Archives for category: Florida

This discussion between MaryEllen Elia, then superintendent of the Hillsborough County school system, and Vicky Phillips, the president of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, took place a year ago. Robert Trigaux, business writer for  the Tampa Bay Times, sat down with the two to check on the progress of the Gates Foundation’s investment of $100 million in the Hillsborough County schools.


Trigaux writes:


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may not view our country’s stressed public schools as full of Neanderthal teachers trying to bash knowledge into bored, thick-skulled students. Yet the foundation’s leaders do consider most U.S. schools terribly outdated, technologically deficient and bureaucratic morale-suckers in need of overhaul.


That’s why the foundation decided to try to help.


Just a quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college. That statistic should terrify this country, given the aggressive rise of economic competition and rapidly improving education elsewhere in the world. Left unchecked, we are slipping in the global race to sustain a quality workforce.


So, as Brian Williams once memorably said on the NBC program “Education Nation,” “Bill Gates is  paying for this program, and we are using his facts.” (Slight paraphrase.)


We know what the Gates Foundation wants: It wants a workforce that is prepared to compete with workers in other nations. Leave aside for the moment whether we are losing jobs because of better-educated competitors or because American workers expect to be paid more than workers in China and Bangladesh; businesses outsource where the costs are lowest. And leave aside as unproven the claim that only a “quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college.” Some, like President Obama, say that American workers are the most productive in the world. But leave that aside too. Ask yourself how the United States got to be the most powerful nation in the world if our citizenry is as hapless and poorly educated as Bill Gates assumes.


Here is the stated goal of the Gates’ $100 million: “The goal: to improve student achievement by rethinking how best to support and motivate teachers to elevate their game during the adoption of the Common Core curriculum and beyond.” Summarize as: Raise test scores and implement the Common Core.


Elia has lasted in her job longer than most superintendents, nine years when the interview was taped in 2014 (ten years when she was fired in 2015):


Nine years running the same school system is commendable. Especially in Florida where public schools rarely receive adequate attention or funding. Florida spends roughly half per pupil compared to New York or Connecticut. And Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation.


Let’s repeat that line: Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation. That includes Hillsborough County.


What has the Gates grant done? It has changed the way the district evaluates and compensates teachers (presumably with merit pay for higher test scores, though it is not clear in this interview).


And this is a new Gates-funded feature:


A cadre of mentors, one for every 15 teachers, has slowed the turnover of young teachers leaving the profession. And Hillsborough is ahead of many districts in making teacher evaluations more meaningful. Principals observe teachers and give more concrete feedback. And teachers get peer reviews, which can be sticky at times but is considered quality input. All of that means Hillsborough has not had to follow the state’s own strict evaluation guidelines. The foundation also wants to sharply improve the role technology plays in the classroom by providing more easily accessible curriculum support to teachers and better ways to keep students engaged in their work.


So the strategy is to train and evaluate teachers, to give bonuses to some, but not to mess with the fact that teachers are “among the poorest  paid in the nation.” Not our problem.


What are the results so far? Not clear but there is always the future.


Bottom line? Both Elia and Phillips admit it has been a struggle at times but seem satisfied with progress that has outpaced other large Florida school districts.


The trick is most of what has occurred so far is procedural, putting systems in place to improve teaching and, in turn, future student achievement. Measuring that achievement in a meaningful way has yet to happen. Hillsborough hopes it can deliver improved results soon.


Another tough challenge is education’s biggest oxymoron: teacher respect. “One thing we are dismayed about is how we have made teachers feel over the last 15 years,” Phillips said. “We shamed and blamed them. It was unconscionable. We do not want them to feel that way.”


Phillips says celebrating good teachers is part of the recovery plan. So is listening to them.


The Gates Foundation listening to teachers? Now that is an innovative idea!


Apparently the other two districts–Memphis and Pittsburgh–have not made much progress. That seems to be the implication of this exchange:


Elia and Phillips insist big strides are still to come in the remaining three years of the partnership. And even when the seven years are up, Phillips says the foundation and Hillsborough will stay in close touch. There will still be much to learn.


For the Gates Foundation, it has invested heavily in Hillsborough schools. It certainly is hopeful of a return on those funds, one measured by a successful outcome of better student achievement that it can show off to other U.S. school systems.


Similar Gates Foundation grant commitments to school districts in Memphis and Pittsburgh have suffered slower progress, which may make Hillsborough a beacon of best practices.


Hillsborough County has two years left to go in its seven-year grant. Superintendent Elia has been fired but landed the prestigious job as state education commissioner in New York. What ideas will she bring with her from Florida?











The state superintendent of Florida tweeted some happy talk, but there was a grammatical error. It’s easy to make a typo when tweeting or blogging; I have done it many times myself, so I don’t criticize those who make innocent mistakes.

However, Pam Stewart’s tweet opened the floodgates:

“Stewart: I wake up with one goal- making sure every single students is able to receive a high quality education for future success. 8:30 AM – 21 May 2015″ Read the responses:

Uh-oh. Florida’s end-of-course exams suspended by hackers.

“Interruptions in Florida’s end-of-course biology, civics and U.S. history exams last week came courtesy of outside hackers, a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman told the Gradebook on Monday.

“It was an attempt by an outside party to somehow shut down the system,” spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said. “Pearson figured out what was going on and put a stop to it.”

“The state told schools to delay testing during the disruption, during which students could not log in to take their exams. The system was back up within about two hours.

“This event marked the second time this spring that Florida’s computerized testing fell victim to a denial of service attack. American Institutes for Research servers also were brought down in March, during the administration of Florida Standards Assessments.”

Last night, I watched a Nova program on PBS called “The Rise of the Hackers.” One of the most sophisticated hacks was the work of teenagers.

The only truly secure test is the one written and graded by the classroom teacher. Online testing is not secure, does not reflect what was taught, and generates profits that are extracted from instruction. They are so yesterday.

This comment came from a teacher in Florida:

“Much as I feel for our NY colleagues, gaze south and see where it can all end up as we demonize the profession further. FL is an “annual contract” state.

“Every year I receive a “reminder” that I am an annual contract employee and will be “considered” for renewal of that contract by the district. The union is run by old contract “Continuing Contract” teachers pending traditional retirement and promotion, but the only ones free to speak under any hope of retaining employment. State law dictates that we cannot be provided anything but an annual contract. The district can then terminate, my word, without cause by merely not renewing. No reason is required for not renewing.

“Teaching is becoming a haven for those too foolish to seek employment elsewhere, dedicated, or those incapable of employment elsewhere, inept. It’s a terrifying mix.

“For FL:”

Michael Klonsky says, “I am not anti-charter, but I am anti-this.”

What is “this”? Frauds, empty promises, avoidance of accountability and transparency. For this with eyes to see, the charter movement has turned into the charter industry. It is fueled by greed and playoffs to politicians.

Klonsky’s exemplar is the Mavericks charter chain led by non-educator Frank Biden, the Vice-President’s brother. One of its principals was arrested for allegedly sharing drugs and sex in a car with a student.

But that’s not all.

“Back in 2011, when Krista Morton was the principal at Richard Millburn Academy — a charter school for dropout students in Manatee County — district officials investigated the school for graduating students who did not meet requirements, having grade-change irregularities and giving students puzzles and word searches instead of more rigorous work. It is not known whether Morton resigned or was fired. The school shut its doors later that year.”

“Why did Frank Biden choose her to become a Mavericks principal? We may never know. But this we do know. Mavericks have been under scrutiny for years. Back in October, the Sun-Sentinel reported widespread financial mismanagement within the chain. It said that Biden had launched the network of charter schools more than five years ago, “drumming up publicity with prominent pitchmen and pledging to turn dropouts into graduates”.

“Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. At least three of the Mavericks schools have received $250,000 federal grants through the state, state documents show. They’ve been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

• Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials.

“This latest incident also brings up the question of whether or not charter schools run by private networks are truly public schools.”

Will anyone be held accountable? Don’t count on it.

The Wall Street Journal has an informative article about the $2.2 million that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence paid to a top Republican political consultant to publicize the “success” of the Florida model of education reform: school grades, charters, and high-stakes testing, and also revealed who underwrites Bush’s FEE.

The foundation’s Learn More, Go Further campaign in 2013 and 2014 included a website and other online media, television and radio ads, and live events in Florida to promote the state’s educational system.

“Today, more parents and teachers know that Florida is a top-10 state for improvement in education, thanks to the reforms implemented and hard work by teachers and students over the last 15 years,” said Jaryn Emhof, a foundation spokeswoman.

Under Mr. Bush’s A-plus plan, schools receive annual grades based on their test scores in an effort to hold educators responsible for student achievement. The Learn More, Go Further ads touted rising graduation rates, increased numbers of students taking advanced courses, and rising achievement among Hispanic and African-American students. Mr. Bush was not mentioned in the ads.

Another spot trumpeted Florida’s higher academic standards, which are modeled after the Common Core standards adopted by most states. Because the Obama administration awarded financial incentives to states that adopted Common Core, some conservatives view the standards as government overreach, making Mr. Bush’s support a potential liability in his expected 2016 campaign…

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has served as chairwoman of the foundation since January, when Mr. Bush resigned to focus on exploring a potential campaign. Top donors to the foundation include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, GE Foundation, and News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.

The foundation reported $11.4 million in revenue for 2013, up from $10 million the previous year. Expenses rose to $10.4 million from $5.9 million the previous year because of increases in staff, outside contracts and educational research and grants provided to states. The foundation has expanded from working with three states in 2008 to 43 states in 2013 on issues including digital learning, school grades, literacy, teacher training and charter schools.

You can be sure nothing was said in the public relations campaign about the fact that Alabama–with none of Jeb’s reforms–has a higher graduation rate than Florida. Nor will voters hear about Florida’s class size reduction act, imposed by referendum. Or Bush’s third grade retention policy, which holds back low-scoring third graders and boosts fourth-grade reading scores.

Kathleen Oropeza leads a statewide parent group in Florida called “Fund Education Now,” which advocates on behalf of public education. She sends the following report of the latest news from the state legislature, which is very charter-friendly. The head of the house education appropriations committee is related to the family that owns the Academica charter chain, one of the wealthiest charter chains in the state. (It is under federal investigation for conflicts of interest.) According to the Miami Herald, Academica has cleverly accumulated a real estate empire worth more than $115 million through its charter acquisitions. To really understand this charter miracle story, read Jersey Jazzman’s analysis.


Digital learning is, of course, one of the priorities of Jeb Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Educational Excellence, which is funded by tech corporations (Jeb stepped down as leader of FEE when he announced for the presidency and was replaced by education expert Condoleeza Rice).


For the definitive guide to Florida’s politically active charter schools, see this report by the Florida League of Women Voters, especially pp. 13-14, which describes conflicts of interest.


Oropeza writes:
Charter Expansion/Open Enrollment/Transfers millage dollars to charters

HB 7037/SB 1552/SB 1448/HB 1145 School Choice/Charter Expansion

The massive HB 7037 passed out of the House. It’s been sitting in Senate messages and there’s talk of pulling it back to the house to add amendments. It builds on the efforts of previous sessions to accelerate the expansion of charters, regardless of need through funding a pseudo-marketing/oversight arm, at Florida State University called the Florida Charter School Innovation Institute. It erodes the power of local school boards by allowing “open enrollment” across district lines, allows students to transfer to another classroom based on concerns about the teacher, creates a “charter school district” giving principals increased autonomy from local district rule, allows unrestricted replication of high performing charters in high-need areas. Removes eligibility requirements for enrollment in public K-12 virtual education and allows more charter school systems to act as a Local Education Agency for purposes of administering Federal funding.
In addition, this bill requires districts to give charter school developers a portion of the money raised through millage levies to fund district capital school improvements and new construction. Charters received $100 M and $50M over the past two years via PECO. The issue is two-fold: PECO dollars must be allocated each year to charters by the legislature and so far this has not happened in 2015. Second, Voter-approved millage increases are the sole source of capital funding for district schools. HB 7037 states that charter chains must be given a percentage of local tax dollars to pay for & improve buildings the public may never own.
This vastly increases the money sent to Charter chains to purchase real estate and develop schools. It represents approximately $137 million dollars. If the legislature does not designate PECO to charters this year or in future years, districts will have to pay millions of dollars that they cannot possibly afford in locally raised tax dollars to support unfettered charter school growth.



Digital Learning

SB 1264 – Digital Classrooms by Legg is scheduled for its last committee stop on 4.21.15. This bill is significant because the technology was not addressed in the testing bill/HB 7069. This bill establishes requirements for digital classroom technology infrastructure planning by the Agency for State Technology or a contracted organization; requires the Office of Technology and Information Services of the Department of Education to consult with the Agency for State Technology in developing the 5-year strategic plan for Florida digital classrooms; specifies conditions for a school district to maintain eligibility for Florida digital classrooms allocation funds.



Allocates $10 million to be spent by the Agency for State Technology (AST) on a vendor of their choice. Look for amendments to this bill to address the technology funding deleted from the testing bill.



HB 7069 was signed into law by Gov. Scott this week. The bill address some issues raised by districts, teachers and parents, which is good. The fact remains that the law does not go far enough. Most of Florida’s standardized tests and the rules used to punish students, teachers and schools remain intact. That said, public education advocates have made an impact regarding Florida standardized testing and HB 7060 reflects that. Read a full description of what this bill does and does not do here.

Watch as Luke Flynt tells what is wrong with his VAM score. It makes no sense.

Take 4 minutes and listen to Luke tell his story about the insanity of VAM scores.

The computer predicts what his students’ test score should be. In some cases, the computer prediction was higher than a perfect score. Most of the scores that counted against Luke were those of students who answered more than 90% of the questions correctly.

This is madness.

Tell his story.

A post yesterday reported that Florida is considering eliminating district lines so that students may choose to attend any public school, so long as there is space available and parents provide transportation. Michigan has such a system, and districts spend millions of dollars advertising to “poach” students from other districts because every new student means additional money.


As reader Chiara points out, Ohio has the same system, and it has intensified racial and economic segregation.


Open enrollment, which allows children to transfer from one school district to another, leads to widespread racial segregation and concentrates poverty in many of Ohio’s urban school districts, including Cleveland and Akron.
That’s one finding of a Beacon Journal study of more than 8,000 Ohio students who left city schools last year for an education in wealthier suburban communities.
The majority of students who participated in Ohio’s oldest school choice program are disproportionately white and middle class. Students attending the schools they left, however, are nearly twice as likely to be minority and seven times more likely to be poor.
The program gives parents the option to enroll children in nearby school districts without changing their home address. By doing so, parents must find their own transportation — an act that in itself narrows who is able to make the change.


Where is the NAACP, the Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU? If a state adopts a policy that demonstrably promotes segregation, shouldn’t someone sue them for knowingly enacting a program to segregate children by race and income?

A Florida legislator has proposed letting any child transfer to any public school in the state, as long as there is space available and their parents transport them. This smacks of an ALEC-style attack on communities and local control. This is not about improving education but satisfying choice ideologues. ALEC values free-market fundamentalism over community and local control. Will it improve education? No, but who cares?

The article appeared in the Florida Sun-Sentinel. It is behind a pay wall.

It says:

School choices could expand
Under plan, parents have option to send children to schools all over state

By Scott Travis Staff writer

Parents unhappy with their child’s local school soon could have a much wider range of new choices under a proposal that drops district boundary requirements.

The state Legislature is considering a bill that would allow students to attend any public school in the state that has space, as long as families are willing to provide their own transportation.

That could mean parents could leave D-rated Deerfield Park in Broward County and head four miles north to A-rated Addison Mizner Elementary in Boca Raton, which is part of the Palm Beach County School District.

Miami-Dade parents could move their children from D-rated Barbara Hawkins Elementary in Miami Gardens to A-rated Dolphin Bay Elementary in Miramar.

Students even could attend a school several counties away, as long as their parents can get them there.

“The money would follow the child,” said bill sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. “This could be for a parent who works in a different county from where they live and wants to have their child close to them. Or if a parent thinks another school district has the best learning environment for their child.”

The bill, which passed the Senate Education Committee Thursday, would apply to public schools below 95 percent capacity. That’s most traditional schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties, which have been losing students in recent years to charter schools. Parents also could choose charter schools in other counties if there is room.

About 23 states have similar policies, according to the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based policy group. In some cases they are limited to students who are low-income or are attending failing schools.

For Broward County, this would be an expansion of an existing school-choice policy. The district allows parents to send their children to any underenrolled public school within the county. Students who are attending a school outside their boundary can get busing only if it’s one of the district’s designated magnet or choice programs, such as the Nova schools and Pompano Beach High.

Sharon Aron Baron takes advantage of that policy. She lives in Tamarac but drives 20 miles each way to Parkland to drop off and pick up her children at Park Trails Elementary and Stoneman Douglas High. While she probably wouldn’t consider a school in another county, she supports the proposal.

“The students get the money from the state, so the state’s covering their education. I don’t see anything wrong with it,” she said. “But I think the amount of people who would take advantage of it would be very slim.”

Palm Beach County School Board member Debra Robinson said she would be interested in the option as a parent and grandparent. But as a school official, she has concerns, including whether poor children would benefit without busing. “I wonder if we’re just adding more opportunity to a limited few, while pretending these are opportunities available for all,” she said.

Andrew Ladanowski, a Coral Springs parent who advocates for school choice, agrees that could create a dilemma. But he said providing transportation wouldn’t be a good option either.

“The more money we spend transporting students around town, the less money have that gets into the classroom,” he said.   or


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