The Florida Legislature: We have just begun to punish teachers

From The St. Petersburg Times Gradebook

by Jeff Solochek

No long-term contracts for Florida teachers who don’t already have one, lawmakers say
With Senate Bill 736, Florida lawmakers made it so that any teachers newly hired beginning July 1 would only be able to get an annual contract. No long-term deals would be available for them.

What wasn’t clear was that current teachers on annual contracts won’t be able to get professional services contracts, either.

HB 7087, up for a vote in the Florida House on Thursday, would repeal laws guaranteeing PSC’s — which some equate to tenure — to teachers who have completed up to three years on a yearly work agreement. Teacher unions have cried foul.

“It’s underhanded and it’s unnecessary,” United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb told the Gradebook. “It’s difficult to not be totally disgusted,” said Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Kim Black. “Where is the legislation and funding to support new teachers? instead, they want to keep them on 10 month contracts. It’s shameful.”

Not so fast, House leaders say. SB 736 never promised teachers on annual contracts a PSC, they said. Only teachers currently with one can keep one, they added.

“Even if this bill does not pass it is not going to change their concern,” said sponsor Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who steered SB 736 through the House, agreed. Those teachers in the pipeline for a longer contract “won’t be able to get it, but not because of this repealer. Because of 736.”

Rick Scott to Voters: Drop Dead


By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

If we lived in New York, the tabloid headline today might read:

“Rick Scott to Voters: Drop Dead.”

That’s because an interesting poll was released yesterday.

A group called Public Policy Polling recently asked 500 Florida voters whether they approved or disapproved of the governor’s performance.

And so, three months into Gov. Rick Scott’s term, we now have numbers to confirm what people on Internet forums and in baseball stadiums already know: Floridian’s don’t much care for Scott’s gut-education/attack-workers/slash-and-burn strategy.

More than half of those polled – 52 percent – disapprove of Scott’s performance. While less than a third — 32 percent — approve.

Even among Republicans, only 57 percent approve of how Scott is doing his job. Less than half — 48 percent — of those who characterize themselves as “somewhat conservative” approve. And among “moderates,” a whopping 72 percent disapproved.

Three months ago, only 60 percent of Democratic voters disapproved of the new governor. Now that number is 81 percent.

Quite a fall since February, when Quinnipiac University found that 35 percent of Florida voters approved of Scott, only 22 percent disapproved, and the largest number, 43 percent, were undecided.

Well, it seems most of those folks have made up their minds. And it’s not good for Scott.

Perhaps the most telling poll figure was in the buyer’s remorse question: “If you could do last fall’s election for Governor over again, would you vote for Democrat Alex Sink or Republican Rick Scott?”

Sink trounced Scott, 56 to 37.

When asked what he thought about the numbers, Scott answered like a governor who operates in a state with no recall provision and who enjoys virtually impeachment-proof super majorities in both legislative chambers:

“I didn’t come here to be the most popular.”

Or in New York Daily News-speak: Drop dead, Florida voters.

As I wrote three weeks ago: Scott doesn’t care. Doesn’t care that we’re outraged he’s gutting education. Doesn’t care we’re concerned that, rather than creating jobs, he’s cutting them. Doesn’t care that voters might believe his policies are lining his owm pockets (or his wife’s).

He doesn’t have to care.

That one-point election win in an overwhelmingly Republican state didn’t make him Gov. Rick Scott. It made him the CEO of Florida Inc. We’re merely his charges. Doesn’t matter whether we agree with him or not. He’s pushing ahead — even if he has to eventually “take the Fifth” 75 times.

But unfortunately for him, a state has more stakeholders than a corporation. There are police chiefs who are angry that the pill-mill database was ended for no obvious reason. Mayors and legislators upset about turning down a paltry $2.4 billion for a high-speed train, Party donors with expectation, not to speak of tea partiers who think you can never go far enough.

What’s a CEO to do? Oh, for those heady days of campaigning when a mere $73 million could fix anything that troubled a king.

Rick Scott’s Approval Ratings Plummet

Michelle Rhee doesn’t blames messenger for districs problems

From Crooks and

by Nicolle Belle

Generally accurate rule of thumb: if things sound too good to be true, it almost always is.

Michelle Rhee has become a darling of the Republican privatization fetishist set after her stint as the chancellor of the DC public schools, traveling around the country to talk up busting teacher’s unions, and acting as a consultant to the wingnuttiest of governors, Rick Scott of Florida.

So it’s understandable that I took the glowing stories of how she revolutionized education in DC with her Schools First organization and saw dramatic test score increases with a rather large grain of salt. Turns out that was a good instinct:

Former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee made her name on union-busting and allegedly improving test scores in the city’s public schools. The test score gains were always overhyped by her supporters—now it turns out that they may have been fraudulent. According to a major investigative piece by USA Today reporters Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello, at Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus:

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Rhee elevated the school as an example of how successful her program was, and handed out large bonuses to teachers and administrators. But a look at the test sheets of students during the time scores at Noyes were soaring shows a startling pattern of erasures in which an initial incorrect answer was erased and replaced with a correct one:

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

It wasn’t just this one school, either:

Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards “to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff,” as the district’s website says. Noyes was one of these.

Now, I wouldn’t suggest that Rhee herself was responsible for those erasures, but statistically speaking, it’s virtually impossible to believe that it wasn’t done intentionally. Those teachers each got an $8,000 bonus and the principal got a $10,000 bonus. And despite the fact we all know what mooches on the system teachers are, I’m pretty sure that $8K was pretty dear for them.

Now a reasonable person might look at this and think, “Maybe we need to re-evaluate this system…because this is not a consequence I considered.” But that’s not Michelle Rhee. When Tavis Smiley asked Rhee about the USA Today report, Rhee predictably attacked the messengers.

As the Washington, DC, Board of Education announces it will be looking into news that schools former Chancellor Michelle Rhee rewarded as high performers showed suspiciously high levels of wrong-to-right erasure patterns on test sheets, Rhee is lashing out:

“It isn’t surprising,” Rhee said in a statement Monday, “that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved … unless someone cheated.”

No, Michelle. Flat-earthers follow faith, not evidence. Just as you are doing by trying to cast this as your reform or no reform, good guys and bad guys, evidence be damned.

Michelle Rhee, Flat-earther. I like it. It’s also important to note that Rhee is also lying through her teeth with Smiley. Basically, her defense boils down to two: that there was only “one school” focused on in the article, and that a third-party investigation found that nothing happened.

The first claim is just nonsense. The article focused specifically on just one school, but the investigation of cheating spanned over 100 schools, flagged because of the high erasure rates, including 96 in 2008, the year in which the vast majority of Rhee’s testing gains occurred. It wasn’t an isolated incident; it was systemic.

USA Today’s investigation and charges are serious enough to lead the DC Board of Education to announce a hearing April 6 to determine whether Rhee’s office turned a blind eye to parents and others who questioned the test results.

As for the “third party investigation,” Rhee was given evidence of possible cheating by CTB/McGraw Hill. Her response was to hire a consulting firm, that only looked at 8 of the flagged schools. They did no analysis – only interviews. And the president of the consulting firm admitted that it wasn’t a deep investigation. From the USA Today article:John Fremer, president of Caveon Consulting Services, the company D.C. hired, says the investigations were limited. The teachers were asked what they knew about the erasure rates but not whether cheating had taken place, Fremer says. They told Caveon that they “did what they were supposed to do and they didn’t do anything wrong,” he says.

The report created by Caveon was never released, so we don’t know what it actually found, but it’s safe to say from Fremer’s admission that this was not that serious an investigation. As a parent, I would want to be informed if my child’s test was questioned, but parents were never told that their kids might have gotten faulty scores.

Rhee even tries a variation of the “librul media” smear against the paper. Make no mistake, USA Today is hardly my go-to publication, but this article was based on FOIA’d documentation and reviews by statisticians. It was part of an excellent series on cheating nationwide.

Meanwhile, Rhee has been supporting the union busting around the country. Yesterday she was in Indiana, and spoke with the Republicans who were trying some of the same tactics used in Wisconsin. She spoke to the Indianapolis Star and repeated her claims. But today, USA Today ran another piece confirming that there needs to be more examination. The current schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, has announced an investigation. This one will hopefully actually examine and analyze the erasures and irregularities.

Maybe that’s why Rhee attacks the media…because she has no real defense and her reform is as questionable as those test results.

Florida teachers speak out

These letters recently appeared in the Florida Times Union. -cpg


Please act soon

To Florida legislators and Gov. Rick Scott:

Would you please hurry up and pass your educational funding bills that will leave Duval County Schools $97 million short so that we teachers will pay our own medical insurance, 5 percent of our pension, lose our supplements and take up to 20 days off on furlough?

That way, my wife and I, who are both public school teachers, and other teachers can put our houses up for sale, move to low-income housing and apply for reduced and free lunch for our own school-aged children before the start of the next school year.

Nathan Shoemaker, teacher, Jacksonville Beach


Stick with science

I was extremely disappointed to see that one of our state senators is parroting the ignorance of the creationist movement.

We don’t “teach both sides” of evolution in science classes because the consensus among scientists is overwhelming. Intelligent design is not science.

We don’t offer equal time to holocaust deniers in history. We also don’t teach alchemy alongside chemistry, geocentrism along with heliocentrism, four-humours theory alongside physiology, or bunk theories about aliens building pyramids alongside archaeological evidence.

All of these alternative theories have just as much basis in science as intelligent design.

But, of course, the ironically named Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, has demonstrated that he is stunningly misinformed about the topic of evolution, asking if “humans came from apes why there are still apes” when the answer should be obvious to anyone who has cousins or siblings. Evolution doesn’t say apes turned into humans, it says that modern apes and humans have a common ancestor.

I was very thankful and impressed with Ron Littlepage’s column, which summed up the rest of my opinion nicely.

Wise is an enemy of public education and teachers – and an ally to the forces of ignorance.

Richard Jones, Jacksonville


Now that’s motivation

According to a recent article in the Times-Union, state Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, justified his support of a bill that denies tenure to teachers by saying, “if I was guaranteed a job I would be very happy; I work very hard because I don’t want to lose my job.”

Is he kidding or did he just forget that he was given his current job by his Republican cronies?

He was not elected, and he does not have to do anything to merit his salary or to keep his job for two more years. He is beholden to the big money backers of the Republican Party and not to the people of Florida. His gall and callousness is overwhelming

Gov. Rick Scott; Davis; Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine; Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville; and their cohorts in Tallahassee want to cut public education funding to the bone and make teachers the scapegoats for the failed school system.

Brand-new teachers will be expected to produce results immediately or lose their jobs. Teachers will have to “merit” raises, but based on what criteria? Money for salary increases has not been funded, so is it the general consensus in Tallahassee that not a single teacher will succeed?

According to Davis, this legislation will result in “very, very highly motivated teachers.” Actually, what it will result in is overworked, underpaid insane teachers. Who in their right mind would want to be a teacher in Florida?

I know many wonderful teachers. I have also known a few that needed to move on, but I have never known anyone to go into teaching because of a desire for power, perks, fame or fortune.

The same can not be said of most politicians.

Debra Maddox, Jacksonville


Has President Obama lost his way on Education Reform

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Ron Matus

The Obama administration put out the following statement yesterday about a plan to re-establish a high-profile voucher program in Washington D.C. (Response from voucher supporters follows.)

While the Administration appreciates that H.R. 471 would provide Federal support for improving public schools in the District of Columbia (D.C.), including expanding and improving high-quality D.C. public charter schools, the Administration opposes the creation or expansion of private school voucher programs that are authorized by this bill. The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement.

The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students. Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C. While the President’s FY 2012 Budget requests funding to improve D.C. public schools and expand high-quality public charter schools, the Administration opposes targeting resources to help a small number of individuals attend private schools rather than creating access to great public schools for every child.

Here’s the response from Kevin P. Chavous, Chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Julio Fuentes, President of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options:

President Barack Obama’s opposition to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is hypocritical and it is wrong. If President Obama continues his fight against school choice and education reform, history will long remember him as someone who failed to stand up to richly funded special interest groups and, in the process, denied low-income and minority children access to better schools. As leaders in the African American and Hispanic communities, we call on the president to reverse his position—not as a matter of ideology, but as a matter of social justice.

President Obama attended private schools using scholarships. As a parent, President Obama exercises school choice for his own daughters. But when it comes to other children in Washington, D.C. — most of whom are African American and Hispanic—our president apparently does not believe these children deserve the same high-quality opportunities. As a candidate, Senator Obama promised to “fund what works in education, regardless of ideology.” But as President, the same principle and the same sound logic seemingly doesn’t apply.

The Michelle Rhee Myth begins tp unravel

From the Daily Beast

by Diane Ravitch

A new report shows student testing irregularities in D.C. under the leadership of star education reform advocate Michelle Rhee. Education expert Diane Ravitch blasts Rhee’s misguided approach. Plus, Dana Goldstein says the report is no surprise.

The corporate education reform movement has had no more visible star than Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. After she left office last fall, she formed a new political organization to raise $1 billion to advocate for the changes she believes in. She has been advising some of the nation’s most conservative governors to fight the teachers’ unions and rely on standardized tests to fire or reward teachers.

Michelle Rhee listens during a news conference Oct. 13, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Her credibility was her alleged success in lifting up test scores in the low-performing public schools of the nation’s capitol during her nearly four years in charge.

Now, however, that credibility has been directly challenged by revelations of possible widespread test fraud in the D.C. schools while she was in charge. An article in USA Today reveals that more than half the public schools in D.C. were found to have an unusual number of erasures on standardized tests of reading and math.

The school at the center of the investigation is the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, which saw spectacular score gains during Rhee’s tenure. Rhee held up the school as a model because the percentage of students who reached proficient on D.C. tests soared from 10 percent to 58 percent in a two-year period. The school was her example of what could happen as a result of her policies. In its recruitment advertisements, the District school system identified the school’s principal, Wayne Ryan, as one of its “shining stars.” Rhee twice showered bonuses on the school’s staff, with $10,000 for the principal and $8,000 for each teacher.

A computer analysis of erasures found a dramatic pattern of changing answers from wrong to right at Noyes. In one seventh grade classroom, students averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures on the reading test, as compared to a district-wide average of less than 1. When parents complained that their children’s high scores didn’t make sense, since they were still struggling to do basic math, they were ignored.

Her celebrity is not built on her success in D.C., however, which now appears to be a chimera.

What will this revelation mean for Rhee’s campaign to promote her test-driven reforms? Her theory seemed to be that if she pushed incentives and sanctions hard enough, the scores would rise. Her theory was right, the scores did rise, but they didn’t represent genuine learning. She incentivized desperate behavior by principals and teachers trying to save their jobs and meet their targets and comply with their boss’ demands.

Rhee’s advocates point out that D.C. scores went up on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal test. This is true, but the gains under Rhee were no greater than the gains registered under her predecessor Clifford Janey, who did not use Rhee’s high-powered tactics, such as firing massive numbers of teachers.

Almost from the day she arrived in her job in D.C., Rhee has been a magnet for publicity and controversy. She has been on the cover of Time and Newsweek, has appeared innumerable times on national television, and was one of the stars of the pro-privatization film Waiting for Superman. She is truly an education celebrity.

Her celebrity is not built on her success in D.C., however, which now appears to be a chimera.

Her celebrity results from the fact that she has emerged as the national spokesman for the effort to subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice. All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

This formula, which will be a tragedy for our nation and for an entire generation of children, is now immensely popular in the states and the Congress. Most governors embrace it. The big foundations endorse it. The think tanks of D.C., right-wing and left-wing, support it. Rhee helped to make it fashionable. If she doesn’t pause to consider the damage she is doing, shame on her. If our policymakers don’t stop to reflect on the damage they are doing to public education and to any concept of a good education, then our nation is in deep trouble.

Diane Ravitch is the author, most recently, of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic).

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The Money behind education reform

From Mike Klonsky’s Small Talk Blog

Disaster capitalists Gates, Buffett…

Whenever there’s an environmental disaster in the world, I always look to see how deeply Bill Gates, his partners, and his foundation are involved. The Gates Foundation’s investments in Nigeria have helped turn much of that country into an unlivable, oil-polluted wasteland.

Gates got off scott free after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf, even though his foundation owns millions of shares of BP and his hedge-fund school reform partners Warren Buffett and Whitney Tilson own NALCO the company that makes COREXIT, the dispersant that is even more harmful to the environment than the oil.

Now comes the horrific nuclear disaster at Fukushima which has even greater world-wide implications. Gates has been among the loudest champions of building more nukes in this country. He and his foundation have billions of dollars invested in nuclear development, here and around the world.

The reactors at Fukushima were built by Gates partner, G.E. and operated by TEPCO. TEPCO, which is being bashed by the Japanese government for spreading lies and misinformation in order to protect themselves and their investors from liability, is currently building more nukes down in South Texas. Partners in the South Texas project include–yes, you guessed it– Gates and Buffett.

Gates is also the largest single owner and board chairman of TerraPower, Washington state’s nuclear energy company. Other TerraPower investors include, Microsoft, Apple and Intel to Sony and Nokia to Google and eBay — that have poured about $5 billion into Gates’ nuke projects.

His partner in the nuclear power industry is the Japanese company, Toshiba and Toshiba along with NRG Energy and G.E. are the direct partners with TEPCO in the U.S.and Japanese nuke business.

Warren Buffett, owns Constellation Energy–67% of which is nukes.

Gates recently put $35 million into Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures to build nukes.

It it any wonder then that U.S. politicians, including Pres.Obama are still singing, “NUKE BABY, NUKE” and “DRILL BABY, DRILL”? There’s lots of reasons for Gates and his nuke partners to exert influence over pols in both parties. Among them, huge corporate tax breaks. G.E., the nation’s largest corporation, paid zero percent of its earnings in taxes. Don’t you wish you were taxed at that rate? Gates does them one better. By investing so heavily through his $36 billion foundation, he is taxed at about a 1% rate on profits from corporate investments. Bad news for Gates–the rate may soon go up to 1.9%.

Finally, it’s worth thinking about how much public school reform and public schooling itself, have become dependent of these non-taxable profits gained from these dirty and destructive Gates Foundation investments.

Size does matter, class size that is and in this case the smaller the better

From the Washington Post’s Anser Sheet

By Joanne Yatvin

At a time when tight state budgets are pushing schools to increase class sizes at all levels, some of the most powerful voices in educational policymaking are telling us that size doesn’t matter. Unless, maybe, large classes improve student learning. According to recent statements by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, for example, great teachers do just fine with oversize classes. So why not give as many students as possible a seat in their classrooms?

Most of the research done in the last 30 years argues against this notion, showing that small classes, especially in the primary grades, boost student achievement and that the benefits last through later grades when students are in ordinary size classrooms.

It’s clear, however, that large class advocates don’t care much for research. Their opinions are based on false analogies to their experience in fields other than education, unreliable data, and personal anecdotes.

In this case, school districts themselves are putting out misleading data. In their reports, often widely publicized, it looks like ordinary classrooms have only 19, or even 15 students, when in fact there are 25 to 30 live kids in most of them. The disparity arises from using averages that include special education teachers, counselors, and literacy coaches who work with small numbers of students or even one student at a time, but that is rarely made clear to the public.

Personal anecdotes come from many of us who judge today’s education through comparisons to our own memories. It’s not unusual for a successful middle-ager to say, “There were 40 kids in my 8th grade class, and we all turned out fine.”

But is that true? There were 40 in my class, too, until the middle of the year when two 17 year olds left to join the U.S. Navy. About five more of my classmates lasted till the end of the year, but never went on to high school with the rest of us.

Class size mattered then, and it matters now. For teachers, just managing the physical maneuvers within a large group is challenging. How do you make sure that all kindergarteners’ shoes are tied and their coats buttoned up before they go outside to a wintry playground? How do you apportion the 25 workstations in a high school chemistry lab among 35 students?

Only after the physical problems are taken care of can teachers begin to deal with the challenges of facilitating school learning. In the real world, children and adolescents encounter new information and skills all the time, but they have the freedom to reject, postpone, or learn things at their own pace. School allows no such choices: Here it is; learn it now; prove you know it tomorrow. And it is the teacher’s responsibility to make all that happen.

Good teachers accept their role and carry it out by moving around the room while students work, stopping frequently to check, give help, or just encourage. They also design lessons to accommodate the range of student competence within their classes, hold small group review and re-teaching sessions, meet with individuals who still don’t “get it”, communicate with parents, and reflect on how each day’s lesson went to make things go more smoothly tomorrow.

Doing all these things means multi-tasking during class time and putting in several hours of planning and paperwork outside the school day. With experience and smart thinking, good teachers can manage all their responsibilities with classes up to 25. But past that number things get harder and harder. And there is a breaking point, maybe at 30 or 35, certainly at 40.

If we really want all the excellent teachers policymakers, politicians, and pundits are calling for, we have to be willing to provide the school supports that are necessary. One of those supports is reasonable class sizes that allow teachers to do their job to the best of their ability, keep their sanity, and have a life.