Archives for category: Florida

No state is more in need of advocates for children and public schools in its legislature than Florida.

The Florida legislature at present is in the pockets or the hands (or both) of the privatization lobby. It enacts bill after bill to outsource its schools to private companies, many operating for profit. It pours millions into failing charter schools and failing voucher schools. It authorizes crooked operators and funds charters that never open. It enacts legislation that demoralizes and harms its teachers. Hurting teachers hurts children.

It is time for a change.

That is why the NPE Action Fund proudly endorses Rick Roach, a champion for public schools, who is running for a seat in the Florida State Senate.

If you live in District 13, please help Rick get elected. If you don’t, consider sending him a contribution.

Rick is the school board member in Orange County who took the state standardized test and wrote about it.

“I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

“It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities….

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Despite the best efforts of the Florida legislature to give every possible financial and regulatory break to charter school operators, the charter industry is having many problems.

Charters in Duval County are not doing well at all. The legislators and former Governor Jeb Bush have promised again and again that the move to private control would unleash a new era of excellence and innovation, but it hasn’t happened.

Duval’s charter schools performed worse than the district’s public schools on state tests.

Recently released results from the annual Florida Standards Assessments and from state end-of-course exams reveal that in 17 out of 22 tests on reading, math, science, history and civics, charter schools averaged fewer students passing the tests than those in district schools.

In some tests and subjects, far fewer. The biggest differences were in science.

Nearly three out of four Duval students taking biology last year passed its end-of-course exam, compared to less than half, 48.4 percent, of charter school students. Fifty-two percent of Duval’s fifth-graders passed that grade’s science test, compared to 41 percent of their charter school peers.

In every tested grade except sixth, Duval students’ English language arts passing rates and math passing rates exceeded charters.’

“You can see that our schools are improving at a faster clip,” said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

There were exceptions, where charters decisively outperformed district schools.

In sixth grade, 48 percent of charter school students passed math, compared to nearly 40 percent at district schools.

In algebra 1, charter schools passed 53 percent of students, 5 percentage points more than the district’s 48 percent. In Florida, high school students need to pass algebra 1 to graduate.

Also, in geometry, the difference between charter and district schools was about 19 percentage points; nearly 56 percent of charter school students passed compared to 37 percent of district students.

(The comparisons are estimates, because Florida obscures scores in grades with few students to protect their identities. That affects charter schools more than district school data.)

Charter schools are independently operated schools that compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars. Charter school students take the same tests as students in traditional public schools.

Charter advocates will leap to celebrate the grades and subjects where charters got higher scores than public schools, but it should be remembered that charters (unlike public schools) are free to choose the students they want and free to throw out the students they don’t want. They should be superior across the board, but they are not.

This is one of the few articles I have read that acknowledges that charters “compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars.” Many people do not realize that charters–even low-performing charters–drain money from the public schools.

An insider in the Florida Department of Education leaked confidential information to this blog.

She writes:

The Florida Department of Education requires that 3rd grade students be promoted to fourth grade if they score Level 1 on the state reading test score or at least at the 45th percentile on the SAT 10. Or they may present a portfolio showing they meet grade level standards. How did the Florida Department come up with the score at the same 45th percentile as the bar? How did they set the bar? Have they mislead Floridians?

Attached is a study that shows that the Florida Department of Education set a standard above Level 2 to promote students:

“In order to promote a student from grade 3 to grade 4, the student should be at least in FCAT reading achievement level 2 or above. In other words, the student’s FCAT-SSS scale score should be higher than 258. The concordance table provides an equivalent Stanford 10 scale score that is 591, or the 25th national percentile on Stanford 10.”

See the report here.

Last month, a grand jury in Florida indicted employees of Newpoint Education Partners and three other companies for grand theft, money laundering, and other crimes. The company, started by former employees of the White Hat management company in Ohio, lost the charters for several schools that it was running where the alleged crimes occurred.

Now, two more charter schools are cutting their ties with Newport, following an investigation by a local TV news station.

One week after an 8 on Your Side investigation uncovered $235,000 in bogus school loans, two charter schools funded with state tax dollars in Jacksonville have decided to sever ties with a for-profit management company we’ve been investigating for months because of the financial chaos it helped create in Pinellas charter schools.

The Jacksonville charter school loans by Newpoint Education Partners which are cited in a 2015 financial audit do not exist, something that caught even the treasurer of San Jose Preparatory High School and Academy by surprise after 8 on Your Side uncovered and reported it.

Are there any law enforcement officials in Jacksonville, or is it left to the media to investigate criminal activity?

A high-level official in the Florida Department of Education sent the following message; she was concerned about the secrecy surrounding the tests and their lack of alignment to what teachers are teaching. Needless to say, she requested anonymity.

Here are a few of the facts about the test that parents may not know:

The Florida Department of Education is days away from releasing students test results in grades 3-10 and weeks away from grading schools based upon a battery of tests that lack transparency and alignment to the resources available to teachers in Florida schools.

1. The Florida Department of Education refuses to provide the reading level for the reading test. The Florida Legislature requires the 300 lowest performing schools on the ELA reading test to provide an additional hour of reading instruction each day. Secrecy means schools and students will continue to fail. Florida has a reading retention policy for 3rd graders and graduation requirement for 10th graders but it refuses to provide the actual level of the test to anyone.

2. 50 % of the content on the state science test in grades 5 and 8 changes each year. Teachers never know what will be 100% assessed on the test. Teachers are told “teach everything!” To look at a sample of benchmarks that are annually assessed and those that may be assessed go to page B-1

3. The Florida Department of Education adopted textbooks before they adopted and developed the state test. The Florida Department of Education acknowledges that the state textbooks are not aligned to the Florida Test Specification.Florida has test item specification limits that are above the stated level of the written standards.

4, Do the parents in Florida know that ” Approximately 6-10 items within the Reading, Language, and Listening components listed above are experimental (field test) items and are included in the ranges above but are not included in students’ scores. The Grade 10 FSA ELA Retake follows the test design in this blueprint and is administered each spring and fall.” For this information go to Read the note on the bottom of page 15. How can schools be held accountable when “experimental items” may have caused students to have a lower score because they were part of the test which may have reduced motivation or completion rates.

The email below reveals that the Florida Department of Education will not publish the reading level of a test used to retain 3rd grade students, a must pass test for 10th grade students and an accountable measures for all schools in Florida. Florida requires that the lowest scoring 300 schools in reading at the elementary level add one hour of reading instruction to the of the day yet, the level of the test remains a secret. Based upon this email we must also question if Florida’s textbook adoption process provides teachers, students and parents with resources that are aligned to the complexity of the state test. As you can see textbooks in Florida were adopted before the test was developed. The Florida Department of Education should be held accountable for a lack of transparency developing tests with no alignment to state adopted textbooks, for not sharing basic test development information and student results to inform instruction before they are allowed to grade schools.

Sent: Friday, February 19, 2016 1:31:57 PM
Subject: Email to Senator Gaetz

Dear Mr. Diaz,

Thanks very much for writing Senator Gaetz. He received your email and asked me to respond.

After receiving your email, I reached out to the Florida Department of Education for assistance.
According to DOE staff, Florida’s instructional materials adoption process ensures that textbooks are aligned to the standards and course descriptions taught in Florida’s classrooms. Textbooks are not reviewed against test item specifications. The instructional materials adoption year for grades K-5 was 2012-13 and grades 6-12 was 2013-14, so the materials chosen by the district from the state-reviewed list would be aligned to the standards on which test items are based.

In response to your inquiries regarding the readability, please click here to find the following information that DOE includes in the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) English Language Arts (ELA) Test Item Specifications on this topic. The information provided below refers to the reading passages as “stimuli.” Stimuli refers to the texts and any accompanying graphics that make up the content to which students respond.

Stimulus Attributes

The complexity of the texts used as stimuli should be accessible for the applicable grade. Text complexity analysis incorporates a variety of factors. Quantitative measures are one element of text complexity evaluation, but they are not the sole determinant of grade-level appropriateness. Other factors, such as purpose, structure, and language complexity, are also considered. In choosing the text(s), qualitative and quantitative dimensions of text complexity must be balanced by the task considerations required of the reader. Graphics such as infographics, photographs, tables, and diagrams may be included with the stimuli. The graphics used, however, must be purposeful and should supplement the student’s understanding of the topic.

During the text review process, Florida educators use professional judgment and experience to determine whether the reading level of each selection is suitable for the grade level. Texts used as stimuli should be interesting and appealing to students at the grades for which the selections are intended. They should be conceptually appropriate and relevant and should reflect literary or real-world settings and events that are interesting to students and not limited to classroom or school-related situations.

Additionally, it should be noted that qualitative and quantitative analyses are always used in conjunction with the professional judgment of panels of Florida educators during passage review meetings. Passage selections for a given grade represent a range of reading levels, and educators along with the department’s content specialists evaluate each passage to determine its acceptability for use on the Florida Standards Assessments in English Language Arts. Passages that are deemed unsuitable are rejected for future use. Those that are accepted will be field tested with approximately 6-10 test items that are not included in students’ test scores. Once the statistical data are analyzed, the passages and associated items may then be used and scored on future FSA ELA tests.
I hope this information is helpful.

Again, thanks for writing the Senator.

Wishing you a great weekend,

Melissa Ullery
Legislative Assistant
Senator Don Gaetz
District 1

Reader Akedemos writes:

“Breaking: AIR Loses All Exams for the State of Florida; Officials Walk Into Ocean in Support of Common Core

“Update: Revealed as Hoax; Subversive Ad Gimmick for Upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean Movie”

Our friend and regular commenter Laura Chapman, retired educator, reflects on Bill Gayes’ failure in Hillsborough. Accepting his pledge of $100 million drew the district onto a teacher evaluation plan that nearly exhausted the district’s reserve fund, led to the firing of the district superintendent MaryEllen Elia, and was ultimately canceled by Gates and the district after no results.

She wrote a comment about the serial failures of the Gates Foundation:

“This discussion has taken me down memory lane to the public schools I attended. One of these, Hillsborough High School in Tampa Florida, has been rehabbed several times, but it remains a landmark in school architecture from an era when attending and completing “high” school was a major achievement. The website has a curated collection of documents showing the history of the school’s founding and various locations before the current building was built, with magnificent Gothic architecture, refelecting some high aspirations for the experience of going to school. The school has been rehabbed several times, with “moderate”but important attention to preservation. The International Baccalaureate program is thriving, but that seems to have created a school within a school and conflicts among the students and the faculty.

“Then there is the story of what Bill Gates did to the Hillsborough County Schools and the demoralization that his money has created–his demand for pay-for-performance, worship of metrics especially test scores, the wholesale destruction of morale, and now a budget that is busted. Bill Gates did serous damage to a decent school system. For him, there was not an ounce of value to this particular high school. It could have been a big box store.”

Bill Koch, one of the famous billionaire Koch brothers, decided he wanted to open a great high school, an example for the nation. He created Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the sky was the limit in terms of spending.


He recruited the chief financial officer of the U.S. Naval Academy as its headmaster by offering him a financial package worth more than $1 million a year.


Koch’s goal was excellence:


That’s the aim of Oxbridge Academy, whose roster of teachers and administrators recruited from around the country aspires to the highest of academic ambitions for their 580 students, who populate a sprawling West Palm Beach campus and engage in extracurricular activities that range from horseback riding to sailing and flight simulation and boast a football team that rarely loses.


Tuition is $31,500 a year, though many students receive financial aid as part of Chairman Bill Koch’s desire to maintain a diverse student body elevated, as his industrialist father was decades ago, by the generosity of others. Koch, a Palm Beach energy industry billionaire, antiquities collector and America’s Cup winner, founded the West Pam Beach high school in 2011 and estimates he has invested $75 million to $100 million to make Oxbridge one of the finest in the nation.


But curtained behind the wooded grounds and low-slung buildings at Military Trail and Community Drive, say past and present employees, exists a working environment led by President and CEO Robert C. Parsons that’s fraught with firings, high turnover, accusations of sexual harassment and an emphasis tilting from academics to athletics….


What worries employees is the frequency of firings, the swiftness of departures and absence of explanation. One day a colleague is there and the next, gone.


That has been the pattern, not with just teachers but high-level administrators with top credentials, who came attracted by the excitement of creating an innovative, high-powered school only to find themselves out the door, sometimes in a matter of months.
Neen Hunt, for example, came before the school’s opening, to organize operations as academics chief. Hunt, a Phi Beta Kappa, cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, had earned a Master of Arts in Education and a Doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She came to Oxbridge from New York’s prestigious Calhoun School, where she was head of school.


She was gone before the first day of class….


Of the inaugural group of 17 teachers that started in fall 2011, many who Hunt recruited from around the country, eight were told in February 2012 their contracts wouldn’t be renewed but that they were expected to finish the term.



“It was such a horrible atmosphere and so unprofessional,” said one instructor who wasn’t fired. “They wanted me to come back but there was no way I was going to let my career be ruined by those people. The atmosphere felt evil and very controlling. It was one of the most disturbing places I have ever worked in under the guise of being an educational environment. It was shocking.”


When interviewed, Bill Koch said the high turnover didn’t bother him, because he works under the Jack Welch philosophy that the bottom 10 percent should be fired every year. Apparently, he didn’t notice that more than the bottom 10 percent were leaving every year.


Koch is now paying for an investigative team to get to the bottom of numerous allegations. Several top officials have been placed on paid leave, including the employee who was a whistle-blower.


Staff turnover has been amazingly high, considering the seemingly idyllic working conditions:


Mark Bodnar, the school’s former second-in-command, said he left the stress of working in that environment to hike trails in Arizona. He estimated that more than 120 people have been fired or quit, some after having left prestigious schools and moving their families cross-country to work at Oxbridge. Another source put the number at 135, including part-timers.


The school’s public relations manager, Carey O’Donnell, said that from 2011 to now, 96 employees left, 34 of them fired.


In the past two or three months, the school’s treasurer/chief financial officer, an accountant who was out on family leave and its baseball coach were fired and its security director demoted to security guard, according to current employees.


Be sure to read the comments on the original story in the Palm Beach Post. Some are from current or former employees.


When a reporter from the New York Times called to ask me about this story, in preparation for writing about it, I said that at least Bill Koch is paying for implementing his ideas instead of expecting the public to pay for them, as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, John Arnold, and many other billionaires are doing. Wouldn’t it be great if all of them opened their own private schools and tried out their educational ideas using their own money, instead of imposing them on other people’s children and demanding public support?


I received this comment from a teacher in Manatee County:

Diane – I wanted to give you an update on yesterday’s story and some context about what teachers have been doing. The Florida Department of Education’s attorney has clarified that the portfolio option is available and must be allowed based on state statute. I suspect that the districts involved were encouraged to take the hardline position, particularly based on parts of an email from a DOE official (that the Manatee Superintendent released) which did imply that a test was required or the student would have to go to summer reading camp to build a portfolio. Now the DOE has “clarified” their position, stating that a district may not exclude any of the good cause exemptions (specified in statute) in their local policy.

The FEA Delegate Assembly recently passed a New Business Item advocating for a parent’s right to Opt Out, and the union has used that in lobbying efforts. At our latest Governance Board Meeting, President McCall hosted a panel discussion on Opt Out which included one of our attorneys, Cindy Hamilton from Opt Out Florida ( and Luke Flynt, our Secretary-Treasurer talking about the Opt-out movement and how complicated it is to be a teacher in this political environment. The FEA website has a statement about opt out with both warnings and information including links to the Opt-out groups. (

The union has been consistent in warning teachers not to encourage opting out for the students and parents inside their classrooms because of state law, but we have also shared the complete statutes including all of the good cause exemptions to the required passing score on FSA. We have suggested that, as parents and citizens, teachers do not lose their first amendment rights, but they should be very careful about how and when they choose to exercise them. There is real concern that the department could go after teachers’ certificates if they advocate for opting out on school time or while acting in their employment capacity.

We have also had union leaders sharing the information provided by opt-out groups in their area, but they have also provided warnings about potential consequences particularly for 3rd grade students and for meeting graduation and scholarship requirements. The commissioner has stated several times that the state assessments are required by law, and that opting out is not allowed. She has also stated that parents who do not want to take assessments should find another place to educate their children.

Clearly, the great puzzle is why the Florida legislature is all for parent choice when it comes to “choosing” a school, but opposed to parent choice when it comes to complying with an order to take tests.

After days of withering criticism for a policy of holding back third graders who opt out of the state test, after failing to get any support from the State Education Department, the school officials of Manatee County, Florida, backed down and agreed that third grade students could use alternative methods to be promoted to fourth grade.

Peter Greene updated his post here.


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