Why I took my daughter out of public school.

From a long time reader:

As you know when we moved, we were told we were in a better public school district. Having had our oldest in private school since preschool, we thought we would give our local public school a try. We had heard great things about it and rightfully so. The Principal is outstanding and so are the teachers and staff. I joined the PTA and dove in. Our daughter loved her school. Her teacher was vibrant and you could tell she was deeply passionate about her students and learning. Then, budget cuts came….

A month into school we were given a note that said our children would be moved to another classroom. Their teacher would be moved to teach K. What had actually occurred was a shortfall in attendance and the required budget cut as a result. So a month in to our blissful first grade year, the newest teacher was let go, my daughter’s first grade teacher took over her K class, my daughter was moved to a second grade teacher’s class, and the second grade class was dispersed to other 2nd grade rooms.

It was an adjustment filled with disappointment, but we adjusted. It certainly wasn’t optimal but I did know the Principal was doing the best she could with what she had. I did not fault her, I faulted the state for essentially forcing a multi classroom move a month into school.

Our new first grade teacher was much different but just as kind. My daughter adjusted and continued to enjoy school.  Then we got the mail in October. It was a first warning for possible non matriculation.
I will never be the parent who thinks her child is flawless or capable of no wrong or Mensa bound. I will however recognize insanity when I see it. Our daughter was and is a curious, happy, avid reader. Her father and I are educated and encourage her love of learning all things as much as possible. We filled out the paperwork to request a non matriculation warning conference.

Our daughter received continuously great ‘comments’ in her weekly folder and when I spoke with her teacher she was always doing great. She was also making good grades. This paperwork was slightly bewildering.
At the conference I was told that in August our daughter was given a FAIR test which was explained to me as the first grade equivalent to the FCAT. She did not pass the FAIR test and I was told her reading was under par.

My daughter’s reading abilities might be ‘under par’ but without a television at her disposal she came home and happily read everyday along with her other activities. She was a voracious reader often reading before school and in the car. It was unfortunate she could not pass this test.

I was told that she would be given several more FAIR exams and if she couldn’t pass she would need to attend summer school. After summer school she would be given an SAT10. If she couldn’t pass this exam she would be held back. They seemed hesitant as to her probability of passing any of these tests. So I inquired in disbelief that despite her having glowing report cards and social progress they could still fail her and hold her back because of a test? The teacher apologized and told me her hands were tied. And yes, they would still hold a child back despite good report cards if she or anyone didnt pass the FAIR or SAT10. I sat in disbelief that our educational system had come to this. I thought about her attending summer school and how that would affect her. I also thought about how heartbroken she would be to not go on to second grade with her friends. I was annoyed that a bright and curious child would be held back because of an exam. I asked if the non matriculation was a real possibility and was told yes. I really was stumped in disbelief that they would hold a child back passing on all accounts except for a standardized test. She was in first grade not high school. The school said all of this was really out of their hands and this was the protocol they had to follow. I was stunned that this is how we go about educating our youth in the public school system. I was also stunned that in our non matriculation warning paperwork they predicted she would not pass her next FAIR exam.

I was saddened that in this sweet and tender age where children are curious and excited about school that this is the method we choose to educate them. I also knew our daughter would be confused if she had to spend her summer at school and was held back despite knowing her report cards were always great.

Though the school is full of warm and caring professionals, the state system that hovers over our schools is not.
Over Christmas break we moved her to a nearby private school. They gave her admissions testing- to determine her learning style- and placed her in the appropriate classroom. She started there when school resumed in January and is flourishing. She is also reading. A lot.

What a sad state of affairs that we have taken the true love of learning and replaced it with an obsession with testing. It’s not the school’s fault. We were at a great school.

In this process I thought of all of the bright young kids whose desire to just simply be curious of the world around them is stumped by the state’s desire to have them pass standardized tests. I also thought of those without the financial means to switch to private school when they would like to.

My daughter got in the car one day and exclaimed they had so many resource classes at her new school. 

What if we took all the millions spent on these FAIRs, SAT10s and FCATs and put them back into our schools? 

What if we actually let teachers teach and children learn?

It’s sadly not rocket science, but we continue to fail our children despite this common sense.

A teacher evaluation system that would work!

Teachers stomped their feet and yelled from the rooftops that the Florida legislatures attempt to legislate evaluations was between misguided and foolhardy but like most education subjects, the Florida Legislature ignored them. Now that the system is unraveling many in the Florida State Government are scratching their heads wondering why.

Here is the thing that most legislators can’t seem to fathom; teaching is more an art than a science. Is there a rubric for assessing Rembrandts or Picassos? Is there a complicated mathematical formula that you employ when you listen to music? No of course not but for some reason the Florida Legislature thinks we can employ those things and instantly know who is a good teacher and who should be brushing up their resumes.

To paraphrase Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, I may not always be able to describe good teaching but I definitely know it when I see it.

Senate president Don Geatz and others can’t fathom how teachers at supposedly poor performing schools can get effective or highly effective evaluations. Since the vast majority have never been in a classroom and they don’t listen to teachers they don’t understand that the best teacher in the world can’t control if their students have had enough to eat, if their parents are involved or not, if they are too worried about where their next meal is coming from or about violence in their neighborhoods to focus on school. The best teacher in the world can’t control if the policy makers have decided to eliminate those classes like art and music that make schools enjoyable to kids or if every kid is shoved into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of desire or ability or not or if social workers and guidance counselors are often the first to be let go during budget cuts. There are so many factors that teachers can’t control its not hard for those in the school system to understand that there are lots of great teachers at schools even where their kids do poorly on standardized tests.

If you want a great evaluation system the trick is to put great, impartial leaders in our schools, people who care both about their students and teachers and who are dedicated to improving both. We can no longer have principals and administrators in place because of whom they know, skin color or other reasons that have nothing to do with ability. Leaders inspire, they don’t threaten, cajole or intimidate. They also listen which is something the legislators in Tallahassee rarely do. We need people in place that take a holistic approach to both the child and teacher instead of just seeing numbers on a spread sheet and an opportunity for advancement. Bad leaders give bad evaluations and bad legislators give bad systems used to evaluate teachers.

The truth is there is no formula that will identify great teachers’ verses those who should be brushing up their resumes. Value added this, standardized tests that, it’s nonsense put in place by those that just don’t get it.

The Florida Legislature loves to blame teachers

From the Tampa Times, by John Romano

They love to talk about education in Tallahassee.
Love to talk about providing opportunities for students, holding teachers accountable and, especially, the quantifiable results of standardized tests.
Okay, so let’s talk about numbers and education.
Let’s talk about how, when Florida students lag behind the rest of the nation in test scores, lawmakers always seem to insinuate the blame lies with unproductive teachers.
Yet our legislators never consider that they may be part of the problem.
Here’s what I mean:
Recent studies have shown that the amount of money a state spends on education affects how well its students perform.
Specifically, a report from the Kids Count Data Center indicated that states above the national median for per-pupil spending are also more likely to be in the top half of student performance nationally. Twenty of those 25 states, to be exact. Which means only five of the bottom 25 states in spending are above the mid-point in student performance.
That’s fairly persuasive, don’t you think?
Spend above the national median and you have an 80 percent chance of a better-than-average school system. Spend below the national median and your chances of having a quality school system drop to 20 percent.
(For clarification purposes, the 2012 Kids Count Data Book adjusts for regional cost differences. Its student performance numbers are based, among other factors, on standardized test results from fourth and eighth grade and graduation rates.)
This is not to suggest that backing a Brinks truck up to a school auditorium is the answer to all of our educational shortcomings. The school systems in West Virginia and Louisiana are fairly well-funded, for example, and still do not produce adequate results.
My point is that money does have an impact, and it’s incredibly disingenuous and self-serving for lawmakers to act as if the problem should be dumped at the feet of educators.
Particularly when Florida consistently shows up in the bottom-third or bottom-quarter of most per-pupil spending surveys.
The most recent U.S. Census ranks Florida 44th in per-pupil spending. Taking into account regional factors, Kids Count has Florida 39th.
So what does all of this mean?
It means legislators now have a chance to make a difference.
Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that he wants a $1.2 billion increase in education funding in the next budget.
Now you’re free to question the governor’s motivation. It does, after all, have a whiff of political opportunism to it. But shouldn’t we appreciate good decisions, no matter what the impetus?
Freeing up an extra billion dollars in the budget is not going to be easy, and I do not envy lawmakers who will feel pressure from the governor’s mansion to get this done.
But for those legislators who continually whine about the performance of teachers and students in this state, this is a moment of reckoning.
This is their opportunity to show whether they are serious about education, or if they simply use it as a political platform. This is their chance to put up.
Or, for heaven’s sakes, shut up.

It is official Jeb Bush’s education reforms are all about making him and his supporters money.

Today the Washington Post followed the money from Jeb Bush’s
corporate donors to legislation he pushed to make them money. To read the whole
piece check out the link below but before then this is how his corporate
cronies benefited from his policies in Florida.  

• FEE staff sought
legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of
the state’s school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote
to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state
legislators, who were now “asking for the following, which the Foundation
completely supports: FCAT shall be ‘at least 50%, but no more than 60%’ of a
high school’s grade.” Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT
contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial
stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida’s
education system.
Levesque writes, I think we need to add a sec onto this bill to give you/the
department authority to set a state
approved list of
charter operators or private providers so districts can
t pick poor performers to implement turnaround. At least one FEE donor, the for-profit Florida-based Charter
Schools USA, could benefit from being placed on such a state-approved list.

Charter Schools USA also could benefit from a “parent trigger” law, the passage
of which, as Nadia Hagberg of FEE wrote, was the goal of a partnership between
Bush’s Florida-based organization (the Foundation for Florida’s Future) and
Parent Revolution: “The Foundation for Florida’s Future worked closely with
[Parent Revolution] throughout the process in Florida and they proved to be an
invaluable asset.” Parent trigger, which failed to pass during Florida’s last
legislative session, is a mechanism to convert neighborhood schools to charter


A Failure of Leadership at Mayport Middle School

If you don’t remember, a few weeks back the principal at
Mayport Middle released teacher’s evaluations to the general public, she says
it was an accident. That the evaluations were an attachment on another document
and she just didn’t notice.

When this happened I was asked what I thought and I said, if
she has been a good principal and has supported her faculty and staff then we
should let bygones be bygones, but if she has been a bully masquerading as an administrator
then there should be consequences, though I used the words, fry her.
Well as more information has been released and more teachers
have come forward, though anonymously because they fear retaliation, it is
looking more and more like the district should do the latter.
Katrina McCray has been at Mayport Middle School since
2007.  She was placed in her position by
then-superintendent Joseph Wise. She claims that she released the CAST
evaluation data by mistake because she was emailing the EOC student scores and
the CAST evaluation attachment was embedded in the message. 
The problem with this excuse is Education Matters has been
told that she had already sent the EOC scores out in a previous message. If
this is true it shoots down her already flimsy excuse.
People might be asking what the big deal is, aren’t the
evaluations going to be public notice anyway? Well yes they are after a year
but the real problem is twofold. First the evaluation process itself is so
flawed that it is not to be believed. Senate President Don Geatz said just the
other day we have a looming accountability disaster. Evaluations are pretty
much divided into two sections, how kids did on standardized tests using a very
complicated and wildly unpredictable formula called value added and the
principals personal feelings about a teacher. If the principal doesn’t care
for you even if your students score incredibly high you can get a bad
evaluation, likewise if the principal likes you but your kids score at the
bottom of the heap you can get a good evaluation. 
The second problem is poor leaders throughout the district. Many are vindictive and petty and have a desire to squeeze out veteran teachers and to replace them with
easily malible rookies who will either do anything to keep their jobs or who
don’t stick around long enough to know any better. There is a huge leadership
problem in the district because whom you know rather than your ability
determined promotions for the last half dozen years and bad leaders give bad evaluations.
It seems Mrs. McCray may fall into the second group as this is
how she was characterized to me, sadly you could hear the same about dozens of
other principals in the district.          : 

The principal has repeatedly said that she does not care
if she hurts teachers’ ‘feelings’ because she is working on behalf of the
students.  This is a false argument
because it implies that she is the only person who cares about the
students.  While she has begged for
mercy from the superintendent, she rarely affords the same second chance to her
subordinates.  The school’s FAME morale
surveys are rather telling about her abuse of the faculty.  Furthermore, faculty and staff have left in
droves because she fails to support them in light of student misbehavior and
she forces them to work themselves almost to death without anything close to a
thank you. The school has also had more than its share of faculty hospitalized
due to stress and mental issues and yet she continues to move full speed ahead.
She doesn’t care if she hurts teacher’s feelings. Bullies
and sociopaths are two other groups that don’t care if they hurt people

The superintendent should revisit this matter and if
it turns out she runs her school like a kingdom where she is free from
consequences and teachers bear the brunt of her injurious actions then she
should be removed and a leader who cares about the entire school community
should be put in her place. 

The garbage that passes for education reform in Florida

The republican dominated Florida legislature passed a bill in 2010 that fundamentally changed the teaching profession. The student success act ended job protections for teachers making them at will employees, required 50% of their evaluations to be based on standardized tests, whether they taught a test subject or not and called for but did not fund merit pay, which has no evidence that says it works and plenty that says it doesn’t.

This is what Don Geatz, senate president just said about the bill formerly known as senate bill 736 and mind you, he said it after he helped pass it.  If you can’t explain it, then you can’t defend it.”  He added that lawmakers who passed it, including himself, would be hard pressed “to explain how this system works and how it’s fair and rational.”

This begs the question why is the Florida Legislature passing bills that they can’t defend and that fair or rational. The answer is they want to kneecap the teaching profession to hasten their public school privatization plans.

Do you want our schools to improve? Do you care about Florida’s children? If so get Tallahassee out of education.

Chris Guerrieri
School teacher

Florida Senate President Don Geatz admits lawmakers are clueless when it comes to education

 From the horse’s mouth when talking about senate bill 736, “If
you can’t explain it, then you can’t defend it.”  He added that lawmakers who passed it,
including himself, would be hard pressed “to explain how this system works
and how it’s fair and rational.”

Did I say horse’s mouth? I meant Jackass. Why are they passing laws when
they don’t understand how they work, when they aren’t fair or rationale? Oh I
know, it’s because they want to handicap the teaching profession to facilitate the privatization
of public education. Friends, Geatz as much as admits that when he admits he
voted for an unfair, irrational and defenseless bill that became the law of the land.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/01/29/3206344/gaetz-says-fla-teacher-evaluation.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy

Hernando teacher of the year just effective in the eyes of the state. Some evaluation system huh?

From the Tampa Times, by D Valentine

In the eyes of her peers, Central High School health science teacher Bethann Brooks is exceptional.

From her administrator’s perspective, she’s highly effective. Within the Hernando School District, she’s this year’s Teacher of the Year.

As for the state? Not as glowing.

Brooks earned an “effective” grade under Florida’s new “value-added” teacher evaluation system that takes into account student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to determine her mark.

While she said she was initially graded as “highly effective” at the school level, her mark dropped when the FCAT scores came in.

As a career technical teacher who teaches mostly seniors, she said she wasn’t graded on the scores of her students but rather the school’s grade as a whole.

“Which is sad,” she said. “It’s not so much grading me at that point. A lot of the students I have are seniors. They are not even taking the FCAT.”

“I think it would be more fair if it were your own students,” she said. “You have responsibility to prepare them for the test.”

That’s a frequent criticism of the new “value-added model,” or VAM.

The plan has come under fire, because many teachers are evaluated based on the performance of students who aren’t even in their classrooms. In such cases, many say they are being rated on students who they have no interaction or contact with, and therefore no involvement in their learning.

In the new system, teachers can be classified as “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement,” “unsatisfactory” or “developing” – with the final term reserved for teachers with three or fewer years of experience.

In Hernando, 16.8 percent of teachers were graded as “highly effective” while 81.9 percent were marked as “effective.” Only 1.3 percent of the district teachers were ranked as “needing improvement” or “developing.” None were “unsatisfactory.”

Brooks will eventually be graded on her own students when end-of-course exams are implemented.

But those aren’t around yet.

“We do not have an EOC for her subject area,” said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. “The state, in its infinite wisdom, wants to force everyone into the same square before we are even ready.”

If Brooks was graded on her own students, Vitalo said “we’re greatly confident she would have scored ‘highly effective’ in there.”

Vitalo said the current model is not the best.

“When you’re trying to use something before all of the components are built, of course it’s not going to fly,” he said. “I don’t think the Wright brothers figured they could have a jet before they even started flying.”


Where is the quality in Florida’s quality counts grade?

From the Palm Beach Post, By Jac Versteeg

We know from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is: 42.
A similar quest seeks to boil down the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Education to a single number or letter grade. But while the late “Hitchhiker’s Guide” author Douglas Adams was (probably) kidding, some politicians and education bureaucrats aren’t.
The Ultimate Answer for Florida apparently is: 6. Gov. Rick Scott and his usual amen chorus were ecstatic that the latest report from Quality Counts, which is affiliated with Education Week magazine, ranks Florida sixth. Although the Hitchhiker’s Guide provided the Ultimate Answer, it never spelled out the question. Gov. Scott, in contrast, thinks that the ranking answers this question: Is Florida’s education policy working? That No. 6 proves, the governor said, “that we’re taking the steps needed to ensure our students succeed.”
The FCAT was useful when the state used it to show which students needed help in reading, math and science. Then the state misused the FCAT to grade entire schools and school districts. Quality Counts grades the whole state and even the whole nation. Its a respected source, and its formula doesn’t rely totally on FCAT results. Still, that 6 is quite a stretch.
In any case, Florida’s details are not as shiny as that score might indicate to those, and there will be many, who look only at the number. Florida’s overall grade is B-minus. That looks good only because the country as a whole gets a C-plus. (Maryland was tops with a B-plus; South Dakota last with a D-plus.)
The Quality Counts ranking also succumbs to the “participation ribbon” syndrome by giving states like Florida extra credit for implementing an alleged accountability policy — like FCAT testing — without delving too deeply into how the accountability system works. Some educators say, for example, that Florida’s policy of holding back third-graders who flunk the reading FCAT inflates fourth-grade results on national tests, which have shown stellar improvement, primarily by keeping struggling readers in third grade while better readers take the fourth-grade assessments.
Quality Counts shows Florida improving its graduation rate, but the numbers are from 2008 and rank the state 44th. Plus, Florida gets a D-plus in school finance. Even so, the rush is on to show that our 6th-place ranking vindicates the FCAT, corporate vouchers, a charter school fixation and the latest merit pay scheme for teachers.
Gov. Scott did cite Florida’s No. 6 Quality Counts ranking last week when he announced that he will seek $2,500 across-the-board teacher raises. Previously, all signs of success were attributed to “reforms,” with teachers getting little or no credit. Of course, Gov. Scott began praising teachers when his 2014 opponent began looking like Charlie Crist, who is popular with teachers.
In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide,” the supercomputer Deep Thought required 7.5 million years to spit out its conclusion. It won’t take that long to sort out what Florida’s ranking from Quality Counts signifies. But educators and politicians need to dig into the details. Taking the time to do so is preferable to Tallahassee’s recent rush to claim that anything stamped “school choice” is the No. 1 answer.

Florida to spend half billion dollars to wire schools so kids can take tests on-line

From the I can’t make this up file Florida has hit a new low
in its testing madness. On the heels of stealing three percent from teachers
and dozens of superintendents and school boards asking the state to slow down
on tests they are proposing to spend nearly a half billion dollars to wire
schools so kids can take tests.

From the Tampa Times Grade Book, by
Jeff Solochek
The days of all-computerized state
testing are fast approaching for Florida schools. The push toward digital
textbooks and instructional materials also is moving quickly.
But many schools built more than
five years ago lack the infrastructure to make the move. They don’t have
adequate electrical wiring or internet Wi-Fi capability to handle the load.
The Florida Board of Education has
proposed a 2013-14 budget of $441.8 million to outfit schools with internet
bandwidth, wireless capacity and other technology tools. There’s some talk in
Tallahassee that the request will get serious consideration among
lawmakers, who already have been asked by Gov. Rick Scott to give all full-time
classroom teachers a $2,500 raise.
“We’ve got to put resources
in that area” of technology, said Sen. John Legg, chairman of the Education
Policy committee and a member of the Education Appropriations committee.
“The Senate proposal we’re putting together is pretty aggressive to do
He expected a bill to emerge in
the next few weeks that will look at a two-year plan to improve schools’
computer capabilities. The bill also will include other overarching issues
including more closely connecting education standards to college and employment
Legg told the Gradebook that he
hoped to keep the discussion tightly focused on “real reform” such as
these ideas, with a longer-range impact, and away from politically-tinged

“It’s my desire to get
these long-term policy initiatives up and out early in session,” he said,
noting that some heated debate could surround the proposals. “It’s my
desire not to get distracted.”