Archives for category: Florida

Rick Scott should not be the next governor of Florida. Nor should his leading challenger, Charlie Crist, who previously served as governor and who is a Republican turned Democrat. The candidate who is best on education issues is Nan Rich. The polls say she doesn’t have a chance. My friends in Florida say she’s the real deal. Better to throw away your vote on someone you believe in than to throw it away on someone you know will be bad news.

Two young teachers are running for school board, both named Katz.

Justin Katz is a ten-year teacher and the only educator running for school board in Palm Beach County. We ned people on our school boards with practical experience in the classroom and the school.

Joshua Katz is running for the school board in Orlando. Ever since I saw his TED talk, I have wished he might one day be the state superintendent. He really gets it. The Orlando school board needs him.

Politico.com reports that “African-American students in Miami-Dade County are more likely than their peers to be assigned rookie teachers – and their teachers are also more likely to be uncertified or unlicensed, according to a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality.” This inequity is a result of “the district’s decision to cluster Teach For America recruits in low-performing, high-poverty schools.”

“The strategy could backfire, the NCTQ concluded, because novice teachers generally struggle to produce strong learning results. And because many TFA teachers leave after two years, the schools must cope with “constant churn, where novice teachers are being placed and then leaving at high rates, creating a cycle of instability at these schools,” the report finds.”

NCTQ “recommends giving high-performing teachers incentives to move to the struggling schools and giving principals more flexibility in assigning staff, so the rookies aren’t automatically placed in the most challenging classrooms.”

For more: http://politico.pro/XxrXTd.

In 2011, soon after his election, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott took Michelle Rhee on a tour to show off what Florida was doing in education. He took her to visit a charter school in Miami/Dade County, a middle school called Florida International Academy.

“We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy,” Scott said.

Sad news. The elementary school attached to Florida International Academy was just starting. It shared the same campus and administration. There, things went from bad to worse.

“The elementary school earned an F in its first year. It improved to a D in 2012, but earned failing grades in 2013 and 2014.

“State law requires the closure of any charter school that receives consecutive Fs.”

The state is closing the elementary school. The middle school that Scott considers a model for the state earned a C.

Two Champs charter schools were supposed to open in Delray Beach and Riviera Beach, Florida, but they failed to enroll enough students. They told Palm Beach County school district officials they will never open. Each was supposed to enroll 112 students but enrolled only 2 or 3 students.

Is the public wising up? Or is the market saturated?

Florida has gone bonkers. State law requires children in kindergarten to take tests for every subject taught in kindergarten. Some counties will develop as many as 15 different tests, ranging from physical education to art. Most children will be required to take seven tests.

State Sen. David Simmons, a member of the education committee, said “For us to assure that schools do their jobs we can only test. If you don’t test, you don’t care,” said Simmons.

School districts will decide whether children’s performance on the tests will impact their grades and their ability to move on to first grade.

This must be another of former Governor Jeb Bush’s bright ideas. You can tell how much he cares because Florida students take so many tests.

In a two-part article called “Florida’s Charter Schools: Unsupervised,” Karen Yi and Amy Shipley of the Sun-Sentinel describe how the state’s weak laws allows charter school operators in South Florida to profit while wasting taxpayers’ money and children’s lives.

South Florida has more than 260 charter schools. Local districts are supposed to oversee them. The laws about who may open a charter school are lax. Charters open and close, and millions of dollars disappear. Is every charter a fraud? No. But members of the charter sector hold key positions in the state legislature, and the charters are the pride of former Governor Jeb Bush, so there is little effort to rein in the miscreants.

The article begins:

“Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down.

“A recent spate of charter-school closings illustrates weaknesses in state law: virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity, a Sun Sentinel investigation found.

“Florida requires local school districts to oversee charter schools but gives them limited power to intervene when cash is mismanaged or students are deprived of basic supplies — even classrooms.

Once schools close, the newspaper found, districts struggle to retrieve public money not spent on students.

Among the cases the newspaper reviewed:

“• An Oakland Park man received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first collapsed. The schools shuttled students among more than four locations in Broward County, including a park, an event hall and two churches. The schools closed in seven weeks.

“• A Boca Raton woman convicted of taking kickbacks when she ran a federal meal program was hired to manage a start-up charter school in Lauderdale Lakes.

“• A Coral Springs man with a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school in Margate. It closed in two months.

“• A Hollywood company that founded three short-lived charters in Palm Beach and Collier counties will open a new school this fall. The two Palm Beach County schools did not return nearly $200,000 they owe the district.”

The laws were written to make it easy for anyone to open a charter school.

“State law requires local school districts to approve or deny new charters based solely on applications that outline their plans in areas including instruction, mission and budget. The statutes don’t address background checks on charter applicants. Because of the lack of guidelines, school officials in South Florida say, they do not conduct criminal screenings or examine candidates’ financial or educational pasts.

“That means individuals with a history of failed schools, shaky personal finances or no experience running schools can open or operate charters.”

“The law doesn’t limit who can open a charter school. If they can write a good application … it’s supposed to stand alone,” said Jim Pegg, director of the charter schools department for the Palm Beach County school district. “You’re approving an idea.”

“Charter-school advocates say the complexity of the application, which can run more than 400 pages, weeds out frivolous candidates. But school officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties told the Sun Sentinel some applicants simply cut and paste from previously approved applications available online.”

Charter operators can receive approval and funding before they know where their school will be located. Two iGeneration charters in West Palm Beach opened 11 days after school started.

“As students showed up for class, parts of the building remained under construction. Classrooms had not undergone required fire inspections and sometimes lacked air conditioning, district documents show. The iGeneration charters bused their high schoolers on unauthorized daily field trips because they didn’t have enough seats at the school, records show.

“On one trip, they lost a student. Though she was found four hours later, district officials immediately shut down the schools.

“Because of the quick shut-down, the iGeneration charter schools were overpaid nearly $200,000, according to the Palm Beach County school district. The schools have not returned the money.”

Academic chaos is not unusual:

“A former teacher at the Ivy Academies stored her classroom supplies in the trunk of her car. Every morning, she’d wait for a phone call to find out where classes would be held that day.

“I would never know where we [were] going,” said teacher and former middle school dean Kimberly Kyle-Jones. “It was chaotic.”

“The two Ivy Academies lasted only seven weeks.”

District officials didn’t know where the “nomad campuses” were.

“The biggest tragedy is what happened to those students during the course of time they were in that charter,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “When you get a lot of private actors coming into the marketplace, folks are in it to make money … Public education is not a place for you to come to make money.”

Some of the charters don’t know how to run a school or to provide basic supplies. In one, the lights were turned off because the school didn’t pay its elecrtticity bill. Children are the losers.

“Every time a charter school closes, dozens of children are displaced — in some instances, mid-month. Many return to their neighborhood schools where some struggle to catch up because their charters did not provide required testing, instruction in basic subjects or adequate services for those with special needs.

“This isn’t just a regular business. This isn’t a restaurant that you just open up, you serve your food, people don’t like it, you close it and move on,” said Krystal Castellano, a former teacher at the now-closed Next Generation charter school. “This is education; this is students getting left in the middle of the year without a school to go to.”

When charters close, district officials are often unable to collect money that the charter didn’t spend:

“State law requires that furniture, computers and unspent money be returned to the districts, but when officials attempt to collect, charter operators sometimes cannot be found.

“We do know there have been a few [charter schools] … where hundreds of thousands of dollars were never spent on kids, and we don’t know where that money went,” said Pegg, who oversees charters in Palm Beach County. “As soon as we close the door on those schools, those people scatter … We can’t find them.”

“When a Broward school district auditor and school detective went searching for Mitchell at the Ivy Academies in September 2013, he left through a back door, records show. District officials said they have yet to find him, or to collect the $240,000 in public money the schools received for students they never had…..

“When the Miami-Dade school district demanded the return of more than $100,000 it overpaid the Tree of Knowledge Learning Academy in 2009, the year-old charter school ceased operations. The district did not recoup the money.

“It’s almost mind-blowing what’s going on,” said Rosalind Osgood, a Broward School Board member. “They just get away with it.”

Two-thirds of South Flotida’s charters are run by management companies, which further complicates the money trail. These companies collect between 10 and 97% of all revenues.

“They’re public schools in the front door; they’re for-profit closed entities in the back door,” said Kathleen Oropeza, who co-founded FundEducationNow.org, an education advocacy group based in Orlando. “There’s no transparency; the public has no ability to see where the profits are, how the money is spent.”

Given the low bar for opening charter schools in Florida, the number is expected to increase dramatically over the next five years. There are more than 600 charters in the state now. And there will be no more supervision than there is now.

Part 2 of the series tells the story of Steve Gallon, who was banned from working in Néw Jersey because of fiscal improprieties but welcomed as a charter leader in Florida.

The Lee School Board in Florida wants to opt out of all standardized testing. They have listened to parents. They are tired of enriching Pearson.

“FCAT. Florida Standards. Common core.

“No matter what you call it, the school board wants it gone.

“Board members unanimously expressed their disdain for standardized testing at the school board meeting Tuesday, pledging to research the possibility of “opting out” the entire district from standardized testing.

“There needs to be a come-to-Jesus meeting … to talk about these issues point blank,” Chairman Tom Scott said.

Board member Don Armstrong said the district cannot afford to continue testing at the current rate.

“A lot of our money is being poured out of this county to go to one company, I won’t say names,” he said. “But on this board or not on this board, I won’t stand for it anymore.”

Dozier asked the board to vote to “opt out” the entire district from testing. Some school districts have done this in Texas, but none in Florida.

“Why can’t we be the first?” Dozier asked, prompting an applause in the audience……”

“State assessments have been designed for kids to fail,” Fischer said. “I’ve worked in school since 1960. Just follow the money, look it up on the Internet, it’s about people making billions of dollars.

“Scott urged the public to get involved.

“This is your school district, and the more parents making noise, the more likely people are going to hear it in Tallahassee,” he told the audience. “I ask everyone here to find 10 other people who feel the way you do and start making some noise.”

“Superintendent Nancy Graham said the board should carefully research the possible ramifications of opting out.

“I’m not saying we can’t do it, but we need to think about these things purposefully and intentionally,” she said.

“Three moms in attendance from the group Teaching Not Testing echoed the board’s sentiment.

“Tess Brennan, the mother of a second-grader, said her daughter can usually read at a fifth-grade reading level. But when her daughter missed answering three questions on an exam to take a bathroom break, it significantly hurt her overall score.

“She missed three questions because she had to poop,” Brennan told the board. “It took three weeks to convince my child that she can still read. She can. She can devour a 100-page book in 45 minutes.”

The Florida Education Association filed suit to block the expansion of vouchers. In their legal challenge, the teachers’ union said the law was passed at the last minute and “violates the constitutional requirement that legislative proposals be limited to a single subject.”

“The lawsuit from the Florida Education Association raises concerns about the way SB 850 became law. Some of the bill’s more contentious provisions, including the voucher expansion and the scholarship accounts, started out as stand-alone proposals that had difficulty finding support. They were added to a bill establishing collegiate high schools on the second-to-last day of the legislative session.”

In 2012, Florida voters turned down a proposal to change the state constitution to permit vouchers by a margin of 58-42.

After Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced new rules for special education, requiring higher standards and more testing for students with disabilities, many teachers and parents debated this course of action on the blog. This teacher in Florida offered some real-life experience to inform the debate and, perhaps, the Secretary:

“Let me start by saying that I am an ESE teacher. I teach students with learning disabilities and language impairments. The students I have are in the unit they are in because they are at least two grade levels below their regular ed peers in reading.

“Currently, in Florida, we already have to give these students access to the same standards that their on-grade level peers enjoy. That has been the case for years. We already know that Florida tests pretty much everyone, no matter their disability. Again, this has been the case for years. I can’t believe that in this education environment that there are many other states that are significantly different. And yet, Arne is going to say that these students aren’t getting a quality education? That they aren’t held to high expectations?

To me, it is pretty obvious that these students are held to much higher expectations than their regular ed peers. It would be like telling two mountain climbers that they have to reach the same peak, but one of them will do it with both hands tied behind his back. Sure, he can have some accommodations. Someone can hold his rope steady. Someone else can yell out supportive verbal encouragement. He can even take longer breaks, and we’ll take away any time requirement (as long as he finishes in the same day that he started).

“The world of special ed was already insane. I’m not sure where this takes us. As I said, in my class, the students are all at least two years behind in reading. What I didn’t tell you is that I teach in an elementary school. What this means is that many of these 3-5th graders are non-readers. The few that can decode are either doing so at a kindergarten/first grade level or at a level approaching grade level but without any comprehension whatsoever of what they have just decoded. Despite this, they have the same designation on paper (or computer) that other LD kids have who are just slightly behind their regular ed peers.

“In Florida, as I imagine is the case in other states, we already track academic progress. You might think it would be as easy as seeing what they are capable of doing at the beginning of the year and then comparing that with what they are capable of at the end of the year. Not so. Remember, they are working on the same standards as their regular ed peers. And, so, they are tested with the same tests that their regular ed peers take. This means that a fourth grader who cannot read anything above “see sam run” is being tested on those “rigorous” non-fiction passages that are on a fourth grade level (not the fourth grade level of yesteryear but the new, improved 6th grade, I mean 4th grade level of today). And then we track their progress on a graph. If you’re thinking that these graphs look like random peaks and valleys, you are correct. When you cannot read and you are given a test, you are just going to guess. Which is what these students do. Sadly, they have become so inured to this that they guess on the few items that they actually are capable of doing.

“The federal government is already involved through NCLB, etc. These students count towards AYP. They count towards the school’s “grade.” The schools have every reason to give these students everything they’ve got, so why aren’t the slackers doing anything to give them a “quality education”? Well, they are. Florida is an RtI state. To get an ESE label, a student has to show that they are “resistant to interventions.” That is, they have to show that they require extensive interventions, that if they are weaned off of the interventions, they regress. Or, they have to show that despite intensive, research-based interventions, they are still showing no progress. In other words, before these students come to me, they have already received every intervention imaginable. In addition, even after they are found eligible for ESE services, they are usually started in a less restrictive environment. If none of this has worked, why should it work when they get to my class? Indeed, it had to be shown that it did not work in order for them to get into my class in the first place.

“Alas, I’m afraid I do not have a magic wand or a bag of pixie dust with which to work miracles. So, what is an ESE teacher to do? Most of us actually work with the studennts where they are at. And we move them forward from there. There is no huge spurt of growth (very rarely anyway), but they do make academic gains. None of these gains will show up on the regular ed grade level assessments, but they are there nonetheless. We’ve often wondered why these students aren’t given meaningful assessments that will show growth and that will actually tell us where these students are still struggling (thanks, FCAT, I already knew they couldn’t read on grade level). Now we know why. It’s to show that these students aren’t getting a “quality education.”

“I would tell you that these students, who are as bright as you or me, struggle immensely with academic subjects. That they are usually Language Impaired as well. That most of them are also ESOL students. That most of them come from low SES homes. That most of them come from single-parent households. That many of these parents come in to thank us because their child used to hate school and now they want to go. That their regular ed teachers in the past told us that they wouldn’t do anything in class, that they would shut down when anything was required of them, and now they are working in class. That through a lot of hard work and effort of both the teachers and students, the students get to a point where they stop saying, “I can’t do this, I’m stupid.” That non-writers become independent writers (legible despite the many spelling, grammar, and convention errors). That non-readers become readers (yes, still way behind their regular ed peers) and learn to enjoy reading. I would tell you these things, but it doesn’t matter because none of it shows up on the tests. The tests show that these students are not making any gains. And, as we all know, there are no excuses.”

In state after state, charter schools are proving that it is downright risky to turn public money over to deregulated corporations and unqualified individuals to run schools. The Detroit Free Press series on the scams, frauds, and corruption in many Michigan charters was an eye-opener for all those who are not part of the charter movement. The exposé of similar frauds in Florida by the League of Women Voters in Florida was enlightening to anyone other than free market ideologues. The same level of corruption–actually, even worse–exists in Ohio’s charter sector, where a small number of charter founders have become multi-millionaires, run low-performing schools, and are never held accountable.

One of the most colorful charter scandals occurred when a Cleveland charter operator was tried for funneling over $1million to his church and other businesses. The charter founder was a pastor, not an educator. His attorney said ““his client had good intentions when opening the school on East 55th Street but then got greedy when he saw easy opportunities to make money….”

The leader of California’s most celebrated charter school, with outstanding test scores, stepped down when an audit revealed that nearly $4 million had been diverted to his other businesses.

In Arizona, the Arizona Republic exposed charters that were family businesses, giving contracts to family members and board members.

In Chicago, the head of the city’s largest charter chain resigned after the media reported large contracts given to family members of school leaders and other conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds.

Last week, one of Connecticut’s most celebrated charter organizations was at the center of the latest scandal. Its CEO was revealed to have a criminal past and a falsified résumé. Two top executives immediately resigned, and legislators and journalists began to ask questions. No background checks? Accountability? Transparency?

Colin McEnroe wrote in the Hartford Courant’s blog that hustlers were cashing in on the charter school craze. Not just in Connecticut, but in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Ohio, Arizona, on and on.

McEnroe wrote:

“The message is always the same: The essential concept behind the charter school movement is that, freed from the three Rs — restraints, rules and regulations — these schools could innovate and get the kinds of results that calcified, logy public schools could only dream about. And they do … sometimes.

“But handing out uncountable millions to operators who would be given a free hand was also like putting a big sign out by the highway that says “Welcome Charlatans, Grifters, Credential-Fakers, Cherry-Pickers, Stat-Jukers, Cult of Personality Freaks and People Who Have No Business Running a Dairy Queen, Much Less a School.” And they’ve all showed up. This is the Promised Land: lots of cash and a mission statement that implicitly rejects the notion of oversight…..

“What else goes with those big bubbling pots of money? A new layer of lobbyists and donation-bundlers. The Free Press documented the way a lawmaker who dared to make a peep of protest against charter schools getting whatever they want suddenly found himself in a race against a challenger heavily funded by the Great Lakes Education Project, the “powerhouse lobby” of the Michigan charter movement. Jon Lender of The Courant recently showed how one family of charter school advocates had crammed $90,000 into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers.”

If there were more investigations, more charter scandals would be disclosed.

When will public officials call a halt to the scams, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, nepotism, and corruption?

There is one defensible role for charter schools and that is to do what public schools can’t do. There is no reason to create a dual school system, with one free to choose its students and to cherry pick the best students, while the other must take all students. There is no reason to give charters to non-educators. There is no reason to allow charter operators to pocket taxpayer dollars for their own enrichment while refusing to be fully accountable for how public money is spent. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow.

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