Has Jacksonville lost faith in its public schools?

More Duval County residents think school is important; that’s a good thing. More Duval County residents have lost confidence in public schools; that’s a bad thing. More Duval County residents say they don’t want to pay any more towards our schools; that’s an understandable thing, especialy in light of the hundred plus million the district had been squirling away for a rainy day. By the way it has been raing for a couple yers now.

I get it. The truth is we have some amazing schools and not just the nationally acclaimed magnet schools but neighborhood schools as well. Then even at our quote, unquote, struggling schools, there are great things going on. Teachers showing up with their sleeves rolled up dedicated to their students but despite all of that our district as a whole puts out a mediocre product. Quite frankly I don’t want to pay any more either and I am in the schools and see the needs going unmet. Despite this I completely understand how many of my neighbors feel. I get it.

Somewhere along the way, the Duval County Public School system lost its way. Appearing to do well and the f-cat replaced doing what is right and the mission of schools, which should be to prepare our children to be productive citizens with whatever they choose to do when they finish; whether they decide to continue their education or enter the workforce.

For some reason disciplining kids became passé to do. Despite the districts insistence that behavior is better, what’s really better is teacher’s ability to ignore bad behavior and endure toxic learning environments. We ignore so much stuff that would have gotten me suspended 25 years ago when I walked the same halls as a student that I now do as a teacher. There are too many battles to fight them all. It’s exhausting.

The district then tries to inflate its numbers by doing accounting tricks. We put advanced programs in all the high schools (and why do we have advanced magnet high schools if we can get the programs anywhere) and have more and more kids take advanced placement classes. Kids don’t have to pass an A.P. class to help a schools grade; they just have to take the test.

Then we stopped failing kids. A colleague commented the other day; if you come to class you really have to work hard to fail my class. We go through such lengths to make sure these kids get by, not learn mind you but get by and if it wasn’t for the gentlemen’s C pushing a fifth of the kids through we would have a log jam at certain grades.

Not that teachers aren’t subtlety cajoled into passing kids all the time either; no more than ten percent Ds and Fs we are told in memos and at meetings and if you do your evaluations, potential merit pay (which is a joke here in the county) and jobs may hang in the balance. Though with learning recovery it practically doesn’t matter what a kid does in class anyways. They could not show up or worse show up do nothing but disrupt the class everyday and still be eligible for it. In my day there was no makeup unless you had an excused absence and then after so many days that didn’t matter. Now nothing matters as every kid is eligible regardless of the reason.

At some point those in the ivory tower at 1701 prudential drive became enamored with the successes at Stanton and Paxon and thought, hey let’s do that everywhere, accept everywhere didn’t have the same kids or the ability to kick children out who didn’t cut the mustard with either their academics or behavior.

Then at some point we decided every kid was going to go to college regardless of desire and aptitude. So we destroyed the skill and trade based programs and put everyone into a one size fits all curriculum. The greatest generation that saved us from the Nazi hoard was made up of carpenters, plumbers and tradesmen of all types, but suddenly those jobs are devalued.

Teaching to the test became all we did and still do. Benchmarks, PMAs, and a whole host of other tests replaced actual critical thinking and learning skills as we created a generation that can regurgitate answers for a test but do little else. We make school miserable for kids and then wonder why they don’t do well.

Finally when did teachers go from valued, collaborative, colleagues, to dime a dozen cogs easily replaced, cajoled and intimidated by the district if they do’t subvert to its will. Teaching today has little to do with teaching. Instead we have become statisticians forced to create mountainous data notebooks which give little more than what a teacher can learn by working with a student for a few days. We spend so much time getting our agendas and word wall right that we have little time for actually teaching. Sir that two page lesson plan that I spent two hours creating is not for me or my children’s benefit. No it’s for the administrators so they can justify their positions by having something to check.

Speak up and say goodbye to your room or the class you want to teach. Question and see your evaluation suffer. Teachers are demoralized for several different reasons but chief among those has to be they see the promise our schools have and how far away we have moved away from it.

It’s no wonder the community lost faith because so many teachers have too. It’s also no wonder the community said we don’t want to chip in anymore. Though the crazy thing about faith is if it is important enough and most of us believe our education system is important, teachers show up day in and day out even thought they know they are fighting a losing battle, then schools can get the faith back, they just have to start doing the right things.

We have to have rigorous classes. Kids can’t be pushed through without the skills they need and with us hoping they will somehow catch up. We should also ditch the current learning recovery model completely, it might be good for the districts stats but it’s bad for education. If a kid acts up or skips all the time they should not be rewarded with multiple bites at the apple. Then for those kids that need extra help we need to have after school and legitimate summer school programs. If that’s not enough, then we should then retain the kids. We shouldn’t be so preoccupied with children graduating in a certain amount of time; we should be preoccupied with preparing them to be successful in life even if it takes longer.

Our schools have to be disciplined. We don’t have to be cruel, strict and fair will suffice. Consequences for bad behavior should be swift and meaningful and remember for a consequence to be meaningful they must mean something. We can’t send kids to their rooms where their ipods, face book pages and game boys are and expect them to learn anything. We must have them picking up trash, mopping floors, staying after school or wearing school uniforms. You want to wear what you want? Then you need to stop making Mrs. So and So’s room miserable. If that didn’t work for a few, we have to have the ability to let them go. We could achieve great addition through a little subtraction.

Then we also need multiple curriculums. We have to realize we don’t have the kids we wish we did, we have the kids we do and then plan accordingly. Not every kid is going to college and we should be okay with that, heck we should embrace it. Every day I hear a story about how some plumber, mechanic or electrician charged some crazy high fee and those are jobs that won’t be outsourced to India. We have denigrated the trades and skills when those are the noble professions that built this country, plus if kids are doing what they are interested in, well there is a good chance they will do better in school. Friends unless you are teaching rocket science, teaching isn’t rocket science.

We also have to stop teaching to the test. We don’t want robots or autotrons that can just pass a test, we want well rounded students who can critically think and our engaged with what they are learning and we should be able to get that everywhere not just in pockets here and there and at the dedicated magnet schools.

Like I said the school district lost its way and went from doing what’s right being important to our numbers being the end all be all that there is.

People talk all the time about how parents need to step up and do what’s right, well they are not the only ones. Schools need to do so too. Right now the way we do things often makes things worse. If a kid isn’t going to learn any discipline, manners or a work ethic at home then it is paramount they get those things at school because if not there then where?

If we can do what is right by our kids, then our system will improve. If our system improves the community will regain their faith. Instead of being a source of pity and revulsion our school system will become a source of pride. A crown jewel we can rally around.

The city has lost its faith in our schools and I don’t blame them but it’s something our schools could get back and it’s as simple as doing them doing the right thing.

Florida changes school grading formula… again!

From the Miami Herald

by Kathleen McGrory

The state Board of Education on Tuesday approved plans to revamp the school grading formula – but made significant changes to the original proposal, which had unleashed a barrage of criticism from parents, teachers, superintendents and business leaders.

State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson backed off the so-called proficiency trigger, which would have schools get an automatic F if fewer than 25 percent of students were reading at grade level.

Under the revised plan, schools that don’t hit the 25 percent mark would instead be docked by one letter grade. The trigger would not kick in until the start of the next school year.

The board approved one of the most hotly debated provisions of the new formula: a plan to include students with disabilities and those who are learning English in the grade calculation. In years past, the formula has only considered whether those students were making improvements, and not whether they were at grade level.

But there was a caveat: The board directed Robinson to convene a task force of educators, experts and parents to review that part of the plan – and make sure it was both necessary and sound.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who had requested many of the changes. “In the process, we moved to a more reasonable policy that serves all students.”

It was not clear how the formula as adopted on Tuesday would impact school grades.

Under the original proposal, hundreds of Florida schools would have dipped into the failing range, according to estimates from the state Department of Education. Miami-Dade would have seen the number of F schools jump to 50 from five. In Broward, the figure would have grown from five to 27.

The state Board of Education had to change the school grading formula – both to incorporate new state exams and to qualify for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The proposed changes raised the standards, placed a greater emphasis on reading and awarded extra points to students achieving at the highest levels.

But some of the early ideas met strong resistance from school superintendents, business leaders, parent groups and advocates for children with disabilities. Among their arguments: students with disabilities and those just learning English should not factor into the school grades formula the same way as typical children.

“Schools with 30, 40, 50 or 60 percent of students who are not native English speakers are going to be at a disadvantage in terms of this as a performance metric,” Carvalho said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That does not mean there is not quality instruction taking place in that school.”

Carvalho said he feared children with special needs would be perceived as “dragging down a school’s grade.”

“This is not in the best interest of anyone, and I don’t believe it represents the intent of the department or this board,” he said.

But other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting made the case for measuring all children equally.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, said she spoke on behalf of her 3-year-old son, Luke, who has special needs.

“Nothing in the current state accountability ever makes sure that Luke will learn how to read, because his learning how to read is not part of our school grading system,” she said.

The foundation, created by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 1994, supports the tougher grading formula and increased accountability measures.

In the end, board members said that fully incorporating students learning English and with disabilities was necessary for Florida to receive the No Child Left Behind waiver. But board members said they looked forward to hearing recommendations from the task force – and would reconsider the idea at next month’s meeting in Miami.

Other provisions revisions to the grading formula had been as controversial.

Some parents were outraged after noticing that specialized schools for disabled children had received letter grades in simulations of the new grading system. Robinson later said the so-called ESE center schools would not be graded.

The Florida Association of Special Education Attorneys opposed the final outcome.

“If there is no accountability for schools that serve only disabled students … schools will continue to have an incentive to place children in these more restrictive environments,” the association said in a statement Tuesday. “We instead urge that there be incentives to serve these students effectively so they can learn in regular classrooms in their local schools, participate in extracurricular activities, and make friends with students who are not disabled.”

The proficiency trigger had also raised concerns, particularly in communities where historically low-performing schools are making progress.

Miami Jackson and Miami Northwestern high schools, for example, had recently received an A and B grade respectively. Had the trigger been approved, both would have dropped to an F.

“We finally started to make big gains,” said Cleveland Morley, the vice chairman of the Miami Northwestern Alumni Association Board, who traveled to Tallahassee for the meeting. “It wouldn’t have been fair.”

Morley was joined by two dozen representatives of Miami-Dade’s inner-city high schools: Booker T. Washington, Carol City, Central, Edison, Norland and Northwestern.

“I feel better knowing that our showing up made a difference,” Morley said. “But it isn’t over yet.”

Miami Herald staff writer Laura Isensee contributed to this report.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/27/v-fullstory/2665045/amid-outcry-state-board-of-education.html#storylink=cpy

The bill that no parents wanted makes it out of committee

From the Tampa Bay Times

By Jeff Solocheck

The “parent empowerment” bill that many Florida parent groups have fought against barely made its way out of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations committee today, with two Republicans — Evelyn Lynn and Nancy Detert — joining Democrat Bill Montford in opposing the measure. Lynn then challenged the 4-3 outcome, saying the committee had not followed Senate rules in discussing and voting on the bill.

The legislation — a priority for Jeb Bush’s education foundation — would give parents the right to petition for a school turnaround option if their school receives an F grade from the state. Sponsor Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, submitted a strike-all replacement that she said attempted to answer the many concerns raised by critics of the idea.

Changes included ensuring that students in both charter and traditional schools would not have a teacher rated as unsatisfactory or needs improvement in two consecutive years, and setting strict rules for collecting parent signatures. Benacquisto suggested that many of the provisions for school turnarounds already exist.

“We are just seeking to give parents a meaningful voice in the turnaround program for the school and their students,” she said.

Detert noted that changes to school grading, which the State Board of Education was voting on at the same time, would lead to more F schools — not because the schools are changing but because of new ways of measuring performance. She said that would lead to more time and money spent on structure, taking away from money spent on students and education.

Because of time constraints set by leaders, the panel had just 20 minutes to talk about the bill from start to finish. Public testimony was limited, as was member debate. After Lynn complained about the process, chairman David Simmons said he would bring the concerns to the rules committee. If that panel says there was a problem, he will ask for another special meeting for reconsideration.

A companion House bill is scheduled for floor consideration Wednesday.


Local teacher Tom Altee wants the next Super to walk a mile in teacher’s shoes

One of the most important trait needed in the hiring of a new school Superintendent would be accountability to the Teachers of Duval County.

The Superintendent and School Boards members remind me of the chateau generals of World War I. Generals that formulated tactics from on high ensconced inside their comfortable villas and chateaus while the captains (Principals), Lieutenants (Asst. Principals) and Sergeants (Teachers) dealt with the daily minefields and barbed wire of No Man’s land (F Schools). They have little idea of what really goes on in the classrooms in Duval County Schools beyond dog and pony shows in Potemkin villages. Or what their chateau bound (School Board Building) tactics mean to the teachers who daily wade into educational combat or educational triage ala M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals).

Below are three initial startup remedies for the new Superintendent and School Board Members to follow in comprehending and understand many of the problems so specific to our schools in Duval County.

1. The Superintendent should be required to work four days each month assigned to teach or work as a House Administrator (Asst. Principal). It must not be announced what school he/she is assigned to beforehand. The school and subject selection should be drawn out of a hat and kept secret.

2. Each School Board member will be assigned to teach or work as a House Administrator (Asst. Principal) for one week every 3 months at a randomly chosen school. The subject selection and school will randomly be drawn out of a hat and kept secret.

3. Any School Board Member or Superintendent should be required to obtain Florida Classroom Teaching Certification before being allowed to become Superintendent or being allowed to be seated on the School Board.

This “walking a mile in our Moccasins” will go a long way in Superintendent and School Board understanding of the real problems that Duval County Schools face.

Tom Altee
Geography 7
Southside Middle School
34 Year Classroom Teacher

I almost feel sorry for the Duval County School Board

They are a like a little girl at a family get together trying to tell tall tales. The adults ignore her having grown weary of her antics. The board pleads, come on what about our graduation rates, more of schools being A, B or C and how we have some of the highest academic standards around, but like the adults in the setup nobody listens.

You see the school board doesn’t get it. The people of the city might not always be able to put their finger on it but they know something is wrong. They have a teacher friend who is miserable or they know a kid who doesn’t seem to be learning much. The see the articles about grade recovery and here the stories about fights in the hall and they instinctively know that is more real than anything the board is saying.

Maybe the board got tricked by a charismatic snake salesman and just went along with whatever he said. Maybe they were in it with him and thought, if we can just keep the smoke and mirrors going the public won’t kick us off our gravy trains.

Regardless the public is waking up; they don’t care if the board is clueless of just plain bad. All they know is they want better for their children and the city than what the board has delivered.

I almost feel bad for them, but who I really feel bad for is the teachers and families who had their lives messed with and the kids who didn’t get the education they deserved under the Pratt-Dannals reign. Yeah, that’s who I really feel sorry for.

Middle school P.E. is still on Florida’s chopping block

From TBO.com

Normally, less meddling from Tallahassee in local affairs is welcome, but not a plan to de-emphasize physical education in middle schools.

A bill by Rep. Larry Metz, a Republican from Lake County, would drop the P.E. mandate for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. School boards could use gym and playground time to teach math, reading and other core academics.

School boards would have the option, and we’d like to think that most would choose not to neglect the important physical side of a student’s development. But some, no doubt, would. Budget shortfalls, required coursework and the quest for ever-higher test scores would lead some districts to kid themselves that youngsters can get all the exercise they need after school.

If they were active outside of class, nearly one-third of Florida’s boys and girls would not be overweight. When not doing their homework, school children these days are drawn to computer games, the Internet, social media and TV. You don’t see many playing ball, riding bikes or building tree houses.

Metz argues that schools should be free to use limited resources to pursue their highest goals. But they’re not really free, considering the many academic mandates they face.

If the goal is not to micromanage, as bill supporters say, then why not let locally elected boards drop math or reading if they choose? Why just P.E.?

The P.E. requirement is a mandate that attempts to force balance. The pressure is all from the academic side.

Everyone agrees that Florida schools must be competitive with the rest of the nation and the world. Eliminating P.E. may seem like a cheap way to improve scores.

And a staff analysis of the bill says it would have no apparent fiscal impact. That means it wouldn’t cost anything to keep students in class instead of introducing them to a sport or activity that they could enjoy the rest of their lives.

That no-cost estimate holds up only in the short run. The American Heart Association, an opponent of the no-P.E. bill, notes that obesity is on its way to replacing tobacco use as the leading cause of preventable death in this country.

Nationwide, the health costs of obesity are enormous. The state’s goal should be to produce well-rounded students, not a generation of overweight bookworms.

Not only is this generation of students hooked on computer games, fewer of them walk or ride their bikes to school. The trend seems to be to put everyone on a bus or in a car. A new federal transportation bill would cut all federal funding that creates safe bicycle and pedestrian paths to schools.

Physical well-being and mental health go hand in hand. Even unathletic students benefit from exposure to the physical side of life. Sports and exercise can reinvigorate and allow better concentration. After a workout, children are less excitable and less frustrated with having to sit at a desk.

Students who aren’t paying attention won’t learn no matter how long they stay in class. But there are other important lessons to be learned outside the classroom.

In physical activities, students learn teamwork, how to follow the rules, and the importance of discipline and morale. They get to practice leadership and appreciate good sportsmanship. They feel the thrill of victory and learn how to deal with defeat. And they learn the value of exercise, which should reward them the rest of their lives.

If the state is going to require anything in school, it should require P.E.


Is Florida Ed Commish Robinson here to help or hurt schools

Don’t pull ‘F’ trigger
The Miami Herald Editorial The Miami Herald

OUR OPINION: Give more time to proposed grading formula
By The Miami Herald Editorial Board, heraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The Florida Board of Education meets Tuesday to decide new rules to rank public schools and make them more accountable. The focus is in the right place but Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson wants to move too quickly and too broadly to institute the new rules.

It’s a recipe for failure, which is why the Florida PTA, the parents of children with disabilities, the parents of students learning English for the first time — as well as the superintendents of large school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward — are asking for a transition period for the new requirements.

The so-called “F trigger” would grade schools an automatic F unless at least 25 percent of students score proficient in reading in the new FCAT 2.0. That’s a fine goal to have, but to insist on implementing it in one year, just as the tougher test is also in the works, would be a disaster for urban schools that have high concentrations of students who are poor, disabled or first-time English learners.

Mr. Robinson has backtracked on imposing such draconian requirements on disabled students, but that’s not enough. At the very least, urban high schools should get credit for how far their students have come year to year. Before the state pulls the punishment trigger, let’s give those schools more time, say, two more years, to help students get it right.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/27/2664425/dont-pull-f-trigger.html#storylink=cpy

When Jeb Bush says jump, Florida legislature says, how high?

From the Tampa Bay Times

by Kathleen McGrory

When Sen. David Simmons needed his colleagues’ support on the education budget last week, he dropped a powerful name on the Senate floor.

“I had a conversation last week with former Gov. Jeb Bush in which we discussed this and his support of it,” Simmons said of the provision to spend $119 million on reading programs at low-income schools.

The name comes up more than you might think. The former governor, who served from 1999 to 2007, still plays a significant role in shaping state education policy.

This session, Bush and his nonprofit organization, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, have helped to fast-track a stream of legislation that could reset the education equation in Florida. The bills, moving steadily through both the House and Senate, could gradually shift the financial and competitive advantage away from traditional public schools to private schools and charter schools, which are often managed by for-profit companies. Other proposals push virtual-learning initiatives.

The foundation says it supports high standards and accountability for all schools: public, charter, private and virtual included. Its supporters say the efforts will lead to dramatic improvements in student achievement — and make the Sunshine State a national leader in education reform.

“It is about equalization,” said Sen. Stephen Wise, the Senate Education Committee chairman and a supporter of the foundation’s agenda. “We need to challenge the status quo so that parents and children have choices.”

Critics, on the other hand, see targeted strikes meant to chip away at Florida’s traditional public schools by diverting more tax dollars to private corporations through voucher programs and charter schools.

“There is an attack on public education as we know it,” said Rep. Dwight Bullard of Miami, the ranking House Democrat on education issues. “Corporations are looking at it as an opportunity to siphon off dollars.”

There is little debate over the influence Bush and the foundation have had in driving the agenda.

“They have huge sway in the Legislature, in part because of Jeb Bush and in part because they are almost the only game in town,” said former state Sen. Dan Gelber a Miami Beach Democrat.

Foundation spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof said it is no secret that Bush stays involved in public policy. The foundation releases a legislative agenda annually — and follows it through the state Legislature and Board of Education.

Bush declined requests to be interviewed for this report.

Since its creation in 1994, the foundation has amassed money and influence, developing close ties to conservative think tanks, including the James Madison Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. At the end of 2010, the organization had nearly $1 million in assets, the most recent records show.

Among its legislative priorities this year:

• A bill that would expand the statewide tax credit cap, enabling more children from low-income families to earn vouchers to attend private schools.

• A controversial bill known as the “parent trigger” that would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools. In some cases, parents could petition to have the school converted into a charter.

• And a bill that would expand digital learning options.

The foundation has also been pushing for more rigorous student standards — and a tougher school grading formula. The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a new formula today. The state’s simulations show that the number of F schools under that formula would rise dramatically.

The overall agenda has been controversial. The parent trigger measure, for example, has met fierce resistance from parent groups, who say the bill would benefit for-profit school management companies by giving them access to failing district-run schools.

But when the foundation gets behind an issue, lawmakers usually listen.

“The foundation’s policies get carefully considered,” said Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Last year, the foundation was successful at pushing performance pay for teachers, a measure that the unions had fought back the year before. The foundation also successfully lobbied to make virtual education a requirement for high school graduation.

“They are batting pretty close to 1000 on the issues they put before the Legislature,” said Wayne Blanton, executive director for the Florida School Boards Association.

Part of the success stems from political pull.

The foundation’s board of directors reads like a who’s who of former lawmakers, top education officials and other power brokers. Among them: former Senate President Toni Jennings, former House Speaker Allan Bense, former state Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair and former Board of Governors member Zachariah Zachariah.

Executive director Patricia Levesque is equally influential. Her connections run deep, particularly in the state House, where she once served as staff director of education policy. Her husband, George Levesque, is a staff attorney in the House and has the ear of Speaker Dean Cannon.

Then there’s Bush’s himself.

Said Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs: “When there are big issues like (the education budget), I contact him and try to get his advice and support. He’s very much involved in education policy in the Legislature. His advice is greatly respected.”

Democrats are skeptical. “I’m afraid (Bush) is going to co-opt the entire education agenda,” Bullard said.


Another alarmingly bad bill from the Florida legislature. This time high school sports in the crosshairs

From the Miami Herald

By Linda Robertson, lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

If you think recruiting in high school sports is rampant now, wait and see what happens if two bills snaking their way through the Florida House and Senate become law.

There will be a whole new game in town — that of student-athletes criss-crossing attendance boundaries and switching schools with dizzying frequency. Inducements and flattery will teach the most talented players cynical lessons rather than values about fair play, teamwork, determination — all those quaint character traits that competition is supposed to build. Watch the gap widen between the haves and have-nots.

An alarmingly bad athletics bill passed through the House Education Committee on Monday. Another one has received approval from the Senate Education Committee. The proposals, mainly supported by Republican lawmakers, would allow private, charter and virtual schools to form their own athletic league and would reduce the power of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which has regulated sports for 92 years.

“The bills would benefit those with a predisposition to cheat,” said Roger Dearing, FHSAA executive director. “Many schools think this legislation would produce bedlam in interscholastic sports.”

The FHSAA represents 300,000 athletes at 690 member schools, of which 230 are private. Athletic directors and coaches are blasting the legislation, saying it would lower eligibility standards, open the floodgates for transfers and damage a system that has been a model of success for other states.

Bill supporter Sen. Ellyn Bodganoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she doesn’t see much wrong with athletic recruiting since magnet schools recruit top students. She must not be aware of how recruiting has ravaged public school teams.

The proposals are part of the effort to privatize education. For the past decade, lawmakers have been giving education steroids to charter and private schools — which are privately owned — while weakening public schools. Jeb Bush has been busy pushing this corporate agenda. Turn everything over to private enterprise — prisons, hospitals, schools — and let competition drive quality. If the privileged win the economic spoils and the underprivileged suffer, well, that’s survival of the fittest.

Other bills would shunt construction and maintenance money from public to charter schools and toughen state school grading guidelines, thus rendering dozens of additional schools — especially those with a higher proportion of special-needs or foreign-language-speaking students — failures with a capital F. Of course that dovetails nicely with a proposal to enable parents to take over an F school and turn it into a charter school.

All in the name of choice for parents who are angered by poor performance at their neighborhood public school.

So why not invest tax dollars into improving public schools? Paying teachers higher salaries, refurbishing crumbling old facilities instead of diverting money to charter schools and private school vouchers?
Despite noble talk about the importance of education to Florida’s future, funding for our schools is always low on the list with the dregs of the nation.

Parents, students, principals, teachers and coaches are fed up. At two recent PTSA meetings at Coral Gables High and Ponce de Leon Middle, you could hear the frustration and despair in people’s voices. Not enough chemistry lab equipment, a lack of math textbooks, no uniforms for the track team. Sports are cut. Arts are cut. What can we do to save once-proud schools that are skeletons of their former selves?

The athletics bills reek of sour grapes. A group of 11 small, independent schools — most of them ruled guilty of cheating by the FHSAA — formed the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association in 2008. The group includes Orlando West Oaks Academy, fined $26,500 by the FHSAA, and The Rock of Gainesville, known for its array of tall international basketball players, which left the FHSAA in 2010. At Lakeland High, three athletes were ruled ineligible for submitting fake addresses. Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, submitted the House bill.

Arlington Country Day of Jacksonville, has a curious history. Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who filed the Senate bill, and Jim Horne, a charter school lobbyist who was state education commissioner under Bush, used to be partial owners of Arlington. Horne’s brother David was administrator of the school. Arlington left the FHSAA when it was under investigation for having overage players on its powerhouse basketball team. Three players had no record of actual grades.

David Horne, head of the SIAA, would be its commissioner and plans to have 100 members within two years.

Let’s hope legislators listen to their constituents instead of their campaign donors. Let students compete on an even playing field for the right reasons and not for profit.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/27/2664799/bills-could-wreak-havoc-on-high.html#storylink=cpy

The Florida Legislature tries to make it teachers versus parents

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

In posting on news that New York City would be posting the controversial decision to make the city’s teacher’s value-added evaluation public, Gradebook’s Jeff Solochek explained that the same is on the way for Florida. Only legislators are doing so in a particularly stealth way by embedding details within parent trigger legislation. Solochek explains:

Florida’s public records law already makes its teacher evaluations open for viewing a year after they’re filed. SB 736 required the state to create an annual list of teachers by their new evaluation ratings (highly effective through needs improvement), while also mandating that schools inform parents if their children are in classrooms with teachers needing improvement.

The parent trigger bill now coursing through the Legislature would amp up these requirements, going so far as to bar schools from placing children in a classroom with a teacher needing improvement two years running.

The parent trigger legislation, titled Parent Empowerment in Education (HB 1191), makes it to the House floor tomorrow. Opposition to the bill has been focused on the school takeover provisions which has shown to be easily manipulated by charter school operatives. The authors of the bill probably didn’t even want to admit that the other half of the bill was about making teacher evaluations public. In a story yesterday from Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory, she reminded us that Jeb Bush’s public support for parent trigger made no mention of making teacher evaluations public. Predictably, Bush would not be interviewed for the story.

Still, there’s amazement in the details. From one of HB 1191′s official analyses:

The bill creates new requirements for school districts and charter schools regarding the assignment of students to classroom teachers. The bill prohibits consecutive student assignments to teachers with an annual performance evaluation rating of unsatisfactory or needs improvement; authorizes a parent to request the performance evaluation of any classroom teacher assigned to his or her child; and requires that parents of students assigned to an out-of-field or chronically low-performing teacher be informed of the availability of virtual instruction delivered by an in-field, high-performing teacher.

Florida law does not prohibit school districts and charter schools from assigning a student in consecutive years to a low-performing teacher. School districts must notify each parent when his or her child is assigned to an out-of-field teacher or chronically low performing teacher; however, notification that virtual instruction is available as an alternative to such teacher assignments is not required. School districts and charter schools are not expressly required to provide a teacher’s performance evaluation to parents who request it; however, such evaluations become public records after one year, at which time the evaluation must be furnished to any parent or member of the public who requests it.

The bill does not have a fiscal impact on state or local governments.

The bill takes effect on July 1, 2012.

Clearly the authors of the bill took note of JD Alexander’s desperate haste to have USF Polytech made an independent institution when they established this timeline. The ink on SB 736 isn’t dry yet, but legislators and Bush want to use it in such a controversial and potentially reckless manner. And now; and even though SB736 won’t go into effect until 2014. Even one of Bush’s major financial backers, Bill Gates, thinks making teacher evaluations public is a bad idea.

The authors, sponsors and whomever wrote this analysis lose credibility in insisting, “the bill does not have a fiscal impact on state or local governments.” Really? Just communicating such massive amounts of information to parents will be costly. It will require additional personnel and administrative oversight. Nevermind what the DOE will have to add.

Can anyone say, “unfunded mandates?”