To Remove Rick Scott

From the Edward Ringwald Blog

I received this reply from a fellow Blogger user who replied to my latest blog entry on Florida Governor Rick Scott about a web site in operation which is an initiative to have Florida’s 45th Governor, Rick Scott, recalled from office. The web site is

Unfortunately, the process of recalling a Governor of the State of Florida from office is not defined. Florida has a recall process, but it only applies to local officials within Florida. A bill in the Florida House of Representatives authored by Florida State Representative Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg – HJR 785 – will call for an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Florida to allow for recall of the Governor and other high ranking Florida officials from office. Only the passage of HJR 785 and the eventual approval of the amendment by the voters of this great state will get this recall process going.

We need to get HJR 785 passed and this constitutional amendment passed as soon as possible, not in 2012 when Rick Scott will more than likely have done a substantial amount of damage to Florida’s economy.

In the meantime, here’s what you need to do as a Floridian to bring back government to the people, not to Corporate America and Corporate Florida:

What you need to do is to write your state representative expressing your support for HJR 785. Now you are asking yourself, how do I know who my state representative is?

It’s very simple: Look on your voter information card that your county’s Supervisor of Elections sent you. It will have the district number of your state representative printed on it. If you are not sure you can always telephone your county’s supervisor of elections or visit their web site.

Pinellas County: or (727) 464-6788
Hillsborough County: or (813) 744-5900
For other Florida counties: Link to Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections list of county Supervisors of Elections page

The staff of your county’s Supervisor of Elections office will help you in determining who your Florida state representative is. When you call or write your state representative, tell them that you support HJR 785 in order to make our state officials such as our Governor accountable to the people of this great state. If you would like to write a letter to your elected representative and you don’t know how to begin writing, here’s a sample letter from the website shown below (of course, you can edit it as you like):

I’m writing to let you know that because I am deeply disappointed in the recent actions of our new Governor, and because I support the right of a state’s citizens to hold our elected officials accountable, I am urging you to give HJR785 your full support.

Rick Scott is bad news for Florida — legislators from both parties agree that his decision to scratch the long-awaited high-speed rail project was ill-advised, indefensible and unconscionable, especially considering Florida’s current unemployment rate and the fact that 25% of our revenue comes from the tourism industry.

I hope you will support not only HJR785, but any further actions aimed at the recall of Gov. Scott.

Please let your Florida state representative know today – we Floridians have a chance to save our state from major economic ruin so much that we cannot pick up the pieces. And if you have already contacted your representative, you are more than welcome to report your contact to your Florida representative simply by posting a reply.

And thanks to genepool3 for sending me the link!

Scott goes after nursing homes too

From the Orlando Sentinel

By Kate Santich,

Watchdogs of the nation’s nursing-home industry are calling for an investigation into Gov. Rick Scott’s abrupt dismissal of the state’s long-term-care ombudsman, claiming that the governor’s “interference” was illegal.

For two weeks, advocates for patients’ rights have waged a campaign to persuade officials of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Administration on Aging to look into the Feb. 7 ouster of Florida ombudsman Brian Lee.

Lee, who had held the post for seven years, previously worked under Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist and was considered an aggressive champion of residents’ rights. In recent months, though, he’d had an increasingly contentious relationship with the industry and said he was ultimately told that the governor had ordered him to resign or be fired. He chose to resign.

“This is really a disaster for the residents of Florida nursing homes,” said Kate Ricks, chair of Voices for Quality Care, a Maryland-based nonprofit that supports patients’ rights and is one of the groups calling for a federal investigation. “There are problems in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, and there are very few resources to help — but the ombudsman is one. The ombudsman’s only job is to be an advocate for those residents. He has to be independent.”

The governor’s staff did not respond to several requests for comment, nor has the governor spoken publicly on the subject to other media.

Under the federal Older Americans Act, first passed in 1965, each state must have a long-term-care ombudsman program separate from the agency that licenses the facilities. In Florida, Lee, a $78,000-a-year state employee, led a largely volunteer army of about 400 ombudsmen throughout the state. Their job, according to federal law, is to identify, investigate and resolve residents’ complaints.

State law mirrors national legislation in expressly mandating that the ombudsmen are to operate “without interference by any executive agency.”

Further, the laws “prohibit retaliation and reprisals.” The goal, advocates say, is to ensure the residents have someone free of influence to address their complaints — which in Florida last year numbered nearly 10,000, a record.

The ombudsman’s office does not have the power to fine the facilities, although it can refer the matter to other agencies that do have such powers. Mostly, it tries to resolve the matter to the residents’ satisfaction. Still, the ombudsmen’s influence can be considerable.

“The nursing home wouldn’t even return our calls until we got the ombudsman involved,” said Karen Mummey of St. Cloud, whose 71-year-old mother fell and broke her hip in a nursing home after being left unattended in a bathroom. Mummey said the facility’s staff also failed to awaken her mother for meals and were often too busy “texting on their phones” to do their jobs.

“But when the ombudsman comes in there, they all stand up and pay attention,” Mummey said. “It’s the only advocate we have.”

For his part, Lee admits he had a “rocky relationship” with the state’s nursing-home industry for years. But he said things took a marked turn for the worse when Scott — former CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain — was elected.

“It was like, ‘Oh, man, Scott is our guy — and now we’ll be able to get him [Lee] out of there,” Lee said. “When the governor’s transition team came to our department, half the group was made up of nursing-home providers. So right there, in December, we knew where this was going.”

Late that month, the Florida Assisted Living Association, which represents about 700 of the state’s assisted-living facilities, sent the governor a letter supporting the appointment of a new ombudsman. Their suggestion was Robert Emling, a Miami field-office manager for the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

Lee calls that “complete interference with the program” — an assertion echoed by other advocates. But the Assisted Living Association’s executive director, Patricia Lange, said the group never called for Lee’s ouster. The letter itself makes no mention of Lee.

“That’s not a position we could take,” Lange said. “We had actually been contacted by this individual — Mr. Emling — who told us he was interested in the position. We met with him, and we simply supported his effort to apply for the job.”

The letter arrived in the Governor’s Office on Jan. 18, shortly before Lee sent requests to the state’s 677 nursing homes for corporate-ownership information — something he was required to do under the new Affordable Care Act, but which nonetheless rankled industry leaders.

Some say that was the final straw.

“It shouldn’t have been a problem,” Lee said, “except that the industry doesn’t want that information out there. They’re really crafty. What they do is separate out all their corporate information and have these individual little limited-liability companies that hold all their interests.”

If a facility is sued, Lee said, it is not only protected by state caps on liability, but it also is able to close down the targeted company and continue business under the name of another

Our state government has left unprotected our most vulnerable citizens: our grandmothers and grandfathers,” said John Morgan, founder of the sprawling personal-injury law firm Morgan and Morgan. “We’ve let them set up these shell corporations and then set limits on how much you can collect.”

Advocates had worked behind the scenes for years to change the federal law, ultimately succeeding with the Nursing Home Transparency Provision in the nation’s health-care overhaul. The new law requires nursing homes to provide the information to state ombudsmen — although Florida has challenged the law in federal court, and officials here have said the state does not need to comply with the federal law while the case makes its way through the appellate process.

In Ricks’ opinion, the timing of Lee’s dismissal — on the heels of his request for ownership information — is “scary.” Joe Rodrigues, president of the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs, said it is “suspicious.”

“It’s a concern to our association first of all because of the letter from Assisted Living Association to the governor suggesting that the governor replace Brian with this other individual, and, second, because it came immediately after the request Brian made for ownership information,” said Rodrigues, who heads California’s ombudsman program. “The ombudsman shouldn’t fear he’ll lose his job if he speaks out or challenges someone, whether it’s the licensing agency or the facilities or anyone else.”

But Florida’s nursing-home industry, represented by the Florida Health Care Association, claims Lee’s request was both “onerous” for the one-month deadline he imposed and because it “failed to focus on residents’ rights.”

Kristen Knapp, the association’s director of communications, said the ombudsman program under Lee had often strayed off target and that some volunteers had used their state-mandated yearly assessment of the facilities to become de-facto health inspectors.

“Some folks would even come in and look at the kitchen and question an administrator on the backup food supply in the event of an emergency,” Knapp said. “And why is that [ownership] information even necessary? When you have to pull people back to do paperwork, it takes them away from the [residents’] bedside.”

Rodrigues countered that anything that concerns an ombudsman should concern the facility, too.

“If I was a facility administrator,” he said, “I’d want to hear this from an ombudsman rather than a licensing agency that’s going to fine me or an attorney who’s going to sue me.”

Lee had recently begun to use Twitter to report his findings during nursing-home visits, posting residents’ complaints and his observations as he went. An October visit to an Orlando nursing home was especially embarrassing to the facility.

Meanwhile, the Administration on Aging, the most likely agency to investigate, has not yet announced its intentions. But Public Affairs Officer Moya Thompson said the advocates’ letters are being reviewed.

Lee and Rodrigues said they had been given verbal assurances that the agency would investigate.

The state ombudsman’s office has yet to advertise for Lee’s replacement, but acting Director Aubrey Posey — formerly the program’s attorney — said the office is continuing to do its job.

The request for nursing-home-ownership information, though, has been rescinded.

Lynn Dos Santos, volunteer chairwoman of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman Council, sees it as the potential beginning of the end. If the ombudsman program loses autonomy in Florida, she said, the nursing-home industry will be emboldened to apply pressure in other states, too.

“I’ve seen a wonderful leader taken away from us,” she said. “He lived and breathed that job, and I can’t imagine the program without him. As far as I’m concerned, we need to draw a line in the sand.” or 407-420-5503,0,6912440.story?page=2

The attack on teachers continues


by Tracey

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Wisconsin Governor Walker succeeded in his aim to remove collective bargaining rights to teachers and other public employees. And, following right behind, Providence, Rhode Island issued pink slips to all of their 1,926 teachers. Sure, most will likely get hired back. But what this move effectively does is remove collective bargaining for these teachers. If you watch the heart-wrenching video of the board meeting, the teachers were begging to be laid-off rather than terminated. A termination for everyone means that the district can hire whomever they want back, regardless of seniority. It’s difficult to sit back and watch these two demoralizing attacks on teachers and teachers’ unions.

In both of these stories, the governor of Wisconsin and the mayor of Providence claimed these were necessary moves because of severe budget shortfalls. While it’s true they’re experiencing a budget crisis; it’s false to presume these actions will aid in alleviating the budget. We know that Walker offered tax cuts to businesses and is further diminishing state revenue by eradicating collective bargaining for public employees.

Unfortunately, people seem to be buying the argument and agree that everyone “needs to sacrifice.” I wonder if these drastic moves are being blamed on budget issues because if Gov. Walker and Mayor Angeles Taveras came right out and said, “We want to dismantle labor unions and end collective bargaining for working Americans,” they know they wouldn’t get elected. A recent poll shows that Americans are still in support of collective bargaining. This brings me some hope. However, there’s no question teachers’ unions are under attack. And the fervor behind this comes from the mistaken notion that teachers’ unions are all about protecting bad teachers.

We know this isn’t true thanks to Tom’s post, where he featured data showing that about two percent of public school teachers get fired each year. Unions provide teachers, whether good or bad, with due process. They don’t protect a bad teacher from being terminated. If that’s not happening in your school, look around and you’ll also find an ineffective principal.

One thing we all seem to agree on is how important quality instruction is to a child’s education. I hear this idea repeated from everyone discussing education policy: teachers, administrators, parents, teachers’ unions, politicians, Davis Guggenheim. It’s a common-ground issue. So, why did congress lower the standard for defining what it means to be a highly qualified teacher to include “teachers in training?” Valerie Strauss, education blogger for the Washington Post, calls it “a gift for Teach for America” since their teachers enter the classroom with only five weeks of training under their belt.

Teach for America, as I’m sure you know, is made up of young college graduates from elite institutions who commit to teach in high poverty schools for two years. It’s a sort of “Peace Corps” experience before moving onto graduate school and other careers and leadership positions, such as, say… for example, superintendent of DC Public Schools. (Michelle Rhee got her three years of teaching experience by becoming a TFA teacher.)

There’s no labor union for teachers of Teach for America, unless you’re including NEA, AFT, and local affiliates. These teachers aren’t negotiating for lower class sizes and health care benefits. But they are moving into areas where there aren’t teacher shortages. And, yes, in some cases, they are taking the vacated classrooms of laid-off, more experienced teachers and competing with brand new teachers fresh out of teacher education programs. Starting next year, TFA teachers will be in both Seattle and Federal Way school districts. Likewise, they’ll also be in Providence, Rhode Island. According to the TFA website, they are hoping to hire 35 new TFA teachers for the 2011-2012 school year.

You might think that TFA would have the benefit of alleviating budget issues, such those facing the Providence school district. Teachers with the least amount of experience are lowest on the pay scale. Hiring TFA teachers could save money. But that’s not the case. In fact, due to their high turn over and necessary training, they actually cost districts $70,000 a year per recruit. Districts pay the same salary to TFA teachers as they do to their regular teachers, plus a $5000 finders fee to the organization.

Regardless, the Teach for America model seems to be a success. They’re in their 20th year and expanding to more regions. The Department of Education awarded them $50 million to broaden their work.

Does this raise questions for you like it does for me? If TFA isn’t working to improve the quality of instruction students receive, reaching out to address teacher shortages, or reducing the cost of educating students, why is it getting so much praise and attention? I can see how putting high energy, bright people in classrooms with high needs can have a positive outcome. I’m all for more people in the classroom. But who is it benefiting? Is it benefiting kids? Maybe. However, this account doesn’t suggest that. Nor does this one. Research also doesn’t support this claim when comparing test scores of students of TFA teachers with students of certified teachers. But, we know how murky test scores can be.

Is it possible that TFA benefits another group of people we’re not thinking about? Maybe, people who want to see the demise teachers’ unions? What do you think, does Teach for America weaken teachers’ unions?

Here’s an internet game you can play. Open up the page listing the Board of Directors for Teach for America and Google the members. Try, in your search, not to bump into Texas oil billionaires, off-shore oil drilling ventures, and financial consultants for 80% of the 70 biggest banks and financial institutions. I’m not saying these are bad people. I have no idea. Their mission seems extremely admirable. I’m just questioning if they share the same interests I have as a public school teacher who wants to see public education become the best it can be for a free democracy. Or, might they be more concerned with removing one of the last obstacles restricting the privatization of the public sphere? NEA president Dennis Van Roeke made a statement regarding these recent attacks to our union, “America Cannot Have a Middle Class without Unions.” I hope that once we get through this recession and our next series of elections, we can still find quality instruction from teachers who enjoy their work, students who are curious and engaged in valuable learning, and labor unions protecting the interests of the middle class.

The un-do of due process

From Failing Schools

by Sabrina

With all the recent attacks on teachers’ due process rights, and on teacher unionism and organizing, continuing reports of retaliation against ethical teachers continue to disturb me. For instance, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported on teacher whistleblowers who have been targeted for helping expose local testing scandals there:

His bosses had no trouble dismissing Ryan Abbott’s report of cheating on standardized tests in an Atlanta school. They simply cast him in a self-fulfilling role, Abbott says: “disgruntled teacher.”

Abbott was already on probation, after four years at Benteen Elementary. His students had not posted the big increases in test scores seen in other classrooms. Yet he had the audacity to level charges against a popular colleague. After word of Abbott’s allegations spread through the school, Benteen’s principal opened an ethics case — against him.

“It’s put me in a very difficult spot,” said Abbott, whose job security remains tenuous even though state authorities corroborated his claims of cheating at Benteen. “It’s a tough place to be.”

Abbott’s experience illustrates the perils that befall Atlanta Public Schools teachers who report cheating or other wrongdoing, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

Miles away in New York City, another teacher shared his story about how unfair evaluations followed his and other teachers’ complaints about an abusive administrator:

As Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black are pushing to be able to lay off senior teachers on “merit” grounds, my experience at the Bronx High School of Science raises questions about how teachers’ ratings are handed out.

The national education debate has centered on how to increase “teacher quality.” New York City Chancellor Cathie Black, for example, has called for first laying off teachers who were given “unsatisfactory” (U) ratings (along with those in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool). But there are more than a few cases in New York City that make clear that U-ratings are not always an indication of teacher quality, but sometimes are a result of retaliation against whistle-blowers and union activists.

The recent disciplining of Fordham School of the Arts principal Iris Blige for ordering her assistant principals to U-rate teachers whom she had never seen teach reveals a few important things about the DOE’s process of determining merit. First, U ratings can be arbitrarily ordered by a principal. Second, the penalty from the DOE for doing so is a slap on the wrist — a $7,500 fine for Blige, the same amount charged to teachers who used sick days when they were actually on vacation.

I was unfortunate enough to have witnessed this process firsthand at the Bronx High School of Science. In the fall of 2007, the math department welcomed a new assistant principal, Rosemarie Jahoda. Soon, however, we found that the newer teachers in the department were being subjected to a level of scrutiny and paperwork that was excessive. As soon as I spoke up about the issue, which was my responsibility as a member of a UFT consultation committee that met with the principal, I immediately began receiving unjustified disciplinary letters. These were quickly followed by groundless unsatisfactory lesson observation reports. I had had a spotless teaching record for my entire previous career, including at Bronx Science.

I was not alone. My newer colleagues were warned against speaking to their more senior coworkers. They were reduced to tears in meetings with the AP, and yelled at in front of their students. One was fired; others soon left. Senior teachers were not spared the abuse — one was called “disgusting” by AP Jahoda after speaking up in a department meeting.

As a result, 20 of us (out of a department of 22) filed a harassment grievance in 2008 against our AP and Principal Valerie Reidy. After spending eight full hearing days over the span of one school year, a neutral fact-finder substantiated our complaints, concluding that the “the totality of Jahoda’s treatment of teachers … constitutes harassment.”

The DOE, however, completely dismissed her findings, and has substantiated my U-rating as well as those of some of my colleagues, in its rubber-stamp “appeals” process. As a result, I’ve been forced to turn to the courts for relief. Oral arguments in a lawsuit against the DOE were held this week.

Misinformation about teachers’ job protections, a hostile sociopolitical climate, and the pressure to trim budgets is putting a number of teachers into threatening situations, where their professional livelihoods (and emotional well-being) are concerned. How do we expect to attract and retain talented teachers when so many will face injustice on the job? How can we grow an effective, productive school system when we push out the most ethical, dedicated professionals? How can teachers put students first when we’re busy looking over their shoulders all the time, trying to do incredibly difficult work in toxic, fear-driven school environments? How can we expect students to learn and prosper when the adults around them are bullied and stressed to the brink?

Simple answer: we can’t. Toxic work environments for adults are toxic learning environments for children– it’s impossible to put students first by leaving the people who support them vulnerable to unfair attack. Instead of launching political battles over teachers’ rights, we should be refocusing on building positive cultures in all schools, that ensure teacher quality before teachers take charge of a classroom and support continued professional growth

Should we un-do due process?

Roofers verses Teachers

In a recent message board discussing what is playing out in Wisconsin and in other states around the nation, MacInAction wrote:

Quote: Winning the election is hard work. Negotiating a contract is hard work.

Hard work is putting a roof on a house in the blazing sun and 130° heat of a summer’s day. Hard work is repiping a house with a new plumbing system for hours in stifling hot attic. Hard work is paving a roadway all day with burning-hot asphalt a few feet away. Just a few examples of jobs that are just as important to our society as teaching. What you consider hard work is a preposterous!

The REAL working class, in many cases, doesn’t get outstanding pay and pensions for what they do, but I don’t see them protesting about ‘unfair’ treatment.

I’d love to see these disgruntled Wisconsin teachers work on a roofing crew for an entire month in our summer weather. They would be THRILLED to have the old job back with the current deal that is being proposed!

This is a roofer telling other middle class workers to stop whining. Dotcom billionaires, hedge fund managers and politicicans must be laughing it up all the way to the bank. This is what they want. They want the middle class to battle among themselves. If we’re distracted we can’t see how they are raping America.

If you read the message boards and comment sections you will find many postings similar to MacInActions, people little more than pay check to pay check living in fear of an accident or an illness arguing about table scraps. Convinced that they don’t deserve any better, saying if it sucks for me I want it to suck for my neighbors too. This while five percent of the nation controls forty percent of the wealth. We’re making cuts in social services and middle class workers salaries while giving tax breaks to billionaires and they have convinced MacInAction and his ilk that this is the right thing to do. Does the average man on the street not see what is wrong with that picture?

MacInAction I am sorry things aren’t better for you, I wish they were. I am teacher and I have to say my pension and benefits aren’t that great and taking five percent out of my paycheck, which is what the governor is proposing, is going to hurt. The solution is not to fix the problem on my back and on the backs of your hard working neighbors, or your back either; the solution is those at the top of the food chain pay their fair share.

Michelle Rhee, facts don’t matter

From the Shanker Blog

On Wednesday, Michelle Rhee’s new organization, Students First, rolled out its first big policy campaign: It’s called “Save Great Teachers,” and it is focused on ending so-called “seniority-based layoffs.”

Rhee made several assertions at the initial press conference and in an accompanying op-ed in the Atlanta Constitution Journal (and one on At least three of these claims address the empirical research on teacher layoffs and quality. Two are false; the other is misleading. If history is any guide, she is certain to repeat these “findings” many times in the coming months.

As discussed in a previous post, I actually support the development of a better alternative to seniority-based layoffs (as does the public), but I am concerned that the debate is proceeding as if we already have one (most places don’t), and that there’s quite a bit of outrage-inspiring misinformation flying around on this topic. So, in the interest of keeping the discussion honest, as well as highlighting a few issues that bear on the layoff debate generally, I do want to try and correct Rhee preemptively.
First, she claims that seniority-based layoffs hurt the least advantaged students most (she made this assertion at the press conference, in the op-ed, and in a short video on her website). This is based on one very rough previous calculation (perhaps this one too), as well as on inference from the fact that high-poverty schools (or those with more minority students) tend to have less experienced teachers. But, although layoff policies vary from district to district, none really proceeds based on seniority alone. Most take many factors into account, including need. As a result, the two best layoff analyses available – one using data from New York City and the other from Washington State, both sophisticated and thorough – find that layoffs are dispersed relatively evenly between higher- and lower-poverty/minority schools (see here for more Washington results). There is little disparate impact. This is not the final word, of course, but according to the best available evidence, Rhee’s claim is not correct: Layoffs hurt all students.

Second, probably referring to a study by the same author as the one she uses for her disparate impact claim, Rhee goes on to assert that, compared with layoffs based on “performance,” seniority-based layoffs would require the dismissal of 33 percent more teachers to achieve the same budgetary savings. (she only used the 33 percent figure at the press conference, while making the claim generically [no numbers] in her op-ed and video.)

This, too, is incorrect. It’s true that a layoff that is based solely or mostly on seniority is likely to require more layoffs, to make up the same budget shortfall, than one using some other criteria. But the analysis Rhee uses to quantify the extent of those “savings” is completely inappropriate for this purpose, and by design overstates the difference. It compares a seniority-based layoff with a hypothetical scenario in which teachers at all levels of experience are equally likely to be fired (i.e., a “seniority-neutral layoff”). This is, essentially, a random layoff, which means that Rhee’s “evidence” of how many jobs would be saved by a performance-based layoff does not actually simulate a performance-based layoff of any kind.

There is, in reality, no way to know how a “quality-based” layoff would actually play out under a realistic alternative system in which both tested and non-tested teachers were fired based on multiple measures of performance and need. It would almost certainly result in fewer layoffs than a largely seniority-based system, but the size of this difference would, in large part, depend on how one measured performance.

Still, even by the narrow measure of test score growth, there is every reason to believe that the least senior teachers would be, on average, the least effective (i.e., more senior teachers would be retained than in a random layoff), and, as mentioned above, actual layoffs are almost never based solely on seniority (i.e., fewer brand new teachers would be fired than in a “purely” seniority-based layoff). This means that this particular analysis overstates the “savings,” probably by a very wide margin. The last thing we need in a budget crisis is this type of exaggeration, and the “33 percent” claim is a careless use of evidence.

Finally, Rhee’s third empirical assertion, although not incorrect, is rather misleading. Here it is, as stated in the op-ed:

Rules that mandate layoffs by seniority instead of quality do incredible damage to children and schools. An ineffective teacher generates only half the learning that an effective teacher does. Conversely, a highly effective teacher generates 50 percent more learning than an average teacher. This means that kids learn three times more in a highly effective teacher’s classroom than in an ineffective teacher’s.
Rhee does not cite a source, but, while estimates vary, the final three sentences are a standard summary of the literature, albeit one that lacks nuance and defines “learning” entirely in terms of test scores.

Basically, all the “50 percent” finding shows is that teacher quality – as measured by test score gains – varies. Well, yes. But it doesn’t follow that seniority-based layoffs would “do incredible damage” by retaining all the “ineffective” teachers, As discussed above, seniority bears a strong relationship to test-based effectiveness during a teacher’s first few years.

Perhaps more importantly, the statement implies that effective/average teachers would be retained (since that’s how they’re selected for retention). This not only assumes that value-added is accurate in any given year (it is not), and is a sufficient measure of “quality,” but it also ignores the fact that the “benefits” of layoffs based on value-added decline rather rapidly over time, because the estimates are unstable (as the NYC analysis found). A teacher that produces 50 percent more “learning” than average in one year might only produce 20 percent more the next; she might very well be below average, especially if she’s a newer teachers with a small sample of students (which would make her first-year estimate more error-prone). Overall, without context or elaboration, Rhee’s statement is a non-sequitur of sorts, an inappropriate juxtaposition of findings and a policy position.

For the record, I don’t think that Michelle Rhee is “lying” by her misrepresentation of these findings – I just don’t think she’s very careful about education research. In general, we should all support the use of empirical evidence to guide policy decisions, so long as those who use it are diligent about keeping up with the work and presenting it appropriately. Michelle Rhee is running a national campaign, using other people’s money. To kick off that campaign with inaccuracies and exaggerations does a disservice to her to supporters and opponents alike, and I hope she corrects these errors going forward.

Florida legislature, subverts the will of the people

From the St. Petersvug Times Gradebook

A draft bill that would give Florida school districts some wiggle room in dealing with strict class size rules has won support from some reluctant lawmakers, but it’s not gaining steam with one of the state’s most vocal parent organizations.

Fund Education Now, which has sued the state over funding adequacy issues, put out a statement roundly criticizing the bill, saying it would subvert the will of the people.

“You should remember that in the midst of a somewhat curious election cycle, the people spoke for a second time, rose above the roadblocks, and voted to keep class size. Constituents did not vote to add 3 or 5 extra students to the class. They voted to keep class size,” the group’s leaders wrote in a letter to sponsor Sen. David Simmons (see below).

The group took issue with the bill’s position on elementary school classes, virtual programs, charter schools and penalties. A House version of the bill doesn’t yet exist, but some House leaders have said they expect to see one soon.

February 24, 2011
The Honorable David Simmons
RE: Class Size Legislation Draft

Dear Senator Simmons,

We have just reviewed the draft of your class size legislation and as the largest allied parent advocacy group in the state we have the following comments:

1. We strongly question the path the Florida Legislature has used to arrive at this place. The efficacy of financing a costly amendment process to accomplish something that could have been remedied by statute eludes us. You should remember that in the midst of a somewhat curious election cycle, the people spoke for a second time, rose above the roadblocks, and voted to keep class size. Constituents did not vote to add 3 or 5 extra students to the class. They voted to keep class size.

We do not agree with the language regarding elementary classes. It runs contrary to the intent of the voters of this state. Parsing the school day of young children, packing specials and skating around the rim of smaller classes in only a few “subjects” is not what parents envisioned when they voted for a second time to keep class size restrictions. We do not agree with carving out certain “subjects” as described in your bill. Your bill as written ignores the preference for smaller classes for the whole day, particularly for elementary grades. We do not agree with this bill’s implication t that unless coursework is tied to a future high-stakes test, Florida is not invested in adhering to class size. That sentiment does not reflect the will of the people.

2. Class Size Penalties. We are surprised and disappointed to see that this is not addressed by your bill. As you know, the penalties do not appear in the statute. The people of this state have figured out that the existing “penalties” are little more than a hostile device constructed to encumber school districts. It is fiscally irresponsible and morally objectionable to assess districts $32 Million for struggling to achieve what the Florida Legislature was tasked to do by the voters and chose not to fund.

3. Charter School Exemption. Charter schools are Florida Public Schools and are funded by public dollars. They should be subject to every measure of accountability imposed on traditional schools. We strongly disagree with this exemption, which creates a separate and unequal caste system within Florida Public Schools. Picking and choosing the type of public school to penalize when all are receiving public dollars is not equitable or uniform.

4. Virtual/Digital Exemption: Your bill does not address this issue. Too little is known about the nature and intent of this type of publicly funded Florida school to exempt it from class size at this time. Since all references to this type of learning include K-20 courses, we do not feel comfortable giving an exemption to an unknown. For example, this exemption might allow 60 or 70 4th graders to be packed into a study hall with a few paraDprofessionals as they toil through their digital day. Parents will not accept this kind of Orwellian education experience for their children. It’s premature to offer an exemption unless the methods and standards regarding the physical classes for virtual/digital learning are clearly and collaboratively defined, understood and the argument for exemption is clearly articulated and not based solely on financial motives.

Respectfully submitted,
Kathleen Oropeza, partner
Christine Bramuchi, partner
Linda Kobert, partner

Schools shouldn’t be one size fits all

From Build Better

by Mellisa Jones

Parents, it’s time to wake up and take a good, hard look at our school system. Is this standardized, one size fits all education what we really want for our non standard kids? I, for one, am done being complacent. I’m not allowing my children to take “the test” in the high stakes testing game. It’s just the first step in the right direction. Now I find myself needing to address the fact that my childrens’ entire school year boils down to test prep for the big test. I know this is the case because our district advertises its use of “aligned curricula”. Aligned to what? Take a guess! Instead of CSAP simply being a tool to measure what our kids are learning, it’s become the curriculum. Textbook publishers align their materials to reflect the standards on state tests. It’s called teaching to the test, it’s what our school district does, and it’s at the disservice of our kids. Schools exist to serve children and their needs, not to satisfy government standards and line the pockets of McGraw-Hill.

Take a look at the Mapleton school district in Thornton. They’ve transformed their schools into magnets, each offering something unique, and giving parents and children real choice. So we can do this another way! Check out Jefferson County Open School. It’s a public school. Who’s to say we can’t reinvent one of ours here in Greeley into that model? It can be done! Let’s all start talking to each other about what we really want for our kids. What does real learning look like? How do you know it’s happening? Can it be measured on a standardized test? Why should that be the goal? Don’t our children deserve more?

Students are not all the same. An educational approach that reduces learning to a uniform set of measurable indicators is wrong. Talk to other parents, bring up the issue at PTO meetings, imagine something new and exciting! The time has come to pull our heads from the sand and look at our schools with a critical eye. Don’t accept things as they are because you assume the experts know best. Parents, teachers, and students are the experts. Let’s all take our rightful place at the table, roll up our sleeves, and get to work in reclaiming our children’s education. It belongs to them, not the state, not the feds, not the politicians and businessmen. It’s our job as parents to take back that control.

Scott would do away with collective bargaining

From the St.Petersburg Times

by Ellen Klas

TALLAHASSEE — Days after Gov. Rick Scott told a Tallahassee radio station that he was supportive of collective bargaining, he now says he wishes it weren’t allowed in Florida.

Scott’s original remarks came in a half-hour interview on WFLA-FM 100.7 in which he referred to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“Walker is trying to eliminate collective bargaining,” Scott said. “My belief is, as long as people know what they’re doing, collective bargaining is fine.” He added, however, “As long as people know what they’re voting for.”

On Friday, Scott gave an interview with Bloomberg TV in Washington, D.C., and changed his tune. While Florida’s Constitution protects workers from being compelled to join a union, it also protects union workers by guaranteeing their right to collective bargaining. Scott acknowledged the constitutional protections but announced he’d now like to see that changed.

“It’d be great to be able to change it,” Scott said, according to a preview of the interview posted on the Bloomberg website. “Our state workers don’t pay for anything into their pension plan. And we can’t afford that — it’s not fair to taxpayers. If you didn’t have collective bargaining, would it be better for the state? Absolutely.”