Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature want teachers to fail

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Leslie Postal and Dave Weber

 Seminole County schools are among the highest performing in the stateYet hundreds of Seminole teachers could end up with poor job reviews next year under Florida’s proposed system for calculating teacher evaluations.

An analysis by Seminole officials suggests that teachers across Florida could find good evaluations — and job security — harder to come by once the state finalizes its system for crunching student test score data to judge teacher quality.
That’s fine with many state leaders who have questioned how some teachers could earn good yearly reviews while their students struggle to meet Florida’s academic standards.
But many local educators are worried about the new evaluation system, and Seminole administrators were alarmed when they ran their data showing how their teachers would score under the new state yardstick.
“This has the potential to dismantle public education,” said Seminole Superintendent Walt Griffin. “This is not fair to our teachers.”
Seminole’s data shows the number of teachers falling into the two lowest evaluation categories of “needs improvement” and “unsatisfactory” would jump from fewer than 1 in 100 this year to more than 1 in 7 next year.
Officials worry hundreds of the district’s 4,300 teachers could lose their jobs within several years.
That is based on a new standard for calculating test-score data that the Florida Department of Education is now hammering out, as demanded by the state’s 2011 merit pay law.
Kathy Hebda, a deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, said in an email that she could not comment on Seminole’s findings as she had not seen them. But she said the department, which is holding a hearing on its proposal Thursday in Orlando, welcomed such feedback.
“We are so grateful that districts have been examining their data so closely,” she said, adding such reviews are “key to continuous improvement of Florida’s education evaluation systems.”
The merit pay law, which aims to improve student learning, overhauls how teachers are to be evaluated, paid and promoted and mandates that teachers with a few years of poor evaluations should be fired.
Seminole educators say they fear good teachers will unfairly lose their jobs.
“This evaluation system is inaccurate and is not really capturing the truth about teachers,” said Marie Causey, a statistics teacher at Oviedo High.
School principals and other campus-based administrators — even those at A and B rated campuses — would also struggle, with fewer earning good reviews and more getting poor ones, Seminole officials said.
The education department said it had not run a statewide analysis of the impact of its new proposal, though many expected its standards would be tougher those most districts used this past year.

Lake County schools have no firm data “but we see the same trend that Seminole County is reporting,” wrote Laurie Marshall, executive director for human resources and employee relations, in an email.
The Orange County school district said it has not run any data using the state’s new proposal.
At issue is the rule the department is finalizing for its “value-added model,” dubbed VAM, which aims to judge how much a teacher contributed to a student’s growth on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The system seeks to determine a teacher’s impact while taking into account factors outside their control, such as a student’s disability or absentee rate.
The state calculated teacher VAM data for last school year, but allowed school districts to determine how to interpret it. The result: More than 96 percent of teachers did well statewide.
That led to complaints from supporters of the merit pay law who expected a change from the old teacher-evaluation system, when reviews based on administrator observations typically led to 99 percent of teachers getting good marks.
Sally Bradshaw, a member of the State Board of Education, said earlier this month that she was upset that most teachers earned “effective” or better ratings in 2012 even at F-rated schools or in districts where many students struggled on FCAT reading.
“I think something is terribly wrong,” she said.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett responded that the new value added standards, which are expected to point out more low performing teachers, would help answer her concerns.
The new standards are slated to be adopted by the State Board in June and would go into effect for the 2013-14 school year.
The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the merit pay law, which bases half of a teacher’s evaluation on “student learning growth.” An “unsatisfactory” on that automatically means the overall rating must be “unsatisfactory.”
“We just think it’s really, really not valid,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the statewide teachers union, who labels the state’s plan “a ridiculous exercise.”
The Seminole School Board is considering appeals to local state legislators, school board and superintendents’ organizations and others in an attempt to stop implementation of the new evaluation rules.
“I have great concern about the science behind this,” said Ron Pinnell, Seminole’s human resources executive. “There are people’s careers on the line.” or 407-420-5273. or 407-883-7885.

The FCAT, judge, jury and executioner.

By John Meeks

The day of reckoning is near for educators in the Sunshine State.  Fear is the instinctive response to the doom and uncertainty that are born inside of us the moment our students pick up their pencils or log onto their computers.

No matter how administrators and educators try to game the system, they end up getting played by the system that appears to be designed to consign public schools to a status lower than the local brothel and with much less respect from the community.

No amount of practice, preparation or previewing can ever promise success for our schools or students because the system has already been crafted to demonize, degrade and denigrate men and women who care about students but live and work with targets on their backs.

FCAT is a monster not because it was born that way.  Originally intended to diagnose students’ needs in the classroom, FCAT has morphed into a handmaiden for elected and appointed officials to destroy what little joy there is in the teaching profession.

Data and accountability are nice but they are used far too often by the party in power in Tallahassee because they know that opposition is toothless, impotent or in hiding.  Every Election Day that comes and goes further cements the lust for power that our so-called leaders place ahead of truly serving our state and our future.
It is only inevitable that schools have become testing factories in which district and school officials are reduced to overseers who have no choice but to monitor and micromanage a chain gang busting rocks in unison for an ever-shrinking piece of hard bread and sip of tepid water.

No matter what we educators do, it will never be enough, so why bother?  It is easier for suits to justify their jobs by telling us how horrible we are than it is to say that we truly are trying and need a break.

Teaching may not be as bad as being in prison, but at least the average convict gets a fair trial.  FCAT, however, is our judge, jury and executioner.

Sequestration costs Florida $55.4 million in education funds alone

From the Tampa Times

Statewide, the sequestration could lead to a $55.4 million reduction in Title I funding, or a cut in service to more than 96,000 students in as many as 132 schools, according to the USDOE. And these would not be the only cuts affecting the schools. (See this administration state estimate of cuts for more details.)
Secretary Arne Duncan said in a press release that this represented a “wrong choice,” and urged parents, educators and others to “urge (lawmakers) to figure out a solution to avoid this.”
See also the USDOE’s recent blog post on sequestration for more information.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics, the tools of the education reformer

From Modern School, by Micheal Dunn

For years, free market education reformers have claimed that the U.S. public education system is broken—some have even called it a threat to our national security (Reagan’s Nation at Risk report, 1983). They have used this “crisis” to justify everything from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to attacks on teachers’ seniority, tenure and due process rights. It has led to a decade of accountability and testing mania that has eaten up instructional time and replaced activities that foster creativity and critical thinking with rote memorization. It has taken away billions of dollars that could have been used for teacher training, recruitment and remuneration, and transferred it into the pockets of test and textbook publishers, private charter school operators, and online curriculum producers.

The claims that America’s schools are failing are grossly exaggerated, if not utterly false. For example, the number of students attempting and passing SAT and AP exams has been growing every year and in every ethnic and social group (see here and here). Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time in history, more than 30% of Americans aged 25 or older—56 million people—have bachelor’s degrees, while only 5% did 70 years ago—something that would be impossible if K-12 education was not successfully preparing its graduates for college. According to Good Education, more than one-third of these degrees are now in STEM fields. The data also indicates that gender and ethnic disparities are closing, with 30% of women now holding degrees (compared to 31% of men), while the percentage of Hispanic degree holders increased 80% over the past decade, with over 14% now holding degrees.
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
Free market reformers love testing because it seems objective and scientific (plus they can massage the statistics to suit their needs). Most people lack the time and expertise to disaggregate the numbers, examine the methodology, and identify biases and experimental errors that can skew the data and influence the validity of their conclusions. Consequently, the media typically report test results without such analyses, proliferating misconceptions and inaccuracies like the notion that U.S. students’ test scores are substantially lower than those in other wealthy nations (as measured by the PISA test).
However, as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) correctly points out in a new report (that you can read here), lower income students in every country perform more poorly on the tests than affluent students. However, because economic inequality is greater in the U.S. than in virtually every other country with which we are compared, our national average appears comparatively low. To make matters worse, there was a sampling error in the most recent PISA test, resulting in an over-representation of students from the most disadvantaged U.S. schools, thus further depressing the average U.S. scores.
When EPI re-estimated PISA scores, adjusting for the disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged students in the U.S., it found that average U.S. scores in reading and math were substantially higher than the official numbers. Using EPI’s corrected numbers, the U.S. moves to sixth in reading (up from the officially reported 14th) and 13th in math (up from the officially reported 25th) compared with other OECD countries.
Although U.S. students still performed worse than those in the top three countries (Canada, Finland and Korea), the difference was markedly narrowed when adjusted for socioeconomic differences. Perhaps more significantly, economically disadvantaged students in the U.S. performed better than their social class peers in most other countries, including in these three top scoring countries.
Thus, while U.S. educational outcomes appear worse than those of its trading partners (due mostly to its greater levels of social inequity), it is actually doing a better job than its trading partners at boosting the test scores of its poorest students. Furthermore, the performance of the poorest U.S. students has been improving over time, while the performance of poor students in other similar countries has been on the decline, suggesting that U.S. schools are doing a better job addressing the needs of their economically disadvantaged students.

The JPEF blames teachers for the problems in education

The JPEF is an organization dedicated to improving the lot of local education. In a recent post o their site they bemoaned if only so many teachers didn’t suck it would be a lot easier.

I paraphrase some but their meaning couldn’t have been clearer. There premise was if only we had more excellent teachers, i.e. we have too many bad teachers then children would be more successful.

They start their misinformation campaign by saying the US spends more per capita on education than any other nation in the world. Unfortunately they leave out the fact to get to this number they have to include what we spend on college too.

The next so called fact they use is how despite these vast expenditures we rank way down in the middle of the pact. What they leave out is that when you adjust for poverty our scores shoot up to the top. Not that they mention poverty at all. It’s like it doesn’t even exist and poverty is the number one measureable factor for determining how children do in school. Kids in poverty don’t do as well as those that don’t. If you didn’t know, a fifth of our kids live in poverty and another fifth just above it.

If anyone is serious about improving our schools, then tackling poverty is where we NEED to start because until we do that nothing else will matter. Furthermore just so the JPEF knows the overall quality of our teachers is exemplary.

Where is the JPEF post on poverty? Where are their ideas to mitigate it? Nowhere, that’s where because instead they would rather blame the teacher.

I have met several members of the JPEF staff and have found them earnest and committed people, sadly however I must now add misinformed to the list.

To read the JPEF piece, follow the link:

Dissecting the JPEF’s ideas

After blaming teachers for the malaise American Education finds itself in, (high stakes testing, poverty, people who have never been in a classroom making decisions anybody) the JPEF offered a few suggestions to right our so-called sinking ship. Below are their suggestions, my remarks and then a few suggestions of my own.

Class-size changes: Not simply increasing all class sizes to push more students into fewer classrooms, but allowing more flexibility at the school level to determine which teachers and subjects can handle a few more students without sacrificing quality, and which students and teachers would benefit most from even smaller group sizes. I don’t understand why they don’t get, if you give me a few more students I will be a better teacher, said no teacher ever.

Specialization: Having top teachers, particularly in elementary school, teach only core subjects while developing teachers learn by example and take care of students the rest of the time. I guess this could work, though I know there already is a lot of specialization going on in many schools especially in the upper elementary grades.

Multi-classroom leadership: Having top teachers take on a coaching and oversight role that puts them in charge of several classrooms – allowing them to expand what they know works to reach students across multiple classrooms, while rising in their own career path as well. My problem with this is a lot of these corporate reformers can’t conceive that many teachers just want to teach. They don’t have the desire to be principals, assistant principals or multiple classroom leaders. To them teaching is the brass ring.

Time-technology swaps: Investing in new ways to incorporate classroom technology to handle the reinforcing of basic skills lessons and practice to allow top teachers more time for small group and individual instruction with more students. Every few years teachers are forced to use a new program that experts say will revolutionize education that is quickly replaced by a new one. Thus far there has been no technological silver bullet, please do not hold your breath waiting for one.

These suggestions won’t do a bit of good unless we decide to tackle poverty and then as you may have detected I am still skeptical about some of them as well. If the JPEF is serious about improvement, mitigating poverty is the route we need to take and here are some ideas.

There are many things we can do to mitigate poverty in our so-called struggling schools. We should have social workers and mental health counselors because quite often why a student doesn’t try or acts up has nothing to do with school. We should hire skill, trade and arts teachers because this one size fits all, everybody is going to go to college curriculum that we force every kid into doesn’t play to many children’s strengths and aptitudes and because we can’t continue to make school such drudgery for kids and then wonder why they perform poorly. Then we need to have more summer school opportunities because some kids need more time to learn it and less time to lose it. Finally at least in Duval many students are taking too many classes that are too long at the same time, we should get rid of the A/B block.

Is the Times Union in love with Rick Scott? Two papers, two point of views.

The headline of Kristopher Brooks’ piece read: Gov. Rick Scott to send extra state money to improving Florida schools, First Coast school districts will share $12.1 million.

Well gosh isn’t that nice of the governor. The only problem is the headline is not all that accurate. The money being sent to several of our schools is school recognition money and the program has been in place for years. Scott might be signing the checks but it is not his idea, not even close.

Just a little detail the Times Union left out.

The Orlando Sentinel had a different take and that’s the governor may be trying to take credit for a program that has been around for longer than he has lived in Florida (14 years to 10).

To be honest and this may not be popular with some. I think the millions spent on school recognitions funds should be spent to pay for raises for all teachers or to create programs such as art, music, trades and skills at schools where students could benefit from them. Regardless it wasn’t Rick Scott who came up with the idea.


The hypocrisy of the Charter School movement

Let me tell you about a little charter school in Sarasota. They were so poor they barely kept their kids, um, err, equipped with basic school necessities. Sorry, I was doing a Beverley Hillbillies rift there. The parents got together and decided that they were paying Imagine Charter schools too much in management fees and this led to a lack of resources that was really detracting from the quality of education that their children were getting. So they voted to get rid of the management company. Sounds suspiciously like the Parent Trigger bill that the Florida Legislature is trying to push down people’s throats if you ask me.

What did the management company do? They sued. They didn’t say, well the parents are making a choice about the education of their children so we’ll back off. They sued. They didn’t say we’ll reduce the management fees which take money out of the classroom and put it into the pocket of board members. They sued. They basicaly said, parent choice, schmarent choice, we’ll do what we want, and they sued.

To be honest I don’t have much sympathy for the parents after all charter schools steal resources from public schools but I do find this battle interesting. It shows the hypocrisy of the charter school movement.

Bob Sykes of Scathing Purple Musings has done several pieces about the battle between these charter school parents and the management company. To read more check out the links below: