Duval County’s Superintendent recieves an F too

Superintendent Pratt Dannals gave the Florida Legislature a failing grade for funding. Well friends they aren’t the only ones who should receive a failing grade.

The superintendent has been in charge for over three years now and before that spent a decade near the top of the districts organization chart. During this time he was directly in charge the district have gone through massive budget cuts (nearly 150 million) and at the same time dismissed potential remedies. Years ago when the economy was good I called upon him to propose a one-cent Better Jacksonville plan style sales tax for children and educational issues, similar to what several south Florida cities have done and he ignored the suggestion. He again ignored it last year when I brought it up again at a budget meeting. You would think a superintendent facing such a crisis would be trying everything short of going through the couch cushions in teacher’s lounges.

Now he also seems to be steering the district away from suing the Florida government to uphold the provision in the state constitution, which makes providing a high quality education the paramount duty of the state. New Jersey has a similar clause in their constitution and after some school districts sued their supreme court directed its government to add five hundred million dollars to its education system. Where is our lawsuit Mr. Superintendent? The legislature doesn’t seem to have any desire to do what is right on their own.

Then look at the current issue we are having with cutting sports. Imagine if he would have initiated a pay-for-play program when he first became superintendent? Imagine if the district had charged a modest twenty dollars per sport and put that money in a rainy day account where we would be. I will tell you, fifteen thousand students a year at 20 dollars a pop would have put almost a million dollars away for athletic issues. We could have then used this money to pay for the sports now on the chopping block.

It’s not just the superintendent’s lack of bold moves or foresight that is holding the district back but it is also his vision. The district is all about appearances not about doing what is right for the district and its children.

He touts that all the neighborhood schools now have advanced academic programs well doesn’t this make the need for advanced academic magnet schools redundant? Plus we all know that one for the reasons the neighborhood schools have these programs is because it gives the schools cheap points towards their overall grade. Kids’ taking Advanced Placement tests not passing them is what the state looks for. Finally to show you how ridiculous this is, there are kids at schools all through the district that go from their intensive reading class (remedial reading) to their Advanced Placement classes.

He likes to talk about how discipline is better but what really is better is teacher’s ability to ignore bad behavior and toxic learning environments. What would have gotten me suspended for three days at the high school I went to which is also the high school I teach at is all but ignored now. Kids all the time say, write me up, nothing is going to happen; and you know what? For the most part they are right.

Social promotions are also the policy of the day as the onus for failing a class has been switched from the student to the teacher. You want proof of social promotions just look at the numbers of kids that get to high school and can’t read or do math at grade level or the amount of kids who get to Florida State College and have to take remedial classes, which is about seventy percent in case you are wondering. I had a kid ask me what an elk was the other day.

Then there is the relationship that the district has with teachers and how it has deteriorated. It wasn’t that long ago that teachers and the district worked hand in hand but now the district seems to think that teachers are faceless cogs to be cajoled into passing kids and ignoring bad behavior and to be replaced at a whim. Principals are told to go into schools and shake teachers up and if you have read Pratt-Dannals remarks throughout the years, at least in print, a notable distain for teachers can be detected. Administrators and teachers should be working together not driven apart by those at 1701 Prudential Drive, who reflectively blame teachers for the problems in the district.

On his watch we are about to lose one school, North Shore’s FCAT scores dropped and we might be about to lose more. The superintendent has been at or near the top for over a decade and suddenly those schools became a priority to him? He allowed and encouraged a brain drain through the creation of more magnet schools and he ignored the problems they were having namely students walking in on day one without a wok ethic or the basic knowledge they need to be successful. I don’t blame the children for this either. They know what they know because it is what the district taught them and sadly they don’t know much and that is because for about five years now all we have taught them is how to pass the F-CAT.

Furthermore how about the drive to place African American principals and teachers in schools that have large African American student populations? I know some people want black boys to have black mentors but quite frankly and I realize this may be unpopular with some we shouldn’t care if a principal or a teacher is back, white, blue or green. We should be striving to put the best and brightest in our schools regardless of skin color. I know veteran teachers throughout the district who have been told they can’t relate to children of color because they are the wrong color. Subtle racism is alive and well in Duval County and it is being cultivated by the administration at 1701 Prudential Drive.

He also speaks about all the cuts being made: well sir what about your salary, the equivalent of almost sixteen paraprofessional’s salaries. I know after years of cuts you finally gave up your cell phone and car allowances but do you realize you make a hundred thousand more than the mayor and basically the same amount as the superintendents of both Clay and St. Johns counties (considered two of the best districts in the state). Why not take a pay cut so the district doesn’t have to cut its girls tennis teams.

And finally a lack of understanding that not every child is going to college, a disregard for the importance of teaching trades and skills are other problems he doesn’t seem to understand.

A lack of bold leadership and vision and an emphasis on appearing to do well not actually doing well has marked the Superintendents term in office. He is absolutely right though when he gives Tallahassee an F for funding though it might have been nice if he mentioned how the state has badly treated teachers and sped up the privatization of our public schools through vouchers and charter and virtual schools too. I guess those issues weren’t important enough to mention

The thing is I wonder what would have happened had we not had a budget crisis. What would have happened if the state had given us more money than we knew what to do with? I sadly suspect that if we had the same leadership we do now we would be in the same position we are in now. I will let you decide for yourself what position you think that is.

Yes the state for its shortsighted and hurtful cuts on education does get an F, however they are not the only ones who deserve a failing grade.

Florida’s education motto: Line the Bush’s pockets, close its public schools

From the Reid Report

Anitere Flores is at it again. The Bushite state Senate Judiciary chairwoman from Miami, who’s already on record throwing other women under the bus by seeking to force them to have children (or be subjected to anti-abortion indoctrination by even unwilling doctors), and attacking fellow Hispanics by agreeing to be the Latina face of Florida Republicans’ noxious Arizona-style immigration bill, now has an idea the Bush family will adore: forcing all Florida school children to take online classes.

And what’s not to love? Flores bill, cosponsored by Republican state Rep. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, would:

• Allow full-time, online school for kindergarten through 12th grade;
• Allow home-schooled children to take online classes without previously attending a public school.
• Open the door for private companies to set up virtual schools. That provision would also apply to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

And of course, the money provision:

Starting next year, students entering high school would have to take at least one online course to graduate.

Florida already has a state-run virtual school, and Flores and company claim the school supports the idea of private competition, since the private run online schools would have to meet the same standards. Then again, with Florida Republicans slashing through the state payrolls and gutting public employee pensions, what’s the Florida Virtual School spokesman supposed to say?

More from the Herald:

… proponents say the push to grow online education is not fueled by cost-cutting. Instead, their goal is to give students more choices with technology — a longtime goal of former Gov. Jeb Bush, who while in office ushered in aggressive reforms.

Last year, about 21,000 — less than 1 percent — of the state’s 2.6 million public-school students took part in online education. That was an uptick from the previous year, and with enrollment projected to grow, virtual school is one of the only items in the House and Senate education budget proposals with increased funding.

Bush’s education foundation has taken up the mantel for the former governor’s cause in Tallahassee. It took part in a news conference Thursday to promote the legislation, which cleared its first Senate committee earlier this week.

“We’re walking around with BlackBerrys, with cell phones, with iPods, iPads,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, told reporters. “The only place, unfortunately, where that technology has not been fully embraced is in our education system.”

Hm… funny thing that … funny, funny, funny … I mean if you could get, say, 100 percent of 2.6 million students to take online school, and a company, like, say, Ignite! Learning, or former Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett’s K12, to get even 10 percent of that market apiece … mo money, mo money, mo money…!

Let’s go to a flashback, shall we?

(Los Angeles Times, Oct. 22, 2006) A company headed by President Bush’s brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush’s company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president’s signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite’s portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.

But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.

The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.

Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that “some districts seem to feel OK” about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, “and others do not.”

Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite’s program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite’s rapid growth.

And how well has Ignite! done in Florida? Very. From 2000 to 2003 alone, Neil (who made a name for himself running Silverado Savings and Loan into the ground during the 1980s S&L crisis) raked in $20 million. Some of the money Neil has made since then has come from Florida’s use of Ignite! test prep software to get kids ready for the corporate-lucrative FCAT standardized tests. And both Neil Bush and Bill Bennett’s politically-connected companies have been the subject of federal scrutiny, over whether their products are selling more because of who the founders are, than because of what they can do.

Now to be fair, Ignite! currently focuses on in-class digital/online learning aids and test prep tutorials. But if the door is opened to private companies like Neil’s opening up full charter schools online, the sky’s the limit. And Neil may not even have to change his business model to make a profit.

A bit of background as to why:

(March 1, 2011) – In December, (Jeb) Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, joined in a national call for digital learning in a report that urged states to open competition for online content that could become as effective and user-friendly as Amazon.com is for shopping. They also urge replacement of textbooks with digital devices that are cheaper for taxpayers and more relevant to today’s students.

Despite Scott’s support, a virtual-learning overhaul faces hurdles, including opposition from textbook companies and the state’s teachers union. Virtual-learning bills sponsored by state Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Erik Fresen, both Republicans, died in last year’s session.
…..
But it is being ruthlessly resurrected right now.

Since his time in office and now that he’s unencumbered, Jeb Bush has steamrolled the push across the country for school vouchers and digital “virtual” learning instead of textbooks in the classroom.

How nice this must be for brother Neil Bush, and for those who want our kids’ teachers out of the picture permanently.

In the meantime, Jeb Bush hired Tom Vander Ark to infiltrate State Houses, as a bludgeon to push virtual learning onto the unwilling populace.

Dan Popkey writes in the Idaho Statesman:

February 24, 2011 –

A man Newsweek once called America’s most influential baby boomer in education comes to the Idaho Statehouse Thursday to support online education and Idaho schools chief Tom Luna’s reform bills.

Tom Vander Ark, who oversaw $3.5 billion in grants as head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calls himself a “frustrated independent” unattached to a political party.

He now works on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” project and is a partner in Learn Capital, a private equity investor concentrating on education innovation worldwide.

He was invited by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank, lobbying group and news outlet, which paid travel expenses. He spoke with the Statesman Wednesday.

Q: How did the Freedom Foundation convince you to come to Idaho?

A: “I spend most of my time advocating for more and better online learning. I was in Tallahassee (Fla.) doing the same thing yesterday.”

Q: You’ve never met or spoken to Tom Luna and weren’t consulted in the drafting of his plan. What prompted you to support his “Students Come First” bills?

So, first you slash teachers’ pay and turn them into 1 year contract employees, void their pensions and tie their salaries to a standardized test. … Next, you simply make them incidental to the learning process, either by automating their jobs via “digital classrooms” like the ones sold by Ignite! — so basically, any low-paid person can do the job, no tenure required — or by driving education out of the classroom and onto the home computer.

It’s a hell of a plan to privatize education in increments.

If, of course, that’s what you want to do…

http://blog.reidreport.com/2011/04/florida-bill-could-line-a-bushs-pockets-and-put-florida-one-step-closer-to-privatized-education/?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4de20294a6f6323a%2C0

How the Florida Government wants to keep you deaf, dumb and blind

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Howard Troxler

We have a simple and important principle in Florida:

What the government does is the public’s business.

Put another way, the taxpayers of Florida have the right to know what their government is doing.

In our state Constitution, we require our government to operate in the “sunshine,” to hold meetings and make decisions in public.

In our state law, we declare that the records of the government are open to public inspection.

That’s how it is supposed to work.

Of course, it does not always work that way.

Some people in the government hate the public records law, and drag their feet and try not to obey it.

Every year, our state Legislature writes more and more loopholes into the law.

Our state’s new governor, Rick Scott, has shown a contempt for the spirit of the law. Clearly he does not think that what he does is the public’s business at all. His underlings fight and stall even the most routine requests for what he is up to, and they have started billing people for asking.

One of Scott’s top advisers admitted in a recent e-mail sent from her private e-mail account: “I rarely check and almost never respond to work e-mail because of the open records law.”

A Scott spokesman, equally blunt, defended secrecy by saying: “There are things we don’t want to broadcast to our opponents.”

Their opponents! Who, exactly? The taxpayers?

Here is one of the truest things I know:

Secrecy is a sure sign of bad or dishonest state and local government.

Look, I’ll give the feds some of their spy and national-security stuff. But I will not give the governor or the mayor a nickel’s worth.

This is true even when — no, especially when — the secrecy is about “economic development” or “trade secrets,” the most common excuse. It mostly means that the government is in cahoots with somebody.

We need to do some things differently in Florida. I would start with the newspapers — the folks who are supposed to be finding out what the government is up to and telling people about it.

If I am the editor of the newspaper (Howard Herald? Troxler Tribune?), then every time some so-and-so in Tallahassee refuses the public’s right to know, it’s a banner headline.

Every day that he keeps refusing, it keeps coming.

The more ridiculous the refusal, the bigger the headline. If Scott runs a secret government, then Scott gets it in 72-point type, day after day, week after week, month after month. I’ll give him a whole page every day: “What Rick Scott Does Not Want Us To Know.”

Same with the mayor, the School Board, the City Council, the County Commission.

We have gotten too wimpy about this public records law. We are accepting it as an excuse for what the government can keep secret. The law ought to be a floor and not a ceiling. Morally speaking, everything the government does is the public’s business. I do not care what the law says.

As a young reporter, I had a real SOB as an editor — a profane, terrifying ex-Marine. I loved the man. And I tell you what, I wish you could have heard his speech about the public’s right to know what the government is up to.

Heaven help that young reporter who came back to him saying, weakly, “They told me it wasn’t a public record.”

I can still see him standing up and swelling to twice the size. “_______________!!!” he would swear. “Go back and make them GIVE IT TO YOU ANYWAY!”

So to my friends in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Miami and Orlando, Palm Beach and Sarasota and Tallahassee and everywhere else:

_____________! Make them give it to you anyway.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/government-secrecy-in-florida-is-out-of-hand/1172423

Will Rick Scott help Obama when a second term?

From the Broward Beach Palm Times

by Brandon Thorp

What a weird ride it’s been for poor Rick Scott! He came into office with hardly any pretense, with his intentions as plainly visible as the veins in his scalp. But nobody noticed, and now everybody hates him.

Which is bad news to the folks manning the bridge on the GOP mothership. Especially if they’ve noticed the weird trend picked up upon in the Quinnipiac University poll results released Thursday, which showed an inverse correlation between Rick Scott and Barack Obama’s job approval ratings.

Dig it: Quinnipiac University pollsters spoke with 1,196 Floridians on Rick Scott’s job performance and found that 57 percent of Floridians are now dissatisfied with governor, up from 48 percent on April 6. Back then, 35 percent approved of Scott’s performance, and now only 29 percent do. For a first-term governor, the April results were bad. These results are disastrous. Rick Scott is now officially the least popular governor in the country.

During the same period that Scott was alienating a tenth of his electorate, Barack Obama’s popularity was growing at an almost exactly equal rate. Back on April 7, 44 percent of Floridians approved of his performance, while 52 percent disapproved. The new numbers are 51 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove.

In other words: If presidential and gubernatorial elections were held in Florida today, no declared Republican presidential candidate could unseat Obama, while Scott would have a hard time beating Raul Castro.

But hell! Why would the Democrats want to beat Scott? Florida’s the most important swing state in the country. If the Dems can keep Scott in Tallahassee, they’ll never lose a presidential election again! (Though they will have to contend with Florida devolving into a destitute anarcho-capitalist hellpit in which gangs of starving, naked ex-teachers roam the streets in search of human flesh. But oh well. It wasn’t that nice a place to live anyway.)

But wait! Is it likely that Scott’s helping Obama’s numbers? Politicususa thinks so, but it’s completely discounting the impact of Osama Bin Laden’s death upon Floridian sentiments. It also fails to mention that Florida is full of very old people, who lately have been hearing some very scary things about Republicans’ plans for Medicare. And then there’s the fact that our state is home to two of the most outspoken, angry Republican congressmen in America. Maybe Floridians are just fed up with the vitriol and are blaming the governor because he’s bald and scary-looking.

So it’s important not to read too much into the inverse correlation discovered by Quinnipiac. Still, the temptation is there. The numbers are striking. It’s hard not to believe that somebody aboard the mothership hasn’t examined the figures and taken a long, queasy look at a picture of Rick Scott’s cool amphibian eyes, and thought: Holy shit! Is he working for them?

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2011/05/rick_scott_helps_obama.php

The Democrats have improved medicare, facts don’t lie

From Politifact

Ever heard of Medi-scare? It’s political slang that means attacking opponents for their plans to rein in Medicare spending.

Republicans say they’re victims of Medi-scare because Democrats keep distorting their recent proposal, a plan to turn Medicare into a program where seniors buy their own health insurance plans and the federal government pays part of the tab. The plan wouldn’t apply to anyone 55 or older, but would start for new enrollees in 2022. Still, it would be a dramatic change from the current system, where the government pays doctors and hospitals directly. A Democrat won a close special election in upstate

New York on May 24 after campaigning against the plan, prompting Republicans to complain that Democrats were demagoguing the plan.

Boo hoo, say Democrats like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It was just last year that Republicans tried to scare seniors by telling them the health care law would gut Medicare spending, said Wasserman Schultz, who was recently named head of the Democratic National Committee.

“It’s the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to who’s engaging in Medi-scare,” said Wasserman Schultz in an interview on MSNBC on May 25. “The Republicans leading up to the 2010 election actually fabricated what Democrats did to Medicare. In fact, we added 12 years of solvency to Medicare and ensured that it would be better for seniors overall. And what the Republicans have done under Paul Ryan’s plan is actually end Medicare as we know it, turn into it into a voucher program. There’s no running from that.”

We documented a slew of Mediscare ads against Democrats during the 2010 election cycle. But we were interested in the wonkier question of whether the health care law did indeed add 12 years of solvency to Medicare. Solvency in this case means the money flowing into Medicare covers 100 percent of the bills for patient care.

We started researching the issue, and at first, Wasserman Schultz seemed on solid ground. In August 2010, the Medicare Board of Trustees reported that the health care law did indeed add 12 years of solvency to Medicare Part A, the portion of Medicare that covers hospitalization. It also improved the financial outlook for Part B, which covers physicians’ services and other care. The report specifically credited the Democratic health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed earlier that year.

We should note those estimates come with a few warnings. The report itself says that projecting health care costs into the future includes many uncertainties. Additionally, the report doesn’t include changes that Congress will likely make to current law, especially the predictable increases in payments to physicians known as the doc fix. Also, the independent chief actuary for Medicare questioned whether the projected cost savings were realistic.

But overall, the board of trustees report is an official estimate for the Medicare program, the reports are put together with a consistent, detailed methodology, and its annual reports are usually referred to by both parties.

The bigger problem with Wasserman Schultz’s statement is that just a few weeks ago, the board of trustees issued a new report that revised its estimates for the health care law. Instead of adding 12 years of solvency, the board concluded, the law will only add eight years of solvency. Starting in 2024, the program will need either new revenues or reduced expenses to meet all of its obligations. The board said the shortfall was because of the continuing economic slowdown, which has reduced the Medicare program’s income from taxes, and a few other lesser factors.

So Wasserman Schultz’s number is off by about a third.

Nevertheless, her overall point, that the Democrats’ health reform law added to the overall solvency of Medicare, is correct. The 2011 report included the same warnings that estimating health care savings for the future is an uncertain process, but it also concluded that the financial outlook for Medicare is “substantially improved as a result of the changes in the Affordable Care Act.”

The law reduced spending and increased revenues in several ways. It slows increases in payments to hospitals and nursing homes. It raises Medicare hospital taxes for high earners. And it introduces several new programs aimed at steering the health system away from paying doctors and hospitals per procedure (“fee for service”) and instead paying for good outcomes.

When we contacted her office, a spokesman said that the number may have been off, but the point was still right. “The important thing is that Democrats moved to substantially extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund while also making broad improvements to Medicare,” said spokesman Jonathan Beeton.

To summarize, Wasserman Schultz said that the Democratic health care law “added 12 years of solvency to Medicare.” She’s off on the number, citing an older, more optimistic report. The latest estimate indicates Medicare will only have eight additional years of solvency, one-third less than the previous estimate. But she’s right that the Affordable Care Act improved the financial outlook for Medicare, and that Democrats have successfully passed legislation to reduce future spending for the program. So we rate her statement Half True.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/may/27/debbie-wasserman-schultz/did-health-care-law-add-12-years-solvency-medicare/

A Conflict of Interest, how the Bush Family made Money off Education

From Common Dreams.org

by Walter F. Roche Jr.

A company headed by President Bush’s brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

NEIL BUSH: He says Ignite�s growth is not due to political influence. (David Kohl / AP)

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush’s company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president’s signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite’s portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.

But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.

The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.

Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that “some districts seem to feel OK” about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, “and others do not.”

Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite’s program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite’s rapid growth.

“As our business matures in the USA we have plans to expand overseas and to work with many distinguished individuals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” he wrote. “Not one of these associates by the way has ever asked for any access to either of my political brothers, not one White House tour, not one autographed photo, and not one Lincoln bedroom overnight stay.”

Funding laws unclear

Interviews and a review of school district documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found that educators and legal experts were sharply divided over whether Ignite’s products were worth their cost or qualified under the No Child law.

The federal law requires schools to show they are meeting educational standards, or risk losing critical funding. If students fail to meet annual performance goals in reading and math tests, schools must supplement their educational offerings with tutoring and other special programs.

Leigh Manasevit, a Washington attorney who specializes in federal education funding, said that districts using the No Child funds to buy products like Ignite’s would have to meet “very strict” student eligibility requirements and ensure that the Ignite services were supplemental to existing programs.

Known as COW, for Curriculum on Wheels (the portable learning centers resemble cows on wheels), Ignite’s product line is geared toward middle school social studies, history and science. The company says it has developed a social studies program that meets curriculum requirements in seven states. Its science program meets requirements in six states.

Most of Ignite’s business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite’s COWs under a $1-million grant.

Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.

Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times’ inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — “entirely political.”

Big supporters

Bush’s parents joined Neil as Ignite investors in 1999, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents. By 2003, the records show, Neil Bush had raised about $23 million from more than a dozen outside investors, including Mohammed Al Saddah, the head of a Kuwaiti company, and Winston Wong, the head of a Chinese computer firm.

Most recently he signed up Russian fugitive business tycoon Boris A. Berezovsky and Berezovsky’s partner Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Barbara Bush has enthusiastically supported Ignite. In January 2004, she and Neil Bush were guests of honor at a $1,000-atable fundraiser in Oklahoma City organized by a foundation supporting the Western Heights School District. Proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of Ignite products.

Organizer Mary Blankenship Pointer said she planned the event because district students were “utilizing Ignite courseware and experiencing great results. Our students were thriving.”

However, Western Heights school Supt. Joe Kitchens said the district eventually dropped its use of Ignite because it disagreed with changes Ignite had made in its products. “Our interest waned in it,” he said.

The former first lady spurred controversy recently when she contributed to a Hurricane Katrina relief foundation for storm victims who had relocated to Texas. Her donation carried one stipulation: It had to be used by local schools for purchases of COWs.

Texas accounts for 75% of Ignite’s business, which is expanding rapidly in other states, Deliganis said.

The company also has COWs deployed in North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia and Florida, he said.

COWs recently showed up at Hill Classical Middle School in California’s Long Beach Unified School District. A San Jose middle school also bought Ignite’s products but has since closed.

Neil Bush said Ignite has more than 1,700 COWs in classrooms.

Shift in strategy

But Ignite’s educational strategy has changed dramatically, and some are critical of its new approach. Shortly after Ignite was formed in Austin, Texas, in 1999, it bought the software developed by another small Austin firm, Adaptive Learning Technology.

Adaptive Learning founder Mary Schenck-Ross said the software’s interactive lessons allowed teachers “to get away from the mass-treatment approach” to education. When a student typed in a response to a question, the software was designed to react and provide a customized learning path.

“The original concept was to avoid ‘one size fits all.’ That was the point,” said Catherine Malloy, who worked on the software development.

Two years ago, however, Ignite dropped the individualized learning approach. Working with artists and illustrators, it created a large purple COW that could be wheeled from classroom to classroom and plugged in, offering lessons that could be played to a roomful of students.

The COWs enticed students with catchy jingles and videos featuring cartoon characters like Mr. Bighead and Norman Einstein. On Ignite’s website, a collection of teachers endorsed the COW, saying that it eliminated the need for lesson planning. The COW does it for them.

The developers of Adaptive Learning’s software complain that Ignite replaced individualized instruction with a gimmick.

“It breaks my heart what they have done. The concept was totally perverted,” Schenck-Ross said.

Nevertheless, Ignite found many receptive school districts. In Texas, 30 districts use COWs.

In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.

Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a “good working relationship” with a school board member.

Another Ignite official asked a Texas state education official to endorse the company. In an e-mail, Neil Bush’s partner Ken Leonard asked Michelle Ungurait, state director of social studies programs, to tell Houston officials her “positive impressions of our content, system and approach.”

Ungurait, identified in another Leonard e-mail as “our good friend” at the state office, told her superiors in response to The Times’ inquiry that she never acted on Leonard’s request.

Leonard said he did not ask Ungurait to do anything that would be improper.

Houston school officials gave Ignite’s products “high” ratings in eight categories and recommended approval.

Some in Houston’s schools question the expenditures, however. Jon Dansby was teaching at Houston’s Fleming Middle School when Ignite products arrived.

“You can’t even get basics like paper and scissors, and we went out and bought them. I just see red,” he said.

In Las Vegas, the schools have approved more than $300,000 in Ignite purchases. Records show the board recommended spending $150,000 in No Child funding on Ignite products.

Sources familiar with the Las Vegas purchases said pressure to buy Ignite products came from Sig Rogich, an influential local figure and prominent Republican whose fundraising of more than $200,000 for President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign qualified him as a “Bush Ranger.”

Rogich, who chairs a foundation that supports local schools, said he applied no pressure but became interested in COWs after Neil Bush contacted him. Rogich donated $6,000 to purchase two COWs for a middle school named after him.

Christy Falba, the former Clark County school official who oversaw the contracts, said she and her husband attended a dinner with Neil Bush to discuss the products. She said Rogich encouraged the district “to look at the Ignite program” but applied no pressure.

Mixed reviews

Few independent studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of Ignite’s teaching strategies. Neil Bush said the company had gotten “great feedback” from educators and planned to conduct a “major scientifically valid study” to assess the COW’s impact. The results should be in by next summer, he said.

Though Ignite’s products get generally rave reviews from Texas educators, the opinion is not universal.

The Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District no longer uses the Ignite programs it purchased several years ago for $43,000.

“I wouldn’t advise anyone else to use it,” said Supt. Paul Vranish. “Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here.”

Ignite’s website features glowing videotaped testimonials from teachers, administrators, students and parents.

Many of the videos were shot at Del Valle Junior High School near Austin, where school district officials allowed Ignite to film facilities and students.

In the video, a student named India says: “I was feeling bad about my grades. I didn’t know what my teacher was talking about.” The COW changed everything, the girl’s father says on the video.

Lori, a woman identified as India’s teacher, says the child was not paying attention until the COW was brought in.

The woman, however, is not India’s teacher, but Lori Anderson, a former teacher and now Ignite’s marketing director. Ignite says Anderson was simply role-playing.

In return for use of its students and facilities, a district spokeswoman said Ignite donated a free COW. Five others were purchased with district funds.

District spokeswoman Celina Bley acknowledged that regulations bar school officials from endorsing products. But she said that restriction did not apply to the videos.

“It is illegal for individuals to make an endorsement, but this was a districtwide endorsement,” Bley said in an e-mail.

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/1022-02.htm

More teachers about to lose their jobs in Broward County

From the Sun Sentinel.com

by Rafeal Olmeda

About 400 Broward teachers can expect to be told next week that their current positions are being eliminated, Superintendent Jim Notter said Friday.

This is on top of the previously announced 1,400 first- and second-year teachers who are being let go or whose contracts are not being renewed.

Notter said he expects the vast majority of the 400 “surplussed” teachers to find other jobs in the district, filling positions that are vacated through attrition (voluntary retirements, resignations, and decertifications). Only those few unable to find other jobs in the district will be laid off, Notter said.

According to the Broward Teachers Union, a teacher facing layoff could stay on the payroll by bumping the least senior person holding a job for which the teacher facing layoff is certified. For example, an algebra teacher with 20 years of experience could hang onto the job by bumping an algebra teacher at another school with only three years on the job. Just an example.

http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/educationblog/2011/05/broward_teachers_brace_for_mor_1.html

Is Rick Scott the govenor of all of us or some of us?

From the St. Petersburg Times Editorial Board

Rick Scott is the governor of all of Florida, not just the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. Yet he insists on conducting the public’s business at the equivalent of a private tea party meeting. The staged event where he signed the state budget and released his vetoes on Thursday was orchestrated to appear open to the public in the Villages, a conservative Republican retirement enclave in Central Florida. In fact, it was a private event paid for by the state Republican Party, and some Democrats were barred from attending. It is insulting to the majority of Floridians who are not registered Republican voters.

While the bill signing was held in the community’s town square, people holding anti-Scott signs were escorted out by sheriff’s deputies at the request of Scott officials. There is nothing “private” about the state’s highest elected public official engaged in his public duties, signing a public document detailing how $69 billion in public dollars will be spent.

Scott unveiled his budget proposal in February at a tea party event in a church, so the partisan control of the bill signing comes as no surprise. But the election was nearly seven months ago, and Scott is the governor of all Floridians. He should start acting like it instead of isolating himself among the shrinking numbers of his most ardent supporters.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/gov-scott-continues-to-ignore-all-but-his-most-rabid-supporters/1172186

Rick Scott, the jobs killing govenor

From the St. Petersburg Times editorial board,

Gov. Rick Scott will sign into law today a $69.7 billion state budget for 2011-12 that he boasts is all about creating jobs and reducing Florida’s high unemployment. In fact, it is a job-killing budget that threatens the state’s anemic recovery and makes the state less attractive to new residents and businesses. The governor and the Legislature are starving the state instead of investing in it. Let us count the ways they are undermining Florida’s economy:

1. State workers Positions in prisons, social services and other areas have been slashed. Scott says he’s only interested in private sector jobs. State employees buy houses, cars and appliances, too — even if they have not had raises in five years. Estimated Jobs lost: 4,500.

2. Public schools Spending will drop by $542 per student, or 8 percent. School districts are sending out lay-off notices to thousands of teachers, including 1,400 in Broward and 1,100 in Pinellas. Some of those could keep their jobs. But Pasco schools could eliminate 470 overall positions and Pinellas could cut 400 positions. School districts are the largest employers in many counties. Estimated jobs lost: THOUSANDS.

3. Universities Operating expenses have been cut at the 11 public universities by $140 million, or 4 percent. The University of Florida alone loses $54 million in state money, although some of that will be recovered with an expected 15 percent tuition increase. Florida State University expects to cut 50 faculty members. States that starve higher education cannot attract high-paying new jobs. Estimated jobs lost: Undetermined.

4. Transportation Another $150 million will be transferred from the transportation trust fund to pay for other government services. That means fewer roads will be built, and fewer private construction workers will have jobs. Estimated jobs lost: 8,400.

5. Everglades Money earmarked for restoration has been cut from $200 million in 2008 to a token $30 million in this budget. The water management district budgets have been cut another 25 percent. Over decades, Everglades projects are to create 22,000 jobs directly related to construction and hundreds of thousands of jobs in tourism, commercial fishing and other areas. Estimated jobs lost: hUNDREDS.

6. Health care Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals will be cut by 12 percent, or $510.5 million, a decline in state and federal funding that is expected to require hospitals across the state to cut jobs, particularly those such as All Children’s in St. Petersburg and Tampa General that serve a high volume of Medicaid patients. All Children’s is expecting at least $6 million less in Medicaid funding; Tampa General $19 million. Estimated jobs lost: Undetermined.

We would mention the Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail project, which would have created 6,200 jobs in 2011 but was killed when Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to pay for it. But that would be piling on.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/the-job-killing-governor/1171788

Duval Partners, a bad fit for our struggling schools

Duval Partners for Education Excellence, the fund raising/mentoring group turned educational management organization (EMO) recently lost and replaced two of its members. The times union didn’t mention that one of the members they lost was Alvin Smith the groups first chair person but did mention the professions of the replacements, one is a minister and the other is an academic from UNF.

Duval Partners did not take this opportunity to replace the departing members with the 9th grade math teacher who knows what deficits the children show up with, the 12th grade English teacher who after years knows what works and what doesn’t work or the guidance counselor who knows what the kids need. In fact they didn’t replace any members with teachers of any kind and there are no current or recent teachers in the whole organization.

At best Duval Partners is made of well meaning cronies of the school district. At worse it is made up by cronies of the school district looking for a line to put on the resume but regardless this organization is bad for the schools and the children that will attend them.

For a generation the school board made up of politicians on their way up or way down and people filled with hubris, not firsthand education knowledge has been throwing ideas, like paint against the wall hoping something sticks, at the intervening schools. So what do they do? The School Board assembles a group of politicians on the way up or way down and people filled with hubris not firsthand education knowledge to fix the schools. I cannot be the only one that sees a problem with this.

If we want to see true improvement in those schools and the dozens of schools that are pretty much in the same boat throughout the city we must engage those we have hired to teach our students in coming up with solutions. Do you know when the problems with education began to become serious? It was when those not in the classroom decided to meddle with the classroom and I believe we are doomed to continue to fail as long as we allow this to carry on. The stakes, our children’s future, are way too high to keep doing the same thing over and over while hoping for a different outcome.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher