Fresen, demonizing teachers and public schools was done for the common good!

I really don’t get how these people live with
themselves.  Now he’s saying the school
choice movement is responsible for magnet schools. Now I have always thought
public schools should have more options with trades, skills and the arts along
with the advanced academic programs but to give the school choice, err, privatization
movement a scintilla of credit is beyond the pale.

From Redefined Ed: “That’s what we’ve always theorized from the moment that
we started talking about choice and choice options was that, not only would it
lift all ships,” Fresen said, but it would also spur school districts to create
new programs “to meet different needs of students.”

“I do
think that the more that you expand choice options outside of the conventional
public school system, the more the conventional public school system will
innovate itself, and start responding to those demands and those changes,” he
Basically Fresen is saying Florida’s
war against teachers and public schools was all done for the common good. That
all the kneecapping of teachers, the strangling requirements, the siphoning
away of resources and all the money sent to the bank accounts of charter school
operators and voucher providers was done to nudge public schools into doing
what is right.
Give me a moment as I go hurl.

Vitti did the right thing about open enrollment

People who were against this plan, and I was one of
them, shouldn’t count this as a victory because Vitti’s sentiment was right, we
do need to bring kids back from charter schools and private schools, its just
open enrollment was the wrong idea at this time.
First I believe there are a lot of better ways to
bring kids back rather than fundamentally change the system.

What about making them safer? Vitti’s
measures thus far, extra security, ISSP teachers and deans have been
implemented half-heartedly.
What about fighting back against
standardized tests one of the reasons many parents say they send their kids to
private schools. Vitti’s rabbi Gary Chartrand is the chair of the state board
of education, why can’t Vitti convince him that the high stakes testing culture
created in Florida schools have sucked the joy out of education for untold
teachers and students alike.
What about creating more programs
that kids are interested in and I am not just talking about the obsession with
STEM. I bet we could have two more Douglass Anderson type schools if not more.
What about making sure each class
had a professional teacher rather than a Teach for America hobbyist to teach
them. His reliance on then kneecaps hundreds of classrooms throughout the
district and creates an ever-revolving door of teachers that will need to be
What about making classes smaller
and bringing in more social workers and counselors because often why kids act
up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school at our schools that
have seen the most amount of kids go to charter schools or take vouchers.
What about just getting the facts
out there. Public schools without a doubt are the best things going on. They outperform
charter schools as a group and they are doing well as private schools that
accept vouchers despite them being able to pick who they take and keep.
Furthermore the republican legislature isn’t trying to open up public school
sports, clubs and extracurricular events to private school, home school and
charter school kids for no reason. 

Then how about not approving anymore Charter schools, in my mind we already have 31 we don’t need, ironically enough two more are most likely going to be approved tonight.

At the end of the day this decision should
be up to the people of Jacksonville and it should be made through a referendum
deciding if they wanted to pay for transportation, the only way to make it fair, or not.
Until then Vitti and the board did
the right thing by putting on the breaks.

It’s been a very bad week for Step for Students

Friends I actually think vouchers should have a small role
to play in education as a supplement. Unfortunately here in Florida some people
envision them as a replacement for public education and aren’t above using
dubious tactics and poor mostly minority students as props to get their way.  Step up for Students the organization that administers
the vouchers and takes home nearly 7 million for their efforts had a pretty
terrible week because of above.
First came the Video from Doug Tuthill their president which
revealed they spend over a million dollars, some undoubtedly tax payer money to
influence elections and legislation that directly benefits them. If they get their
way and the bill currently working their way through the legislature passes
they could conceivably triple their fees to about 25 million dollars.
Then came the revelation that the waiting list they and their
supporters claimed to have that they used to justify the expansion of vouchers
doesn’t actually exist.
Now they have since tried to clarify their record keeping
practices but their efforts seems self serving at best.
Friends the bottom line is they don’t care about the mostly minority
and poor children they serve because if they did they would insist on
accountability measures, qualified teachers and legitimate curriculums but they
don’t and in fact they fight against those things.
Their efforts are about three things only: funneling money
to religious schools, knee capping public schools and filing their pockets,
children and apparently decency and the truth don’t make the cut. 
The only question that now remains is will the Florida
legislature, dominated by people who receive donations from Step up for Students
will do the right thing or not, sadly history does not leave me optimistic.

Eric Fresen Florida’s worst legislator ever

Sit down friends this one is a doozy.
From the St. Augustine Record when commenting about
vouchers: “There is a pent-up demand for that program, a potential demand in
the future, and we are going to allow for that demand be met,” Rep. Erik
Fresen, R-Miami, told reporters after the 8-4 vote by the House Education
Appropriations subcommittee.
Um what about the pent up demand to stop standardized tests?
Maybe a few people do want vouchers but millions are tired of teaching to the
test, sadly unlike the voucher people they haven’t contributed to Fresen’s reelection
campaigns.  The bottom-line for him is if
you are a public school parent or student you don’t matter to him.
It gets worse though, also from the record: .Organizations
that run the program estimate as many 25,000 additional students are trying to
get into the program now, although at one point Fresen contended that as many
as 100,000 students want to enroll in it.
So Fresen took their money and then lied for them, talk
about ethics.
What can I say about his scruples that his words don’t
already say for him.  

What’s really happening with testing in Duval County Public Schools!

From a Reader
Testing seems to be a sensitive point with the
Superintendent. He has taken great pains to say that he has reduced the amount
of testing and that he is encouraging a culture of instruction and child
development. Is this true? Let’s examine the current testing environment in
Duval County Public Schools.
It is true that the Superintendent cleared the testing
calendar of many tests that various District departments sent to schools. He
was correct in perceiving that DCPS wanted many tests given that duplicated one
another: PMA, LSA, Benchmark—many tested the same concepts.
Yet, because many of
those tests were optional, most classroom teachers stopped giving them. Only
the mandated tests were given to maximize instructional time. The clearing of
the calendar had little practical impact.
The Florida Department of Education is duplicitous when
it says the only tests it requires are FCAT and EOCs. School districts have
many mandates for reporting data on student progress which require the
districts to choose and administer tests throughout the school year. Dr. Vitti
made the decision to discontinue the September and December benchmark tests and
to use other tests in their place: this year, the Curriculum Guide Assessments
Florida law requires
that a teacher’s personal contribution to student growth be measured by testing.
This requires giving a test at the beginning of the school year and a test at
the end of the school year. Where Florida does not have a state assessment for
the subject, for example, FCAT math, districts have to create and give their
own tests. So Florida forces districts to give tests, but claims the tests are
not state-required tests.
Notwithstanding FLDOE’s hypocrisy, DCPS practice in
administering CGAs have caused problems in themselves.
CGAs are given too soon. DCPS has mandated that certain
tests are given three weeks before the end of the nine weeks grading period.
This has been a high level—cabinet level—decision. Students have to sit for
exams with one-third or more of the content untaught. The CGAs were written to
cover the entire quarterly Curriculum Guide. When the tests are given early,
the students are left to struggle with concepts they have not been taught.
And then District managers wonder why performance is low.
The Superintendent says in the latest media report that he
will direct that these tests take place every ten weeks. Can we trust him given
what has happened this year?
We are given to understand the reason for this is that they
need data to understand student progress. Really? DCPS cannot anticipate that
students will not pass exams that contain material they have not been taught?
The consequence—from the people running DCPS—unintended but
nevertheless real—is the corrosive effect this has on student-teacher
relationships. When the test is over, the students turn to their teachers and
ask, “Why didn’t you teach me what was on this test?!”
Teachers have no answer. How do you tell students it’s not
your fault, you are made to do what DCPS demands? But students stop trusting
that their teachers are on their side.
CGAs are revised by the Accountability & Assessment
department. What schools receive is not what the Curriculum and Assessment
Writing Teams turn in; the tests are revised by the side of DCPS that works in
testing and data. What the Academic Departments have done is changed.
If you ponder that
paragraph, you come to the conclusion that Testing trumps Academics.
For example, the 2nd
quarter CGA for Algebra had 37 problems for which the students were given 60
minutes. That’s an average of 1.6 minutes per problem. In comparison, the state
End of Course exam gives students 160 minutes to solve 64
problems, or 2.5 minutes per problem.
Yes, DCPS only
allows students 64% of the time for a problem that Florida allows for a test
written to the level of difficulty of the state exam.
Why 37 problems? I
talked to someone who was involved with the team that wrote the exam. It turns
out that Accountability and Assessment did not want to wait for the 3rd
nine weeks exam to gather student data on content that was scheduled for the 3rd
nine weeks. So they moved problems from CGA 3 to CGA 2.
Why does DCPS want to test students before they have
the chance to learn?
The Florida Times-Union quoted Dr. Vitti as saying
this: “Every
district needs district-wide testing for accountability… but the challenge
becomes when teachers still want to use their own tests,” he said. “They
believe their test questions are the right questions … A biology student may
have as many as 20 tests. That’s been a challenge.”
Is he saying that the reason we test students too much is
that teachers give their own tests?
Let’s ask why teachers have to give their own tests beyond
the fact that they are the best experts in what their students have been taught
and what those students should therefore be held accountable for. Also, let’s
ignore the fact that teachers don’t test students on material they have not yet
Teachers are not respected professionals in the educational
process. CGAs are like the FCAT: teachers do not see the test beforehand, and
they are not allowed to work with students after the administration to go over
the problems.
The most teachers are allowed to do is display the test
after the test window closes and lecture students about the questions. Students
may not rework the problems. All they are allowed to do is listen to the
teacher lecture about the problems for 90 minutes.
Who thinks such a scenario holds any educational value?
What do teachers want to do? They would like to copy
the problems, cut them into individual sections, and have the students paste
them into the Interactive Journals DCPS has demanded of every student in every
classroom. Teachers would have students work in their journals to decode the
problems, write about them, and work out solutions.
This is what’s known
as a FORMATIVE assessment—the students learn from taking the test. DCPS denies
This is all the more egregious because we are in a
transition year—we move to new standards next year. These CGAs will never be
used again. Why does DCPS think they need to preserve the secrecy?

The Superintendent wants to talk about the
priority of the student learning experience over the testing environment? Oh,
my dear Dr. Vitti, “PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF!”

Help Andrea Rediske stand up for Florida’s disabled children!

from Andrea Rediske

Early in February 2014, Orange County Public Schools and the Florida Department of Education harassed our family by requiring documentation that my son was dying and in hospice care to prove that he was unable to take state-mandated standardized tests.  In order to receive the waiver for testing the previous year, I had to submit a mountain of paperwork, including details of his medical history, and a letter from his doctor.  We were assured at his IEP meeting this school year that the waiver would be granted without problems.  Obviously, this wasn’t the case.  Shortly after I came forward with our story, State Representative Karen Castor-Dentel proposed HB 895 entitled the Ethan Rediske Act, that would make it easier for severely disabled and medically fragile children to receive waivers for standardized testing. According to the language of HB 895, the process to receive a waiver for standardized testing would go through the local district superintendent rather than requiring approval from the State Commissioner of Education.  I felt so humbled, grateful, and delighted to see that my son’s struggles with standardized testing were not in vain and that he would leave a legacy for other students like him in Florida.  I was so hopeful that families like ours would be relieved of a very small part of the burden that they carry every day.  I felt at the time that the Florida legislature would see the need for this type of legislation, and that its passage would sail through the House and the Senate.  Ethan passed away on February 7, 2014.  We were overwhelmed with the love and support of so many in the wake of our son’s death, and Ethan’s story has been broadcast around the country. 
Sadly, the Ethan Rediske Act has become the center of an ugly political battle, and HB 895 as it was written will not be passed.  Shortly after Ethan’s funeral, I addressed the Florida Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education at a local meeting here in Orlando, explaining what we had been through and urging them to support this legislation.  A few days after I spoke to the FLDOE, Pam Stewart, the Commissioner of Education wrote a letter that was sent to every teacher in the state of Florida, tacitly accusing me of using our personal tragedy to fulfill my “political agenda.”  She also stated in her letter that she approved 16 out of only 30 requests for waivers that had been requested – a little more than a 50% approval rate.
Senator Andy Gardiner submitted a competing bill (SB 1512), which, in addition to providing legislation supporting vouchers for charter schools, provides permanent waivers for all standardized testing of disabled children, but which requires the approval of the Commissioner of Education, who has a track record of only approving 50% of these requests. He has a child with Down Syndrome who has been mainstreamed into public school – I completely understand why he is invested in seeing this legislation pass.  However, Senator Gardiner is completely against the Ethan Rediske act, and was instrumental in stopping the bill from ever making it onto the K-12 subcommittee agenda for discussion.  Representative Karen Castor-Dental had to negotiate verbiage of the Ethan’s Act being attached to another bill – HB 7117 that includes legislation for school accountability – most of which does not receive support from parents, teachers, or schools.  Sadly, because Ethan’s Act has so much support, the other parts of this bill will get passed along with it.  Ethan’s name has been removed from the bill entirely – many legislators do not want his name associated with the legislation because it shows that there were measures in place in the legislature that hurt disabled children.
Even if HB 7117 passes the Florida House, it is in danger of being gutted or stopped by Senator Gardiner.  Without being completely privy to all of the political machinations at play right now, it seems that both Senator Andy Gardiner and Commissioner Pam Stewart are holding all the cards.  They have powerful allies and are protected on many fronts and have the power to stop this legislation.  Pam Stewart is an appointee of Governor Rick Scott and was not elected to her position.  Senator Andy Gardiner, according to his Wikipedia entry has been voted byOrlando Magazine as one of the 50 most powerful people in Florida for 5 years.  These two individuals hold tremendous political power and seem to be very determined to stop this legislation from passing.
I can’t fully convey the depth of my anguish over this.  I had such high hopes that Florida legislators would see what my sweet son has been through, they would understand the need to protect children like him and support families like ours, and do the right thing by passing the Ethan Rediske Act.  My only hope now is that the immense support we have received over the original bill can be channeled into influencing these individuals in positions of incredible political power to somehow change their minds and their hearts and support this legislation. 
If you feel moved to write to them, please be articulate and civil.  Anything that they perceive as an attack will likely be met with more resistance.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help and support.
Senator Andy Gardiner:
Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart:

An online petition against SB 1512 that includes a boilerplate message that will be sent to all Florida legislators on the Education Committee considering this bill:

Duval County wouldn’t fudge the enrollment numbers would they?

They have never fudged numbers before right?
Something has bugged me about this open enrollment proposal and that’s
the report of our enrollment that I thought had actually gone up this year.  Below from a reader seems to back that up.
The Rush to Open Enrollment
One Man’s Thoughts
Open Enrollment, the latest policy initiative from the DCPS
Superintendent, may be a good idea. But it has not been vetted, it may have the
opposite of its intended consequences, but we are given no time to have a
thorough discussion by all stakeholders in the school system.
Why the rush? Perhaps the answer is this: Last August, Duval schools
were short on instructional materials. The reason given was that enrollment was
up: 2,000 over the projected enrollment of 118,000 students.
If you read the media reports down to the details, you found that the
enrollment was reported as 117,000 as of this month of March.
That’s right—120,000 in August; 117,000 in March.
Maybe the Superintendent is panicked by the loss of 3,000 students in
six months.

That’s no reason to rush a policy into effect
that could have massive unintended consequences.

It turns out that waiting list for Vouchers doesn’t really exist

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, by Valerie Strauss

This belongs in the
you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff category.
The short version:
Florida’s lawmakers are
considering expanding a voucher-like tax credit program because, legislators
keep saying, there is a huge waiting list of families who want to participate.
It turns out that there is no waiting list.
The long version:
The Florida legislature has
been considering legislation that would expand the state’s Tax Credit
Scholarship Program, a voucher-like scheme that allows public money to be used
for private school tuition but wouldn’t require much if anything in the way of accountability from schools that accept vouchers.
(For example, the students wouldn’t have to take the high-stakes standardized
tests required of public school students.)
The Senate bill’s sponsor,
Republican Bill Galvano of Bradenton, wound up pulling the bill after
stories about the lack of accountability began to spread, and he cited the
accountability measures as the reason for his action. He did not mention an
embarrassing video that was uncovered in which Doug Tuthill, the president of
Step Up for Students, which administers the tax credit program, talks about how
much money his organization spends funding political campaigns. The Tampa Bay
Times wrote about the
video in this story
, which said in part:
In the video, Step Up for
Students President Doug Tuthill outlined the
organization’s political strategy. He talked about the role of an affiliated
political committee.
“One of the primary reasons
we’ve been so successful we spend about $1 million every other cycle in local
political races, which in Florida is a lot of money,” Tuthill told a group at
the University of California, Berkeley. “In House races and Senate races, we’re
probably the biggest spender in local races.” 

Tuthill said he and other proponents “make low-income families the face of the

“We put those people in the
face of Democrats and say ‘How can you deny this parent the right to educate
their child in the ways that they need?’ ” he said.
Just when people thought
the expansion of the program was dead in the legislature for the year, Florida
House members found a way to resurrect it by combining it with another reform
bill still alive. What will happen is unclear.
But the larger point is
that the expansion of the program has been pushed by Step Up For Students based
on what it and supportive legislators have said is a very, very long waiting
list of families who want to participate. Rep. Erik Fresen, a Republican from
Miami who was one of the legislators who figured out how to keep the expansion
idea alive, said at a hearing in Tallahassee about the bill that there is a
waiting list of families seeking the tax credits that now stands “at 100,00
students.” During the debate about the legislation, a figure of 34,000 families
on a waiting list has been thrown about, as have other figures.
Specifically citing such
numbers suggests there is an actual waiting list. But, it turns out, there
isn’t. After school activists and reporters asked for details about the waiting
list, Step Up For Students acknowledged that, alas, it doesn’t really keep one.
There aren’t any people on the waiting list because there isn’t a waiting list.
Jon East, of the redefinED
blog, which is published by Step Up For Students, wrote in this
The people who process
applications at Step Up, which publishes this blog, have become so overwhelmed
in recent years that they no longer wanted to give low-income families false
hope. They concluded that the main reason for the waiting list was mostly for
show, and they wanted no part of that.
Mostly for show? The
organization has sought an expansion of the program, and legislators have cited
the waiting list as a reason for funding it.
East continues:
For the current school
year, 2013-14, the cap limit of $286 million has allowed Step Up to serve
59,765 low-income students. But applications were coming in so fast last spring
that the processing team decided to stop taking them on June 28, about as
month-and-a-half before school started. Even so, 94,104 students had already
That number from June is
the origin of the 34,000 “waiting list” that has been asserted many times
during the current debate. In reality, it’s not a waiting list, but it’s a
powerful indication of demand.

Whatever the demand, it remains the case that
public funding has no business being used to pay for private school tuition.
That’s the bottom line.

The Times Union wants you to bet the farm on a maybe

Twenty one days ago nobody was talking about open
enrollment, now Superintendent Vitti and the editorial staff of the Times Union
want us to go full speed ahead and have provided some dubious reasons to do so.
I have serious reservations about this idea as do many
including the Jacksonville Public Education fund which says without providing
transportation it will most likely only benefit those families that arguably
wouldn’t use it or need it. They also say the results of other districts who
have tried it are mixed at best
Why not let the city of Jacksonville decide if they like the
idea and I remind you that none of the school board members nor Vitti got to
where they are at by talking about open enrollment, by voting on a referendum
to pay for transportation. Several south Florida cities already have special
revenue generating mechanisms in place dedicated solely to public education.
Regardless of how you feel about open enrollment you should
realize that we shouldn’t go from not talking about it to fundamentally
transforming the district in less than a month. If it is a good idea and like I
said I have serious reservations it will be a good idea next year when all the
problems and wrinkles of which there are many can be ironed out.

Finally I would like to say our district’s enrollment
inched up this past year because more and more families are realizing public
schools are the best thing going this fact would seem to mitigate the urgency
of doing open enrollment now.