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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tony Bennett made grade changes that benefited charter schools

From the Fort Wayne Gazzette: The scramble to inflate Christel House’s grade also was successful in pushing more than half of the state’s charter schools to a letter grade of C or better, a claim Bennett couldn’t make before the formula was massaged.

First ,WOW!!

Now I would like you to think back a few months to when the FLDOE put out a public school charter school comparison. In it, charter schools dominated and I asked if it was to be believed.  I have to tell you before the report came out, I thought it was inconceivable that charter schools would be doing better than public schools in any measure and that’s with selection bias, them counseling out low achievers and limiting the amount of disabled and English as a second language students they take but boy according to the FLDOE’s study was I wrong. They reported charter schools beat public schools in something like 83 out of 96 indicators.

But before we take our torches and pitchforks and head down to the local public school we should ask ourselves a few questions. Starting with, how is this possible? The CREDO, the gold standard of charter school studies says the vast majority of charter schools are no better or are worse than their public school counterparts. Yet somehow in Florida where 226 have failed in the last 13 years, including about a dozen in the last year and where any Tom, Dick or Harry with a knack for paperwork and a space bigger than a broom closet can start a charter school are charter schools blowing public schools away.

I also ask this question because even according to the FLDOE’s study, charter schools were five times as likely to be an F school and 91 percent of public schools were A, B or C schools and only 89 percent of charter schools were and that’s with 159 charter schools, a little over 30 percent of them, not receiving a grade at all.

I didn’t ask, hmm I wonder if the commissioner of education is manipulating data but perhaps I should have. Especially since later the Stanford CREDO study said students attending charter schools in Florida weren’t performing at the same level of their public school counterparts (despite numerous advantages).

The thing about Tony Bennett and his ilk is they don’t want the right answer, they want their answer to be right and if they hurt kids or teachers along the way so be it.   

Three minutes and twenty-eight seconds, How politics trumps ethics in education reform

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Tony Bennett destroys his and Florida's credibility.

From the Tampa Times editorial staff

It turns out FLORIDA Education Commissioner Tony Bennett faces an even bigger challenge than winding down a discredited testing system and answering demands from legislative leaders to design new assessments for the Common Core State Standards. Now his personal credibility is at stake because of the way he manipulated school test results in Indiana, and his explanation is hardly reassuring.
The Associated Press first reported this week that as head of Indiana schools last fall Bennett insisted that a charter school founded by a powerful Republican donor receive an A grade instead of a C. Bennett's emails left no doubt about his intentions for Christel House Academy even as his staff questioned whether it would be legal to change the letter grade.
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,'' Bennett wrote in one email before adding in another, "This will be a HUGE problem for us.''
Now it is a huge problem for Bennett. The credibility of the school grading system in Florida is in shreds, highlighted by the frustration over the depressing letter grades that were released Friday. Those grades show a downward spiral even after Bennett pushed to limit the decline for each school to no more than one letter grade. School superintendents throughout the state complain that the grades do not accurately reflect the learning taking place in many districts.
Bennett says he did not play favorites in Indiana and that the state's grading system was being adjusted at the time. He told the Times/Herald that he wanted to "make sure the grades reflected how the school really performed." Of course, that is the same issue being raised by teachers and principals in Florida as one Board of Education member wondered whether the state should even release school letter grades. Now the education commissioner explaining the Florida system has manipulated the Indiana system to benefit a Republican donor that gave his political campaigns more than $100,000.
The revelation makes the motivation behind Bennett's moves in Florida more suspect. He is a politician, a favorite of conservatives and a strong advocate of charter schools and vouchers that use public money to cover private school tuition. Will Bennett bend over backward in Florida to tweak performance standards to protect charter schools? Will he be swayed by political pressure from testing companies as he decides whether to recommend that Florida design its own tests for the Common Core State Standards?
When Florida voters reduced the size of the elected state Cabinet, one of the benefits was transforming the state education commissioner from an elected position to an appointed one that should be less susceptible to political considerations. But Bennett is a politician, and now it's clearer what side he chooses when partisan politics collide with public policy — and it's not policy.
Editorial: Bennett's credibility called into question 07/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 5:21pm]

We need to let people know we aren't happy with Tony Bennett and his privatization at any cost agenda

 Florida Friends, I hope you all take the time tomorrow to write your local paper and notify your elected representatives about Tony Bennett. If a teacher were caught conspiring with a parent to change a student’s grade they would be fired, instead Bennett got a campaign donation and a job in Florida.

This revelation is proof Tony Bennett, Jeb Bush, etc. aren’t interest in having the right answer, just having their answer, the privatization of public education and the destruction of the teaching profession, be right. It could also mean that they lose all credibility.  If we let people know about what they have done.

Take five minutes, write a letter to the editor, and then cut and paste it and send it to your representative. We should have people who care about our schools and children not special interests, be in charge.

These links will help you find your Florida senator and representative respectively...

Did Gary Chartrand have grades changed to benefit his charter school?

I wrote this only about two weeks ago but in light of the Tony Bennett revelations isn't this a question the media should be asking?

Why did Gary Chartrand feel the need to deceive the people of Florida

Lets not mince words, the state board of education voted to decieve to the people of Florida when they said school grades could only fall one letter grade regardless of performance. They know most people are not going to do the due diligence to research what a school's grade actually is.

Now follow me for a second. Gary Chartrand has a personal stake in seeing Jacksonville’s KIPP charter school do well. He invested a lot of money into it; he sits on the board and has touted it as a savior. He is so immersed in it doing well he isn’t above playing fast and lose with the facts.

He said, “since KIPP was founded in 1994, more than 90 percent of its students have graduated high school and more than 80 percent have attended college”, he left out the caveat, which was on the KIPP web-site that this only applies for the kids who finished 8th grade. By that time they have weeded out the poorer performers. He continued saying, “Of those, 40 percent have obtained college degrees.” Chartrand often plays fast and loose with the facts if it doesn’t back up what he is saying and that 40% stat is no exception.

This is also from the KIPP website. As of fall 2012, 40.2 percent of KIPP alumni who completed eighth grade at KIPP ten or more years ago have graduated from a four-year college. This number is drawn from two KIPP middle schools, the only schools with alumni old enough to have reached this threshold.

So it’s not all KIPP schools mind you, it’s two and if he is going to leave that out, if he is going to attempt to deceive to make his point, then what won’t he lie about? What he also didn’t mention is that KIPP has a reputation for counseling out its poor performers; see the 8th grade caveat which greatly skews its results again and that KIPP spends about a third more than public schools do to educate their kids.

He then went on to say, KIPP offers a longer school day and year, after-school programs and highly-qualified instructors to teach an academic program that focuses on college prep and character development. Now it is true they do have a longer day but everything I have read indicates their curriculum is kill and drill. Have you noticed how KIPP isn’t replicated at the affluent private schools and how none of the education reformers send their children to KIPP schools? Furthermore many of its instructors are TFA recruits, which takes non-education majors and gives them five weeks of “training” and says good luck. I guess to Chartrand that is highly qualified because it is 5 more weeks of teacher training than he ever received. 

We’re almost there. KIPP after being the worst performing school in Northeast Florida improved to a B its second year, well friends its projected to fall to a C this year, protected by what we could call the Chartrand rule from falling to a D.

I know what you are thinking, would this guy at the top of the food chain, really vote for a rule just to protect one school he had a personal stake in?

My answer is why not. He’s exaggerated publicly their accomplishments and he has a lot invested in them, it would probably be a little embarrassing at the country club if somebody brought it up and people have done far worse for less.

Jeb Bush’s foundation doubles down on lies about Charter Schools

I don’t envy Jeb Bush, Patricia Levesque and Tony Bennett hunkered down in their bunker furiously coming up with ways to spin the revelation that Tony Bennett had the grades of a wealthy donors charter school adjusted for a C to an A. It must be frustrating to see their house of card crumbing down around them.

I don’t envy them but I don’t feel sorry for them either. Their unethical policies designed to enrich their friends and donors have held back children and knee capped the proud profession of public school teacher.

This is what Patricia Levesque said in The Tampa Times, "Commissioner Bennett and his department found and corrected a mistake that would have unfairly penalized 13 schools missing data for grades they did not even serve. They fixed a problem to be accurate and fair - any accusation otherwise is false and politically motivated," reads the statement released by Bush's foundation Tuesday afternoon.

It goes on: "A-F school grading empowers parents to know how well schools are serving their children, in a transparent and easy to understand way. In 2012, Indiana was in its first year of its new school grading calculation, and there is always a learning process when implementing a policy new to a state.

Not, wow, if he did that we should get rid of him, because getting things right for our children is most important. I really feel as if the press could catch Bennett with a dead girl or a live boy and they would spin it in a positive light. 

If they wanted to retain any shred of credibility should have taken a tact similar to Teresa Meredith in the Chesterton Tribune: it’s time to call the Bennett school letter grade scandal exactly what it is—cheating.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press and released Monday show that former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett and his staff worked furiously last September to artificially raise the letter grade of the Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school created by a prominent donor to both Bennett's political campaign and to others in his political party.

There are no excuses for the actions taken by Bennett and his staff as revealed in the string of emails other than favoritism, cronyism, self-interest, and hubris—none of which has a place in public school policymaking.

Finally, what else have they manipulated, spun or lied about to further their agenda. My guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Tony Bennett has charter school grade changed to help wealthy donor

The Associated Press is reporting that while commissioner of education in Indiana, Tony Bennett used his position and influence to have the grade of a wealthy donors charter school adjusted up form a C to an A.

I asked less than two weeks ago if Gary Chartrand, the chair of Florida’s Board of Education might have done the same thing to keep his precious KIPP Impact Charter School from falling from a B to a D. His rule change helped assured the Charter school would get a C grade.  

You have to read the New York Times piece folks as it refers to all the e-mails Bennett sent to his staff to have the grade raised. At one point Bennett says, “I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.” Shortly there after the charter school miraculously went form a C to an A.

Friends he, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee and the rest of the ed deformers don’t want the right answer they want their answer, the privatization of public schools, and the destruction of teaching as a profession, to be right and this is irrefutable proof of that.  

By the way this is the guy who is running our schools.

To read more and make sure you are sitting and haven’t eaten click the link:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

This is why people don’t trust Duval County Public Schools. (rough draft)

I worked with this lead teacher once and despite the fact the union would tell me over and over she was my colleague not my superior she lorded over me and the other teachers in the department. The main problem however was she was terrible at her job.

I used to talk with my colleagues and the consensus was if she was bad at her job but nice or great at her job but mean we could cope. The problem however was she was both mean and terrible at her job. She however had something that the rest of us didn’t have, a connected relative on the district level. So connected that her surplus lasted long enough for her to put a call in to her family member.

And that speaks to a huge problem in the district, whom you know not what you can do have often determined promotions and where one lands.

Before I continue let me say I think school grades are ridiculous, they don’t improve schools, they simply publish schools and I firmly believe there are great things going on even at the schools that don’t do well on standardized tests, the schools that tend to get the lower grades. I know there are dedicated teachers arriving with their sleeves rolled up teaching a lot of great kids who want to learn. Sadly however school grades are the beromiter that is used when determining if principals and teachers are being successful or not.

I have written about Iranetta Wright and how “the data” didn’t seem to warrant a promotion to area chief and fair enough people can disagree but what about the case of Kimberly Dennis.

She arrives to Sadie Tillis in 2010 and over the three years she was there the school grades went from a C to D to an F. In this era where many principals are often one or two and done, especially if the numbers decline, Mrs. Dennis was instead sent to Fishweir elementary, a school in a reasonably affluent neighborhood where success, school grade success anyway should be reasonably easy to achieve. 

And why did she get another year, well it couldn’t be because her husband is Larry Dennis could it? You know, new area superintendent and long time district staff person, Larry Dennis? Maybe there is something in the numbers I am missing but isn’t there a whiff of impropriety here? Doesn’t this just scream, who you know rather than what you can do?

Vitti may be the victim of the previous administration with his limited options but at the same time the whole distinct has been victimized too. I hope Mrs. Dennis is a great leader who motivates her kids and empowers her teachers but I can’t help think, because here in the county past has been prologue, this is more of the same.

School grades

Why do we have Charter Schools? Follow the money

From the DailyKos, by Teacherken

"Just follow the money" -

Embedded in the middle of an Alternet story by Kristin Rawls titled Corporations Advise School Closings, While Private Charters Suck Public Schools Away are several paragraphs that help explain why hedge funds and other corporate interests are so enamored of charter schools.   Please continue to see what I mean. Thanks to a little discussed law passed in 2000, at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, banks and equity funds that invest in charter schools and other projects in underserved areas can take advantage of a very generous tax credit – as much as 39% -- to help offset their expenditure in such projects.

In essence, that credit amounts to doubling the amount of money they have invested within just seven years. Moreover, they are allowed to combine that tax credit with job creation credits and other types of credit, as well collect interest payments on the money they are lending out – all of which can add up to far more than double in returns. This is, no doubt, why many big banks and equity funds are so invested in the expansion of charter schools. There is big money being made here -- because investment is nearly a sure thing.And it’s not just U.S. investors who see the upside of investing in charters. Rich donors throughout the world are now sending money to fund our charter schools. Why?

Because if they invest at least $500,000 to charters under a federal program called EB-5, they’re allowed to purchase immigration visas for themselves and family members -- yet another mechanism in place to ensure that the money keeps rolling in.Proponents of education reform insist that investments like these are all about how successful charter schools are, and show how much support they’ve garnered in just a few short years. But it’s hard to take this on faith when there are billions of dollars of profit—and, for some, a path to U.S. immigration—at stake in these investments.

Okay, there is a lot packed into those three paragraphs.  And before I go forward especially credit should be given to David Dayen whose work at FireDogLake is the basis of the information in the first of those paragraphs.
The first point I want to make is to note the origin of the mechanisms which have encouraged Wall Street Banks and others to push charters - something done during the Presidency of Bill Clinton.  We need to remember that the Clinton administration was very cozy with Wall Street, with the like Robert Rubin and others from companies like Goldman Sachs.  We should also note that the organization driving Democratic educational policy in recent years, the to my mind ill-named  Democrats for Education Reform, has a board dominated not by educators (there are none) but by financiers.

This administration continues to push charters - one of the criteria for states to receive funds from Race to the Top was that they lift any caps on charters, even though at the time what evidence there was showed that charters performed no better than the traditional public schools from which they drew and there were no requirements for quality - even by the flawed measurement of test scores - for charters to continue their existence.  In part this can be traced to a decision the Obama campaign made in 2008 at a time when they already knew they had the nomination.  In  March, even though a key advisor on education was Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford U, the campaign decided to move away from her ideas on education and move towards those advocated by DFER in order to secure Wall Street money for the general election.

Folks, there are billions spent annually on the education of our young people.  For most local
governments, schools are the biggest single expenditure.

The pro-charter groups are attempting to push charters on communities even if those communities do not want them.  Thus we see in TN a new bill in the state legislature that would take away from counties with 600,000 or more the power to control charters.  It just so happens that the only such counties in TN contain Memphis and Nashville, two cities containing the vast majority of the minority population of the state, and in the caase of Memphis a school board that four times has rejected the application of a charter operator with a questionable record, thereby angering both the state education commissioner (Kevin Huffman, who taught only 2 years, was vice president of Teach for America, and is the father of Michelle Rhee's children, and who punished the district by withholding millions in state funds) and the Governor, who to put it mildly has never been a friend of public education or of teachers unions - and remember, turning public schools into charters is a way of breaking teachers unions since most charters are not unionized and are protected by the chartering legislation from the normal unionization process.

It is worth noting that the state legislature is imposing upon the local government.  There is a historical precedent for this, and that was state legislatures that were dominated if not owned by railroads in part as a means of controlling the US Senate, whose members were then elected by the legislatures.  The grassroots pushback against that led to the 17th Amendment and direct election of Senators.

In the past I have often warned people that what happened with public schools was the canary in the coal mine for American society.

We have seen increasing privatization of public facilities.  It actually is somewhat more advanced in the criminal justice system, with the existence of private prisons who lobby for more arrests to fill their spaces, and thus things like the "papers, please" law in Arizona to put more money into the coffers of the likes of Correction Corporation of America.  We are seeing it in things like the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road.  In NC, now that Republicans finally control both houses of the state legislature and Governor McCrory seems to have Art Pope whispering in his ear all the time, the legislature is moving to tak over the water system in Ashville  (preparatory to selling it off?) and is also moving on airports.

Just follow the money

Our democracy is being sold off, one piece at a time.

The idea of local control of public functions is disappearing.

And remember that the restrictions imposed upon government agencies with respect to rights protected in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere do not necessarily apply to corporate entities.  No pubic school could fine a parent for a child's behavior, nor expel a child without due process, but charters are known to do both, often with regularity.

Perhaps it is hard for people to understand how much the profit motive is driving the expansion of charters - which I might note is only one part of the corporate attempts to control the hundreds of billions in tax revenue intended to fund PUBLIC education.  The traditional media organizations have done a horrible job in covering this aspect of what is happening in American public education.

Just follow the money

Remember that we know from sad experience that if we allow the profit motive to run rampant the result is increasing wealth (and power) into too few hands while the rest of us suffer the consequences.
If you did not know before, now you should have no doubt, that the primary push for charters is coming about not because they are a better means of educating children, but because moneyed interests understand how much they can make when public schools are replaced by charters.   And for some, the ability to break teachers unions, a major Democratic constituency, is merely an additional benefit gained along the way.

If the resulting charter schools in fact did a better job of educating children, there might be SOME justification.

But they do not.

Just follow the money - as in Watergate, that will help you understand what has really been happening.

Teacher gives thumbs up to teacher academy.

By John Meeks

This is going to make for an interesting 'How I spent my summer' essay.

As I see August creeping up on me, I look back with joy on the cruise that I took to Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico for a church convention.  I went on to Atlanta for the National Education Association convention and then took the train to Maine to visit with friends.

Then, in the past week, I went to the Teachers Academy.  And this was an experience that exceeded my expectations.  After all, not many teachers would be keen on interrupting their summer break to sit in classes.

When I arrived at Forrest High School, I was not sure of what to expect.  My past experiences with professional development and training were not as strong for social studies as it had been for other core subject areas.  My outlook improved when I saw that the school system has put together a team of social studies specialists working under a director.  This was a vast improvement from putting all of the social studies responsibilities on one person.

That said, I was impressed by the training that made sense of everything from teaching
ELL students who do not speak English as their primary language to making the most of data in my classroom.  We had large groups that addressed CHAMPS and we had targeted instruction for our respective subject areas.  

It is to Dr. Vitti's credit that the Teachers Academy, in my opinion, finally defines for us what we have in store for us and our students in the coming school year.

My take on Teachers Academy?  A+

TWITTER: johnmeeks1974
INSTAGRAM: johnmeeks1974

Blame for school scores belongs to Tallahassee

From the editorial staff of

After improvement in 2012, this year's school grades are a major disappointment. The entire state took a step back -- 482 schools lost their "A" grades, and 67 more schools are considered failing in 2013.

Highlands County has its first failing school, and only two schools improved. Of 13 schools, nine lost a grade.
This should be devastating news.
It would be devastating news, except for one thing: Somewhere along the way standardized testing got out of hand. Forgive us. We understate the case. What we should say is that somewhere along the way standardized testing became down right irrational.
For example, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores have been essentially meaningless for three years now, ever since the state demanded more difficult questions and a greater number of correct answers.
That would be a good thing, of course, except the state Department of Education introduced the tougher tests before it initiated the curriculum needed to understand them. As a result, the state knew in advance student scores would drop dramatically.
Here's where things get really crazy. The state's solution was to create complicated, multiple-step equations to "compensate" for the drop in scores. For example, a formula was created to "protect" a school from losing more than one grade.
It seems more like fudging to us.
In fact, the end result is confusion, frustration and cynicism.
Knowing there were serious problems ahead, how is it no attempt was made to explore more options? Why did no one think to phase-in the more difficult test gradually over several years as students were exposed to the common core curriculum?
Part of the state's narrow vision comes from the fact that in the big picture students are no longer seen as human beings. They are viewed as sources of data instead.
Which is why we despair.
We do, however, retain optimism about the future. It may be a badly bungled beginning, but the common core curriculum is necessary in today's world when our students face global competition. The district embraces this new direction. It has reorganized district and school administrators and trained teachers all summer.
This year's disappointing news did not originate in Highlands County classrooms -- it was a gift from Tallahassee

Saturday, July 27, 2013

School Grades are out and who cares?

School grades don't improve schools, students or teachers but they sure as heck punish them. –cpg

From the Miami Herald: Even though student test scores have held steady — and are in some cases rising — Florida has a record-high 107 F-rated schools this year, state education leaders announced on Friday.
From the Sun Sentinel: The Florida Department of Education said statewide the number of A-rated schools dropped from 48 percent to 29 percent. Meanwhile, the number of F schools jumped from 2 to 4 percent.
From the Gainesville Sun: State officials predicted the drop as a result of Florida's ever-changing and increasingly complicated accountability formula, which grades schools on an A-to-F scale.
From the Orlando Sentinel: Despite a last-minute effort by Florida education officials to reduce the effect of tough new standards on annual school grades, results for elementary and middle schools released Friday by the state Department of Education show a sharp increase in D and F schools and fewer A schools as well.
From the Tallahassee Democrat: Statewide, 39 percent fewer schools received A’s for the 2012-13 school year than they did the year before — an unprecedented decline, especially among elementary schools.

The real reason Jeb Bush wanted the Parent Trigger bill

The real reason Jeb Bush wanted the parent trigger bill was so he could hasten the privatization of our public schools. Let not kid ourselves, charters and vouchers are mechanisms of privatization and had the parent trigger passed there would have been one more bullet in their gun.

When Florida changed it’s grading system it assured the amount of F schools, the amount of schools that would have been eligible for take over, would increase. This had charter school operators salivating as dollar signs replaced the pupils in their eyes. The amount of F schools in Florida more than doubled this year and as we transition to common core the yearly doubling has just begun.

When the parent trigger returns next year for round three don’t make the mistake of thinking it is about improving education outcomes for children. All it will be is a cynical cash grab for charter school operators, hedge fund managers, more than a few legislators with ties to the industry and their sycophants and cronies.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The time taken up by test prep and testing has risen, as have the costs and the lost instructional time.

From the Washington Post, by Valerie Strauss

Exactly how much standardized testing are school districts subjecting students to these days? A nearly staggering amount, according to a new analysis.
Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time,” released by the American Federation of Teachers, looks closely at two unnamed medium-sized school districts — one in the Midwest and one in the East — through the prism of their standardized testing calendars.
Standardized testing has become the focus of modern school reform since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002, and continuing through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education initiative. Over the years, the time taken up by test prep and testing has risen, as have the costs and the lost instructional time.
The grade-by-grade analysis of time and money invested in standardized testing found that test prep and testing absorbed 19 full school days in one district and a month and a half in the other in heavily tested grades. The Midwestern district spent $600 or more for standardized testing per pupil in grades 3-8;  about $200 per student for grades K-2; from $400 to $600 per student for grades 9-11. The Eastern district spent more than $1,100 annually on testing per student in grades 6-11; around $400 per student in grades 1-2; between $700 and $800 per student for grades 3-5.
One of the districts gives 14 different assessments to all students at least once a year in at least one grade, the report said, and some assessments are administered for several subjects multiple times a year, resulting in 34 different test administrations. The other district had 12 different  standardized assessments but 47 separate administrations over the course of the year.The report says:
*Students can spend 60 to more than 110 hours per year in test prep in high-stakes testing grades.
*Including the cost of lost instructional time (at $6.15 per hour, equivalent to the per-student cost of adding one hour to the school day), the estimated annual testing cost per pupil ranged from $700 to more than $1,000 per pupil in several grades that had the most testing.
*If testing were abandoned, one school district in this study could add from 20 to 40 minutes of instruction to each school day for most grades. The other school district would be able to add almost an entire class period to the school day for grades 6-11. Additionally, in most grades, more than $100 per test-taker could be reallocated to purchase instructional programs, technology or to buy better tests. Cutting testing time and costs in half still would yield significant gains to the instructional day, and free up enough dollars in the budget that could fund tests that are better aligned to the standards and produce useful information for teachers, students and parents.

Duval County leaves resources on the table while there are needs in the classrooms.

I get it; we have a limited pool of resources and an almost unlimited pool of needs. Which means we have to prioritize our needs and I really like some of the priorities that the super has highlighted. Having deans of discipline and after school transportation are incredibly important and never should have been done away with. Some of his others though leave me scratching my head like the implementation of testing coordinators at every school, which seems like something assistant principals use to do and the dismantling of our librarian corps.

Having a librarian in our schools, especially for a district with a reading problem shouldn’t be optional. The super says he is giving principals the choice but funny he didn’t give them the choice about having a dean and ISSP teacher or not (full disclosure, I like those positions) so isn’t that a bit hypocritical?

The thing is we could pay for the librarians too, if the district thought they were important enough to have anyways.  The district is required to keep 3% of its money in reserves about 25 million dollars. The super said it would cost about 7 million to put librarians in all the district’s schools. Then according to the Times Union the board wants to keep 7% in reserves, that is about 33 million more than it is required to. Friends that means the district could pay for the librarians and still keep double the amount they are supposed to.

Then the super said our librarian bench is shallow, that it would be hard to find enough librarians to put in all our schools but this goes to a bigger problem I think we have and that’s why aren’t we being proactive. Why aren’t we beating the bushes to find librarians, world-class teachers and exemplary school leaders? It’s like we are content to sit back and use TFA, an ever-revolving door of rookie teachers, to let our librarian bench die out and to promote people who can pass a test, some will be great but if past is prologue then we know more than few won’t be.

Maybe we should take a little bit of that extra 33 million dollars we are keeping in the couch cushions and use it to go out and find the best and the brightest and to bring them to Duval. Lord knows some of our best and brightest have left for greener pastures because of previous administrations mismanagement.

Finally where I think us having a shallow librarian bench is debatable, it is irrelevant because if you have been following the news you know it looks like the city through its budget cuts is going to make more than a few librarians available. 

At the end of the day there will be one reason and one reason only that many of our schools go without a librarian and that's the district doesn't think they are important enough to have.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why does the Florida Chamber of Commerce want to lie to you about pensions?

This was on their Facebook page, Did You Know: Florida taxpayers cut a $500 million check to cover the unfunded liability costs of pensions for government workers. 

Detroit's bankruptcy, helped in large part by the city's pension crisis, is the latest indicator that Florida MUST TAKE ACTION or face serious consequences. Consequences DETROIT knows all too well.

First of all, traditionally many public sector workers took lower wages in exchange for a pension. Next two years ago when Tallahassee took three percent of teacher's (and other public sectors workers) wages, they said it was to shore up the pension but instead they used it to balance the books and finally Florida’s pension funds is one of the best around and amazingly healthy.

I will tell you what though, if you want to pay me the nation’s average in salary for teachers, a 14 thousand dollar raise for me, as a 12th year teacher, I would gladly take it and provide my own pension.

Shame on the chamber of commerce, for misleading and trying to scare people. Shame on them.  

The CATO Institute says all teachers “want is to get compensated as richly as possible while not being held accountable for their performance”

From their piece about Jeb Bush and the Common Core: Once again, we have to visit our ol’ buddies, concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. Put simply, the people with the most at stake in a policy area will have the greatest motivation to be involved in the politics of that area, and in education those are the schooling employees whose very livelihoods come from the system. And being normal people like you or me, what they tend to ideally want is to get compensated as richly as possible while not being held accountable for their performance.

If that is what a normal person is like then I am glad I am not a normal person but furthermore I don't know many normal people. Most people I know take pride in their jobs and want to do a good one and more than a few entered professions where much of their compensation came from the knowledge they benefited others. 

But more than insulting teachers aren’t they insulting everybody? Aren’t they saying everybody is lazy? It’s almost like a creature from a different species wrote above.

Well what about it friends are you a normal person? Is getting paid the most you can for doing very little all you care about?

Are Jeb Bush’s 15 minutes about to be up?

Regular folks have been pushing back against Jeb Bush’s education reforms for quite some time. But now even Republican Legislators like Will Weatherford and Don Geatz, no friends of public education have as well. They penned a letter urging Jeb Bush’s, Chief for Change and Florida education commissioner, Tony “one states trash is another’s treasure” Bennett to have Florida drop out of the PARCC testing consortium.

Then today the CATO Institute, yes that CATO Institute said, in Florida it sounds like many parents and taxpayers may be getting fatigued by test-driven school grades, adding onto the power of employee groups. Like we’ve seen in Texas, Florida’s politics may be reflecting a general exhaustion with standards and testing that fails to treat either students, or schools and districts, as unique. In other words, the likely benefits to breaking down such systems are being felt by more parents and “regular” voters, which doesn’t bode well for standards-and-accountability in Florida.

Other than the inevitable public sector dig, it sounds like they are saying enough is enough.

Throw in the rejection of the Parent Trigger something he fought for and multiple pathways to gradation; something he fought against, The RNC passing a resolution against common core standards, Jeb’s pet project,

and the revelation that his foundations donors are all organizations, that seek to profit off the privatization of public schools:

Then it has been a pretty brutal year for his policies. I really believe that when it is all said and done, Jeb Bush will be the villain of the story and nobody deserves to have his 15 minutes be up more than him.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Florida there is money for abstinence but not for dying kids

This is from the summer of 2011 but it seems really relevant now sine the federal government just sued us for our treatment of disabled kids. -cpg

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Scott Maxwell

In recent months, Florida politicians have turned away millions of federal dollars meant for Floridians in need.

There was money for the disabled.

For the elderly who can't afford medicine.

Even for dying children who need help from hospice.

In each and every case, the money was there — paid in part by Florida taxpayers.

But Florida Republicans turned it down, claiming they didn't want anything to do with "Obamacare."

How very convenient for them and their subsidized health-care plans.

When you're getting taxpayers to underwrite your $8-a-month insurance policy, the life-and-death woes of the commoners probably seem far removed.

Turning down this money didn't save you a single cent.

Other states were ready to take the money. Even other conservative leaders who opposed to the Affordable Care Act couldn't be so callous as to reject ready money for constituents in need.

So Florida continues to send more money to Washington than it gets back … with the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon.

Except this story gets more interesting.

Because it turns out, Florida didn't turn down all of the money authorized by the Affordable Care Act.

While Florida Republicans turned down, gave back or refused to apply for more than $50 million in funds, they did accept $2 million …. to promote abstinence.

Talk about selective principles.

Personally, I support abstinence education as part of comprehensive teaching.

But I also support comforting dying children during their final days … and helping the elderly infirm live in their own homes in dignity.

So I asked Cannon and other politicians — such as State Rep. Mike Horner, who once claimed it wouldn't be "appropriate" to take money for the elderly poor from the Affordable Care Act — why it was OK to take money for abstinence.

Both said it was because the abstinence money didn't come from that nasty old Obamacare bill itself, but rather "a rider" to the bill.

I bet some of those dying kids wish their funds had been a "rider," as well.

Cannon and some other Republicans also have complained of bureaucratic costs — and have even gone so far as to question the need for money to provide at-home care for the elderly.

That last part is quite some claim in a state with one of the largest populations of both elderly and uninsured in America.

And, as AARP Florida's Jack McRay said, "If there was not a need, why did Florida apply for the money in the first place?"

See, this wasn't money that Barack Obama tried to shove down anyone's throat. It was money Florida officials requested and wanted — until the war on "Obamacare" became a take-no-prisoners affair.

These are scary times.

We once lived in a state and country where politicians debated issues — but would never actually deny services just to make a point.

Those days seem to have passed.

We now live in a state where wealthy politicians cavalierly reject money for the sick and needy while sucking up subsidized insurance for themselves.

This isn't about conservative vs. liberal or left vs. right.

This is about right and wrong.

And punishing the disabled, elderly — even terminally ill kids, for heaven's sake — to make political points is wrong on a level that surpasses earthly condemnation.

Non-profit and faith-based caregivers sometimes ask me if Florida leaders simply don't understand the issues.

My growing and soul-shaking concern is that they simply don't care. or 407-420-6141,0,1205017,full.column

Florida lets down it's most vulnerable citizens, and why are you voting Republican?

From the Week, by Harold Maass

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit this week accusing Florida of warehousing 200 disabled children in nursing homes, after the state cut safety-net programs that would have enabled them to stay at home. Federal investigators, who visited six facilities for the elderly, said that there was no reason for many of the kids to be there, and that some would clearly have been better off at home or elsewhere.
The case is a potentially high-profile showdown between the Obama administration and a Tea Party–dominated state legislature that has been cutting spending wherever it can. Three years ago, the state cut $6 million from a program to cover nursing for people wishing to stay out of institutions.
The Justice Department's civil-rights division is accusing the state of violating the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against people with special needs. By cutting off aid, Florida has allegedly left families with no way to care for disabled kids other than to turn them over to a nursing home.
Florida has plenty of critics on this one. Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones says the state's hardline fiscal conservatives are refusing to spend money on society's most vulnerable children, whose lives would be much better if they were surrounded by their loved ones.
The state even went so far as to turn down $37.5 million in federal money that would help move children out of nursing homes, all because the money was seen as part of ObamaCare. Not even the threat of a civil rights lawsuit, apparently, was enough to get the state to do more. [Mother Jones]
This is not the first time the Obama administration has tried to force a state to do de-institutionalize the mentally disabled, as well as people in fragile health who could be cared for at home. Since 2009, the Justice Department has filed similar suits against 11 states.
Some of the children at the heart of the latest suit have suffered traumatic brain injuries and need to be on ventilators with round-the-clock nursing care. It can be much more expensive to care for them at home, without assistance from the state. That is why so many have wound up in geriatric nursing homes — some remaining there for years.
The state's Agency for Health Care Administration says the federal government is meddling in Florida's affairs. Agency Secretary Liz Dudek said in a statement Monday that the state has been improving an "already strong program," noting that 31 children with disabilities have been discharged from nursing facilities this year alone.
Dudek slammed the Obama administration, saying in a news release that the lawsuit "shows that Washington is not interested in helping families improve but instead is determined to file disruptive lawsuits with the goal of taking over control and operation of Florida's Medicaid and disability programs."
Now it's up to a court to decide whether the Justice Department is trying to score political points, or to defend people who can't defend themselves against the effects of partisan budget-slashing.

So who exactly on Florida’s state board of education is telling the truth?

Sally Bradshaw's said, "I don't understand when it became acceptable to disguise and manipulate the truth simply because the truth is uncomfortable."
Then there was Chairman Gary Chartrand's: "I don't think the truth is being revealed in the current grading system."
They both referenced the truth but the problem is they voted on opposite sides of the board’s decision to artificially inflate or deflate depending on how you look at it, school's grades.
These are their bios, and notice how neither were teachers or ever worked in education, oy vey and we wonder why we are in such trouble.  Its worse friends because both of them have been on the state board for years which means thy have had plenty of opportunities to fix our failed accountability system. Instead they chose to sit on their thumbs until grades were about to be released and then created a firestorm that made Florida a national laughing stock and did nothing to address the problems in our schools. In fact when has anybody in Tallahassee done anything to address poverty?
Furthermore both of them are part of the pro privatization, they will say choice but we all know what they really mean, movement here in Florida. They want to destroy the teacher’s unions because they don’t think teachers are professionals and anybody could do the job, and replace public schools with McCharters. I don’t think either of them have any idea what the truth really is.

Politics drive school grades in Florida

Standardized testing in Florida's public schools has once again come under withering fire. This year like last, the state Board of Education decided by the slimmest of margins, 4-3, to prevent school assessments -- largely based on student FCAT scores -- from falling more than one letter grade.
Under the present inequitable system, that is a fair change.
The move will spare more than 150 schools from earning an F; 262 schools would have plummeted two grades to F's but now only 108 will receive that mark.
Manatee County's school board and administration embraced the scoring change without even knowing the impact on schools here.
Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett proposed the "safety net" in the grading formula following school district concerns that the results would not accurately bear out student achievement.
The board debate over tweaking school grades showed the deep division among board members.
On the one side, there's Sally Bradshaw's point of view. "I don't understand when it became acceptable to disguise and manipulate the truth simply because the truth is uncomfortable."
On the other side, there's Chairman Gary Chartrand's opposite reflection: "I don't think the truth is being reveals in the current grading system."
The Board of Education and Legislature must accept responsibility for this entire fiasco. Under the pretext of strengthening Florida's school accountability system, the state rushed "reforms" into place early last year -- by arbitrarily setting the bar too high.
With tougher tests, higher passing scores and the inclusion of learning gains among the disabled and other factors, the inevitable occurred last year and a furious public demanded the state change course.
But the Board of Education did not learn the lesson of 2012. They failed students, educators and parents again this year.
Why would certain elements in the state want to flunk so many schools? Where's the truth in changing the rules of the game and punishing more schools willfully? Is the real motivation to humiliate public schools and propel expansion of the charter and private school movement?
Politics and big business are inextricably intertwined in Florida. Charter school management companies are major players in Tallahassee, providing big campaign contributions.
On the heels of Republican efforts to pass legislation allowing parents to turn failing schools over to for-profit management companies, the connection between tougher school grading and politics cannot be ignored.
Fortunately, though, that so-called parent trigger bill has failed to pass the state Senate the past two years -- by very slim margins. This issue will likely come up again during the Legislature's 2014 regular session.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with charter or private schools -- Manatee County is home to a number of outstanding success stories -- the state should not undermine public schools with unfair and misleading assessments of student achievement.
All of this isn't to suggest Florida lower its education standards either. Indeed, an even more rigorous curriculum is coming with the new Common Core State Standards in the 2014-2015 school year, first with math and language arts.
The state will phase out FCAT exams in favor of new tests aligned to Common Core. That, too, has already generated controversy, with Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford calling for Florida to abandon the national assessments, still under development. The two leaders want the state to compose its own exams. That's another issue, one that will continue the debate over high-stakes standardized testing.
Florida must implement an assessment system that is fair to students, teachers and schools; takes politics out of the equation, and puts the focus on children.

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