Archives for category: Florida

I posted earlier today about a Florida newspaper editor who changed his mind after reading my book, talking to a teacher about Common Core, and learning about the kindergarten teacher who refused to give her children the state test.

This is a letter from Kim Cook, the teacher who spoke to Nathan Crabbe, the editor of the Gainesville Sun, about Common Core:

“I’m from Gainesville, and I am the teacher that sat down with Mr. Crabbe to discuss Common Core and school “reform.” Two out of our three elected officials are in Jeb Bush’s back pocket and won’t engage in meaningful dialog regarding public education. A colleague and I visited our state senator last April. He was rude and condescending and more interested in the lobbyists in his office than he was in speaking to two constituents. Trying to get through to him and one of our representatives is like talking to a brick wall.

There is one representative for my district who is pro-public education, and he does an amazing job of advocating for it; however, he has many other issues on his plate. As Mr. Crabbe said (and I’m paraphrasing), teachers’ voices resonate, so I will continue to speak out.”

This is a very encouraging editorial that appeared in the Gainesville (Florida) Sun.


A “secret Santa” sent a copy of “Reign of Error” to Nathan Crabbe, the editorial page editor. He says he had been going along with the increase in standardized testing and the expansion of charter schools and vouchers, but then he took another look. He noticed the protest of kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles, who refused to give her students a standardized test. He paid attention when Sue Legg of the League of Women Voters explained the LWV report on the lack of accountability of unregulated charter schools. He had a cup of coffee with a local elementary school teacher who showed him why she objects to the Common Core.


Not many people in public life listen with an open mind and weigh the evidence. Nathan Crabbe is listening, watching, and thinking. All rare activities these days, practiced only by the best of people.

NBC in Miami noticed that a large number of charter schools were opening and closing. Forty-nine charter schools have closed in South Florida in the past five years, with more than 40% owing money to the state. The children who enrolled in these schools were dropped with little notice and had to scramble to find a new school.

In Broward County alone, 12 charters have closed, owing $1 million in taxpayer funds unaccounted for.

Florida has more than 600 charter schools. 246 have closed in the last five years. They come, they go, the kids are left behind.

The Sun-Sentinel published an editorial calling on Florida’s courts to review the state’s rapidly growing voucher program, which now enrolls 69,000 students. Despite the fact that the state constitution bans spending public funds on religious schools, either “directly or indirectly,” most of the state’s voucher students attend religious schools. In 2012, the voters of Florida defeated a constitutional amendment that would have deleted the language banning the funding of religious schools. The vote was not close: the proposal failed by a margin of 58-42.


The voucher program started in 2002-03 with a limit of $50 million, targeting poor students. This year, the limit on the voucher program is $358 million. With a 25% increase allowed every year, the program may expend $904 million by 2018-19. It is no longer limited to poor students, but is available to families near the state’s median income of $62,000 for a family of four.


So how in the world is it legal or constitutional to pay for students to attend religious schools in a state explicitly prohibits expending public money for religious schools?


The editorial says:


The lawsuit rests on two points. The Florida Constitution bans the spending of public money “directly or indirectly” on religious schools. Diversion of corporate taxes owed to the state through a nonprofit called Step Up for Students and given to parents as vouchers, the plaintiffs argue, does not get around the constitutional ban.


Also, the Constitution requires that the state provide a “uniform” system of public schools. Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall calls the voucher program a “parallel” system.” Voucher schools don’t have to give the FCAT or any of the other punitive tests that have so angered parents across the state. Voucher schools must give only a national achievement test.


John Kirtley, chairman of “Step Up for Students,” which is authorized to administer the voucher program, actively lobbies for voucher expansion (Step Up for Students receives many millions from the legislature for its role). And its leaders in turn give money to legislators to protect and expand the program.


The Sun-Sentinel writes:


Kirtley and his wife gave roughly $524,000 in the last election cycle, almost all of it to Republicans. Kirtley also is chairman of the Florida Federation for Children, which successfully targeted voucher critics with roughly $1.3 million in campaign contributions.


Voucher supporters portray critics as hostile to school choice for minorities. Whatever compelling anecdotes supporters use, however, there is no compelling evidence the program is succeeding. Example: If minorities are benefiting, why do black students score 20 points lower than white students on those tests?


No state has a bigger voucher system. Last year, Florida spent $286 million on just 2.7 percent of all students. Iowa spent $13.5 million on 2.6 percent of its students.


Florida is on the way to spending $1 billion on a program with questionable accountability that could be the start of an attempt to privatize public education.


Legal review of the voucher program is long overdue.

Roman Shtrakhman, a teacher of Advanced Placement history and International Baccalaureate classes in Florida, sent the following letter to members of the Broward County school board, the superintendent, and journalists across the state. Can a high school teacher be as effective teaching six classes as five. This teacher says no.



Dear colleagues, it has come to my attention that the School Board of Broward County and Superintendent Runcie are developing a Task Force to address High School teacher scheduling issues, with an emphasis on the 6th class they have all been made to teach. Please allow me to share my observations.


We all understand that this decision is essentially is a funding issue. When the voters of Florida overwhelmingly passed a Constitutional Amendment in 2002 to keep class sizes low they did not anticipate that the Legislature would refuse to fund it, thereby negating its very purpose. And they certainly didn’t expect that the State would then have the gall to fine Districts for not having the money to follow it.


I fear, however, that what was initially conceived as a temporary budgetary measure might very well become permanent. Laws have a habit of doing just that. This would be very problematic. For those of us who approach our classes with academic enthusiasm, demanding intellectual and philosophical interaction, asking us to do this 6 times a day is, I’m afraid, unworkable. You see, lowering class time from 55 minutes to 50 while adding an additional class is not an equal distribution of responsibility. The 5 minutes are essentially negligible. After all, each incoming class deserves a new introduction, a new explanation, and all the energy the teacher can muster. It is, as we all know, what the students deserve. But throwing on a 6th class adds a very serious weight to the situation, and turns the school day into an assembly line of sorts. Please believe me that there is a huge difference between 5 and 6 classes per day. It is, in fact, the difference between quality and quantity in an academic sense.


I teach several Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes every year. That means that I have between 75-100 students that are taking college level classes. They are preparing to take very difficult tests that will give them college credit and save them money in college costs. I take my AP and IB classes very seriously.


These students have a right to the very best I have to give them. They deserve efficient lectures, lively in-class discussions, and a meticulous approach to the subject matter. Yet asking me to do this for now a 6th time every day dilutes the situation. I am not a machine, after all. What will wind up happening is that mediocre teachers will simply start handing out worksheets, and very good teachers will work themselves to death because they don’t know any other way of teaching but to give it their all.


This situation should certainly be addressed and if at all possible, reversed. Again, please believe me when I tell you that there is a huge difference between teaching 5 and 6 classes per day. It is, in point of emphasis, the difference between a comprehensive and holistic approach to academia, and simply putting a body in front of the kids. Some schools are even asking teachers to teach a 7th. This cannot happen. Although funding issues are of great concern, we must do everything in our power to maintain scholastic legitimacy. This country cannot afford to have an uneducated population. We have seen that this too has consequences.



Roman Shtrakhman
National Board Certified
Advanced Placement
and International Baccalaureate
History Teacher
Plantation High School

Colleen Wood of 50thNoMore in Florida sent me this message. Colleen is a member of the board of directors of the Network for Public Education:

Diane – I wanted to share this with you:

This effort was started by Ray Seaman, a constant supporter of public education and a progressive leader in Florida, and is proof of what local communities can accomplish when public school supporters work together across party lines.

Marion County is extremely conservative, but the grassroots leaders have been building support for public education over the last 6 years or so. It has paid off. This referendum will bring 1 mil of funding ($14 – $16 million) to their schools and it was the motion to put it on this November’s ballot passed unanimously by the School Board and the all-Republican County Commission.

They’ve put in countless hours of work to try to combat the attacks coming out of Tallahassee, and they have rallied the community to support their public schools.

Thank you!


PS: the referendum passedproducing another $14 million for the public schools of Marion County.


“Marion County voters gave a rousing yes to a property tax aimed at bringing an additional $14 million annually to the county’s public school system for the restoration of art, music and physical education programs, the hiring of teachers, and reduction of class sizes.”

Chris left this comment on the blog so I hope he won’t mind if I post it:

“Florida’s a mess. Here is a story I am working on for Education Matters.

“Gary Chartrand is the chair of the state board of education

“The State Board of Education over sees the Department of Education and hired commissioner Pam Stewart.

“The Department of Education is handing out grants, 3.3 million dollars’ worth to only three winners, to foster partnerships between districts and charter schools.

“Gary Chartrand is on the board of the KIPP charter school in Jacksonville.

“Superintendent Vitti and the Duval County School board (Jacksonville) have applied for the grant. Vitti said, “KIPP is here to stay, and the KIPP expansion will occur with or without the grant,” Vitti said. “If there’s an opportunity to write a grant that benefits KIPP but also the school district, then I think it would be rather foolish financially to walk away from that.”

“Gary Chartrand and the board of KIPP have given thousands and thousands of dollars to six member of the school board and thousands more to have the seventh Paula Wright defeated.

“WJCT Jacksonville’s public radio station did what I consider a puff piece on the district applying for the charter grant that left out a lot of important information. They didn’t mention that last year KIPP was protected by the states rule saying schools could only drop one letter grade, a rule that Chartrand had a hand in developing. KIPP’s real school grades are F, B, C(D) B. They also didn’t mention how KIPP spends about a third more per pupil, has longer days, smaller classes, requires its parents to at least be marginally involved and may or may not be counseling out under performers, only 64 of its first class of 88 finished. The piece made it sound like that KIPP is just better.

“The Chartrand foundation at least partially funds WJCT’s education coverage.”

The New York Times has an excellent article by Lizette Alvarez about the growing outrage among parents against the standardized testing of their children. The article focuses on parents in Florida–whose children are being intellectually suffocated by the Jeb Bush model of punitive testing and accountability–but in fact the same complaints are increasingly heard in every state. The idea that children learn more if they are tested more has been the dogma of the ruling politicians of both parties since at least 2001, when huge majorities in Congress passed President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Now, along comes President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan with their Race to the Top program, and the stakes attached to testing go higher still. Now, it is not only students who are subjected to tests that label and rank them, but the jobs of principals and teachers are on the line if test scores do not go up.


This is the best article I have read about the current testing mania in the New York Times. It is heartening that the revolt against the testing madness has attracted national attention in the nation’s most important newspaper. Many broadcast media use the Times as their guide to the important issues of the day.


Alvarez begins:




ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida embraced the school accountability movement early and enthusiastically, but that was hard to remember at a parent meeting in a high school auditorium here not long ago.


Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.


“My third grader loves school, but I can’t get her out of the car this year,” Dawn LaBorde, who has three children in Palm Beach County schools, told the gathering, through tears. Her son, a junior, is so shaken, she said, “I have had to take him to his doctor.” She added: “He can’t sleep, but he’s tired. He can’t eat, but he’s hungry.”


One father broke down as he said he planned to pull his second grader from school. “Teaching to a test is destroying our society,” he said.


Later in the story, she adds:


In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.


The furor in Florida, which cuts across ideological, party and racial lines, is particularly striking for a state that helped pioneer accountability through former Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Bush, a possible presidential contender, was one of the first governors to introduce high-stakes testing and an A-to-F grading system for schools. He continues to advocate test-based accountability through his education foundation. Former President George W. Bush, his brother, introduced similar measures as governor of Texas and, as president, embraced No Child Left Behind, the law that required states to develop tests to measure progress.


The concerns reach well beyond first-year jitters over Florida’s version of Common Core, which is making standards tougher and tests harder. Frustrations also center on the increase this year in the number of tests ordered by the state to fulfill federal grant obligations on teacher evaluations and by districts to keep pace with the new standards. The state mandate that students use computers for standardized tests has made the situation worse because computers are scarce and easily crash.
“This is a spinning-plates act like the old ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ ” said David Samore, the longtime principal at Okeeheelee Community Middle School in Palm Beach County. “What you are seeing now are the plates are starting to fall. Principals, superintendents, kids and teachers can only do so much. They never get to put any plates down.”


Imagine that: Many schools will dedicate 60-80 days this year to standardized testing! This is a bonanza for the testing industry, and a bonanza for the tech industry, which gets to sell so many millions of computers and tablets for test-taking, but it is a disaster for students. Think of it: students are losing 33-40% of the school year to testing. This is time that should be spent on instruction, on reading, on creating projects, on debating ideas, on physical exercise, on singing, dancing, painting, and drawing.


The testing madness is out of control. Parents know it. Teachers know it. Principals know it. Superintendents know it. The only ones who don’t know it are sitting in the Governor’s mansion and in the State Legislature, in the U.S. Department of Education, the White House and Congress. If they had to spend 33-40% of their time taking standardized tests to measure their effectiveness, they would join with the angry parents of Florida and say “enough is enough.”







, in its useful summary of happening events, posts the following two items:


FSU REVOLTS AGAINST THRASHER: Florida State University students are calling for a national day of action as the university’s Board of Governors is set to finalize the appointment of state Sen. John Thrasher as FSU’s next president. Students have railed against Thrasher for months, questioning how a politician with no higher education experience can run the school. They’ve also questioned [ ] Thrasher’s ties to the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers, who have previously given him campaign cash. Today, students are rallying against the “corporatization of education” by taking to social media with hashtags like #UnKoch and #FSUisNotforSale. They’re asking supporters to change their profile pictures on Facebook in solidarity. And they want to see pictures of students holding signs that read “We support FSU students in their fight against corruption” posted online. The students are also denouncing what they call the corrupt influence of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Twenty schools are supporting the effort, the protesters tell Morning Education, in addition to five organizations including the American Federation of Teachers. More information:


HOW EDUCATION IS PLAYING IN THE PINE TREE STATE: The Maine gubernatorial race is a competitive three-way battle between incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democratic candidate Rep. Mike Michaud and Independent Eliot Cutler. Michaud wants to give students enrolled in public colleges a free sophomore year as a way to reduce dropouts. He also wants to ditch A-F grades for schools, which he has called “demeaning,” and he has said he worries about the financial impact that charter schools have on traditional public schools [ ]. LePage, however, is a big fan of charter schools and has led a major expansion effort in the state. In 2011, he signed legislation [] that made Maine the 41st state to allow the creation of publicly funded charter schools. That legislation allows a state commission to approve up to 10 charter schools over 10 years, but LePage wants to expand beyond that limit. LePage has also been a strong support of virtual charter schools, which Michaud opposes. Cutler has said [ ] he supports capping the number of charter schools, including virtual charters, at 10.



FLORIDA: State Senator John Thrasher has no qualifications to be president of Florida State University. As the item says, he has close ties to the powerful Koch brothers. The Koch brothers have generously funded programs in higher education to spread their message of free-market libertarianism. Apparently one of the brothers bought control of the Economics Department at Florida State University, so why not the Presidency? A staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times wrote in 2011:



A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”

Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.


It is good news that the students at FSU are standing up for their university and for academic integrity. Will the Koch brothers care? Probably not. Will the Board of Governors? We will see.


MAINE: Governor LePage is a Tea Party radical who wants to tear down public education in the state by opening charter schools to splinter communities and even a virtual charter school, which will extract cash from local school districts and transfer it to shareholders in a for-profit corporation. Two years ago, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald published a blockbuster story about the profit motive behind the governor’s push for a virtual charter school. The writer, Colin Woodard, won a prize for investigative journalism for reporting on the links between Maine education officials and Jeb Bush’s “Foundation for Educational Excellence,” while following the money trail behind Maine’s sudden interest in having a virtual charter. LePage won last time when he received a plurality of votes, as two candidates split the majority. Maine does not have a run-off. Once again, he is facing two good candidates, and neither will drop out. If I lived in Maine (one of my best friends does), I would vote for Congressman Mike Michaud, who is well-qualified and likelier to defeat LePage. He was president of the Maine Senate before his election to Congress.

Here is yet another example of the Florida “miracle,” wherein charter operators open and close as they miseducated children and waste taxpayer dollars.

Amy Shipley and Karen Yi of the Sun-Sentinel tell the woeful tale of the latest charter failure in Florida.

“The Broward School Board voted Tuesday to close two charter schools in Fort Lauderdale, citing poor academics and saying the schools failed to document how they spent $876,000 in taxpayer money.

The Obama Academy for Boys and The Red Shoe Charter School for Girls serve more than 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The schools have 90 days to appeal the termination or close down.

“We know the claims are exaggerated,” Corey Alston, who founded both schools three years ago and oversees day-to-day functions, told the Sun Sentinel. “We know many of them are wrong. We know this is the most recent attempt to target our schools.”

The district attempted to shut down the charter schools this March after the schools relocated and failed to secure a required certificate of occupancy, records show. Officials allowed them to remain open after the schools appealed the decision and submitted the necessary paperwork.

Alston said the schools would appeal the closure.

In termination notices sent to the schools last week, district officials said the schools failed to provide services for students with special needs and students who are not native English speakers. They also cited the schools for not providing an adequate reading program and poor record-keeping…..

“The community should be outraged,” said School Board member Rosalind Osgood. “For nine months [we’ve] just given away free money to people who are not following any of the rules … They keep coming up with excuses….”

Six Broward charter schools have closed or been ordered to shut down since the start the school year in August.

Alston told the Sun Sentinel the charter schools had been so successful they had turned away about 150 prospective students this year for lack of space.

Alston received probation for a felony charge of grand theft and a misdemeanor charge of corrupt misuse of official position as part of a plea deal last month in connection with his tenure as city manager of South Bay in Palm Beach County. The judge withheld adjudication on the felony charge. Those charges had no connection to his work with the Broward charter schools.”


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