For-profit online charter schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising

From the USAToday by Greg Toppo

If your local public high school has empty seats, the district might lay off teachers. If it’s operated by K12 Inc., the company will take out an ad on CNN, The Cartoon Network or VampireFreaks.com and fill those seats.
An analysis by USA TODAY finds that online charter schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising over the past five years, a trend that shows few signs of abating. The primary and high schools — operated online by for-profit companies but with local taxpayer support — are buying TV, radio, newspaper and Internet ads to attract students, even as brick-and-mortar public schools in the districts they serve face budget crunches.
Virtual schools have become lightning rods for critics who say their operators are profiting from students’ dissatisfaction with neighborhood schools, but don’t produce better results. Supporters say the schools, operating in more than 30 states, are giving kids and families second chances.
Nationwide, about 275,000 K-12 students attend school online full-time, according to the Evergreen Education Group, a Colorado consulting firm. Many virtual students are former home-schoolers taking advantage of the schools’ public funding — virtual schools typically get most of the per-pupil allowance that a local school does.
The USA TODAY analysis finds that 10 of the largest for-profit operators have spent an estimated $94.4 million on ads since 2007. The largest, Virginia-based K12 Inc., has spent about $21.5 million in just the first eight months of 2012.
The analysis is based on ad buys and rates compiled by Kantar Media, a New York-based provider of “media and marketing intelligence,” but the figures are only estimates. In an interview, K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski wouldn’t say whether the estimates are accurate or provide actual K12 figures. But he said the company’s agreements with local school districts and charter school authorizers require K12 to publicize its programs, often over large geographic areas.
“We try our best to ensure that all families know that these options exist,” Kwitowski said. “It’s really about the parents’ choice — they’re the ones that make the decision about what school or program is the best fit for their child.”
A look at where K12 is placing the ads suggests that the company is also working to appeal to kids: Among the hundreds of outlets tapped this year, K12 has spent an estimated $631,600 to advertise on Nickelodeon, $601,600 on The Cartoon Network and $671,400 on MeetMe.com, a social networking site popular with teens. It also dropped $3,000 on VampireFreaks.com, which calls itself “the Web’s largest community for dark alternative culture.”
Kwitowski declined to say what percentage of K12’s per-pupil expenses goes to advertising, but Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado professor who tracks virtual schools, estimated that K12 is on pace this year to spend about $340 per student on advertising, or about 5.2% of its per-pupil public expenditures.
Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, which has been critical of virtual schools, said that “will put immense pressure on other schools to compete by diverting similar amounts of money to advertising.” He estimated that if every public school spent just $250 per student, taxpayers would pay more than $12 billion annually. “That’s a lot of tax money spent on something so far removed from actually helping children learn,” he said.
So far, 2012 has been a rocky year for K12, which operates in more 32 states and over 2,000 school districts. In spite of healthy earnings, it has been the subject of several investigations. The Florida Department of Education’s inspector general is looking into whether K12 illegally used uncertified teachers and whether it asked others to lie about how many students they oversee. One U.S. lawmaker, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., last month called for a federal investigation into the charges.
“We’re leaders in the digital learning space and with that comes additional scrutiny,” said Kwitowski, “but we welcome that.”
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/11/28/online-schools-ads-public-/1732193/

The Duval County School Board show their disconnect from teachers

I am just going to jump right to it.

Last year school board members made 37,300 or what a first
year teacher makes. This year several are accepting a 2800-dollar raise or a
little less than what a 9th year teacher makes. A teacher would have
to be on step 20 before they saw a raise approaching that much.
That first year teacher? They received a raise of 139 bucks.
I also wonder if those janitors who were forced to take a seven percent pay cut ever got it back.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Note: Fel Lee and Becki Couch turned down the rise and
Ashley Smith-Juarez a multi millionaire who raised nearly 200 grand for her
campaign isn’t sure if she will take it or not.

Paula Wright pleads poverty. How poor is she really?

When talking about taking a 2800-dollar
raise Mrs. Wright said: she’s like everyone else across the
country who has been feeling the pinch of a down economy. The extra money will
help, she said.

“I’m
going to accept it,” Wright said. “I work hard and despite what people think,
this isn’t a part-time job. I’ve actually lost money being on the board and so,
I’m not different, when I go to the gas pump, it’s the same price for me.”
I looked at her financials from last
year and she declared a net wealth of $182, 796.25 and a 2011 income of $75,552
or about 12 grand more than the highest paid teacher in the district.
As for her claim that she is losing
money, in 2010 she claimed a net worth of 122 thousand dollars and an income of
51 thousand dollars. I am not a math major but it doesn’t seem like she is
losing any money there.
So yes Mrs. Wright I guess things have
been tough, for some tougher than others, tougher still for those who you want
to take you seriously.


Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2012-11-29/story/2-duval-school-board-members-accept-pay-hikes-two-say-no-thanks#ixzz2Deu54Kke

Jeb Bush’s education reforms bomb (rough draft)

A few months back I asked then education commissioner Gerard Robinson why higher standards (i.e. Jeb Bush reforms) got so much credit for Florida’s improvement and not the people enacted class size amendment. What he said really caught me off guard.

He replied, to me it is a combination of both.

This was remarkable because for a while our state government tried to do away with the amendment and when they couldn’t do that they seriously watered it down. The chair of the state board of education Gary Chartrand, who went from top 50 in grocery store news to running our schools, is even on record saying that there is no evidence that says smaller classes work. Strange, because smaller classes, not vouchers, not charter schools and not merit pay, is the only reform being used in Florida with evidence that says it really does work.

A few months later Robinson is out of a job, Jeb Bush is touring the nation saying look at me and my reforms and never once mentions that the class size amendment may have played a role..

He might have continued to do so unchecked had the federal government not dropped a bomb on Florida.

In case you missed it the fed announced Florida’s graduation rate and it was abysmal. We were behind academic powerhouses such as Mississippi and Alabama and came in at a less than stellar 45th place. Coincidently enough the National Center for Education Statistics puts us at 42nd in per pupil spending. I bet Jeb Bush doesn’t mention those things as he sells his Florida miracle.

If you ask me the only real miracle going on is why anybody gives him the time of day. After over a decade of Jeb Bush’s blame the teacher, close the school, privatize education, reforms, Florida graduates just 70 percent of its kids. Why are people still listening to him? How does he have any credibility?

This man is so disconnected from reality he recently compared education to buying milk. At the National Republican Presidential Conference he said, Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose. Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla — and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?

Gary Chartrand who as I previously noted, knows something about grocery stores probably loved this but for people who know something about education and who care about public education this was horrifying. The problem is he is not really talking about choice. He is talking about privatization. He is talking about replacing public schools with private schools that avoid accountability like Gary Chartrad avoids facts and charter schools most of which are run by for profit companies that siphon money out of public schools and who are more interested in their bottom lines than educating children and who fail at a rate seven times greater than public schools.

Some people might point to the fact our graduation rate has gone up since Bush was elected back in 1998 and enacted his education reforms which is true, though I hope these aren’t the same people who discount the class size amendment. I would also like to point out that our graduation rate has leveled off in recent years and this coincides with the Florida legislature gutting the class size amendment. Furthermore ask yourself do schools seem better now than they were 15 years ago? The truth is that when schools don’t have to worry about being closed they are a little more discriminating with who they graduate. The rate might be up but the quality of a high school education is way down.

Jeb Bush also likes to say if it wasn’t for the interference of teacher’s unions Florida would be doing even better. Teachers unions by the way supported the class size amendment, again the only reform with evidence that says it works while Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature sought to first cancel and then undermine it. I also want to remind everybody that teachers unions don’t create budgets, hire or fire teachers or set policy, no Jeb Bush and the republican dominated legislature have done that here in Florida for the last 14 years and it is them that has led us to where we are now.

We live in a state that threatens to close low performing schools, rather than fix them and replace them with publically funded private schools (charters) that don’t have the same accountability and who for the most part are staffed with an ever rotating roster of novice teachers or what people in education call the opposite of best practices.

We live in a state that is test obsessed, that sees hundreds of millions of dollars annually taken out of the classroom and given to testing giant Pearson. That has seen us gut the teaching of the arts, skills and trades in favor of remedial math and English (while cutting money for summer school) and put every child into a one size, regardless of ability, aptitude or desire, curriculum.

We live in a state that is okay with sucking the joy of learning out of students and the joy of teaching out of teachers and where teachers have gone from valued and respected members of the community to easily replaceable money hungry cogs whose only concern is to protect their jobs; where their experience, education and opinions don’t matter.

We live in a state where the high standards has produced more graduates that have to take remedial classes in college (60% of them) or who have graduated ill prepared for anything.

And finally after 14 years of Jeb Bush’s reforms we live in a state our graduation rate is a disheartening 70%, though if you are a black male then subtract 12 from that number.

Closed schools, broken neighborhoods, a demoralized and disrespected teacher workforce, cookie cutter fly by night charter schools and too many kids wrecked lives are what Jeb Bush and his reforms have created and to think otherwise is to be okay with having more bombs dropped on Florida and if Jeb Bush has his way across the nation too!

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Florida puts fox, charter school operator, in charge of hen house, public schools

From Scathing Purple Musings by Bob Sykes

Only in Florida can this happen.

Fresh off his victory for a Senate seat in which an ethics complaint against him was filled, John Legg hit the lottery in bagging a key chair of a committee for which he will be driving policy which will financially benefit him. Founder of Dayspring Academy Charter School, John Legg is now listed as the school’s “business administrator. It must be lost on senate president Don Gaetz that Legg has a conflict of interest in his position as chairman of the powerful K-20 Education Policy Committee.

Freshman state Sen. John Legg, R-Pasco County, announced Wednesday that he has been named the chairman of the K-20 Education Policy Committee. He also will serve on the K-20 Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Legg was chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee two years ago, before becoming speaker pro tempore for 2011-12. He runs a charter school in New Port Richey, and has sponsored several high-profile education bills including the state’s move to end-of-course exams from the FCAT. Lately, he has been visiting area high school career academies looking for ideas to improve school-to-work connections and to make junior- and senior-level course work more relevant and challenging to students.

“Education especially, being entrusted as chairman, brings a unique opportunity to invest in Florida’s most important asset, our children,” Legg said in a news release. “As a father of five, a certified classroom teacher and school administrator I understand how vital public education is and how equally important it is to Florida’s employers to have a solid workforce to draw from. It is time we develop a workforce to fit the needs of our business community while providing first class education for our children to succeed not only in the workforce but in life.”

Even Legg must know he’s getting away with something as he misrepresents his own resume. Another example of why Florida screams for ethics reform.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/charter-school-operator-named-chairman-on-florida-senate-k-20-education-policy-committee/

Florida wipes out Brown V Board of education for race based goals.

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Kathleen Oropeza   


It’s been 58 years since Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools. In a single moment, “separate but equal” was no longer the law of the land.

The Florida Board of Education’s 2012-18 Strategic Plan sets up separate educational tracks, where some children are expected to be proficient and others are allowed to hover below grade-level expectations. Despite this, the board will claim its system to be a success.
The board’s plan states that “90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 82 percent of Native American students, 81 percent of Hispanics students and 74 percent of African-American students will be reading at or above grade level” by 2018.
What the board did is bad for children. This latest No Child Left Behind waiver scheme is another cowardly effort by the board to manipulate data to help its members escape accountability. Since Florida is not even close to the 100 percent proficiency required by NCLB, the board was forced to seek relief for itself and apply for a waiver.
There is no “relief” from NCLB for Florida’s children, schools or teachers. There’s no change to the ever-increasing high-stakes tests. The only thing these new race-based goals do is acknowledge that it’s easier to let a quarter of our children fail in our public education system than tackle the hard work and expense of helping them to do better.
Addressing substantial differences in student achievement is not easy. But deciding that certain children should spend six years — half their time in public school — and never achieve proficiency is immoral. Instead, schools could start by using current data to customize targeted interventions designed to give every child the opportunity to succeed.
There is value in examining the performances of subgroups. Breaking down data in this way is meant to prevent large numbers of children in any group from failing. The guidelines for the waiver state that Florida must set “separate measurable annual objectives for continuous and substantial improvement” for each group of children sorted by a number of identifying factors including race, ethnicity, economic disadvantage and English language proficiency. It does not mention establishing acceptable losses based on race.
If the board wanted to impact student proficiency, members would persuade Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to invest in proven methods. Portfolio assessments as an alternative to high-stakes tests and Individualized Education Plans for students both have a significant impact on grade-level performance, but both require skilled staff that has been depleted by budget cuts.
School social workers, guidance counselors and support staff that connect children and families with supportive services significantly improve achievement — but have also fallen victim to shortsighted budget cuts.
Florida board members have used race-based goals to codify an “acceptable” achievement gap, thinking that by merely acknowledging the gap, they have absolved themselves of all NCLB accountability.
These race-based goals benefit the system, not the child. They allow the board to ignore the children who need the most help. It’s not that the children stuck in their race-based categories cannot learn; it’s that the board has given up. Its members are waving the white flag of surrender. The board is not closing the gap; it is just moving it.
Children deserve more than another round of the same old Florida Board of Education excuses for why students of a particular racial and ethnic background are being deliberately left behind.
Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of FundEducationNow.org, a nonpartisan, Florida-based education-advocacy group.

Why aren’t private schools that get public money held accountable?

Several confounding questions surround yet another alarming situation at a private school owned by a man whose financial track record can only be described as wanting at best. The Prep Academy is now the fourth school owned by Hendrik Lamprecht to fall into deep trouble, though its exact status remains hazy.
Prep’s former principal, Theresa Kern, exposed the dire situation in a detailed article by Herald education reporter Katy Bergen last week. Incredibly, Kern often had to produce copies of textbook pages because classrooms lacked books.
Yet parents paid a $250 book fee, never saw textbooks in classroom, and their children never came home with any.
Kern and other teachers did not receive paychecks for months — just like employees at other Lamprecht schools.
In the latest lawsuit against Lamprecht, the property owner of the building that housed The Prep Academy is seeking more than $57,000 in back rent and damages. Lamprecht has not paid rent since March, the civil action states, and the building owner wants the school evicted.
This case follows several other lawsuits against Lamprecht. A dozen former teachers claim he owes them more than $200,000 in unpaid salaries.
In the past two years, Lamprecht operated three other private schools in Manatee County, and all closed over foreclosure, insufficient funds or other misfortunes. The Bradenton Prep, The Prep Learning Academy and New Path Academy all disappeared.
Now The Prep Academy is distressed. The school opened in July 2011 with state approval to receive taxpayer money in the form of McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. That’s easy money since state monitoring is almost nonexistent and private schools enjoy most control by simply filing compliance forms.
The Prep Academy accepted the first quarterly payments of at least one student’s $14,000 scholarship and another’s $11,000 scholarship. Fewer than 10 of the school’s 50 students receive McKay money. Statewide, the program paid out an average of about $6,850 per scholarship this school year.
This leads to those disconcerting questions:
n Why does the state of Florida impose exacting regulations on public schools but allows private ones to rake in McKay Scholarships and operate fairly free of oversight or accountability?
n Why would parents place their children in a school without thoroughly checking the owner’s background and educational expertise?
n Why would educators take employment at a place where the owner has a history of not cutting paychecks and quickly closing schools?
Gov. Rick Scott, state education leaders and top legislators all promote charter and private schools as a panacea for parental choice, contending that competition with public schools will raise learning standards and student achievement. While that’s a laudable goal, the reality is far different in many cases — with numerous charter schools failing.
Private schools are another matter, being free of the state rules that govern charter and public schools. Florida law doesn’t require private schools to certify that teachers are qualified to instruct students with special needs before receiving McKay funds, nor do statutes mandate oversight on how a school spends McKay money. Once parents endorse a scholarship check over to a school, they have little influence.
Amazingly, the state does not ask private schools about curriculum. On its website until early October, The Prep Academy claimed to hold accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and from an organization that ceased to exist after merging with another accreditation group in 2008.
Once informed of the misrepresentation, the school deleted the erroneous reference.
Lamprecht’s private academies rank as the poster children for mismanagement.
The state of Florida cannot claim to be working toward improving an education system with teacher merit pay and new standardized tests and then allow private schools to hold a free pass on accountability.
The Legislature and governor should address this failure and set standards for any school that receives taxpayer money.
http://www.bradenton.com/2012/11/29/4296301/florida-failing-to-hold-private.html

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2012/11/29/4296301/florida-failing-to-hold-private.html#storylink=cpy

Garbage in, Garbage out: Florida’s teacher evaluation system

From the Times Union’s editorial board

Garbage in, garbage out, the saying goes about computer programs. So it is with a flawed evaluation system for Florida’s teachers.
Accountability is needed, no debate there. The effectiveness of the teacher is the most important factor in education.
But make evaluations credible. If Florida’s new evaluation system is as incomplete, unreliable and unfair as it is being portrayed, then it will damage public education.
Isolating and measuring teacher performance is subject to all kinds of variables.

Enter a new value added system that is being introduced into the public schools. It’s a key part of Florida’s award of a federal Race to the Top grant.
As described by the Florida Education Association, it is likely to do much harm.

UNINTENDED RESULTS
It could penalize good teachers unnecessarily, drive good teachers from struggling schools and even drive teachers out of public education.
According to a news release from Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, there are major flaws. For instance, students may be inaccurately assigned to a teacher or students may be missing.
Outstanding teachers — teachers of the year, in fact — have been told they need to improve based on faulty or deceptive measurements.
Even the much-maligned Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test isn’t given to the vast majority of students in Florida.
In many cases there aren’t end-of-course exams available. So teachers may not be assessed on the performance of their own students. That’s just wrong.
Or a teacher may be assigned a score based on tests given to students in other subjects. That’s absurd.
Or a teacher’s evaluation may be based on schoolwide test scores. And that’s inadequate.
The value added model itself is being questioned. Quoting a RAND report, such estimates “will often be too imprecise to support some of the desired inferences.”

SLOW DOWN
Nikolai Vitti, Duval County’s new superintendent, told Times-Union reporter Topher Sanders that the evaluation system still has bugs that need to be fixed. He’s not convinced it’s an accurate representation of teacher effectiveness.
If this flawed system is put into effect, the result could be demoralizing, an incentive for good teachers to get out. It would put teachers under more needless stress.
A total of 50 percent of the evaluation of teachers under the new model will be based on this flawed data.
The system clearly is not ready to be used for high-stakes reasons, such as firing teachers or determining pay. At the start, it ought to be used to help spotlight those few bad teachers, then gradually phased in as it earns credibility and respect.
The system needs to be accurate enough that teachers themselves ought to buy into it. The concerns being raised appear valid.
There’s a saying in medicine: First do no harm. That applies to public education, too.


Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/opinion/editorials/2012-11-28/story/floridas-teacher-evaluations-arent-ready#ixzz2DYLTJCnt

Florida 42nd in per pupil spending

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Dave Weber

“You get what you pay for.”
I haven’t been able to nail down who said it first, but some argue it is applicable to Florida’s schools.
And what we are paying to run our public schools in Florida ranks 42nd in the nation according to new data out from the National Center for Education Statistics.
The report indicates that for the 2009-10 fiscal year Florida spent $8,863 per student.
That’s less than half of the amount shelled out by big spenders such as New York ($18,167), New Jersey ($17,379), or champion spender  District of Columbia ($20,910, although the agency points out that is a unique situation).
But Florida doesn’t even stand up that well in the South, where we are bested by neighbors Georgia ($9,432), and Alabama ($8,907.) Topped by Alabama? What is this, football?
Naysayers will argue that the amount spent does not have anything to do with quality of education. But there must be a cut off point where even that argument does not hold. Have we reached it?
http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_education_edblog/