Archives for category: Florida

Chris in Florida, who teaches young children, writes:

“My district has become program driven. We have a program to teach reading but there are now 3 reading blocks in our day since we are a D school. The state mandates a program for Tier II intervention and another program for extra reading instruction. There is no correlation between the fragmented programs. We have a program for math and another for math intervention. We have a science program but no social studies program and both are given a meager 20 minutes a day. Several programs are online only and kids hate them and say they are boring and too hard.

“We are no longer allowed to teach with good books or to have classrooms humming with excitement over a praying mantis or a bag of apples. That is not in the programs. We are threatened with discipline if we are caught doing things the old way during random walk throughs using the nefarious Danielson rubric.

“I sneak what I can as far as read alouds and living things in when I can but our discipline problems are skyrocketing and the kids are bored and overwhelmed much of the day with recess no longer allowed either.

“This is the result of Jeb Bush, NCLB, RTTT, CCSS, and all the reformist mess.”

Karen Yi and Amy Shipley of the Sun-Sentinel in Florida report on the multiple problems of Mavericks Charter Schools. The chain currently runs six charter schools for dropouts, five of them in South Florida. The charter chain started more than five years ago and has collected more than $70 million, of which $9 million was management fees for the company. Vice President Joe Biden’s brother Frank was once a paid employee of Mavericks; currently he is registered as a lobbyist for the chain.

 

The reporters write:

 

But more than a thousand pages of public records obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the private company’s management of its six charter high schools, including five in South Florida, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

 

Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

 

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

 

 

• Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

 

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials.

 

The schools are overseen by volunteer governing boards, which pay the West Palm Beach-based company to manage the schools’ academics, finances and operations.

 

Administrators defended the schools, despite the financial issues and low grades.

 

Mavericks schools have been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get.

 

The Miami-Dade school district counted no more than 200 students during four visits to the Homestead school in February 2011. Yet the school had reported a 400-student count and 100-percent attendance on those days, the district found.

 

A Broward school district official discussed a similar discrepancy in a June 2012 email to district staff members. Broward school district officials accused the Fort Lauderdale school of inflating attendance numbers, according to the email.

 

An audit released by the Palm Beach County school district in 2013 found 300 discrepancies between the attendance records logged by teachers and those reported to the school district, and no evidence that 14 students enrolled by the Palm Springs school were actually taking classes, the report states. The school was forced to return $158,815…..

 

Jim Pegg, who oversees charter schools for Palm Beach County school district, “said problems with Mavericks in Education have frustrated district officials. State charter-school laws do not address the performance of management companies.
“The statute doesn’t give any kind of authority to hold those management companies accountable; we can only hold the schools accountable,” Pegg said. “We need to be able to have some authority with [management companies]. They are the ones taking the tax dollars.”

 

Mavericks and the many other for-profit management companies flooding Florida are an integral part of former Governor Jeb Bush’s “Florida miracle.” The schools can be accountable, but the management company that gets paid cannot be held accountable.

 

 

 

Florida never ceases to amaze. In 2012, the voters overwhelmingly defeated a constitutional amendment to permit school vouchers, yet the Legislature keeps finding ingenious ways to siphon off public funds for vouchers.

 

Now, Julie Delegal writes, a local school board member–presumably elected to strengthen and support his district’s public schools–has come out strongly in opposition to the Florida School Boards Association’s lawsuit against private school vouchers.

 

What you need to know to understand this story is that former Governor Jeb Bush loves vouchers, and everyone on his team does what Jeb wants.

 

This is how her article begins. It is worth reading it all to see how the privatization movement is trying to starve public education and send money to unaccountable private schools:

 

Duval County School board member Jason Fischer is a nice young man. But in politics, I’ve learned, it’s the nice young men you have to watch.
His most recent actions reveal that he’s a foot soldier in the war to destroy public education. And his bread may be getting buttered by lieutenants in the Jeb-Bush-brand, school privatization movement — the ones who are affiliated with his employer, Uretek Holdings.
Fischer’s recent activities put him squarely in the camp that has been systematically destroying Florida’s public schools for more than a decade. As both governor and puppet-master, Bush has overseen the implementation of a punitive school-grades system and an overreaching teacher-accountability scheme.
Meanwhile, the Bush camp has promoted privatization — and the funding choices that go with it – while the Legislature has been starving our public schools. Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s claims that he’s boosted spending for education, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that, in real dollars, per pupil spending in Florida public schools is still not up to pre-recessionary levels.
Fischer has come out strongly against the lawsuit filed by the Florida School Boards Association, which questions the constitutionality of Florida’s private-school voucher program. He not only published a guest editorial in the Jacksonvlle Times Union, he also asked his fellow public school board members to pass a resolution condemning the suit.
Voucher funding now drains state coffers by more than $300 million yearly.
Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is on record saying that privatization — voucher schools, charter schools, etc. — could siphon away up to $70 million from Duval next year.
With support from the FEA, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Florida PTA, and other education advocates, the FSBA is asking a Leon County judge to declare the tax credit voucher program unconstitutional on two grounds. Plaintiffs say that by permitting corporations to pay their taxes to the voucher program called “Step Up for Students,” instead of to the Florida treasury, the program creates a separate, shadow school system. The Florida Constitution, the suit points out, calls for a single, “high quality,” and “uniform” public school system.
The Constitution also forbids aid to religious institutions, and the majority of schools funded by “Step Up” are religious schools.
The response to the lawsuit from voucher supporters is, essentially, “You’re picking on poor children who need to have ‘choice,’ you big meanies.”

 

Is there hope for public education in Florida? Yes. Parents must organize and fight this attack on their public schools. School boards must be vigilant against privatization. Working together, they stopped the “parent trigger” twice in the Legislature. They have the power, and they can’t let down their guard for a minute. The privatization movement never rests, and neither should the defenders of public education.

 

 

Franziska Raeber describes how parents in Florida are organizing resistance to online testing of children in K-2. Please be aware that the purpose of online testing is to enrich the testing industry and tech corporations. The best tests are written and evaluated by teachers, who know what they taught and can use the tests for instant feedback, not to rank students, but to help them. This is true not just in K-2, but throughout education, whether K-12 or higher education.

Raeber writes:

“We are the parents of Kindergartners and 2nd graders. After Susan Bowles from our school district (Alachua County FL) made national headlines by refusing to administer a computerized test, we felt it was time to get our voices as parents heard.
The whole process has been a truly eye opening experience. We never realized how excessive testing is and how much miscommunication is happening. During a town hall meeting teachers brought examples of tests and result print outs to the meeting. Shocking for us all.

“On September 8 we launched a petition (Say NO to computer testing in K-2nd grades) and we have collected over 390 signatures so far, but we don’t want to stop. We have been actively lobbing newspapers, spoke out at town meetings, talked and contacted legislators, PTAs (district as well as state). We have also launched a FB page and trying to get our message out. We are now reaching out to other similar minded groups here in FL, but also within the United States as we believe this problem is not a local issue, but is and should be a national concern.

“When we asked the school-board representatives and administrators what we should do and how to keep this discussion going the message was clear: Speak up! Write letters, emails, call legislators and sign/launch petitions.

“And that is exactly what we are doing, we parents are tired of sending our kids to schools, where great teachers become test facilitators and computer technicians. We want our kids to have fun learning. We strongly believe that in early years good experiences with school will lay the foundation for a life long interest in education, learning and personal growth.

“We have now launched a petition and invite you to sign it.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/say-no-to-computer-testing?source=c.em.cp&r_by=11297164

“We have launched a Facebook page and are posting articles/resources to it as we come across.
https://www.facebook.com/Notocomputertesting”

The Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards unanimously passed a resolution calling for a suspension of high-stakes testing.

“The Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards is comprised of 11 of Florida’s coastal school districts — Collier, Lee, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Monroe, Charlotte, Sarasota, Pinellas, Indian River and St. Lucie. Together, the districts represent more than 42 percent of the state’s public school students, 55 percent of the state’s property tax base and 51 percent of Florida’s legislative members, according to the School District of Palm Beach County website.”

Will the Florida legislature listen to parents, educators, and elected school boards, or will they continue to pile on more tests and unfunded mandates? All of the state’s districts are required–under present law–to create hundreds of new tests for every student in every subject in every grade, for before and after, to evaluate students, teachers, principals, and schools and to award merit pay to some and fire others. No money comes with the mandate.

It is payday for the testing and tech industries but mayday for education in Florida.

Faced with unfunded mandates by the Legislature that require the creation and use of hundreds of new tests, deployed primarily to evaluate teachers, the Palm Beach County school board passed a resolution that basically says “Whoa!”

The PBC school board will be sharing its resolution with other members of the Greater Florida School Board Consortium, which includes the state’s largest districts and represents nearly half the students in Florida.

This is the original resolution:

THE SCHOOL BOARD OF PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA

RESOLUTION on ACCOUNTABILITY

WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that
prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship, and lifelong learning; and strengthens the
nation’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money, and
instructional time on high-stakes standardized testing for the purpose of using student performance
on standardized tests to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators, and schools;
and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance and lack of consistent data on high-stakes standardized testing in state
and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public
schools by limiting educators’ ability to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that
promote creativity, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and deep subject-matter
knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and
economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate, limited, and
often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the increasing over-emphasis on standardized testing has resulted in numerous
consequences in many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing
creative thinking, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession,
and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all
backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of
color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, Florida’s high-stakes testing instruments are not correlated to any national or
international assessment instruments to allow for a comparison of both student
achievement and progress in Florida, with student achievement and progress with other
states and countries; and

WHEREAS, in the absence of state funding, school districts do not have the fiscal or human
resources to meet the state requirement to develop end-of-course exams for the 800+
courses above and beyond the five courses—algebra, algebra II, geometry, biology and U.S.
History—that the state has developed; and

WHEREAS, districts currently have to stop classroom instruction that requires use of
technology during state testing days in order to accommodate on-line assessment without
the funding for an adequate information technology infrastructure to conduct both
assessment and classroom instruction at the same time; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on Florida’s high-stakes standardized testing is undermining
Article IX, Section 1 of the Constitution of Florida which declares that it is “a paramount
duty of the state to make adequate provision . . . for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and
high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality
education” particularly with regard to adequate provision, uniformity, efficiency, and high
quality; therefore

BE IT RESOLVED, that the School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, calls on Governor Scott, the
Florida Department of Education, and the state legislature to provide a three-year transition to July 1,
2017 for full implementation of Florida standards and accountability, with no impact on students,
teachers, school administrators, and school district assessment and evaluation changes. Further, the
Legislature should delay the use of Florida State Assessment results in determining student
promotion, graduation or for teacher evaluation until July 1, 2017. Districts should be given flexibility
in the interim to set their own criteria by which to determine student promotion and teacher
evaluation. Further, use of state student assessment data in the interim should be used solely for
diagnostic purposes in order to assure that the state’s system is valid, reliable, and fair and to create a
baseline for FY18; that the State Board of Education should empower a truly representative panel of
stakeholders—especially educators and parents—who represent all of Florida to validate that all
segments of the accountability system are fair, reliable, accurate, and funded; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, calls on the
United States Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,
currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple
forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed
role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

Done the 17th day of September, two thousand fourteen, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Let the madness begin in Florida where the politicians’ zeal for evaluating teachers by student test scores has created a Frankenstein monster of testing: brainless and lacking in sense or self-control.

Broward County is said to be developing 1,500 new tests in every subject and grade.

“The abundance of new tests – up to 1,500 could be introduced in the Broward school district, according to Superintendent Robert Runcie – has rankled many parents and Broward school officials.

“We’re spending a whole bunch of time figuring out how to test kids versus trying to educate them properly,” Runcie said.

“Added School Board member Robin Bartleman: “I don’t need to know how well my kindergartner is doing in art.”

“It’s unclear whether the tests will even count toward a student’s grade. State law doesn’t address that.

“Why are you wasting my kid’s time when these are being used solely to evaluate teachers?” asked Rosemarie Jensen, a Parkland parent involved in the national Opt Out movement that opposes high-stakes testing.

“Administrators say they plan to make the new tests age-appropriate. But elementary students could end up taking multiple tests, such as ones for reading, math, music, art and physical education.

“Under state law, school districts are supposed to administer these tests this year. But the district doesn’t have tests available for most of the subjects.”

Where are the villagers with their torches and pitchforks? Who will save the children?

The testing madness in Florida has finally gone over the edge into full-blown lunacy. End-of-course exams will be given to every student in every grade and in every subject, including kindergartens.

“The new end-of-course tests are needed to meet the demands of Florida’s controversial 2011 teacher merit pay law, which requires student test data to be used in public school teachers’ evaluations.

“The abundance of new tests – about 400 must be introduced in the Palm Beach County school district – has rankled many educators and parents.

“It appears the primary purpose is more about teacher evaluation than what’s in the best interest of students,” Superintendent Wayne Gent said.

“Rita Solnet, of Boca Raton, who founded Parents Across America Florida, said it’s “absurd and heartbreaking” that testing is being expanded to kindergartners who “are babies still, just learning how to maneuver in the world.”

“Administrators say they plan to make the new tests age-appropriate. But elementary students could end up taking multiple tests, such as ones for reading, math, music, art and physical education….

“Under state law, school districts are supposed to administer these tests this year. Palm Beach County school officials say only 41 of the more than 400 required are currently in development. They include elementary arts and physical education, middle and high school foreign languages and social studies.”

The merit-pay law was the first legislation signed by Governor Rick Scott.

Bedeviled by technical glitches and the growing parent revolution against high-stakes testing, the Florida Department of Education announced it would suspend certain standardized tests for grades K-2, at least for this year.

 

The announcement came after school systems, including Miami-Dade, ran into technical troubles administering the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading to students in kindergarten through second grade.

 

This is only a temporary victory, and it is probably meant to quell parent anger as the state is in the midst of a hotly contested race for governor. Please note in the linked story that the refusal of a kindergarten teacher to administer the FAIR test to her students, announced in a widely publicized public statement, may have influenced the state’s decision to roll back the testing this year. Resistance to unjust mandates matters.

 

But it shows which way the winds are blowing, and how the pushback against testing is felt even in Florida, which has never met a test it was unwilling to administer to children of any age.

 

Any setback for standardized testing is test-crazy Florida is cause for celebration.

 

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho pointed out that Florida school districts are under pressure to develop scores of new assessments, some of which will be tied teacher pay.

The state, he said, was only “scratching the surface of a much bigger issue.”

Colleen Wood, founder of the public education advocacy group 50th No More, said she and other parents would continue to make noise.

“It’s a good day when the Department of Education recognizes that any test is not working correctly,” Wood said. “But they would be mistaken to think stopping FAIR is going to quiet the discontent of parents across the state.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/15/4350595/state-suspends-some-standardized.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

Opt Out Orlando posted the following letter by Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher. For her courage and dedication to her students, Susan Bowles joins the honor roll.

Her husband wrote this introduction:

“I tried to share this post by my wife, Susan, last night. I just found out her privacy settings don’t let others see it. I am very proud of her stance and completely support her, even if it means she loses her job. That would mean someone whose passion has always been about teaching little kids would be out of the profession. She began teaching in 1977.”

Susan Bowles wrote:

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have just sent emails to my principal and CRT, the superintendent, my colleagues at school, the school board members, ACEA (local teachers’ union) and the Gainesville Sun. I have a letter ready to go to the parents of the children in my class, pending principal approval which is standard protocol.

WHY I AM REFUSING TO GIVE THE FAIR TEST TO MY KINDERGARTNERS!

We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical Kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. FYI: Kindergartners aren’t born with mouse skills. Many of them are proficient on tablets or smartphones, but the mouse can be tricky. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This child double-clicked three times and triple clicked once. There is no way to go back. There is no way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child.

This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.

Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately TWO WEEKS of true INSTRUCTIONAL TIME LOST. We will not be putting them in front of a movie or having extended playtime, but the reality is that with 35 students, instruction is not the same. FAIR TESTING IS DONE THREE TIMES A YEAR!

I KNOW I MAY BE IN BREACH OF MY CONTRACT BY NOT ADMINISTERING THIS TEST. I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE SUBMIT TO ADMINISTERING THIS TEST THREE TIMES A YEAR, LOSING SIX WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION. THERE IS A GOOD POSSIBILITY I WILL BE FIRED.

I am heartsick over the possibility of losing my job. I love my job. There is nothing I would rather do than teach. I have cried and cried over this, but in the end, it’s not about me. I feel God wants me to stand up for what is best for children. So, come what may, this is my stance. I WILL NOT ADMINISTER THE FAIR TEST TO MY STUDENTS.

If you are wondering what you can do, first and foremost, pray that the testing situation for children in Florida will change. Secondly, if you are a teacher or administrator, tell your story. This is not an education problem. This is a state government problem.

Whom should you contact? Governor Scott sits at the top in the chain of command. I say, voice your concerns to him. He actually might listen since he’s up for reelection. Just Read Florida is the group that masterminded the new version of FAIR. Let them know what you think about it. This issue isn’t about one teacher. This is a springboard for educators and parents to tell their stories. Please, let your voice be heard.

Thanks to Becky Jones Young, my childhood friend and fellow lifelong teacher, for taking a stand of her own in Ohio. She was an amazing middle school English teacher, who quit teaching (her love, joy and passion) because she could no longer participate in cheating children out of fun, creativity and enriching learning – in the name of education.

Susan Bowles
Kindergarten Teacher
Lawton Chiles Elementary School
Gainesville, Florida

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