How the government has failed education and lined the pockets of companies

This is about Texas but it may as well have been about Florida. -cpg

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, A speech given by John Kuhn

When a government fails to safeguard the development of its most vulnerable children and fails to ensure the advancement of their well-being;

When the Constitution no longer guides its leaders and the people must sue the state to force it to honor its promises;

When moderation is lost by those in power alongside honest dealing and the greater good, then that government must be held accountable in the court of public opinion. A statement of our just grievances is in order.

This government has failed to establish an equitable system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources; and more shameful yet, possessed of the wise words of our fathers who recorded that “a people must be educated” for liberty to survive.

This government has allowed state testing to become a perversion, growing like Johnson grass through the garden of learning and choking to death all knowledge that isn’t on the test, killing ancient wisdom like debate, logic, and ethics–deep human learning that once provided this state a renewable crop of leaders who knew courage instead of expedience, truth instead of spin, and personal risk for the public good instead of personal enrichment and reelection at all costs.

This government has eroded the authority of locally elected school boards to make decisions about everything from school calendars to curriculum, replacing local control with Austin control and local blame. They have no confidence in local trustees or the voters who put them in office.

This government has found the money to pay the Pearson Corporation $500 million for a test while cutting $5 billion from the fund that pays for teacher salaries.

This government has financed never-ending tax breaks for incredibly wealthy businesses by wringing our classrooms like a washcloth.

This government has mandated so much remediation in tested subjects that vocational training won’t fit into student schedules; this government has imperiously decided that all children are college bound whether they like it or not.

It has encouraged the proliferation of tax-funded for-profit schools that kick out and keep out the students who are hardest to teach, because when it’s about profit, it’s not about kids.

This government’s representatives have repeatedly lied to the voters, shamelessly calling a $5 billion cut an increase.

This government has chosen to fund favored schoolchildren at two and three times the rate allocated for less favored children, whose only offense is living in the wrong Texas zip codes;

It has created a strict accountability system for teachers while NOT developing any system whatsoever to illuminate the progress of politicians in remediating out-of-school factors that devastate student test scores; factors like parental unemployment go unmeasured, racial income disparities — that’s a gap no one tries to close — child homelessness is irrelevant, crime and incarceration rates for fathers are too unimportant to track, rates of drug use and child abuse and preventable illness do not matter because those are factors that lay squarely within the politicians’ realm of responsibility, and they just keep getting worse. But they don’t want to talk about the gaps in their data; they want to decry the status quo in classrooms and preserve the status quo in Austin.

If the teacher is the quarterback, Congress is the offensive line. Their performance impacts our performance, but they keep letting us get sacked by poverty, broken homes, student mobility, hunger, health care. And they just say “Oops” as that linebacker blows by them and buries his facemask in our chest. Then we get back to the huddle and they say, “You gotta complete your passes.” We’re aware of that. Make your blocks, legislators. Give us time to stand in the pocket and throw good passes. Do your job. It doesn’t take a great quarterback rating to win games; it takes a team effort.

Have the elected officials in Austin made adequate yearly progress? Nobody knows, because they keep their achievement gaps swept safely under a rug so they can’t be criticized, so they can’t be held accountable for decades of zero progress. The human cost of their failures is staggering, but our politicians have seen fit to create an accountability system that holds least accountable those with the most power and influence.

This government has strangled true learning at the local level because of its addiction to bureaucratic coercion.

Tragically, this government has lost sight of the exceptionalism of our state’s character and has repeatedly lamented the quality of our students based on nothing but the comparison of their test scores to those of students in Europe and Asia, as if greatness doesn’t exist outside of a standardized test; it has forgotten that the tests that make Texans great have never been taken with pencil and paper but rather were tests of bone and spirit taken at places like the Alamo and San Jacinto. Inside the Apollo capsule and on foreign shores, our kids have never failed the tests that matter. Our kids have passed countless tests of courage and ingenuity, tests of mettle and character and resilience.

This government has neglected the classics and has called on our children to become technicians instead of humans, regurgitators of math and science facts, who produce well-rounded bubbles in place of well-rounded souls; it has sought to make our children quantifiable shells of people, their guiding light of curiosity snuffed out by an idiot’s opinion of what constitutes a human education.

These and other grievances were patiently borne by the teachers of Texas, until they reached that point at which patience is no longer a virtue. We appealed to our government last spring in this very spot, called upon those in power to encourage and support the teachers who day by day struggle to educate the poorest children in the most neglected corners of our state. Yet they responded to our entreaties with new condemnations of the work we do. Our appeals have been made in vain.

We are forced to the melancholy conclusion that this government favors business interests that want a profit-based education system that would enrich investors, rather than a publicly owned system that enriches our children.

You can keep your for-profit schools. I want a locally elected school board that answers to me, to parents and local taxpayers, not to shareholders. I want a quality public education for ALL Texas children. I want adequate and equitable funding, so that families in every part of Texas can count on the consistent quality of our public school system like we count on the consistent quality of our interstate highway system, because we don’t want to wreck our children any more than we want to wreck our cars.

Texas officials, you build your hateful machine that blames teachers for the failures of politicians; we’ll still be here teaching when your engine of shame is laid upon the scrapheap of history. For now, we’ll bravely take these lashes you give because we know that — no matter what you say — the only crime of the public school teacher in 2012 is his or her willingness to embrace and teach broken children. If that’s a crime, then find us guilty. If caring for the least of these makes us unacceptable, then bring on your label gun. We’re not afraid.

Hiring teachers, lowering class sizes and restoring the arts and how to pay for it

From the Sun Sentinel By Cara Fitzpatrick, Sun Sentinel

For the first time in several years, the Broward School District plans to hire teachers, reduce class sizes and restore art, music and physical education in its elementary schools.

To help pay for it, Superintendent Robert Runcie said there likely will be layoffs from the district’s administration. He also is pushing for a change in high school schedules, something that could prove unpopular with parents who favor “block” scheduling.

Students on block schedules take fewer classes a day, but have longer class periods. Runcie said that makes it tough to keep class sizes low and limits the number of electives a student can take.

Miramar “We’re going to try to work that out and hope that rational minds prevail,” he said.

District officials haven’t determined yet how many teachers would be hired or how many workers would be laid off. Runcie said those details should be worked out next month; he estimated that “hundreds” of teachers would ultimately be hired.

Teachers also are unlikely to get raises this year, he said. Last year, teachers each received a $500 bonus, the first time in three years that the district and the teachers union reached an agreement.

Runcie said raises would require even greater cuts. District officials will be negotiating with the union over the next couple of weeks, he said. But the “bottom line” is “we’re not going to have any layoff of teachers,” Runcie said.

District officials have fewer budget constraints this year, although funding is still down. Last year, the district faced a $171 million shortfall and used about $55 million in one-time funds to help fill the gap.

For the coming year, the state restored about $63 million to the school district, or about $155 more per student. The district estimates it will receive about $6,379 total per student next year.

With cost-cutting and some additional money coming in, the district so far faces only a $4 million shortfall, according to budget documents.

Runcie said it’s a “major priority” to lower class sizes this year.

He said the district can’t have a repeat of last year when it cut about 1,000 teachers, resulting in overloaded classes and a whopping $66 million fine from the state. Broward was the state’s worst class-size offender, with more than half of its classes over the limits by the October deadline.

Some elective classes, which don’t fall under the state’s rules, had 40, 60 or even 70 students. Some Advanced Placement classes, which were exempt from the rules for the first time, had 30 or more students. Before the change, they were limited to 25.

The district’s fine has been reduced to between $6 million and $8 million, he said.

Some high schools eliminated dozens of teacher positions last year because of the cuts. Cypress Bay High, the county’s biggest high school, lost 40 teacher jobs, followed by 30 at Miramar High, 29 at Boyd Anderson High and 27 at South Plantation High.

Elementary schools lost only a few teachers each, but cut electives. More than 50 elementary schools cut students’ library time, 44 cut art, 30 cut physical education and 26 cut music.

Runcie already has announced that he will try to restore those classes by cutting about $15 million from the district’s transportation department. To hit that number, more than 100 vacant positions are being absorbed and some employees will be laid off, he said.

Bus routes also will be reviewed to reduce fuel usage and equipment could be sold.

About $28 million will be cut from the district’s administrative side, including the $15 million from transportation, he said. The other $13 million will come from consolidating job functions and “some layoffs.”

The district’s top officials are looking at the departments for redundant positions, he said. For example, if every department has its own budget director, some of those jobs could be consolidated, he said. Same goes for similar jobs in the schools.

Runcie said he’s also going to try to eliminate some of the principals’ non-instructional job duties so that they can focus on instruction and academics.

Schools should start looking at their individual budgets in the next couple of weeks, he said. District officials will release a more complete budget then too, he said.

“We’re just trying to work out the details,” he said., 954-356-4527, Twitter @Fitz_ly,0,5160241.story

What has to happen before the people say enough to the school board?!?

The school board mislead the public when they fired the superintendent.

They showed they didn’t know what they were doing when they pled poverty, firing people, cutting salaries and ending programs, while they sat on over a hundred million dollars. There was also the Bank of America school fiasco too.

They start new programs that fail, like the reading initiative that they packed with too many students and Schools of the Future for overage students which was in such disarray that they fired the principal mid year and are currently still looking for missing equipment.

They outsourced the management of four schools at the price of two million dollars because they couldn’t come up with solutions.

They have ignored locals that can’t find teaching positions and brought in hobbyists to work as teachers in our most struggling schools.

Under this boards watch both teacher morale and student accountability have been destroyed.

Because of their changes to grade recovery, attendance and behavior no longer matter.

We have one of the worse graduation rates in the state and our FCAT scores are some of the lowest.

Only a quarter of the kids who take A.P. tests pass them and we spend over a million dollars annually on failed tests.

So what happens? Betty Burney and Martha Barrett decide to run for third and fourth terms and a former mayor throws Barrett a fundraiser with the city’s who’s who in attendance.

Jacksonville what is it going to take?

Where does the lottery money go?

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, by Valerie Strauss

State lotteries that participate in games such as Mega Millions were sold to the public as enterprises that would benefit schools with millions of dollars in proceeds a year. So has public education really received a windfall?

A woman fills out her numbers for the Mega Million jackpot, which is estimated at $540 million dollars, March 29, 2012 at the Town and Country in McAllen, Tx. (Gabe Hernandez – Associated Press)

If you look at the payouts from lotteries to schools, you might be impressed by the numbers. In California, for example, all lottery donations to public schools from kindergarten through college, total $24,018,713,472 since 1985. Yes, that’s $24 billion. K-12 schools alone have received a total of $19.3 billion.

It makes you wonder how some California public schools have had to hold bake sales to keep the lights on, doesn’t it?

In fact, in state after state, where lotteries send millions of dollars to public education, schools are still starved. Why?

Because instead of using the money as additional funding, legislatures have used the lottery money to pay for the education budget and spent the money that would have been used had there been no lottery cash on other things. Public school budgets, as a result, haven’t gotten a boost because of the lottery funding.

In Virginia, lottery tickets have a tag­line that says “Helping Virginia’s Public Schools” and more than $5 billion in lottery proceeds have gone to public education in the last 24 years, about $450 million annually.

But, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the money is used by state lawmakers to cover education expenses rather than extra money. And when it is time to cut budgets, education doesn’t get spared.

“That’s been a slow and insidious movement that’s been going on for a few years now,” Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association, was quoted in the Virginian-Pilot, as saying. “It’s a big ruse, and I don’t believe Virginians, in general, are aware of it.”

In Maryland, more than $519 million of lottery proceeds was contributed to the state in 2011, and that was used for programs including education, public health, public safety and the environment, according to the Maryland Lottery Web site. The lottery has given more than $12 billion to the state since 1973. Yet, still, the state government is considering raising taxes in order to keep the state’s highly regarded public education system funded at record levels.

In Washington D.C., the lottery since 1982 has contributed more than $1.6 billion to the city’s general fund for programs including schools, recreation and parks, public safety, housing, and senior and child services. Still the city can’t meet its education needs: The mayor, Vincent C. Gray, has proposed a spending plan for next year that provides a 2 percent raise in the student funding formula, my colleague Bill Turque reported. But basic costs have risen closer to 5 percent.

In Texas, where the lottery was sold to the public, as in other places, as a fun game that would reap big rewards for public education. According to the American-Statesman, in 1996, “lottery proceeds paid for about two weeks of schooling for Texas students.” By 2010, the money covered barely three days.

Forty two states plus the District of Columbia and the U. S. Virgin Islands participate in the Mega Millions game. So, yes, a lot of money goes to public schools from the lotteries. But no, the money doesn’t do what it was promised it would by any means.

Duval County’s inconsistent charter school logic

Let me just say I am not a fan of how charter schools are done in Florida. They were envisioned being centers of parent and teacher driven innovation but instead they have become publically funded private schools run by hedge fund managers and real estate tycoons interested in profiting off our children. Now there may be a few good ones who are concerned with how our children do but there are so many more concerned with the bottom line it makes them all suspect.

Recently Jacksonville charter schools have been in the news and they are another example of the “what the heck are they doing” nature of our school board.

First they voted to allow the KIPP charter school to expand despite the fact its first year test scores were the lowest in North East Florida and its kids regressed. One of the reasons is undoubtedly because Gary Chartrand is heavenly involved in the school. This non-educator has bought hook line and sinker into the charter school movement, which is probably why he over thousands of better choices was placed on the state board of education (which has very few real educators on it by the way).

Gary Chartrand is also running his protégé in the district 3 school board race, Ashley Smith-Juarez.

Next the superintendent recommended the closing of the SOS academy because the highest grade they have achieved is a D. This is actually pretty good for Charter schools as last year 17 of the 32 “f” schools in Florida were charter schools.

Then the board has voted to fight the state because they approved a virtual charter school, yes that’s right, a virtual charter school, that the county had turned down.

Why does one get to expand, while another one faces closure and the third can’t get approval? Where is the rhyme and reason?

Duval’s sinking ship

The superintendent says he hopes we don’t lose a lot of god people. I agree, I hope we don’t lose any good people, the people we need to lose is Pratt-Dannals people.

One of the biggest problems we have here in the county is a lack of leadership and that’s because whom you know rather than ability has been more important when determining promotions and positions. Pratt-Dannals promotes his people and then they drag their people along with them. Then if they fail they don’t have much to worry about as they are often promoted out or transferred to another schol where they can continue to do their damage, our management style mirroring the Catholic church of the sixties and seventies.

Then look at his inner circle which has dozens of people making six figures, the price of loyalty and hurting kids and teachers apparently has at least five zeroes behind a one. If he says we have to pay top dollar for top talent, Duval County has both got a bad deal and then has insulted it’s teaching staff who is underpaid compared to the state and national averages.

Even if we get the right guy to replace him it will be years before we recover from Pratt-Dannals.

Forty-seven Duval County school board employees make over 100 thousand dollars.

A handful are principals but the majority are administrators, who don’t have any direct student responsibilities. I am all for people making money but why are they making so much money? Nobody would do the job for eighty thousand dollars? Be careful if you use the, to attract talent you need to pay for it, argument because you might just insult seven thousand teachers.

I understand principals making a low six figure salary but of the group of forty-seven they are at the bottom, with most of the wealth concentrated at 1701 Prudential Drive in the superintendents inner circle.

Click the blog title or paste below in your browser to see who is making what.

What does having a “B” District mean?

The Superintendent and the school board like to say over and over how we are a B school district and I am reminded of the old saying, if you repeat the big lie long enough some people will buy it.

What exactly does a B mean? Well for Duval it means we are the 50th ranked district out of 67. It’s a good thing Florida doesn’t grade on a curve right? It means we have eight of the bottom 25 high schools in the state including number 404 out of 404 and our middle schools are in a similar predicament. It means less than two thirds of our kids graduate on time (just over half of our African American kids do) and many of those needed social promotions and grade recovery to do so. Less than half our kids arrive to high school reading on grade level and if we didn’t force so many level ones and twos into Advanced Placement classes, where they have no business being, then we would be in real trouble. By the way our kids only pass one in four A.P. tests. That is what earns a B grade in Florida.

The truth is we have a lot of wonderful things going on in the district. A lot of great teachers and a lot of great kids but it is also the truth that most of our successes are happening in spite of Burney, Barrett, Gentry, the rest of the school board and the superintendent not because of them.

Betty Burney tells custodians not to hold their breath

This time last year the district said it was broke and facing massive cuts. They told the custodians that weren’t outsourced that they would have to take a seven percent pay cut (on top of the three percent cut all employees took). The custodians, their backs up against the wall accepted it.

Fast-forward a year and it turns out the district was sitting on over a hundred million dollars and it turns out, people didn’t have to lose their jobs, programs didn’t have to be ended and the custodians didn’t have to take the crippling cut.

The situation was so egregious that board chair Betty Burney told the custodians that they would be taken care of. It’s a good thing she didn’t tell them to hold their breaths because then they would have been in real trouble.

The hundred plus million dollar surplus was discovered over six weeks ago. Betty Burney said their grievances would be addressed weeks ago and still nothing has happened.

The hard working men and women of Duval County deserve much better than lip service, misdirection and outright lies.