Jeb Bush continues to stick it to teachers

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sikes

From the FB page of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education:

“Amendment 7 is not about vouchers. It is about providing Floridians high-quality public services (social, healthcare, and education), irrespective of the provider’s religious affiliation. The amendment simply aligns the Florida Constitution with protections that already exist in the U.S. Constitution. Unions are more interested in protecting political monopolies than ensuring every Floridian has access to the high-quality services that best fit their needs. By making this about vouchers and educational choice, the teachers unions are again proving they care more about power than equipping Sunshine State students for success.”
This is low rent propaganda at it’s worst. Even the casual observer to the education debate knows this is about vouchers. Bush wouldn’t even be saying anything if it weren’t. His continued use this sort of inflammatory rhetoric smears the integrity of the state’s teachers. You cannot be against teachers but for children.

At any rate, its useful to consider what would result in the repeal of Blaine. If faith-based schools are able to compete for taxpayers dollars, it would have to include all faiths. While school boards would be sure have the final say, is Bush prepared to have radical Madrasahs apply for a charter or opportunity scholarships?

Probably not. But in the zeal to force total privatization of the state’s schools, Florida’s republican legislature never considered that. Or is that they will look at any mechanism to advance their agenda?

Standardized tests fail, when it comes to critical thinking

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

by Anthony Cody

Educator Marion Brady offers us some words to chew over:

“Kids can’t be taught to think better using tests that can’t measure how well they think.

The logic should be obvious. What gets tested gets taught. Complex thinking skills — skills essential to survival–can’t be tested, so they don’t get taught. That failure doesn’t simply rise to the level of a problem. It’s unethical.”

This is the reason so many of us are so fed up that we will take our own money and time to go to Washington, D.C. this week to protest.

Test-based accountability has taken our schools and made it their central mission to increase test scores. No Child Left Behind did this through labeling of entire schools as failures, and the Obama administration has doubled down, having states tie teacher pay and evaluations to test scores.

Teachers are in an inescapable ethical bind. We know that the tests do not measure critical thinking.

As a science teacher, I believe that the essence of science is the exploration of the natural world. It is all about inquiry: asking good questions, and then using all the tools we can muster to investigate and answer those questions.

To get a student to behave as a scientist, the key is to put them in the role of a scientist. Challenge them with open-ended questions. Find out what THEY are curious about and inspire them to wrestle with that so they can truly understand it.

Great teaching is about provoking curiosity among our students, and then using that innate inquisitiveness to drive learning in a discipline. I think this is true for every subject, not just science.

Great history teaching is about provoking student curiosity about the past, and getting them to investigate the evidence to develop explanations of what really happened and why. Great math teaching is about delving into puzzles of one sort or another, helping students understand clever ways to manipulate numbers to do wonderful things. And English teaching at its best is provoking students to read, to wonder, and to express themselves in ways that can be shared with others.

In each case, this provocation works best when it is driven by spontaneous discovery and innovation. The best teachers are constantly scanning the environment for hooks that we can use to catch student interest. I remember one year we were studying insects and a student brought in a particularly large potato bug. I created a challenge on my web site: Could anyone find one that was bigger? We even had a visit from the local newspaper as a result.

I used explorations with dry ice to drive a whole series of investigations, getting students to come up with their own questions as the basis for our investigation.

The objective with this approach is to get students to develop their ability to ask good questions, to design thoughtful experiments that will yield solid data, and to explain their results, using evidence from their research and experimentation. This is critical thinking applied to science.

I have not seen a standardized test that measures this. Instead we get questions that are best prepared for by memorizing things in one way or another. There is nothing inherently wrong with memorization. There is nothing wrong with learning much of what is tested. But it is not our highest calling as teachers. It is not the reason I became a teacher. And when it is defined as our goal, it systematically devalues and undermines the sort of learning I have described here.

That is why I am standing up at the Save Our Schools March on July 30th, with as many of my colleagues and allies I can gather.

Florida turns down 50 million to prevent child abuse

From the Miami Herald

By Carol Marbin Miller

Florida lawmakers have rejected more than $50 million in federal child-abuse prevention money. The grants were tied to the Obama administration’s healthcare reform package, which many lawmakers oppose on philosophical grounds.

The money, offered through the federal Affordable Health Care Act passed last year, would have paid, among other things, for a visiting nurse program run by Healthy Families Florida, one of the most successful child-abuse prevention efforts in the nation. Healthy Families’ budget was cut in last year’s spending plan by close to $10 million.

And because the federal Race to the Top educational-reform effort is tied to the child-abuse prevention program that Healthy Families administers, the state may also lose a four-year block grant worth an additional $100 million in federal dollars, records show.

“This is just crazy,” said Gwen Wurm, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami, and a board member of the Our Kids foster care agency. “This is the model for what you want in a prevention program. They have proven results.”

Healthy Families, which started with a $10 million budget in 1998, provides trained home visitors — many of whom are nurses — to work with young parents who, based on a questionnaire filled out at child birth, are deemed at risk of abusing or neglecting their children. The visitors offer guidance on everything from healthy eating habits and early childhood development to recognizing safety hazards, such as pools and sweltering, sealed automobiles.

Wurm said the model is particularly effective because it is hands-on and offers parents concrete advice on how to care for their kids — not just a laundry list of things they shouldn’t do. “If I just tell you, ‘Do not shake your baby,’ and your baby is still screaming, I have not solved your problem,” Wurm said. “They are not just telling parents what not to do.”

Richard Gelles, dean of the Department of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, said prevention models such as Healthy Families have been the most successful in the country in preventing child abuse and encouraging appropriate child development — but also saving states millions of dollars down the line in costs associated with foster care, delinquency and healthcare.

The most recent year the program was studied, budget year 2010, 95 percent of the parents who participated avoided any verified reports of child abuse or neglect within a year of completing the program, records show. Almost two-thirds of the parents who were unemployed when they entered the program had found a job by the time they completed it.

Healthy Families has seldom enjoyed wide support within Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature.

From budget year 2010 to budget year 2011, lawmakers cut the program’s spending plan from $28 million to $18 million, including $2 million in non-recurring dollars added late in the process. Administrators estimated the cuts would translate to a reduction in services from 12,099 families and 20,919 children to 8,130 families and 13,821 children.

State Sen. Joe Negron, who chairs his chamber’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said he long has been philosophically opposed to Healthy Families, which he views as an intrusion into the private lives of parents.

“I believe in providing basic information to parents at hospitals and medical settings,” said Negron, a Palm City Republican. “I am not persuaded that it is a good idea to show up at a family’s home year after year giving advice and guidance. I do not think that is a core, essential function of government.”

Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat who is vice chairwoman of Negron’s appropriations subcommittee and sits on the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, said the decision to forego the funding ultimately will hurt children. Most other states have capitalized on the federal grants, Rich said, and failing to do so means Florida taxpayers will get fewer healthcare dollars than taxpayers elsewhere.

On Wednesday, leaders of the state House and Senate and the governor’s office all insisted they had nothing to do with rejecting the money.

“The grant was included in [the state Department of Health’s] legislative budget request, but beyond that, the executive branch never advocated for it and a budget amendment was not submitted,” said Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park.

Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, said Scott did ask for the money. Burgess produced a budget request that has the proposal. “If there is to be finger-pointing,” he said, “it should be directed elsewhere.”

Herald political reporter Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

Read more:

Why giving standardized tests to children is dumb

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet

By David Berliner

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman opined that science is the belief that everyone in authority is ignorant. I am a social scientist; politicians have authority; therefore, politicians are quite likely to be ignorant. Their ignorance cannot show up any clearer than in their recent desire to give tests to very young children.

Some states currently are preparing proposals to engage in another round of Race to the Trough [otherwise known as Race to the Top]. They are seeking a share of the $700 million federal dollars allocated for early learning in the 2011 education budget. States can get this money if they design, develop, and administer pre-kindergarten assessments and kindergarten readiness tests. Common sense and research both suggest that this is really dumb!

If any of these authorities can remember what their own children were like at ages 3, 4 and 5, they would immediately know that any assessments of children at this age are unreliable.

Distinguished developmental psychologist Samuel Meisels believes that most young children have a restricted ability to comprehend the formal, spoken instructions required for most standardized assessments, thus they fail to pick up the cues that older children use to determine what is expected of them in an assessment environment. Younger children also lack the sophistication to interpret situational cues, or written instructions.

Similarly, questions that require complex information-processing skills, such as giving differential weights to alternative choices, distinguishing recency from primacy, or responding correctly to multistep directions, may easily cause a child to give the wrong answer to a question.

In fact, what a child had for lunch, whether they could play outside that day, and whether Sarah hit Johnny or told him he could play dress up with her, has more to do with a test score than the knowledge stored in memory. Furthermore, the knowledge assessed is not exactly what might be called “critical thinking.” The questions often do no more than ask the young child to correctly identify which color is green, which stick is bigger, and which one of the pictures shown is a cow!

Suppose the child missed all three of these common item types used for assessing young children? Are the lives of those children ruined? Or, is it more plausible to expect that they will pick up that knowledge eventually? Except for the severely cognitively challenged, who are easily identified by all early childhood teachers, all other children will learn these “big” ideas eventually.

In fact, when longitudinal studies of testing were examined to see if the achievement test scores of young children could predict the achievement test scores received by those same children a few years later, the answer was that the tests did not predict well at all. And the scores received by young children on assessments of their social and behavioral skills turned out to be completely useless as predictors of the scores the children received on the same measures a few years later. The research quite convincingly shows that for young children, even over relatively short time periods, predictions from one administration of a test to the next are not usually accurate enough to engender any confidence that this year’s performance will tell us much about next years’ performance.

This is what any rational parent or informed politician should expect since young children are undergoing significant changes in brain growth, physiology, and emotional regulation throughout their first eight years of life. As Meisels noted, any brief snapshot of a child’s skills and abilities taken on a single occasion is simply unable to capture the shifts and changes in that child’s development. In addition to the developmental changes we expect of all children, among poor children there are also more frequent changes in family income, housing, caretakers, food security, and so forth. That is, the instability in the scores of middle-class children is expected to be even greater among lower-class children.

The current efforts to assess young children also reflect America’s remarkable amnesia. The federal government tried to assess young children once before, when it mandated a test to assess the effects of Head Start. The government spent millions of dollars to develop the National Reporting System (NRS) to assess 4-year-olds in Head Start programs. But the NRS was a complete failure.

It failed because a compelling purpose for the test could never be clearly specified. Too few people asked why it is we needed those tests. Too few wondered whether teachers already knew most of what we needed to know about the children that were served.

The test also failed because it could not conform to basic professional standards of test development. The test developers could not provide evidence that reliability and validity were sufficient for the test to be useful. The test failed also because it tapped a narrow sample of children’s skills, as so many tests do. Finally, the test failed because, like so many high-stakes tests, it promoted a curriculum for Head Start that was drill oriented so it would look like the students in that program had rising test scores.

In retrospect, the NRS failed most of all because it ignored the complexity of early development. Meisels and virtually all other scholars in this field teach us that no single indicator, especially a formal test, can reliably and validly assess a young child’s skills, achievements, or personality. It is quite fair to say that no collection of standardized indicators can produce an assessment of any lasting value.

So now, less than a decade after the NRS debacle, Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan and other federal and state personnel are out to test young children again. Ignorance redux. I was taught that one definition of insanity was repeating the same thing time and time again, expecting a different outcome. Secretary Duncan has apparently never come across that bit of wisdom.

My own scholarship bears on this issue as well. Arizona, like some other states, tests all children at second grade, a grade below that required by the NCLB legislation. And it is not unusual for districts to test children in first grade and in Kindergarten.

When I asked Arizona State Department of Instruction and district personnel why this was done, the answer was always the same: So they could learn which children needed help and which did not. I asked if they could get that information from teachers, but I was told that such information would not be “objective,” that teacher ratings were “untrustworthy.”
The state and district administrators I talked with believed that professional teachers did not and could not know enough about the skills and abilities of their students, even after spending eight months with them. I thought they were wrong. So in a series of studies with colleagues Annapurna Ganesh, Joseph Riley, and others, I tried to get the information the State of Arizona wanted from their testing of young children by means of an alternative. I simply asked teachers. I thought that if teachers could reliably identify children who need more help we could save time and money, as well as reduce the anxiety that teachers and students feel at assessment time.

These were simple studies. We asked classroom teachers in grades two to six to rank order the students in their classes in terms of how they would do on the state’s No Child Left Behind accountability test. Following is some information obtained from only the two lowest grades.

In grade two, 36 teachers participated, with class sizes ranging from 17 to 30; in grade three, 30 teachers participated, with class sizes ranging between 22 to 32 students. The correlation coefficients of the teachers’ ranking of their students’ performance with the students’ rank on the state test revealed only strong positive correlation coefficients. In third grade reading and mathematics teachers’ ranks of their students correlated with the rank the student obtained on the test about .84, about as high as the reliability of the tests themselves. Many teachers exhibited correlations greater than .90, indicating that teachers are quite capable of providing the state with information about who needs help and who does not in about 10 minutes, and at the savings of millions of dollars.

In second grade, we expected lower correlations because, as described above, the test scores of children at this age are less reliable. Yet we still found correlations between the teachers ranking and the child’s rank on the test to be about .70 in both reading and mathematics. This correlation is probably as high as the test would correlate with itself a week later (its one week stability reliability), and at the extremes, the rankings by the teachers of the highest and lowest performing students were remarkably accurate.

These results once again indicate that if the state’s interest is identifying students who need help, teachers can do this as well as the test.

Moreover, it is likely that the teachers’ ranking provides more valid information about a child’s performance vis a vis others since it is ordinarily based on thousands of hours of teaching experience, hundreds of hours of observation of that particular child, and interviews with parents and guardians, rather than based on just a few hundred minutes of standardized testing.

To compound the irony, even when the State of Arizona identified through its testing program the young children who appeared to need help, little or no help was given because there were no funds to do so.

Testing young children may be cruel, has not worked out well in the past, often provides unreliable scores and therefore invalid inferences about the abilities of children are made too often. Potentially more valid information, at least as reliable as the tests themselves, and unlikely to elicit anxiety on the part of teachers or students can be obtained from professional educators much quicker and for drastically less money. The funds saved, of course, in any sane world would be used to help the children that teachers identify as needing help.

We certainly do not need more formal testing of young children, but I do think we need sanity tests for those in authority who deny the experiences they have had with their own or other peoples’ children.

Republican lawmakers and corporations have a new target: kids in special ed

From the Progressive

by Ruth Coniff

Republican lawmakers and corporations have a new target: kids in special ed.

It sounds like a sick joke, but it’s true.

Like cartoon schoolyard bullies, the American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC)—the powerful coalition of corporations and rightwing legislators—has worked out plans to trick special ed students and their families into giving up their federally protected educational benefits, in exchange for cheap vouchers that can be used in unregulated, fly-by-night academies.

Working off ALEC’s proposed legislation–recently leaked by a whistleblower to the Center for Media and Democracy, and viewable on the web site ALEC Exposed–Republicans are pushing private-school voucher bills for kids with disabilities in states across the country.

At first glance, these bills don’t seem all bad. Whether or not you agree with the idea of using public school funds to send kids to private school, individual disabled children whose needs aren’t met in public schools might benefit from being able to use private school vouchers, right?


Advocates for the disabled strongly oppose special ed voucher legislation—and not because the vouchers drain resources from the public schools.

What a lot of people don’t understand, says Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, is that disabled students who take advantage of special ed vouchers forfeit their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That means they no longer have a right to a “free, appropriate public education” or the specific services that come along with that.

Not only that, they give up their chance to get their school districts to cover the costs of private education, if the local public schools can’t meet their needs.

“Embedded in the law is the ability to either voluntarily or legally force school districts to pay for private schools, at significant expense,” says Spitzer-Resnick.

He should know, since he has forced school districts to pay for students’ private education more than once. Under the voucher program, those kids would never be able to afford such an expensive deal. The voucher system drafted by ALEC and before the state assembly in Wisconsin in the form of AB110 gives parents of disabled kids the option to trade their rights for a voucher worth whatever costs less: private school tuition or the value of their special education services.

The result of this cost-saving, rights-stripping approach is on display in Florida, where the nation’s first special ed voucher program recently exploded into the news with a spectacular scandal involving rampant fraud and abuse.

ALEC praised Florida’s McKay special education scholarship fund in a 2003 resolution (viewable on ALEC Exposed) promoting school choice for children with disabilities and decrying the “burdensome regulations” of the current special education system. ALEC criticized the federal law’s “adversarial process, pitting parent against educator, that encourages litigation, not mediation” and contrasted it with Florida’s. “In the state of Florida, where school choice scholarships are offered, achievement is up and the cost of services is down,” the resolution declared.

Reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts from Miami’s New Times visited the special ed voucher schools in Florida, and blew that assertion all to hell in a scathing June expose headlined “McKay Scholarship Program Sparks a Cottage Industry of Fraud and Chaos.”

Garcia-Roberts told of fly-by-night schools for the disabled in Florida, including South Florida Prep, where “two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor.” Students zoned out in front of blaxploitation flicks, supervised by inexperienced staff with no books and no curriculum requirements. At one school, parents complained that an administrator spanked his charges with a paddle, telling them the state had no jurisdiction to make him stop. (Turns out he was not far off: The Department of Ed can’t pull McKay scholarship funds from a school based on its disciplinary policies.)

Since then-governor Jeb Bush introduced the program twelve years ago, it has grown to consume $148.6 million in the last year, the New Times reports—up 38 percent from five years ago. With virtually no oversight and no strings attached, the state has handed out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to schools run by unsupervised administrators, including “criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary,” the New Times reports.

But this hasn’t stopped Bush from becoming a star among school choice advocates, including the American Federation for Children. Lately, he has been touring the country promoting Florida’s school reform plans.

Besides siphoning off public funds, there is another motivation for running cheap schools for the disabled, the New Times article points out: “Failing kids, who would sabotage all-important standardized test scores, are herded en masse to dubious McKay schools.”

This is exactly what advocates for the disabled fear in Wisconsin, where AB110, a bill that borrows language directly from ALEC’s model bill, the “Special Needs Scholarship Program Act” is before the state Assembly.

The bill “guarantees nothing in these private schools,” says Spitzer-Resnick.

Advocates fear that special ed vouchers will undo decades of work getting special-needs kids into regular, public schools. Instead, we will have segregation. Disabled kids will go to separate schools for autism, behavioral and cognitive disorders, and other disabilities.

Pulling disabled kids out of the community and locking them away in segregated institutions flies in the face of research that shows that mainstreaming disabled kids not only helps the disabled, it benefits the non-disabled kids who learn alongside them.

I have seen this in my own kids’ school, where, in my daughter’s first-grade class, the teacher cultivated such a loving, respectful relationship between a student with severe autism and his peers that the other kids glowed with pride along with him as he learned and grew throughout the year. Seeing their sibling-like, cooperative relationship literally brought tears to my eyes.

That sense of community and caring is threatened by budget cuts and a race-to-the-bottom mentality.

As schools are increasingly financially squeezed, conflict arises between parents of special needs kids and other parents.

“No one else gets ‘free, appropriate education,’ ” Spitzer-Resnick points out. “People get angry. There’s resentment: ‘We lost our art teacher because of these kids.’ No one wants that.”

It shows you how far we’ve fallen as a society that parents of non-disabled kids begrudge special needs kids extra therapy and tutoring.

Worse, shadowy, corporate interests are deliberately manipulating people’s fears.

Spitzer-Resnick says a Facebook friend of his who is the mother of a disabled child “liked” the special education voucher page put up by the American Federation for Children.

“It made me realize people are vulnerable,” Spitzer-Resnick says. “This whole movement is predicated on trading on parents’ legitimate frustrations for what their kids are not receiving and then sprinkling magic fairy dust by saying, ‘Here, we’ll give you a voucher and all your frustrations will go away.’ ”

In general, private-school vouchers are an assault on the whole idea of high-quality, universal public education. But in places like Milwaukee, at least they have helped some low-income families send their kids to decent private schools. With special ed vouchers, ALEC and Republican state legislators have hit a new low: stealing money, and prospects for a good education and a good future, from mentally and physically disabled children. It’s hard to imagine a worse public policy than that.

Jacksonville’s FCAT woes are about to get a lot worse

This is the one part of the test that the Intervene Schools did well on.

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Leslie Postal

Yes, kids, spelling counts.

So does grammar, punctuation and the ability to make logical arguments backed up by relevant details.

Oh, and forget about phrases such as “a potpourri of iridescent colors.” No one wants to read “pretentious language” in student essays.

The FCAT writing exam — the oldest and, by most measures, the easiest in Florida’s testing arsenal — is to be graded on a tougher scale starting next year.

The move comes as Florida prepares for national academic standards, set to be in place in 2013, and new, beefed up standardized tests a year later. The idea is to pump up the requirements on FCAT writing, so Florida students are ready for the more demanding exams to come.

Central Florida educators expected the change and have been working to improve writing instruction to help students meet the challenge of a stricter grading system.

The essay section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is taken by students in grades 4, 8 and 10. They have 45 minutes to write an essay on an assigned topic.

Under the new grading system, there will be “increased attention to the correct use of standard English conventions,” including spelling, grammar and punctuation, the Florida Department of Education stated in a recent memo to school districts.

“Scoring of this element in the past has been applied with leniency,” wrote Deputy Commissioner Kris Ellington.

Students also will be expected to make logical arguments using relevant, specific details — not “contrived statistical claims or unsubstantiated generalities,” Ellington wrote.

Finally, the department doesn’t want to see evidence that students have memorized phrases to use on their FCAT essays.

“Rote memorization or overuse of compositional techniques, such as rhetorical questions, implausible statistics, or pretentious language is not the expectation for quality writing at any grade level,” the memo stated.

The use of memorized phrases, or what the department calls “template writing,” is one the state has been trying to stamp out for several years.

The practice, state officials have said, involves students at the same school using the same phrases in their essays, suggesting they’ve been “coached” to employ them. The phrases include over-the-top language such as “a potpourri of iridescent colors surrounded me,” and similar, contrived story conventions such as writing, “POOF!” and then describing the character suddenly being in a land of dragons, pirates or fairies.

Ideally, the department wants students to write coherent, logical essays that show they have a “command of English language conventions.”

They will be expected to spell commonly used words correctly but won’t be harmed if they take a “compositional risk” and use, but misspell, a difficult word.

A fourth grader, for example, wouldn’t be penalized for misspelling rhinoceros.

FCAT writing, then called FCAT Writes!, was first given in 1992 to fourth graders. The exam is graded on a six-point scale and this year the state wanted students to score a 4 or better. More than 79 percent did.

In Orange County, aware of the coming demands, schools have ramped up writing lessons by encouraging writing in all subjects, not just in language arts classes, said Diane Knight, senior administrator for curriculum services.

That means students write about what they observe in science lessons and write their analysis of documents they read in social studies.

At a principal meeting this summer, curriculum leaders even suggested schools put the question, “What is the writing experience that you are requiring students to do today?” in all teachers’ lesson plan documents, said Linda Dove, director of curriculum services.

Educators are eager to see examples of student essays scored under the new system, said Anna-Marie Cote, deputy superintendent of Seminole County schools.

Later this month, the education department is to release those documents, showing what short of essays would earn what scores under the new requirements.

Though teachers teach writing — and spelling and grammar — in many classes, they may need to put additional emphasis on certain skills, Cote said.

“We’ll have to work on it a little more,” she added. or 407-420-5273.,0,966982.story

Charter schools 55 million, public schools zero

From First Coast

by Ken Ammaro

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Duval schools were expecting $10 million this school year for maintenance, repairs, renovations and remodeling, but the legislature has opted not to give public schools a penny.

“They’re undermining public education,” said Tommy Hazouri, a member of the Duval County Public Schools Board.

He said the governor and the legislature are sending the wrong message about public education. “Fifty percent of our schools are in need of repairs; they’re old,” said Hazouri.

Last year, Duval County schools received $7 million from the legislature for maintenance, remodeling and repair; this year it was expecting $10.3 million but will get nothing.

“While we can rework the numbers, this is a tremendous hit and loss for our capital program,” said Doug Ayars, COO of Duval schools.

Last year public schools in Florida received $122 million for maintenance but this year lawmakers declined to appropriate a dime.

“We will prioritize and fix what is a safety issue,” said Hazouri.

Last year public schools in Florida received $122 million for maintenance but this year lawmakers declined to appropriate a dime.

Yet, they approved $55 million dollars for maintenance and repair of charter schools only.

Colleen Wood is the executive director of Save Duval Schools. “I think it shows the favoritism that’s been happening with charter schools over public schools,” she said.

Hazouri said the cut in capital outlay funding also means Duval County will have to cut back on the IT projects.

This is a critical time for public education and lawmakers are directing tax dollars in the wrong direction, said Wood. “It is not a good thing; our budget shows where our values are and right now our state seems to be valuing charter schools over traditional public schools,” said Wood.|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|t

How my school got on the Intervene list

I am not allowed to say what school I work out but if you were to guess that it was one of the schools that made the intervene list I don’t think it would be against the rules for me to nod my head yes. If you didn’t know it, the intervene schools are considered the failing schools in Florida, the bottom of the bottom and Jacksonville has more intervene schools than anywhere else in the state, (7 out of 27). Here we have one k-8 school and then six high schools on the list; all of the schools by the way are North of Beaver Street and West of Casset.

My school hasn’t always been an intervene school, though for years I have been warning that it would be and this is how it happened.

Five years ago despite our huge special education population we were a C school of some note. We had a well renowned physics club, a model UN team that was one of the best in the state. A Drama program that put on several performances a year and an art department that was routinely represented at shows. We also had a veteran staff that knew what it was doing and dedicated to the school’s children. Fast forward and after a few years of fluctuating between a F and a D we are on the intervene list and we have none of the above.

It started when 300 students arrived from the first round of intervene schools. The statistics show that kids on opportunity scholarships do not improve when they get to their new school and the new schools often suffer but despite that the state continues to insist districts move these kids around. My school was no exception and within two years we went from a C to an F. I imagine the same thing will soon happen at Mandarin, the destination of our opportunity scholarship students.

Thus the downfall of our school began and the next step was the micromanagement and subsequent departure of our staff.

No longer were teachers allowed autonomy and creativity, instead the teachers had to adhere to a rigorous group of requirements that stunningly had no evidence proving they worked. Word walls, complicated agendas, data notebooks and two-page lesson plans were what the state and our administrators began to look for rather than good instruction. All of these things sucked up teacher’s precious time and took them away from doing the things that were more important. Pressure began to increase and many of our teachers began to leave.

Our veteran teachers began to trickle away. There is a direct pipeline from my school to Fleming Island high school considered one of the best in the state. At last count, 8 teachers had left my school for that one and they are among dozens of others who also left for greener pastures. And who can blame the veteran teachers who had already proved themselves for leaving? Less stress, kids that were interested in learning and didn’t misbehave, cultures of creativity and autonomy, and the same pay was their reward for doing so.

Next we stopped disciplining our kids. Teachers at my school learned to put up with maladaptive behavior, well the teachers that stayed anyways. If we wrote kids on referrals we would be the ones questioned and the kids wouldn’t receive consequences anyways. On occasion as they left the room they would brag that we would be the ones who got in trouble and in truth they weren’t far off.

Why did we stop disciplining kids? Well its because referrals and suspensions play a role in determining the school and a districts grade; the more referrals and suspensions the worse the grade. It became the unofficial mandate of the district that if we weren’t going to be doing well then we would at least appear to be doing well. That’s also one of the reasons some kids leave their intensive reading classes and head to their Advanced Placement literature classes.

About then the district raised the stakes and enhanced our graduation requirements something that state has followed suit with. Kids arrived at our school without the skills they need to be successful and without a work ethic. Teachers with a wink and a nod were told to pass them along no matter what and if you want evidence of this look at the districts grade recovery policies.

Grade recovery used to be for the kids that tried hard but just didn’t get it or who were sick or had a legitimate reason for missing a lot of days. Now anybody can partake in grade recovery for any reason. The kid could have been in class all year long and been a holly terror too, doing nothing but disrupting class and teachers are required to allow them grade recovery. Attendance and behavior no longer mattered.

Then we had a leadership vacuum. Our long term principal left and he was replaced with somebody who just wasn’t ready to run a school of our size and with our problems. I believe he was chosen because of his race. The district has another unwritten policy that it wants African American leaders at African American schools and after the opportunity scholarship kids arrived that is what my school became. I don’t have a problem with this if the leader is ready and capable but I think a better plan is to employ the best possible applicants regardless of race. Suddenly white teachers became implied racists if they wrote up black kids and were told they didn’t know how to deal with African American students because their behavior was a cultural thing that they just couldn’t understand.

Moral sank, more teachers left and now we have a faculty, which is over half first and second year teachers. Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and some education deformers will have the public believe that first year teachers are just as capable as veteran ones but the reality is much different. We do have some first year teachers that hit the ground running but most take years to develop their craft. I don’t know any veteran teacher that thinks they were better when they first started than they are now. Now I am not saying the new teachers aren’t dedicated and hard working because they are. The thing is many don’t even know what they don’t know yet. That takes time and experience.

This was all exacerbated by the fact we got rid of all the things described in the first paragraph. Gone are the physics club, model UN, drama and most of the art department and for good measure we also cut home ecc. You know those things that make school worth going to for so many kids.

Bad policies, bad procedures, a lack of discipline, an unrealistic curriculum, poor leadership and a plethora of new teachers led to our downfall. All of this led to my fairly successful school being placed on the list of one of the worst schools in the state. A perfect storm struck and once the first domino fell there was no stopping the decent.

That’s how my school became an intervene school.

What do we have to look forward to? What is the district’s plan to get us out of the hole we are in? My guess would be more of the same.

Is Jeb Bush lying about education accomplishments?

From the National education Policy Center

by William Mathis, NEPC

BOULDER, CO (June 30, 2011) – A great deal of money and effort is being spent to promote a package of reforms known as the “Florida Formula.” But this policy push, being led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, rests on overstated and ungrounded claims about the existence, extent, and causes of improved achievement, according to a new review of the Foundation’s contentions.

These contentions have been presented in various forms, but among the most prominent are high-profile presentations by Mr. Bush himself, accompanied by PowerPoint slides. A June 15, 2011, presentation by Bush to Michigan legislators was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). The review is published by the NEPC, housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education.

Jeb Bush established the Foundation for Excellence in Education after completing his second term as governor of Florida. The foundation’s stated mission is to conduct a state-by-state campaign to “support reform, primarily based on the success of the Florida Formula on Student Achievement.”

The premise of Mr. Bush’s argument was that Florida fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and state reading tests experienced large gains. These purported gains are then attributed by Mr. Bush to six broad reforms that were among the policies Florida enacted over two decades. The favored Bush reforms are: assigning letter grades to schools; high-stakes testing; new requirements for promotion and graduation; bonus pay for educators; new teacher credentialing alternatives; and vastly expanded school choice.

In his review, Mathis notes that the presentation itself resembles and shares graphics with a Heritage Foundation report that has been repackaged for various states. Moreover, the Heritage report’s lead author is now on staff at the Bush foundation, and that Heritage report was itself the subject of a highly critical review in November of 2010. []

According to Mathis, instead of a comprehensive and objective consideration of the impact of Florida’s policies, the Bush presentation “is clearly an advocacy tool designed for advancing a particular set of reform proposals.” This has resulted in a misleading presentation, with Mr. Bush promoting several policies that rigorous research has shown to be ineffective or even harmful.

“Fundamentally, Mr. Bush’s presentation is based on the fallacious causal claim that his selected set of loosely coupled reforms introduced in Florida between 1992 and 2011 caused fourth-grade reading score gains,” Mathis writes. “No evidence is provided to sustain this linkage. Further, this claim ignores the fact that some of the favored reforms were implemented as late as 2010, and some are not yet implemented.”

Examining each of the policies trumpeted by Mr. Bush, Mathis’s findings include:

•The increase in fourth-grade results on the NAEP reading test, which is foundational to the entire Bush presentation, is largely an artifact of a mandatory third-grade retention policy that initially eliminated low-scoring children from the fourth-grade test and then delayed those children’s exam dates until they were more mature, thereby exaggerating any gains.

•Claims that fourth-grade NAEP reading scores improved because of the test-based retention policy also ignore the likely influence of a number of reforms downplayed or ignored by Mr. Bush. These reforms include a state reading initiative, mandated class-size reductions, the provision of reading coaches, and an emphasis on early education.

•The policy of assigning letter grades to schools has been followed by “a growing gap and greater inequities between higher- and lower-rated schools.”

•Mr. Bush offers no evidence that alternative teacher credentialing has done anything to improve teacher quality. Other changes in seniority, tenure and test-based teacher evaluation won’t even be implemented until 2013-2014 – meaning that no credit can be assigned to them for any past Florida improvements.

•Mr. Bush’s favored school choice measures are also advocated without sound evidence that they substantially influenced test scores.
Mathis notes that “significant bodies of both Florida-specific and national research literature … document the limitations—or the outright failure—of many of the proposed reforms.” He further points to evidence that “the effect of the Florida reforms will likely prove to be a more inequitable and inadequate educational system.”

The result, Mathis says, misleadingly claims the favored reforms have produced fourth-grade reading achievement gains by ignoring contradictory data, alternative explanations, and credible warnings about the hazards the suggested measures pose.

Policy makers would be well advised to ignore Jeb Bush’s salesmanship and look instead to solid, objective research evidence.

Find William Mathis’s review on the NEPC website at:

The Michigan PowerPoint is available from the review’s author. A similar PowerPoint from Mr. Bush is available on the web at:

The Think Twice think tank review project (, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound, reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on NEPC, please visit