Tony Bennett has charter school grade changed to help wealthy donor

The Associated Press is reporting that while commissioner of
education in Indiana, Tony Bennett used his position and influence to have the
grade of a wealthy donors charter school adjusted up form a C to an A.
I asked less than two weeks ago if Gary Chartrand, the chair
of Florida’s Board of Education might have done the same thing to keep his
precious KIPP Impact Charter School from falling from a B to a D. His rule
change helped assured the Charter school would get a C grade.  
You have to read the New York Times piece folks as it refers
to all the e-mails Bennett sent to his staff to have the grade raised. At one
point Bennett says, “I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not
excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I
have told over the past six months.” Shortly there after the charter school
miraculously went form a C to an A.
Friends he, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee and the rest of the ed
deformers don’t want the right answer they want their answer, the privatization
of public schools, and the destruction of teaching as a profession, to be right
and this is irrefutable proof of that.  
By the way this is the guy who is running our schools.

To read more and make sure you are sitting and haven’t eaten
click the link:

This is why people don’t trust Duval County Public Schools. (rough draft)

I worked with this lead teacher once and despite the fact
the union would tell me over and over she was my colleague not my superior she
lorded over me and the other teachers in the department. The main problem
however was she was terrible at her job.
I used to talk with my colleagues and the consensus was if
she was bad at her job but nice or great at her job but mean we could cope. The
problem however was she was both mean and terrible at her job. She however had
something that the rest of us didn’t have, a connected relative on the district
level. So connected that her surplus lasted long enough for her to put a call
in to her family member.
And that speaks to a huge problem in the district, whom you
know not what you can do have often determined promotions and where one lands.
Before I continue let me say I think school grades are
ridiculous, they don’t improve schools, they simply publish schools and I
firmly believe there are great things going on even at the schools that don’t
do well on standardized tests, the schools that tend to get the lower grades. I
know there are dedicated teachers arriving with their sleeves rolled up
teaching a lot of great kids who want to learn. Sadly however school grades are
the beromiter that is used when determining if principals and teachers are
being successful or not.
I have written about Iranetta Wright and how “the data”
didn’t seem to warrant a promotion to area chief and fair enough people can
disagree but what about the case of Kimberly Dennis.
She arrives to Sadie Tillis in 2010 and over the three years
she was there the school grades went from a C to D to an F. In this era where many
principals are often one or two and done, especially if the numbers decline,
Mrs. Dennis was instead sent to Fishweir elementary, a school in a reasonably
affluent neighborhood where success, school grade success anyway should be
reasonably easy to achieve. 
And why did she get another year, well it couldn’t be because
her husband is Larry Dennis could it? You know, new area superintendent and
long time district staff person, Larry Dennis? Maybe there is something in the
numbers I am missing but isn’t there a whiff of impropriety here? Doesn’t this
just scream, who you know rather than what you can do?

may be the victim of the previous administration with his limited options but
at the same time the whole distinct has been victimized too. I hope Mrs. Dennis
is a great leader who motivates her kids and empowers her teachers but I can’t
help think, because here in the county past has been prologue, this is more
of the same.

School grades

Why do we have Charter Schools? Follow the money

From the DailyKos, by Teacherken

“Just follow the money” –

Embedded in the middle of an Alternet story by Kristin Rawls titled Corporations Advise School Closings, While Private Charters Suck Public Schools Away are several paragraphs that help explain why hedge funds and other corporate interests are so enamored of charter schools.   Please continue to see what I mean. Thanks to a little discussed law passed in 2000, at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, banks and equity funds that invest in charter schools and other projects in underserved areas can take advantage of a very generous tax credit – as much as 39% — to help offset their expenditure in such projects.

In essence, that credit amounts to doubling the amount of money they have invested within just seven years. Moreover, they are allowed to combine that tax credit with job creation credits and other types of credit, as well collect interest payments on the money they are lending out – all of which can add up to far more than double in returns. This is, no doubt, why many big banks and equity funds are so invested in the expansion of charter schools. There is big money being made here — because investment is nearly a sure thing.And it’s not just U.S. investors who see the upside of investing in charters. Rich donors throughout the world are now sending money to fund our charter schools. Why?

Because if they invest at least $500,000 to charters under a federal program called EB-5, they’re allowed to purchase immigration visas for themselves and family members — yet another mechanism in place to ensure that the money keeps rolling in.Proponents of education reform insist that investments like these are all about how successful charter schools are, and show how much support they’ve garnered in just a few short years. But it’s hard to take this on faith when there are billions of dollars of profit—and, for some, a path to U.S. immigration—at stake in these investments.

Okay, there is a lot packed into those three paragraphs.  And before I go forward especially credit should be given to David Dayen whose work at FireDogLake is the basis of the information in the first of those paragraphs.
The first point I want to make is to note the origin of the mechanisms which have encouraged Wall Street Banks and others to push charters – something done during the Presidency of Bill Clinton.  We need to remember that the Clinton administration was very cozy with Wall Street, with the like Robert Rubin and others from companies like Goldman Sachs.  We should also note that the organization driving Democratic educational policy in recent years, the to my mind ill-named  Democrats for Education Reform, has a board dominated not by educators (there are none) but by financiers.

This administration continues to push charters – one of the criteria for states to receive funds from Race to the Top was that they lift any caps on charters, even though at the time what evidence there was showed that charters performed no better than the traditional public schools from which they drew and there were no requirements for quality – even by the flawed measurement of test scores – for charters to continue their existence.  In part this can be traced to a decision the Obama campaign made in 2008 at a time when they already knew they had the nomination.  In  March, even though a key advisor on education was Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford U, the campaign decided to move away from her ideas on education and move towards those advocated by DFER in order to secure Wall Street money for the general election.

Folks, there are billions spent annually on the education of our young people.  For most local
governments, schools are the biggest single expenditure.

The pro-charter groups are attempting to push charters on communities even if those communities do not want them.  Thus we see in TN a new bill in the state legislature that would take away from counties with 600,000 or more the power to control charters.  It just so happens that the only such counties in TN contain Memphis and Nashville, two cities containing the vast majority of the minority population of the state, and in the caase of Memphis a school board that four times has rejected the application of a charter operator with a questionable record, thereby angering both the state education commissioner (Kevin Huffman, who taught only 2 years, was vice president of Teach for America, and is the father of Michelle Rhee’s children, and who punished the district by withholding millions in state funds) and the Governor, who to put it mildly has never been a friend of public education or of teachers unions – and remember, turning public schools into charters is a way of breaking teachers unions since most charters are not unionized and are protected by the chartering legislation from the normal unionization process.

It is worth noting that the state legislature is imposing upon the local government.  There is a historical precedent for this, and that was state legislatures that were dominated if not owned by railroads in part as a means of controlling the US Senate, whose members were then elected by the legislatures.  The grassroots pushback against that led to the 17th Amendment and direct election of Senators.

In the past I have often warned people that what happened with public schools was the canary in the coal mine for American society.

We have seen increasing privatization of public facilities.  It actually is somewhat more advanced in the criminal justice system, with the existence of private prisons who lobby for more arrests to fill their spaces, and thus things like the “papers, please” law in Arizona to put more money into the coffers of the likes of Correction Corporation of America.  We are seeing it in things like the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road.  In NC, now that Republicans finally control both houses of the state legislature and Governor McCrory seems to have Art Pope whispering in his ear all the time, the legislature is moving to tak over the water system in Ashville  (preparatory to selling it off?) and is also moving on airports.

Just follow the money

Our democracy is being sold off, one piece at a time.

The idea of local control of public functions is disappearing.

And remember that the restrictions imposed upon government agencies with respect to rights protected in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere do not necessarily apply to corporate entities.  No pubic school could fine a parent for a child’s behavior, nor expel a child without due process, but charters are known to do both, often with regularity.

Perhaps it is hard for people to understand how much the profit motive is driving the expansion of charters – which I might note is only one part of the corporate attempts to control the hundreds of billions in tax revenue intended to fund PUBLIC education.  The traditional media organizations have done a horrible job in covering this aspect of what is happening in American public education.

Just follow the money

Remember that we know from sad experience that if we allow the profit motive to run rampant the result is increasing wealth (and power) into too few hands while the rest of us suffer the consequences.
If you did not know before, now you should have no doubt, that the primary push for charters is coming about not because they are a better means of educating children, but because moneyed interests understand how much they can make when public schools are replaced by charters.   And for some, the ability to break teachers unions, a major Democratic constituency, is merely an additional benefit gained along the way.

If the resulting charter schools in fact did a better job of educating children, there might be SOME justification.

But they do not.

Just follow the money – as in Watergate, that will help you understand what has really been happening.

Teacher gives thumbs up to teacher academy.

By John Meeks

This is going to make for an interesting ‘How I spent my
summer’ essay.

As I see August creeping up on me, I look back with joy
on the cruise that I took to Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico for a church convention.
 I went on to Atlanta for the National Education Association convention
and then took the train to Maine to visit with friends.

Then, in the past week, I went to the Teachers Academy.
 And this was an experience that exceeded my expectations.  After
all, not many teachers would be keen on interrupting their summer break to sit
in classes.

When I arrived at Forrest High School, I was not sure of
what to expect.  My past experiences with professional development and
training were not as strong for social studies as it had been for other core
subject areas.  My outlook improved when I saw that the school system has
put together a team of social studies specialists working under a director.
 This was a vast improvement from putting all of the social studies
responsibilities on one person.

That said, I was impressed by the training that made
sense of everything from teaching
ELL students who do not speak English as their primary
language to making the most of data in my classroom.  We had large groups
that addressed CHAMPS and we had targeted instruction for our respective
subject areas.  

It is to Dr. Vitti’s credit that the Teachers Academy, in
my opinion, finally defines for us what we have in store for us and our
students in the coming school year.

My take on Teachers Academy?  A+

TWITTER: johnmeeks1974
INSTAGRAM: johnmeeks1974

Blame for school scores belongs to Tallahassee

From the editorial staff of

After improvement in 2012, this year’s school grades are a major disappointment. The entire state took a step back — 482 schools lost their “A” grades, and 67 more schools are considered failing in 2013.

Highlands County has its first failing school, and only two schools improved. Of 13 schools, nine lost a grade.
This should be devastating news.
It would be devastating news, except for one thing: Somewhere along the way standardized testing got out of hand. Forgive us. We understate the case. What we should say is that somewhere along the way standardized testing became down right irrational.
For example, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores have been essentially meaningless for three years now, ever since the state demanded more difficult questions and a greater number of correct answers.
That would be a good thing, of course, except the state Department of Education introduced the tougher tests before it initiated the curriculum needed to understand them. As a result, the state knew in advance student scores would drop dramatically.
Here’s where things get really crazy. The state’s solution was to create complicated, multiple-step equations to “compensate” for the drop in scores. For example, a formula was created to “protect” a school from losing more than one grade.
It seems more like fudging to us.
In fact, the end result is confusion, frustration and cynicism.
Knowing there were serious problems ahead, how is it no attempt was made to explore more options? Why did no one think to phase-in the more difficult test gradually over several years as students were exposed to the common core curriculum?
Part of the state’s narrow vision comes from the fact that in the big picture students are no longer seen as human beings. They are viewed as sources of data instead.
Which is why we despair.
We do, however, retain optimism about the future. It may be a badly bungled beginning, but the common core curriculum is necessary in today’s world when our students face global competition. The district embraces this new direction. It has reorganized district and school administrators and trained teachers all summer.
This year’s disappointing news did not originate in Highlands County classrooms — it was a gift from Tallahassee

School Grades are out and who cares?

School grades don’t improve
schools, students or teachers but they sure as heck punish them. –cpg
From the Miami Herald: Even
though student test scores have held steady — and are in some cases rising —
Florida has a record-high 107 F-rated schools this year, state education
leaders announced on Friday.
From the Sun Sentinel: The Florida Department
of Education said statewide the number of A-rated schools dropped from 48
percent to 29 percent. Meanwhile, the number of F schools jumped from 2 to 4
the Gainesville Sun: State officials predicted the
drop as a result of Florida’s ever-changing and increasingly complicated
accountability formula, which grades schools on an A-to-F scale.
the Orlando Sentinel: Despite a last-minute effort
by Florida education officials to reduce the effect of tough new standards on
annual school grades, results for elementary and middle schools released Friday
by the state Department of Education show a sharp increase in D and F schools
and fewer A schools as well.

From the Tallahassee Democrat: Statewide, 39 percent fewer schools received A’s for the 2012-13
school year than they did the year before — an unprecedented decline,
especially among elementary schools.

The real reason Jeb Bush wanted the Parent Trigger bill

The real reason Jeb Bush wanted the parent trigger bill was
so he could hasten the privatization of our public schools. Let not kid
ourselves, charters and vouchers are mechanisms of privatization and had the
parent trigger passed there would have been one more bullet in their gun.
When Florida changed it’s grading system it assured the
amount of F schools, the amount of schools that would have been eligible for
take over, would increase. This had charter school operators salivating as
dollar signs replaced the pupils in their eyes. The amount of F schools in
Florida more than doubled this year and as we transition to common core the
yearly doubling has just begun.

When the parent trigger returns next year for round
three don’t make the mistake of thinking it is about improving education outcomes
for children. All it will be is a cynical cash grab for charter school
operators, hedge fund managers, more than a few legislators with ties to the industry
and their sycophants and cronies.  

The time taken up by test prep and testing has risen, as have the costs and the lost instructional time.

From the Washington Post, by Valerie Strauss

Exactly how much standardized testing are school districts subjecting students to these days? A nearly staggering amount, according to a new analysis.
Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time,” released by the American Federation of Teachers, looks closely at two unnamed medium-sized school districts — one in the Midwest and one in the East — through the prism of their standardized testing calendars.
Standardized testing has become the focus of modern school reform since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002, and continuing through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education initiative. Over the years, the time taken up by test prep and testing has risen, as have the costs and the lost instructional time.
The grade-by-grade analysis of time and money invested in standardized testing found that test prep and testing absorbed 19 full school days in one district and a month and a half in the other in heavily tested grades. The Midwestern district spent $600 or more for standardized testing per pupil in grades 3-8;  about $200 per student for grades K-2; from $400 to $600 per student for grades 9-11. The Eastern district spent more than $1,100 annually on testing per student in grades 6-11; around $400 per student in grades 1-2; between $700 and $800 per student for grades 3-5.
One of the districts gives 14 different assessments to all students at least once a year in at least one grade, the report said, and some assessments are administered for several subjects multiple times a year, resulting in 34 different test administrations. The other district had 12 different  standardized assessments but 47 separate administrations over the course of the year.The report says:
*Students can spend 60 to more than 110 hours per year in test prep in high-stakes testing grades.
*Including the cost of lost instructional time (at $6.15 per hour, equivalent to the per-student cost of adding one hour to the school day), the estimated annual testing cost per pupil ranged from $700 to more than $1,000 per pupil in several grades that had the most testing.
*If testing were abandoned, one school district in this study could add from 20 to 40 minutes of instruction to each school day for most grades. The other school district would be able to add almost an entire class period to the school day for grades 6-11. Additionally, in most grades, more than $100 per test-taker could be reallocated to purchase instructional programs, technology or to buy better tests. Cutting testing time and costs in half still would yield significant gains to the instructional day, and free up enough dollars in the budget that could fund tests that are better aligned to the standards and produce useful information for teachers, students and parents.

Duval County leaves resources on the table while there are needs in the classrooms.

get it; we have a limited pool of resources and an almost unlimited pool of
needs. Which means we have to prioritize our needs and I really like some of
the priorities that the super has highlighted. Having deans of discipline and
after school transportation are incredibly important and never should have been
done away with. Some of his others though leave me scratching my head like the
implementation of testing coordinators at every school, which seems like
something assistant principals use to do and the dismantling of our librarian
a librarian in our schools, especially for a district with a reading problem
shouldn’t be optional. The super says he is giving principals the choice but
funny he didn’t give them the choice about having a dean and ISSP teacher or
not (full disclosure, I like those positions) so isn’t that a bit
The thing is we could
pay for the librarians too, if the district thought they were important enough
to have anyways.  Th
e district is
required to keep 3% of its money in reserves about 25 million dollars. The
super said it would cost about 7 million to put librarians in all the district’s
schools. Then according to the Times Union the board wants to keep 7% in
reserves, that is about 33 million more than it is required to. Friends that
means the district could pay for the librarians and still keep double the
amount they are supposed to.
Then the
super said our librarian bench is shallow, that it would be hard to find enough
librarians to put in all our schools but this goes to a bigger problem I think
we have and that’s why aren’t we being proactive. Why aren’t we beating the
bushes to find librarians, world-class teachers and exemplary school leaders?
It’s like we are content to sit back and use TFA, an ever-revolving door of
rookie teachers, to let our librarian bench die out and to promote people who
can pass a test, some will be great but if past is prologue then we know more
than few won’t be.
Maybe we should take a little bit of that extra 33 million
dollars we are keeping in the couch cushions and use it to go out and find the
best and the brightest and to bring them to Duval. Lord knows some of our best
and brightest have left for greener pastures because of previous administrations mismanagement.

Finally where I think us having a shallow librarian
bench is debatable, it is irrelevant because if you have been following the news you know it looks like
the city through its budget cuts is going to make more than a few librarians

At the end of the day there will be one reason and one reason only that many of our schools go without a librarian and that’s the district doesn’t think they are important enough to have.

Why does the Florida Chamber of Commerce want to lie to you about pensions?

This was on their Facebook page, Did You Know: Florida
taxpayers cut a $500 million check to cover the unfunded liability costs of
pensions for government workers. 

Detroit’s bankruptcy, helped in large part by
the city’s pension crisis, is the latest indicator that Florida MUST TAKE
ACTION or face serious consequences. Consequences DETROIT knows all too well.

First of all, traditionally many public sector workers took lower wages in
exchange for a pension. Next two years ago when Tallahassee took three percent
of teacher’s (and other public sectors workers) wages, they said it was to shore
up the pension but instead they used it to balance the books and finally
Florida’s pension funds is one of the best around and amazingly healthy.

will tell you what though, if you want to pay me the nation’s average in salary
for teachers, a 14 thousand dollar raise for me, as a 12th year
teacher, I would gladly take it and provide my own pension.

Shame on the chamber of commerce, for misleading and trying to scare people. Shame on them.