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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Computer based testing explained.

By Greg Sampson

Computer Based Testing
One Man’s Field Report

Recently, I’ve been reading about the Pearson server crash and how it has affected FCAT testing throughout the state. Naturally, parents and the public are up in arms over the disruption to the disruption that testing presents to instruction. It was horrible and I’ll leave it readers to judge how much umbrage they should display against the testing companies and the phonies who hire them yet posture against them when problems happen.

Update your iPhone lately? Whenever technology is involved, problems happen.

The real issues with computer-based tests (CBT) are not in the once in a decade server crash, but the little glitches that make testing a trial for students.

1.       CBT comes with anti-cheating provisions. One is that students cannot attempt to do anything else while the testing software is active, or they are kicked out of the test. That prevents them from firing up a browser and Googling answers to the test questions. That makes sense. Unfortunately, that means that when the computer tries to do anything outside of testing, the student is thrown out of the test. JAVA update, anyone? That was last year’s bugaboo. This year Windows updates are forcing themselves onto student computers while they test. They are kicked out of the test. For some, it happens multiple times; it depends upon the computer they are using and how current it is. It can take two to ten minutes accomplishing a restart. This really interrupts a student’s ability to concentrate on a reading passage and think about answering questions.

Oh, I know, our technology department is supposed to embargo updates during the testing window. They aren’t.

Readers must realize this is routine with CBT. It goes on throughout the test sessions.

2.       CBT testing is a different experience. Students will approach a test as a survey—read and click—unless they are trained differently. My school has outperformed her westside peers for two years in the Algebra EOC by 10 percentage points or better. Is it because our students or our teaching is so much better? Or because I take the time as instructional coach (in previous years, also the test coordinator) to visit every classroom and talk to the students about how important it is to use the work folder they are given and work every problem out with the paper and their pencil? The ones who do this tend to pass; the others don’t.

Students also get a worksheet to take notes for FCAT reading. None of them use it. I wonder if this is a part of their low performance? It does get tedious flipping back and forth between screens. The students can use a notepad on the computer to record their ideas, but here’s the rub: the notepad is individual to each screen. So whatever notes a student takes while reading the passage are not accessible when the student is reading a test question on the passage unless the student goes back to the passage screen. All that clicking back and forth—it gets in the way of students testing at their level of accomplished skill and understanding.

3.       With testing windows now three and a half weeks or longer, actually FCAT now runs into EOC testing without interruption, there is no way a school can shut down and keep students from moving according to their normal schedules. The architecture of schools makes it hard for schools to isolate their testing rooms from the rest of the school. And everyone knows how kids will stay quiet for hours because adults asked them not to talk.

Bottom line: testing rooms are often rocked with student noise during times of transition or when too many students are out of classrooms on hall passes. Testing students complain that they cannot concentrate because of the noise.

By the way, I don’t want to hear from those lucky schools that have received a laptop cart per classroom and the bandwidth to match. Most of us aren’t that lucky. We will wait for the Second Coming before we are similarly equipped. That’s not a barb at the District; I’m talking reality or did you miss news reports of the Superintendent’s budget presentation to the Board? And we’re going to digital textbooks next year in Middle School Math. God help us. But this post is about CBT and I will stop this tangent.

4.       Every year, before testing begins, we do an infrastructure test to make sure our testing locations, wireless access, bandwidth, desktop connections, district cache servers, etc. will handle the load. But schools sometimes find they need to make changes afterward. At my school, we added a new location. When I was called to help troubleshoot computer issues, I noticed how slow the student laptops were loading new pages after students clicked next.

Many times it’s not a spectacular crash like the Pearson problem that got into the news. It’s slow responding equipment. On EOCs where students are allowed extra time if they need it to finish a test, that may not be an issue. But the FCAT is strictly timed. If a student struggles to finish on time because of balky equipment, what do we tell them? “It sucks to be you?”

Please stay with me on this. What do students typically do when told they are running out of time? “You have ten minutes left to finish.”

They rush through the remaining questions and randomly click answers.

5.       And what about the environment? We had to test on the stage in the gym. Unfortunately, it got hot this week. It is stifling on that stage. Students sweat, they ask for water, they don’t want to stay. They rush through the test. They are uncomfortable. Today I had a girl take off her sweatshirt; her spaghetti-strapped shirt underneath violated our dress code. But there was nothing I could say. I sympathized with her need to be comfortable during a test session.
6.       CBT is limited. You cannot ask students to show work or explain their reasoning. All they can do is click an answer choice, or for math, type numbers into a box. You want them to write an explanation of their thinking, math, reading, Civic, history, science or otherwise? Don’t put that on a computer test. You will not know if you are testing their knowledge, understanding, or only their ability to touch-type on a QWERTY keyboard.

Dear readers of this blog, I hope this lengthy post has enlightened you to some of the issues we encounter as we conduct computer-based testing as our legislature had mandated.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The knots the pro voucher crowd ties themselves into to support vouchers

The latest pro-voucher op ed comes from James Mattox of the James Madison Institute. To read his piece click the link at the bottom.

 The knots the pro-voucher crowd has to tie themselves in can be pretty spectacular.  Take for instance the Florida legislature, they say they are for STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math), every child should have a great teacher and accountability, unless your kid takes a voucher and then none of that need apply.    

William Mattox however takes the cake.  The crux of his argument is that standardized tests drive curriculum and one size all fits curriculum are bad for education. Sentiments I completely agree with. The thing is I don’t work for the James Madison institute, like he does, which has been championing Jeb Bush’s reforms for over a decade, the centerpiece of which is standardized tests. What Mr. Mattox is attempting to do is have his cake and eat it too. Hypocrisy should know some bounds.

Furthermore why isn’t Mr. Mattox shouting from the rooftops that we get rid of those things for public education? I mean if he is passionate about kids and education, there are 2.3 million in the system Bush set up and his think tank endorsed. Why shouldn’t they get a break from the tyranny of standardized tests, why should only voucher kids get it?

Here is the real thing though, why are Mattox and the rest of the pro voucher crowd letting the good get in the way of the prefect. If vouchers are so important, if they do such good and so many kids are desperate for them, why don’t then hold their noses and accept a standardized test? Why have they fought so hard against it?

I think it because they know their house of cards will tumble and it will be found out those students who accept vouchers as a group will be doing markedly worse than their public school counterparts and why anyone should expect less. Their teachers don’t have to be certified or have any education requirements and the schools don’t have to have a recognized curriculum either. David Figilo the states voucher expert told me that there were great schools that took vouchers but also very poor ones too. Instead of making the program better all they have called for is expanding it.

Mattox and the pro voucher crowd want to blame teacher unions, and the PTA for resistance when the truth is they could have the keys to the castle if they just gave a little and they refused, even fought against it and that should tell you all you need to know.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Charter Schools USA lawyer says nobody can know they threatened me with a defamation lawsuit.

Things took an interesting turn when CUSA said via e-mail that I wasn’t allowed to tell people that they had threatened me with a defamation Law Suit if that was the reason I was retracting a post about them having business with a Vietnamese company. That however isn't the reason I will be retracting the post. I am doing so because I checked and Coral Springs Talk took down their original piece, so I thought if they are not going to stand behind it then why should I. 

The thing is the Firm didn’t have to come at me guns blazing, they could have said, Chris there’s some problems with the story, Coral Springs Talk took it down and we were hoping you would do the same and I would have been glad to do so. 

That is the meat and potatoes too. Coral Springs Talk reported a relationship between CUSA and a Vietnamese group pairing investors with opportunities to earn green cards and as I will do time to time I found the piece interesting and reposted it.

Fast forward to a letter, which among other things said in all caps GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY, that I found kind of threatening. 

Lets be clear though I don’t think anything Charter School USA does is illegal, heck hooking up foreign investors with investment opportunities that will get them green cards has been going on for quite some time. Also it is quite evident to me that they have teams of lawyers ready to strike at a moments notice to let them know if they or somebody else is crossing the line but at the same time they do things that average folks in their kitchens eating dinner or waiting for elevators over small talk find questionable. Many others and I think they use their money and influence to rig the game in their favor. What they do may be completely legal but I don’t have to like it.

So where have we come to? They gave me five days to remove the original post and I definitely will, though I may wait till Saturday morning to do so. Are they involved with a Vietnamese company they say no and I have no evidence that says otherwise and quite frankly no reason not to believe them.

Then lets be clear am I sorry that I put the original post up? Yeah, I don’t like to get things wrong, because when I do it hurts my position and furthermore I am taking it down because there seems to be legitimate questions about it's veracity not because of some letters from a bunch of high priced lawyers. I am also very sorry if any of my readers took the story as the gospel because the last thing I want to do is misinform you.       

Finally I would write what I think about the Firm, but I don’t want to get another letter.

Is Charter Schools USA trading green cards for investments!?!

Is Charter Schools USA trading green cards for investments?

Let me start by saying, they say they aren’t. No, make that, they adamantly say they aren’t as illustrated by thier retraction demand in response to a re-post I did from Coral Springs

You know I am sorry if I get things wrong from time to time, make that very, very sorry high priced lawyers, who refer to themselves as the Firm, and I am glad to make corrections too, me being wrong hurts my position but you know what gets me? This where they draw the line, this is where they say, no, no, no that is not us. This is the same company that has a business model, their non-profit secures a charter school contract, hires their for profit to manage it while the for profit’s construction arm builds it, that would make Colombian money launderers envious.

They have also sent thousand of dollars to Jason Fischer the Mandarin school board member who voted for a CUSA school to open even though I can’t find anybody in Mandarin who wanted it or thinks its necessary.

And even though they do no business in Delaware that I can see and practically all their business is in Florida where the CEO also lives they are registered out of Delaware, presumably for some low tax dodge purpose. Now I believe they are paying taxes, just less in taxes than they would be paying if they were registered in the state where they did the bulk of their business.  

I could go on for a while but the thought of them associating with a Vietnamese group is somehow beyond the pale. 

Are they basically selling green cards to Asian investors, something other companies have been reported as doing? Immica the Vietnamese company in question which has Charter Schools USA being quoted on their website and images of their schools and videos of their CEO appearing to endorse their schools seems to at least imply there is some type of relationship.

CUSA however says that's not the case, make that says adamantly that is not the case. 

Becky Couch said what about charter schools?

When talking about charter schools, school board chair Mrs. Couch should only say things like, complete capitulation, they say jump we ask how high and yes may I have another.  Despite her indicating the need to bring students back from charters to traditional public schools, since Mrs. Couch has been on the board we have seen the amount of charter schools double whether we need them or not.

That’s why I found what she said in a Times Union piece about the legislature trying to make it easier for charter schools to expand so ironic.  In case you didn’t know it the legislature, despite over 260 charter schools having failed in Florida over the past few years is pushing to create a standardized contract that all the districts would have to use. In the end it probably wouldn’t matter in Jacksonville because we fold like a house of cards in a hurricane but some districts have actually fought back against the proliferation of charter schools.  They have put reasonable restrictions on performance and expansion, something we haven’t considered, and the Florida legislature is vehemently against.

I wish I could link you the piece but I am not a member of the Times Union’s special club but suffice to say her comments considering her actions were pretty ridiculous.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nadia Hionides, the principal of the Foundation Academy has thousands of reasons to support school choice and each starts with a dollar sign.

I went to the Foundation Academy’s web site where they promoted a Christian education but they didn’t promote much else that you couldn’t get at most public schools, which begs the question is their a manifest necessity families get a voucher so their children can go there.

What she is asking the people of Florida to do is first blur the line between church and state and then to subsidize a parents choice, not need but choice, and she asks this to the detriment of all of us.

You see public education isn’t just for the families that have school age children, it is for all of us whether we have kids or not and when resources are siphoned out it hinders the ability of public schools to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

The Foundation Academy made do a great job educating the children that go there, then again they may not because the state has refused to put accountability measures on private schools that take vouchers but at the end of the day it doesn’t truly matter.  What does matter is making our public schools as strong as possible a lesson lost on supporters of vouchers.

Chris Guerrieri
School teacher 

The truly maddening things about superintendent Vitti

When Superintendent Vitti got to town he was a breath of fresh air. One of the first things he did was go on a listening tour of the city. The last time Ed Pratt Dannals toured the city he told people about the doom and gloom of impending budget cuts and never mentioned the 120 million we had squirreled away in the couch cushions. Then Vitti sent out a memo saying we should relax the learning schedule and principals should not retaliate against teachers that fell behind. This guy is going to be all right, I said to myself.

Then he wanted to bring back the arts and increase discipline; a lack of both was really setting us back. Next dyslexic and overage kids were no longer going to be ignored and more resources would be heading towards them. He was checking all the boxes.

Somewhere though the wheels have begun to come off the bus. Teachers say principals bullying them is just as bad if not worse, perhaps a byproduct of his choice of area chiefs. Discipline is still a joke as ISSP has become a playground in many schools and he even pushed back against a local judge saying things weren’t all that bad, though putting extra security, deans and ISSP teachers in our schools seem to belittle his point. Then art, music and p.e. classes are to huge to be manageable and to give kids any real benefit. He had some really great ideas but then followed them through half-heartedly at best.

Then lets talk about the QEA initiative, he plans to pay teachers gobs of money to go to our neediest schools, well the evidence says it won’t work but I get it we have to try and get our best teachers at those schools but then rather than supplementing them with professional teachers he (the QEA initiative) is blowing millions on TFA hobbyists, who provide their students the exact opposite of what research says they need.  

He has also said recently we need social workers and counselors at our neediest schools a sentiment echoed dozens of times in Education Matters but rather than investing in them he’s throwing money at TFA and undoubtedly some teachers who weren’t going anywhere in the first place. He hopes to pay for them by cutting other positions elsewhere.

Vitti has all these great ideas, he’s hitting the nail with the hammer describing what we need but then inexplicably like an easily distracted child he is off to the next thing, open enrollment anybody?

Vitti’s got to slow down if he wants to get it right. He has to treat teachers like valued colleagues and assure his subordinates do the same. He has to provide wrap around services for our most difficult kids because often why they act up or do poorly has nothing to do with school. He needs to make our schools safe and assure kids get consequences for bad behavior. Now I am not saying drop the hammer but something meaningful has to be done or it’s a waste of both time and resources. Then he has to put in place classes that stop school from being such drudgery for kids, manageable and meaningful classes. He does those things he can help turn it around.

Right now he talks a lot of the talk, but his walking is all over the place.  

It's the poverty!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Vitti switching course on policy decisions.

From a Reader

Dr. Vitti Beginning to Reverse Course

It began with the news item that he was thinking it made financial sense to pay a fine rather than hire the necessary number of classroom teachers to meet the class-size amendment.

Previously, his stance was that DCPS wasn’t constructing master schedules correctly and he would show them how so that they could meet class-size requirements without additional personnel and resources in the schools.

 What that meant was that principals looked for non-classroom personnel who could be given classes and found them in Support Facilitators. This year, when teachers are desperate for help with ESE students, they are on their own because Support Facilitators are teaching classes and are not available to work with the ESE students, which should be their focus.

 Now, in his latest budget proposal, he is thinking about reducing the ranks of instructional coaches, whereas one year ago, he said if his leadership of DCPS was going to make transformational change in our schools, it would be through the work of instructional coaches.
(I apologize that this link is behind the T-U paywall for readers who don’t subscribe.)

I’m not going to argue for or against the role of instructional coaches in this brief post, I’m simply noting the change in thinking.

Will we soon see the picture of the former superintendent on billboards around the city with the caption, “Miss Me Yet?”

Post Removed

A post linking CUSA to a Vietnamese company paring investors looking for green cards with investment opportunities was removed.
The reasons, CUSA notified me that they didn't have the relationship and the paper that printed the original article retracted the piece.
I apologize for any inconvenience.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Barrak Obama and Arne Duncan continue their assault on teachers.

Now they plan to drive out of business schools that send their teacher graduates to urban districts where test scores will be low and gains slow to come by.

From Politico: The goal: To ensure that every state evaluates its teacher education programs by several key metrics, such as how many graduates land teaching jobs, how long they stay in the profession and whether they boost their students’ scores on standardized tests. The administration will then steer financial aid, including nearly $100 million a year in federal grants to aspiring teachers, to those programs that score the highest. The rest, Duncan said, will need to improve or “go out of business.”

Are some teacher colleges better than others? Undoubtedly but thanks to the president and secretary of playing basketball with the president, we will need all the teachers we can get in the next few years.  These two have done all they can to handicap the teaching profession with their corporate/standardized test reforms.

They are despicable. We can’t chalk it up to them just being ignorant anymore. Their reforms represent a calculated attack against the teaching profession.

I also can’t help but think there favorite group TFA which does the exact opposite of what we know to be good and puts their non-education majors through a five week class is going to get a pass. The summer institute is not a teacher college after all.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why did voucher proponents resist accountability so adamantly?

At the beginning of the legislative session voucher proponents were seeking to triple the amount of funding including opening up sales tax to pay for the vouchers but now as the legislative session winds down all they have gotten are some watered down accountability measures, something they fought against, that don’t include them taking the same test as students who attend public schools.  

Voucher proponents and the administrator of them, Step up for Students said to anybody who would listen that the program is important and tens of thousands of more needy families wanted in. They could have made sure it happened too and all they had to do was agree that the children who received the vouchers take the same test public school students did. Instead of accepting it however they fought tooth and nail against it.  
Maybe they didn’t think it was necessary that kids take the same test as they ad nauseum said voucher studnets had to take some norm referenced test instead.  But to help all those extra families why didn’t they just agree, why did they let the good be the enemy of the perfect.

I think it is because they know their voucher program is more akin to a house of cards than an education network. I think they know that if they were to allow the kids that take vouchers to take the same test that public school students do they would perform poorly. But who would expect differently? Private schools that take vouchers don’t have to have certified teachers or even teachers with degress, they don’t have recognized curriculums and many teach creationism as science. David Figilo the states own expert said there are great private schools that take vouchers but really poor ones too and instead of weeding out the poor ones Step up for Student’s goal was to greatly expand the program.

Then the legislators who were for it had to practically twist themselves into knots to find reasons to support it as it went against most of their already stated stances. Many of the same supporters of vouchers said they believe in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) but at the same time they were okay with voucher schools teaching creationism as science.  They say they want all of Florida’s kids to have a great teacher, unless your kid goes to a private schools that takes vouchers, because those teachers don’t have to be certified, let alone have a degree. Then how do we know how they are doing unless we can link them to a test. Now I think that idea is dumb and ineffective but the Florida legislature doesn’t.  Then there is common core which they said will save us all from mediocrity and allow us to compete in the global economy, unless of course your student takes a voucher.

Despite all this, Step up for Students was about to see the amount of money spent on vouchers triple and all they had to do was agree that the kids that took them take the same tests that public schools do and instead they passed.

This complete capitulation should worry everyone whether you support vouchers or not. It should also tell you all you need to know about the program.

It is time the Florida legislature decided to help our public schools instead of putting so much time and resources into schools which want more public money but resist accountability.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The chutzpah of Manny Diaz, under investigation and still pushing charter school legislation.

This guy’s employer Academia, one of the biggest mercenary charter school chains around is under investigation from the department of Justice and he is still pushing legislation to make it easier for charter schools to expand.

Manny “conflict of interest” Diaz makes six figures from Academia too.

When will the people of south Florida wake up and realize these guys don’t care about them, just their bank accounts.

You can like the concept of charters while detesting what they have become

Albert Shanker the often vilified by the right union leader is credited with coming up with the concept of charter schools, though his wife said he would be rolling over in his grave if he could see what they had become.

I find the original concept of charter schools very captivating too, parent teacher driven laboratories of innovation and experimentation, free of many of the regulations that suck the life out of teaching, where teachers help drive the curriculum and develop the policies.  Unfortunately that’s not what the majority of charter schools are.  

Instead they are profit centers for mercenary outfits more concerned with the bottom line and making a buck than educating our children. They offer dubious innovation and exclude many of the most difficult students. They often pick who they take and keep and don’t work with the needs of school districts to help fill them, instead working with the needs of their bank accounts which they want to become more and more filled. Teachers and parents fall between cogs and barely involved or consulted

The fantasy of charter schools is an attractive one; the reality however is a nightmare.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ultimately it is president Obama who is responsible for Pearson's testing fail

A little background. Pearson who is paid millions to be responsible for the FCAT experienced massive computer failures today.

From Bonnie Margola, via Facebook

 Quote: "One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you're not learning about the world, you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math," the president said. "All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that's not going to make education interesting."

"And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in," Obama said. "They're not going to do as well if it's boring."
The president endorsed the occasional administering of standardized tests to determine a "baseline" of student ability. He said his daughters Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12, recently took a standardized test that didn't require advance preparation. Instead, he said, it was just used as a tool to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses. The girls attend the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington."

At the end of the day President Obama doesn't want your kids to have the same education his kids are getting. And all he does is play lip service to the needs of our kids and our schools. 

The hypocrisy of the Voucher movement in Florida

The voucher movement is championed by the Florida legislature. They say they believe in a lot of things but when the rubber meets the road their beliefs have a way of fading away. Rifting off of a Scathing Purple Musing piece.

They say they believe in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) but at the same time they are okay with voucher schools teaching creationism as science.

They say they want all of Florida’s kids to have a great teacher, unless your kid goes to a private schools that takes vouchers. Those teachers don’t have to be certified, let alone have a degree. Then how do we know how they are doing unless we can link them to a test. Now I think that idea is dumb and ineffective but the Florida legislature doesn’t.  

Then there is common core which they say will save us all from mediocrity and allow us to compete in the global economy, unless of course your student takes a voucher.

With so many incongruent positions how can anything they say or do be taken seriously?

In Florida up truly does equal down.

To read more click the link:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another Gates idea fails spectacularly

And before I get started Gates was identified as a national philanthropy that my home town's school board and super want to bring to town. Oy vey

Bill “It will probably be a decade before we now if our reforms work or not” Gates won’t have to wait that long for InBloom his info gathering service as after 100 million dollars he pulled the plug.

It joins small learning communities in the dustbin of education ideas. One other his teacher evaluation system is circling the bowl while common core remains propped up by the billions he has invested.

If Bill Gates were just a regular guy nobody would give his terrible ideas the time of day. 

Vitti knows we need social workers and counselors, chooses to fund TFA instead

In a Times Union piece about uneven discipline the superintendent gave an impassioned plea for more social workers and mental health counselors, a sentiment that has been expressed on Education Matters dozens and dozens of times, because often why a kid acts up or doesn’t try in school often has nothing to do with school.

He said there are complexities behind those numbers (suspensions/referrals), some having to do with student behavior, some with teachers’ and administrators’ behaviors and assumptions, and some with parents.
Also, there’s a community-wide lack of mental health and emotional support for students growing up in poverty, he said. Florida ranks 49th among 50 states in mental health funding, he added.

“We have children dealing with depression, anger and frustrations that are linked to their socioeconomic situations,” he said.

With better funding, he said, schools and their community partners could scale up support services from social workers, psychologists, mentors and improve the school’s outreach to parents.

The super is dead on and the super also had the resources dangled in front of him to put a huge dent in the problem. He passed.

Instead the super has chosen to spend over 5 million dollars (not counting benefits, salary and district training) on Teach for America Teachers, rookie non-education majors who at best have a whiff of classroom management training. It gets worse to because most of them will be put in our neediest schools where “We have children dealing with depression, anger and frustrations that are linked to their socioeconomic situations,”

Instead of bringing scabs in, why wasn’t the money invested in people who can really make a difference?
You know what gets me about our super? He has a lot of good ideas that are only half implemented and he talks the talk but doesn’t always walk the walk about what is best for our students.   

Voucher parents aren’t the villains of the debate, they are the pawns.

Former Senator Al Lawson writes I have little tolerance for those who try to cast these parents as villains in public education. Education is a not a zero-sum game, and this scholarship is simply about giving poor families more options.

I don’t know if he is naive or if he thinks the public is because vouchers is a lot more than giving poor families more options and the pro voucher crowd uses those same poor families he claims to care about as pawns in the education debate.

First let me say no matter how often Lawson and the other supporters of vouchers repeat it, it doesn’t make it true. Yes some of the students who took vouchers and left public schools were struggling but some were doing very well too. Vouchers have more to do with parents wanting a religious education, their distrust of gov’ment schools and irrational hatred of teachers unions that getting better education outcomes. I know this because the states own experts says the children that get vouchers don’t experience better outcomes and I would add that private schools can pick who they take and keep and put requirements on parents, which are significant advantages when determining performance. These also help mitigate the facts that private schools that take vouchers don’t have to have certified teachers or teachers with degrees, recognized curriculums and many teach creationism as science.

Then for every independent group Lawson can come up with to say vouchers save money I can find a handful of superintendents and parent organizations that bemoan the loss of resources and report being able to do less and less because of it. Does Lawson really think the annual siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars has not just no effect but a positive one?     

Furthermore there are lots of reasons why people oppose the expansion of vouchers. First for religious reasons, vouchers don’t just blur the line between church and state, it obliterates it. There is the accountability, that Lawson and many voucher supporters’ fight against and the fact vouchers annually siphon hundreds of millions out of public schools and the tax base which pays for many services.

If we are being honest other than a religious education there is very little that students who take vouchers can get that they couldn’t get in public schools and the public should not subsidize a family’s choices to leave. There is no manifest need that Lawson or the other voucher proponents can point too.

Are there great schools that take vouchers? Undoubtedly is what the states voucher expert David Figilo reports but he also says there are very poor ones too and unfortunately Lawson instead of weeding out the bad apples wants to expand the program. Also where are his cries insisting that Florida’s public school children receive adequate resources? They weren’t to be found in his op ed and that should tell you all you need to know about where his loyalties lie. Instead all he is interested in doing is beating the voucher drum, willing to undercut the many who attend public schools to help the few who choose not to.

Doug Tuthill plays tricks to sell vouchers

Doug Tuthill, who receives nearly a quarter million in salary as president of Step up for Students paints a pretty dramatic picture of a parent fighting for her child’s voucher in the Miami Herald.

It’s a pretty standard trick too. He says look at this one parent while simultaneously hoping you will ignore the millions of parents in the Parent Teacher Association who have come out against the proliferation of vouchers, who are fighting for their children.  

That however is not where his tricks stop. He says that children that receive vouchers were the lowest performers in the district’s schools they left behind. Some of them were but according to David Figilo the states voucher expert some of them were doing very well too. Later he omits that if his plan succeeds then the value of vouchers will go form under five to over six thousand dollars, the income of families that will be eligible jumps to over sixty thousand and the fees Step up for Students receive will nearly triple from about 8 to about 24 million dollars. That is money that will never see a class room. Most egregious however is he then makes light of the hundreds of millions of dollars annually siphoned out of already resource starved schools doesn’t hurt them.  

But tugging on heart strings and omitting information is where his tricks end because more people are becoming aware of the inner workings of Step up for Students. They have seen the video where they admit to paying off legislators with campaign donations and they know the only waiting list is one kept on the back of an envelope, Doug Tuthill’s own words in a piece on his blog, ReDefined Ed.  People understand that despite being able to pick who they take and keep children that attend vouchers don’t get better education out comes and they understand that private schools that take vouchers don’t have to have certified teachers or teachers with degrees, recognized curriculums and many teach creationism as science. Finally they understand how the proponents of vouchers resist accountability, saying state tests are good for public school children but bad for them.

Tuthill wants you to look at the few students vouchers do help while ignoring the fact most could get the same services in their public schools. However should the public really be forced to fund someone’s religious choice, distrust of “gov’ment” schools or irrational hatred of teacher unions?  Should we really be handicapping the many to help a few? Tuthill obviously thinks so.

Parents doing the dirty work for Step up for Studnets

Step up for Students is having parents do their dirty work for them. Another parent goes to bat for them in the Ocala Star-Banner , which means another parent asks us to subsidize her choice ignoring the fact her choice hurts us all.

When criticizing the Florida Parent Teacher Association for fighting for all children and families including hers, what Chanae Jackson-Baker is really doing is asking us to subsidize her choice to put her children in a private school.

As a parent I can understand that she is doing what she feels best even if she fails to acknowledge that private schools that take vouchers in Florida are the wild west of education.  Their teachers don’t have to be certified or even have degrees for that matter. Their curriculums don’t have to be regulated and many teach creationism as science and then despite their assertion that there is accountability, there is no way to measure it as they are required to take a norm referenced test rather than the states.

I spoke with David Figilo the states experts on vouchers and he said as a group students in private schools that take vouchers don’t perform any better than their public school counterparts. He went on to tell me there were some really excellent private schools that take vouchers, mostly religious schools, but there were some very poor ones too. I would like to add private schools that take vouchers can pick who they take and keep and can put requirements on parents something public schools can’t do.

The Parent Teacher association however has a different responsibility than an individual parent and that’s to look at the overall health of our public schools something through the siphoning away of resources is hurt by vouchers.  They understand that public schools are here to benefit all of us whether we have children attending them or not. They recognize that we should all want them to be as strong as possible and recognize the dilution of resources hurts us all.

Then there are lots of reasons why people might oppose the expansion of vouchers too. First for religious reasons, it doesn’t just blur the line between church and state it obliterates it. Then there is accountability, that John East and many voucher supporters’ fight against. They may take a test but there is no direct comparison between how voucher kids and public school kids are doing. Then it annually siphons hundreds of millions out of public schools, which are already starved for resources, and out of the tax base that goes to pay for other state services.

She also got a few things wrong. If Step up for Students gets their way, the values of the scholarships will go up to over six thousand dollars and the income of families eligible will exceed sixty thousand dollars. Then she never mentions that Step up for Students management fees will triple from around 8 to around 24 million dollars and that’s a year.

Vouchers undoubtedly do help a few students but if we are being honest how many students couldn’t get the same services in their public schools. Should the public really be forced to fund someone’s religious choice, distrust of “gov’ment” schools or irrational hatred of teacher unions?  Should we really be handicapping the many to help a few? Should we really be subsidizing Chanae Jackson-Bakers choice, which may or may not help her, but hurts us all?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Duval could stop the proliferation of charter schools with two simple rules.

Even as big a critic of charter schools as I am I believe they have a limited role to play as a supplement to public schools. Unfortunately the powers-that-be, despite dubious quality and the fact the only thing they seem to do really well is put money in the pockets of their owners, have set them up to replace public schools.

Jacksonville which has seen the amount of charter schools double over the last few years could stem the tide and protect students and families too, with just two simple rules.

The first rule is more than half of the managing board of charter schools should be from Jacksonville, this is a similar rule that many counties have an enforce. The whole concept of charter schools was parent driven laboratories of reform, not mercenaries looking for profit centers. This would make sure that there was at least some local involvement.

Next charter schools should not be allowed to expand whether grades or sister schools until they have earned at least two consecutive C grades, another rule some districts have. That way we know at the very least there are minimum standards being met.

Is that asking a lot, half the board being locals and at least an average grade before expanding? Some charter school outfits might think so because if those two rules were in place we would have a lot less than the 31 charter schools that we have now.  

Notice I am not asking that the charter school serve a need, sink up with strategic plan or be innovative, something charter schools are supposed to do/be already but have been allowed to get a pass on.

The school board has said they want to push back against charter schools and adopting these two reasonable rules would allow them to do it.

Unfortunately reasonable and school board are not words that often go together. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Duval County rolls over to Charter Schools USA while other cities fight back.

From the Tampa Tribune:  Four months after the Hillsborough County school board denied an application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, the district is raising questions about who’s in charge at three other schools operated by the company that proposed it, Charter Schools USA.

Those calling the shots at Henderson Hammock, Winthrop and Woodmont charter schools are from out of town, a violation of their contracts with the school board, district charter school director Jenna Hodgens said.
State law doesn’t require local control of charter schools, which are public schools operated privately, but it does give school districts wide latitude to establish their own conditions.
“We feel strongly about a local board,” Hodgens said. “Other districts don’t push the issue, but we do.”

We would be one of the districts that doesn’t push the issue.

I pointed out to our school board that none of the members of the charter schools board were from Jacksonville but this revelation was met with a collective shrug of its shoulders.

Jason Fischer also took campaign donations from charter schools USA, and coincidently enough it is in his district where the new school is being built, oh it started construction even before it received approval.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a board that was more interested in doing what is right for our students than adding to the bank accounts of millionaire, mercenary charter school operators?

That’s obviously a priority in Tampa. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Parent blames public schools for the problems supporters of vouchers created.

The Step up for Students save our millions of dollars in fees, err let the program expand campaign has really for lack of better words stepped up. At first it was their six figured executives writing letters to the editor but they have now turned to parents to do their dirty work for them.

Terriya Washington wrote an impassioned piece to the Times Union and almost the first thing she complains about is budgets have been cut. 

I hope this irony is not lost on you, as it is the legislature in Tallahassee, filled with voucher proponents and pubic school detractors who fund our schools. If Washington is upset that budget cuts have led to a reduction of services she should be upset at the very people she talks so highly about.  

She follows this up with muddying the facts. Yes, the Parent Teacher Association is against the expansion of vouchers as are people who are for the separation of church and state, which vouchers obliterate. Likewise are scientists who believe the replacement of actual science with the junk science of creationism is totally unacceptable. 

She then says the Florida Legislatures is trying to expand vouchers so more poor students can receive them but that’s not true. If Step up for Students has their way they now want to give scholarships to families earning a little over sixty thousand dollars. Then she is totally wrong about the assessment piece too. The tests they take are very different so there is not an apple-to-apple comparison.

Later she complains about over crowded classrooms, which is also a result of the supporters of vouchers gutting the class size amendment. Once again she complains about the problems that the supporters of vouchers created while demanding her voucher.

I can appreciate her caring about her parents and being an active parent. I really can but at the same time the public should not subsidize her choice to leave pubic schools especially when the siphoning away of resources exacerbate the problems she sites as reasons she left.  

I have a message for the parents who are taking vouchers. If you don’t like the problems in public schools find out where they came from and who caused them and then point your outrage in their direction. You will be pointing towards Tallahassee not towards your local public school.  Furthermore instead of demanding the public subsidize your choice, let me suggest you demand the powers-that-be fix the problems, many of which they created in the first place. That way everybody benefits.

Vitti versus Stewart with the commissioner of education job on the line.

I have been wrong about things before. I thought Ed Pratt-Danals would be working for a KIPP school by now and I thought Obama was going to be good for education and neither has come true. So I might be wrong about Superintendent Vitti angling for a bigger job too, but follow me for a moment. 

The state board of education only kicking and screaming appointed Pam Stewart to be education commissioner. Yes I know they said complementary things about her but she was passed over first by Gerard Robinson from Virginia and then Bennett from Indiana before getting the job. To be honest if they hadn’t hired her after two stints as intern commissioner that would have been really telling.

So here she is finishing her first year and se has come up with some humdingers. She attacked the parent of profoundly disabled little boy for questioning the states overbearing testing policies. She made cosmetic changes to common core and then changed the name hoping nobody would notice that for all intensive purposes the same thing. Then she hired the same group that did the disastrous VAM to replace the FCAT and is paying Utah 5.4 million dollars to field test the questions after saying field testing was unnecessary.

Yeah I get it, perhaps we could chalk al of above to the nutty nature of Florida but now lets add in Superintendnet Vitti’s push back against Stewarts doubling down on Florida’s failed accountability system. 

He penned a letter to the board outlining why moving forward without a pause was a mistake and Chartrand the chair of the state board of education and Vitti’s rabbi, urged Stewart to take the recommendations under consideration. She didn’t and a bill making its way through the Florida legislature is basically a cut and paste of what Stewart has recommended.  I want to add despite the fact that the PTA, the teachers union and the superintendents association have come out against it; so much for school choice or local control right.

So what does Vitti do, he strenuously objects (anybody remember that scene from a few good men) but this time he brings the DTU, the NAACP and the school board with them and fires another shot across the bow of Stewart (and the legislature).

"I am vehemently against using this test next year the way right now that the legislature is saying we need to use it," said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. "Anyone will tell you that before you use an assessment it needs to be properly field tested."
Vitti and other school officials were critical of the field testing to take place in Utah.
"Utah looks nothing like Florida," he said.

 I get it my evidence is a little thin, a barely competent education commissioner, disagreeing with a woefully incompetent board and a superintendent supported by the latter pushing back against the former. But if you buy Vitti’s claim that he wants to spend a career in Jacksonville I have some swampland you might be interested in cheap. He is not the 35-year-old superintendent of the 20th biggest school district in the nation because he likes the Jaguars. No this is a stop on his way to bigger things.  

Then again I have been wrong before. 

Florida Voucher Proponents Change their Narrative again.

Have you noticed school choice advocates like Steve Knellinger, who recently wrote an op-ed in the Tampa Times are constantly changing their narrative? They have gone from saving children from failing schools, to competition, to kids just learn differently. But other than a religious education, what can kids get in private schools that they can't get in public?

I will tell you, they can get a non-certified teacher, heck they can get a non-degreed teacher too as there are no requirements for teachers to meet. They can get an education in junk science, creationism, while failing to get an education in actual science; in fact they don’t have to have any recognized curriculums. Then there is no way to actually compare how they are doing with public school students because they fight against accountability. They don’t fight against public money, no they want more of that; they just fight against proving it is being well and properly used.

Vouchers undoubtedly do help a few students but if we are being honest how many students couldn’t get the same services in their public schools. Should the public really be forced to fund someone’s religious choice, distrust of “gov’ment” schools or irrational hatred of teacher unions?  Should we really be handicapping the many to help a few?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The amazing hypocrisy of the ReDefined Ed blog/school choice advocates.

They really tie themselves into knots over there at the pro-privatization blog but today's piece was monumental.

Patrick Gibbons who often divorces himself from reality (teachers were never unfairly made scapegoats, school choice has always been about competition), complained that students in Wisconsin’s voucher system were being unfairly compared to the public school students. The long of the short of it is they surprise, surprise don’t perform as well.

He wrote: A phone call from redefinED to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction revealed that the state doesn’t track the average household income of voucher participants. Thus, there is no apples to apples comparison.

After spitting my milk out I shook my head in dismay. You see Gibbons and the rest of his ilk here in Florida scream from the roof tops that there doesn’t have to be an apples to apples comparison between the tests that voucher and public school kids take. They continuously scoff at the notion. In an amazing display of wanting to have his cake and eat it too, or what my grandmother called chutzpah, Mr. Gibbons says comparisons are only good when they favor us and are unnecessary when they don't.

Welcome to the school choice movement.

Education Matters goes statewide!

In the past couple weeks posts first featured on Education Matters have been in the Gainesville Sun,

St. Augustine Record,

Palm Beach Post,

I have been quoted in a Times Union article, had a lead letter printed

and finally I was in a piece on WJCT Channel 7.

Basically I am just a guy who is tired of seeing teachers demonized and kids getting shortchanged so I wrote a letter. It’s something you could do too. In fact if you want public education to survive we need you to.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Duval’s end game is to bring the Gates Foundation to town.

Oy vey, look I get it we have needs going unmet, but the strings attached to any money the Gates foundation would give us would instead act like a noose.

Gates, in typical rich guy fashion recently said, it will probably be a decade or more before we know if our reforms have worked.

A DECADE, IF?!? What the beep. He said it nonchalantly too because it’s not his kids that will have to endure the failed reforms he keeps bringing to the table.

Does anybody remember his first initiative? Smaller Schools. He reasoned well some smaller schools in places like Nebraska are doing well, let’s replicate that everywhere.  Hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours of consternation later and small learning communities have gone the way of the dinosaur.

This is the same guy who infamously asked, why would I pay a more experienced guy to cut my lawn, when talking about why experienced teachers  got paid more than rookie ones and who instituted a stack ranking evaluation system at Microsoft that experts say led to its stagnation, which for a while he advocated doing this with teachers saying, just cut the bottom ten percent for a few years.

If Gates, who never taught a day in his life nor worked at a school was a regular guy, nobody would give him and his horrible ideas the time of day.

And this is the guy, Vitti, the board and the other rich guys of the QEA want to bring to town.

Their cure is far worse than the disease.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rick Scott celebrates teachers losing their jobs.

The Tampa Times is reporting that Rick Scott sent a letter to the Pasco County school district praising them as one of the healthiest employers around.

The Tampa Times is also reporting that because of budget cuts the Pasco County School district let go nearly 500 workers in 2011(although many won new posts later), eliminated nearly 90 jobs in 2012 and about 100 positions in 2013.

Hundreds of people lost their jobs and he considers it a success.

I know some people really don’t like Obama but how did this guy get elected again?