2012, the year Florida pushed back against corporate reforms

From the Tampa Times, by Jeff Solochek

Forget the top 10 story list. In Florida education, take the longer look at Big One. 2012 was the year that the “reform” movement faced its first significant pushback after a more than a decade of ineffective complaining.
The story actually began in the waning days of 2011, when the Florida Board of Education adopted its first set of new FCAT passing scores in years, along with new school grading rules that affected special education students as well as children still learning English.
Civil rights activists, superintendents and even some south Florida Republican lawmakers, along with the state board’s longest-serving member (a Jeb Bush appointee), criticized the changes, and called for reconsideration to take into account the people whom the reforms were affecting. The debate continued late into the year, as the state gave several special education centers F grades as district leaders challenged the methods and philosophy behind such a move. 
Jump forward into January 2012, and up came the introduction of the “parent trigger” bill that sparked one of the biggest controversies of the 2012 legislative session. Parent groups quickly denounced the measure, saying they didn’t support it or request it, while outside organizations such as Michelle Rhee’s Students First and the California-based Parent Revolution stepped up to back the Republican-sponsored legislation.
By the end of the session, Republicans were splitting among themselves over the legislation to give parents more control over revamping their struggling schools (mostly the power to convert them to charters). Charter schools proved another flash point in the session, with GOP leaders again divided as they failed to push through bills that would have funneled even more tax money intended for school districts to the privately run operations.
Mid-May brought the state’s attention back to testing, when the announcement came that students’ FCAT writing scores had plummeted under new scoring rules that many educators said they had too little time to digest and implement. The state board’s reaction: Change the grading system again.
Hoping to avert a larger public rejection of the accountability program that Florida systematically had put in place since the late 1990s, education commissioner Gerard Robinson hit the road with forums and meetings aimed at explaining what the state was up to: Increasing the rigor of academics being taught, so our kids could compete globally.
The effort had worked before, with rising scores on national tests and increased participation and performance on exams such as Advanced Placement, particularly among previously under-served groups, Robinson said. But his words did not assuage the anger. In fact, some of the things he said stoked the flames of discontent. By mid-June, several Florida school boards were calling for the state to back off its testing regimen, a core piece of the outcomes-based system begun under former governor Bush.
Mistakes in the state’s school grades released a month later didn’t help the cause. Days later, Robinson abruptly announced his resignation. Feeling empowered, many parent groups began clamoring for a new commissioner more in tune with the will of the public.
Gov. Rick Scott, sensing the pitch rising, launched an education “listening tour” within weeks, promoting a kinder-gentler approach. He called for more money for schools, said he wasn’t keen on over-testing, and indicated he would push for changes in mandates and red tape bureaucracy that parents and teachers could support. (He notably did not back away from his support for charter school and voucher expansions.)
While Scott talked, the state board received no significant interest for its vacant commissioner post, extending the search for two months in hopes that someone with gravitas might come available after the November elections.
Scott won mostly postive reviews for his initiative. And more positive news began to emerge about the state’s academic performance, including a December announcement that Florida fourth-graders were among the top in the world in reading. Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett, a leader in the national reform movement, wasn’t popular enough to win reelection in the Hoosier state, but that made him available for Florida.
Amid those highlights for the leadership, though, came more seeds for the discontented: Teacher evaluation results that showed the same level of “effective” teachers as ever before, then followed by what state board members deemed the embarassment of having to recall the results because of errors. Teachers all the while criticized the system as confusing and unfair, adding that the state mistakes suggested the new evals simply weren’t ready for prime time.
Superintendents and some of the lawmakers key to implementing all the state’s “reform” measures began saying that the time had come for Florida to slow down, take a breath and make sure everything is being done well. Indiana’s Bennett, now commissioner-select, made clear thatproper implementation and alignment of efforts would be key to his work as he takes over in mid-January.
That promised to make the big story of 2012 the prelude to what will likely also be the big story of 2013. Look for the debate on vouchers, testing, charter schools, school grades, parent trigger and all the rest to remain in the limelight, with the opponents still pressing hard. Happy new year!

School Board Member Ashley Smith-Juarez’s disingenuous continues

I just want to mention one more time the utter disatisfaction I have for Mrs. Smith-Juarez. When she, the benefit of
smaller classes her entire life, said there was no evidence that they provided
an advantage, made all the worse because there is lots of peer reviewed studies
outlining their benefits it becomes hard for me to take anything she says seriously.

The Times Union is running an article about how she is
losing her day job as executive director of the Chartrand foundation, a group
by the way who doesn’t think teachers are professionals and neither does their
education and experience matter. 
My problem however is while running for school board during
an interview with channel four she represented herself as a small business owner
(a restaurant) and didn’t mention once she was associated with the Chartrand
foundation. I believe she did so to distance herself from Gary Chartrand who was
in the middle of making one gaff after another as chairman of the state board
of education.

It is completely disingenuous of Mrs. Smith-Juarez to
present her self alternately as a small business owner and then as Executive
director of the Chartran foundation, emphasizing one while ignoring the other
when it is politically expedient to do so.

Was she really the best we could have done? 

2012 Florida Charter School Scandals

From Scathing Purple Musings

Among others

* A May Miami Herald report found that schools in the Academica charter school network were “double-dipping” federal grant money. The state’s agency chief, once a  close associate of Academica, found no wrong doing as the federal government  “let states exercise discretion in determining when schools are distinct.”
Orlando Sentinel reporter Lauren Roth had a December story detailing the outrageous payouts of close to $1 million that were made to the principal and her husband after the Orange county charter school closed.
* The sordid affair that was Miami’s Belare Language Academy came to an end in foreclosure earlier this month. Parents had reported that adult-themed parties were being held after hours at the facility. They became suspicious when they would arrive with their children in the morning and see empty beer cans everywhere and the  building would smell of stale cigarette smoke.
* Of 36 school failures in Florida this year 15 were from charter schools. None of the failing charter schools were Title One schools or those which have high percentage of impoverished kids.
* A February Tampa Bay Times story about the extremely high rent Imagine Schools  paid it’s own leasing company proved to be another embarrassment for governor Rick Scott. Imagine’s president, Dennis Bakke was on Scott’s education transition team. Earlier this month, the Pinellas school board announced it’s intentions to shut down one of Imagine’s charter schools in downtown St. Petersburg.
* Accusations emerged in a lawsuit in April that Maverick’s Charter Schools “falsifies records and fabricates students’ grades in classes the students did not attend.”
* A principal, teacher and employee at a Miami charter school were suspended in April for suspected “opening sealed test booklets, taking handwritten notes on the questions and distributing “study guides” to teachers.” Two Palm Beach county charter schools were also investigated for FCAT cheating.

So just how much did your high school really improve?

From the Palm Beach Post’s editorial board, By Jac Versteeg

Florida’s high school grades for last year are out, and they show… what? For an alleged accountability system, the state-assigned grades show very little.
The state Department of Education warned that parents and students can’t learn much by comparing new grades with previous ones because the formula for computing them has changed significantly. Still, top-level education officials touted the sharp increase in A-rated high schools — to 231 from 148. Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand said it shows that “Florida’s teachers and students continue to meet the challenge of higher academic expectations. When we expect more from our students they achieve more.”
Sounds good. In fact, the state inflated the grades by using what the state DOE called “temporary safeguards…to help smooth the transition” to tougher standards.
High schools that didn’t do a good job improving scores of their lowest-performing students got a break. That’s the opposite of No Child Left Behind. Science skills, or lack of them, didn’t count because the science FCAT has lapsed. The acceptable graduation rate for at-risk students was dialed back to 65 percent from 75 percent. Participation in Advanced Placement classes counted more than actual scores on AP tests.
This grading scheme is an improvement because factors other than the FCAT count for 50 percent. Rather, it will be an improvement if the state ever puts in place all the valid components it promises, including meaningful end-of-course tests in most subjects. Still, assigning a grade to an entire school always will be suspect. What’s the point, particularly if the state fudges the figures? Individual grades matter. School grades remain a function of politics, not academics.

When did public schools in Duval County become second-class citizens? (rough draft)

A couple things school board members have said over the last
few months have really bothered me.

At the end of last summer when discussing the renewal of
Education Directions Fel Lee said to the owner, we are appreciative of all you
have done but at some point we need to stand on our own, we need you to give us
a template for what to do.
Then more recently Jason Fischer said he wants to compare
the data of comparable public and charter schools to see which is being more
successful so we can duplicate it.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with wanting to
duplicate success. It is even laudable. My problem is whom theses two school
board members want to copy. Instead of copying the model at one of our
successful public schools and we have many, they would rather copy the model from
an Education Management Company or a charter school. It’s as if the successes
that our public schools are having and once again there are many don’t matter.   
They say, great job public school so and so but instead of
doing what you are doing in our schools that are struggling, we would rather
pay somebody to tell us what to do or copy what schools that erodes local
control are doing. I think we have plenty of great schools and
we should be copying what they are doing instead. The only problem with that is it is impossible.
Most of our schools that are truly doing well are magnet
schools and just by their nature we can only have a finite amount of them or
are in more affluent neighborhoods that tend to have more parental involvement.
Sadly we can’t replicate income and parents that care from
neighborhoods that are doing well to neighborhoods that aren’t. You know who
else can’t do that? EMOs and charter schools.

If we want to have real success we must put in place
programs that mitigate poverty. Everything else is just window dressing or
kicking the can down the road. Unfortunately EMOs and charter schools won’t
tell you that. 

Jason Ficher, school board district 7, on school autonomy

There is a contingent that believes that school districts should use their authority to regulate charter schools as though they are traditional schools, essentially striping them of their autonomy. I regularly attempt to re-frame the argument to be that school districts should instead be pushing the state to deregulate traditional schools and grant them the same autonomy charter schools have. 

Jason Fischer explains his data comment (rough draft)

I spoke with Jason Fischer and he explained his data comment
to me. In a nutshell he doesn’t think it is fair to compare all charter schools
to all public schools. Instead he wants to compare the individual data between
comparable schools.

Say little Johnny attends Charter School A but is zoned to
attend Public School B. Mr. Fischer wants to compare those two schools scores
to see if Johnny is attending the school with the best data. That actually
seems like a fair comparison and it is hard to understand why just a few days
before 2013 we can’t do it but even that won’t tell the whole story.
We have to look at student populations to make sure
problematic students aren’t counseled out thus bumping up the numbers and what
other requirements like extended time or parental involvement that the charter
schools put in place. Also it shouldn’t be ignored that charter school parents
just through the mere fact their children attend them are typically more
involved parents.
I know what some of you are thinking, how many more barriers
am I going to insist on that would skew charter schools performance, what would
make me happy? The thing is we should want to know all these variables because
what we need is an accurate picture of what is going on, what is really working
and what isn’t if we are going to improve our schools.
Also have you ever noticed that charter school proponents
always say one of the reasons that charter schools are successful is they don’t
have some of the onerous regulations and policies that public schools have and
they can do different things but have you ever noticed they never say, you know
what, we should get rid of some of the onerous regulations and policies that
public schools have to endure and allow them to do different things too. It’s
like it never occurs to them. Instead of fixing or improving what we have, they
would rather replace them but I digress.
I think charter schools as parent teacher driven
laboratories have a small role to play as a supplement to education. The
problem is many of our education leaders and drivers want them to replace
public education and at least right now, the aggregate data and I suspect the overall data even when closer comparisons are made doesn’t bare out that is a good
move. Shouldn’t we slow down and get it right?  

I will take Mr. Fischer’s word that he will be data
driven when making his decisions. I just hope other education leaders follow
his lead. 

Hypocrisy runs rampant on the Duval County school board

Paula Wright’s instances are legion.

Ashley Smith-Juarez who greatly benefited from smaller
classes doesn’t want them for public school kids and now Jason Fischer has
joined the list.
He lauds the few charter schools that are doing well while
ignoring the fact a disproportionate amount of charter schools that are doing
poorly and then at the same time he demonizes the public schools that are doing
poorly saying they have failed our children and doesn’t acknowledge the vast
majority of public schools that are doing great.

Mr. Fischer is solidly in the privatization camp and
his hypocrisy reveals it isn’t about what’s best for our kids; he is in it
because he thinks it is best for his political career.

The Times Union reveals their bias towards charter schools

The headline read, Nikolai Vitti says
public schools outperform charters at some levels. The article however showed
that public schools out perform charter schools at both the elementary and high
school level, with charter schools doing better in middle school.

I am not a math major but
I believe 9 is greater than 3. Some might say three times greater. That
s not some, thats most and furthermore it
underlines Vitti
point that public schools as a whole were doing much better than charter

also discussed wanting to have a conversation based on facts not opinions, apparently
the Times Union missed that part.