Archives for category: Florida

Florida has a constitutional obligation to make public education a “paramount duty,” but Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have other concerns.

 

Here is a report from Fund Education Now on the budget travesty.

 

To summarize, Florida is in the nation’s lowest quintile in funding. Yet scarce funds are diverted to the state’s booming (but ineffective) charter sector. And to add insult to injury, the Legislature will award a $10,000 bonus to “the best and the brightest” teachers, those with high SAT scores. Note that the bonus is not based on performance, but on SAT scores. This has the effect of rewarding TFA teachers just for showing up, not for their performance or their willingness to remain in teaching.

 

 

The Florida House and Senate finally agreed on an Education budget early Tuesday, June 16th at 12:30 am. The budget is expected to pass this Friday, June 19th following the required 72 hour cooling off period.

 

Despite promises of an historic funding increase, lawmakers fell short of making public education their “paramount duty” as required in Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution. Funding per student will increase by a mere 3% or $200 less than the record 2007 high point. Instead of investing in public schools, the legislature spent an additional $300 million on personal projects and another $400 million on tax exemptions.

 

It should also be noted that PECO funds were split evenly between for profit charters and public schools, with each receiving $50 million for capital outlay. For years charters have received most of the PECO dollars and districts got nothing, making it difficult to plan for growth. Sharing this year’s PECO is a ploy to justify reviving legislation in 2016 forcing districts to share voter-approved millage dollars with for-profit charter chains that can use the funds to purchase, develop and maintain properties the public may never own.

 

There are many details buried in the Final Conference Report. Among them is $44 million to provide $10,000 “Best and Brightest” scholarships to up to 4,400 “highly effective” teachers who scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT. It’s expected that many of the teachers who receive these scholarships will be from Teach for America. The House wanted $45 million for the program, while the Senate wanted only $5 million. This controversial, expensive program is based on the weak assumption that teachers who did well on either the SAT or ACT will automatically be better teachers. It’s disappointing that once again, legislators have based another funding scheme on a single test when there’s no evidence that high SAT or ACT scores are related to great teaching. It’s equally concerning that Florida teachers applying for the scholarship will be sharing their SAT and ACT test scores, providing a trove of new personal data that the state can use to further disaggregate and sort the profession.

 

At least $750 million dollars were set aside for just these projects and exemptions. That figure divided by 2.74 public school students would have meant an additional $274 per student, proving that Florida has the money, but political leaders refuse to invest in public education. What is behind their effort to keep Florida from climbing out of the nation’s lowest quintile in per pupil funding?

 

Open the link to see the numbers.

 

 

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.

Writes Pulver:

“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 is a great story from Florida, where legislators are test-crazy. Sammy Addo, a third-grader, did not take any of the required tests. His mother is a teacher and a strong opponent of high-stakes testing. Sammy took only the tests that his own teacher gave, based on what she taught in class. Sammy was promoted.

He says, in part:

My name is Sammy Addo. I am finishing third grade at Port Malabar Elementary this week. Next year I will be in fourth grade even though I did not take the Math or the Reading FSA.

I also did not take any of the three FAIR tests this year. I did not take either of the two BELLA tests, either of the two district math tests, the district science, or the district social studies tests. There are a lot of tests!

Even though I didn’t take those tests, I took all the tests that Mrs. Kelly gave me about things that she taught in our class. Those tests were how I proved what I learned. I did well and that is why I am going to fourth grade – my report card proves I did my job as a third grader.

Lots of people at school said I would have to stay back because I didn’t take the FSA, but I knew they were wrong.

I knew that my mom and dad wouldn’t tell me to do something that would be bad for me. They always say that one test on one day does not prove anything about me.

Read the link and watch the video. Sammy is one smart little guy!

Vicki Cobb, author of many children’s books about hands-on science, recently spoke at a children’s literature conference in Florida. She was disturbed to meet a new breed of teacher: teachers who had grown up in the era of high-stakes testing and scripted lessons. Too many thought that this is the way school was supposed to be, because it was all they had experienced.

 

She attributes the change to the takeover of education policy by non educators:

 

The business and government suits, who have hijacked educational policy in a top down approach, are not professional educators. Their knowledge of education comes primarily from what they themselves survived (endured?). Most do not know what good education looks like. Their idea of a well-ordered classroom is rows of desks with students quietly bent over a test. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost in the preparation of the next generation of Florida’s classroom teachers. Their professors tell me that they call them the “FCAT babies.” These young people are the pre-service teachers who have grown up in Florida’s test-taking climate. They have a “mother, may I?” permission-seeking approach to their own classroom behavior as teachers. They think test-taking and test prep is normal. They have seen nothing else. They are afraid to think for themselves.

 

As she posed questions to a group of students, she noticed that they answered quickly to her questions, not pausing to think. She sensed the test-prep culture, the reflexive search for the right answer. And that was not what she wanted to see.

 

She missed what she calls “the artist-teacher.” What is the “artist=teacher”? “An artist is someone who brings his or her own self-expression to an activity. An artist expresses personal, closely held views, thoughts, images and passions with such truth and clarity that others immediately connect with this revealed humanity. Thus the personal becomes the universal. Therein lies its power.”

 

Instead, teachers in Florida told her about scripted programs whose goal was to make sure that every teacher was on the same page at the same time teaching the same things. Scripted lessons are “turning teachers into automatons, when American education is crying out for the return of the artist-teacher. This is the teacher who takes one look at the textbooks and goes to the library to find much more powerful reading on the same subjects. This is the teacher who knows each student intimately and can write a poem for each one. This is the teacher who figures that good teaching trumps test prep and is not afraid for her kids’ test outcomes. This is the teacher who has the courage to justify what he’s doing and why he’s doing it to powers-that-be who are not fully equipped to evaluate creativity. It includes a lot of the “best teacher” awardees. This is the teacher who wants to spend more time creating powerful lessons and less time doing accountability paperwork. For the artist-teacher, teaching with autonomy, mastery and purpose is a subversive activity, much as art is subversive in a dictatorship.”

 

Our current educational culture, driven by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core standards, is rewarding robotic behavior and punishing artist-teachers. In the current climate, good teaching is a subversive activity.

This discussion between MaryEllen Elia, then superintendent of the Hillsborough County school system, and Vicky Phillips, the president of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, took place a year ago. Robert Trigaux, business writer for  the Tampa Bay Times, sat down with the two to check on the progress of the Gates Foundation’s investment of $100 million in the Hillsborough County schools.

 

Trigaux writes:

 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may not view our country’s stressed public schools as full of Neanderthal teachers trying to bash knowledge into bored, thick-skulled students. Yet the foundation’s leaders do consider most U.S. schools terribly outdated, technologically deficient and bureaucratic morale-suckers in need of overhaul.

 

That’s why the foundation decided to try to help.

 

Just a quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college. That statistic should terrify this country, given the aggressive rise of economic competition and rapidly improving education elsewhere in the world. Left unchecked, we are slipping in the global race to sustain a quality workforce.

 

So, as Brian Williams once memorably said on the NBC program “Education Nation,” “Bill Gates is  paying for this program, and we are using his facts.” (Slight paraphrase.)

 

We know what the Gates Foundation wants: It wants a workforce that is prepared to compete with workers in other nations. Leave aside for the moment whether we are losing jobs because of better-educated competitors or because American workers expect to be paid more than workers in China and Bangladesh; businesses outsource where the costs are lowest. And leave aside as unproven the claim that only a “quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college.” Some, like President Obama, say that American workers are the most productive in the world. But leave that aside too. Ask yourself how the United States got to be the most powerful nation in the world if our citizenry is as hapless and poorly educated as Bill Gates assumes.

 

Here is the stated goal of the Gates’ $100 million: “The goal: to improve student achievement by rethinking how best to support and motivate teachers to elevate their game during the adoption of the Common Core curriculum and beyond.” Summarize as: Raise test scores and implement the Common Core.

 

Elia has lasted in her job longer than most superintendents, nine years when the interview was taped in 2014 (ten years when she was fired in 2015):

 

Nine years running the same school system is commendable. Especially in Florida where public schools rarely receive adequate attention or funding. Florida spends roughly half per pupil compared to New York or Connecticut. And Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation.

 

Let’s repeat that line: Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation. That includes Hillsborough County.

 

What has the Gates grant done? It has changed the way the district evaluates and compensates teachers (presumably with merit pay for higher test scores, though it is not clear in this interview).

 

And this is a new Gates-funded feature:

 

A cadre of mentors, one for every 15 teachers, has slowed the turnover of young teachers leaving the profession. And Hillsborough is ahead of many districts in making teacher evaluations more meaningful. Principals observe teachers and give more concrete feedback. And teachers get peer reviews, which can be sticky at times but is considered quality input. All of that means Hillsborough has not had to follow the state’s own strict evaluation guidelines. The foundation also wants to sharply improve the role technology plays in the classroom by providing more easily accessible curriculum support to teachers and better ways to keep students engaged in their work.

 

So the strategy is to train and evaluate teachers, to give bonuses to some, but not to mess with the fact that teachers are “among the poorest  paid in the nation.” Not our problem.

 

What are the results so far? Not clear but there is always the future.

 

Bottom line? Both Elia and Phillips admit it has been a struggle at times but seem satisfied with progress that has outpaced other large Florida school districts.

 

The trick is most of what has occurred so far is procedural, putting systems in place to improve teaching and, in turn, future student achievement. Measuring that achievement in a meaningful way has yet to happen. Hillsborough hopes it can deliver improved results soon.

 

Another tough challenge is education’s biggest oxymoron: teacher respect. “One thing we are dismayed about is how we have made teachers feel over the last 15 years,” Phillips said. “We shamed and blamed them. It was unconscionable. We do not want them to feel that way.”

 

Phillips says celebrating good teachers is part of the recovery plan. So is listening to them.

 

The Gates Foundation listening to teachers? Now that is an innovative idea!

 

Apparently the other two districts–Memphis and Pittsburgh–have not made much progress. That seems to be the implication of this exchange:

 

Elia and Phillips insist big strides are still to come in the remaining three years of the partnership. And even when the seven years are up, Phillips says the foundation and Hillsborough will stay in close touch. There will still be much to learn.

 

For the Gates Foundation, it has invested heavily in Hillsborough schools. It certainly is hopeful of a return on those funds, one measured by a successful outcome of better student achievement that it can show off to other U.S. school systems.

 

Similar Gates Foundation grant commitments to school districts in Memphis and Pittsburgh have suffered slower progress, which may make Hillsborough a beacon of best practices.

 

Hillsborough County has two years left to go in its seven-year grant. Superintendent Elia has been fired but landed the prestigious job as state education commissioner in New York. What ideas will she bring with her from Florida?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The state superintendent of Florida tweeted some happy talk, but there was a grammatical error. It’s easy to make a typo when tweeting or blogging; I have done it many times myself, so I don’t criticize those who make innocent mistakes.

However, Pam Stewart’s tweet opened the floodgates:

“Stewart: I wake up with one goal- making sure every single students is able to receive a high quality education for future success. 8:30 AM – 21 May 2015″ Read the responses:

Uh-oh. Florida’s end-of-course exams suspended by hackers.

“Interruptions in Florida’s end-of-course biology, civics and U.S. history exams last week came courtesy of outside hackers, a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman told the Gradebook on Monday.

“It was an attempt by an outside party to somehow shut down the system,” spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said. “Pearson figured out what was going on and put a stop to it.”

“The state told schools to delay testing during the disruption, during which students could not log in to take their exams. The system was back up within about two hours.

“This event marked the second time this spring that Florida’s computerized testing fell victim to a denial of service attack. American Institutes for Research servers also were brought down in March, during the administration of Florida Standards Assessments.”

Last night, I watched a Nova program on PBS called “The Rise of the Hackers.” One of the most sophisticated hacks was the work of teenagers.

The only truly secure test is the one written and graded by the classroom teacher. Online testing is not secure, does not reflect what was taught, and generates profits that are extracted from instruction. They are so yesterday.

This comment came from a teacher in Florida:

“Much as I feel for our NY colleagues, gaze south and see where it can all end up as we demonize the profession further. FL is an “annual contract” state.

“Every year I receive a “reminder” that I am an annual contract employee and will be “considered” for renewal of that contract by the district. The union is run by old contract “Continuing Contract” teachers pending traditional retirement and promotion, but the only ones free to speak under any hope of retaining employment. State law dictates that we cannot be provided anything but an annual contract. The district can then terminate, my word, without cause by merely not renewing. No reason is required for not renewing.

“Teaching is becoming a haven for those too foolish to seek employment elsewhere, dedicated, or those incapable of employment elsewhere, inept. It’s a terrifying mix.

“For FL: http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/BillSummaries/2011/html/0736ED”

Michael Klonsky says, “I am not anti-charter, but I am anti-this.”

What is “this”? Frauds, empty promises, avoidance of accountability and transparency. For this with eyes to see, the charter movement has turned into the charter industry. It is fueled by greed and playoffs to politicians.

Klonsky’s exemplar is the Mavericks charter chain led by non-educator Frank Biden, the Vice-President’s brother. One of its principals was arrested for allegedly sharing drugs and sex in a car with a student.

But that’s not all.

“Back in 2011, when Krista Morton was the principal at Richard Millburn Academy — a charter school for dropout students in Manatee County — district officials investigated the school for graduating students who did not meet requirements, having grade-change irregularities and giving students puzzles and word searches instead of more rigorous work. It is not known whether Morton resigned or was fired. The school shut its doors later that year.”

“Why did Frank Biden choose her to become a Mavericks principal? We may never know. But this we do know. Mavericks have been under scrutiny for years. Back in October, the Sun-Sentinel reported widespread financial mismanagement within the chain. It said that Biden had launched the network of charter schools more than five years ago, “drumming up publicity with prominent pitchmen and pledging to turn dropouts into graduates”.

“Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. At least three of the Mavericks schools have received $250,000 federal grants through the state, state documents show. They’ve been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get. 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.

“This latest incident also brings up the question of whether or not charter schools run by private networks are truly public schools.”

Will anyone be held accountable? Don’t count on it.

The Wall Street Journal has an informative article about the $2.2 million that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence paid to a top Republican political consultant to publicize the “success” of the Florida model of education reform: school grades, charters, and high-stakes testing, and also revealed who underwrites Bush’s FEE.

The foundation’s Learn More, Go Further campaign in 2013 and 2014 included a website and other online media, television and radio ads, and live events in Florida to promote the state’s educational system.

“Today, more parents and teachers know that Florida is a top-10 state for improvement in education, thanks to the reforms implemented and hard work by teachers and students over the last 15 years,” said Jaryn Emhof, a foundation spokeswoman.

Under Mr. Bush’s A-plus plan, schools receive annual grades based on their test scores in an effort to hold educators responsible for student achievement. The Learn More, Go Further ads touted rising graduation rates, increased numbers of students taking advanced courses, and rising achievement among Hispanic and African-American students. Mr. Bush was not mentioned in the ads.

Another spot trumpeted Florida’s higher academic standards, which are modeled after the Common Core standards adopted by most states. Because the Obama administration awarded financial incentives to states that adopted Common Core, some conservatives view the standards as government overreach, making Mr. Bush’s support a potential liability in his expected 2016 campaign…

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has served as chairwoman of the foundation since January, when Mr. Bush resigned to focus on exploring a potential campaign. Top donors to the foundation include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, GE Foundation, and News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.

The foundation reported $11.4 million in revenue for 2013, up from $10 million the previous year. Expenses rose to $10.4 million from $5.9 million the previous year because of increases in staff, outside contracts and educational research and grants provided to states. The foundation has expanded from working with three states in 2008 to 43 states in 2013 on issues including digital learning, school grades, literacy, teacher training and charter schools.

You can be sure nothing was said in the public relations campaign about the fact that Alabama–with none of Jeb’s reforms–has a higher graduation rate than Florida. Nor will voters hear about Florida’s class size reduction act, imposed by referendum. Or Bush’s third grade retention policy, which holds back low-scoring third graders and boosts fourth-grade reading scores.

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