control right?

Want to read more? Click the link:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oy Vey, the Florida Legislature wants us to pay more and get less.

From the Orlando Sentinel By Stephen Hersenberg
A pension bill before the Florida Senate asks taxpayers to do something that will leave many of them scratching their heads: pay more for less. That's the conclusion of a study I conducted for the Florida Retirement Security Coalition on the impacts of Senate Bill 1392.
The bill requires taxpayers to pay more to enroll a larger number of teachers, first responders and other public servants into a 401(k)-like retirement plan, in which those workers would receive less in retirement benefits years down the road.
Most public employees still take home a pension based on a percentage of their salary and years of service. Good pensions make up for public-sector salaries that are typically far below private ones, especially for college-educated teachers, professionals and managers.
In 2002, Florida moved cautiously toward shifting more public employees to 401(k)-type plans. The state allows employees either a guaranteed pension or their own individual accounts.
Since 2002, Florida's split retirement-system plan has fared well despite rocky financial markets. The plan remains well above the 80 percent funded level considered healthy and is one of only 11 states to receive Pew Center on the States' top rating of "solid performer."
But now, the Senate is joining a national push aimed at undermining the retirement security of public-sector workers — by shifting toward 401(k)-type plans that provide no guaranteed pension and cost more.
The Senate plan would raise taxpayer contributions to Florida's defined-contribution plan by 1 percent of salary — a $43 million annual taxpayer cost. It also makes the defined-contribution option the default for employees who do not choose a plan.
Paying to get more employees into the defined-contribution plan also raises the costs of the traditional pension by removing young employees who are less costly to taxpayers. With more members in the plan aging, fund managers will invest in less risky, more "liquid" assets, lowering investment returns and raising taxpayer costs.
Taxpayers would shell out more for the defined-contribution plan to push more young workers out of the traditional pension so that it, too, becomes more expensive. Wall Street gets more money to manage individual accounts and Main Street gets a lower retirement income.
Why is this a good idea?
Stephen Herzenberg is executive director of the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, Pa.

The Florida Legislature is consistent on teacher raises — consistently wrong.

Gov. Rick Scott has not been consistent on raises for Florida teachers. He made a $2,500 across-the-board increase one of his two priorities for this legislative session. While that raise would not be tied to a new, mandated evaluation system, he has defended the new evaluations as the proper basis for future raises, even while indicating that the evaluation system will need adjustments to be valid and fair.
The Legislature, on the other hand, is being consistent on teacher raises — consistently wrong.
House and Senate budget negotiators reportedly have agreed to set aside $480 million for school personnel raises. But the raises would not be across-the-board. Instead, legislators would tie it in some fashion to evaluations.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, defended the decision. “This is not new for the districts,” he said. “We’ve been moving toward merit-based pay increases for a while now.”
That’s true. The Legislature tried to mandate a radically new evaluation system in 2010. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. But new Gov. Scott made it a priority for 2011, and the Legislature eagerly complied. The problem is that the state has not been able to invent a fair, valid evaluation system.
Instead, the state has cobbled together a jumble of subjective judgments by school administrators blended with complicated algorithms based on high-stakes tests that in too many cases have no connection to the teacher allegedly being evaluated. As Florida Education Association President Andy Ford noted in blasting the Legislature’s decision on raises,” Two-thirds of Florida teachers are being evaluated on students they do not teach or on subjects they do not teach.”
So, Sen. Galvano is right that the state has been “moving toward” a merit-based system. But it isn’t there yet. Gov. Scott recognized that — and the fact that Florida teachers average $10,000 less than the average teacher salary nationally — when he sought the $2,500 across-the-board raises. Not only should teachers get those raises, implementation of the evaluation system should be postponed until the state comes up with a less absurd system.
Politics might explain some of this mess. Republicans might be challenging Gov. Scott on this issue to get a concession from him on another issue, knowing that he proposed the raises because of his unpopularity among teachers. Or the Legislature could just be acting in a knee-jerk, damagingly ideological way. On education, it’s been moving toward that brand of legislating for years.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Education reformers hate black kids. I said it now let me count the ways.

My girlfriend Julie says I am a bit long winded so I am I am just going to get right to it.

1. KIPP and TFA funnel their minions into mostly minority neighborhoods, meaning black kids get to a school no affluent white family would send their kid to and they get a novice teacher without an education background to boot.

2. School recognition money predominantly goes to the schools in the suburbs or with low amounts of minority children. Why would a great teacher want to give up a chance at an annual bonus to go teach at a school where kids could really use their skills but the chance of getting a bonus is almost nill?

3. Charter schools, they aren’t for the rich districts like St. Johns they are for the poor districts like Duval and if you don’t believe me just ask John Thrasher.

4. Bright futures are getting a little less bright for minority kids as the requirements are going up and up.

5. Finally school closings, check out the info graphic below and cringe.

How Florida kneecapped the teaching profession, let me count the ways.

They recently gave teachers a 3% pay cut. They said it was to shore up the pension fund but instead they put the money in the general fund; not that the pension fund needed it because it is one of the healthiest around. Furthermore they are attempting to get rid of pensions for new teachers.

The price of benefits has gone up while pay has gone down, not that the pay when compared to the rest of the nation was all that great to begin with. I have read we are ranked between 47 and 50.

They eliminated what they called tenure but what was really just job protections that took teachers years to earn. Now every employee is an at-will employee and can be let go at any time for just about any reason.

They have tied evaluations to standardized tests scores despite the fact standardized tests scores were never meant to be used that way and experts bemoan the idea.

They have instituted a merit pay system despite overwhelming evidence that says merit pay does not work and the Florida legislature has fought hard against the governors desire to give teachers a 2500 dollar pay raise .

The proliferation of vouchers and charter schools means fewer teachers work in public schools, which has cost of benefits, pay and pension ramifications.

They have allowed Teach for America to creep into the state which says teacher training and education does not matter. They have also said level of education doesn’t matter and many districts have stopped giving pay differentials for advanced degrees.

Then there is the whole demonizing and belittling of teachers, blaming them for things out of their control.

Despite all this tens of thousands of teachers show up every day and do the best they can with what they have which in many cases isn’t a whole lot.

Why has Florida done all these things? Part of the reason is they really hate teacher unions but some powerful folks also want to make money through the privatization of public schools.

The welfare of children never considered.

Florida gives Jeb Bush a bloody nose changing the graduation requirements

When Florida changed the graduation requirements they gave Jeb Bush and his education foundation a bloody nose. You see they fought against the change preferring the one size fits all curriculum that we have now. The old way of doing things forced many kids into classes they either weren’t prepared for or interested in. It also gutted the teaching of the industrial trades or what some people like to call jobs that won’t be outsourced to China. Bush was wrong when he had the graduation requirements changed and it hurt kids but that isn’t the only thing he was wrong about.

This is also amazing too, because up till now Jeb bush has said jump and Don Gaetz and the Florida Legislature have asked, how high?

New high school graduation requirements

• To earn a standard diploma, students must take 24 credit hours and pass standardized exams in language arts and algebra I.

• For a scholar designation, students must complete the requirements for a standard diploma, plus complete at least one college-level course, earn two credits in a foreign language, and pass end-of-course exams in algebra II, biology and history.

• For a merit designation, students must complete the requirements for a standard diploma plus earn industry certification in one or more fields. Students seeking a merit designation can substitute some industry courses for advanced science and math courses.

To read more check out the link:

Sen. Anitere Flores, Florida’s latest worst legislature ever!

There are many problems with Florida’s evaluation system. One of the biggest was many teachers were being evaluated on kids they didn’t teach. The senate with the help of the Florida Education Association was seeking to rectify this until Senator Flories added an amendment to the bill.

(from the Tampa Times) The new amendment to SB 980 would require that students not be assigned to teachers who have received a "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" rating in two consecutive years, unless they get parental consent in some cases.

So let me get this straight, she potentially wants teachers who received needs improvement evaluations based on students they didn’t teach and a flawed evaluation system to get parents’ permission to teach them.

The FEA will no longer be supporting the bill, "There's an evaluation system that has not been proven to be able to identify anything," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association. "We don't trust it to identify which teachers need improvement or are unsatisfactory."

But maybe that was Flores’s intent in the first place.

To read more check the link:

Bright Futures a lot less bright or Florida dumps on its poorest kids

Florida makes college more unaffordable for our poorest students, so much for breaking the cycle of poverty right?

Figures released recently by a University of South Florida administrator show that nearly half the roughly 30,000 freshmen eligible statewide for the current version of Bright Futures won’t make the cut by the fall of 2014, when significantly higher academic thresholds take effect.

It’s not too late for lawmakers to reconsider this misguided effort to save money. It shouldn’t come on the backs of deserving low-income and minority students. Read more here:

Equal access to education is the foundation of our economic growth. Miami has come together in a powerful way through One Community One Goal to create a brighter future for Miami. This will all be undone unless we act now to save the Bright Futures scholarship program. Read more here:

Is anybody else just plain sick of Arne Duncan?

Never a teacher but somehow he first ran the Chicago Public School system and now he is the secretary of education and I am just plain sick of him.

First he develops race to the top for the president, which turns education into a game and makes states trade control for pennies and now he is telling Florida to get its act together. Hmmm, he creates the condition for disaster to occur, predictably disaster does occur and now he has a “who me” look on his face? This guy is unbelievable, he is a frigging school closing, teacher blaming, high stakes test loving and poverty ignoring disaster.

When talking about how teachers were often evaluated based on the scores of kids they didn’t teach in an Associated Press article, Duncan said he can understand the rationale behind creating incentives for every adult in a school to work together in ensuring a child’s success.

UM WHAT!!!! Is he saying that’s not such a bad idea after all?

Later he said, “It’s going to be a hard, choppy couple of years.” For that reason, he said, it’s important for states to be able to adapt and make changes where needed.

Translation, sucks to be a kid in today’s blame the teacher, standardized tests are king era. Sadly teachers know how kids feel, it’s pretty bad for them too.

What a complete tool.

Who is for and against the Parent Trigger bill, foundations versus parents

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, by Valerie Strauss

Who is for it and who is against it tells the real parent trigger story.
Here’s a list of organizations that have funded Parent Revolution, a non-profit organization based in California that pushes the parent trigger around the country and sent representatives to Florida to testify in favor of the bill. This comes from the Parent Revolution website:
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Gates Foundation
  • Broad Foundation
  • California Education Policy Fund Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
  • Rogers Family Foundation
  • Emerson Collective Education Fund
  • The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation
  • Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Laura and John Arnold Foundation
  • East Bay Community Foundation
  • Wasserman Foundation
And here, among others, are the organizations against the parent trigger legislation:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Exams are societies way of telling kids what they are worth

Education reform is more about crushing teachers than helping kids

They really do hate the teachers unions: Jeb Bush, the Florida legislature, the Waltons, ALEC, the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and numerous others, often rich, very few of who were ever in a classroom. They are more interested in breaking teachers union than helping kids and that (and profits but that’s another piece altogether) is what is driving their reforms.

Here in Florida, the epicenter of the school reform movement, teachers and their unions have really taken a beating. There was Thrashers push to end automatic deductions for unions even though it cost pennies to do and he had plenty of exemptions for non-union deductions; there is the drive for more vouchers (for private schools) and charter schools, neither of which have union shops and their latest reform du jour, the parent trigger, is designed to give public schools to charter organizations. Furthermore pension deductions make being a dues paying member of a union difficult. Then throw in the destruction of what the legislature called tenure which was really just job protections that teachers only got after years of quality service, and it is quite obvious that the teaching profession has taken several devastating blows.

If Bush and the legislature were interested in helping our students, teachers and schools why are they pushing for reforms, charter schools, vouchers, merit pay and the parent trigger that have no evidence that say they work? If they cared about teachers why would there be this battle to increase Florida’s teacher pay which is already some of the lowest in the nation? Despite plenty of evidence that merit pay doesn’t work and a system that everybody admits is unfair Will Weatherford, the speaker of the house insists that is the way we go. Also why aren’t they investing in strategies that work like smaller class sizes (the class size amendment has been gutted by the way) and the arts, always the first to be cut? I will tell you why, it is because those things would lead to more teachers and more union members and they can’t have that.

Then think about what has come out of the reform movements mouths recently. Jeb Bush, his right hand woman Patricia Levesque, his spokeswoman Jarym Emhoff, Senate President Don Gaetz and Representative Carlos Trujillo have all attacked the teachers union in the last few weeks. Gaetz our senate president said he thought that some teachers might prefer to work at charter schools where they weren’t under the thumb of the union. The THUMB! He didn’t mention if they preferred working for less pay, fewer benefits and no pension. I guess he thinks we should just assume that. Trujillo accused the PTA and numerous parent groups and civil rights groups of being union lackeys when they came out against the trigger, something Michelle Rhee said was unconscionable and finally all Bush or one of his surrogates have to do is mention the union and his base sees red.

The thing is if we really do care about the future of our schools and children, shouldn’t we all be against the corporate takeover of public education? Shouldn’t we all be against charters and voucher programs that give students a substandard education? I get it that there are some great charter schools but I also know over 200 have closed in Florida aloneover the last decade.

Shouldn’t we all be against the erosion of democracy, which is what happens when you take control of public education away from duly elected representatives and give it to corporate boards, which is what the parent trigger will do? Shouldn’t we want reforms to be based on evidence and facts, not Jeb Bush’s gut and what’s best for the bottom line of his friends and supporters who by the way will profit off of his reforms? If the union is standing up for those things and our elected officials aren’t then why does hearing the word union make so many on the far right salivate like Pavlov’s dogs did when they heard a bell ring?

The Union has become their boogeyman. A word they use to scare and inflame their base. Blaming the union for problems in education especially here in Florida where the republicans have had total control of education for the last 15 years would be laughable if it wasn’t so maddening that some ill informed people actually are buying into what they are selling.

Think about it friends, this is a right to work state, people are not forced to join the unions, heck teachers can’t even strike so what real power to force reform or changes do they have. All they can do is educate the public about what is happening not that Bush, Gaetz, Trujllo and others listen to them anyway.

No, they only listen to the corporations and special interests who pay their salaries or who donate to their campaigns. They not our children and definitely not our teachers are whom they owe their allegiances to.

There are undoubtedly serious problems in education but what baffles me is why so many people point their fingers at teachers unions. It can’t be the high pay, great benefits or awesome working conditions because those things do not exist. The union also does not hire or fire teachers. So if a great teacher is let go or a poor teacher is retained that’s not something the union is involved with. In Florida the Union also didn’t create the FCAT, set budgets, nor did they create the policies that have seen the gutting of the trades and the arts. Yes it is true they are against merit pay but that should tell you something if teachers are against merit pay. If they don’t want it, why is it being forced upon them, doesn’t that seem like an unnecessary expense especially in these lean times?

The Union does speak against the wholesale use of vouchers and the accelerated expansion of charter schools but lots of people do for their problems are legion. They siphon resources away from public schools, they don’t play by the same rules nor do they have the same accountability and study after study says they don’t perform better than public schools despite these advantages. Even if you like the idea of vouchers and charter schools these FACTS should be disconcerting.

Unions do traditionally believe in last hired first fired like many shops do both, union and non-union. The thing is friends despite what Bill Gates, Ashley Smith Juarez and Gary Chartrand says, experience does matter, but once again unions have never fired anyone.

What the union does is try to get the best package for their members and here in Florida their non-members too and makes sure the various districts and the state follows agreed upon rules. Isn’t that what everybody wants? Isn’t that fair? It is truly baffling why people say it’s the unions that are holding back education.

The powers that-be, Jeb Bush and his ilk needed a scapegoat and at least initially teachers were the perfect patsy. As a group teachers are giving and nurturing, they have an almost pathological need to trust and help and as a result don’t always stand up for themselves when they should. Many teachers didn’t even realize they went from revered members of society to the lazy and selfish malcontents who caused societies problems. The damage of to the profession has been extensive. Most teachers don’t last 5 years and the mode for years of experience; the year of teaching that has the greatest amount of teachers is one. Gone are the days when teaching would be a career. But instead of making the field more attractive Jeb and his ilk have wheeled around and are now preparing to hit it in the other knee.

They hate the unions so much, they want to destroy any dissent so much, that they are willing to risk the futures of millions of our children… wow…

Welcome to Florida.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Florida Legislatures dogged dismissal of facts and evidence

 "There's going to be merit pay as a part of funding for teachers," Weatherford said when talking about pay raises for teachers.

The main problem with that is study after study says merit pay does not work. Read that again. This means the Florida legislature is bound and determined to put money into something that doesn’t work.

Even for you staunch conservatives who I doubt I would have a difficult time agreeing with the time of day this has got to be a concern for you.

Governor Scott wants the raises to be across the board and the superintendents in Florida, you know the experts in education are against merit pay too.

So what’s the problem?

To read more click the link:

School leadership desperately needed

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

Litter taught me an important lesson on leadership.

When I was in the United States Air Force, I was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.  As a young airman, I remember a quiet morning when my squadron was charged with participating in a FOD walk.  This meant that we were asked, or ordered, to help collect and dispose of foreign objects on the ground that could interfere with incoming and outgoing flights.  In the civilian world, trash on the ground is an ugly nuisance.  In the military world, it can potentially get sucked up into the aircraft and cause havoc.

So, instead of preparing reports on occupational health for my base clinic, I was roaming the grounds of my base with latex gloves and a garbage bag.  I walked alongside my comrades as the sun rose on the First State and listened to my fellow enlisted men and women openly grumble about how they had more important work to do.

Stooped over water bottles and other detritus, I paid little attention to my surroundings as I treated myself to a quiet meditation until I heard someone approach me.

"Good morning, Airman Meeks."

I looked up and saluted as sharply as I was taught in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas when I saw the hint of a silver oak leaf attached to a very well-dressed lieutenant colonel with a garbage bag firmly in hand.

"Good morning, Colonel Lee," I replied as I continued to stuff my bag.

My mission immediately took on a new importance.  I was not just taking part in drudgery that the minions and plebes had the duty to perform.  I was part of something that Lt. Col. Lee felt was something that she needed to do alongside her subordinates.

I learned an important lesson from this.  I asked Lt. Col. Lee why she was helping.  She explained that she would never ask someone to do something that she would not do herself as well.

Today, I think back to this episode when I ponder the heavy lifting that teachers and education support professionals must do for our students under the watchful eye of superiors who watch from a distance.  It is one thing to judge and criticize the work of others.  It is another thing to actually get their hands dirty with the troops.  As Lt. Col. Lee boosted my morale that morning and inspired me to work harder, it would be a shot in the arm to our school district to see administrators on all levels join the troops on the ground doing the important work that needs to be done. 

Postscript: Duval County Public Schools and Duval Teachers United are conducting the annual FAME survey to measure morale at individual schools.  I highly encourage all school personnel who received the link to the FAME survey in their email to complete this confidential survey.  In my opinion, morale matters in our schools and it is up to us to speak out.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The collateral damage of education reform

By John Meeks

I, my dear friend, would add that education reformers too often believe that public school teachers are enemy combatants in the war on ignorance and illiteracy. I have yet to meet a teacher who consciously or unconsciously opposes better schools for our students. This debate is cloaked in a larger battle on organized labor under the pretenses of helping our children. We are to believe, as many corporate interests have drilled into our heads, that we have to destroy the village in order to save it. The collateral damage that we visit upon honest men and women who dedicate their lives to teaching is merely the cost of doing business for those who wish to enrich themselves as the expense of our state's public education system. I know for a fact that we draw targets on our backs when we try to speak truth to power, but someone has to continue to advocate for our cause which is larger than ourselves. The shame of this situation is that we use the livelihoods of teachers as a bargaining chip in this war on teachers and schools. True bipartisan reform can be possible only if we engage all of our education stakeholders without resorting to the same, tired bromides that treat our teachers like they are somehow bad or evil. 

Obama, none of the Race to the Top for my kids

Friday, April 19, 2013

How Florida legislators think

Legislators see failing schools and look for someone to blame.

They see struggling students and come up with one-size-fits-all solutions. They see funding for education and devise schemes to funnel it to their corporate friends.

- John Romano, Tampa Times

I would have added, they think of teachers as the enemy, interested only in pay and benefits and protecting their bad peers, too.