This School Board has a recent history of not knowing the rules

In case of a tie, the tie goes to the side the chair voted for. This very seldom plays a role because the board has seven members. However when Martha Barrett abstained from voting on the Bank of America School a tie occurred. The school board didn’t realize the vote to close the school had actually been passed for six months.

Whether they didn’t understand the rules or if they just asked the wrong questions is immaterial. At the same time the board was pleading poverty, closing programs and firing people they were unaware of over a hundred million dollars in reserve.

Then where it was perfectly legal by the rule of the law it was very bad form, when they used a procedural trick to remove from public discussion the decision to hire three new public relations positions at a cost of between 2 and 3 hundred thousand dollars.

Finally when the decision was made to fire the superintendent and let’s face it that’s what happened, the board met and conveniently felt keeping complete notes was not required. Hmm you would think a call so big should have been recorded for posterity.

This is what passes for local control of education in Florida

From scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Few observers were surprised yesterday when a stacked state board of education overruled Orange county school district for rejecting a Charter Schools USAmanaged school. It was predicted here that CSUSA CEO Jonathan Hage – also a member of Rick Scott’s education transition team – would prevail in the end. But the state board’s stunning denial of its own charter school appeals commission on two Florida Virtual School applications should give voters pause. From the Florida Times-Union on the Duval county FVS application:

On Oct. 4, the School Board denied the application from Northeast Florida Virtual Charter School Board Inc., which wanted to open a kindergarten-to- ninth-grade school with a proposed enrollment of 620 students.

The organization failed 12 of the 19 sections of the application of which at least 15 sections must be met to pass.

District staff also said school representatives did not attend any of the provided meetings or help sessions scheduled to discuss the requirements and procedures to complete the application, school system records show.

Why have charter schools even apply anymore to local school boards if they can go about it so willy-nilly and still not be held accountable by the state board?

The state board of eight is composed of three appointees of Jeb Bush, three from Rick Scott, one from Charlie Crist and ed commissioner Gerard Robinson. One board member, Scott appointee Gary Chartrand, is on KIPP schools board of directors in Jacksonville and, like Hage, was on Scott’s education transition team. Hardly a group one can be confident will act in a fashion which demonstrates independent thinking.

If corporate reforms are so good why don’t private schools use them?

From School Finance 101

Lately it seems that public policy and the reformy rhetoric that drives it are hardly influenced by the vast body of empirical work and insights from leading academic scholars which suggests that such practices as using value-added metrics to rate teacher quality, or dramatically increasing test-based accountability and pushing for common core standards and tests to go with them are unlikely to lead to substantial improvements in education quality, or equity.

Rather than review relevant empirical evidence or provide new empirical illustrations in this post, I’ll do as I’ve done before on this blog and refer to the wisdom and practices of private independent schools – perhaps the most market driven segment and most elite segment of elementary and secondary schooling in the United States.

Really… if running a school like a ‘business’ (or more precisely running a school as we like to pretend that ‘businesses’ are run… even though ‘most’ businesses aren’t really run the way we pretend they are) was such an awesome idea for elementary and secondary schools, wouldn’t we expect to see that our most elite, market oriented schools would be the ones pushing the envelope on such strategies?

If rating teachers based on standardized test scores was such a brilliant revelation for improving the quality of the teacher workforce, if getting rid of tenure and firing more teachers was clearly the road to excellence, and if standardizing our curriculum and designing tests for each and every component of it were really the way forward, we’d expect to see these strategies all over the home pages of web sites of leading private independent schools, and we’d certainly expect to see these issues addressed throughout the pages of journals geared toward innovative school leaders, like Independent School Magazine. In fact, they must have been talking about this kind of stuff for at least a decade. You know, how and why merit pay for teachers is the obvious answer for enhancing teacher productivity, and why we need more standardization… more tests… in order to improve curricular rigor?

So, I went back and did a little browsing through recent, and less recent issues of Independent School Magazine and collected the following few words of wisdom:

From Winter 2003, when the school where I used to teach decided to drop Advanced Placement courses:

A little philosophy, first. Independent schools are privileged. We do not have to respond to the whims of the state, nor to every or any educational trend. We can maximize our time attuned to students and how they learn, and to the development of curriculum that enriches them and encourages the skills and attitudes of independent thinkers. Our founding charters and missions established independence for a range of reasons, but they now give all of us relative curricular autonomy, the ability to bring together a faculty of scholars and thinkers who are equipped to develop rich, developmentally sound programs of study. As Fred Calder, the executive director of New York State Association of Independent Schools, wrote in a letter to member schools a few years ago: “If we cannot design our programs according to our best lights and the needs of our communities, then let the monolith prevail and give up the enterprise. Standardized testing in subject areas essentially smothers original thought, more fatally, because of the irresistible pressure on teachers to teach to the tests.”
Blasphemy? Or simply good education!

And from way, way back in 2000, in a particularly thoughtful piece on “business” strategies applied to schools:

Educators do not respond to the same incentives as businesspeople and school heads have much less clout than their corporate counterparts to foster improvement. Most teachers want higher salaries but react badly to offers of money for performance. Merit pay, so routine in the corporate world, has a miserable track record in education. It almost never improves outcomes and almost always damages morale, sowing dissension and distrust, for three excellent reasons, among others: (1) teachers are driven to help their own students, not to outperform other teachers, which violates the ethic of service and the norms of collegiality; (2) as artisans engaged in idiosyncratic work with students whose performance can vary due to factors beyond school control, teachers often feel that there is no rational, fair basis for comparison; and (3) in schools where all faculty feel underpaid, offering a special sum to a few sparks intense resentment. At the same time, school leaders have limited leverage over poor performers. Although few independent schools have unionized staff and formal tenure, all are increasingly vulnerable to legal action for wrongful dismissal; it can take a long time and a large expense to dismiss a teacher. Moreover, the cost of firing is often prohibitive in terms of its damage to morale. Given teachers’ desire for security, the personal nature of their work, and their comparative lack of worldliness, the dismissal of a colleague sends shock waves through a faculty, raising anxiety even among the most talented.
Unheard of! Isn’t firing the bad teacher supposed to make all of those (statistically) great teachers feel better about themselves? Improve the profession? [that said, we have little evidence one way or the other]

How can we allow our leading private, independent, market-based schools to promote such gobbledygook? Why do they do it? Are they a threat to our national security or our global economic competitiveness because they were not then, nor are they now (see recent issues: fast-tracking the latest reformy fads? Testing out the latest and greatest educational improvement strategies on their own students, before those strategies get tested on low income children in overcrowded urban classrooms? Why aren’t the boards of directors of these schools – many of whom are leaders in “business” – demanding that they change their outmoded ways? Why? Why? Why? Because what they are doing works! At least in terms of their success in continuing to attract students and produce successful graduates.

Now, that’s not to say that these schools are completely stagnant, never adopting new strategies or reforms. They do new stuff all the time (technology integration, etc.) – just not the absurd reformy stuff being dumped upon public schools by policymakers who in many cases choose to send their own children to private independent schools.

In my repeated pleas to private school leaders to provide insights into current movements in teacher evaluation and compensation, I’ve actually found little change from these core principles of nearly a decade ago. Private independent schools don’t just fire at will and fire often and teacher compensation remains very predictable and traditionally structured. I’d love to know, from my private school readers, how many of their schools have adopted state mandated tests?

Private independent schools pride themselves on offering small class sizes (see also here) and a diverse array of curricular opportunities, as well as arts, sports and other enrichment – the full package. And, as I’ve shown in my previous research, private independent schools charge tuition and spend on a per pupil basis at levels much higher than traditional public school districts operating in the same labor market. They also pay their headmasters well! More blasphemy indeed.

In fact, aside from “no excuses” charter schools whose innovative programs consist primarily of rigid discipline coupled with longer hours and small group tutoring (not rocket science), and higher teacher salaries (here, here & here) to compensate the additional work, private independent schools may just be among the least reformy elementary and secondary education options out there.

That’s not to say they are anything like “no excuses” charter schools. They are not in many ways. But they are equally non-reformy. In fact, the average school year in private independent schools is shorter not longer than in traditional public schools – about 165 days. And the average student load of teachers working in private independent schools (course sections x class size) is much lower in the typical private independent school than in traditional public schools. But that ain’t reformy stuff at all, any more than trying to improve outcomes of low income kids by adding hours and providing tutoring.

None-the-less, for some reason, well educated people with the available resources, keep choosing these non-reformy and expensive schools. Some of these schools have been around for a while too! Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they are doing the right things – providing good, well rounded educational opportunities as many of them have for centuries, adapting along the way (see: . Perhaps they’ve not gone down the road of substantially increased testing and curriculum standardization, test-based teacher evaluation – firing their way to Finland – because they understand that these policy initiatives offer little to improve school quality, and much potential damage.

Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from market based systems. But perhaps we should be looking to those market based systems that have successfully provided high quality schooling for centuries to our nation’s most demanding, affluent and well educated leaders, rather than basing our policy proposals on some make-believe highly productive private sector industry where new technologies reduce production costs to near $0 and where complex statistical models are used to annually deselect non-productive employees.

Just pondering the possibilities, and still waiting for Zuck (an Exeter alum) to invest in Harkness Tables for Newark Public Schools and class sizes of 12 across the board!

Borrowing wise words from those truly market-based, Private Independent schools…

The superintendent laughed all the way to the bank while people lost their jobs

While the superintendent laughed it off, his and the boards lack of communication caused lives to be disrupted as programs closed and people lost their jobs.

As I understand it school districts are supposed to keep three percent in reserves, which represents about 25 million dollars for Duval County. It turns out we have upwards of 160 million dollars. For the last few years the district has been pleading poverty as it squirreled away tens of millions of dollars.

I went to two meetings one last year and the other in 2010 where the superintendent droned on about what a sad financial state we are in and not once did he mention the 100 million plus in reserves, was that just a communication problem he was having with the public?

Magnet transportation was limited severely, sports were in danger of being cut, the mayor had to take his hat around the city looking for money to save ROTC at several schools and people lost their jobs, read that again, people lost their jobs while we had all this money.

The superintendent laughs it off as a miscommunication between him and the board. I wonder if the custodians, para professionals, district staff and teachers who lost their jobs because of our supposed poverty are laughing. I wonder how their lives are now?

Why do we have this money if it is not to be used during tough times and maybe the superintendent didn’t notice it because of his 279 thousand dollar salary but times have been very tough for a lot of people?

The superintendent laughed all the way to the bank while people suffered.


So which Duval County School Board members aren’t key?

From a piece about the time for new leadership in the Times Union, Pratt-Dannals said both he and key board members arrived at the same conclusion, that he should call it quits at the end of his contract.

Um which members aren’t key? Friends you do know that there are only seven school board members right? It’s not like there are a hundred or anything.
Let’s try and figure out who is and isn’t key.

Paula Wright, she wasn’t even deemed worthy enough to get a phone call when a principal in her district was replaced midyear.

W.C. Gentry? Rich, elderly, white guys are always considered key.
Betty Burney? She is the chairwoman; I will begrudgedly put her on the key list.

Becky Couch, no, not even close, she doesn’t seem nearly as interested in the job now that she has it.

Fred “Fel” Lee, he will eventually be an old, rich, white guy so I initially thought definitely but then his silence over the last week has spoke volumes.

Martha Barrett, I can’t imagine her being considered key about much but she and the superintendent have worked closely together for the last 12 years (that’s right folks she has been on the SB for 12 years now and is seeking a fourth term) so it’s a possibility.

Tommy Hazouri, enough said.

Regardless, isn’t this a decision, which I feel is way over due, that the whole board should have made together?

So friends, is your representative key or are they just there collecting a check?

The inexplicable logic of newspaper editors

Sometimes I feel like the Time Union editors are messing with me. You know like how a friend does when they bring up a touchy subject to get a rise out of you. The difference though is friends will stop before it gets too far, where the Times Union editors keep on going well that and how their unwavering support of the superintendent and their willful ignorance about what is happening in our schools has led to people’s lives being ruined and kids not getting the education they deserve. They continued to go too far today in a piece about the superintendent.

For the last two years the Times Union has steadfastly said we have the right superintendent for the job, now that he has been fired the headline reads, Time is right for new leadership.

They wrote, Wise’s commitment to Advanced Placement exams looked good on national metrics but included students in college level courses who couldn’t even read at grade level. Um nothing has changed, we still put low level kids in Advanced Placement classes that they have no business being in. Why was it bad for Wise to do so but okay that Pratt-Dannals continues to do so?

You know what other metrics look good on paper but fall apart with any critical thought? Our graduation rates and our school grades but the editors can dismiss that and choose not to delve any deeper because that doesn’t fit the narrative they have decided for Pratt-Dannals.

Let me give you an example, later in the same piece they wrote: Similarly, Duval is a state leader in the number of high school graduates who are ready for college, a key quality indicator. Well Florida State College has said, 70% of our grads have to take remedial classes once they arrive, I wonder what kind of indicator that is? To me it is another indicator the Times Union doesn’t know what it is talking about.

Their article is full of double speak, poorly used numbers and high praise for a man many teachers, those most in the know, feel has run our district into the ground.

But hey it’s just an editorial on their part, not fact and we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of their opinions.


The misinformation campaign about Jacksonville’s graduation rate continues (rough draft)

The Times Union praised Pratt-Dannals for the rise in graduation rates and frequently likes to mention how we have some of the highest standards around, what the Times Union doesn’t mention is how one helped cause the other . Another problem they have is they just look at the numbers and as we all know, sometimes numbers can lie.

Six years ago Duval County much to the chagrin of many of its teachers increased its graduation requirements. Algebra II no longer became a subject that just the nerdy kid took but now every kid had too and the same went for chemistry or physics as well.

(I don’t mean to digress but how many of you use advanced algebra in your everyday life?)

Do you know what happened as a result? Our graduation rate went down.
The year before the change our rate was 56.3 and the year after it was 51.4 though it has steadily climbed since then.

When Pratt Dannals became superintendent five years ago, the graduation rate was 51.5% and this last year it was 63.3% which is a significant increase but now that we know the higher grad requirements led to the superintendent’s low starting point, let’s look beyond the numbers.

Duval County for the last few years has relied heavily on grade recovery to graduate many of its kids. Grade recovery used to be for kids that tried hard and just didn’t get it or for kids who missed a lot of days for a legitimate and documented reason. Sadly it changed under Pratt-Dannals and now any kid, can take it any time, under any circumstance. Now kids that made no effort, never came or spent the majority of their time disrupting class are eligible and using it to make up classes. Rigor, accountability, heck even supervision have all been compromised as a result.

The Times Union did an article a while back which said 15,000 kids had used GR to make up classes. Say just half the kids who took advantage of it didn’t deserve too (I think it is closer to ninety percent) well that could explain as much as a six percent increase in our graduation rate. Unfortunately there is no way to adequately tell and I believe the district likes it that way.

But it is worse than that friends. Teachers are told all the time with air quotes that they can only fail a certain amount of kids, or if they fail to many their jobs will be in jeopardy. Many people think rigor in our schools has been seriously compromised and kids that give just a minimal effort are passed through. How much of a role did the district’s unofficial gentlemen’s C policy affect graduation rates? I would guess more so than even grade recovery did.

So what’s our legitimate prepared to be successful in life or college, graduation rate. I don’t know but I do know that businesses report having a hard time finding good applicants and 70% of our grads have to take remedial classes at Florida State College. I don’t know but I know it is significantly less than the grossly inflated graduation rate we have now. The Times Union and the district should know that too but they instead look the other way. Numbers not kids being what is important to them.

Graduation rates by year:

2011- 63.3%
2010- 58.3%
2009- 55.8%
2008- 53.5%
2007- 51.5%
2006- 51.4%
2005- 56.3%
2004- 57.2%
2003- 52.2%

The Times Union can’t even get the Golden Rule right

Despite the fact my belly was empty I about threw up in mouth reading the Times Union’s latest blathering love fest directed at Superintendent Pratt-Dannals but what really got me was The Times Union can’t even get the golden rule right.

The Golden Rule since time began has been, you should treat others the way you would like to be treated. The TU suddenly changed it to, did you leave things better than you found them.

Pratt-Dannals neither followed the golden rule nor left things better.

More on this later.

More Florida school districs lose local control. State takes over

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Signs that the end of local board control of schools – and its own finances – continued today when the state board of education overruled Orange and Seminole counties rejection of two charter schools. From Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel:

TALLAHASSEE – Orange and Seminole school districts should be forced to allow two charter schools they turned down, the state Board of Education ruled Tuesday.

The state board sided with a recommendation from the charter school appeal commission that Renaissance Charter out of South Florida be allowed to set up shop next fall in Orange.

But the state board ignored the appeal commission recommendation that it reject the application of Florida Virtual Academy to open charters in Seminole and Duval counties because the proposed schools failed to meet certain standards. Board members said the virtual schools should be given the benefit of the doubt because the state is encouraging a shift to virtual education across Florida.

Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel said the district immediately would file a court appeal aimed at preventing the charter from opening.

“I am extremely disappointed with the decision,” Vogel said.

Charters are public schools funded by taxpayers, but must follow fewer state rules than traditional schools. While charters operate largely outside control of local school districts, the districts are held responsible for their performance.

State Board Chairman Kathleen Shanahan said she hoped no one would think that in ignoring its appeal commission recommendations the board routinely was siding with charters, a common criticism.

The realities of whom overruled who defies logic. Political appointees from both the state board and the charter school appeal commission overruled elected school board members. To think that such a dynamic was set up by other elected officials in the Florida legislature is equally appalling.

The state board’s justification to reject the appeal commission’s recommendation on a Florida Virtual School demonstrated just how conflicted the state board members are in their decision-making. Doing so because “virtual schools should be given the benefit of the doubt because the state is encouraging a shift to virtual education across Florida,” is based on neither merit nor reason. Shanahan’s “hope” rings hollow and her boards’ decision stinks of pure patronage.

Florida takes away local control of schools from Duval

From the Times Union

by Teresa Stepzinski

The state Board of Education in a split vote Tuesday ruled in favor of Florida Virtual Academy at Duval County, which had its application previously rejected by the Duval County School Board.

The state board voted 3 to 1 with one member abstaining in support of the school, and therefore overturned the decision of the Charter School Appeals Commission, said Cheryl Etters, a state Department of Education spokeswoman.

The Duval School Board and district administrators will “review the order from the Board of Education to determine whether we think it is advisable to appeal,” said Jill Johnson, school system spokeswoman.

On Oct 4, the Duval board denied the application from Northeast Florida Virtual Charter School Board Inc., which wanted to initially open a kindergarten through ninth grade school with a proposed enrollment of 620 students.

School district staff recommended denying the application because the organization failed 12 of the 19 sections of the application of which at least 15 sections must be met to pass.

District staff also said representatives of the proposed school did not attend any of provided meetings or help sessions scheduled to discuss the requirements and procedures to complete the application, school system records show.