Archives for category: Florida

Value-added-measurement (VAM) produce ratings that are
inaccurate and unstable. In Florida, about half of teachers don’t
teach tested subjects, so they are assigned scores based on the
scores of their school, meaning they are rated in relation to the
scores of students they never taught and subjects they never
taught. This
Florida teacher explains why she was rated a 23.6583 out of 40,
even though she teaches a non-tested subject.
This is
irrational. Yet Arne Duncan has compelled almost every state to
develop VAM ratings because he believes in them, even though there
is no evidence for their value. How can a teacher’s quality be
judged by the test scores of students she never taught? If that is
not Junk Science, what is? Bill Gates gave Hillsborough County,
Florida, $100 million to evaluate teachers using
value-added-measurement. Here is the formula: Here’s how
the state’s Department of Education explains it, from
a department paper
methods2 I admit I don’t understand it. Many
people don’t understand it. But whoever wrote it understands it.
Bill Gates said recently it would take at least ten years to see if
this stuff “works.” I don’t think we have to wait ten years. “This
stuff” doesn’t work. It doesn’t even make sense. Teachers of the
gifted may be rated ineffective because their students have already
hit the top, and their scores can’t go up any higher. Their ratings
are Junk Science. When the same teacher gets a bonus one year, but
then is rated ineffective the next year, it shows how unstable the
ratings are. That means they are not science, they are Junk
Science. There is so much more to the art and craft of teaching
than standardized tests reveal. What matters most is not
quantifiable although peers and supervisors can indeed judge which
teachers are best and worst. If the measure is not valid, if the
measure in inaccurate and unstable, then it is wrong to use it to
give people bonuses or to fire them. In this post on her
VAMboozled, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley reviewed a study
of VAM which again identified the weaknesses of VAM. She writes:
Finally, these researchers conclude that, “even in the
best scenarios and under the simplistic and idealized
conditions…the potential for misclassifying above average teachers
as below average or for misidentifying the ‘worst’ or ‘best’
teachers remains nontrivial.” Accordingly, misclassification rates
can range “from at least seven to more than 60 percent” depending
on the statistical controls and estimators used and the moderately
to highly non-random student sorting practices and scenarios across
Now, think about it. If the VAM rating can be
wrong by as much as 60%, why would any school district use it to
fire teachers? No wonder teachers are suing for wrongful
termination! Call in the lawyers, VAM is Junk Science.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the Florida “Brighter Choice” scholarship program, whose criteria were changed in a way that has a disparate impact on black and Hispanic students.

The Miami Herald reports:

“Since the program’s inception, an outsized share of more than $4 billion in scholarships has gone to white or affluent families, at least some of whom were wealthy enough to afford college without any help. In recent years, state lawmakers — concerned about rising costs of the program — changed the standards to make the scholarships even harder to get, raising the minimum SAT and ACT test scores to levels critics charge will only further exclude poor and minority students….

“Similar allegations resurfaced in a public way last spring after a University of South Florida analysis predicted that the new Bright Futures standards would benefit far fewer students — the total number of college freshmen getting scholarships at state universities would drop by about half, from 30,954 to 15,711. The analysis predicted Hispanic students would see a 60 percent drop in scholarships, and black scholarship recipients would plummet by more than 75 percent.

“Of all large counties, Miami-Dade takes the biggest hit from the new criteria. Yet the Legislature’s Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, dominated by Republicans from Miami-Dade, has generally supported the revisions.

“At Florida International University, where about three-quarters of students are black or Hispanic, the percentage of incoming freshman qualifying for Bright Futures was once as high as 81 percent. This coming fall, under the new minimum SAT score of 1170, FIU expects only about 14 percent of freshmen to qualify.

“Luisa Havens, FIU’s vice president for enrollment, called it “silly and counterproductive” for the state to place financial obstacles in front of students who want to go to college. The Bright Futures cutbacks are happening at the same time Florida leaders publicly say they want to boost the number of residents with college degrees and make college more affordable.

“Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the harm being inflicted on minority students is “shameful.”…..

“The most significant impact is the poor and minority high school students who, just a couple of years ago, would have had a far greater opportunity of entering college,” he said. “Now, it’s undermined.”

“Bright Futures is funded by the Florida Lottery, which while immensely profitable couldn’t keep up with the growth of the program during the last decade. In 1997, Bright Futures’ first year, the lottery funded $75 million in the scholarships. By 2008, that amount had exploded to $435 million.

“When the costs became too great, the state slashed the value of the scholarships and then cut funding and reduced the number of awards by hiking standards. This year, the Florida Department of Education budget calls for $271 million in Bright Futures funds, reflecting cuts of $38 million and 18,000 scholarships from last year.

“Critics point out an irony in the cuts and changes: Although the lottery is most heavily played by minorities and the poor, they are less likely to benefit from the scholarship program.

“Some who want the program reformed argue a better way to screen applicants is with a “sliding scale” that combines GPA and test scores. In that system, a student with test scores slightly below the cutoff would still qualify if their GPA was very strong.

“Both college administrators and the College Board acknowledge that it is high school performance, and not standardized test scores, that is the best predictor of college success.

“But instead of changing Bright Futures’ minimum 3.0 GPA, Florida lawmakers chose to significantly raise qualifying test marks — from a minimum of 970 three years ago to 1170 now on the SAT. The average Florida combined SAT score was about 982 last year.

“Legislative leaders also have dismissed including a means test that could reduce or restrict scholarships to students from the wealthiest families….

“But in Florida education circles, testing has become the preferred method of evaluating public schools, teachers, and — in the case of Bright Futures — scholarship applicants. Schaeffer said Miami-Dade’s Hispanic Republican lawmakers are wedded to the test philosophy, even in an instance when their constituents suffer the most.

“They are Jeb Bush Republicans,” Schaeffer said. “Jeb Bush is one of the strongest believers nationally in the role of test scores in defining education quality. To come out otherwise would be an insult to their mentor.”

Read more here:

UPDATE: the sponsor of this legislation withdrew it because of parent opposition and reluctance to hold voucher schools accountable


Jeb Bush has his eye on the Presidency. He will boast of
his education record, but it is a record of smashing public
education and diverting public funding to charters, for-profit
charter chains, vouchers, corporate vendors, anything but our basic
public schools. His antipathy to public education will haunt him.
is the latest scheme
pushed by Jeb and friends: more
money for vouchers but please don’t call them vouchers. And lots of
cash for all the helpers. Millions of dollars for facilitators of

Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald shows how parents and teachers stopped the voucher bill in Florida.

““We really saw this as an attack on public education,” said Mindy Gould legislative affairs for the PTA.

“The testing issue had become a sticking point.

“John Kirtley, who helped craft the original voucher legislation in 2001 and is chair of the Step Up board, said it would have been “a very difficult task to quickly remake the academic accountability for this program.”

The sticking point was the lack of accountability for voucher schools.

The legislation would have transferred $874 million in public funds to nonpublic schools.

The organization overseeing it (Step Up) was very disappointed, as it collects a commission, which would have grown from $8 million to $24 million.

Great news! The sponsor of the Florida voucher bill withdrew it, as it sailed through the Florida House, after the State Senate insisted that voucher schools would have to take state tests.

“After promising a “massive expansion” of school choice options this session, House Speaker Will Weatherford retooled his rhetoric Thursday after the Senate dropped plans to take up a proposed build-up of the state’s private school voucher program.

“Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he was withdrawing his version (SB 1620) of the voucher bill advancing in the House. At least part of the dispute is rooted in Senate President Don Gaetz’s demand that students taking part in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program undergo testing in private schools similar to that in public schools.

“It’s a shame. A terrible shame,” Weatherford said. “Thousands of children seeking more opportunities for a better life will be denied. I cannot see any reason why we’d quit on these kids.”

“The bill (HB 7099) sailing through the House would make the scholarship program eligible for sales tax money for the first time in its 12-year history. With the new cash, the 60,000 students now getting private-school scholarships could double in four years, rivaling the size of larger public school districts in Florida.”

There was also criticism of the political payola that the expansion would bestow on the voucher program’s administrators:

“The Palm Beach Post also reported that there was rising criticism of what the legislation would mean to the politically connected nonprofit that oversees the scholarship program, created under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Step Up for Students could more than triple the amount of money it collects under the voucher legislation. The 3 percent fee it collects now brings in $8.6 million but could more than triple to $26.2 million when the program reached its full capacity envisioned under the legislation.”

Florida Republicans are rushing through a voucher bill with no accountability for state tests. Even with state tests, it would be a terrible bill as its purpose is to destroy public education.

One leading voucher advocate bluntly told an audience in California that the game plan was to sell the bill as being a benefit to poor minority kids. Of course, that’s a scam. The main goal is to break public education, crush the unions, and fund every backwoods church school where kids can learn 17th century STEM skills.

Critics say it will divert up to $1 billion from community public schools.

Florida is rapidly racing to the bottom. Will Arne Duncan speak out to stop this unconstitutional diversion of public funds to religious schools? Will President Obama?

Once upon a time there was a sturdy American tradition known as separation of church and state. Most Americans thought it was a bad idea to send public dollars to religious schools, because doing so would mean the death of the common school, the public schools that have been a foundation stone of our democracy. Once we begin subsidizing schools run by religious denominations, the very idea of public education as a meeting ground for all is at risk.

But many states are now taking that road, because there is so much big money behind the idea of “school choice.” School choice used to be the battle cry of segregationists in the 1960s, and school choice does indeed promote segregation–by race, religion, and class. But backers of vouchers don’t care about segregation, nor do they care about education quality. They want choice. Period.

Florida voters decisively defeated a constitutional amendment in 2012 that would have permitted vouchers, but voucher advocates are pressing ahead through the legislature, as in other states where vouchers can’t win on the ballot.

In Florida, big money is subsidizing a major campaign for school vouchers, so that children may choose to attend fundamentalist schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, and schools run by any other denomination. Deep pockets and powerful political forces are pressing for vouchers:

“Those forces include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and influential think tanks like the conservative James Madison Institute and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. All have thrown their considerable weight behind the expansion.

And then there is the money. The voucher program’s top supporter, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley, controls a political committee in Florida that spent nearly $2.4 million to influence races in 2010 and 2012. He plans to spend at least $1.5 million in 2014, he said.

The efforts have made expanding the voucher program a top priority of this year’s legislative session.”

Due to the influence of Jeb Bush, the state’s Republicans are supportive of vouchers. So the outside funders have been targeting contributions to Democrats to assure passage of their voucher legislation:

Kirtley’s political committee, the Florida Federation for Children, has channeled more than $2.3 million into political advertisements and direct mail to help favored candidates since 2010.

The Florida Federation for Children has been “heavily involved in Democratic primaries, where there are legislators who have supported their constituents’ desires for parental choice in education,” Kirtley said.

“We also have been involved in Republican primaries, but fewer, since there is usually a consensus among those candidates about educational choice,” he said. “If there is a contrast either way in a general election, we will be involved there as well.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has been another strong advocate for the proposed expansion, said David Hart, the organization’s executive vice president. “Many of our member companies around the state support this program and have made pretty generous contributions toward supporting scholarships,” he said.

The chamber spends thousands of dollars on political advertisements and direct mail pieces. But because the organization advocates for a variety of issues, it is virtually impossible to track how much of that spending is related to tax credit scholarships.

Other influential groups that have lined up in support include Americans for Prosperity, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, the James Madison Institute and StudentsFirst.

Good news for Florida parents: Mercedes Schneider has written a brief fact sheet to show that Jeb’s “miracle” didn’t happen.

One example: Alabama has a higher graduation rate than Florida.

“Florida’s graduation rate has been among the lowest for years. In 2001-02, Florida’s graduation rate was among the bottom five states. In 2010-11, it was among the bottom seven (three states did not have rates calculated).

The 2010-11 calculation is a better measure for state-to-state comparison since the 2001-02 rate was not calculated uniformly for all states.

For 2012-13, Florida reports its overall graduation rate as 75.6%, up from 70.6% in 2010-11. This article attributes the rise in Florida school district graduation rates– which varies widely from district to district– to an emphasis on college preparedness–and the ACT test. Yet Florida was in the bottom six states for its average ACT score of 19.8 in 2012.

(For comparison sake: Alabama has a 2012-13 graduation rate of 80% and a 2012 average ACT of 20.3, and it does not promote establishing charter schools or grading teachers using student test scores.)”

The Tampa Bay Times wrote an editorial urging the state to reject a for-profit charter school at an Air Base.

The base already has an on-base public school that was A-rated by the state for 12 of the past 13 years.

But Governor Rick Scott encouraged the creation of a charter on the base. As the editorial says, the local school board rejected the application:

“But organizers now are appealing to the state Board of Education, and why not? Gov. Rick Scott directed the proposal’s organizers early on, records show — and he appointed all six members of the Board of Education that will hear the case. The board should put politics aside and deny this appeal. That would be best for military families, local control and the integrity of the charter school process.”

The following notice was sent to all teachers in Florida from the State Commissioner of Education, letting teachers know that their names and evaluations will be released to the media. Most teachers do not teach tested subjects and grades, so their ratings are based on the test scores of children they never taught.

This is Junk Science at its worst, another front in the battle to destroy public education and dismantle the teaching profession. No matter how many esteemed researchers say this is wrong, judging teachers by test scores–anyone’s test scores–is the battering ram of choice for the corporate reformers.

The only way to stop this juggernaut of destruction aimed at our nation’s teachers is to refuse to give the tests–not one teacher but entire schools.

Here is the letter:

As many of you know, we at the Department of Education have been fighting for you and for all teachers in an effort to maintain the confidentiality of teachers’ names and their individual value-added data.

We took on this fight because I believe the teacher-principal relationship for professional development is supported when evaluation information has a period of protection. Your work and dedication have helped to create a bright future for our state and our children, and I want to support that work in any way that I can.

Recently, the department – and our co-defendant, the Florida Education Association – lost a lawsuit filed by a news outlet to gain access to teachers’ individual value-added data. This data is calculated on behalf of school districts to complete their teacher and principal evaluations.

Later today, the department is providing these data, as required by the First District Court of Appeals, to the media who have requested it. We expect this information will be posted online and individual teacher names and value-added data will be publicly available.

The department will not post this information on its website, but is presenting answers to frequently asked questions and other information to the public at

As a former teacher, I know that teaching is hard work. And, I’m confident that teachers in Florida are among the nation’s best in helping students succeed.

Growth in student achievement is an important part of an educator’s evaluation in Florida, which is the way it should be. As important as growth in student achievement is, our evaluation systems also include evidence of other important and essential aspects of teaching.

Despite being compelled to release this information after mounting our best legal efforts to protect the confidentiality of teachers’ information, we remain encouraged and feel that we have an opportunity in front of us.

We are encouraged because through this information, we can celebrate the achievement of Florida educators – the teachers who have led students to success in their classrooms, as well as the programs that trained those teachers, the school and district leaders who supported them, and the families and communities who trusted them.

We also feel we have an opportunity because when we look at the data, we can see where we should allocate our resources and attention to continue improving.

While releasing these data as a public record is not our chosen path to increase its usefulness, we will make this an opportunity to improve communication and understanding about what these data can – and cannot – tell us, and how they support better decision-making when analyzed in combination with other information about teaching and learning.

And, that is what we as professional educators are all about: improving teaching and learning. Until every teacher in every child’s classroom in every school has all the support and expertise necessary to add maximum value over the course of a year, we cannot rest.

Our work together on this will not be slowed. We do this work with the support of Governor Scott, whose budget proposal includes a record amount for Florida’s schools including over $8 million for the express purpose of providing the professional development school leaders need to improve student achievement. And, we do so with the support of our State Board of Education that is constantly focused on the best policies to help teachers and students succeed.

I look forward each day to our continued work to ensure Florida’s students receive a high-quality education so they may succeed in college, career and life. Thanks again for all you do each and every day.


Commissioner Pam Stewart

Florida Department of Education


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