Archives for category: Florida

On his blog, Julian Vasquez Heilig explores how the federal courts have failed to confront the racially disparate impact of high-stakes tests.

When the courts were asked in Florida to recognize the unfairness of denying a diploma to students who could not pass the exit examination, in light of the racial disparities in passing rates, the federal court upheld the exams. Not only that, but the court held that the exam would help eliminate racism, even though black students failed the exam at a far higher rate than whites.

When the decision was appealed to the federal appeals court, it upheld the verdict Nd again treated high-stakes testing as a cure for racism. Here is the peculiar reasoning:

“…the diploma sanction is needed to remedy the present effects of past segregation in Florida’s schools. … the diploma sanction will motivate teachers and administrators, as well as students. Although the sanction is to deny the student the diploma, diploma denial reflects adversely on the teachers and administrators of the school system responsible for the student’s education. We think it is clear that teachers and administrators will work to avoid this stigma, thus tending to remedy any lingering lower expectations on the part of teachers (Debra P. v. Turlington 1984, p. 58.).”

Heilig believes that the same reasoning is found among today’s “reformers,” who think that they are defending the civil rights of minorities by subjecting them to standardized tests that have a racially disparate impact.

Back in 2011, the Florida legislature decreed that every student must pass an online course as a graduation requirement. Was this decision based on research about the value of online learning? No. It was justified as a means of readying all students for an online workplace but there is as yet no solid evidence that students learn better online. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the legislature’s mandate coincided with former Governor Jeb Bush’s determination that digital learning was the wave of the future; Jeb launched a national campaign, well funded by the technology industry, to promote digital learning, including a high school graduation requirement to take at least one or two courses online or no diploma. Six states have since adopted Jeb’s propsal and require students to take at least one course online as a graduation requirement. That sold a lot of new hardware and software but there is still no evidence of its necessity or value.

The Orlando Sentinel found that many seniors are familiar with digital technology but they have not met their graduation requirement:

“More than 11,000 Central Florida 11th-graders — about 43 percent of the region’s juniors — have not yet passed an online course, even though they must do that to earn a diploma next year. The class of 2015 is the first to fall under the online-learning requirements the state adopted four years ago.

“Spencer Thompson, 16, met the requirement at his parents’ insistence, but he isn’t surprised many classmates have not.

“I think it’s forcing a lot of kids to do something they don’t want to do,” said the junior at Hagerty High School in Seminole County.

“Some teenagers think they learn better with an in-person teacher, Spencer said, and some have found it a hassle to fit an online course into their schedule. Online courses, he added, are a useful option — he’s taking a virtual math class next year — but shouldn’t be required.”

Now districts are scrambling to find ways to help students meet the requirement for virtual coursework. “Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools next school year will enroll any 12th-grader who hasn’t taken an online class in new “blended learning” economics or government courses.

“These courses will be taught during the school day, with a teacher at the helm, but at least 50 percent of their lessons — enough to meet the state’s requirement — will be delivered via computer. Because economics and government both are required for graduation and typically taken senior year, administrators have a captive audience and a way to make sure students meet the online rule.”

Some students don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Some prefer face-to-face interaction with a teacher. For a time, students took their drivers education courses online, but “the Legislature later decided that would not count for the graduation rule.

“This year, lawmakers reversed themselves, so if Gov. Rick Scott signs the latest bill, starting in July students can again use an online driver’s education class to help earn their diploma.”

Really, it shouldn’t matter what course the student takes as long as the purpose of the mandate is filled: to divert more public money to private vendors.

In Maine, Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” campaign stalled when a local reporter wrote an award-winning story about the money trail connecting Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence, the tech vendors, and Maine politicians.

Academica, the largest charter chain in Florida, won approval to open the state’s largest charter school in Miami-Dade, with 3,000 “student stations.”

The firm operates for-profit.

A month ago, the Miami Herald reported that the chain was under federal investigation for its business practices.

A report yesterday by the Florida League of Women Voters pointed out that Academica has key connections in the Legislature:

 Senator Anitere Flores of Miami is president of an Academica managed charter school in Doral.

 Florida Representative Erik Fresen is Chair of the House Education subcommittee on appropriations. Representative Fresen’s sister is the Vice President of Academica and is married to the president. politics/content/ethics-commission-clears-miami-rep-erik-fresen-alleged-voting-conflict.

 George Levesque, Florida House lawyer cleared Erik Fresen of conflict of interest
concerns over charter schools. He is the husband of Patricia Levesque, former Jeb Bush Deputy Chief of Staff and currently Executive Director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education which promotes school choice.

 Representative Manny Diaz is Dean of Doral Academy, an Academica managed school. He is the leader for the new statewide contract bill in the Florida House. Doral College was cited by the Florida Auditor General for a $400,000 loan from Doral Charter High School. Conflict of Interest and procurement for Charters with federal grants:

The Florida League of Women Voters just released a bombshell study of charters across the state. The study shows that charter schools do not perform better than public schools; that charters are more segregated than public schools; that many charters funnel money to religious organizations; that a significant number of charters operate for profit; and that the charter industry has captured control of key seats in the legislature.

Here is the press release. Open the links and read the study. At the end of the press release is a list of state legislators identified by the LWV with “Conflict of Interest Concerns.”

May 27, 2014

Deirdre Macnab
LWVF President
Phone: (407) 415-4559
League of Women Voters Releases

State-Wide Study on School Choice

Tallahassee, Fla — Twenty percent of the state’s charter schools close because of financial mismanagement or poor academic standards, according to the League of Women Voters of Florida after a year-long study of charter schools in 28 Florida counties.

“Charter schools could fill a niche in Florida’s educational spectrum, but for many, their biggest contribution may be to corporate bottom lines,” said Deirdre Macnab, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

With over 576 charter schools in the state, the League of Women Voters of Florida conducted a study in order to better understand the oversight, management, accountability and transparency of charter and private schools in Florida.

The study found that:

Approximately one-third of charters are run by for-profit management companies. Many screen students, then drop those who are not successful, which public schools are prohibited from doing. Charters also serve particular socio-economic groups, increasing segregation in schools.

Although charters tend to be smaller than traditional schools, there is no consistent difference in achievement for charter school and public school students.

Many charters blur the distinction between religious and non-secular schools. Some churches receive as much as a million dollars in lease payments annually for their facilities from charter schools.

In areas with declining enrollments, neither the charters nor regular public schools are large enough to adequately provide support for staff like nurses or counselors. Retaining teachers is also a problem; most charters offer lower salaries and benefits than public schools.

The League’s study produced several recommendations:

Charters should be limited to those that fill unmet needs in identified local school districts.

Stronger local management oversight and disclosure policies are needed.

Financial mismanagement issues must be addressed, as too often the privatization of schools leads to financial abuse.

For more information, including further findings and recommendations, please see the state-wide study, along with the individual studies conducted by eighteen local Leagues across Florida.


The League of Women Voters of Florida, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, please visit the League’s website at:


Conflict of Interest Concerns

 Senator John Legg Chair of Senate Education Committee is co-founder and business administrator of Daysprings Academy in Port Richey.

 Senator Kelli Stargel from Orange County is on board of McKeel Academies. She is on the Education Committee and sponsored the Parent Trigger Bill.

 House Budget Chairman Seth McKeel is on the board of McKeel Academy Schools in Polk

 Anne Corcoran, wife of future House Speaker Richard Corcoran has a charter school in
Pasco County. charter-school-delays-opening-for-a-year/1276912. Richard Corcoran is Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

 Senator Anitere Flores of Miami is president of an Academica managed charter school in Doral.

 Florida Representative Erik Fresen is Chair of the House Education subcommittee on appropriations. Representative Fresen’s sister is the Vice President of Academica and is married to the president. politics/content/ethics-commission-clears-miami-rep-erik-fresen-alleged-voting-conflict.


 George Levesque, Florida House lawyer cleared Erik Fresen of conflict of interest
concerns over charter schools. He is the husband of Patricia Levesque, former Jeb Bush Deputy Chief of Staff and currently Executive Director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education which promotes school choice.

 Representative Manny Diaz is Dean of Doral Academy, an Academica managed school. He is the leader for the new statewide contract bill in the Florida House. Doral College was cited by the Florida Auditor General for a $400,000 loan from Doral Charter High School. Conflict of Interest and procurement for Charters with federal grants:

Thanks to Arne Duncan, almost every state now has an elaborate teacher evaluation plan. There is no evidence that the pans identify teachers correctly, but they are widespread because Duncan believes and he is Secretary of Education, with more certainty than any of his predecessors.

What hath Arne wrought? Here is an account I hope he reads. It shows what a mess he has made in thousands of schools.

I”ve been trying to find the right place to share what I’ve written about the ridiculous evaluation process that occurs in Palm Beach County, FL. Friends who have read it asked that I share it with you, Diane.

My teacher evaluation rant

I’m about to write out the long, stupidly involved story of the truth behind teacher evaluations, specifically at my school, but likely not too different than everywhere.

Five (or more) times in the school year my principal does classroom observations. There are three different kinds: 1 formal, forty minute lesson observation; 2 5-15 minute informal; 2 30 second-2 minute walkthroughs. She evaluates me using the Robert Marzano Menu of Design Questions There are about 60 specific behaviors within 4 different domains, each with 3-7 components, that she is looking for during those observations.

Each of the 60 behaviors is then graded on a scale of: not using, beginning, developing, applying, and innovating. The evaluator, after marking off the components then decides how to grade the behavior. Comments, if appropriate are also added (as in: All of the students were actively engaged in the lesson) At the end of each observation I get an email directing me to approve the observation.

At the end of the year, the grades for each behavior are calculated to determine if the teacher is: Highly Effective (3.2 – 4.0), Effective (2.1 – 3.1), Developing (1.2 – 2.0) or Unsatisfactory (1.0 – 1.1). Last year I was deemed Highly Effective based on my observations. I didn’t really look at the details because I was overly pleased with the results.

I should note that for my first two years teaching this was a new evaluation system. Our district decided that during the learning curve process ALL teachers would be given the same grade/evaluation level of Effective, so the observations were a tool for us to begin to look at where we could stand to improve and what we were already doing well. The fact that I was evaluated as Highly Effective had no bearing on anything, since ALL teachers were graded as Effective. Also, last year only 2 of the 4 domains were observed. This year only 3 were observed.

The added domain is for our own personal professional development. I mention this because we were instructed at the beginning of the year that ALL teachers had to have the same personal professional development goal: to improve student success through implementation of the Marzano Techniques of Teaching (see a trend?). I didn’t want this to be my goal, but I didn’t have a choice (don’t get me started). (Last year my personal goal was to improve my ELL students’ oral language assessments by 50% – I reached that goal and then some).

This year’s evaluation has come back and I am now graded as Effective with an overall score of 3.0. I was wondering how I dropped from Highly Effective to Effective, so I started looking more closely at the numbers. Here is what I saw:

I was marked as Innovating (4.0) for 12/31 behaviors
I was marked as Applying (3.0)for 19/31 behaviors.
I had no lower marks than that.

Now in my world of calculating scores, I would multiply 4 x 12 = 48 and 3 x19=57, then add them together 48 + 57 = 105, then divide by 31 which equals 3.39. 3.39 is Highly Effective, but I was graded as 3.0 – Effective. Hmm. I called my union rep and she was not sure how that could be. She also, for what it’s worth, had a similar score drop. She remembered that there was some ridiculous way to calculate the previous two years, and thought maybe they are doing the same thing this year. Regardless, neither of us knew how our scores were calculated, so we knew we would have to ask higher ups.

I asked my principal. She wasn’t sure how it is done, either. She suggested that we both call/email the woman at the district who is in charge. So I did. This is what I learned: If 50% or more of your marks are Highly Effective, then you are Highly Effective; if 50% or more are effective than you are effective, and so on.

Then I began to wonder, as has my union rep, how is it that I was more effective last year than I am this year? What am I NOT doing now that I did then? It turns out that I am, in fact doing the same things. I was marked as doing the same exact components of behaviors this year as I was for last year. The difference is, last year I was rated as innovating more times. So, for example let’s say Behavior A has 6 components. Last year when I was checked off as meeting all 6 I was deemed innovating. This year those 6 components checked off are only earning me applying. WHY? HOW? Fortunately, I am friends with a number of people who have some real answers.

The answer isn’t pretty, but it’s been corroborated by more than one source. Here we go…

The principals and assistant principals were told that they were *giving out too many innovatings and that they needed to mark innovating less often*. In other words, the evaluation that is supposed to determine our level of teaching, which in turn determines our merit pay (no, we don’t really get merit pay. we’re supposed to, but that’s a whole different – let’s lie to the people of Florida – nightmare) is being manipulated by the powers that be in an effort to…I don’t know…make it seem like teachers aren’t as good as we are. So they can pay us less and blame us more. The powers that be are doing to the teachers what the high stakes testers are doing to our students: creating a system that is skewed to failure (or mediocrity).

I am outraged. Mostly I am outraged that Principals and ASsistant principals, who know this is wrong and are being asked to downgrade their own teachers, are going along with it and not fighting back. The people who told me are in those leadership positions. They know it’s wrong. But they pooh-pooh saying things like, “Everyone knows those evaluations aren’t right, so what does it matter? *I* know who’s great and doing a great job, so the evaluation doesn’t really matter between you and me and the kids. ”

And I almost buy it. Except for this: my evaluation is public recod. Any parent can go to the district and access my evaluation score. Most parents won’t, it is true. Only parents who have a beef with a teacher would do that, as it so happens. But that’s when the difference between effective and highly effective DOES matter. I AM highly effective. I know it. My administrators know it. My students know it. But when a parent who is already certain I am picking on his/her kid or that I don’t know how to teach his/her kid goes to access my records, they see I am Effective, not Highly Effective. It’s fuel for their fodder, which I do not like.

And if I go to work in another district, all the hiring people will see is Effective. I don’t like it. NOt one little bit.

In Florida, teachers are given ratings based on the scores of students they never taught.


Teachers in several counties challenged the law in court.


The judge agreed that the system was unfair, but refused to overturn it.


Where teachers are concerned, Junk Science is just fine.


It is okay to rate a teacher based on the performance on tests of students the teacher never met, never taught.


This is “reform.” Thanks, Arne Duncan, for Race to the Top.


Thanks for introducing this insane, stupid policy into our nation’s schools.


The true education miracle will be if American public education can survive eight years of stupid policies like this one in Florida.

A federal judge in Florida dismissed a lawsuit against the state evaluation system, declaring that it was unfair to rate teachers based on the scores of students they never taught but not unconstitutional.

The evaluation system may be stupid; it may be irrational; it may be unfair; but it does not violate the Constitution. So says the judge.

An article in the Florida Education Association newsletter described the ruling:

“The federal lawsuit, known as Cook v. Stewart, was filed last year by the FEA, the National Education Association and seven accomplished teachers and the local education associations in Alachua, Escambia and Hernando counties. The lawsuit challenged the evaluation of teachers based on the standardized test scores of students they do not teach or from subjects they do not teach. They brought suit against the Florida commissioner of education, the State Board of Education and the school boards of those three counties, who have implemented the evaluation system to comply with 2011’s Senate Bill 736.

“On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker dismissed FEA’s challenges to the portions of SB 736 that call for teachers to be evaluated based upon students and/or subjects the teachers do not teach, though he expressed reservations on the practice.

We are disheartened by the judge’s ruling. Judge Walker acknowledged the many problems with this evaluation system, but he ruled that they did not meet the standard to be declared unconstitutional. We are evaluating what further steps we might take in this legal process.

Judge Walker indicated his discomfort with the evaluation process in his order.

“The unfairness of the evaluation system as implemented is not lost on this Court,” he wrote. “We have a teacher evaluation system in Florida that is supposed to measure the individual effectiveness of each teacher. But as the Plaintiffs have shown, the standards for evaluation differ significantly. FCAT teachers are being evaluated using an FCAT VAM that provides an individual measurement of a teacher’s contribution to student improvement in the subjects they teach.” He noted that the FCAT VAM has been applied to teachers whose students are tested in a subject that teacher does not teach and to teachers who are measured on students they have never taught, writing that “the FCAT VAM has been applied as a school-wide composite score that is the same for every teacher in the school. It does not contain any measure of student learning growth of the … teacher’s own students.”

In his ruling, Judge Walker indicated there were other problems.

“To make matters worse, the Legislature has mandated that teacher ratings be used to make important employment decisions such as pay, promotion, assignment, and retention,” he wrote. “Ratings affect a teacher’s professional reputation as well because they are made public — they have even been printed in the newspaper. Needless to say, this Court would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would find this evaluation system fair to non-FCAT teachers, let alone be willing to submit to a similar evaluation system.”

“This case, however, is not about the fairness of the evaluation system,” Walker wrote. “The standard of review is not whether the evaluation policies are good or bad, wise or unwise; but whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law. The legal standard for invalidating legislative acts on substantive due process and equal protection grounds looks only to whether there is a conceivable rational basis to support them,” even though this basis might be “unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”

Florida Republicans, aided by three rogue Democrats, rammed through voucher legislation in the closing day of the legislative session.

The vouchers are supposedly for the benefit of children with special needs.

The Republican legislators’ alleged concern for children with special needs is especially hypocritical in view of their failure to act on the Ethan Rediske legislation, would have exempted children in extreme medical distress to be exempted from state testing by local officials.

As we have seen time and again (and as ALEC urges), legislation for vouchers is targeted to children with special needs as a way to promote vouchers. Thus, children with special needs are cynically used by rightwing legislators whose real goal is to destroy public education.


This from a reader in Florida:


This skullduggery just in from the last hours of the spring legislative session in Florida’s right wing Republican-controlled Legislature:

Tampa Bay Times, May 2, 2014: Lawmakers revive, then approve school voucher expansion


TALLAHASSEE — A surprise procedural maneuver Friday helped Florida lawmakers pass one of the most controversial bills of the session.

Both the House and Senate gave final approval to a bill that would expand the school voucher program and create new scholarships for special-needs children.

The proposal will now head to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it.

School choice advocates celebrated bill’s passage — an unexpected end to a roller-coaster session.


Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, said she was disappointed. “The members of FEA are chagrined by the continued march to expand voucher schools that are largely unregulated, don’t have to follow the state’s academic standards, don’t have to hire qualified teachers and don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely,” she said.

McCall said it was “especially galling that the voucher expansion was tacked on to an unrelated bill on the final day of the session.”


“Public schools should not have a monopoly,” Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in debate. “We have choices in everything else.”

——-end quote

With this development, Jeb Bush must be gleefully rubbing his hands together.

Just as certain as many people here in Florida were, that then-Governor Jeb Bush would leave no stone unturned in jamming his brother into the White House, many of us KNEW that these radical Republicans in Tallahassee would force this thievery of public education resources into law.

God willing, we will flush Rick Scott and as many of these thieves running the Florida legislature as we can this November, along with their micromanaging mentor, Jeb Bush.

Republicans have been pushing vouchers in Florida, despite the fact that voters turned them down in 2012 by a decisive margin.

Republicans have been calling for STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at the same time that they want children to go to school where creationism is taught as science.

Republicans claim they want more accountability but schools receiving vouchers will not be held to any accountability standards.

Republicans say they want a “great” teacher in every classroom but teachers in voucher schools need not be certified.

Bob Sikes points out the contradictions in this post.

Voters still oppose vouchers by a 55-42 margin, according to recent polls.

Sikes writes that as more privatization zealots assume high rank in the legislature, “The drip, drip, drip of revelations which continue to discredit Florida’s voucher program may be the only thing standing in the way of the republican agenda to crush the state’s public school system.”

That and Florida’s alert parents, who do not want their children or their taxes to underwrite religious schools or charter corporations.



The Miami Herald reports that the U.S. Department of Education’s Inspector General is reviewing the business practices of the Academica charter chain, a for-profit and highly profitable charter chain.


Ironically, at the same time, the charter-friendly Florida legislature is considering legislation that would weaken district oversight of charter school corporations. The charter industry makes substantial campaign contributions to political candidates, and Academica has family members elected to important positions in the legislature. Academic controls a real estate portfolio estimated to be worth more than $100 million. The rapper Pitbull’s new charter is part of the Academica chain.


The Education Department’s Inspector General Office is auditing the South Miami-based Academica Corp. as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide. The audit will be complete this summer, department spokeswoman Catherine Grant said.


A preliminary audit report obtained by the Herald/Times identified potential conflicts of interest between the for-profit company Academica and the Mater Academy charter schools it manages. One example the auditors cited was the transfer of money from Mater Academy to its private support organization, which shares the same board of directors.


Asked about the potential conflicts of interest raised in the report, Academica attorney Marcos Daniel Jiménez, in an email to the Herald/Times, touted the charter-school network’s academic record and commitment to its students….


Under current law, school districts have the authority to negotiate contracts with new charter schools. HB 7083 would mandate the use of a standardized contract, meaning school districts would give up most of their leverage…..


Academica oversees almost 100 charter and virtual charter schools in Florida, according to its website. It also manages schools in Texas, Nevada, Utah, California and Washington, D.C.


The preliminary audit report homes in on the Mater Academy family of schools in Miami-Dade County.


Academica President Fernando Zulueta founded the original Mater Academy in 1998, and was a member of its governing board until September 2004, auditors wrote.


The auditors found that three of the schools in the Mater network — Mater Academy, Mater High and Mater East — entered into leases with development companies tied to the Zulueta family. Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board.


In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, state Rep. Erik Fresen, the report said.


“We identified four related-party transactions, two of which indicated, at a minimum, the appearance of conflicts of interest between Mater Academy and its CMO [charter-management company],” the Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens and its nonprofit support organization, Mater Academy Foundation.

“Mater Academy shares the same board of directors with the foundation and based on our review of the board of directors meeting minutes at Mater Academy, there is evidence of Mater Academy’s board of directors transferring public funds to the foundation,” the auditors noted….


Charter-school critics said the inspector general’s findings were a reason to push back on HB 7083, the bill that could weaken the power of school districts over new charter schools….


Jeff Wright, of the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, agreed. “If an audit like this is going on, the Legislature should not give charter schools more opportunities to game the system,” he said.


But Rep. Manny Diaz, the Hialeah Republican sponsoring the bill, said his proposal would not open the door to questionable business practices.


“This is not about opening up the Wild Wild West,” said Diaz, who left his job with the Miami-Dade school district last year to become dean of an Academica-managed private college. “We want there to be controls [over charter schools]. We just want to make sure the controls are uniform and transparent.”


The bill, which also would require school systems to share underutilized facilities with charter schools, is scheduled to be heard on the House floor Monday. The Senate version (SB 1512) has been watered down, and now does little more than clarify that military commanders can help establish charter schools on their bases.





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