Merit pay is the idea that never works and never dies

From Bridging Differences

by Diane Ravitch

Teacher merit pay is one of the hot “new” ideas of the moment. It has the wholehearted support of the Obama administration, which made it one of the criteria for states hoping to win a piece of Race to the Top funding. The Obama administration has also proposed spending nearly $1 billion for merit-pay programs in fiscal 2011. The president never tires of saying that we should pay more to “our best teachers,” and we know that he approves of using standardized test scores to identify the “best teachers.” Now, with the ascendancy of very conservative Republican governors and legislatures, merit pay is on the front burner in many states.

Let me say, as an aside, that it is breathtaking to see how closely aligned are the agendas of conservative governors and the Obama administration when it comes to education.

It is curious that teachers vigorously oppose merit pay, even though they are the ones who are supposed to reap the rewards. What do they know? They know that merit pay undermines collaboration and teamwork. They know that it corrupts the culture of the school.

But corporate reformers think they know best, so they continue to push for a reward system that will give bonuses for “effective” teachers (those whose students get higher test scores) and, thus, magically, make teaching attractive to the theoretical “best and brightest,” those graduates of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford who would stay in teaching if only they could compete every year for an extra $5,000 or so.

Here are some reasons to believe that the corporate reformers are wrong about merit pay.

Merit pay has been tried again and again since the 1920s. Sometimes scores go up, sometimes they don’t, but the programs never seem to make much difference and eventually disappear.

The most rigorous trial of merit pay was conducted recently in Nashville by the National Center on Performance Incentives. It offered an extraordinary bonus of $15,000 to teachers if they could get higher scores from their students. Over a three-year period, there was no difference between the scores obtained by the treatment group or the control group. The bonus didn’t matter.

Roland Fryer of Harvard University just released his study of New York City’s much-touted school-wide merit-pay program. Fryer says it made no difference in terms of student outcomes and actually depressed performance in some schools and for some groups of students.

Here are a few readings that I have found useful.

Andrea Gabor wrote an opinion piece recently for Education Week describes what she learned from the work of W. Edwards Deming, the eminent business consultant. I learned a lot by reading her book The Man Who Discovered Quality, about Deming’s philosophy. Chapter 9 summarizes Deming’s strong opposition to merit ranking and merit pay. Bottom line: It is bad for corporations. It gets everyone thinking about what is good for himself or herself and leads to forgetting about the goals of the organization. It incentivizes short-term thinking and discourages long-term thinking.

Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational explains why money is not as good a motivator as a sense of purpose. Ariely is an economist of human behavior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he has demonstrated again and again that people will work harder for idealistic reasons than for a promise of money. He warns of the danger of shifting education from “social norms” to “market norms.” This is precisely what the corporate reformers want to do.

And then there is Daniel Pink, who has written Drive and also created a delightful YouTube video, to reinforce the view that a sense of purpose, the desire to make a difference, is a better motivator than cash on the table.

Merit pay is the idea that never works and never dies.

Florida’s Republican legislators range from barely true to pants on fire on union bills

From WUSF.edunews

by Scott Finn

TAMPA (2011-3-26) – The Florida House of Representatives recently passed a bill regarding union dues. It would no longer allow state workers to have those dues automatically withdrawn from their paychecks.

One reason? State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said during the debate that taxpayer resources are being used to provide the personnel and the computers for automatic withdrawal of union dues.

He says taxpayers are telling him, “They think their resources ought not be used to facilitate private political agendas. Simple as that.”

PolitiFact Florida rated that claim “barely true.”

PolitiFact’s Aaron Sharockman researched the claim, and found three separate state reports showing the cost of automatic payroll deduction to be so slight that they couldn’t be quantified.

“Right now, there are 364 different entities that can do payroll deduction through the state,” Sharockman said. “It’s a common practice and done with relatively little human input.”

Also, state law allows unions to pay the cost associated with payroll deduction, letting taxpayers off the hook entirely, he said.

The debate over union dues got the attention of Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

He tweeted recently, “Withheld union dues fund half of Dem (Democratic) campaigns in Florida.”

Norquist’s claim was rated “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact.

Sharockman says it’s true that unions overwhelmingly fund Democrats, but Norquist’s estimate is way off. It’s more like 11 percent or less, he said.

In addition to laws involving unions, some lawmakers are trying to reduce regulation on Florida businesses this session.

Recently, the House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee heard from Allen Douglas, legislative affairs director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

“Florida is one of only three states that require licenses for commercial interior designers,” Douglas said.

“The argument will be it’s a public safety and health issue…But they can’t point out one single instance in the state of Florida where anybody’s been hurt or injured,” he said.

“It keeps people out of the industry, because it’s very hard to become a commercial interior designer in this state,” Douglas said.

Aaron Sharockman of PolitiFact Florida says that claim is true. Other states have a weaker form of licensing, “but Florida is one of only three states that regulates the industry as tightly as it does.”Session 2011

Coverage of “Session 2011” is a joint project of WUSF and WLRN/Miami Herald News.

Rick Scott and his push to fundamentalism

From the Miami Herald

By Daniel Shoer Roth

Florida is on its way to fundamentalism. Gov. Rick Scott and some of our ultraconservative legislators are determined to get there despite the human cost.

On the one hand, they aspire to minimize the government’s involvement in people’s life in crucial areas like public education and social services for those in need. On the other hand, they support the government’s meddling in Florida residents’ personal decisions.

Tallahassee is a mess. Last week the governor signed a package of radical bills, which tie teacher contracts and pay in large part to the performance of students on standardized tests like the FCAT. The new law also phases out so-called teacher tenure, a protection teachers have against quick firing. It seems that conservatives’ goal is to see Florida’s teachers fleeing the state.

It’s a terrible way to penalize teachers in poor neighborhoods — those teachers tend to be the most dedicated — and their disadvantaged students. It’s ludicrous to equal the performance of a child who had a good breakfast amid loving parents to that of a child who could not sleep all night on an empty stomach listening to quarrelling parents.

There are also some 20 bills in Tallahassee that would put an array of new obstacles in the paths of women seeking abortions, which would take us back decades in social development.

Women who wish to terminate their pregnancy — even at an early stage — would be forced to subject themselves to a medically unnecessary ultrasound test. Another bill would ban abortion altogether, challenging the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling and, inevitably, paving the way for a dangerous illegal abortion market.

Abortion is a sensitive issue that prompts passionate arguments from two sides: one defends the right to life of a fetus and considers abortion in virtually all instances a crime, and another believes a woman should have authority over her body.

Yet not all is black and white. There are specific areas of gray: victims of rape or incest; pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother; fetuses with congenital defects.

Many of these bills fail to include even exceptions for such cases. Nor do they include measures to reduce the abortion rate, which would be the only solution after heavy-handed policies have failed.

New legislation should focus on giving better access to information and birth-control methods; strengthening crime prevention and thus reducing the number of rapes; offering more medical services to mothers and children; and improving and emphasizing sexual education programs.

Gov. Scott has nonetheless proposed cutting 10 percent in public education funding — $1.7 billion — a threat to subjects like physical education and health, which include the sexual education curriculum.

Wouldn’t it be more effective to teach these subjects in order to reduce unwanted pregnancies, either by abstinence or contraceptive plans, instead of banning abortions after the teens are pregnant?

But who can understand Scott and his Tea Party supporters?

They propose to cut funds for drug rehabilitation programs, which help keep thousands of people out of jail, reduce crime, and save millions of dollars of taxpayer money, while they want to force public employees to take a drug test every 45 days, a measure that would cost taxpayers a fortune.

Another fundamentalist insanity comes from two bills the purpose of which is to protect Florida courts from a supposed infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines such as the Islamic Sharia law, a code of behavior that in some Arab countries discriminates against women. But no court in America has ever used Sharia to rule in a case. This is simply a manifestation of Islamophobia that does not contribute to creating jobs or balancing the budget.

Indeed, the only “Sharia laws” that would affect Floridians are those that Scott and his ultraconservative legislators wish to impose on us.

Read more:

The law of the land: Florida legislature for sale

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Howard Troxler

There is no state, no nation, no planet, and no universe where it should be legal to pay off a Legislature directly.

There is no government in which a sworn lawmaker should be able to take unlimited payoffs from those seeking favorable treatment.

And yet this is now precisely the law of Florida.

In Sunday’s column I called the Florida Legislature “the Whore of Babylon” for passing a law last week that legalizes its own bribery.

But the topic cries out not to be forgotten. This is a turning point in Florida’s history.

It is now legal in Florida for the leaders of our House and Senate, of both the Republican and Democratic parties, to operate what are laughably called “leadership funds.”

If you are an interest group in Florida, a corporation, a lobbyist seeking favor, you go to these “leadership” funds run by lawmakers …

And you pay them.

They will launder the money into local elections around the state, to keep electing more obedient followers.

This is so astonishing a corruption that it defies belief.

The bill in question is House Bill 1207, passed in the 2010 legislative session.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Last Thursday the Legislature overrode the veto.

The House vote was 81-39. The Senate vote was 30-9.

The twisted logic used in the Capitol, and what your legislator will try to tell you, is that it’s better for the Legislature to be paid off directly.

See, they will write it down in a separate little report. So this is all about “informing the public” and “transparency.”

If they try to give you this line, just ask this question:

“So, is it legal to make unlimited payoffs to ‘leadership funds’ that are operated directly by the leaders of the Legislature, or not?”


People ask: What can I do?

You can call or e-mail. You can go to the House’s website ( or the Senate’s ( and find contact information for your legislator. (I beg you to be firm but civil, especially to the hard-working staff — the world is rude enough already, isn’t it?)

But they are counting on you not to do anything at all.

Instead, here is what they are counting on you to do:

Re-elect them.

After all, those who voted for this last year overwhelmingly got re-elected in November. Some who voted against it were defeated by newcomers who just voted for it!

Area senators voting yes:

Charles Dean, R-Inverness; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg; Jim Norman, R-Tampa; Ronda Storms, R-Brandon.

Senators voting no:

Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

House members voting yes:

Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton; Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview; Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey; Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg; Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City; James Grant, R-Tampa; Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa; Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; John Legg, R-New Port Richey; Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland; Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs; Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill; Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness; Greg Steube, R-Bradenton; Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; Dana Young, R-Tampa.

House members voting no:

Janet Cruz, D-Tampa; Richard Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg; Betty Reed, D-Tampa; Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Rick Scott gives minions high salaries

From the Florida Tribune

By: Bruce Ritchie

State employees haven’t received a raise in more than four years, but most agency heads that Gov. Rick Scott has appointed are making $20,000 a year more than their predecessors.

Scott has named 10 new department heads with salaries of $140,000 compared to $120,000 or less for their predecessors, according to a web site database launched by the governor.

Scott this past week named three agency secretaries, with both Ken Lawson at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Dr. Frank Farmer, secretary of the Department of Health, earning will $140,000 compared to $120,000 for their predecessors. Liz Dudek was elevated to secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration at $140,000 a year compared to $164,380 for her predecessor, Tom Arnold.

Asked this week why he was paying most of his secretaries significantly more when state employees haven’t been given a raise, Scott did not directly answer the question. Instead he said that state employees are “very hard working people.”

“And they clearly are doing a great job for the citizens of our state,” Scott told reporters. “And I want to make sure I do everything I can to make sure we get the best people and we pay them a fair wage.”

Some former agency heads now are making more money under Scott than when they previously served as heads of those agencies.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning is receiving $140,000 now compared to the $120,000 he received secretary of state from 2007 to April 2010, when he resigned his position. Browning was enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Program and was required to resign in 2010. He received a lump sum payment of nearly $500,000.

At the Division of Emergency Management, former Director Dave Halstead now receives $110,000, which is $5,000 more than he received as director in 2010. Scott appointed Bryan Koon in February to take over the division with a salary of $140,000 per year. A division spokesman earlier this month said Halstead remains there because of his valuable experience in dealing with disasters.

Eight department heads apparently continue to work under Scott for the same salaries they received in 2010 under Gov. Charlie Crist. The salaries of former agency heads can be accessed at another database established in 2009 by WTSP in Tampa.

The highest paid among them is Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, Jr., who receives $157,251 as adjutant general in charge of the Department of Military Affairs.

Scott on March 17 announced that he was launching the web site, which contains databases of state employee salaries, state contracts and other information.

“This useful tool enhances public access to government records so taxpayers can see how their tax dollars are being spent,” Scott said in a news release.

Originally published in the Florida Current – exclusively distributed via Lobbytools – Florida’s Premiere Legislative and Media Monitoring Service.

Florida Legislature sells state to highest bidder

From the Tampa Tribune

by Mike Salinero

Florida’s growth management protections, enshrined in a ground-breaking 1985 law, are being swept away by lawmakers who see them as roadblocks to economic development.

Bills moving rapidly in the state House and Senate would virtually gut the 1985 Growth Management Act, eliminating state planners’ review and approval authority over local government land-use decisions. The House bill would also make it harder for regular citizens to challenge the legality of developments, a provision absent so far in the Senate version.

“The result of those two bills will be that growth management as we’ve known it in Florida since 1985 will go away,” said Charles Lee, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.

Another growth management bill scheduled for debate in the Senate today would make changes to a 2009 law that dealt broadly with how developers pay for road improvements when their projects increase traffic, known as concurrency. The bill would eliminate concurrency in dense urban areas, which the Legislature defined as 1,000 residents per square mile.

The courts struck down the law because it violated the state constitution’s prohibition against a law dealing with more than one subject. If the House and Senate pass the bill by two-third majorities, it would also blunt court challenges by a score of local governments who say the law is an unfunded mandate.

The bold changes proposed in growth law reflect the large majorities the Republicans command in both houses and their impatience with regulations and bureaucracies they say are choking growth and economic recovery.

“What Floridians should be concerned about is that they’re going up against North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama” in trying to attract businesses, said Doug Buck, lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association, which supports the bills. “We want Florida to compete again … our laws are so difficult and time-consuming, we lose.”

The House bill raises the legal bar for residents who want to challenge their county commission’s land-use decisions in administrative law court.

“You’re making it practically impossible for a citizen to win one of these plan amendment challenges,” said Charles Pattison, director of 1000 Friends of Florida, a non-profit organization that advocates smart growth.

But for supporters of the law, like Tampa land-use lawyer Ron Weaver, the change “rationalizes” the system, limiting citizen challenges to issues involving the most important state resources, such as rivers and wetlands.

“Citizens are just as empowered as they used to be,” Weaver said, “They’re just going to have to pick important state issues rather than nit-picking.”

The agency chiefly responsible for enforcing Florida’s growth management rules, the Department of Community Affairs, would be greatly diminished under both chambers’bills.

The DCA would no longer do extensive reviews of proposed amendments to local comprehensive growth plans. Its commentary on proposed changes, called “Objections, Recommendations and Comments,” often prevents costly sprawl development in rural areas far from public water, sewer and other infrastructure, supporters say.

Instead, the DCA would be limited to giving the comp plan changes a thumbs up or down. Currently, the agency approves about 93 percent of the comp plan amendments it reviews, though many undergo substantial changes at the direction of state planners.

Further, the bills repeal the sections of the law that contain the criteria DCA uses to review the local comp plan changes. Without the criteria, Lee said, the agency will have nothing to enforce.

“It’s the meat of the coconut,” the Audubon lobbyist said.

Nor would the DCA be able to intervene in citizen challenges to comp plan amendments as it did when Miami-Dade County officials approved a large industrial complex in the Everglades, one of the state’s natural wonders. The agency prevailed over the county and developers in administrative law court, and the complex was never built.

Other changes to the law will eliminate the requirements that developers show their projects are financially feasible and needed. Supporters say the market will make those decisions.>+Politics)&utm_content=Google+Reader

College professors next in Florida Legislature’s cross hairs

From the Sherman Dorn blog

by Sherman Dorn

Tomorrow, the Florida House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee has on its agenda a newly-filed proposed committee bill that would eliminate tenure in the Florida College System. The Florida College System is the set of more than two dozen former community colleges that educate hundreds of thousands of Floridians every year. (California has a three-tier public higher-ed system; we have two tiers.) As is the case in many teaching institutions, there is tenure, and in about a third of the institutions faculty are unionized and represented by the same union I am a member of (the United Faculty of Florida).

There are going to be similar constitutional questions raised about this bill as about the ability of Senate Bill 736 to eliminate continuing contracts when public employees are represented by unions. From recent history, we know that eliminating anything but one-year contracts is going to be problematic in terms of attracting faculty; Florida Gulf Coast University is the only member of the state university system in Florida that does not have a tenure system as such, and within a few years of its founding in the late 1990s, administrators were pleading with the central system leaders to let them offer rolling three-year contracts. Essentially, they had horrible retention when the faculty of the new university realized they had absolutely no job security. Today, faculty at FGCU do not have tenure, but they do have three year contracts that can remain perpetually in the first year of the three years if the faculty member’s annual-review rating is high enough. A hinged or fixed-term multi-year contract always makes the last year the most precarious one, and the rolling three-year contract system at FGCU provides enough stability for faculty to know that one crazy decision by an administrator isn’t going to eliminate their job.

The bill as currently filed has a pretty obvious double-standard: no new hire can receive tenure or even a multi-year contract under the filed language, with one exception: the institutional president. One more case of “not for thee, but definitely for me if I can turn my political career into a tenured faculty post.” (Yes, there are plenty of examples of former legislators who became community-college/state-college presidents.)

Florida House attacks college-teacher tenure, unless you’re the president

Just where is Obama on education reform?

From Building Better Schools

By Conny Jensen

Eight days ago Newsweek published an article by Diane Ravitch, called Obama’s War on Schools, and it appears that president Obama is finally hearing what she has been saying all along about the harmful effects of high-stakes testing. Today, in an article by the Associated Press he was quoted as saying that:

“..students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids..All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.” Read all: “standardized tests too punitive”

Here an excerpt of Diane’s article.

“Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.

NCLB mandated that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Any school not on track to meet this utopian goal—one never reached by any nation in the world—would face a series of sanctions, culminating in the firing of the staff and the closing of the school.

As 2014 nears, tens of thousands of schools have been stigmatized as failures, thousands of educators have been fired, and schools that were once the anchors of their communities are closing, replaced in many cases by privately managed schools. NCLB turns out to be a timetable for the destruction of public education.

The theory behind NCLB was that schools would improve dramatically if every child in grades 3 to 8 were tested every year and the results made public. Texas did exactly this, and advocates claimed it had seen remarkable results: test scores went up, the achievement gap between students of different races was closing, and graduation rates rose. At the time, a few scholars questioned the claims of a “Texas miracle,” but Congress didn’t listen.

In fact, the “Texas miracle” never happened. On federal tests, the state’s reading scores for eighth-grade students were flat from 1998 to 2009…Texas students ranked in the bottom 10 percent in math and literacy nationally. After two decades of testing and accountability, Texas students have certainly not experienced a miracle when judged by the very measures that were foisted on students across the nation.

..So now come President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan with their Race to the Top program. The administration invited the states to compete for $4.3 billion in a time of fiscal distress. To qualify, states had to agree to evaluate teachers by student test scores, to award bonuses to teachers based on student scores, to permit more privately managed charter schools, and to “turn around” low-performing schools by such methods as firing the staffs and closing the schools.

Race to the Top went even beyond NCLB in its reliance on test scores as the ultimate measure of educational quality. It asserts that teachers alone—not students or families or economic status—are wholly responsible for whether test scores go up or down. Now teachers rightly feel scape-goated for conditions that are often beyond their control.

..The Obama agenda for testing, accountability, and choice bears an uncanny resemblance to the Republican agenda of the past 30 years, but with one significant difference. Republicans have traditionally been wary of federal control of the schools. Duncan, however, relishes the opportunity to promote his policies with the financial heft of the federal government.

The confluence between the Obama agenda and the Republican agenda became clear in the fall of 2009, when Duncan traveled the country with Newt Gingrich to promote Race to the Top. And on March 5 of this year, President Obama flew to Florida to celebrate the test-score gains at a high school in Miami with former governor Jeb Bush, one of the nation’s most vocal proponents of conservative approaches to education reform.

Emboldened by the Obama administration, as well as by hundreds of millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, many districts and states now plan to use test scores to evaluate teachers. Most of our nation’s leading testing experts think this is a risky path.

Many of our nation’s top teachers—some with National Board Certification—are so disgusted by the attacks on public education that they are planning a march on Washington in July. They plan to demand equitable funding for all public schools, an end to using test scores to punish schools and teachers, and involvement of parents and teachers in the decisions that affect their schools.

The only question is whether President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Congress will hear their message about what’s best for our children—and best for our country.”

Ravitch is a historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

Other Florida school districts consider eliminating sports too


by John Cotey

When the school board started talking about eliminating extracurricular activities — sports, mainly — Tom Willison never believed it would really happen.

Grove City High had a band that had won national championships, and a football team that routinely drew crowds of 10,000 or more on Friday nights, where the stadium was the place to be in his town of 35,000.

Then a 2009 budget shortfall of $8 million, and a failed vote to pass a levy to cover it, claimed all fall sports at Grove City, one of four schools in the South-Western school district of Ohio to eliminate all extra-curricular activities.

The school, he says, was devastated.

“It was so odd,” said Willison, Grove City’s athletic director and assistant principal. “It’s hard to explain for somebody who didn’t go through it.”

He said the school hallways and lunchroom were eerily calm and almost lifeless. The once energetic campus was a ghost town every day by 4 p.m.

Fridays were no different than Mondays, and everyone hates Mondays. School spirit had been broken.

“There was no energy,” Willison said.

We are finding out that Ohio may not be as far away as we thought, that Florida’s big cities may not be so different from Grove City, and that too big to fail does not apply to school districts.

In Jacksonville’s Duval County, where roughly 15,000 high school athletes compete, sports may be headed toward a showdown with the budget chopping block.

School board chairman W.C. Gentry recently caused a stir when he told local media he is almost certain sports will have to be chopped if the $3.3 billion in education cuts proposed by Gov. Rick Scott pass.

And with a projected $97 million shortfall for Duval County, even a smaller cut may not be enough.

“There’s no question we’ll have to do away with sports,” Gentry told the Florida Times-Union.

From coast to coast, school districts are desperately seeking ways to close budget shortfalls, and in increasing cases killing high school sports is part of the solution. After years of chopping, there’s nothing left to cut, some say. And federal stimulus money has run out.

Due to cuts each of the past five years, counties in Tampa Bay have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars. This upcoming cut will be the steepest.

Pasco County is looking at $60 million. Pinellas is bracing for $86 million. And Hillsborough is looking at more than $100 million. If these numbers are even close, athletics will not survive untouched.

That could mean the end of middle school or junior varsity sports, or doing away with specific sports rather than cutting them all.

It will probably mean a cut to supplements, including those paid to coaches. It could lead to pay-for-play options.

And of course the worst case scenario — no sports at all.

In Jacksonville, the suggestion is galvanizing the public against severe cuts. In Sacramento, Calif., superintendent Jonathon Raymond hopes his proposal to eliminate sports has the same effect.

“The reality is that with athletics, people take notice,” he told the Sacramento Bee. “If it’s the only thing to get people to step up and mobilize, it’s worth it. Frankly, the public outcry is needed.”

• • •

Losing an invaluable slice of Americana resonates with people as much as proposals to gut math and science, and teacher salaries.

That doesn’t make it right or logical, but it is fact.

Athletics fosters spirit and community, and there is a lot to be said for that.

Sports also teach teamwork and hard work, build character, present scholarship opportunities, and maybe most importantly, are the carrot at the end of the stick for students who otherwise would be idle and failing.

Sports are the best form of dropout prevention we have.

Still, making the argument that athletics — games, competition — should be spared at the expense of, well, anything is a difficult one to make.

“It pits people against one another,” Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson said. “I wouldn’t want to be the people that have to make the final decision.”

We are a month away from knowing how deep the cuts will be, and a few more from officially dealing with them.

There are six subcommittees and various focus groups currently exploring options in Pinellas County.

In Pasco, county athletic director Phil Bell said he is already working with athletic directors on ways to trim the budget, looking for ways to lessen the potential blow.

“We want to get out ahead of this,” he said. “But no decisions have been made. From talking to other people in other counties and around the state, the budget has been an issue the last seven years. It always seemed to work out.

“This year, though there seems to be maybe a little more (nervousness), like at what point is it all not going to work out? I hear that a little more this year. Have we hit that threshold, what are we going to do and where is the money going to come from?”

Robinson said he is taking a wait-and-see attitude, though the looming budget crunch is clearly on everyone’s mind.

“Am I concerned? Yes,” Robinson said. “But you don’t want to jump the gun.”

• • •

Grove City had a happy ending.

After its football, soccer and tennis seasons were wiped out, a contentious vote in November 2009 for a levy passed by merely 413 votes, adding $227 in taxes to every $100,000 of property value but raising more than $18 million.

A pay-for-play fee was added as well — $150 per student per sport. The marching band cost is $100 per student.

It is expected to keep extra-curricular activities safe for a few years. When football returned to Grove City last fall, 13,000 showed up for the season opener.

But the problems haven’t gone away.

Willison says neighboring school districts are struggling. Levy votes are being put on ballots and failing miserably, as the unfortunate and misguided idea that any tax is a bad one seems to have settled in.

He said one district is looking at a pay-for-play option, charging $500 per student; another may charge $600.

“But who will pay that to run cross country or play tennis?’’ he asks.

In another district, middle school sports are being cut, and yet another is proposing cutting sports all together.

It is hard to imagine a high school without sports.

Gymnasiums without the familiar squeak of gym shoes and clap of bouncing balls.

Bands. Cheerleaders. Competition.

Fridays without football.


“It can happen anywhere, and it is,” Willison said.

Even here.

John C. Cotey can be reached at

Did Rick Scott’s education advisor Michelle Rhee cook the books?

From the USAToday

by Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello,

WASHINGTON — In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Marvin Tucker raised questions about high test scores of daughter Marlana, right, now 16, that showed math proficiency despite her struggle with the basics when she attended D.C.’s Noyes.

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.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district’s elementary schools, Noyes’ proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

This is a series of documents obtained by USA TODAY through public-records requests. It details a back-and-forth between two District of Columbia agencies on test-score investigations.

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.

Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.’s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.

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.

By Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

Michelle Rhee, then-chancellor of D.C. schools, visits with J.O. Wilson Elementary third-grader Kmone Feeling last August.

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.

“This is an abnormal pattern,” says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.

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A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

USA TODAY examined testing irregularities in the District of Columbia’s public schools because, under Rhee, the system became a national symbol of what high expectations and effective teaching could accomplish. Federal money also was at play: Last year, D.C. won an extra $75 million for public and charter schools in the U.S. government’s Race to the Top competition. Test scores were a factor.

USA TODAY initially looked at Noyes only because of its high erasure rates. Later, the newspaper found that Wayne Ryan, the principal from 2001 to 2010, and the school had been touted as models by district officials. They were the centerpiece of the school system’s recruitment ads in 2008 and 2009, including at least two placed in Principal magazine.

“Noyes is one of the shining stars of DCPS,” one ad said. It praised Ryan for his “unapologetic focus on instruction” and asked would-be job applicants, “Are you the next Wayne Ryan?”

In response to questions from USA TODAY, Kaya Henderson, who became acting chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools after Rhee resigned in October, said last week that “a high erasure rate alone is not evidence of impropriety.”

D.C. “has investigated all allegations of testing impropriety,” Henderson said. “In those situations in which evidence of impropriety has been found, we have enforced clear consequences for the staff members involved, without hesitation.”

Henderson, who was Rhee’s deputy, said the system would identify only schools where violations of security protocol were found. “For the majority of schools” investigated, there was “no evidence of wrongdoing,” she said. Out of fairness to staff members, she said, she declined to identify all the schools that were investigated.

There can be innocent reasons for multiple erasures. A student can lose his place on the answer sheet, fill in answers on the wrong rows, then change them when he realizes his mistake. And, as McGraw-Hill said in a March 2009 report to D.C. officials, studies also show that test-takers change answers more often when they are encouraged to review their work. The same report emphasizes that educators “should not draw conclusions about cheating behavior” from the data alone.

Haladyna notes, however, that when entire classrooms at schools with statistically rare erasures show fast-rising test scores, that suggests someone might have “tampered with the answer sheets,” perhaps after the tests were collected from students. Although not proof of cheating, such a case underscores the need for an investigation, he says.

At Noyes, USA TODAY found several grades with wide swings in their proficiency rates from one year to the next. In 2008, 84% of fourth-grade math students were listed as proficient or advanced, up from 22% for the previous fourth-grade class. The math scores for the fourth-grade class in 2010 dropped off to 52% proficient or better.

For the school as a whole, test scores seemed to ride a roller coaster: In reading, from 2006 through 2010, the annual percentage of all Noyes students testing as proficient or higher went from 24% to 44% to 62% to 84% to 61%, according to official records. Reading scores at all D.C. elementary schools slumped on average by 4 percentage points from 2009 to 2010; Noyes’ scores plunged 23 points.

‘It’s our children’

In 2008, the office of the State Superintendent of Education recommended that the scores of many schools be investigated because of unusually high gains, but top D.C. public school officials balked and the recommendation was dropped.

After the 2009 tests, the school district hired an outside investigator to look at eight D.C. public schools –– one of them was Noyes, USA TODAY learned — and to interview some teachers.

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.

Henderson, the D.C. chancellor, says D.C. educators interviewed by Caveon “gave specific reasons for high erasure rates. … Some emphasized to their students that (they) … should always go back, review their answers and make corrections, if needed.

“Other teachers,” she says, “encouraged students to eliminate wrong answers in the test booklet by marking an ‘X’ next to wrong answers, which could account for an unusual number of erasures if students marked their ‘X’ on the answer sheet instead of the test booklet.”

School district officials would not release the reports Caveon compiled. Caveon has been hired again to investigate the results of 2010 tests in which 41 DCPS schools, including Noyes, had at least one classroom flagged for high erasure rates. USA TODAY could not determine which schools are being scrutinized.

Parents and some State Board of Education members say they were never told which schools had high erasure rates or other irregularities.

Zell Foster, whose daughter Paige is an eighth-grader at Noyes, says that even if the school district didn’t find any violations at the school in 2009, parents should have been informed that an investigation was underway. She says neither the school nor the district sent home notices about the erasures.

“It’s not fair. It’s our children,” Foster says. “We shouldn’t be in the dark.”

Mark Jones, a member of the State Board of Education, says district officials appear not to have dug deeply into why some schools had such high erasure rates, but if they did, they have not shared what they found. He says parents need to know because they make decisions about where to send their children to school based on test scores.

“We should clearly have the data, whether it’s good or bad,” says Jones, who has two daughters in a public elementary school. The district at the very least should have told parents “we have anomalies and we are investigating,” Jones says.

Ryan declined to answer questions from USA TODAY through the district’s spokeswoman and did not respond to telephone calls or e-mail. Last year, he was promoted to instructional superintendent in the D.C. schools, overseeing a cluster of schools.

Rhee resigned after the mayor who appointed her, Adrian Fenty, lost his re-election bid last fall. She has since organized a non-profit, StudentsFirst, which is trying to raise $1 billion to promote education reform. When reached by telephone, Rhee said she is no longer the chancellor and declined to comment further.

D.C. officials declined to let USA TODAY visit schools or talk to principals, including Adell Cothorne, the principal who succeeded Ryan at Noyes for the 2010-11 school year.

An impasse over erasures

McGraw-Hill’s practice is to flag only the most extreme examples of erasures. To be flagged, a classroom had to have so many wrong-to-right erasures that the average for each student was 4 standard deviations higher than the average for all D.C. students in that grade on that test. In layman’s terms, that means a classroom corrected its answers so much more often than the rest of the district that it could have occurred roughly one in 30,000 times by chance. D.C. classrooms corrected answers much more often.

In 2008, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) — the D.C. equivalent of a state education department –– asked McGraw-Hill to do erasure analysis in part because some schools registered high percentage point gains in proficiency rates on the April 2008 tests.

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.

Rhee bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses on principals, teachers and support staff on the basis of big jumps in 2007 and 2008 test scores.

At three of the award-winning schools — Phoebe Hearst Elementary, Winston Education Campus and Aiton Elementary — 85% or more of classrooms were identified as having high erasure rates in 2008. At four other schools, the percentage of classrooms in that category ranged from 17% to 58%.

Although all of the experts consulted by USA TODAY said such aberrations should trigger investigations at the school level, that did not happen in D.C. in 2008. No schools were investigated.

In November 2008, Deborah Gist, then the state superintendent of education, recommended that D.C. public schools and several charter schools investigate why their erasure rates were so high. “It is important to note that these (data) analyses do not suggest reasons for the high erasure rates,” Gist wrote to the schools. “However, it is important that all procedures available to us are employed to guarantee the validity of the state assessment system.”

Seven charter schools responded to OSSE and carried out probes. Gist’s proposal met resistance from Rhee’s staff, documents obtained by USA TODAY show. Memoranda flew back and forth for five months as D.C. school officials questioned the methodology and the rationale for an investigation.

Documents show that Rhee’s chief data and accountability officer, Erin McGoldrick, requested more information from OSSE in February 2009. She asked for more details on the two lists of schools OSSE submitted for possible investigation. The lists were compiled using two different statistical methods for identifying examples of high wrong-to-right erasures. Noyes was on both lists.

“DCPS must be confident in the data provided before undertaking a full investigation,” McGoldrick said, because of the “disruption and alarm an investigation would likely create at schools.”

In April, state superintendent Gist left Washington to take a job as head of Rhode Island’s state school system. Her successor, Kerri Briggs, then dropped the request for D.C. public schools to investigate its schools. Both Gist and Briggs, now director for education reform at the George W. Bush Institute in Texas, declined to comment.

A memo later prepared by Victor Reinoso, Washington’s deputy mayor for education, noted that McGraw-Hill itself had cautioned that officials “should not draw conclusions about cheating behavior” from the data analysis. A USA TODAY review of the McGraw-Hill document, however, showed that a company analyst also said the data could properly be used to identify “possible cheating incidents for follow-up investigation.”

The balance of power

The impasse over the 2008 scores illustrates the unusual balance of power within the D.C. school system. In 2007, when then-mayor Fenty took charge of D.C.’s failing schools, the D.C. school board was eliminated and replaced by a state board of education with little power. Fenty won the right to name the chancellor of D.C. public schools and in mid-2007 appointed Rhee.

From the start, Rhee emphasized a need to raise scores, restore calm to chaotic schools and close those with lagging scores and small enrollments. She paid bonuses to principals and teachers who produced big gains on scores. She let go dozens of principals and fired at least 600 teachers. Others retired or quit.

Turnover was brisk. Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, a biography of Rhee, reported that Rhee hired 1,918 teachers during her three years in office –– about 45% of those on the payroll last October. Only 2,318 current teachers had been hired before Rhee took charge.

The pressure on principals was unrelenting, says Aona Jefferson, a former D.C. principal who is now president of the Council of School Officers, representing principals and other administrators. Every year, Jefferson says, Rhee met with each principal and asked what kind of test score gains he would post in the coming school year. Jefferson says principals told her that Rhee expected them to increase scores by 10 percentile points or more every year. “What do you do when your chancellor asks, ‘How many points can you guarantee this year?’ ” Jefferson says. “How is a principal supposed to do that?”

Rhee churned through principals. TheWashington Post reported that Rhee appointed 91 principals in her three years as chancellor, 39 of whom no longer held those jobs in August 2010. Some left on their own, either resigning or retiring; other principals, on one-year contracts, were let go for not producing quickly enough.

Union officials say the pressure for high test scores may have tempted educators to cheat.

“This is like an education Ponzi scam,” says Nathan Saunders, head of the Washington Teachers’ Union. “If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That’s incredibly dangerous.”

When D.C. administrators resisted investigating the 2008 scores, there was no counterweight to force the issue. The state board is empowered only to advise OSSE. Mary Lord, a board member with a teenager who attends a D.C. high school, is critical of the decision not to investigate the 2008 scores. “If you are going to add all this weight” to testing, “hanging the principals’ reputations … and the teachers’ pay on it, you have to make sure it is totally accurate,” Lord says.

Board members say that, like parents, they have been kept in the dark about testing irregularities. The state board wasn’t aware, Lord says, of the dispute between the superintendent’s office and Rhee until its members saw reports in TheWashington Post in the fall of 2009. She says she did not see the erasure analysis or the lists of schools flagged by McGraw-Hill until USA TODAY shared its copies.

After Rhee gave bonuses to educators in some schools that posted big gains in test scores in 2007 and 2008, there was little incentive to examine those scores, Lord says. “You’ve handed out these big bonuses. What are you going to do? Take them back?” she says. “It’s a bombshell. It’s embarrassing.”

‘A total disconnect’

Questions were raised about high test scores at Noyes well before 2008.

A former Noyes parent, Marvin Tucker, says he suspected something was wrong in 2003, when the test scores his daughter, Marlana, brought home from school showed she was proficient in math.

Tucker says he was skeptical because the third-grader was getting daily instruction from a private tutor yet struggled with addition and subtraction. “She was nowhere near where they said she was on the test,” he says. “I thought something was wrong with the test.”

He questioned Ryan, the principal, and teachers about his daughter’s scores but no one could explain how she had scored so high, Tucker recalls. Ultimately, Ryan barred him from the school for a year, saying he had threatened staff members, Tucker says. Tucker denies that.

Tucker also points out that if his daughter was proficient as a third-grader, that didn’t last. When Marlana moved on to middle school elsewhere in D.C., her test scores fell and she no longer was considered proficient in math, he says.

Tucker shared his concerns about testing and other issues at Noyes with other parents. A small group went to the school board. “We tried to go through the chain of command,” says Debbie Smith-Steiner, a neighborhood activist who worked with Tucker.

Parents even staged a small protest at the school board’s offices, she says. Nothing changed and the group eventually let it go, Smith-Steiner says. “There wasn’t anything we could do. You are fighting these battles and nobody is listening. Nobody is saying, ‘How are these test scores going up so much?’ “

Councilman Tommy Wells, then a school board member, says he relayed the parents’ concerns to school officials. He says those officials assured him the allegations were checked out and nothing was confirmed. “There were parents and community members who did not like the principal,” Wells says. “But we took their concerns seriously.”

Several teachers at Noyes also were dubious about the legitimacy of test scores, describing what one called “a disconnect” between the high scores and how their students performed in class.

Ernestine Allen, a former teacher who taught pre-K as well as second- and fourth-grades for five years at Noyes, says it was hard to trust the scores of some students entering her classes. Their scores showed they were doing well when, she says, they were still struggling with reading.

“You wonder, how is it that this student got such a high score?” Allen says. She says teachers talked about the problem among themselves. But, she says, “Who do you tell?”

Allen left Noyes in 2006 after a series of run-ins with Ryan, which included a poor evaluation and an incident in which he called the police on her son, Preston. A police report shows Preston Allen, then 31, went to Ryan’s office in October 2005 and asked the principal to stop using profanity when he talked to his mother. Ryan said the situation would be handled “administratively,” the report said. No arrests were made.

Another Noyes instructor who taught more recently than Allen agrees with her that test scores were unreliable. “Something doesn’t make sense,” says the former teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. “It’s a total disconnect between what scores showed and what I could see in the classroom.”

The former teacher also says “there was no way” the students themselves could have erased their own answers and changed them to the right ones. “They didn’t check their work,” the teacher says.

A limited investigation

The tests administered in April 2009 produced another round of score improvements for D.C. schools. The proficiency rate districtwide in reading for elementary schools rose 3 percentage points over 2008; the math rate jumped 7 points.

Data obtained by USA TODAY show that, after those tests, 46 D.C. public schools were flagged by McGraw-Hill for having classrooms with high rates of wrong answers changed to right ones. Last October, five of those schools won TEAM awards — and bonuses for teachers and principals — for their high scores. It was the second win for Noyes’ staff and the first for J.O. Wilson Elementary, another school that regularly has had more than 80% of its classrooms flagged for high erasure rates.

OSSE chose eight D.C. public schools plus four charter schools for investigation. District officials would not identify the eight D.C. public schools, but USA TODAY was told by a former official that Noyes was one of them.

Fremer, president of Caveon Consulting Services, the Utah company hired by D.C., acknowledges the investigations were limited and focused mainly on process. “Did everyone who should have received training (on how to give tests) receive training? Was there a mechanism in place for checking out the test booklets? How were they stored?” he says in describing the questions.

When Caveon interviewed individual teachers, Fremer says, an official from the school district was always present and occasionally a principal sat in. Teachers were asked about why erasure rates were so high, Fremer says, but he adds: “We didn’t ask if teachers cheated.”

D.C. school officials did not ask Caveon to do its own analysis of the test data, Fremer says. For other investigations, he says, Caveon has gone to the testing company to examine the tapes of the scanning machines that detected which wrong answers were erased and changed to right. It is helpful, he says, to examine each student’s answers to determine, for example, whether students got hard questions right but missed easy ones. That unlikely outcome can indicate tampering.

After Caveon’s investigation, D.C. school district officials cleared all but one of the eight public schools originally on the list. OSSE approved those findings, according to documents USA TODAY obtained.

At Burrville Elementary, where half of the school’s classrooms had been flagged for high wrong-to-right erasure rates by McGraw-Hill, the conclusion was that one teacher had wrongly cleaned up stray pencil marks on student answer sheets. That was not allowed, OSSE said in a letter to Rhee. In that classroom, students’ math and reading scores were invalidated.

At another school, Stanton Elementary, where wrong-to-right erasures in one fourth-grade class were about 10 times the district average, no violation was found. But an unidentified teacher was banned from administering future tests. The letter sent to Rhee by OSSE did not explain why.

Ted Trabue, president of the State Board of Education, agrees the 2009 investigation was limited. But he credits OSSE, which sets test security policy, for tightening the rules since 2009. For this year’s testing season, which starts April 4, OSSE added a security seal to the outside of the test booklets that can be broken only by students.

Acting chancellor Henderson said “stricter protocols for receiving, storing and returning test materials” are now in place, and each school has been assigned an independent observer from the central office to monitor test administration.

There are people here — parents, politicians and some educators — who also want D.C. to be more aggressive and open about irregularities.

Jefferson, the head of the Council of School Officers, says that if questions remain about the legitimacy of test scores at schools such as Noyes, the school district should not just conduct a thorough investigation, it should also tell the community about it. “You don’t want this cloud hanging over them,” she says. “You don’t want their achievement tainted. … They did all this work to be a Blue Ribbon School. When you don’t say anything, you leave a lot of questions.”

Lord, the state board member, says it’s hard to fix a problem when there has been no open discussion about it. Without a public debate, Lord says, “it begs the question: Was this a strong school because they were cheating all along?”