Archives for category: Florida

The Florida legislature is debating a Republican proposal that would increase accountability for charters while making it easier to open new ones. The proposal, pushed by conservative Republicans, cleared a subcommittee on choice and innovation in the House. The state has more than 600 charters. It is a haven for flim-flam operators because of low accountability, lack of transparency or oversight. Florida charters are rife with conflicts of interest.

 

 

“The proposal…aims to weed out “bad actors” by requiring charter schools to disclose their finances on a monthly basis and to provide quality learning for their students. Any charter school that receives two consecutive “F” grades would be “automatically terminated.”

 

“The measure also would create the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to help charter school operators submit good applications to school districts and to better navigate the approval process.

 

“New this go-around: The proposal would establish a “High Impact Charter Network” to encourage charter schools to set up in “critical needs areas,” or those where traditional public schools have received school grades of “D” or “F” in four of the past five years. The bill includes a financial incentive to do so by automatically waiving a 5 percent administrative fee — roughly $87,000 for 250 students — that charter schools typically pay school districts.

 

“Another new provision would allow “high-performing” charter schools an easier way to replicate their model anywhere else in Florida. Instead of submitting their applications to local school districts, school operators could get them vetted by the new state-level institute instead.

 

“It would create opportunities to allow high-performing charter schools in other parts of the state. We want to make sure we encourage that as much as we can,” said Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, who is again heading up the proposal for the 2016 session.

 

“Charter contracts would still have to be negotiated by local school boards, but Democrats worry diverting applications to the institute might take away districts’ local control.

 

“Republicans countered that approving a charter school application isn’t a subjective decision — either the applicant’s proposal complies with state standards, or it doesn’t — and they want to start penalizing school districts that reject new charter schools for “arbitrary” reasons, such as simply not wanting more in their districts.

 

“You can’t just willy-nilly this approval because you think you don’t need anymore schools,” said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, the committee chairman.

 

“Under the committee bill, the administrative fee owed to school districts would be waived for any operator whose charter school application is denied by the district but approved on appeal.

 

“The bill is troubling to me,” Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, said. “I believe it takes money away from traditional public schools. … We’re trying to solve a cash-flow problem for charter schools while ignoring traditional schools.”

 

 

 

 

Bonnie Cunard Margolin is a blogger and parent activist in Florida. Her daughter did not take the state and local tests, and her mom is very proud of her.

 

Margolin writes:

 

This year, I have opted my 6th grade daughter out of all district and state testing. So, yesterday and today, while her classmates were taking the district test/ practice FSA writing assessment, she wrote an essay, on her own, instead. Here it is.
Julianne M. Cunard

ELA 6 ADV
18 September 2015
Testing: I Can Do the Math.
Learning is not just about taking a test. It is about understanding a lesson, not about sitting at a desk for hours, failing as you go. If you wanted to educate children, why is there an FSA, FCAT, FAIR, PARCC, LSAT, MCAT? What do all of these words mean to you? Is standardized testing effective in education? I can tell you what tests mean to me.
Testing is something I refuse to be a part of, even teachers don’t like these tests. From the article, “Putting it to the Test”, the author writes, “In September, Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher at Chiles Elementary School, received widespread buzz when she openly refused to administer the computer-based Florida Assessments for Instruction in reading, or FAIR.” Teachers are forced to read the script, exactly as written, scared of losing their jobs if not. There should not have to be a time in school where anyone feels extremely worried. At school, students should feel relieved and secure. Yet then, these tests come along.
If I walked into a room and saw everyone taking a district\state test, I would not be happy because the students are not learning anything. The author writes, “Teaching is an art. It is about connection. It is not about getting ready for a test that is designed 70 percent to fail. Our best teachers are leaving because they are being forced to do things in the classroom that they know is not for OUR KIDS! They are leaving for OUR KIDS!” That statement right there tells me that teachers have had enough. This is a good reason why testing is not good for education.
Teachers shouldn’t have to quit because they are forced to do something, it is their life, their class. Oh, but no… that teacher can’t talk about it. It’s all so “secret” because nobody knows how to opt out, except for the kids that know. They know how to opt out. They know they won’t fail their grade because of a test. They know they will sit there for an hour, sitting and doing nothing, everyone looking at them. They know they will get an NR2. Other kids don’t. They don’t know what an NR2 means. They DON’T know, they don’t… but they should. The one thing everyone knows in that classroom is that these district\state tests are unnecessary and ineffective.
Let’s see how the leaders would like it if we gave THEM a standardized test. Are you shocked that I said that? Well, nobody realizes how bad these tests are. One person says they are fine, but someone else will say not to take it. What do they do? This is way too much pressure for children… WAY too much. THEY ARE KIDS, TESTING FROM THIRD GRADE THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL. Innocent children testing every day. What did they ever do to you?
Some think that testing is not a big deal. It isn’t but when it’s every day, like standardized testing is, I believe that it is an outrage. From the article,”Mom- Why My Kids Won’t Be Taking the New Florida Standards Assessment Test”, the author writes, “They have to be quiet, have alternate scheduling, sit in a single classroom and learn NOTHING during “testing season” because others are testing. This is time they’ll never get back in their education.” The author is correct. What about the kids?
What if everyone wants to opt out, they know, but can’t because the leaders are telling them not to. The kids shouldn’t be punished for other’s repetitive mistakes.
There were seven hours of FSA testing that I did NOT do last year. Others did. Don’t you feel bad for the children, wasting all of that time? Yes, it’s a waste of time. I should know, I did the math, and I don’t need a test to prove it.
‪#‎ThisMomGivesHerAnA‬+

Investigative journalists Andrew Perez and David Sirota write that Marco Rubio led a luxurious life, subsidized by corporations.

This is the Florida way.

The good life:

In 2003, as a member of the Florida State House, Rubio created a special fundraising committee, called Floridians for Conservative Leadership, that could accept unlimited contributions. In the span of a year, the committee raised $228,000, with large donations from lobbyists, telecom giant AT&T, health plan manager WellCare and the state’s sugar conglomerates, Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar. Not all of the contributors were disclosed, and some are listed simply as gold or silver memberships.

By mid-2004, the group had spent $193,000. More than a third of the committee’s money was spent on meals and travel. Some of those expenditures were made as reimbursements to Rubio and his wife, Jeanette. Other payments appear to be multiple items lumped together as single expenditures — an uncommon arrangement — like a $3,476 expense listed under “Citibank Mastercard” that includes hotel, airfare, meals and gas. Another $71,000 was spent on staff and consultants.

While Rubio was in the legislature in the February of 2004, he created a federal 527 organization with a similar name, called Floridians for Conservative Leadership in Government. Rubio was listed as the group’s president, with his wife as vice president. The committee raised $386,000 by the end of 2004, with donations from Hewlett-Packard, Dosal Tobacco Corporation and private prison company GEO Group, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The federal group spent $316,000 by the end of 2005. The bulk of its spending was on consulting, but the committee also paid Rubio’s relatives roughly $14,000 for items wrongly described as “courier fees,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

A  new definition of conservative.

What if you build it and it collapses? Well, you can always try to “stay the course.”

Or, in the case of Hillsborough County, Florida, you can start all over again and just write off the millions of dollars already spent on a failed teacher evaluation system as a bad debt. Just pay it off and move on.

Valerie Strauss reports that the new superintendent of schools in Hillsborough County (who followed MaryEllen Elia, who was fired, then hired as New York State Commissioner of Education) has decided to drop the Gates-funded teacher evaluation plan. Gates promised $100 million but delivered only $80 million because the approach wasn’t working.

Strauss writes:

Here we go again. Another Bill Gates-funded education reform project, starting with mountains of cash and sky-high promises, is crashing to Earth.

This time it’s the Empowering Effective Teachers, an educator evaluation program in Hillsborough County, Florida, which was developed in 2009 with major financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A total of more than $180 million has been spent on the project since then — with Gates initially promising some $100 million of it — but now, the district, one of the largest in the country, is ending the program.

Why?

Under the system, 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student standardized test scores and the rest by observation from “peer evaluators.” It turned out that costs to maintain the program unexpectedly rose, forcing the district to spend millions of dollars more than it expected to spend. Furthermore, initial support among teachers waned, with teachers saying that they don’t think it accurately evaluated their effectiveness and that they could be too easily fired.

Now the new superintendent of schools in Hillsborough, Jeff Eakins, said in a missive sent to the evaluators and mentors that he is moving to a different evaluation system, according to this story in the Tampa Bay Times. It says:

“Unlike the complex system of evaluations and teacher encouragement that cost more than $100 million to develop and would have cost an estimated $52 million a year to sustain, Hillsborough will likely move to a structure that has the strongest teachers helping others at their schools.”

Eakins said he envisions a new program featuring less judgmental “non-evaluative feedback” from colleagues and more “job-embedded professional development,” which is training undertaken in the classroom during the teacher work day rather than in special sessions requiring time away from school. He said in his letter that these elements were supported by “the latest research.”

This may be the beginning of the end for test-based accountability. It has not worked anywhere, and it has cost the schools of the nation hundreds of millions–or more likely–billions of dollars that would have been better spent on reducing class sizes, promoting desegregation, opening health clinics, and hiring teacher of the arts.

Mark Pafford, House Minority Leader in the Florida legislature, supports parents who tell their children to opt out of standardized testing.

Pafford says that Florida does not have the public education system that the state’s children need. He singles out the overuse of testing as an area where the state has gone wrong. It uses tests not to help people, but to punish them.

Wise man! Pafford for Governor!

Just when I think I have heard the most absurd story possible about charter schools that pillage taxpayers’ dollars, I discover a story like this one (thanks to a reader in Florida).

This is only part of the story:

With roughly 270 students, the new Paramount Charter School in Sunrise has already received $740,000 in taxpayer-funded money and is slated to get about $3 million during the school year.

Despite the infusion of public cash, Paramount — an elementary-level school that, like all charters, is privately owned but publicly funded — is riddled with problems. According to a school board member, it’s already had three principals, lost nearly all of its teachers after the first month due to firings and resignations and has some parents alleging their children aren’t learning there.

The president of the company that owns the school, Jimika Williams Mason, drove away from a Local 10 News camera in her vehicle. It was discovered the listed vice president of the company, Ashley Challenger, is a 22-year-old Nova Southeastern University student who said she was given a spot on the school’s board of directors through the college and had no idea she had even been listed as a corporate vice president of the Advancement of Education in Scholars Corporation.

She said she had met once with Mason but had no idea what was happening at the school and had yet to attend a board meeting.

More findings about the troubled charter school include:

Mason, the president, lists no experience in the education field in the application, instead noting that she spent six years in management at a Miramar company that specializes in unsecured home improvement loans.

Former NFL player and reality TV star Hank Baskett is listed in the application as a “non-voting board member” who will “aid in the Sports and Fitness program.” But Baskett’s agent, Jim Ivler, said Baskett is not affiliated with the school. “They reached out to us more than five years ago interested in establishing a relationship with Hank,” Ivler wrote Local 10. “It never went anywhere and we haven’t heard from them in years.”

The corporate office goes to a building in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, but a manager there told Local 10 the company doesn’t actually rent physical office space, but rather has a “virtual office” where it can receive mail and phone messages.

After promising at least two teachers who spoke to Local 10 on condition of anonymity a salary of $36,000 and full benefits, the school after the first month instructed them that if they wanted to keep their jobs they would have to take a $6,000 pay cut and forego benefits. Both teachers were among those who resigned, while numerous teachers were fired. “I don’t understand how you can give someone a school just based on paper,” said one teacher. “Not only the school, how can you give them the children,” said the other.

A member of the local school board said:

“Everything is a free-for-all basically…And the sad part is we’re going to find this generation of kids, many of them, who are not educated properly in these schools.”

To learn more about this school, read Mercedes Schneider’s description here.

In the previous post, I referred to Din Armstrong of Lee County, Florida, as a hero for his principled stand against Florida’s insane obsession with testing.

Here is more from Don Armstrong:

“Good morning, everyone. Like always, I spend my Sunday, gathering my thoughts and thinking of the upcoming week over a cup of coffee.

“One thought that has crossed my mind this past week is regarding our Constitution. Perhaps this is due to the fact that last week was Constitution Week in the United States. Yet, while listening to our leaders in Tallahassee, as well as many here locally, it seems the Constitution is rarely considered in their talk about parent rights and student rights, specifically with regard to what options and control parents have in schools.

“Specifically, I am referring to our Lee County, FL school district’s stance on parent rights to opt out of testing. In a recent communication from our district, taken from previous board attorney comments, legal advice was provided that although the “14th Amendment provides that parents have the right to control the upbringing of their child, including the education the child receives … the right does not enable the parent to dictate the instruction provided to the student or the assessments administered to the student.” This quote is taken directly from our district directive that further implies the only control a parent has is to choose public or private schools. I can not disagree strongly enough with this statement.

“This misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment infuriates me. Our Constitution is clearly defined and gives specific rights to parents which has been upheld in court precedence. To borrow from Fair Test, a national organization ran by Lee Cty local advocate, Robert Schaeffer, here is a more correct interpretation of the 14th Amendment, with regard to parenting:

“According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children. Furthermore, The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interference is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399).”

“Like the Supreme Court who criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own”, I also suggest our school district reconsider its position on parent rights. Lee County is lucky to have an active community, highly involved in our school system. And, while involvement often leads to greater accountability, it is exactly what we strive for here in Lee County. It is the true definition of local control and I know that is what Lee County residents want. It is certainly the wish of every parent: not just local control over their schools, but especially, local parental control over their children. To expect less of our community is not reasonable.

“So, as I try to always offer solutions, here are a couple. Firstly, I would solve the problem of parent concern by redrafting the district position on parent rights to fully recognize the rights of our local parents, more correctly honoring the 14th Amendment of our Constitution. Let our local parents know we understand their concerns with the overtesting and scripted curriculum. Let our parents know that we appreciate their activism and we know that only through the combined voices of board members, parents, and citizens will we get relief from the overbearing mandates from the state and feds. Local control comes from local voices. Listen to the parents.”

A note from an admirer who sent this letter from Don:

-Don Armstrong, former Lee County School Board Member, well known for being the first board member to opt his own, twin children out of the state FSA exam, creating the momentum to garner the first county wide opt out in the US. While Lee County reversed its decision to opt out of tests, Armstrong and local parents are keeping up the fight.

Bonnie Cunard Margolin in Florida reminds us of the brief rebellion in Lee County, Florida, when the school board voted to opt out of a crushing burden of state tests. One member rescinded her vote and the rebellion was crushed. But the fight goes on, led by Don Armstrong, a hero for children.

Bonnie writes:

As you remember, last Fall, Lee School Board Member, Don Armstrong, stood up in a bold move and opted his twin children out of testing. The entire county followed immediately after, setting off a storm of discussion about testing in Florida. His voice helped many but cost him his re-election here in Lee Cty.

The fight in Lee rages on. Armstrong is a large part of it. In fact, our superintendent, Dr. Nancy Graham (the super who gave us so much resistance during the opt out), just resigned amid sanctions for intimidation and bullying from the US Dept of Ed, Office of Civil Rights.

It stays hot down south here ;) I thought you might be interested in Armstrong’s Sunday letter this week. He mentions BAT and Bob Schaeffer (also a Lee Cty, FL resident). Here is his letter:

Happy Sunday. As always I woke up Sunday morning, drank my coffee, and pondered the issues that we are facing in the Lee County School District. This upcoming week, we have some testing issues that we need to address at Tuesday’s 6 pm Board Meeting. Let’s dive right in and look at the issues, as well as some of the solutions.

Let’s start with a look at the new testing calendar. The Lee County School Board is required to approve the testing calendar by each October. This calendar was placed on last week’s agenda, page 99, for public review. When it became public, the proposed calendar really startled parents and teachers to see that the amount of testing has increased in Lee County this year, despite efforts by the community and our state representatives to reduce testing last spring.

So, why so much concern with this new Lee County testing calendar? Well, let’s see. Starting in the kindergarten, we have ridiculous amounts of testing. Our young kindergarten students must complete 240 minutes of testing (district and state). And, you can follow the testing all the way to high school, with older students facing over 30 hours of state and district tests in one school year.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard that right. 30 HOURS of testing in one school year. Yes, and up to 240 minutes of testing in kindergarten, alone. WOW. Kindergarten testing – and, I don’t mean Fun Friday Spelling Tests. I mean, 240 minutes of grueling multiple choice tests, some on advanced software platforms, and all with high stakes consequences for our 5 year olds.

Can you imagine? I remember when I was in kindergarten, the only thing we were tested on was on how not to eat the glue and whether or not we could sing the ABC’s. Now, all their time is being spent on multiple choice testing. This insanity is taking away from our children’s’ education. Our children should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully understand that we need some type of testing to measure our students’ education, but this has completely spun out of control. As local resident, Bob Schaeffer, also National Director of FAIRTEST, pleaded at the school board microphone last Tuesday, “Enough is enough.” Lee County residents must stand up and put a stop to this nonsense.

So, let’s look at why there is so much testing. First, you have testing companies which make money. Then, you have lobbyists which make money and, of course, you have politicians who are pushing the testing because those same lobbyists are donating money to their campaigns. It is one big profitable scheme.

You see folks, there is one crucial piece to all that I just said that is missing: Teachers. Yes, you heard me right: TEACHERS. Why aren’t the teachers involved in the choice of tests? Wouldn’t you think that they are the ones who understand the children they teach? Wouldn’t you be confident that a professional, holding a college degree and licensed by state of Florida, would be the best choice to measure the needs of our students? Wouldn’t a teacher know best about where students need to be, academically, and how to get them there?

These questions bring me to the solution, and you know me: I am all about solutions.

I recommend we form a Testing Coalition across the state of Florida. This coalition is to be made up of teachers from Elementary, Middle and High School. Each of these teachers will be appointed by their peers. At the beginning of the year, they will collect data and at the end of the school year, they will work with the other 67 school districts in the state to analyze the data and recommend programs, professional development, and other needs. Yes, we would have to pay the members of the coalition and, yes, it would absolutely be well worth the money spent. The missing element in today’s crazy world of school accountability is the teacher’s voice. Let’s return teachers to the table of decisionmaking.

It’s simple. Their job would be to look at all the tests and decide which ones are working and which ones are not working. Then, they would go to the education committee in Tallahassee with recommendations.

Teachers have a voice and it is time we listened. Our Florida teachers are well educated on their craft and extremely well educated on the failures of recent reform efforts. Think about it, if you put a large group of teachers, especially intelligent, brave teachers willing to stand up to corporate, education reform, like BATS ( BadAss Teachers Association – 55,000 strong )In front of the education committee with recommendations, our leaders would have to be silly not to listen to them. The teacher’s are screaming for a voice. Let’s give it to them.

Remember, kids first not politics. Don’t put a $ sign on our kids’ education.

– Don Armstrong, Parent and Candidate for Lee County School Board

Florida superintendents issued a statement saying that they have lost confidence in the state’s accountability system.

Read it here.

No state has invested so much in technology as Florida. Jeb Bush has made educational technology his signature issue, and his Foundation for Educational Excellence has received generous support from the technology industry. Jeb has encouraged states to require students to take online courses as a graduation requirement.

But the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development reports that use of technology is associated with lower test scores.

This story, from Florida’s NPR state Impact describes 5 things we learned from the OECD report.

This research matters in Florida, writes John O’Connor, because:

“State law requires schools spend half of the instructional budget on digital lessons. School districts have spent the past few years adding Internet bandwidth, improving networks and adding high-tech teaching tools.

“Here’s five things we learned from their study:

“The more technology, the worse the performance on tests — This was the big conclusion. The students who spent the most time using computers or on the Internet in school did worse than expected on international tests.

“The students who ranked in the middle for technology use — what the OECD called moderate use — did the best on international tests.

“That’s pretty sobering for us,” said Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s education efforts. “We all hope that integrating more and more technology in school is going to help us actually to enhance learning environments. Make learning more interactive…but it doesn’t seem to be working like this.”

“The OECD noted that east Asian nations, such as China and Singapore, intentionally limited students use of technology. They also used more traditional techniques teaching math — and have the best-performing students on math exams.

“Basically, you can say the less computers are used in mathematics lessons,” Schleicher said, “the better students perform.”

“The OECD couldn’t pinpoint why students who use technology more didn’t do as well on tests, but suggested a number of explanations: Reading online is a different skill than reading on paper; technology can be a distraction; and schools aren’t making the best use of technology.

“Teachers who use technology get better results — The OECD found that nations that emphasized training teachers to use technology performed better on tests. That meant allowing teachers to connect by video conferencing, observing other teachers, sharing lessons and ideas and just chatting with other teachers.

“Again, it was east Asian nations which encouraged teachers to connect via technology that also had the best-performing students on exams.

“For the most part, Florida policy has focused on connecting students to technology. Plenty of teachers are advocates of high-tech lessons, but the OECD study suggests the state and districts might want to consider emphasizing training for teachers to get the most out of all the new gadgets in classrooms.

“Slow down and get it right — Right now, the way schools are using technology isn’t working for students. Schleicher said schools might want to take a step back, look at what’s working and focus on those areas.

“In Florida, schools are moving ahead with the state’s digital instruction mandate and lawmakers are considering setting aside money in the state budget each year for new technology….

“Digital skills are important — Right now, students aren’t getting good results from technology in schools. But Schleicher said computer and Internet skills are important job skills.

“And other research shows that most workers never use Algebra 2, Caluculus or other high-level math courses in their work — but most jobs require some digital skills. Teaching students how to use computers and the Internet is still time well-spent.”

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