Local KIPP School has some explaining to do

First I take no joy in pointing out struggling schools and I believe the KIPP School given time will improve. The problem is this school with much fanfare was all but declared a savior of education. The reality however is much different. Their scores were some of the worse in the county.

KIPP schools have more resources funneled into them than public schools and can put requirements on their students and their families that the public schools can’t but at the end of the day they don’t do much better. Charter schools are not the magic bullet they are being described as. If you google charter school problems you will get thousands of stories from all across the nation that describe financial malfeasance and poor results, yet this is what our legislature is pushing. I can’t help but wonder if they are doing so because many of the charter schools are for profit and this can line the pockets of their contributors and friends.

And don’t forget Arne Duncan visited this school and gave then a half million dollars for a music program (while public music programs are being eliminated) and Rick Scott signed the teacher merit pay bill their too. I wonder what these believers in school privatization are saying now.

Given time the KIPP School will probably improve but imagine how much better our public schools would be if we put the same level of resources into them.

Duval Partners for Excellent Education are off to a very rough start

To say Duval Partners were off to a rocky start would be insulting to rock quarries.

For some reason they thought secrecy was the way to go and they have been a group that has preferred to meet in the shadows and dole out information like it was a national secret. They don’t have a web site nor do they have physical or e-mailing addresses either.

They haven’t asked the community for their input and neither have they talked to the staffs at the schools they may be charged in taking over. Remember too that professional educators do not make up this group. No they are business and community leaders though if this is how they do things I am not sure how they received that designation.

If this group is going to have any chance at being successful (though now it seems like they are trying to pass the buck and sub contract another EMO) they must get buy in from the community and staffs of the school something thus far they don’t seem very interested in acquiring.

If this is their way of doing things more tough times are in store for our intervene schools and their leadership will be short lived.

How the Republicans plan to privitize Florida’s public schools

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Jeb Bush, Rick Scott, Steve Wise, and just about every other Republican in the state got the memo. They know the jig is up on No Child Left Behind. Like any cunning scoundrel, they know how to seize upon an opportunity. That blood is in the water you see is the disastrous consequences of NCLB’s recipe for any school to ultimately fail.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is expressing concern for America’s schools. As high as 82 percent of schools in the nation could fail to meet the goals set by the No Child Left Behind law. This percentage is 45 percent higher than the failing numbers of 2010

Crafted with the best of intentions by people of good will and friends of both public schools and teachers unions, the bill’s hidden trigger for failure was hidden. It’s lofty mandate that 100 percent of the nation’s children would read at grade level by 2014 was never obtainable. NCLB’s progressively tightening standards have doomed schools to failure. And by Duncans number, its occuring at a stunning rate of speed.

The goal could never be met. Even if some grandiose plan were never in place and grassy knollists are hysterical, a perfect storm exists in Florida for an abrupt transfer of its public schools to private entities. The other shoe drop is here now with eminent passage of the new school voucher plan. Read this about the bill’s stealth expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program:

…..(the)bill, which moved through committees in both legislative chambers this week with party-line votes, would expand the public-school provisions of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

At the heart of proposed expansion is the definition of a failing school.

Existing law says a student can leave a school that receives two “F” grades in a four-year period. The state Department of Education issues the grades annually based largely on student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

That definition would change with the Senate version of the new bill: Students could opt to leave any school receiving a “D” or “F” and a low rating on a separate state system that provides extra funding and support for schools that need additional help.

In both 2008 and 2009, almost 8 percent of Florida schools received a D of F – well over 200 each year. Pearson’s FCAT results disaster for 2010 preliminarily assigned a significant increase in schools failing to make “adequate yearly progess” a key NCLB benchmark used to perceive schools negatively.

Further comparison between the 08-09 numbers shows that a whopping 52 percent increase in the number of schools who received a C – a number thats actually greater as there was a slight decrease in the number of schools which were graded. The astonishing increase shows that the criterion is significantly more lethal.

Including D schools into the slippery calculus which launches voucher applications to the NCLB school death warrant activates the privatization mechanism in Florida. The state’s market based crowd already has this all figured out.


Duval Partners, nobody seems to know what they are doing, what a mess

From the Times Unions editorial board

What a mess.

And the shame is that the students of the four intervene schools will be caught in it.

There are three issues that deserve our attention in connection with the new group likely to be in charge of Jacksonville’s four intervene schools.

Don’t rush

With just a few weeks left before a new school year, Duval Partners for Excellent Education cannot be ready to take on oversight of Jacksonville’s four failing schools — probably the most difficult job in Jacksonville.

This needs to be treated like the preparation for any new school. Normally, a principal is given a year to prepare when a new school is constructed.

In this case, making changes in four failing schools is even more difficult than opening one new school.

Ed Pratt-Dannals, the superintendent of the Duval County Public Schools, has said he could not find a company with a proven track record of turning around schools in the shape of Raines, Ribault and Jackson high schools and North Shore K-8.

Rushing into this job is a prescription for failure.

Open up

Florida has a history of open government dating to the early 1900s.

So the decision of the Duval Partners board to continue to meet in secrecy is simply wrong — desperately wrong.

Duval Partners could make the case that they needed secrecy when they were in the organizational phase. Open, frank discussions were needed.

But that should have taken three meetings, maybe five. The group has now held about 10 meetings. What’s worse, they are far beyond the organizational phase. They are actually interviewing management companies as well as candidates for executive director.

How could they do that in secret?

That point will be moot soon, since the School Board signed the Memorandum of Understanding yesterday and Duval Partners may sign it soon.

Once Duval Partners signs an agreement, the requirements of Florida’s Sunshine Law take effect.

Is it coincidence that it has not been signed? It has certainly been convenient for Duval Partners.

This is no way to run a public agency.

When Chairman Cleve Warren promised to open the Duval Partners meetings during a meeting with the Times-Union editorial board, it was presumed that the meetings would be open to all, not just the Times-Union.

Instead, he offered a Times-Union reporter the chance to be present for a token 15 minutes, and when important business was being conducted, the reporter was asked to leave.

This is an outrage.

If this secrecy is legal, it is not right. All it does is lose credibility with the people. It makes the most difficult job in Jacksonville an impossible one.

But following the letter of the Sunshine Law is only part of the problem. The spirit of the law — openness, transparency — is key.

Remember the community

Left out of this entire process are the people the four intervene schools are meant to serve.

How many members of Duval Partners live in these school zones? Just a few.

Jacksonville citizens involved with these schools have been left behind, over and over again.

Their neighborhood schools have been turned into dedicated magnets for the more fortunate. Legacy high schools like Matthew Gilbert, the school Bob Hayes attended, have been turned into middle schools.

And now a shadowy group of citizens are making decisions on their behalf.

This is simply bad management that reminds us of a previous era when a few leaders made decisions for the unrepresented.

This may be the Jacksonville of a few decades ago, but it’s not the Jacksonville that just elected a black mayor.

These are not faceless masses, they are people in the neighborhood to be educated by Raines, Ribault, Jackson and North Shore. They deserve to be involved in the decision-making process every step of the way.

What should be done

– Duval Partners ought to decline to take on this job before it is ready.

– The Duval County School Board ought to take every step, including court action, to prevent this hand-off to a group that is not ready to do it properly.

– Jacksonville’s new mayor needs to get engaged personally.

– And the community itself needs to get involved in what looks like a disaster in the making. Anyone who believes in participative government needs to join the effort.

Let’s grant that the volunteers of Duval Partners want to do the right thing. But serious mistakes have been made.

This mess cannot stand.

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/opinion/editorials/2011-06-28/story/secrecy-toxic-credible-government-0#ixzz1QiznHXXk

America gives up on education

From Education Week

by Christina Samuels

School districts are facing a grim financial future, and the situation won’t get better any time soon, according to a survey of more than 400 districts conducted by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pushed off the inevitable for many districts, but those funds are disappearing, while state and local revenue continues to plunge. About 84 percent of the districts surveyed anticipate funding cuts in school year 2011-12, and the cuts are being seen in all types of districts: urban, rural and suburban.

“School people are just running out of ways to limit spending,” said Jack Jennings, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, in an interview. “They’re just at their wits’ end.”

Released today, the nationally representative survey of school districts was conducted between February and May of 2011. Surveys were sent to 955 districts and 457 districts responded. Because the sample was random and survey results were weighted, the findings can be generalized to school districts across the country.

Mr. Jennings said the center was anticipating about 400 responses, so was surprised that more than 50 more district leaders responded to the survey. “School districts want the public to understand what’s going on,” he said.

About 70 percent of districts received less money in 2010-11 than they had the year before. For the 2011-12 school year, 84 percent of districts anticipate funding cuts, the survey found. And federal stimulus funds are no longer a cushion for districts. States and districts are required to spend their stimulus money by Sept. 30, 2011.

Looking back to the last school year, about 85 percent of districts with funding decreases in 2010-11 made some type of staff cuts. Those districts represented about 53 percent of all districts in the country.

Districts tried to tilt staff reductions toward teachers of noncore academic subjects: 68 percent of the districts making cuts did so in those areas, while 54 percent made staff reductions in core areas. Districts also furloughed teachers and reduced benefits to save money.

Looking to the upcoming school year, about 57 percent of the districts anticipating funding reductions plan to specifically cut teaching jobs; 50 percent plan to cut administrative staff.

The closest parallel to today’s weak economy is the recession of the early 1980s, which was marked by high inflation and President Reagan’s cut in federal education spending. But this recession is deeper and broader, Jennings said. Plus, “far more is being asked of the schools, and they’re getting less money.” Districts should start working on sharing cost-cutting ideas with each other, because the downward trend is expected to continue for the near future, he said.

The survey did note that school officials tended to appreciate the federal stimulus, Eighty-nine percent said their district was better off for having received the money, even though the funds may have just delayed inevitable staff reductions for two years.

“But two years ago, people were concerned about going into a depression,” Jennings said. “The stimulus helped. Unfortunately, the federal government isn’t coming to the aid of school districts anymore.”


Texas or Florida, which state hates teachers and kids the most

From the Texas AFT blog

Linda Bridges, president of Texas AFT, the 65,000-strong Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, offered this observation Wednesday in a press statement marking the end of the special legislative session that began May 31:

The governor, lieutenant governor, and House speaker in this year’s regular and special sessions have led a shameful retreat from the state’s financial commitment to the education of Texas schoolchildren.

With a sharply reduced budget enacted in May, and a school-finance plan to enforce $4 billion in cuts in state aid passed yesterday, this retreat sets in motion what amounts to a planned failure to deliver the educational quality our students deserve. Also part of this plan for failure is the elimination of another $1.4 billion in state grant funding for full-day pre-kindergarten and extra help for at-risk students, among other vital programs. The legislature also chose to cut state pension and health-care contributions for retired teachers.

The state’s top leaders and the legislature had one more chance in the special session to mitigate the damage, without touching a penny of the currently projected amount in the Rainy Day Fund. The Donna Howard amendment simply would have allowed any future increases in the Rainy Day Fund to be used to cover the cost of rapidly rising enrollment in our public schools.

Passing this compromise amendment was the least they could do, yet they still chose not to do it. From the governor on down, the folks in the driver’s seat at the capitol seemed to be dead-set on underfunding public education. Needless harm to Texas schoolchildren will result from their unprecedented decision not to fund enrollment growth and to shortchange our public schools.

The final school-finance deal in SB 1 was improved by Rep. Diane Patrick’s sunset amendment, which will prevent the deep cuts of the next few years from becoming the permanent “new normal” of reduced education funding, as openly advocated by some key players. But the reality still is that this bill allocates $4 billion in cuts among school districts over the next two years, provides for more cuts for two more years after that—and none of these cuts were necessary. These cuts are the direct result of a decision by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and their legislative allies to refuse to use billions of dollars in the Rainy Day Fund for our schools. We will be dealing with the consequent damage for years to come.

This year’s temporary fiscal crisis also was used as the pretext for a sweeping attack on class-size limits, on state salary guarantees for educators, and on contract safeguards for teachers and other certified school professionals. We saw this year as well repeated opportunistic efforts to drain more public funds from our public schools for the benefit of private-school operators.

We are glad that the attack on class-size limits was blocked, thanks to the efforts of many legislators and a remarkable, ad-hoc coalition of parents, community groups, and educators. A similar coalition came together to block every attempt to enact private-school vouchers.

A relentless attack on teacher pay and contract rights was not consummated until passage of SB 8 on June 27. We applaud the sizable minorities who resisted in both chambers—including a bipartisan group in the Texas House. These lawmakers understood that the permanent changes made by SB 8 in pay and contract standards are unjustified and ill-advised. They understood that a reasonable bill to allow temporary, limited salary reductions, strictly to avoid layoffs, could have been crafted without undermining educators’ contract rights. But SB 8 is not that bill. SB 8 will destabilize our schools and erode educational quality.

This bill will tilt the balance in state law in favor of the exercise of arbitrary power over teachers by school superintendents and school boards. The permanent repeal of important state salary floors and due-process safeguards will roll Texas back toward the bad old days of arbitrary local personnel decisions based on cronyism and other factors utterly irrelevant to the quality of the education we provide our students.

The end of the special legislative session marks the start of a new phase in the battle over the conditions for teaching and learning in our public schools. The immediate struggle over how to implement the legislature’s handiwork will now play out in more than 1,000 school districts.

Soon, though, active and retired Texas teachers and school employees and the 80-percent-plus of Texans who opposed cuts in public education will have another opportunity to render a verdict on the actions of state leaders and lawmakers. To borrow a theme from our friends at the Save Texas Schools parent/community group: We’re watching, we remember, and we vote!


Florida McKay Scholarship fraud hall of fame

From the Miami NewTimes

by Gus Garcia Roberts

If you ask us, a private school that’s been busted defrauding the state of scholarship money for disabled kids probably doesn’t deserve a second chance. It most likely wasn’t the finest institution of learning anyway.

The state clearly doesn’t agree.

Yesterday, we published a feature story, “Rotten to the Core”, that detailed the blissful lack of oversight private schools enjoy while accepting funds from Florida’s McKay Scholarship program.

Due to very little proactive investigation, most fraudulent McKay schools are probably getting away with it. But the Department of Education has proven that 25 schools engaged in financial fraud, plus one where the owner was discovered to be a felon using a frontwoman.

According to our unscientific survey– using websites and corporation records as a guide– at least eleven of them are still in business.

Here are the fraudsters, along with how much money they’ve accepted from the program. If this blog post came up when you were Googling a prospective school for your child, we would suggest you keep looking.

1. Florida Christian Institute for Academic Excellence
County: Lee
McKay cash received: $6.8 million
Fraud: Collected money for student who was no longer enrolled, apparent signature forgery
Still around: No

2. Leadership Academy
County: Broward
McKay cash: $6.5 million
Fraud: Payments for at least ten students who didn’t go to the school, more forgery, no proper school building, staffers with criminal records
Still around: No

3. Agape Christian Academy
County: Orange
McKay cash: $5 million
Fraud: Summer school payments for students who didn’t attend summer school
Still around: Yes

4. Aukela Christian Military Academy
County: Broward
McKay cash: $4.9 million
Fraud: Payments for at least ten students who didn’t go to the school, more forgery
Still around: Yes

5. Success Academy
County: Duval
McKay cash: $4.8 million
Fraud: Payments for at least 52 students who actually went to public school
Still around: Yes

6. Academy High School
County: Broward
McKay cash: $3.7 million
Fraud: Payments for at least 13 students who didn’t go to the school, forgery
Still around: No

7. Hope Academy
County: Miami-Dade
McKay cash: $2.8 million
Fraud: Staffers with criminal records including grand theft, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and the sale of marijuana
Still around: Yes

8. Center of Life Academy
County: Miami-Dade
McKay cash: $2.2 million
Fraud: Payments for students who were no longer at the school, forgery
Still around: Yes

9. CHC Private Schools 1
County: Brevard
McKay cash: $2 million
Fraud: Report purged
Still around: No

10. Choice Preparatory School
County: Miami-Dade
McKay cash: $1.6 million
Fraud: Payments for students no longer at school
Still around: Yes

11. Solid Rock Community School
County: Pinellas
McKay cash: $1.5 million
Fraud: Getting people other than parents to sign McKay information without parents’ consent
Still around: Yes

12. New Jerusalem Christian Academy
County: Putnam
McKay cash: $1.5 million
Fraud: Purged
Still around: No

13. Heritage Academy
County: Leon
McKay cash: $753k
Fraud: Purged
Still around: Unknown

14. Paladin Academy
County: Miami-Dade
McKay cash: $1 million
Fraud: Cashing McKay checks without parent signatures
Still around: No, but its parent company, Pennsylvania-based Nobel Learning Communities, is still kicking.

15. Community Learning Institute
County: Gadsden
McKay cash: $893k
Fraud: Payments for students who were incarcerated or otherwise no longer at the school
Still around: Yes

16. Muskateer’s Academy
County: Miami-Dade
McKay cash: $794k
Fraud: Stole students’ McKay information from other schools, used it to falsely enroll them at Muskateer’s
Still around: No

17. Heritage Christian Academy
County: Putnam
McKay cash: $349k
Fraud: Accepting funds for tutoring and group therapy, despite not providing those services
Still around: Yes

18. Wesley Chapel Christian School
County: Pasco
McKay cash: $490k
Fraud: Payments for at least ten students who didn’t go to the school, more forgery
Still around: Unknown

19. Alfie’s Center For Performing Arts
County: Dvual
McKay cash: $344k
Fraud: Purged
Still around: No

20. Academy of Dreams
County: Hillsborough
McKay cash: $312k
Fraud: Owner, who had criminal record including kidnapping and witness tampering, used frontwoman to register school
Still around: No

21. Dre’s Playhouse Exceptional Academy
County: Taylor
McKay cash: $268k
Fraud: Payments for students who didn’t go to the school, payments received even after school was closed
Still around: No

22. Harvest Christian Academy
County: Hillsborough
McKay cash: $206k
Fraud: Payments for a students who didn’t go to school. Owner was already incarcerated in federal prison for a $3 million bank fraud scheme
Still around: No

23. Palm Harbor Preparatory
County: Pinellas
McKay cash: $174k
Fraud: Payments for a student who didn’t go to the school. Owner pled guilty to grand theft, served probation and paid restitution
Still around: Yes

24. Academic High School
County: Palm Beach
McKay cash: $138k
Fraud: Purged
Still around: Yes

25. Capital City Preparatory School
County: Leon
McKay cash: $73k
Fraud: Receiving McKay payments without getting parent signatures
Still around: No

26. Cyber Tech Academy
County: Duval
McKay cash: $54k
Fraud: Didn’t physically exist
Still around: No


Why the public hates teachers unions

I will sometimes post on message boards about education issues. Invariably somebody rants about how the teachers unions have held public education back. Now I have issues with my union but its not because they have held education back.

Despite my issues, out of the two groups, the teachers union and the Florida State government it is really a no brainier who to support. One group, the union cares about teachers and schools and using tried and true reforms. The other, the state wants to punish teachers, use gut reaction reforms and privatize schools

I always ask, can I get an example why you think this way, and nine times out of ten they never respond with one.

Well today I got a response and this was it:

Sorry g. I missed your question about unions holding back education. Just one example? By maintaining the job of teachers that can barely speak English let alone teach English. Just another for the road. The teachers ability to execute the position being measured by a proficiency test.

First this wasn’t sourced, it sounds like something Limbaugh said on his show or something somebody heard from a neighbor or a friend of a friend. People hate the teachers unions and don’t even know why.

Next, the union doesn’t hire teachers, so if a teacher was hired and wasn’t competent that would fall on the administrations shoulder.

Teachers do have to take a test to become certified and then go through a new teacher program but these requirements are determined by the state and again not by the union.

After a teacher is hired the principal can let them go at 97 days, or can let them go at the end of years one, two or three and this is if they are a member of the union or not.

And this is why people hate teacher’s unions?

Now say somehow this teacher made it past year three and was on a professional contract (which will not exist for new teachers come July 1st), that’s when the union would step in and not to protect the teacher but to make sure the teachers rights to due process were followed. There is a procedure in place to get rid of bad teachers. The union just makes sure the administration follows it.

Listen friends if you haven’t come to the realization that the teachers union is not obstructionist or just exists to protect bad teachers and that these are tired old talking points, like most people have, it’s time you woke up.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

The Duval County School Board jumps on sinking ship

The Duval County School Board signed a memorandum of understanding with the newly formed non-profit education management organization Duval Partners. This will give them the ability to run the four intervene schools should that come to pass.

Duval Partners in the meantime has been looking to subcontract the job to another for profit EMO. They in effect are trying to jump ship, pass the buck and the school district, instead of insisting they bow out or do what they were asked to do, has just given them permission to pass the buck.

What exactly is going on at 1701 Prudential Drive and can anybody explain the logic of this? This house is out of whack.

DCSB member Betty Burney gets it right

I have been a frequent critic of Betty Burney and I think since day one she has been on the wrong side of the, “what to do with the intervene schools” issue. I believe handing them over to an EMO was the best of all bad options, seemingly made just a little better by the fact the EMO they chose was both a non-profit and made up of community leaders.

Fast forward and now the EMO we contracted is handing the schools over to another EMO and their chief applicant has a dubious record and is not from the city. Right then the School Board should have pulled the plug.

Mrs. Burney along with Paula Wright and Tommy Hazouri voted not to go any farther with Duval Partners while the rest of the members apparently have had their heads buried in the sand and were unaware of the recent developments. That might not be so hard to believe because as organizations go Duval Partners has been amazingly secretive (more on that soon).

Like I said I have been critical of Mrs. Burney but when she gets it right, she gets it right.

If you care about education here in Jacksonville these are troubling times.