Thursday, November 15, 2012

Economists says smaller classes and higher teacher salary make a difference. Teachers say duh!

From the Dallas Morning News, by Terrence Stutz

 Larger classes typically trigger higher dropout rates and wind up costing more in the long run with less educated workers who pay less in taxes, an expert witness in the Texas school finance trial said Wednesday.
The testimony comes as school districts across the state continue to increase class sizes to make ends meet.
Clive Belfield, an economist at Queens College in New York, said there are several steps school districts can take to increase their graduation rates, but most involve spending more money, and there has been resistance to funding increases in Texas and other states.
Over the long term, he said, raising teacher pay, reducing class sizes and funding other improvements has a direct impact on how many students will graduate from high school — and he offered several examples of the return Texas could expect if it were to finance such upgrades.
In class size, for example, Belfield said significant class size reductions in kindergarten through third grade — similar to those in Tennessee and other states — could increase the graduation rate by 11 percent.
“It is a very popular policy from the teacher perspective, but unfortunately it is a costly intervention,” he said. Many states don’t want to make such an investment, he added, even though it is in their best interest for more to graduate.
“In a class of 15 students, the teacher can spend more time with struggling students. With a class size of 30, a student who is having difficulty is more likely to be left behind,” he said, pointing out those students are more likely to eventually drop out.
His testimony came as new figures from the Texas Education Agency indicated that a large number of elementary classes will again exceed the 22-pupil limit for kindergarten through fourth grade this year.
Already nearly 5,500 classes at about 1,000 campuses have been excused from the 22-pupil limit as districts try to offset the massive funding reductions approved by the Legislature last year. In all, 170 districts have obtained waivers from the state allowing them to exceed the limit, with most citing financial hardship because of their funding cuts.
Belfield, an expert witness for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also said raising teacher salaries has a positive effect on high school graduation rates. His analysis indicated that if Texas raised average teacher pay by 10 percent, it would increase the graduation rate by 5 percent.
He cited two immediate benefits — veteran teachers would be more likely to stay in their jobs and the applicant pool of teachers for vacant jobs would be larger, with more graduates from elite colleges.

Study says Florida public schools do better than its charters

From State Impact, by Gina Jordan

While charter schools are an increasingly popular option for Florida students, a University of Central Florida researcher says they don’t perform as well as district schools.

Dr. Stanley Smith, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s business school, analyzed school grades of Florida elementary schools last summer, examining the effect of poverty and minority status on those grades.

Smith found that “when the poverty and minority characteristics of the student population are controlled, the average charter school performs significantly lower than the average traditional public school.”

Smith used complicated formulas (see documents) to conclude that:

The average charter school is doing about the same as the non-charter school when no adjustments are made for poverty and minority statuses. When the adjusted scores are considered, the average charter school performs significantly worse than the average non-charter school.

These results call into question the emphasis by state education leaders — particularly Republicans — on charter schools, Smith said.

“Although charter schools may be cheaper for the state to fund, the adjusted scores suggest that Florida is also getting a lower return on these schools,” Smith said. “Is the lower average return on these schools worth the lower cost?”

According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, “charter schools offer the potential to create high-performing public schools in districts typically plagued by poor student outcomes…To know whether charter schools are fulfilling their mission, we need rigorous evaluation of their performance, costs, and ability to address the unique needs of disadvantaged students.”

Charter schools can add requirements for their students — such as additional tutoring — to address problem areas such as math or reading.

A StateImpact Florida/Miami Herald investigation previously found that most charter schools don’t serve severely disabled students.

Dr. Smith says his findings do not suggest that all charters perform worse than traditional schools, but for now, he does think parents should take more care when enrolling kids in charters. Charter schools were more likely to earn an ‘A’ on state report cards last year, but also more likely to earn an ‘F’ as well.

Sweeping generalizations and false assumptions about teachers

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, By Carol Burris
As a high school principal, it is my job to evaluate teachers. I take this responsibility very seriously — it helps ensure that our students receive the rich opportunities to learn that they deserve. With strong teachers, evaluation may entail reaffirming good practice, supporting innovative practice and facilitating ways for them to share their expertise with their colleagues. For novices or those who struggle, we work to improve their practice and, when necessary, to counsel them out or let them go.
  It is because instruction is so important that the sweeping generalizations and false assumptions that have fueled recent teacher evaluation policies are of such concern to teachers and school leaders alike.  The waves of misinformation about evaluation undermine confidence in our schools and result in “solutions” based on opinion and gut-level hunches, not research evidence. The recent Phi Delta Kappan opinion piece, entitled “Million Dollar Baby,” is an example of the misguided critiques that appear all too often.
Let me begin by saying that I have always been a fan of the Kappan, which skillfully takes scholarly research and makes it accessible to educators who do not have time to pore over academic journals. Despite that fine track record, the generalizations that form the argument in this month’s editor’s note cannot go unaddressed.   It is time to get the record straight and address three common fallacies that dominate the new rhetoric on teacher evaluation:
 1.     1. Every former teacher evaluation system was the same and that unitary system was terrible. To quote from the opinion piece, “Unfortunately educators must bear the bulk of the blame for allowing such a lousy system to exist.” In reality, there was never one evaluation system nor was every system “lousy.” Rather, each school district has had its own system of teacher evaluation, and some of those have been better than others. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t have substantial room for improvement. But it does mean that it’s ridiculous to start a reform discussion with the contention that all districts should abandon their evaluation system regardless of its track record. I would wager, for instance, that Kappan’s editor would agree that the Montgomery County Maryland School System has a nationally acclaimed system, and that Cincinnati Schoolshad a system, before Race to the Top, that has been shown to not only improve the craft of teachers but to increase student achievement. Neither system incorporated test scores. In the small districts on Long Island, most of us did an excellent job evaluating teachers—dismissing probationers who do not merit tenure, helping teachers continue to develop, working with and counseling those who needed to improve or to leave the profession, and building on the strength of even our most expert practitioners.  Among Long Island principals, you will find few fans of New York State’s new evaluation systems, based on APPR.
  2  2. Tenure is the problem. It is a job for life and it is unique to teaching. The Kappan editorial states that tenure is one of the “unique privileges that teachers enjoy.” But in truth due process before dismissal (tenure) is not unique to teaching. In fact, it is more difficult for a principal to dismiss a custodian due to civil service protection than it is to dismiss a teacher. Civil servants enjoy seniority rights, probation periods, salary schedules, and due process rights for dismissal just like teachers. Civil servants, who are broadly defined as those who work for government, include librarians, police officers, firefighters, transit workers,  secretaries, and accountants.  Due process should not be understood or practiced as a “job for life,” but it should remove the threat of political or arbitrary dismissals.
 There are excellent reasons for such protections. The civil service was established in the late 1800s because prior to its establishment, government jobs were given to political supporters as spoils. The protections were put into place to make sure that public employees were hired on merit and could not be dismissed on the whims of the incoming administration. This remains a concern. Public schools are run by politicians—in some cases by mayors, in other cases by elected boards of education.
 As an alternative to tenure, the Kappan editorial suggests that teachers “should receive a contract for a limited period of time, say three or five years”.  Although this may sound reasonable, consider the clear consequences. Without the protection of tenure, educators could be dismissed for not pleasing the interests of powerful parents. They could be dismissed in order to bring in friends and relatives of newly elected mayors or board members.  Teachers could be pressured to pass students who did not deserve to pass a class or be pressured to not discipline a student when warranted. Presently, there is one person in every district who works on a renewable contract: the superintendent. Nationally, the average time that a superintendent stays in a district is seven years. For an urban superintendent it is fewer than three years. And the constant turnover of superintendents does not serve students or schools well.  Tenure promotes stability and community in our schools.  Teacher turnover, even when it is the less effective teachers who leave, has a negative effect on student achievement. Likewise it has been found that churn in the principalship is not good for schools. Such instability does not  promote excellence and the courage to make the tough decisions that are not politically popular but serve the best interests of students. Again, this isn’t an argument against pursuing ways to streamline the dismissal process; it’s an argument against poorly thought through changes.
 3.    3. High-stakes evaluations are fine as long as they do not rely on a single measure This is the new popular rhetoric. It is a partial acknowledgement of the many problems associated with using students’ test scores and growth models in teacher evaluations, problems that have been repeatedly documented. And yet the Kappan editor and others still insist on the inclusion of students’ test scores in teacher evaluation. Multiple measures are indeed wise, but the effects of including any given measure need to be understood. Current policies do in fact place test scores in a prominent role, one for which they are not valid or reliable and because of which school districts can expect to be (justifiably) challenged in court by dismissed teachers (as explained in another article in the same November issue of the Kappan). The troubling reality is that these policies will promote teaching to standardized tests and a narrowing of the curriculum.  
 The editorial suggests that we also include other untested ingredients, such as student surveys, in the evaluation mix. We should do this, apparently, even though there is as of yet no reliable research base to support the idea. As a high school principal, I thoroughly enjoy working with teenagers. I find their opinions to be frank and refreshing. But I do not think it is fair or wise to give 14 year olds a formal role in teacher evaluation. It is bad enough that we are undermining the student-teacher relationship by basing evaluations on those students test scores.
 The magazine’s editor concludes by asserting that “every classroom should have excellent teaching every hour of every day.” I would add that every child should also have an excellent parent who serves them excellent food and provides them with an excellent home in an excellent neighborhood. Let’s also add excellent healthcare and excellent supervision every hour of every day as well. If we could accomplish all of that, we would have the highest achieving students on earth. But the rhetoric itself accomplishes little. What we need are research-based policies supported by lawmakers willing to provide the necessary resources.
 In the meantime, while we wait for those wise lawmakers to emerge, perhaps we all could back off and allow teachers to enjoy the same humanity we seem to graciously grant to others. Teachers aren’t perfect, but I must tell you that nearly all of the teachers that I have met over the years are darn good at what they do. And the variation in their skill is no wider than the variation that I have observed in other professions whose evaluations we never seem to discuss. Let’s look to improve evaluation systems as well as other parts of our schools. But could we stay within reasonable bounds of critique based on fact and research? If we do not stop this constant drumbeat of criticism there will be no one left to evaluate with our new excellent-every-hour-every-day evaluation systems.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Diane Ravitch, charter schools expand despite evidence of success

From the Diane Ravitch blog,

Joy Resmovits has a good article at Huffington Post describing the growth of charter school enrollments and the absence of adequate oversight.
Currently, about 5 percent of all American students are enrolled in these privately managed schools. In some urban districts, the proportion is much larger. The districts with the greatest number of students in charters are New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, and Flint, Michigan. In 25 districts, at least 20 percent of students attend charters.
With the support of a bipartisan combination of President Obama, Congress, conservative governors, and rightwing groups like ALEC, these numbers are sure to grow. And the privatization of one of the nation’s most essential public services will continue.
The article mentions that local school boards “argue” that charters reduce their funding. That’s not an argument, that’s a fact. When students leave to attend charters, the public schools must lay off teachers, increase class sizes, cut programs. The more charters open, the more the public schools decline, especially when they lose their most motivated families and students. This is not simply a matter of transferring money from Peter to Paul, but crippling Peter to enrich Paul.
If charters had a stellar reputation, the logic might be on their side. But there are few studies that show charters outperforming public schools even on the crude measure of test scores. With only a few outliers, most studies show that charters do not get different results when they have the same kinds of students.
Chester-Upland, Pensylvania, schools may be an example of what happens when well-funded charters (funded by the district’s own revenues) grow as the host dies. The CU schools have been under state control for nearly 20 years. The local charter is not only thriving but providing handsome profits for its founder. Meanwhile the public schools, having lost half their enrollment to the charter, are dying. A state emergency manager just issued a lengthy report with high benchmarks for future success.
The plan calls for school closings and sets goals for academic gains. The bottom line in this plan for recovery is that the public schools will be extinguished if they can’t meet ambitious targets:
““If the district fails to meet certain scholastic performance goals, such as federal annual progress targets, by the end for the 2014-15 school year, the plan calls for the schools to be run by external management operations such as charter schools, cyber charters, and education management companies.”
Is this the future of urban education in the United States? Will this be the legacy of the Bush-Obama education program?

Dr. Vitti listens to the students but does he hear what they are saying?

Dr. Vitti listens but does he hear?

Meeting with students at LaVilla the middle school for the arts he heard students tell him about how the arts program is what motivates them to do well in their academic classes. LaVilla however as we know is a special school where kids often get to take classes they are passionate about, sadly it is far from the typical school in Jacksonville.

My questions are, what about the schools that have gutted their elective programs, where kids are forced to take classes called research, which is really an FCAT prep course, instead of band, art or drama? What about those kids taking intensive reading and math instead of classes they enjoy, with no real electives to be found on their schedules? What about the interests of the kids at the neighborhood schools?

We make school such drudgery for kids and then we wonder why they do poorly or drop out. I get it, standardized tests are here to say but we have to come up with a plan that doesn’t rob kids of their joy or learning, which is what we are doing to so many of our kids now.

Dr. Vitti listened to what the students had to say, I just hope he heard them, a lot of kids futures are riding on whether he did or not.

Duval County Public Schools schedule kids for failure

As I passed her in the library she had her arms folded under her chin and a frown on her face. She seemed really down so I asked her how she was doing. Fine, she replied but she did so the same way I do when everything is all but fine.

I considered moving on. If you let too many kids in it takes being a teacher from tough to heartbreaking. All of the children seem to have a story. A broken home there a lack of opportunity here. It can be overwhelming if you let it. This however was a good kid. Where her grades were very average all her teachers liked her as she is always polite and respectful and at least during class never failed to make an effort. During a previous conversation she told me how she wanted to be a music teacher someday and how she sang in a family gospel band. After hearing this and finding out and that she wasn’t taking music I introduced her to the schools music teacher in the hope that maybe they would make a connection and could set something up next year. I really love music, was one of the first things she had told me.

Like almost all my kids do, she deserved a little more than a, that’s cool, I’ll see you later, which is often all I can afford to give, from me.

So I asked, “well, how’s school going?” figuring we would either get to what was bothering her eventually or at the very least I would take her mind off her problem for a minute. She then looked up at me and this was the first time during this conversation that we had actually made eye contact and I instantly knew that while trying to take her mind off her problem I had found it.

School is actually one of the biggest problems that many children have. They don’t like it or aren’t interested in it. They are often too young to see the big picture and to realize how important it is. Many can’t really turn to their peers either as many feel the same way. Furthermore their parents aren’t much help either. So many of them are concentrating just on putting food on the table or getting barely by that they don’t have the time or energy to play that much of a role in their children’s education. They trust their kid’s schools to do it.

It turns out school was her problem and she was feeling overwhelmed with it. “Sometimes it’s just too much and I have nothing to look forward to.” she blurted out. I felt for her, many kids have hours of homework to do each and every night for subjects they aren’t or are at best just marginally interested in. I think homework is important but even though they seem to be growing up faster and faster so is being a kid. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for these kids.

Okay, I thought seeing the desperation in her eyes, “tell me what the problem is.”

She started, “It’s my schedule, on A days I have intensive math, intensive reading, biology and world history.” Her B day schedule was the same except biology and world history were replaced with geometry and English II. I did a double take; nowhere on her schedule was PE, art or what she loved the most, music.

Since she had made a two on the f-cat she was required to take both intensive courses which were offered every day. At no time when speaking to me did she mention that her teachers were mean to her or the amount of work she had to do. She also seemed to understand why she was in the classes she was in, though that wasn’t making it any easier on her.

I thought for a moment about what to say, and what I thought was, if I had a schedule like that I would probably be down and feel a little overwhelmed too. Though I knew just because I thought that, I definitely couldn’t say it.

I also didn’t want to say; well I have seen worse schedules, kids taking algebra I which is a prerequisite for geometry and geometry at the same time. Apparently prerequisite has some alternative meaning I was unaware of. Or that I have also seen kids taking English II and III in addition to multiple maths and that she was far from the only student without an elective on her schedule.

I didn’t want to say that the district in its zeal for preparing children for a global economy had no idea what it was like to be a kid today. They didn’t understand that there one size fits all philosophy was actually setting many children back.

I didn’t want to say things were the way they are because the math and science lobby was more aggressive and better financed than the art and music lobby. Actually I am not so sure art and music have a lobby though if they did they should be fired because they are just as important as math and science and it’s time somebody got a clue about that. It’s a shame those classes are always first on the chopping block.

I didn’t want to say, the truth is education is no longer about producing well rounded citizens capable of going to college or entering the workforce. Instead all children are is a line on a spread sheet which says, if this then that. Instead of playing to children’s strengths and desires something that would almost ensure success even in the classes they were marginally interested in, now the powers-that-be had decided that society would be better benefited by forcing all children into a single all inclusive curriculum.

I didn’t want to say sadly you’re enrolled in a school system that on one hand puts so many kids in no win situations and then on the other seems surprised when they don’t succeed. That it should be common sense that children have at least one class built into their schedule that they look forward to if for no other reason than to give them a break from all the core academic classes. Though making sure they wanted to go to school because they had something they were interested in or to look forward to isn’t such a bad reason either.

I didn’t want to say that I get why so many children drop out or quit. They are behind and fall farther and farther behind with their schedules, that there is no wiggle room. I get that they become over whelmed because they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and then turn to the streets or worse to fill their days.

I didn’t want to say any of those things so instead after I collected myself and I said, I’m sorry, and for a while that’s all I said. She looked at me as if she expected more, some words of wisdom to keep her going, some insight that it was going to get better. So after my long pause I followed up my initial, I’m sorry, with words to those effect.

I sincerely hope she believed my words more than I did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dr. Vitti on testing, does he get it or is he putting teacher's jobs on the line

Dr. Vitti said all the right things in an interview with WOKV:

“I actually wanna go back to the days where we talked about just good teaching and learning,” Vitti says.

For Vitti, we have fallen in to an “FCAT craze.” He says teachers have fallen in to this mindset of needing to teach to the test, and they must now be “deprogrammed.”

“My first step is eliminating a lot of assessments we have in the district right now. We have too many,” he says.

He says when teachers are given the liberty to bring creativity back in to the classroom, it will excite them as well as the students, and the higher test grades will fall in after that. He realizes it may be a tough sell because so much emphasis is now placed on teaching to the FCAT and the funding that results from that, but things must change because the district has gone “too far.”

The problem is teachers jobs are now based on how their kids do on standardized tests. Yeah what Dr. Vitti said sounds great and I agree with him 100 percent but how do we ask teachers to put their jobs on the line?

The district needs to give some here. Several counties are already on record as saying they won't count standardized test scores against their teachers or at least initially, if Dr. Vitti wants teachers to risk their jobs it sounds like Duval needs to follow suit.    

6 Changes Superintendent Vitti should make immediately

Leadership, the district is awash with poor leadership. For the last few years who you knew rather than your ability determined your position. The district does have quality leaders but we are at the point where practically all of them are guilty by association and this just doesn’t apply to principals and district staff either but to our assistant and vice principals too. The superintendent should do a review of every person in a leadership position and reassign more than few of them.

Teachers, the district has run off and lost a lot of quality teachers over the last few years as it has sought to get younger in the classroom. St.Johns and Clay Counties have benefitted greatly from the lack of respect the district has heaped upon our teachers as they went from valued colleagues to easily replaceable cogs under the previous administration. One way to start rectifying this is by limiting our association with Teach for America. I don’t understand how a district interested in best practices can look to them first when professional teachers and college of education graduates are available.

Discipline, the district made an important first step this year when it said it would no longer tie principals evaluations to referrals and suspensions something I have been calling for for years. However that is just an important first step. We should take every available step to make sure teachers are supported and maladaptive students get what they need to improve their behavior or are removed from the regular education environment. We could have serious addition with just a little bit of subtraction.

Rigor, teachers are counseled all the time to watch their Fs and Ds. This should stop immediately. Somewhere along the way we gutted student accountability and we must get it back. Perhaps the most important thing a child can learn in school is a work ethic and through grade recovery and harassing teachers to pass kids along we have destroyed that for many of our graduates and students.

Schedule, in high school many students are taking too many classes (7 or 8) that are too long (90 minutes) and that students are not interested in. We have gutted our elective and trades and skills classes. We have to stop putting kids in situations where success is unlikely and then scratching our head wondering why they are doing so poorly.

Message, we have to end the all is well message that the district has been forcing down the city’s throat. There is nothing wrong with celebrating our successes but when we gloss over or ignore our problems they don’t go away, they get worse.

Superintendent Vitti says it is time we started being honest with the people of Jacksonville

One of the biggest problems we have had as a school system is the “all is well” message that the district has been force feeding the citizens of Jacksonville. The system is not the unmitigated disaster that some people pain it as but it is equally true we do have our problems, serious problems the district has tried to ignore or gloss over. The new superintendent said in a Times Union article that we won’t be doing that anymore, to which I say, about time.

The “all is well” message the district has pushed the last few years has led to the erosion of faith in the system that the superintendent talks about. Our parents and the citizens of Jacksonville aren’t stupid; they know we have problems and it must have been incredibly frustrating to them as the district took every opportunity to say we are a B district (we are a C now) and to put an unrealistic positive spin on everything. It has been for me.

Some might not know it but we do have some great things going on things that should be celebrated but it is way past time we stopped sweeping our negatives under the rug. If we want to improve as a district, recapture the faith of our parents and rally the community around our schools we have to start being honest about our problems.

Sometimes being honest can be difficult but at the end of the day it is the best policy and it will be very refreshing to have some honesty come out of the ivory tower and it will be even more refreshing to have a leader that believes in it.

The school district’s all is well message does not sit well with the citizens of Jacksonville

First let me say I know there are great things going on in our schools. A lot of great kids being taught by dedicated teachers but at the same time I think many of the success we are having are happening in spite of the district not because of them. Then I am also optimistic about the future, the outgoing board members and superintendent were so terrible for the district that the new ones have to be better even if it is just a little. Unfortunately I think even if the next board members and super come in and insisted we do things the right way it will take us years to recover from their predecessors.

The first thing they have to do is junk the “all is well message” that the district constantly tries to shovel down our throats and that the Times Union parrots. We know things aren't all right, we know that despite pockets of success we are underachieving and we are not buying what the district is selling and I know this because recently there have been more housing starts in St. Johns than in Duval, the flat growth of our student population despite the city’s overall growth, the counties that most people move to when they leave Jacksonville are the counties closest to Jacksonville, despite the recession there has been a rise in private school enrollment and finally because I work in our schools and I talk to my colleagues and they feel the same way.

People are voting with their feet.

I don’t have a problem with us celebrating our successes and we have had some but I have a huge

Monday, November 12, 2012

Louisiana voucher schools teach creationism reject evolution

From the Huffington Post,

Public dollars in Louisiana's landmark new voucher program will go toward sending children to schools that teach creationism and reject evolution, the Associated Press reports.
Under the new initiative, the most sweeping voucher program in the country, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars will be shifted from public schools to pay private schools, private businesses and private tutors to educate students across Louisiana.
The program is the cornerstone of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's bold effort to reform public education in the state. Critics are concerned about funding and fairness -- vouchers would cover the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools, including small, Bible-based church schools. Jindal says the program will spur school competition and expand parental choice.
Several of those religious schools that will be receiving public funds to take in new students from public schools also teach curricula that question the age of the universe, defying scientific evidence and theory and promote religious doctrine that "challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms," according to the AP.
"What they're going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They're going to be getting religion instead of science," Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, told AP.
Proponents of vouchers say that the program expands horizons for students stuck in troubled schools. Opponents point out that vouchers erode public schools by pulling funding out of the system and violate the separation of church and state by sending public dollars to patriarchal private schools. Voucher programs also have yet to yield improvements in student test scores.
"Almost all the voucher schools are religious schools," Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research told Reuters. "And many use an evangelical curriculum that teaches that humans walked the earth 6,000 years ago with dinosaurs. Do I, as a taxpayer, want my taxes to support that as a proper education in science?"
One school participating in Louisiana's program notes that its students "will be expected to defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible versus traditional scientific theory." Refusing to teach evolution also isn't grounds for rejecting a school from the voucher program.
In 1987, the Supreme Court struck down a law mandating that "creationism" be taught equally with evolution in public school classrooms, noting that the legislation was an effort to promote religious doctrine.
Louisiana's voucher program passed through the state legislature amid heated debate, particularly as lawmakers objected to funding an Islamic school despite approving of support for Christian schools. Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges also retracted her support for the program this month after realizing the money could be applied to Muslim schools.
The state's teachers' unions, the Louisiana School Boards Association and many school districts have filed lawsuits to block the program.

The nation pushes back against standardized tests

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, By Lisa Guisbond

As attention turns from analyzing ethnic and gender gaps among voters, let’s focus on another kind of gap that will linger long after Election Day. It’s the yawning chasm over the use of high-stakes standardized testing that exists between teachers, parents and students at the local level, and policy elites, foundations, entrepreneurs and mainstream editorial writers on the national level.
The latter group continues to promote testing as a way to force improvements and address inequalities in learning outcomes — despite more than a decade of failure. Meanwhile, more and more people at the local level are joining a national grassroots rebellion against high-stakes testing. Promises of new and better standards and assessments are not persuading test-weary public school stakeholders that a slight variation on what has failed will suddenly succeed.  
This broad-based dissatisfaction showed up in some surprising places on Election Day. Indiana voters ousted Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a devotee of test-driven reforms, in favor of 33-year veteran educator Glenda Ritz.  Idaho voters soundly rejected several “reform” measures, including test score-based performance pay for teachers.
It won’t be news to loyal readers of the “Answer Sheet” that there’s a rebellion brewing. But it’s worth a moment to consider the full dimensions and status of this revolt and think about how to further expand and strengthen it. Hundreds of school boards have now passed resolutions loudly stating, “Enough is enough.” Parents groups are rallying to provide support. Test boycotts are expanding. Academic researchers are increasingly speaking out. The growing resistance is attracting increased attention from policymakers and the media. As the scope of the opposition expands, some local organizers are focusing on winning policy changes in their states and communities.  
Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott helped spark the revolt in January, saying publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. Then school boards in Texas that had passed resolutions stating that tests were “strangling’ education,” gained hundreds of endorsements within weeks. FairTest organized a dozen other education, civil rights, and religious groups to launch the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. Groups of parents, students, teachers, principals, school board members and education researchers from around the nation endorsed similar statements. All decry the way high-stakes testing policies are harming our schools, teachers, students and families.
Here’s an update on the status of the high-stakes testing rebellion around the nation:
The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has more than 13,700 individual and almost 460 organizational endorsers. It calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration “to overhaul [NCLB,] reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.” The Pennsylvania School Boards Association as well as individual boards in Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Virginia endorsed it.
Florida activists adopted their own versions, and the Florida School Board Association passed a variation at its annual conference in the spring. The National Parent Teacher Association said the resolution is consistent with its policy positions. Regional groups continue to announce new initiatives based on the Resolution, including the Massachusetts group Citizens for Public Schools.
The Texas school board resolution has been endorsed by more than 830 school districts representing more than 4.3 million – 88% – of all Texas public school students.
Top-down testing mandates, in large part, drove Chicago teachers to strike. The teachers’ arguments were bolstered by 88 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities who had signed an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposing the city’s plan for using student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals. The letter said, “The new evaluation system… centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children.” More than 1,100 New York researchers endorsed a similar letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
A letter protesting New York State’s teacher evaluation policy and its reliance on student test scores has been signed by 1,512 principals from urban, suburban and rural schools, more than one-third of all New York principals.
The nation’s second largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, unanimously adopted a resolution at its annual convention saying the focus on standardized testing has undermined education. The National Education Association has approved similar resolutions in the past.
The Niagara (NY) Regional Parent Teacher Association passed an emergency resolution in late September. It says,
The intent of this resolution is to ask the State Education Department to suspend its testing program until such time as it can create a new one that reliably measures educational progress without harming children and lowering the quality of education.
School boards, parent organizations and others continue to pass variations on the resolutions and consider how to win the political battle to change testing policies.
Parent groups in a number of states, including Colorado, California and New York, that helped parents opt their children out of last spring’s tests are planning to continue and expand their boycotts.
At the local level, parents, students and teachers can unite to achieve concrete changes, such as halting the proliferation of “interim” or “benchmark” tests imposed by districts that are in addition to state or federal mandates. Winning changes against entrenched state and federal high-stakes testing policies will be a longer, harder task. But the upsurge in opposition to destructive high-stakes testing increases the likelihood of such victories.
FairTest’s web site has fact sheets, papers and materials to help testing opponents in their efforts.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The bigotry of low expectations in Florida

From School Matters by Judy Rubin

What we should be doing in our schools!

Children should be taught to question everything. To question everything they read, everything they hear.

- George Carlin

New Florida testing could lead to thousand not graduating

From the Orlando Sentinel, By Leslie Postal

The passing rate on Florida's new biology and geometry exams — now must-pass tests for a high school diploma — would be under 60 percent if a proposed scoring system is adopted.
That would put success on the state's newest end-of-course exams on par with its algebra 1 exam, which 58 percent of students passed last spring.
Local educators fear in coming years that thousands of high school students will fail one or more of the exams and then need remedial lessons before they retake and, hopefully, pass them ahead of their scheduled graduation.
Florida educators are working this fall to set passing scores for the biology and geometry tests, which were introduced to make sure students mastered key high school subjects.
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is to make score recommendations to the State Board of Education, which has final say, before its Dec. 12 meeting.
So far, two panels made up of teachers, professors, business leaders and school board members have made suggestions.
The second panel, whose work is likely closer to what will be the final recommendation, suggested setting the biology and geometry scoring systems so that, based on this year's data, the passing rates would be 53 percent on geometry and 59 percent on biology.
If those are adopted, Seminole County, where test scores routinely lead the state, could soon have a "backlog" of 5,000 students who haven't passed some or all of the new exams, said Deborah Camilleri, coordinator of assessment and accountability.
"It will have a cumulative effect and impact on students who are trying to graduate from high school," she said.
And high schools, she added, will be stretched thin trying to get them all into summer classes or other remedial programs to help them pass re-take exams. or 407-420-5273,0,2268523.story

Indiana Gets it, why won't Florida?

Indiana put the brakes on their wrong headed education reforms and it is time Florida did the same.

Public puts the brakes on reform | The Journal Gazette | Fort Wayne, IN

Saturday, November 10, 2012

George Carlin - Dumbed Down Education

In Tallahassee, our elected leaders wielded their strength without restraint or courtesy

Lessons from the aftermath
By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

“When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible,” said Mahatma Gandhi, a man who lived and died fighting for the rights of his people through the least violent means.

In Tallahassee, however, our elected leaders wielded their strength without restraint or courtesy.  They chose purely political agenda that was designed to exact revenge on their enemies.  They disguised their attacks on teachers unions in the guise of education reform, they claimed they were protecting free speech as they tried to limit public workers from being able to deduct their union dues from their paycheck, cut back on early voting days in a cynical move to protect the integrity of the polls, and they took dead aim at a co-equal branch of government by seeking to change how Supreme Court justices are chosen.

This arrogance was fostered in a state where, although registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by over 400,000 eligible voters, the Republicans held a super majority in both houses of the state legislature and occupy the entire state cabinet.  Through the added power of coffers overflowing with money from business and industry, the majority party did not need to listen to others because our leaders designed the system to keep them gainfully employed.  Their dominance of state politics by one political party turned the machinery of governance into a steamroller which flattened all opposition.

The Republican Party may not have met their Waterloo as they maintained comfortable majorities in the state legislature.  They did, however, lose seats in the process and saw incumbent members of Congress from Florida lose their seats.  They also failed in their efforts to unseat three state Supreme Court justices.  The most painful consequence of their overreach by Republicans was the fact that a president whose unpopularity helped put the governor in office was the same president won Florida’s electoral votes in a repeat victory.  Not even Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Connie Mack or Allen West could help put the pieces together again.

The overconfidence began early in Governor Rick Scott’s term.  Despite winning office by a razor-thin margin, he and party leaders went above and beyond in crushing their opposition.  They began with education ‘reform’ that created an onerous evaluation system that is still being sorted out in school districts statewide.  They confiscated three percent of public worker pay on which they balanced the state budget.  They sought to privatize state prisons in a way that is reminiscent of former governor Claude Kirk and Wackenhut.  They had all the levers of power in their hands and they used these levers as clubs with which to beat their foes. 

The headless Florida Democratic Party gave the false impression that the lack of a public face to the opposition party meant that Floridians would willingly go along with whatever came out of Tallahassee.

This was made shamefully clear when the state’s elected leaders erected roadblocks to early voting.  In spite of a chorus of protests from supervisors of elections around the state, the lawmakers insisted on passing new laws reduce the number of voting days and cracked down on voter registration groups.  Even public high school civics teachers were not safe from the legislature and their infinite wisdom.

When the time to choose finally arrived for Florida’s voters, they responded by bucking the trend that tipped the scales of power in favor of the state’s leaders and their moneyed supporters.  The state reached a tipping point in which the polling stations were overwhelmed by people who waited hours to make their voices heard.  They responded by reelecting President Obama.  They responded by chipping away at the Republican majority in Tallahassee.  They responded by keeping all three state Supreme Court justices in office.  They responded by voting down all but three proposed constitutional amendments.

If the political establishment thought that they could avoid such disaster by playing the system to demoralize and discourage the opposition, they were really playing themselves.  Did they really think that their bullying would go unanswered forever?  

Having dominated state election cycles, the state’s leaders have numbed themselves to any prospect of push back from anyone.  They assumed that they could deliver 29 electoral votes to the GOP nominee and could cakewalk to victory all the way down the ballot – including the eviction of three Supreme Court justices from office.  Worst of all, they were taking Florida voters for granted, or even stupid.

If there is to be a takeaway lesson from this past election, it would be to heed the lesson that is told in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’  Decades ago, Florida Republicans were on the outside looking in and were seeking ways to make inroads in governance.  They succeeded; perhaps they were victims of their own success.  Orwell’s pigs led the overthrow of Farmer Jones but soon adopted the vices of their vanquished nemesis.

The new majority in the state legislature was not content with having the reins of power.  Without mercy, they found new ways to assail collective bargaining, public workers, teachers unions, trial attorneys and anyone else who stood in their way.  This common thread between our friends in Tallahassee and the fictional beasts of Manor Farm was that the mere expansion of powers enabled them to effectively cripple dissent.  The trouble is that intimidation was not at the heart of why we created our republic.

Since 2010, many Floridians indeed did begin to give up on having any kind of voice in their state’s affairs.  The record low approval ratings for the governor did little to deter the state’s leaders from behaving as if they were entitled to lead and give orders.  While parent and teacher groups were largely ignored in drafting policy, corporations and lobbyists (Including ALEC) had carte blanche with their friends in office.

Paradoxically, the same groups who demanded that the threshold for new constitutional amendments be raised to a super majority of 60 percent or more are the folks we should be thanking for the failure of the constitutional amendment proposals that looked more like a laundry list of Tea Party gripes that were almost enshrined into law.  Talk about a silver lining to their shenanigans. 

The next question is whether our state’s elected officials plan to become more circumspect about their power-hungry ways or will they continue to plow through the opposition and toward what promised to be a very contentious election year.  In an increasingly purple or blue state, true leadership will involve learning from this year’s mistakes to avoid another embarrassing election result.

The final question is what the electorate can learn from this election cycle.  Charles de Secondat said, “Power ought to serve as a check to power.”  If our state preaches open rebellion against federal abuses of power (e.g. ObamaCare), it is high time that Floridians continue to protest and fight the overreach coming from the state capital.  

John Louis Meeks, Jr. studied political science at the University of North Florida, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications in 1998.  He resides in Jacksonville and teaches social studies in Atlantic Beach.