Archives for category: Florida

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

Jon Hage cashed in on the charter industry in a big way. And where else but Florida, where for-profit schools are welcome no matter what their quality.

EduShyster tells the story here of Jon Hage, a non-educator who is one of Florida’s most successful charter entrepreneurs.

“Have you ever encountered a story so sadly tragic that you were forced to break your own rule regarding pre-noon winebox decanting? I have… Hankies at the ready, reader, for we are *going there.* I’m talking about the super sad true tale of Charter Schools USA founder and CEO Jonathan Hage and his wrenching decision to part with his yacht: the aptly named Fishin’ 4 Schools. In other words, onto every teak deck a little salt water must spray. It’s time to don your stripes, reader; we’re goin’ fishin’.”

She says the boat has been listed for sale for $350,000. Just like your typical superintendent’s boat.

Florida politicians have hearts of stone.

When 12-year-old Ethan Rediske lay dying in hospice, the state wanted him to take a mandated test. After his death, his mother Andrea sought passage of a law to protect children like Ethan from harassment by state bureaucrats. Ethan’s Law would have allowed local officials to waive the testing requirement for severely impaired children, instead of seeking a waiver from the state commissioner of education. Not only did the Legislature kill Ethan’s Law, look what else they did. Frankly, this looks like spite work directed towards a grieving parent.

This is a letter from Ethan’s mother, Andrea Rediske:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am forwarding a letter from Representative Karen Castor-Dentel’s aide explaining what is going on right now with what is left of the Ethan Rediske Act. The original bill as it was written is dead, but some of the verbiage has been incorporated into a house bill (HB 7117) and a senate bill (1642) that has other legislation that is not exactly palatable.

Unfortunately, Senator Andy Gardiner is using his political power to add an amendment onto the bill that would force families of severely disabled children to again appeal to the Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, for approval waivers lasting more than a year. The original bill allowed approval through local superintendents. Pam Stewart, in a letter to all Florida teachers, in addition to tacitly accusing me of using our tragedy to further my “political agenda” also stated that she only approved 16 out of 30 waivers last year — a little more than a 50% approval rate. This amendment makes it harder, not easier for families already burdened with the tremendous demands of caring for a severely disabled child to be granted waivers for standardized testing. I’m asking for your help to try and persuade Senator Andy Gardiner and Senator Kelli Stargel not to push this amendment on the existing bills. Please call or email them directly and let them know that you are family and friends of Ethan Rediske and ask them to remove this amendment.

There are a lot of ugly politics at play here, but we don’t have to stoop to their level. Please be civil when contacting these individuals — we need to help them understand what a tremendous burden it is to care for a severely disabled and medically fragile child and ask them to make one small part of this burden lighter. Please feel free to forward this information to family and friends who might be willing to help.

Contact information:

Senator Andy Gardiner
20 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5013

Senator Kelli Stargel
324 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5015

Thanks for your help, love, and support,


Begin forwarded message:

From: “Gelin, Dominique”
Subject: A brief legislative update
Date: April 3, 2014 at 4:24:58 PM EDT
To: “‘’”

Hello Andrea,

We have never spoken, but my name is Dominique Gelin and I work as the aide in Rep. Castor Dentel’s Tallahassee office. She wanted to be sure you knew about some changes taking place with Senator Legg’s education accountability bill, Senate Bill 1642. It seems that Senator Stargel has filed an amendment which adds a Section 9 to the bill. As you know, this is the companion to Chair Adkins’ House Bill 7117, which included some of the language and intent that was originally included in the bill named for your son, Ethan.

The changes proposed by Senator Stargel combines language from SB 1642 and HB 7117. Briefly stated, Senator Stargel’s amendment offers three exemption options. The first is a one-year exemption which can be approved by the district school superintendent. The second is a one-to-three year exemption coming from the Commissioner’s office, and the final one is a permanent exemption, also to be approved by the Commissioner, and directs the Dep. of Ed. to devise rules to implement.

To me, it doesn’t make the process any easier and makes it unclear when someone needs to apply for a one-year, one-three year or permanent exemption. I don’t understand why this process gets more complicated with each step, especially when the whole purpose is to simplify and remove an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on families.

As you know, the bills are moving through both chambers. We will continue to work with committee staff to clarify our position to alleviate the burden of testing requirements on families and children with disabilities. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.


Dominique Gelin
Legislative Aide
Rep. Karen Castor Dentel
Florida House District 30

District Office: (407) 659-4818
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5030

A study of charter schools by the League of Women Voters in Florida found that they spend more on administration than public schools and they don’t get better academic results.

“In Hillsborough, three charter schools that have opened since 2011 are owned by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit corporation, and these three alone enroll more than 20 percent of all charter students. In 2011, Woodmont Charter School, one of these three, expended 44 percent of its total revenue on instruction and 42 percent on management fees and leases.

“By contrast, traditional Hillsborough County schools spend at least 86 percent of revenue on instruction. Woodmont had FCAT scores of D for 2012 and F for 2013, and this is not unusual, since charter schools composed 50 percent of all F-rated Florida schools in 2011. Meanwhile, the six traditional public elementary schools and one middle school within 1 mile of Woodmont all have higher FCAT scores.

“Sadly, the traditional public schools are losing students, and thus public dollars, to the “choice” school that advertises a superior alternative. Neither the charter nor traditional public school students are benefiting, creating a lose/lose scenario.”

Let’s face it. Some people have the Midas touch.

Take Jon Hage, the CEO of the for-profit charter chain, Charter Schools USA.

He was named Floridian of the Year.

He has a yacht named “Fishin’ for Schools.”

And he has figured out a cool way to make his charters very profitable.

This comes from Coach Bob Sikes in Florida:

“This week’s hilarious story that Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage owns a yacht called Fishin’ 4 Schools overshadows what may be some major wrongdoing on the part of Hage. In a column that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough League of Women Voters president, Shirley Arcuri revealed this little tidbit:

“Another area where the distinction between public and private is blurred for the benefit of for-profits is in the issuing of bonds. Although Florida law prohibits charter schools from issuing bonds, Charter School USA has found a way.

“When naming Jon Hage, CEO of Charter USA, as Floridian of the Year, Florida Trend in December 2012 contended that Charter School USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.”

Endless to say, Hage is not and never was a teacher.

Florida legislators king to expand vouchers, even though the voters turned down an effort in 2012 to change the state constitution to permit vouchers for religious schools. The
measure was defeated 58-42, despite Jeb Bush’s efforts to pass it.
An earlier voucher program was struck down as unconstitutional by
the state courts. The only current voucher program is for students
with disabilities, called the McKay Scholarship Program. A journalistic
exposé called it a “cottage industry” of fraud.
writer won a major national award for this story from his
colleagues. Yet legislators want more.

The good news–for the moment–is that parents and teachers recently beat back the latest attempt to give away public money to religious schools. But be vigilant. Jeb & Co. will be back.

Kevin Strang, a high school music teacher in Orange County, Florida, won an $810.87 bonus for teaching in an A-rated school. He is donating his bonus to the Network for Public Education to fight high-stakes testing, school grading, merit pay, and the other corporate reforms that treat teachers as donkeys in need of carrots and sticks.

Kevin is a professional, and he expects to be treated as a professional.

“Strang, who has taught in Florida schools for 15 years, sent out a press release Wednesday stating that “the $810.87 received for his school’s ‘A’ rating will instead be sent to the Network for Public Education, an organization dedicated to ending the practice of linking high-stakes testing to teacher evaluations and pay….”

“Strang’s own teaching evaluation was tied to math and reading exams of ninth-graders, though he teaches music.

“I don’t feel right taking the money when there are teacher teaching at schools with different populations not receiving the money,” he said Wednesday. “It’s like I’m being rewarded for parenting skills.”

Thank you, Kevin!

You inspire all of us at NPE to fight harder for you!

Andrea Rediske, the mother of Ethan Rediske, worked tirelessly to persuade the State Legislature in Florida to pass an act that would have eliminated the state’s relentless demand to test Ethan as he lay dying in hospice.

Ethan was born with profound disabilities; he was blind and suffered from cerebral palsy, yet the state tormented him to take its standardized tests. Read Andrea Rediske’s testimony to the state legislature here. 

The act, which was to be called the Ethan Rediske Act, would have allowed local officials to make the decision not to test students like Ethan, rather than going through an elaborate process that required a waiver from the state, one that must be signed by the Florida Secretary of Education, who must review and personally sign every single waiver.

You see, in Florida, standardized testing has become the Holy Grail. It is the Golden Calf. It is the one idea that has permeated the thinking of almost every legislator. If they cannot measure children’s ability to pick the right box or bubble on a test purchased from a major vendor, then education ceases to exist in the state of Florida. This might be thought of as Jeb Bush’s theology, and he has a large number in his testing cult.

Andrea Rediske thought that it was madness to try to test Ethan. She “knew it made no sense for her son, who couldn’t speak and was fed through a tube, to be asked about how a peach tastes.

Or to ask a blind child to point to a picture of a monkey. (That’s another real-life example for another student in Orange County.)

Or to then professionally evaluate those kids’ teachers based on how the kids score on tests they could never really take.”

After Ethan’s death, his mother pushed hard for passage of “The Ethan Rediske Act,” to protect children like him from being harassed by the state. Pam Stewart, the State Commissioner of Education, then wrote a letter to every educator in the state, implying  that Andrea Rediske’s valiant fight to protect other children with severe disabilities was “a political effort to attack assessments by using the tragic situations of children with special needs.” In other words, the state commissioner chastised Andrea Rediske for “politicizing” her son’s death. There are times when you do wonder whether  public officials have any sense of shame. This is one of them. The appropriate response from Stewart would have been to offer her sincere condolences to the Rediske family and to offer to help change the law so that children like Ethan were never again harassed by state officials. Conservatives claim to be against “big government,” but it appears from this example that “big government” is just fine so long as they are in charge and can invade other people’s privacy, their confidential student data, their hospital rooms, their hospices, and their bedrooms.

Andrea Rediske wrote to tell me that the Ethan Rediske Act will not be passed, but language protecting children in his condition will be inserted into another bill. The state bureaucracy–especially the highly politicized and intellectually vacuous Florida Department of Education, could not bear the thought of the act passing. But Andrea Rediske wins anyway because the heart of Ethan’s Act survives.


Andrea Rediske wrote:

Ethan’s Act is indeed dead, but it’s been incorporated into a larger bill on school accountability.

Here is the link to the bill:

Page 38 has the verbiage on children with medical complexity. It states that a child with a medical complexity determined by their physician and IEP team will not be required to take standardized testing.


Assuming this bill passes, we may conclude that in the future, children like Ethan will not be tortured by the state of Florida to take meaningless tests. Nor will their parents be tortured by insensitive, heartless bureaucrats in the Florida Department of Education.

Ethan has won a victory for other children.

God rest his soul.








This teacher thought she was doing a swell job. But then
ratings came out and she discovered she is the worst
cher in the state! In the past, she has won many
awards, and she loves teaching. In addition: I initiated
and continue to run the chess and drama clubs with no
remuneration. I do get a small stipend for being the
academic games coordinator, running the Mathletes team and spelling
bee for the school, along with keeping the staff and students
informed of enrichment opportunities like academic
competitions. I organize the field trips for my grade
level and a trip for 4th and
5th graders to spend three days at an
oceanographic institute in the Florida Keys.

My own 5th grade
gifted students will end this year with a full understanding of
three Shakespearean plays, as class sets of these and other texts
were secured through my Donors Choose
requests. Saturday, I’ll be the designated
representative picking up free materials for my
school. I write the full year’s lesson plans over the
summer (then tweaking as I go).
She is the victim of the ceiling
effect. Her students got such high scores last year that they can’t
get higher scores this year.
She explains:
Last year, many of my students had had the
highest scores on the state tests possible the year prior—a 5 out
of 5. That’s how they get in to my class of gifted and
high achieving students. Except, last year, they
raised the bar so that the same
5th graders who scored 5s in
4th grade were much less likely to earn
5s in math and reading in
5th grade. Some still DID
score 5s in math AND reading, yet were still deemed not to have
made sufficient progress because they did not score as high within
the 5 category as they had the year before.

It’s like expecting the members of an Olympic
pole vaulting team to all individually earn gold medals every time
the Olympics come around, regardless of any other factors affecting
their lives, with the bar raised another five inches each go
around. In a state where 40% of students pass the
5th grade science test, 100% of my
students passed; but no one (at the state level) cares about
science scores.
Therefore, I suck.
How nutty is this? Why does the
U.S. Department of Education insist that states must adopt flawed
measures? Does anyone at the U.S. Department of Education consider
the consequences of their policies? Do they know anything about
research or evidence? Do they care how many people lives or
reputations they carelessly ruin with their dumb ideas?
Just wondering.

In this age of value-added measurement, when teachers are judged by the rise or fall of their students’ test scores, it is very dangerous to teach gifted classes. Their scores are already at the top, and they have nowhere to go, so the teacher will get a low rating. It is also dangerous to teach English language learners, students with disabilities, and troubled youth. Their scores will not go up as much as the kids in affluent districts who have no issues.

Here is what happened to one teacher of gifted students:

“As a teacher of gifted students in Florida, I can attest to the fact that you are more likely to get slammed by VAM. I was rated the worst teacher at my school, the 14th worst teacher in my district, and the 146th worst teacher in the state of Florida (out of 120,000). Previously, I had a great reputation at my school among staff, parents, and students. Now that these scores have been published on the internet, I fear that future students, parents and administrators might be influenced by my extremely negative VAM ranking. Even if they aren’t, I have to worry about being slammed by VAM two years in a row, being rated “needs improvement”, losing my job and having my teaching license revoked by the state. Funny, just two years ago I was selected to be a mentor teacher by my district in the subject that I teach. Now I’m at risk of losing my career based on VAM results of a subject I don’t teach. Thanks a lot Arne.”


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