Archives for category: Florida

A key Republican leader, who is closely tied to Florida’s booming and profitable charter industry, slipped into the state budget a bill to pay a bonus to teachers with high SAT scores. His bill is known as “Best and Brightest,” assuming that those with the highest SAT scores are or will be the best teachers.

In this post, Florida teacher Melissa Halpern explains the absurdity of this plan. Veteran teachers will get the bonus if they can locate their SAT scores, even if they took the test 20 years ago, but only if they also received a “highly effective” rating based on test scores.

Halpern explains the absurdity:

“Let’s start with the very notion of rewarding a correlation. Incentives work when people have the power to respond to them with effort and action, when they can initiate a cause of success. What if studies found that teaching performance correlated with race, gender, or socioeconomic status (all of which are correlated with SAT scores, by the way)? Would we ever find it acceptable to offer a gender bonus? Of course not. Aside from being discriminatory, such an incentive would be illogical; it offers no room for effort, no goal to work toward.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to discern which correlations are actually causal, but common sense helps. While a teacher’s 20-year-old SAT score is probably not the cause of her success in the classroom, her training, credentials, and years of experience might be; incidentally, these are all proven correlations with teacher performance that Florida has downplayed under its current “merit pay” system, which replaced the old experience-based salary schedule in 2010….

“It seems, then, that the Best and Brightest incentive is not really an incentive at all, and that whatever it is, it certainly wasn’t devised to reward experienced teachers in the first place.

“So who does stand to benefit from this program? Primarily new teachers, especially those who might like to grab a bonus for a short teaching stint, and bail for a career that actually pays. Teach For America corp members, who are only held to a two-year teaching commitment, might just fit the bill.

“Interestingly, teachers coming out of TFA tend to populate the revolving employment doors of charter schools run by for-profit companies—much like the ones with whom Rep. Fresen happens to have close business ties.

“It shouldn’t come as a shock that a Florida legislator might vote for a financially motivated policy in the name of public education—at least it makes their ultimate goal of privatizing education a little more transparent.”

Angry parents and educators bombarded Senator Legg, chair of the Senate Education Committee in Florida, with 45,000 letters, complaining about the state’s standardized tests. Kathleen Oporeza of Fund Education Now spurred the protests by pointing out that the tests had so many problems that the results were invalid and should not be used to grade schools or teachers.

She wrote:

“There isn’t a Florida student, parent, teacher, superintendent, board member or administrator who doesn’t see through this charade. Superintendents from Leon to Miami-Dade have expressed their deep concerns. The study’s own numbers point out that just 65 percent of the test items match the Florida Standards. It concludes that it would be wrong to retain students or deny diplomas based on the 2015 FSA, yet Commissioner Stewart plans to use these same flawed test results to set pass/fail cut scores, grade schools and evaluate teachers. It’s fundamentally unfair to punish teachers and grade schools based on scores where 35 percent of the test items were never taught to Florida students.

“Put another way, if a student answered every question based on the Florida standards correctly, he would receive a 65 or a D letter grade. It’s hard to reconcile this poor finding with Commissioner Stewart’s glowing reaction to the study. Who or what is she trying to protect?”

Senator Legg responded to protestors, claiming it was too late and there was nothing he could do. Apparently in Florida, the Legislature can pile on tests, but it can’t reduce them or prevent their misuse.

Jessica Bakeman of Politico wrote:

“TALLAHASSEE — A key state senator said Thursday it’s time to stop harping on the problems that arose during state standardized testing earlier this year because there’s little the Legislature can do to fix it now anyway.

“Sen. John Legg, who chairs the chamber’s pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education committee, said it’s not worth entertaining district leaders’ push for education officials to withhold school grades after cyber attacks and technical glitches disrupted state testing for thousands of students.

“Legg, a Republican from Lutz, believes results from the state’s controversial new exams are valid for use in evaluating schools’ performance. But even if they weren’t, he said, lawmakers wouldn’t be able to stop the Department of Education from assigning school grades.”

Florida may be the testing Capitol of the nation. But no one can stop this train wreck.

Oporeza wrote:

“After decades of micro-managing public education, Legg claims “there’s nothing the legislature can do.” He goes on to assert that they are “unable to stop” Commissioner Pam Stewart and the Department of Education from setting pass/fail cut scores, issuing school grades or using the flawed scores to evaluate teachers. Legg’s comment lacks credibility. He knows Stewart is an unelected political appointee with an ardent penchant for rule following. The FSA testing mess was wholly created by the Florida Legislature. Period.

“During the Senate hearing, politicians were dogmatic about preserving the political agenda of “ed reform.” Even though the EdCount/Alpine study team will not deem the FSA 100% “valid,” committee members said any discussion of alternatives is useless. Looking for a better way, such as using limited standardized tests only as transparent diagnostic tools would destroy Florida’s A-F Accountability scheme. Reformers know that without high stakes there would be no classroom fear or chaos. There would be no leverage to use against us.”

Read this Facebook page, created by Florida parents, and you will never believe another of Jeb Bush’s boasts about what he accomplished as governor.

When he boasts about job creation in Florida, think about this: Jeb’s “Jobs” – low-paid service industry jobs that left many Floridians without health insurance and scrambling for affordable housing amid a real estate boom that helped fuel business-friendly tax breaks.”

If he boasts about higher education, remember that he raised tuition by 48%.

This Facebook page will grow as parents add more entries.

Education Week warns that voters should be wary of governors boasting about their success in education.

Jindal of Louisiana claims that his implementation of school choice increased graduation rates. But Alabama increased its grad rAte even more, without the same aggressive privatization. Funny that the governor of one of the nation s lowest perf morning states would offer it as a model.

Walker of Wisconsin says third grade reading scores went up because he busted the union. Not so fast, says EdWeek.

Jeb! boasts if fourth grade scores. Of course, holding back low-scoring third graders helped the fourth grade scores. But what about those eighth grade scores? Not so good. If the gains don’t persist, what good are they?

Want to get rich quick? Hurry on down to Florida and open a charter school. You don’t need any experience in education, it doesn’t matter if you failed in the past, just come up with a good idea!

The Sun-Sentinel in Florida published a powerful indictment of the unsupervised charter industry.

In the past five years, 56 South Florida charter schools have closed, expelling thousands of students. Five charter schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties didn’t survive three months.

Jeb Bush boasts at every opportunity about his “reform” policies of privatization in Florida.

Read this article and see what you think about Jeb’s “miracle.”

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.

South Florida is home to more than 260 charter schools, many of them high-performing. Some cater to students with interests in the performing arts, science and technology, or those with special needs.

Like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded with tax money. But these independent public schools can be opened and operated by individuals, companies or cities, and they are controlled by volunteer governing boards, not local elected school boards.

It gets worse every year, since the state’s weak law allows almost anyone to open a charter school, without regard to their qualifications.

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.”

Of course, letting anyone open a charter creates a certain level of instability and lots of closures. But that seems to be the way Florida’s leaders like it:

Fifteen charter schools in Broward have closed in the last two years. That number doubled the county’s total closures since charter schools first opened in Florida 18 years ago. Seven charter schools have closed in Palm Beach County in the last two years. That’s more than a quarter of the district’s historic total.

Eight of those failed schools lasted about a year or less. Five didn’t survive three months.

“These are our tax dollars,” said state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “And to let them be used for a school that is only going to survive for one or two years is a huge waste of resources.”

Another 29 charter schools are expected to open in South Florida this fall…..

Charter schools, which receive public money in monthly installments based on student enrollment, can be overpaid if they overestimate their expected attendance or shut down abruptly.

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.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office is also investigating Mitchell and his involvement with the Ivy Academies.

The Palm Beach County school district never got back the $113,000 it overpaid La Mensa Academy in Palm Beach Gardens, which closed after a year. La Mensa projected it would have far more students than the five who showed up on the first day of school in 2011.

My Choice Academy has not returned $56,000 to the Palm Beach County school district but is seeking to reopen in the fall. It closed in January 2013 after four months in Riviera Beach because of problems with its lease. The school’s founder, Altermease Kendrick, said the start-up challenges were overwhelming.

Charter fraud is rampant. Ah, the perils of privatization. Maybe one of the news anchors will see this story and ask Jeb a question or two after he boasts about what he has done to education in Florida.

Blogger “Education Matters” reports the news from the charter industry in Florida:

According to the FLDOE the total is 308. Think about that, 308 charter schools have taken public money and then closed leaving families and communities in a lurch. Untold millions of dollars wasted and thousands and thousands of lives interrupted.

Then according to a June 26th article in the Tampa Times of the 657 remaining one in six of them either are running a debt or “had material weaknesses with their internal financial controls.”

“Education Matters” (also jaxkidsmatter) concludes: the charter cure is worse than the disease.

Kristina Rizga in “Mother Jones” explains why the Opt Out movement is becoming a national phenomenon.

She focuses on the story of Kiana Hernandez, a student in Florida. She made the decision on her own, but she was inspired by seeing TV coverage of students opting out.

“By her own estimate, Kiana had spent about three months during each of her four years at University High in Orlando preparing for and taking standardized tests that determined everything from her GPA to her school’s fate. “These tests were cutting out class time,” she says. “We would stop whatever we were learning to prepare.” The spring of her senior year, she says, there were three whole months when she couldn’t get access to computers at school (she didn’t have one at home) to do homework or fill out college applications. They were always being used for testing.

“Kiana had a 2.99 GPA and is heading to Otterbein University in Ohio this fall. She says she did well in regular classroom assignments and quizzes, but struggled with the standardized tests the district and state demanded. “Once you throw out the word ‘test,’ I freeze,” she tells me. “I get anxiety knowing that the tests count more than classwork or schoolwork. It’s a make or break kind of thing….

“Students in American public schools today take more standardized tests than their peers in any other industrialized country. A 2014 survey of 14 large districts by the Center for American Progress found that third- to eighth-graders take 10 standardized tests each year on average, and some take up to 20. By contrast, students in Europe rarely encounter multiple-choice questions in their national assessments and instead write essays that are graded by trained educators. Students in England, New Zealand, and Singapore are also evaluated through projects like presentations, science investigations, and collaborative assignments, designed to both mimic what professionals do in the real world and provide data on what students are learning.”

Rizga’s book “Mission High” was just published. I intend to review it soon. It is the story of a so-called “failing school” in San Francisco where students and teachers work hard to beat the odds against them.

Michael LaForgia, Lisa Gartner, and Cara Fitzpatrick of the Tampa Bay Tribune investigated five of the lowest-performing schools in Florida and got to the bottom of their failure. Their story, “Failure Factories,” described five schools in one of the state’s most affluent district that had been “average” (when judged by test scores) in the recent past and are now among the “worst” in the state.

They write:

In just eight years, Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.

First they abandoned integration, leaving the schools overwhelmingly poor and black.

Then they broke promises of more money and resources.

Then — as black children started failing at outrageous rates, as overstressed teachers walked off the job, as middle class families fled en masse — the board stood by and did nothing.

Today thousands of children are paying the price, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

They are trapped at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose — five neighborhood elementary schools that the board has transformed into failure factories.

Every year, they turn out a staggering number of children who don’t know the basics.

Eight in 10 fail reading, according to state standardized test scores. Nine in 10 fail math.

Ranked by the state Department of Education, Melrose is the worst elementary school in Florida. Fairmount Park is No. 2. Maximo is No. 10. Lakewood is No. 12. Campbell Park is No. 15.

All of the schools operate within six square miles in one of Florida’s most affluent counties.

NPR interviewed Michael LaForgia and Cara Fitzpatrick about their investigation.

MICHAEL LAFORGIA: We spent a year examining what was going on with five elementary schools in our predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Pinellas County. What we found was that 95 percent of black children who were tested at these schools failed reading or math. Teacher turnover in the schools is a chronic problem. Last year, more than half of the teaching staff at these five schools requested transfers out. We found that all of this is a recent phenomenon. By December of 2007, when our school board voted on a plan that effectively re-segregated the district, none of the schools in question was ranked lower than a C. Today, all of them are Fs in the state ranking system.

VIGELAND: Wow. Well, Cara, how would you describe the county where these five schools are located – Pinellas County – because I think that is one of the surprises here.

CARA FITZPATRICK: Well, Pinellas County is one of the most affluent counties in Florida, so that’s part of the surprise, I think, here. And one of the things that’s interesting about this, too, is that these five elementary schools are all in a relatively small area of South St. Petersburg.

VIGELAND: Michael, as you noted, these schools were doing a lot better about a decade ago, and they had a very different demographic at the time because of integration and busing. So what changed?

LAFORGIA: So a decade ago, there still was in effect federal oversight that was mandated by a civil rights lawsuit that dated to the 1960s. The district got out from under that lawsuit in 2007. Rather than stick with the integration efforts that had been working up till that time, the school board opted to go to a neighborhood schools model which effectively re-segregated the school district.

VIGELAND: What did it mean in terms of the student population?

LAFORGIA: Well, it meant that schools that previously had been 60, 50, 40 percent black were now suddenly 80 and 90 percent black. And they were drawing from a high-poverty area. The children who previously had been spread among other more-affluent schools who had had access to 15 or 20 schools’ worth of guidance counselors or behavior specialists suddenly only had access to five schools’ worth.

Jeff Bryant has written an excellent in-depth investigative report on Jeb Bush’s boasts about the “Florida miracle.”

The alleged miracle is pure hogwash. The biggest beneficiaries are the profiteers and entrepreneurs who have opened 600 charter schools across the state.

As Jeff writes, Jeb got into the charter business to polish up his image after losing the 1994 race for governor. A defining moment occurred when asked in a debate what he would do for blacks, if he were elected. He answered, “Probably nothing.” When he learned about charter schools, he found the perfect vehicle to burnish his credentials in education and civil rights.

He worked hard to pass charter legislation, then opened the state’s first charter school in impoverished Liberty City in 1996. He still boasts about the school but forgets to add that it closed in 2008.

Bryant interviewed Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, who represents the section of Miami that includes Liberty City.

Bullard denounced Bush’s A-F grading law “that perpetually traps schools serving the most struggling students with an “F” label, and opening up communities to unproven charter schools that compete with neighborhood schools for funding….

“According to Bullard, charter school expansion did more harm than good in Liberty City. As charter schools chipped away student population from the neighborhood schools, the local elementary school struggled to keep its enrollment up, and the middle school eventually closed as lower student populations drained the schools’ resources.

“In Bullard’s view, charter schools also help create an unhealthy revolving door, where kids cycle from public schools to charters, and then back into the public schools when charters close down. As schools open and close, the better-prepared students tend to find spots in other new charters, while the lowest performing kids get kicked back into struggling, underfunded public schools.”

Today, major charter chains dominate the Florida landscape, and most operate for profit.

“One person who has paid close attention to the spread of charter schools in Florida is Sue Legg. As a public school teacher, college professor and an administrator of state school assessment contracts at the University of Florida for over 30 years, Legg has had a ringside seat to the Florida charter school circus. In a series of reports produced for the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters, Legg revealed the many ways charter schools in Florida spread political corruption and financial opportunism while doing little to improve the academic performance of their students.

“Her year-long 2014 study, conducted in 28 Florida counties, found a 20 percent closure rate for charters due to financial problems or poor academic performance — a closure rate that has now increased to over 40 percent. The charter schools studied generally did not perform better than public schools, and tended to be more racially segregated. A significant number of these charters operated for-profit and operated in church related facilities.

“In a phone conversation with Legg, she described how charter school expansions are being driven by a state legislature with numerous connections to the charter school industry. “States get around local control by using a statewide contract for charters,” she explained. And whenever a local board rejects a new charter school or threatens a charter school with closure, the school can appeal to the state. “The appeals process overturns about half of district denials of charter operation,” Legg contends.

“The conflicts of interest among charter schools and Florida state legislators was raised to national prominence by an article in Esquire written by Charlie Pierce. Pierce quoted from a 2013 Florida newspaper article:

“A growing number of lawmakers have personal ties to charter schools. Sen. John Legg [no relation to Sue Legg], who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is co-founder and business administrator of Dayspring Academy in Port Richey. Anne Corcoran, wife of future House Speaker Richard Corcoran, plans to open a classics-themed charter school in Pasco County. House Budget Chairman Seth McKeel is on the board of the McKeel Academy Schools in Polk County. In addition, the brother-in-law of House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen runs the state’s largest charter management firm, Academica Corp. And Sen. Anitere Flores, also of Miami, is the president of an Academica-managed charter college in Doral.”

Florida mainstream media have paid attention to the financial scandals and corruption in the charter sector. The Miami Herald’s Kathleen McGrory wrote an excellent series called “Cashing in on Kids.”

The Sun Sentinel has exposed scandal after scandal.

“In a more recent series of investigative articles, from 2014, the Sun Sentinel found, “Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down … virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity.”

“Examples cited in the series include a man who received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first one collapsed. The schools closed in seven weeks. Another example: A man with “a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school.” It closed in two months.”

The charter industry in Florida is a textbook example of the squandering of taxpayer dollars to undermine public schools and satisfy private greed. It’s not about kids.

It is about privatization and profit. Don’t be hoaxed.

The Tampa Bay Tribune reported that school officials in Hillsborough County were surprised to discover a big hole in the budget after Superintendent MaryEllen Elia was fired and became New York State Commissioner of Education.

“TAMPA — In the last four years of superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s administration, the Hillsborough County School District went on a spending jag, tearing through more than half of its $361 million reserve fund, officials revealed this week.

“Left unchecked, the pattern would have resulted in another operating deficit this year — a $75 million hit that would bring the fund down near its legal minimum threshhold.

“The situation has surprised Elia’s successor, unsettled School Board members and put bonding agencies on alert, which could lead to the district facing higher interest rates when it has to borrow money.

“Jeff Eakins, who took over as superintendent after serving as Elia’s deputy, says he was caught off guard when he realized the district used $68.5 million in non-recurring funds to meet this year’s payroll.

“We’re not in any kind of financial crisis,” Eakins told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Tuesday. But, he said, “we need to put some measures in place right now.”

A new pay structure started with funding from the Gates Foundation may cost as much as $50 million.

“It is clear, Eakins said, that the district, which serves more than 200,000 children, is spending money to extend programs that were launched with temporary funding from foundations.

“The Gates grant is one example, as it is in its final year of funding. Expenses anticipated for 2015-16 include $11.3 million for teacher peer evaluators and $6.1 million to pay mentors. Eakins said he will take a close look at these expenditures to see if they are worth sustaining, or if they should be reduced.”


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