When he began to run for the Republican nomination for President, Jeb Bush stepped down as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which he founded to spread the gospel of high-stakes testing, tough accountability, charters, and vouchers. The new chairperson is Condoleeza Rice, who shares Jeb’s views on corporate reform. FEE will hold its “national summit” in Denver on October 22-23. You might want to plan to attend to learn about the campaign to privatize public education. Be sure to check out the sponsors. I can promise that you will not learn anything about the financial scandals that have plagued the charter industry or the disappointing results of vouchers at this conference.
Delaware State Commissioner Mark Murphy is stepping down.
“Many legislators, the teachers, administrators, and parents had lost confidence in Secretary Murphy, but he had the confidence of the man who mattered, Jack Markell. The DSEA [Delaware State Education Association] voted no confidence in his leadership. Legislators complained about the strong arm tactics to force through Common Core. Parents rallied and protested the Smarter Balanced Assessment. He had been called out of touch, but he claimed his efforts led to significant achievements.”
Murphy was a strong proponent of Common Core and Race to the Top. He was one of the few remaining members of Jeb Bush’s shrinking “Chiefs for Change.”
Until recently, the Chiefs included Gerard Robinson (FL), Tony Bennett (IN, FL) , Chris Cerf (NJ), Mike Miles (Dallas), Deborah Gist (switching from RI to Tulsa)), Janet Barresi (OK), Kevin Huffman (TN), Stephen Bowen (ME), and Chris Barbic (Tenn). All are gone, although Gist is still a “Chief” as district superintendent in Tulsa.
The only two original members left are John White and Hannah Skandera, neither of whom is popular with educators or parents.
The original Chiefs for Change was funded by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence.
Jeff Bryant has written an excellent in-depth investigative report on Jeb Bush’s boasts about the “Florida miracle.”
The alleged miracle is pure hogwash. The biggest beneficiaries are the profiteers and entrepreneurs who have opened 600 charter schools across the state.
As Jeff writes, Jeb got into the charter business to polish up his image after losing the 1994 race for governor. A defining moment occurred when asked in a debate what he would do for blacks, if he were elected. He answered, “Probably nothing.” When he learned about charter schools, he found the perfect vehicle to burnish his credentials in education and civil rights.
He worked hard to pass charter legislation, then opened the state’s first charter school in impoverished Liberty City in 1996. He still boasts about the school but forgets to add that it closed in 2008.
Bryant interviewed Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, who represents the section of Miami that includes Liberty City.
Bullard denounced Bush’s A-F grading law “that perpetually traps schools serving the most struggling students with an “F” label, and opening up communities to unproven charter schools that compete with neighborhood schools for funding….
“According to Bullard, charter school expansion did more harm than good in Liberty City. As charter schools chipped away student population from the neighborhood schools, the local elementary school struggled to keep its enrollment up, and the middle school eventually closed as lower student populations drained the schools’ resources.
“In Bullard’s view, charter schools also help create an unhealthy revolving door, where kids cycle from public schools to charters, and then back into the public schools when charters close down. As schools open and close, the better-prepared students tend to find spots in other new charters, while the lowest performing kids get kicked back into struggling, underfunded public schools.”
Today, major charter chains dominate the Florida landscape, and most operate for profit.
“One person who has paid close attention to the spread of charter schools in Florida is Sue Legg. As a public school teacher, college professor and an administrator of state school assessment contracts at the University of Florida for over 30 years, Legg has had a ringside seat to the Florida charter school circus. In a series of reports produced for the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters, Legg revealed the many ways charter schools in Florida spread political corruption and financial opportunism while doing little to improve the academic performance of their students.
“Her year-long 2014 study, conducted in 28 Florida counties, found a 20 percent closure rate for charters due to financial problems or poor academic performance — a closure rate that has now increased to over 40 percent. The charter schools studied generally did not perform better than public schools, and tended to be more racially segregated. A significant number of these charters operated for-profit and operated in church related facilities.
“In a phone conversation with Legg, she described how charter school expansions are being driven by a state legislature with numerous connections to the charter school industry. “States get around local control by using a statewide contract for charters,” she explained. And whenever a local board rejects a new charter school or threatens a charter school with closure, the school can appeal to the state. “The appeals process overturns about half of district denials of charter operation,” Legg contends.
“The conflicts of interest among charter schools and Florida state legislators was raised to national prominence by an article in Esquire written by Charlie Pierce. Pierce quoted from a 2013 Florida newspaper article:
“A growing number of lawmakers have personal ties to charter schools. Sen. John Legg [no relation to Sue Legg], who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is co-founder and business administrator of Dayspring Academy in Port Richey. Anne Corcoran, wife of future House Speaker Richard Corcoran, plans to open a classics-themed charter school in Pasco County. House Budget Chairman Seth McKeel is on the board of the McKeel Academy Schools in Polk County. In addition, the brother-in-law of House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen runs the state’s largest charter management firm, Academica Corp. And Sen. Anitere Flores, also of Miami, is the president of an Academica-managed charter college in Doral.”
Florida mainstream media have paid attention to the financial scandals and corruption in the charter sector. The Miami Herald’s Kathleen McGrory wrote an excellent series called “Cashing in on Kids.”
The Sun Sentinel has exposed scandal after scandal.
“In a more recent series of investigative articles, from 2014, the Sun Sentinel found, “Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down … virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity.”
“Examples cited in the series include a man who received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first one collapsed. The schools closed in seven weeks. Another example: A man with “a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school.” It closed in two months.”
The charter industry in Florida is a textbook example of the squandering of taxpayer dollars to undermine public schools and satisfy private greed. It’s not about kids.
It is about privatization and profit. Don’t be hoaxed.
Dan Gelber, a former state senator in Florida, offers a devastating overview of Jeb Bush’s education policies while he was governor of Florida.
Gelber says that Bush was indeed passionate about education, but his passion was tied to ideas that dumbed down the quality of education.
“He force-fed unprecedented testing into public schools, did all he could to neuter the teaching unions and unapologetically pushed private-school alternatives to public education. As he runs for higher office, Bush now relies on his “education revolution” to make his case….
“In 1998 when a newly elected Gov. Bush and a compliant Legislature started Florida’s “education revolution,” our graduation rate was among the lowest in the nation. After Bush’s two terms in office, Florida’s graduation rate was dead last and remains near the bottom.”
With so much emphasis on testing and test prep, the scores went up in the early grades, but the gains were short-lived. The gains might have been the result of a constitutional amendment forcing class-size reduction on the early grades, which Bush opposed.
Gelber says Florida should not be a national model. It is “an example of the perils of combining excessive testing with inadequate funding….
“As schools began teaching to the test and neglecting anything not measured, Florida’s floor of minimal competence became our ceiling. This distortion became especially acute because, while money alone isn’t a solution, money does matter. Under Bush, Florida had one of the lowest per-pupil funding levels in the nation, so principals and administrators did what any overwhelmed emergency-room doctor does. The state began to triage its curriculum and programs in order to devote scarce resources to what was tested.
“Art “carts” replaced art classrooms, physical education was deemed nonessential. Foreign languages, gifted programs, music, higher-level math and English, civics and science all were among courses that were deemphasized or sometimes even abandoned because they were not measured by the FCAT.
“My eldest daughter’s accelerated algebra class didn’t complete its course work one year because the school stopped teaching it to devote time to relearning FCAT math from years earlier. My youngest daughter’s school cut its exciting science lab program. Not taught on the FCAT!
“Talk about a mad dash to mediocrity….
Florida’s incredibly low education spending is, sadly, in sync with its dismal graduation rate, and nearly last in the nation SAT and ACT scores….
“The debate of accountability vs. funding marginalizes the importance of both. Money has to be adequate, and testing has to be thoughtful or you end up with a dumbed-down and narrow curriculum that fails too many kids.”
Matthew Pulver, writing at Salon.com, describes Jeb Bush’s dangerous belief in privatization and free markets in education.
It is not so much a belief as an ideology, one that is impervious to evidence. The many studies showing thAt privately managed charters do not get higher test scores than public schools do not register with Jeb. The numbers of charters that open with grand promises and soon lose their doors with big debts does not affect his belief system. He is a zealot for school choice, period.
Not even the failure of the charter school he founded in Liberty City, a poor black neighborhood, dampens his passion for charters and vouchers.
“There’s nothing else as large in all of society. Not the military—nothing—is bigger.”
“That’s how Randy Best, Jeb Bush’s business partner, sees public education, as an untapped market where untold billions are to be made when kids and their families become educational customers. Touting his impressive assault on public education while Florida governor in yesterday’s announcement of his 2016 candidacy, Bush may become the loudest proponent yet of turning public education into a for-profit enterprise.
“Before getting into Bush’s record and financial interests in for-profit education, a full understanding of the dystopian horrors of for-profit, privatized education is necessary. Bush offers it with a handful of Milton Friedman-esque catchwords and focus-grouped slogans, and it may be that the proposals sound innocuous and vaguely innovative until the slightest scrutiny is applied to the ideas — at which point, it’s difficult to imagine much worse than public education turned into a for-profit market. Because the most basic and collectively understood truisms about markets, when applied to children, take on a horrifying character.”
It should be noted that Bush’s partner, Randy Best, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Reading First, the ill-fated program enacted as part of NCLB but eventually discontinued because of sweetheart deals and conflicts of interest. Best, an entrepreneur, not an educator, created a commercial reading company (Voyager Learning), which he later sold for $360 million. Best admits that he can’t read, that he is acutely dyslexic. But he knows how to make money.
This cartoon summarizes Jeb Bush’s education record. He is best known for championing high-stakes testing, A-F school grades, supporting Common Core, charters, vouchers, third-grade retention, and anything that. Strips away job protections from teachers. He boasts of the “Florida miracle,” but it refers mostly to 4th grade NAEP scores, which are likely boosted by third-grade retention and by the state’s class-size reduction policy, adopted by popular referendum but opposed by Bush. The miracle disappears by high school, as Florida’s high school graduation rate is below that of Alabama, which had no miracle.
David Sirota reported in International Business Times that Jeb Bush steered Florida’s pension funds toward campaign contributors. He also pressed for legislation to shield these contributions from public view.
Jeb Bush received the request from one of his campaign contributors, a man who made his living managing money: Could the then-governor of Florida make an introduction to state pension overseers? The donor was angling to gain some of the state’s investment for his private fund.
It was 2003, still a few years before regulators would begin prosecuting public officials for directing pension investment deals to political allies. Bush obliged, putting the donor, Jon Kislak, in touch with the Florida pension agency’s executive director. Then he followed up personally, according to emails reviewed by the International Business Times, ensuring that Kislak’s proposal was considered by state decision makers.
Here was a moment that at once underscored Jeb Bush’s personal attention to political allies and his embrace of the financial industry, which has delivered large donations to his campaigns. Email records show it was one of a series of such conversations Bush facilitated between pension staff and private companies at a time when his administration was shifting billions of dollars of state pension money — the retirement savings for teachers, firefighters and cops — into the control of financial firms.
Florida officials say Kislak’s firm was not among the beneficiaries of that shift. But verifying that assertion is virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen by dint of another hallmark of Bush’s governorship: At the same time that he entrusted Wall Street with Florida retirement money, he also championed legislation that placed the state’s pension portfolio behind a wall of secrecy.
The anti-privatization organization “In the Public Interest” filed a public records request and obtained emails between Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence and public officials. Read them here.
Kathleen Oropeza leads a statewide parent group in Florida called “Fund Education Now,” which advocates on behalf of public education. She sends the following report of the latest news from the state legislature, which is very charter-friendly. The head of the house education appropriations committee is related to the family that owns the Academica charter chain, one of the wealthiest charter chains in the state. (It is under federal investigation for conflicts of interest.) According to the Miami Herald, Academica has cleverly accumulated a real estate empire worth more than $115 million through its charter acquisitions. To really understand this charter miracle story, read Jersey Jazzman’s analysis.
Digital learning is, of course, one of the priorities of Jeb Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Educational Excellence, which is funded by tech corporations (Jeb stepped down as leader of FEE when he announced for the presidency and was replaced by education expert Condoleeza Rice).
For the definitive guide to Florida’s politically active charter schools, see this report by the Florida League of Women Voters, especially pp. 13-14, which describes conflicts of interest.
Charter Expansion/Open Enrollment/Transfers millage dollars to charters
HB 7037/SB 1552/SB 1448/HB 1145 School Choice/Charter Expansion
The massive HB 7037 passed out of the House. It’s been sitting in Senate messages and there’s talk of pulling it back to the house to add amendments. It builds on the efforts of previous sessions to accelerate the expansion of charters, regardless of need through funding a pseudo-marketing/oversight arm, at Florida State University called the Florida Charter School Innovation Institute. It erodes the power of local school boards by allowing “open enrollment” across district lines, allows students to transfer to another classroom based on concerns about the teacher, creates a “charter school district” giving principals increased autonomy from local district rule, allows unrestricted replication of high performing charters in high-need areas. Removes eligibility requirements for enrollment in public K-12 virtual education and allows more charter school systems to act as a Local Education Agency for purposes of administering Federal funding.
In addition, this bill requires districts to give charter school developers a portion of the money raised through millage levies to fund district capital school improvements and new construction. Charters received $100 M and $50M over the past two years via PECO. The issue is two-fold: PECO dollars must be allocated each year to charters by the legislature and so far this has not happened in 2015. Second, Voter-approved millage increases are the sole source of capital funding for district schools. HB 7037 states that charter chains must be given a percentage of local tax dollars to pay for & improve buildings the public may never own.
This vastly increases the money sent to Charter chains to purchase real estate and develop schools. It represents approximately $137 million dollars. If the legislature does not designate PECO to charters this year or in future years, districts will have to pay millions of dollars that they cannot possibly afford in locally raised tax dollars to support unfettered charter school growth.
SB 1264 – Digital Classrooms by Legg is scheduled for its last committee stop on 4.21.15. This bill is significant because the technology was not addressed in the testing bill/HB 7069. This bill establishes requirements for digital classroom technology infrastructure planning by the Agency for State Technology or a contracted organization; requires the Office of Technology and Information Services of the Department of Education to consult with the Agency for State Technology in developing the 5-year strategic plan for Florida digital classrooms; specifies conditions for a school district to maintain eligibility for Florida digital classrooms allocation funds.
Allocates $10 million to be spent by the Agency for State Technology (AST) on a vendor of their choice. Look for amendments to this bill to address the technology funding deleted from the testing bill.
HB 7069 was signed into law by Gov. Scott this week. The bill address some issues raised by districts, teachers and parents, which is good. The fact remains that the law does not go far enough. Most of Florida’s standardized tests and the rules used to punish students, teachers and schools remain intact. That said, public education advocates have made an impact regarding Florida standardized testing and HB 7060 reflects that. Read a full description of what this bill does and does not do here.
No sooner did Mercedes Schneider post a blog about the disintegration of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” than the group decided it needed a makeover. After all, as Mercedes pointed out: As of March 10, 2015, it boasts only four members, down from 13 in October 2014. The remaining members are John White of Louisiana, Deborah Gist of Rhode Island, Hannah Skandera of New Mexico, and Mark Murphy of Delaware. And one of the four, Deborah Gist, is on her way to Tulsa to become superintendent. Which brings the “Chiefs” down to only three. The “Chiefs” have been a reliable echo chamber for Jeb Bush’s policies, favoring high-stakes testing, the Common Core, charter schools, evaluation of teachers by test scores, digital learning, and A-F school grades. The new leader of this tiny group of three Chiefs is John White, a big supporter of vouchers, for-profit charters, and the rest of Jeb Bush’s agenda.
But now that their number has diminished so dramatically, the group has decided to open its ranks to city superintendents (allowing Gist to remain a member). And now that Jeb Bush is a Presidential candidate, it will strike out on its own, no longer an adjunct to Bush’s “Foundation for Educational Excellence.” The group says it is looking for “bipartisan education leaders” and hopes to have a voice in the debate about the future of No Child Left Behind.
[Reposting in case you missed this story last night, DR]
The Néw York Times tells the sad story of the life and death of Jeb Bush’s charter school. Bush now recalls his involvement in the school to demonstrate his prowess as an education reformer. But the actual experience of the school shows the perils of Bush’s free-market ideology.
In 1996, Jeb Bush co-founded Florida’s first charter school, called Liberty City Charter School, in an impoverished black neighborhood in Miami. His co-founder was head of the city’s Urban League. Two years earlier, he had narrowly lost the governor’s race. When asked what he would do for blacks if elected, he responded, “Probably nothing.” Looking ahead to the next election, he needed to “soften” his image. The founding of a charter school for poor black children was his vehicle.
After he was elected governor in 1998, Jeb Bush created a model of tough accountability, pre-dating his brother George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Among other things, Jeb graded every school, A-F. His charter school won an A in 2006, and he was very proud.
However, the school sunk into financial trouble, and its grade plummeted to D. Bush’s second term as governor ended in 2007, and he did not do much to help the school as it struggled with debt. In 2008, it closed.
What did Jeb Bush learn from the failure of his model school? Not much. He certainly didn’t learn about the limits of the free market in education.
Nonetheless, the now defunct school still remains valuable to Presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
Times’ reporter Jason Horowitz writes:
“But with Mr. Bush all but certain to be running for office again, this time for the White House, the school he once championed is again useful. As he tries to sell himself to the conservative Republicans wary of his support for the testing standards they consider emblematic of government overreach, he can speak with authority on charter schools, funded largely by taxpayers but run by private companies, as a free-market antidote to liberal teachers’ unions and low performance.
“And his firsthand experience in the education of underprivileged urban grade-schoolers lends him credibility in a party that has suddenly seized upon the gap between the rich and poor as politically promising terrain. In his first speech as a likely presidential candidate in Detroit last month, Mr. Bush credited Liberty City Charter School with helping “change education in Florida”
“But Mr. Bush’s uplifting story of achievement and reform avoided mentioning the school by name or its unhappy ending. For all his early and vital involvement during his 1998 campaign for governor, and for all the help he offered from afar in the governor’s office, Mr. Bush’s commitment to his school project was not as enduring as some students and teachers might have hoped.”
Others might view Liberty City Charter School as a symbol not of “achievement and reform,” but of the impermanence and empty promises of charter schools.
Roseanne Woods was a high school principal in Florida for 32 years. She is now a protester and a blogger. She is outraged by Florida’s punitive testing and accountability regime. In this post, she describes a state that cares more about testing than teaching.
For her steadfast dedication to real education, I place Roseanne Woods on the blog’s honor roll.
“Children are stressed out and parents are m ad enough to want their children to “Opt-Out” of all high-stakes testing. Frustrated teachers are leaving the profession and superintendents are demanding real change. Lawmakers: how about some real relief?
“Florida schools are about to hit the big testing/school grades accountability iceberg this spring. Why? This year, instead of FCAT, all 3rd-11th grade students will be taking brand new tests on the extremely challenging Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), aka, Common Core Standards. Third graders who don’t score well on reading will be retained and high school students who don’t pass will not graduate. Schools will receive A-F school grades based on these scores.
“Not to worry—districts have been assured by DOE that the scores will be “normed” (manipulated) to match last year’s scores. Somehow, that gives little comfort
“Here’s a sample 3rd grade math problem— ‘A bakery uses 48 pounds of flour each day. It orders flour every 28 days. Create an equation that shows how many pounds of flour the bakery
needs to order every 28 days.’
“Any wonder many parents are having trouble helping their children with homework?
“There are now 154 of the 180 days on the Florida State Testing Calendar devoted to a variety of required state assessments in grades K-12 that effect schools’ grades. Any wonder that schools are spending more and more time prepping and practicing for these tests?…
“To make matters worse, schools also have to implement Florida Statute 1012.34– requiring 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on “rigorous” tests for every subject/course taught. So, at great expense, school districts have been scrambling to create over 1200 tests on courses not covered by the required Florida Standards Assessments, FSA. These district assessments must cover quite the spectrum including art, physical ed., drama and guidance counselors. By law, elementary students must take 6-7 end-of-course tests to prove their teachers did a good enough job to be eligible for a performance bonus.”
Florida is a very sick state. Please, someone, invite the Governor and the State Board of Education to visit Finland! All that time and money for testing is wasted.