A few things people should know about poverty and education

A few things people should know about poverty and education

1. It is the number one quantifiable measure when looking at how children do in school. Children who live in poverty as a group do a lot worse than children who don’t.

2. Over a fifth of our children live in poverty and another fifth just above it.

3. Corporate education reformers deny and overlook poverty but they profit off it at the same time. Just look where most of the nations charter schools are and which children they serve.

4. The nations one-size fits all system poorly serves children who live in poverty. Six hours a day and 9 months of the year may be enough time for the kids in the suburbs and the affluent neighborhoods but it’s not enough time for the kids on the wrong side of the tracks. Public schools and their teachers aren’t failing these kids, the system is.

5. Finally we don’t have the kids we wish we had, we have the ones we do and we better start meeting the kids in poverty where they are not where we wish they were. If we don’t things are just going to get worse.

When is too many tests too many

From the Miami Herald

By Laura Isensee


A long line of tests stand between students and summer — baseline exams, interim tests, FCAT and end-of-course state exams, to name a few.

Many Miami-Dade students can scratch some tests off the list. No more midterms or finals for students in grades 6 through 12.

The longtime staples have been quietly eliminated by the Miami-Dade public schools and the school board. Approved at the October meeting, the policy makes midterms and finals optional.

Many students are elated, even shocked.

“It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about a midterm or a final. It’s a lot easier to get a better grade,” said Katie Goldman, a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High.

Midterms and finals, which cover large amounts of material, can weigh heavily on the course grade and grade point average — an increasingly precious number for students vying for college admissions. “It’s a lot less stressful. People freak out about their grade,” said Goldman, 18.

On the flip side, students who hope to ace a midterm or final, boosting their grade, may be bummed. That’s why Hope Wilcox, the student advisor to the school board, first doubted the policy. Students’ incredulous, but strong support changed her mind. She didn’t question the board about it on the dais.

To be sure, tests are not going away. Teachers can give midterms and finals if they want. And students may take quarterly exams. Plus the other state and federal tests and local Miami-Dade assessments that are packed into the year and provide data on students.

District officials say the change is an effort to ease the testing burden on students in secondary grades.

Millie Fornell, Miami-Dade’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said in an email that the timing for those other assessments often coincided with midterms and finals.

For example, the testing schedule gets extra busy at the end of the year: Advanced Placement exams, other college-prep tests and the end-of-course exams.

The change comes as Florida moves to common end-of-course exams. Last year, Algebra I debuted and in 2012 will see geometry and biology.

Those state exams don’t take the place of classroom midterms or finals, said Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman with the state’s Department of Education. “If they already have a system in place — if they had a midterm or final exam — there’s nothing to keep them from doing that,” she said.

In fact, when Virginia moved to state end-of-course exams, Mel Riddile, a former Virginia principal, said he kept midterms and finals, considering it a more comprehensive approach.

“We didn’t want to wait until the end of the year to find out if students were on target to master the course,” said Riddile, now associate director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Other reasons: teachers could get final grades quicker; finals could serve as a testing warm-ups and there was no match-up between the end-of-course exam — meant as a minimum bar — and an actual course grade.

Karen Aronowitz, president of the United Teachers of Dade, said the district’s change takes away from the value of the work being done by teachers. Teachers typically design the midterm or final for their class, so the exam matches what has been taught up until that point. Other tests that will remain obligatory are more standardized, Aronowitz said.

“When we want to talk about what is really happening in curriculum, you’ve once again made some generality that trumps the work that is going on in the classroom,” Aronowitz said.

Fornell said the district considered teachers and the policy gives them the opportunity to “exercise their professional judgment” and decide what’s the best way to assess learning. The district recently released new grading guidelines.

Some teachers are pleased with the change. “I think this helps alleviate some of the pressure,” said Betty Fritz, who teaches intensive reading at Palmetto Middle School. “It seems like every time you turn around you’re testing or you’re preparing for a test or you’re reviewing a test. It’s a lot of stress.”

Said School Board Vice Chair Lawrence Feldman: “For students, the elimination of the midterm and final exams will allow our students additional opportunities to concentrate their efforts on mastering concepts and skills.”

Even with the change, not everyone will escape midterms or finals. Wilcox, a senior at Miami Lakes Educational Center, said her calculus and computer networking teachers have announced they are keeping midterms and finals.

“Me personally, I’m fine with it,” Wilcox said. “But I know a lot of my peers probably wouldn’t be.”

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/30/2479701/miami-dade-school-district-makes.html#ixzz1cMTHjRs2

The assult on science

From the Art of Teaching Science

by Jack Hassard

Is There An Assault on Science?

Yesterday, I wrote a brief post introducing a new book by Shawn Otto entitled Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America. For the past four years, Otto has co-led Sciencedebate.org, a grassroots organization that has tried to influence the 2008 and the 2012 presidential elections. The goal is to sponsor nonpartisan debates among candidates for the office of President of the United States. The basis for Sciencedebate.org is reflected in this quote from their website:

By bringing candidates together with scientists, the media and the public in a safe and nonpartisan debate setting, science can be restored as an electoral value, a foundation of American democracy, and a non-partisan basis for sound and effective policymaking, helping to “unstick” the United States from decades of paralysis on the largest policy challenges facing the country.

Otto believes that America has a “science problem” and the problem is how science is discussed (or not discussed) in the media, in the Congress, and in his case, in presidential debates. His book is a good primer on science in American society, and I think provides people with a view that ought to be considered.

Otto points out that many important public policies challenges revolve around science, but he wonders if those in the position of decision making understand science, or understand how science-related decisions should be made. He says this:

In an age when most major public policy challenges revolve around science, less than 2 percent of congresspersons have professional backgrounds in it. The membership of the 112th Congress, which ran from January 2011 to January 2013, included one physicist, one chemist, six engineers, and one microbiologist.

In contrast, how many representatives and senators do you suppose have law degrees—and whom many suspect avoided college science classes like the plague? Two hundred twenty-two. It’s little wonder we have more rhetoric than fact in our national policymaking. Lawyers are trained to create a compelling narrative to wind an argument, but as any trial lawyer will tell you, that argument uses facts selectively and only for the purposes of winning the argument, not for establishing the truth.

We witness arguments in Congress, on TV, on the Internet, and in presidential debates on science-related issues, and it makes you wonder about the literacy of those who have chosen to run for America’s highest office. But, it’s really not as simple as that. Scientific knowledge develops within a social context, and Otto notes the importance of discussing issues that connect science to society. Medical breakthroughs, medical research, environmental sustainability, global warming, alternative energy, health care, cancer research, the teaching of evolution, bioengineering, and space exploration are some of the science areas that directly relate to policy making and the laws that Congress makes.

Otto believes that science is often assaulted when debates on policy making that require scientific knowledge are held. Using a technique that the media loves (the split screen), all issues that are discussed have two sides—the left or the right; the Republican or the Democratic. Although making public policy is not the same as how a theory is developed in science, it’s probably important that scientific knowledge be used in a way that represents science in making important decisions. Years ago, the tobacco industry used the technique of arguing two sides of the smoking issue, but selectively used its own research, or denied what science research had shown about smoking, or simply raised doubt about the “science” of tobacco research in order to “win” the argument, not seek the truth about smoking.

We see similar tactics being used when climate change and global warming are debated. Of course, the issue that has impacted science education is the teaching of evolution. The same tactic that “big tobacco” used continues to be used. Over the years, there have been attempts to show that there is another side of the theory of evolution—creation science or intelligent design. We’ve used the courts to settle scientific and health issues, such as abortion, teaching evolution, and so forth.

Otto claims that a narrowness in thinking emerges when science related issues that lead to policy making are on the table. Science research that could impinge of policy making is sometimes prevented from being shared, or is altered. For example, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s chief scientist on climate change, has had some of his work censored and modified by White House (Bush) staff. An Editorial in the Washington Post on Politics and Science discussed this case, and pointed out that a NASA spokesperson, appointed by the White House, interfered in the work of scientists at NASA:

Mr. Deutsch (A NASA media spokesperson) prevented reporters from interviewing James E. Hansen, the leading climate scientist at NASA, telling colleagues he was doing so because his job was to “make the president look good.” Mr. Deutsch also instructed another NASA scientist to add the word “theory” after every written mention of the Big Bang, on the grounds that the accepted scientific explanation of the origins of the universe “is an opinion” and that NASA should not discount the possibility of “intelligent design by a creator.”

In science education, teachers have had to deal with topics in the science curriculum that are viewed as controversial including the teaching of evolution, discussions of birth control, theories of the origins of the universe, such as the Big Bang, global warming and climate change. School boards, parents, and politicians have gotten involved in trying to pass rules restricting what and how “controversial” topics are taught, and have lately used the pedagogy of “critical thinking” to make sure that “all” sides of each controversial topic are discussed. Although the teaching of evolution, or I should say creation science/intelligent design was settled by Federal Judge John Jones in the famous Dover, Pennsylvania case when the judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, and had no place in a science class. The judge had this to say in his ruling:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy. With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

In my own view, case like the Dover intelligent design issue, the Kansas science standards controversy, attempts by legislators and state school boards in Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana to legislate the content of the science curriculum to satisfy their own (often religious beliefs) opinions is an assault on the integrity of the teaching profession to make professional decisions on curriculum and pedagogy.

There is an assault on science and science education, and as I’ll discuss further in the days ahead, there is an assault on public education.


Some states starting to get it about charter schools, of cource Florida is not one of them

From the Hechinger Report

By Sarah Butrymowicz

The New Jersey Department of Education surprised many this fall when state administrators approved only four new charter schools out of an applicant pool of 55. In a different round of applications just nine months earlier, the Office of Charter Schools had trumpeted its decision to grant 23 charters—or about half of applicants—as part of Gov. Chris Christie’s pro-charter education reform agenda.

Of the four charters most recently approved, three will be located in cities, a victory for many suburban towns that vigorously fought proposals to open charters in their school districts.

Some experts are suggesting that New Jersey has made a conscious decision to slow charter growth, reflecting a national trend to focus on quality over quantity. The move could also be considered a peace offering to suburban voters, who are unhappy with the proliferation of charters in the state. Still others are describing the decrease in the number of new charters as political sleight of hand, designed to distract from and ultimately stop legislation that would significantly overhaul New Jersey’s charter school law, by mandating financial transparency and requiring a local vote for charter approval.

“We don’t quite know what limits we’re hitting, but somehow we may be reaching the dollars required and collective enthusiasm necessary to open up charter schools,” said Bruce Fuller, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley who studies charter schools.

In the past decade, about 400 new charters have opened nationally every year, even as charter critics have pointed to research showing that the majority don’t do significantly better than traditional public schools. In response, charter advocates have stepped up their calls for greater charter-school accountability, supporting laws and practices that make it easier to shut down low-performing charters and make it tougher to start a charter in the first place.

Some states, like Minnesota and Ohio, have hit the brakes on charter-school expansion to ensure quality among those that do open. Now, New Jersey may be joining them.

Charters have been a key focus of Gov. Christie’s education agenda since his election, but both he and acting state education commissioner Chris Cerf tempered their enthusiasm for charters over the summer. In speeches and press conferences, they said that charters may not have a place in districts that beat statewide averages on standardized tests. Christie has said, for instance, that if a charter were to open in a suburb, “there should be a need for that school and a demand for that school.”

Still, Todd Ziebarth, vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, argues that while charter-school authorizers in some states have become more discerning and slowed expansion, there are still new areas in which the charter movement can grow. “The charter phenomenon is spreading to other states,” he said. “Within states, it’s spreading to different” communities.

He acknowledged that New Jersey seems to be slowing down charter growth, however. “It seems like the state has raised the bar on what they want to see in the quality of the application,” Ziebarth said. “It’s not surprising to see a low percentage this time around. We’ll see if it adjusts.”

This fall’s charter approval process was the toughest yet after the Office of Charter Schools aligned its standards with the “national best practices” recommended by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. They include having a well-rounded board of trustees and experienced school operators.

Some of the new requirements were not included on New Jersey’s charter application, said Jutta Gassner-Snyder, whose application to open a Mandarin-immersion elementary school, Hua Mei Charter School, in Maplewood was turned down.

Gassner-Snyder was among the many would-be charter operators who spent the summer battling public school districts. In New Jersey, the opposition to charters has been strongest in the suburbs, where residents are worried about competition for state funding between traditional public schools and charters.

The state’s schools receive the bulk of their funding based on a per-pupil allotment. When a student attends a charter school, the charter gets 90 percent of that student’s funding allotment, while the district keeps the remaining 10 percent.

Nationally, as school budgets continue to be cut, there’s a possibility that both Republican and Democratic governors will hedge their support of charter schools, especially if suburban voters see them as a growing threat, suggested Fuller.

“The White House has been romantically taken by the potential of charter schools,” he said, referring to an increase in federal funding under the Obama administration as well as incentives in grant competitions for states to lift charter caps. “But the fact that a state, even with a Republican governor, would be so cautious about expanding charter schools probably spells political trouble for the Obama initiative.”

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, a Newark-based law firm focused on public education, suggested that the state education department may have rejected most of the charter applicants not out of quality concerns or in reaction to parent protests, but to slow down or derail legislation introduced earlier in the year that would strengthen the state’s charter law. This summer, the State Assembly passed bills to require local approval of charter schools and to demand more financial and educational transparency from charter schools. The bills are now before the State Senate.

It “raises a lot of red flags of what’s really going on behind closed doors at the [New Jersey] Department of Education,” said Sciarra. “Because of the lack of public disclosure about it [and] refusal to be open and transparent, the public is left in the dark about what happened here.”

Hua Mei’s supporters haven’t given up, however, despite the fact that New Jersey’s charter school debate rages on. The group reapplied on Oct. 17 for consideration in the next round. Decisions will be announced in January 2012.

The new application saw some significant revisions, including the fact that only two districts—Maplewood-South Orange and West Orange—would be the source of students, down from five in the original proposal. All five districts wrote letters to the State Department of Education opposing the charter when it first applied.

The would-be charter has ended its battle with Millburn—an affluent town with schools typically considered among the state’s best—when the district announced this fall that it would reintroduce strategic global languages at the elementary school level, said Gassner-Snyder.

Livingston is also off the list of districts from which Hua Mei would potentially draw students. Gassner-Snyder explained that the “animosity and the legal muscle they can flex [are] just not something we can withstand.”


Bill Gates might know computers but he doesn’t know education

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet

By Anthony Cody

Bill Gates was just in the news again, bemoaning the sorry state of America’s schools, insisting that business leaders like him have a lot to teach us about measuring performance.

Mr. Gates, in years past, has worried about the fact that we rank poorly on international educational comparisons, suggesting this will cause us to fall behind economically. The answer, according to Mr. Gates, is that we must get rid of bad teachers. He said, during his appearance on Oprah last year, that if we got rid of all the bad teachers, “our schools would shoot from the bottom of these rankings to the top.”

In order to be able to fire all these bad teachers, we need to be able to measure their performance. The measurements he wants to use are the data from our students’ test scores, which tell us how much “value” we have added to them. These students are our raw material, and just like any manufacturing process, we ought to be paid and evaluated according to how much value we have added to the product as it passed through our hands. His foundation created the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, which has come up with something they call “multiple measures” of good teaching, but unfortunately it appears all these measures lead back to test score data.

One great thing about the past decade is that teachers have become good at analyzing data. But we are now being presented with data that goes beyond the test scores, and I am wondering if Bill Gates has any interest in this. I think it might be germane. It sheds some fresh light on where the United States is in relation to other countries on some other indicators.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow just wrote:

“We have not taken care of the least among us. We have allowed a revolting level of income inequality to develop. We have watched as millions of our fellow countrymen have fallen into poverty. And we have done a poor job of educating our children and now threaten to leave them a country that is a shell of its former self. We should be ashamed.

Poor policies and poor choices have led to exceedingly poor outcomes. Our societal chickens have come home to roost.

Here are some of the data points Mr. Blow shared, citing a report called “On Social Justice in the OECD.” The OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has 34 country members and helps governments tackle the economic, social and governance challenges of a globalized economy.. The report summary states:

Poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor is a major problem in the OECD. Of the 31 countries examined, on average, 10.8 percent of the people are poor. This means they have to live with less than half the national median household income.

U.S.: 21.6 percent of children affected by poverty

Particular concern is the phenomenon of child poverty: on average about 12.3 percent of children live below the poverty line. Therefore, it lacks many places on the basic requirements of social justice and participation. The differences within the OECD is alarming: While in Denmark only 3.7 percent of children affected by poverty, the rate in the United States at alarming 21.6 percent (rank 28). Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico cut worse than the largest economy in the world.

Education needs to invest!

Many of the 31 participating OECD countries have significant deficits in the question of equitable educational opportunities. Again, it is the Northern European countries, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, which are particularly successful in this respect also. The U.S. major economies (ranked 20), Britain (21) or Germany (22) land on the other hand only in the lower third of the rankings. Including school systems and increased investment in early childhood education are key tools to continue to provide more equal opportunities in education.

So the United States, according to this report, ranks next to Greece, Turkey, Mexico and Chile in terms of the percentage of children in poverty. Here is the data. (And interestingly, if you want to connect the dots, and you break out the international test scores according to the poverty level of the students, you will find that American schools NOT afflicted by poverty rank among the top in the world.)

Teachers see this data in a different way. Here is a note from my friend Sarah Puglisi, who teaches third grade in California,

“Homelessness and poverty up close is hard. It smells, actually in my room this year, it takes from the very fiber of a being, it is destructive to those that stand in uselessness looking as well as those suffering it. I’m dealing with a woman and her child suffering terribly now — she should never be alone in this, her faculties are not good enough to deal. She can’t go grow food on some family place, she’s like a forgotten being. And so are the supports that should exist, dysfunctional. But my concern is a child, one not washing, that can’t get into a shelter til after 9 at night that’s out by 5AM, that hasn’t had a real bath in a month. No costume for him. And I need to go buy him a pair of pants or two really, couple shirts and get his clothes and wash them. Among the realities in my teaching work I think I’m beginning to understand what I really need to articulate is what poverty is like to a learner. A child that didn’t pick, nor make any of this. And who is so sweet.”

Many teachers see poverty up close, although our students do their best to hide it. Like wounded birds, they do not want others to see their weakness. They tease one another about buying clothes at Salvation Army, or living in a cardboard box. Those of us who have worked in schools with children in poverty are very familiar with this data.

Are our billionaire education reformers interested in any of this information?

We can choose tax structures that underfund our schools, we can believe that we are collectively “broke” while some people stack up the billions, and still need tax breaks. But the data is in. The gulf between rich and poor is obscene. And the schools alone will not fix this. Sending more children to college will not fix this. Only social policies that aim to reverse the concentration of wealth will make a real difference.

Bill Gates can produce the most elaborate teacher evaluation system in the world, but any system built upon the two dimensional data provided by test scores will be trumped by the smell and taste of poverty in our classrooms, and the cold hard data that shows we are failing to provide the most basic level of support for our children to live healthy lives and learn well in school.


The right has engaged in class warfare for years now

It always amuses me when the right talks about class warfare. They have had union members, teachers and civil servants, i.e. the middle class in their cross hairs for the last few years now.

Protect the millionaires and billionaires they scream but at the same time they are willing to throw the middle class under the bus. There is class warfare going on and it’s the middle class who has been taking the beating. It’s time enough was enough.


Florida spending less on, expecting more from, education

From the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board

Florida has made extensive changes to boost academic rigor in public schools and buff its national reputation, but benchmarks such as the National Assessment of Education Progress show that Florida’s still eating the dust of pacesetters like Massachusetts. So state officials are wise to propose raising the bar for passing the state’s overhauled Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT 2.0.

It’s a proposal that new state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson rightly declares “represent(s) the next great step in our journey to create a model education system for the nation.” But it’s a journey doomed for frustration — if the Legislature doesn’t provide adequate traveling money.

The FCAT helps guide decisions on student promotion, course assignment and graduation. Last month a panel led by Florida school superintendents, including Orange County’s Ron Blocker, and also composed of education and civic group members, reviewed recommendations from an educators’ panel to raise passing scores for the test. The superintendent-led group pushed the bar a few points higher.

The panel also tweaked the scoring system to even up the percentages of students passing the test from grade to grade. Currently, students in earlier grades do better on the test than high schoolers.

The State Board of Education could OK the plan in December. And it should. Changes would take effect next year.

Increased rigor will help Florida compete both on the national and global stage. But educators rightly worry about the fallout.

Last year, 16 percent of third-graders couldn’t manage a passing score on the FCAT reading test. The proposed scoring would have raised that to 18 percent, meaning an additional 36,400 students in jeopardy of repeating third grade. That would create a need for more teachers and classrooms to re-teach the holdovers.

Not to mention a burning need for struggling kids to receive intensive reading and math coaching — largely a memory after years of deep budget cuts.

If, as Gov. Rick Scott insists, Florida’s future depends on “world-class schools,” ratcheting up academic rigor is the right thing to do. Now, lawmakers need to do right by schools.

With yet another multibillion-dollar deficit looming, expecting the Legislature to beef up school spending may be tilting at windmills. But maintaining level funding shouldn’t be a quixotic expectation.

Blocker got it right when he told the Sentinel that educators are “willing to do the job, but legislators need to put some grease behind it and make it work.”


Florida continues to shortchange its universities

From the St. Petersburg Times Editorial Board

At least credit former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux for being half-right: Tuition at Florida’s public universities is too low. But so is the state’s direct support. The hard fact that no one in Tallahassee’s majority party seems willing to acknowledge is that the state, not just students, must invest more in higher education if Florida’s universities are ever going to rank among the nation’s best and help diversify the economy.

LeMieux, seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, made his remarks last Sunday on Political Connections, a weekly television show produced by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9. “If we’re going to create great jobs in this state, we need better education,” LeMieux said, adding: “It requires money, and this is a controversial thing to say … tuition at our universities is way too low.” In fact, it’s 45th lowest in the nation, the College Board reported last week.

But also too low is the state’s contribution to universities, down 27 percent during this recession. The upshot of such disinvestment by taxpayers: Florida’s four largest universities now spend far less on students than similar-sized counterparts across the Southeast — particularly those with national reputations and higher aspirations.

For example, taxpayers in North Carolina in 2009-10 sent almost as much money to Chapel Hill to support the well-regarded University of North Carolina, $11,300 per student, as this state spends in tax and tuition dollars combined at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Add tuition dollars and UNC-Chapel Hill spent 70 percent more per student — nearly $19,500 — than the University of Florida’s $11,500. To be sure, students paid more to attend UNC: $8,200 average tuition and fees compared with UF’s $4,800. But at both institutions, students contributed 42 percent of costs, based on the data the institutions submitted to their accreditation agency, the Southern Regional Education Board.

The spending is even more depressingly low at the Universities of South Florida and Central Florida, where per-student spending was just $9,500 and $8,730, respectively. The result is all too clear to those on campuses: bigger classes, more online classes, temporary faculty members, and salaries that lag behind other institutions such as UNC that have far more resources at their disposal to lure top-flight faculty — the lifeblood of any academic institution.

Yet UF, USF and UCF are three of the 11 state universities that Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature claim will lead the state’s drive to diversify the economy — even as they appear poised to strip more resources from them.

Facing another $2 billion budget gap in 2012-13 and unwilling to consider new revenue sources, Scott last week launched a review of the state higher education system, intimating he questions why universities cost as much as they do even in cheapskate Florida. Earlier this month, the governor suggested universities weren’t correctly channeling resources, saying on a radio talk show that the state doesn’t need any more anthropology majors. And he’s asked for a survey of which college majors get the best-paying jobs. It’s little more than an effort to apply the same bottom-line measurements to higher education that Scott used to wring profits out of private hospitals.

The governor frequently claims his goal is to provide the best higher education in the nation. But the governor has yet to define that, other than to suggest universities need to expand science, technology and math degrees. The Legislature cannot allow Scott to fuse a solution for improving STEM education with a mission to cut spending elsewhere. If all Republicans do in the coming legislative session is reallocate measly resources in the name of economic development, the state will only lose more ground academically.

Florida universities need more investment, not less. And they need state leaders who understand that the best education is never the cheapest.


The right continues to ignore poverty in education reform

From the Art of Teaching Science

by Jack Hassard

PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, released results last month, and you would have thought the sky was falling if you listened to our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. PISA is an international assessment that is administered to 15 year-old students in participating countries. The PISA assessment has been administered in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The 2009 test results were released in December 2010. In 2009, 65 countries participated in the test. In general average scores are used to make comparisons among countries. The U.S. average was 502 (OECD average was 501). According to the 2009 report, among the other 64 countries and education systems, 18 had higher average scores, 33 had lower average scores, and 13 had average scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average score. If we rank order the countries according to average test score, the U.S. is in 19th place, and using the sports analogy, we are not at the top, and that that’s what causes politicians, corporate leaders, and state departments to make dire assessments of the quality of American education. The leaders of the U.S. government actually said that these test results (coming in 19th) was a “sputnik momement.”

Sputnik moment or not, this is the predicted reaction of “leaders” when ever international (or national) test results are released. In fact, the headlines of many nations’ national newspapers often are headlined with claims that the “sky is falling” and that the educational system is a failure. Politicians, corporate heads, and others rush to make judgements, and lead their nations down paths that are harmful to the educational systems they claim is failing.

One problem here is the over reliance on test scores to make judgements about systems of education that in some cases are huge (the U.S. has 15,000 different school districts), very small (Singapore is City-State, perhaps comparable to one U.S. district), distinctly different in terms of how many students live in poverty, differences in the way schools are funded, teachers prepared, and curriculum developed and implemented.

The current wave of “reform” based on core standards, and student test scores would have us believe that the major factor influencing the performance of students is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Out-of school factors, and the variety of differences among school leadership, curriculum, and teacher collaboration are not considered. If educators bring up the issue of the effects of poverty on student achievement, education leaders such as Joe Klein, formerly of the NYC schools, and Michelle Ree, formerly of the D.C. schools insist that performance in school by all students should be the result of the effectiveness of the teacher; poverty levels should have no effect. Nonsense.

In an extremely interesting analysis of the latest PISA test results, Mel Riddle, in his blog post, the Princpal Difference, reported the results of a different analysis by National Association of Secondary Schools Executive Director, Dr. Gerold Tirozzi. Tirozzi “took a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores compared with the rest of the world’s, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government’s free and reduced lunched program for students below the poverty line,”
according to Cynthia McCabe. The analysis led to this finding:

■In schools where less than 10 percent of students get free or reduced lunch, the reading score is 551. That would place those U.S. students at No. 2 on the international ranking for reading, just behind Shanghai, China which topped the ranking with a score of 556.
■Of all the nations participating in the PISA assessment, the U.S. has, by far, the largest number of students living in poverty–21.7%. The next closest nations in terms of poverty levels are the United Kingdom and New Zealand have poverty rates that are 75% of ours.
■U.S. students in schools with 10% or less poverty are number one country in the world.
■U.S. students in schools with 10-24.9% poverty are third behind Korea, and Finland.
■U.S. students in schools with 25-50% poverty are tenth in the world.

Riddle’s analysis is an important contribution to the conversation about the meaning and implications PISA-type test results. As he says: It’s Poverty Not Stupid. American schools have been maligned by politicians and especially corporate leaders such as Bill Gates, and for the last decade, starting with the NCLB Act, the Race to the Top, the parallel development by the National Governor’s Association of the Common Core Stands, and the movement to link teacher evaluation to the student test scores—we are running down (or up) a path that will do great harm to the American public school system.


Jacksonville is front and center of the National Charter School debate

From Grumpy Educators

by Sandra

While charter school expansion continues in Florida, so do the challenges to local decision-making. KIPP is a nationally recognized charter operator; however, KIPP Jacksonville operates a middle school with an “F” performance. The charter’s application to open two new charters was questioned by the Duval School Board, which asked KIPP to explain why they should approve an application for more schools when they are operating one with an “F”. Duval will vote on the application on November 1; however, KIPP has said they will appeal if their application is rejected.

Parents, community members, and taxpayers rely on school boards, who have the mandated responsibility of approving applications to open charters, monitoring them, and closing those who are non-performing. The application itself does not include reporting on a charter’s performance history. Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson does not believe the application should include such information; however he does believe that school boards must consider charter performance as part of their decision-making process. In a Florida Department of Education statement, Robinson’s views were clarified:

The Commissioner contends that performance of charter schools should be taken into consideration prior to any new charter school development because providing a quality learning environment for all students is paramount.

The Florida Times-Union quotes Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who said that “a poorly performing school shouldn’t be approved to open new schools.”

“KIPP nationally is a great organization, but every school still has to earn its own way,” Richmond said.

“So if you’re an ‘F’ school, you’ve got to bring that grade up before you can start talking about opening some more schools.”

The November 1 decision is one to follow as well as Charter USA’s challenge to the recent Polk County School Board’s rejection of their application.

With mounting challenges to a local school board decision, what can parents rely on to make informed decisions on school choice?