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Incoming speaker Steve Crisafulli's willful chutzpah, ignorance and hypocrisy about testing.

The incoming speaker of the house Steve Crisafulli did an op in Florida Today where he advocated for Florida's culture of high stakes standardized tests which have faced withering criticism recently from local school boards and parents, i.e. those closest to the problem. I don't know what worried me most about Crisafulli's op ed, his ignorance, chutzpah, hypocrisy or his apparent disdain for teachers.

First the hypocrisy. Crisafulli is a huge supporter of vouchers. The public pays for students to go to private schools which are exempt from the high stakes test. Why are they a necessity for public schools but not for private schools that receive public money? 

Now for the ignorance. He says because of testing our graduation rates have gone up, well friends graduation rates all across the country have seen dramatic rises, even in states that have not relied on high stakes testing. He then points to the our ranking sixth in the Quality Rankings report. This is a fairly new group which pushes corporate reforms. Most knowledgeable people don't give it much credence but lets look at how we got that ranking.

We were 32nd in providing chances for success, 36th on school finances, and 5th on tests and accountability. In short our grade was so high because they like testing and Florida does too! 6th sounds impressive but if you go to the report and look at it, you would be hard pressed to be as impressed as the speaker designate. (note there are other categories)

Then there is his apparent disdain for teachers. He wrote: The recent misuse of the phrase “high-stakes tests” can be attributed to the fact the results are now high stakes for teachers. Starting this year, teachers are eligible for performance pay based in part on student progress. Teachers aren’t graded on a child’s ability to pass a test, but are rewarded for helping children make progress. We understand children come from different backgrounds and possess varying knowledge and skills, but every child can learn.

The state is using VAM scores to determine teachers effectiveness. The department of education says they are inaccurate more than a third of the time and yes children do come from different backgrounds but VAM scores don't account for poverty but somehow he thinks it is fair to measure teachers with this system. Then yes every child can learn but depriving schools of proper resources, and saddling teachers with inappropriate metrics makes it that much harder, 

Finally his chutzpah. Those people closest to our schools, the states parents and school boards have started a tsunami of protest but the designate who is not a teacher and as far as I can tell has had little interaction with them announces proudly that he knows best. I doubt he would be appreciative of teachers telling him how to run his agriculture business.  

I wish just once one of these guys would say, I just don't like public schools and I am going to do everything I can to privatize them. I would disagree with him but at least he would be being honest. 
Friends this is who is suppose to lead us for the next two years and I hope you are as troubled by this as I am.

Sunday Morning whiffs on Common Core

Sunday Morning did a piece on common core this morning

and despite interviewing principal Carol Burris who is against common core, the tone of the piece was far from fair and balanced. 

Have you noticed that whenever somebody is for common core they start their talking points with something like, Launched by state officials, the Core was backed by the federal government, offering grant money to states signing on.

Well this Sunday morning piece was no different as that is a direct quote and yes, launched by the cash strapped states during the great recession where they traded local control for those grants. 

There were two pro-common core people interviewed, the secretary of of playing basketball with Obama, education , Arne Duncan and Tampa superintendent MaryEllen Elia but it's the questions the interviewer didn't ask that really got me.

Like how does common core address poverty? CBS gave us our middle of the pack international stats but they didn't mention how our scores zoom to near the top when we factor out poverty a pretty big oversight if you ask me.

Next I want to know if the countries we are trying to catch use common core because as far as I can tell they don't?

Finally I would have liked a  mention about all the people who are going to get rich off common core and all the money being siphoned out of our classrooms to pay for it.

CBS didn't think any of above was worth a mention.

Nobody is against tough standards what the pro-common core speakers implied but for them to dismiss and for CBS to ignore legitimate questions and concerns does our children and schools a disservice.

Florida's really not that pro-school choice after all.

Florida's legislative leaders are decidedly pro-school choice. Despite the fact vouchers resist accountability and charter schools as a group under perform they insist parents have those options. They often say parents know best about their children's education and they should decide. Except with testing that is.

It is nearly impossible to opt out of whatever the current high stakes standardized test, which voucher schools that take public money are exempt from, is currently being given. I say currently because it changes so often. We have gone from the FCAT to the FCAT 2.0 to this years common core based test and don't forget all the mandatory end of course exams either.

It's gotten so ridiculous that they state is insisting profoundly disabled and critically ill children take the tests and districts around the state are planning end of the course exams for kindergartners!  

If parents know what's best for their children why aren't there easy to obtain opt-out options? Why are voucher schools paid for with public money exempt?

I believe it is because Tallahassee wants to kneecap public education to hasten privatization but even if you disagree with me about the reasons you should still be asking those two questions and until Tallahassee gives us honest answers we should all be skeptical about their motives.

We talk about how important reading is, but DCPS actions scream that we’re hypocrites.

Overheard in the Coaches Office
By Greg Sampson

Middle School ELA, where teachers force students to read books when they don’t want to read. They would rather play video games or watch the movie.
For the last two years, novel studies have been part of the curriculum for middle school students in their ELA/reading classes. Students read excerpts from the book and then do work guided by teachers with an eye to how they will be presented limited passages on “THE TEST”, once FCAT, now called FSA even though we have no idea what it will look like.
ELA teachers report to the Reading Coach that the students are begging to read the novels in their entirety. They are only being allowed to read selected sections. They say, “We don’t know what’s going on. Can’t we read the whole book?”
Uh, no. Sorry, kids, but the Curriculum Guides will not allow that.
These are kids who hate to read, but they are interested in the book put in front of them, they beg to read the whole book, but no. No, no, no, no, no, these books are not for reading. They are for studying passages and learning to answer test questions.
Coaches and teachers discuss classroom strategies to get around this problem. “Jigsaw” the book; that is, have students read different parts of the chapters and then share with the whole class. What a disappointment! This human Cliff Notes approach still denies students the pleasure of reading a book on their own.
But what is a hardworking teacher to do? They only have 10 copies of a book. They don’t have enough for an entire class to read or for students to take books home. Let’s not start on Duval County’s shuttered school libraries.
We talk about how important reading is, but our actions scream that we’re hypocrites.
We don’t have the books. It’s so bad we don’t have enough SRA books in my school. This past week, the reading coach received the outrageous suggestion from the District Director to put what books we have on a cart and roll them from room to room throughout the day.
Didn’t the Superintendent promise last fall that schools would never again lack the instructional materials they needed? I’m calling BS on that one.

Think on it: kids want to read a book. DCPS says no.

NPR's battered wife syndrome! (rough draft)

First let me say I am not making light of abused women or any victims of abuse. I just see a parallel between the often counter intuitive choices that victims of abuse that stay in those relationships make and NPR's anti-public education, pro-corporate reform behavior.

Most people probably think NPR is a huge fan of public education as they are seemingly cut from the same cloth but if you have followed their reporting over the last few years you would quickly come to see that they are not. Now I wouldn't want NPR to be a shill for public education. It is far more import to me to have the right answer than for my answer to be right but NPR has hardly been fair or balanced in their reporting.

Take for example their recent principal round table on common core, evaluating teachers on tests and colleges of education. None had a problem with common core or evaluating teachers based on tests and didn't have complementary things to say about colleges of education either. Not a one. Now are their views out of the mainstream? Sadly not but if you would have heard the piece you might think their views were universal and nothing could be further from the truth.

They also did a piece on alternate teacher certification and used the National Council of Teacher Quality as their go to source. Unfortunately for NPR the NCTQ has been widely criticized and debunked by education experts. Probably not coincidentally they and NPR also receive quite a bit of funding from the Gates Foundation.

Now the NCTQ was critical of alternative certification problems but that doesn't change the fact: The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), is a Gates-funded organization dedicated to data-driven, market-oriented "reform." It sees itself as a part of a coalition for "a better orchestrated agenda" for accountability, choice, and using test scores to drive the evaluation of teachers. Its forte is publishing non-peer reviewed opinion pieces under the guise of "policy analysis."

Then then did a puff piece on the decidedly anti-teacher's union book, the Teacher Wars:  Well, tenure is not a promise of a teaching job for life. It's a promise of due process. So if the administration of a school wants to fire you, they have to gather evidence and build a case for why you should go, and then some neutral arbiter makes a ruling on that. I do conclude in the book that it makes sense for teachers to have some sort of due process. We see throughout American history that the teaching job is very politicized, that teachers are attacked for a whole bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with their competence: whether they support various reform dictates that are coming down from above, what their personal politics are and things like that. So it makes sense that, because their job is so politicized, teachers should have a little more protection than the average worker. 

That said, the current tenure system makes it very difficult in practice to get rid of bad teachers. It makes it a very long, expensive process. I think it makes sense to streamline that.

So on one hand if a administration wants you gone you're gone but on the other due process should be streamlined? The problems here are legion and I go more in depth here.

There are numerous other pro privatization and corporate reform pieces I could point to as well. Now do all their pieces have a similar theme? No, but enough are or are one sided enough that I believe it begs a legitimate questioning of their motives.

But it's not just the pieces they do but the pieces they don't do too. They have practically ignored all the charter school scandals, and concerns about Teach for America, Merit Pay, Arne Duncan, Vouchers and a hole host of issues. Like an ostrich they have buried their heads in the sand only to come out when somebody has something negative to say about public schools and public school teachers.

Let me say that over all I love NPR, in my car they are who I listen to the most but I also feel sorry for NPR. Despite the fact they do a lot of good at a very reasonable price they have faced almost constant attacks to their funding. Living under the threat of imminent demise has to have had played some role with their choices to accept money from ideologically driven groups.

It seems as if they have become so downtrodden, so desperate for cash that they are willing to sacrifice their principals. It's like they are in an abusive relationship and either don't realize they should walk away or are to afraid to do so and are staying willingly, trading a measure of financial security for what is right.

The Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation and in my hometown of Jacksonville Florida the Chartrand Foundation are all not only big donors to NPR but are also anti-public school teacher, pro-privatization and ideologically driven groups. I get it money is the fuel that drives the world but at the same time don't you want more?  Don't we deserve better?

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Other examples in society showing merit pay doesn't work.

I have to say intuitively merit pay doesn't sound like a bad idea. Unfortunately time and time again it has turned out to be and not just for teachers but in other segments of society as well.

Take for instance four police officers in Houston: Cty of Houston prosecutors have decided to dismiss over 6,000 traffic tickets issued by four police officers after investigators discovered the men were involved in a ticket-rigging ring in order to get more overtime,

A judge in Pennsylvania who got kickbacks from a private prison: His sentence brings to closure a dark time in the history of the city of Wilkes-Barre, PA, which is in Luzerne County.  He was found guilty in February of racketeering for taking a $1 million kickback from the builder of for-profit prisons for juveniles.

And the Veterans Administration schedulers who cooked the books: VA investigators have confirmed that agency officials across the country were "gaming the system" of tracking appointments in order to get financial rewards.

Then lets not forget the teachers who have already been caught up in cheating scandals: Further erasure analysis, coupled with interviews of educators from flagged schools, led investigators to implicate some 178 educators in 44 of the 56 schools examined. The resulting report, released by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) last month, found "systemic misconduct within the district as far back as 2001" and concluded that "thousands of school children were harmed by widespread cheating in the Atlanta Public School System."

Are these direct parallels to fixing tests, no, but they are all examples of people gaming the system for profit. As long as there are people I am sure some behavior like this will exist but society does itself no favors when instead of paying people a decent wage it prefers to use carrots to get the jobs done.

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When will Florida give up on charter schools?

There have been three huge reports about the failure of charter schools, this year alone, three!!!! If there was just one you could probably dismiss it, two should at least raise your eyebrows, but after three we should all be having W.T.F. moments.

From the most recent one in the Naples Daily News:

■  Forty-five charter schools have closed in Florida since 2008 because of academic failures, most often receiving multiple state-issued “F” grades for student performance. Before closing, an estimated 7,500 students attended those failing schools. Another three that received back-to-back “F” grades in 2013 and 2014 are expected to close in the coming weeks after the Florida Board of Education denied waivers to allow them to stay open at least one more year.
■ A record 42 out of 400 — or 10.5 percent — charter elementary and middle schools received an “F” in 2014 (grades for high schools will be released later this year). Another nine charter schools would have dropped from “C” to “F” in 2014, but the state provided all schools with a one-year buffer that prevents a two-letter grade drop, the result of complaints about tougher standards.
■ The state’s traditional public elementary and middle schools also saw a record number of “F” grades, with 136 out of 2,274 getting failing grades in 2014, but that only comes out to 6 percent of schools. In the past five years, about three times the percentage of charter schools have gotten failing grades when compared to traditional public schools.
■ Issues with instituting a proper curriculum preceded the closures of 26 schools. Most often, charter operators failed to properly implement English Language Learning and Exceptional Student Education programs. Seventeen schools closed amid concerns about student safety, including eight schools where adults working with children weren’t properly screened.
■ Minority and lower-income students are the ones most often being failed in charter schools. Two-thirds of the schools that have closed because of academic failures since 2008 had student populations of at least 95 percent minorities. About three-quarters of academically failed charters had student populations with significantly more kids qualifying for free or reduced lunch than the state average.
“We’re really not seeing the kind of results that the charter initiative was supposed to produce,” said Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, which includes Jacksonville. “I think that leads to some of the resentment you hear among educators.”

Poor academic results, poor financial management, sometimes bordering on straight up stealing and a kneecapping of public schools by siphoning away resources is the legacy that Florida's charter schools are leaving behind.

When will Florida say enough is enough? 

Why does Florida's republican party hate public schools?

From WJCT:

The Republican Party of Duval County's Executive Committee passed a resolution earlier this week opposing the lawsuit filed against the tax credit scholarship program, which assists families pay for private education.
“I think it’s important that Republicans make their principles known,” said Duval GOP Chairman Rick Hartley. “To us, the education of children is more important than turf battles over unions and bureaucrats.”
Hyperbole about unions and bureaucrats aside, about 60,000 families receive vouchers a proverbial drop in a bucket when compared to how many families have students in public schools.
Yesterday the PTA representing about 3.2 million families came out against high stakes testing and they for years have had similar complaints about the states grading system and a lack of resources too.   Yet there hasn't been a peep from the republican party as they are to busy losing their minds over the fact people have legitimate questions about vouchers.

That's millions of public school parents ignored and it doesn't matter that vouches resist accountability and as a group provide a substandard education either. 
The republican party would end public education if it could. 

Jason Fischer isn't above using hyperbole and deception to sell his voucher point.

From WJCT: “These children are getting a really good education,” Fischer said, referring to students in the voucher program. “The threat is if the lawsuit is successful, it will be ripped away from them.”

Undoubtedly some students who take vouchers are receiving an excellent education but just as undoubtedly some students are getting mediocre and atrocious educations too. Fischer thinks just because they aren't attending a public school then all must be great when nothing can be further from the truth.

Furthermore since voucher schools and proponents doggedly resist accountability we can't know how well they are doing and it should make us wonder why. If they are as great as Fischer claims they are then why won't they show it? Why is he a supporter of accountability for public schools but is okay with private schools getting a pass?

Honestly that fact should tell us all what we really need to know.

Fischer is an ideologue who doesn't care about public schools and he has no place on our board. 

Jason Fischer jumps the shark, doesn't care about public schools at all.

In a WJCT piece Paula Wright summed up the problem with Jason Fischer who has been pushing for a resolution supporting vouchers.

 “I’ve heard nothing in terms of why we as a district should support your resolution,” said School Board Member Paula Wright. “I think it’s important that we realize that when we ran to be part of this table, we ran under the umbrella of public schools.” 

You see Jason Fischer doesn't care about our public schools and would drown them in a bath tub if he could and it doesn't matter that vouchers and charter schools are sub-standard options.

I wrote a few days ago about why district 7 should be against vouchers

but it is even worse because in his defense of the indefensible he is ignoring the legitimate issues that district 7 has. Fist numerous schools are over crowded and the districts solution to the achievement gap between 7 and 4 and 5 is to rob Peter to pay Paul. The district cherry picked some of the best teachers in 7 to cross the river and work with our most struggling students. Great for them yes but not so great for district 7.

With Fischer pursuing a purity test in support of vouchers, an issue 7 should be against and one that few people in 7 take actual advantage of he is ignoring real issues that affect the schools there.

We need people on our board that love public schools and who will work tirelessly to improve them. Jason Fischer is just not that man. 

The PTA comes out against the states misuse of testing.

The PTA representing millions of consistently ignored parents and teachers once again came out against the states misuse of testing.

Over the past several years, Florida's system of educational accountability has been in a state of perpetual flux.  Numerous accountability changes along with the implementation of yet another new test is resulting in uncertainty and angst among students, parents, teachers, and community members.

Florida PTA believes that valid assessment does not consist of only a single test score, and that at no time should a single test be considered the sole determinant of a student's academic or work future.  PTA believes that student assessments should identify how instruction and learning can be improved and should be used to help parents and teachers determine the specific academic needs of students and increase opportunities for student learning.

The Florida PTA has initiated and led many discussions about restoring reasonable testing instruments and schedules for our children as well as fair calculations of accountability grades.

As a way forward to end the confusion, Florida PTA recommends that the Florida Department of Education and the state:

  • Allow for proper field-testing and test development in areas with similar demographics to Florida's diverse demographics;
  • Suspend the issuance of school letter grades until performance data has been deemed reliable;
  • Allow additional testing and calculation flexibility to students with disabilities and students who speak limited English;
  • Consider using multiple years of a new exam as a baseline for generating school grades and teacher evaluations.

The simple suggestions mentioned above represent Florida PTA's ongoing advocacy efforts for a fair educational accountability and assessment process, which effectively informs and improves teaching and learning.

Without a reasonable transitional time to adapt to yet more new accountability standards, and without a fair calculation of accountability grades, the future of our children will remain in flux and the viability of Florida's accountability system will remain in question.  

Finally some leadership from the Duval County School Board.

I have to say this is twice in a week that Becki Couch has impressed me. Maybe it's the freedom of not having to run for reelection.

When talking about school grades based on the new Common Core tests she said in the Times Union:
“This is a train wreck, There needs to be time to get baseline data. Otherwise it’s an unfair evaluation.”
Baseline data, she said, would be the first scores on the first year’s tests.
She's absolutely right and because of it Duval’s School Board will vote next month on a resolution objecting to Florida’s plans to issue grades using new state exams.
If it approves the measure, Duval could become the first district in Florida to formally question the legitimacy of Florida’s grading system under the new tests, which the state is paying $220 million to develop.
It is past time the board pushed back against the misuse of testing but better late than never.
Okay with that out of the way I am going to play a little devil's advocate here. This past year the district's grades plummeted and even though I don't think much of the states grading system, they are bound to plummet again with this years testing and I don't think the administration could survive a second disastrous year in a row. I believe the board and super are being genuine with their concerns but I also think a whiff of self preservation may be involved in their long overdue decision to push back against testing and the states grading system.

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