Archives for category: Florida

Ken Previti writes here about the illusion of democracy, the seeming choice between two candidates who are Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. He cites the Governor’s races in Illinois and Florida, where the differences between the candidates are not large, and both owe their fealty to the same monied interests. He might well have included New York, where the incumbent Governor has lined such an imposing campaign chest that it is hard for a challenger to be heard.

Let’s face it. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed a tsunami of campaign cash, and cash fuels campaigns. During one recent Presidential election, some commentator said that a major party candidate needed to raise $1 billion to be competitive. Well, who has that kind of money. The very wealthy. This unbridled campaign spending distorts our politics.

This could change, as it has in the past. We would need a Supreme Court that is concerned about preserving our democracy and not allowing the 1% to own the political system.

If enough people were aware and involved, we could take back our country. Let us all pledge to support candidates early who support the kind of society we want to live in.

When local school board members in Lee County and Palm Beach County began talking about opting the entire district out of state testing, the state warned them they would face punishment if they dared.

“But the district better be prepared to pay the price of skipping the new exam — quite literally. Skip the exam and the state is likely to withhold money.

“The ramifications could be pretty dramatic for a district that wanted to do this,” says Florida Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick. “This is uncharted waters. No districts have done this.”

“Follick added the state could withhold state funds, grants and lottery money. Lawmakers could decide on additional sanctions, he said. Most K-12 public school operations are funded through the state.

“School board members say opting out an entire school district is unlikely.

“I believe in assessment,” Palm Beach school board member Karen Brill said last week. “I believe in testing that’s used for measurement, not punishment. I believe that we as a district need to research opting out from the new Florida Standard Assessments.

“Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward.”

Two more charter schools closed their doors without warning, sending students and parents in search of a new school. This continues a pattern documented by reporters Karen Yi and Amy Shipley in a major investigative story in June.

“Two charter schools on Tuesday shut down just two weeks into their first school year, the latest in an unprecedented string of overnight closures among South Florida charter schools.

“The shuttering of the Magnolia schools sent about 200 students scrambling to find new elementary and middle schools. The schools posted a letter on their website Monday, saying they had failed to secure a temporary facility after construction delays at their permanent site. The schools, which received nearly $400,000 in taxpayer dollars, had planned to operate in Sunrise….”

“The schools, Magnolia Academy for the Arts and Magnolia Academy for the Arts and Technology, are the latest to abruptly close at the beginning of this school year. Another charter school in Broward and two others in Palm Beach County ceased operations by the end of their first day of school.

“Never before have so many first-year charter schools closed so quickly after opening in South Florida. Ten charter schools — six in Broward and four in Palm Beach County — have closed within two months of opening since 2012.

“The quick closures illustrate the danger of handing taxpayer dollars to charter schools operators without requiring that they undergo background checks, produce evidence of financial backing or secure buildings well in advance of their openings. A Sun Sentinel investigation in June found that virtually anyone who can adequately fill out a lengthy application can open or run a charter school. These schools are publicly funded but privately run.”

Not to worry. The charter operators plan to open more charters next year:

“Despite the closures, the schools’ management company plans to continue opening more schools.

“Newpoint Education Partners, which had a management contract with the Magnolia schools, is listed on applications for two new charter schools in Palm Beach County and one in Broward. If approved, the schools would open next year.”

This is all part of “the Florida Miracle.” Here today, gone tomorrow. The charter schools and the money.

The Tampa Bay Times published an editorial saying that the U.S. Department was “out of line” for threatening to yank Florida’s NCLB waiver.

Duncan took away Washington State’s waiver because the legislature refused to tie teacher evaluations to student test score. So now, schools across the state must send home letters saying that their child attends a “failing” school because it had not achieved 100% proficiency on tests of reading and math.

Duncan took away Oklahoma’s waiver because the Legislature repealed the state’s participation in the Common Core, and the governor signed the law.

What did Florida do to offend the U.S. Department of Education?

“Duncan’s staff has put Florida on notice that the state is at risk of violating NCLB standards that require all children to be counted equally in accountability formulas. Earlier this year, with the support of educators and advocates, the Legislature agreed to give non-English-speaking students two years in a U.S. school before including their standardized test scores in school grading formulas. The change was an acknowledgement of the huge learning curve such children face and that schools should not be penalized if those students can’t read, comprehend and write English at grade level within a year.

“Yet to the federal bureaucrats enforcing the unpopular NCLB law, such common sense doesn’t matter. They have given Florida a year to make changes or risk losing its NCLB waiver, which has allowed the state to substitute its own accountability efforts for some of the most unworkable federal mandates. Those include the idealistic but unreasonable federal standard for 2014 that each child at a school must be working at grade level for the school not to be deemed “failing.”

Thus, if Florida wants to keep its waiver, the Florida legislature must change the law so that English learners are allowed only one year to master English ad be tested in English.

The editorial concludes:

“Ultimately, the continued flaws in NCLB are Congress’ fault, because it has failed repeatedly to adopt reforms. But the last thing federal enforcers should be doing is punishing a state for embracing a commonsense reform. Education Secretary Duncan needs to find a better solution.”

Last week, the Lee County, Florida, school board voted 3-2 to opt out of state testing. Over the past few days, one member of the three-vote majority declared that she wanted to change her vote. A meeting was called for 8:30 a.m. This morning, a time that was sure to be inconvenient for parents and teachers.

A message to me from Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest, who lives in Lee County:

“As expected, given the notion that one member had reversed her position, the Lee County School Board just voted 3-2 to override its previous decision. However, four of the five board members spoke out against “test misuse and overuse” as well as “the punitive use of standardized exams.” The two Board members who opposed the original motion (allegedly due to the lack of an implementation plan) pledged to take their concerns to a meeting of the Florida School Boards Association, which is holding a statewide conference beginning tonight, and one threatened a lawsuit against unfunded state testing mandates. After the vote, several Board members said that there would be a public workshop next week to discuss how to move forward to reduce testing overkill, and two members pledged that they would make implementation motions at the Tuesday night, September 9 regular Board meeting.

“The hundreds of parents, teaches, students and taxpayers who packed the room viewed the decision as a temporary tactical setback, not a long-term defeat, for the assessment reform movement.”

Can you believe this?

Out of the 180-day academic year, Miami-Dade County schools will administer standardized tests on every day but eight.”

“Though not every student will take every test, the number and consequences of testing are facing a growing backlash from parents, teachers and even some district officials…..

The Miami Dade School Board on Wednesday will approve its assessment schedule for the next school year — a calendar with dozens of different exams that start at preschool and even eat into summer vacation….”

““Florida has gone test-crazy. Whatever you may think about the value of some standardized testing, it’s clear we have gone way overboard. And the reaction that we’re seeing . . . is people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, an organization that opposes what it sees as the misuse of standardized tests….”

“Miami-Dade’s testing calendar includes 18 exams required exclusively by the state, two by the federal government and five by the district. An additional 21 assessments are mandatory under a mix of district, state and federal guidelines, or are standard for getting into college — or for getting credit for advanced-curriculum studies. Those are in addition to any classroom tests an individual teacher may give.

Miami-Dade’s chief academic officer acknowledged the calendar can look alarming at first glance, but highlighted that no single student sits for every exam listed. For example, a high school senior won’t take the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, just as a kindergartener won’t take the Advanced Placement exams for college credit.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/01/4322452/in-miami-dade-schools-testing.html#storylink=cpy

Ken Previti explains Governor Rick Scott’s Dilemma: he wants to denounce Obama and disassociate from the Common Core, but he wants to keep everything about the Common Core because his mento Jeb Bush loves it.

So what does he do? He rebrands Common Core and calls it something else. But everything remains “aligned” with Common Core.

To avoid offending my sensibilities, Ken referred to “poo-poo” rather than use that familiar four-letter word, which is derived from Old English and Middle English.

The Lee County school board will meet tomorrow at 8:30 am, a time that will exclude many parents, students, and educators. Public meetings should be scheduled when the public is not at work or in class.

This letter was written by a parent and teacher who can’t attend the meeting because she will be working. It is a plea to the board not to back down.

Regarding Lee County School Board decision to opt out of high stakes, state tests:

I am the parent of a fifth grader in Lee County. I am also an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for the district.

During public comments at the Wednesday night’s Lee County School Board Meeting, a speaker said, “Seize the day.” I agree.

We have waited long for this day. We have fought long and hard to end the over testing of our kids. This was not a rushed decision. Parents from every walk of life, every political group, have been going to school board meetings for years.

Two years ago, Lee County School Board was one of the first in the nation to sign onto a resolution opposing high stakes testing. Mrs. Dozier, among others, carried the resolution to our state school board and fought for its passing. She was successful and we thank her. Our parent groups, locally and statewide, have tried with our representatives and senators. We have lobbied, written emails, called, tweeted, even created meme … with no response.

I myself traveled to the Network for Public Education National Conference. I was there when Diane Ravitch called for congressional hearings. We have tried. But, our leaders in Tallahassee and DC. refuse to listen.

So now it is our time to refuse. It is our obligation as parents and caretakers to refuse these toxic tests. The is no more time to wait. It is time to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Lee County School Board and Superintendent Graham, we are here to support you as you do what is right for our children. We are here to say we need you. You are our hard hitters. We elected you. You are our last line of defense in defending our children and it is your moral imperative to do so.

You made the decision to opt us out of state high stakes assessments. That was the right choice. Now, let’s get proactive in creating a program of portfolio assessments. Let’s outline the possibilities of using concordant scores.

Let’s give our Lee County families and employees a sense of hope not gloom. The whole world is watching. Here is your chance to be world class.

After all, it is what the parents want. Ask them, most will tell you they were planning to opt out anyway. Why make it be our parents and our children who have to take a stand. Why force an opting out child to sit, humiliated, through a five hour test, day after day, during test month? Let’s stand up for them.

So, no more waiting, please. No more waffling back and forth wondering. No more hoping someone else will fix this. Let’s find a way. No amount of money is worth this. Our children are not numbers and education is not about property values. This is not about ‘Flipping Lee’… This is about the kids. Focus on our kids.

Bonnie Cunard Margolin, parent & teacher, Wear Red for Ed

Mark J. Castellano, president of the Lee County Teachers Association, explains in this post that the Lee County school board defended a love of learning when it took a stand against the testing frenzy that has engulfed our schools.

He writes:

“Our state and our nation have become obsessed with standardized testing of students in public schools. Obsessed to the point it has changed what our public schools should be: strongholds of learning.

“Schools are places where children are meant to learn that reading, writing, math, science, music, art, and all fields of study are valued. These are the roads they can safely travel to achieve what they dream of becoming, of doing. They should be able to discover the outlet that will allow them to become more than “productive citizens,” but people with a passion, and contributors to our communities, our nation, and our world.

“Yet, over the past 15 years, a dangerous hijacking of public education has taken place. Some of the catchphrases used to justify this are “accountability,” “failing schools,” “school choice,” “fire the ‘bad teachers’,” “the teachers unions,” ad nauseum. In reality, these have all misleadingly been used to promote one ultimate agenda: privatization of public education.

“The most egregious of the tactics that has been used is the testing mania crammed down the throats of public schools, and thus, public school students. Teachers are critical of this mania because it provides minimal to no useful feedback regarding the teaching and learning in their classes. Testing is supposed to be a diagnostic exercise — not an evaluation of the teacher, but an evaluation of what a student has learned. It is meant to be used by the teacher to determine strengths and deficiencies in a student’s understanding. It is to be a guide to what the teacher can and must do to help each student grasp the knowledge they need in whatever subject is taught. Educationally, testing was never meant to be a hammer held over the heads of students, teachers, and school districts.

“Yet, in regards to the consequences of what may happen if we dare to refuse the continued abusive misuse of testing, they have not clearly identified what the nail will be. I can only assume they feel that no one would dare challenge their dictates, so there was no need to be specific with the consequences. All we know is that if a school district or board is unwilling to comply with laws mandating the implementation of high stakes testing, the State Board of Education has the authority to withhold funding for that district. Ah, that’s the nail! No funding, no ability to operate a school system. If this occurred they would undoubtedly use it as an excuse to cry for further privatization….

“The Lee County School Board has taken the first real public stance by voting to “opt out” of the mandatory testing our Legislature requires. Other school boards around the state are now looking towards Lee County and beginning the conversation in their district. If more of them stand up and declare “ENOUGH!”, maybe our legislators and governor will realize that public schools should be permitted to fulfill their true purpose: give our children the gift of a love of learning, a desire for knowledge, and a purpose for offering their skills, whatever those may be, to better their lives and our world.

“The school board has chosen to take this strong stand and we applaud their efforts. We will proceed cautiously to ensure that teachers and students are not harmed, but we are prepared to tell our legislators and governor, “You WILL NOT punish our students and our education professionals to further YOUR agenda! You WILL adequately fund our schools, as our state’s constitution demands of you! You WILL stop the abusive misuse of high-stakes testing!”

If teachers had turned out to vote–teacher Justin Katz would have been in the runoff for the Palm Beach County school board. He lost by 54 votes of 15,400 votes cast.

Teacher Joshua Katz lost in Orange County by 67 votes out of 14,500 cast.

The moral of the story: if you want change, get out and vote!

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