Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Florida Moving Forward in Exploring Online University

The Tampa Bay Tribune recently published an article giving more details about the state's plans to explore the creation of the state's thirteenth university, which would operate entirely online. 

Florida, not known as a higher-education innovator, nevertheless might become the first state in the nation to open an all-online public university.
As even venerable institutions such as Harvard University and MIT join the push to offer more coursework online, the "mail-order diploma" is losing its stigma.
Nicknamed "Online U," it would be Florida's 13th university. It's one option of several under consideration by the state's Board of Governors as it grapples with an increasing need for an educated workforce, rising tuition and a loss of utility tax money for construction of new buildings.
The board this month hired The Parthenon Group of Boston to begin researching online options, including the fully online school. Another possibility is pulling together the best online courses offered at the University of South Florida, University of Florida, Florida State University and others, making them available to all students, no matter their home school.
I simply see this as another potential non-funded mandate. That seems to be the pattern in Florida. The State University System in Florida has seen nothing but budget cuts in the past few years, but the state has managed to create a twelfth state university by allowing the University of South Florida-Lakeland to become the independent Florida Polytechnic University and now by exploring plans to create a 13th university. The state cuts K-12 funding, but then requires districts to purchase new, expensive new evaluation systems that require observers to use iPads for realtime feedback as well as being ready to administer tests and distribute textbooks digitally by 2015. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Class Sizes Don't Matter...with a BIG Exception

One solution oftentimes proposed by schools to improve learning involves reducing class sizes. Florida passed a class size amendment in 2002 through a ballot initiative. The amendment proclaimed that class sizes could not exceed 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 students in ninth through twelfth grade. 

Detractors of such proposals think they are a waste of money and that student performance is only dependent on having "good teachers." They often think about the old days when they were in a 50-person class back in Catholic school in the 1950s. Let's forget the fact that most present-day Catholic schools no longer operate that way and that today's demands would hinder the success of many classrooms with that many students. There was no such thing as "differentiated instruction" back then and teachers did not receive 100% of the blame when students did not succeed.

People opposed to public school class size reductions also feel as though class size reductions are only a ploy by teachers unions to increase membership rolls. Setting class size limits will force districts to hire more teachers, which could increase the number of union members depending on the state. However, these same people probably would not be excited to send their elementary age child to a classroom with 35 students either. 

Despite these arguments, class sizes are held in high esteem and celebrated in some schools. In fact, the current crop of education reformers often tout these entities as being superior to public schools. They are private schools. They value small classes, and most highlight their small class sizes in their advertisements. Boarding School Review lists small class sizes as one of the reasons why parents should consider boarding school and support this claim using the same kinds of arguments one would use to defend smaller class sizes in public school. Even many charter schools and smaller liberal arts colleges and community colleges use their small class sizes to market themselves. Why is that small classes are okay for these schools but just a teachers union membership drive and/or cover-up for bad teaching for public schools?

It's one thing to argue that we cannot afford to reduce class sizes at this moment. However, dismissing such proposals as a conspiratorial ploy by the teachers unions to increase membership is disingenuous inasmuch as the schools these people tout as being superior value small class sizes themselves.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

District's Leaders Urge New Teachers to Join the Union

There is an interesting post on the Tampa Bay Times' Gradebook blog about advice district leaders gave to incoming teachers to the public school system in Hillsborough County at their induction ceremony. They urged them to join the union!

Hillsborough school district officials gave a lot of good advice to the new teachers who gathered Wednesday morning at Strawberry Crest High School. Never stop learning. Always leave your door open when you meet with a student. Don't Facebook with your students.
And, as much as anything: Join the Classroom Teachers Association.

According to what we hear from the current crop of education reformers, this is an interesting bit of advice coming from administrators.  Don't we always hear that the union is the entity that gets in the way of principals and districts getting rid of bad teachers? We always hear of these principals and district leaders coming into schools with these great plans for school improvement only for the "union rules" to stifle some or all of their plans. 

I do not know any details about the relationship between this local and the district. Looking at some of the comments, there may be other reasons for this advice. Even if the district is giving this advice for other reasons besides teacher support, it is a fact that districts are in a battle with the state and even the federal government over new mandates that can do considerable harm to education. The union may be the only means by which to combat these new regulations. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Legislators and Charter Schools Want More "Equitable" Funding

The Orlando Sentinel Education Blog is reporting that the state is creating a task force to explore more equitable facilities funding for charter schools. 

A new state task force has been tapped to make recommendations to the Florida Legislature on “more equitable facility funding for charter schools and schools operated by a school district.”
The new panel is to have its first meeting tomorrow, though, so far, Gov. Rick Scott has not announced his appointments to the task force.  The speaker of the Florida House and the president of the Florida Senate have made their appointments to the 11-member group.
The task force was created by the Florida Legislature amid concerns by charter-school advocates that those independent but publicly financed schools have struggled, under the current system, with funding for facilities and other capital projects.

The state already gave all of the 2011-2012 school year's Public Educational Outlay Capital (PECO) funds to charter schools. Now, legislators and charter school advocates are requesting that they be funded equally. The crux of the charter school argument is that they can do everything public schools do for less money and with better academic results. Well, they need to live up to the arguments they made when they were calling for charter school expansion! They need to prove to the taxpayers that they can perform their duties for less money than traditional schools. 

This seems like the perfect strategy. Set yourself up as being able to do more things with less money. After gaining widespread support through expansion, suddenly raise prices. It seems as though this was the plan after all. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Homeschooling Comparison

Homeschooling is growing rapidly throughout the country. Parents who do so are wishing to customize their children's educational experience, provide them with a safe learning environment, provide a strong values-based component to their educational, and simply to spend more time with their children. Let me state that I have no issues with homeschooling. If a parent chooses to take that route, they are certainly within their right to do so. I certainly agree with the notion that your parent is your first teacher and should be your best teacher. 

My only issue is with the superior attitude that some of the parents who make this choice project unto classroom teachers. I frequently hear and read comments indicating that the homeschooling parent will do a better job of teaching their children than a school teacher will do. When they say this, they are usually talking about public school teachers. I think this type of statement is an insult to all teachers who teach in a classroom environment, whether they are in a public school, charter school, or private school. It is obvious that a parent teaching her biological children has a significant chance of attaining greater results than the classroom teacher who is responsible for 20-150 of other people's children. With homeschooling, you get to provide your child with a completely customized educational experience, where you are allow to let that child operate in his strengths, but also spend an unlimited amount of time shoring up his weaknesses.  Unlike most classroom teachers, they get to select the curriculum and teaching methods that work best for their children, and they get to operate at a pace that will maximize their children's success. 

Again, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with homeschooling. However, there are different sets of responsibilities for classroom teachers and homeschooling parents. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Florida DOE's Explanation of Botched Grades

The Florida Department of Education recently admitted to miscalculating the scores of approximately 200 schools using the state's A-to-F school grading system. Teacher assignments and school morale are impacted by this system. Principals' school placements are impacted by this system. Real estate agents use these grades to sell homes. Housing prices in many neighborhoods hinge on these results. Cities and counties use these grades to sway businesses to relocate here. Thankfully, these affected schools saw their grades lifted by at least one letter grade.

Here is an article from the Orlando Sentinel with the DOE's explanation of the mishap:

The Florida Department of Education on Monday acknowledged that it miscalculated school grades across Florida while local education officials said the mistake will fuel more public distrust in the state's student-accountability system that has been under increasing attack in recent months.
DOE's mistake centered on its failure to use one new piece of the complicated grading formula that it had revised earlier this year, officials said Monday. That piece of the formula aimed to give schools extra credit if struggling students made significant gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
When state officials realized that some students had been left out of that part of the calculation, they revised grades for elementary and middle schools that had been released July 11.
The new, correct calculations boosted marks for 213 campuses statewide, including 28 in Central Florida, or about 8 percent of those graded schools, DOE announced late Friday.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Excellent Essay on Current Attitude Towards Teachers

A gentleman by the name of David Reber wrote a wonderful essay about the outrageous attitude many people share about teaching. Teachers are criticized for doing or demanding the same things that other professions take for granted. While commentators scream "listen to the troops on the ground" when discussing the need for the Iraq surge during President G.W. Bush's term, "speak to small business owners" when the President Obama held a summit on improving the economy, and "listen to the doctors" when debating the new health care law, teachers are labeled as "lazy," "resistant to change,"  "advocating for themselves instead of the students," and "protecting the status quo"  when challenging proposals they believe will have a negative impact on their performance and the quality of their students' education. They are essentially told to suck it up or find another career. Do we speak that way to our soldiers, cops, doctors, lawyers, etc. when they oppose measures that may impact them negatively? No. Why hold teachers to a different standard? An excerpt is below. You can find the full article here.

I’m going to step out of my usual third-person writing voice for a moment. As a parent I received a letter last week from the Kansas State Board of Education, informing me that my children’s school district had been placed on “improvement” status for failing to meet “adequate yearly progress” under the No Child Left Behind law. 
I thought it ironic that our schools were judged inadequate by people who haven’t set foot in them, so I wrote a letter to my local newspaper. Predictably, my letter elicited a deluge of comments in the paper’s online forum. Many remarks came from armchair educators and anti-teacher, anti-public school evangelists quick to discredit anything I had to say under the rationale of “he’s a teacher.” What could a teacher possibly know about education? 
Countless arguments used to denigrate public school teachers begin with the phrase “in what other profession….” and conclude with practically anything the anti-teacher pundits find offensive about public education. Due process and collective bargaining are favorite targets, as are the erroneous but tightly held beliefs that teachers are under-worked, over-paid (earning million-dollar pensions), and not accountable for anything.
In what other profession, indeed. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Florida Department of Education Botches School Grades

The school accountability system in Florida is under attack. The governor and especially his appointed Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson have been criss-crossing the state defending the state's accountability measures. Well, here's something else to defend. The Department of Education miscalculated school grades in 40 of the state's 67 school districts. On the A-to-F scale, that resulted in many schools grades going up by one letter grade. Here is an excerpt from the Orlando Sentinel's coverage of the fiasco:
School grades in 40 of Florida's 67 school districts, including some in Orange, Osceola, Lake and Volusia counties, were miscalculated and have been bumped upward, the Florida Department of Education announced late Friday.
The department provided little information about what led to the revised grades, saying only that they were identified as part of "continuous review process."
Volusia Superintendent Margaret Smith said she was called earlier Friday and told about the changes to her six campuses but given little explanation about what had happened.
While it was "good news" for the involved schools, Smith said, it was also "disconcerting" to realize there might have been mistakes given the high-stakes nature of Florida's school grading system.

Given the stricter standards and the lower grades that resulted from the new standards, I am sure that these schools can breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that their image for the next school year won't be as bad as they thought. Thankfully, only a week has passed since the original school grades announcement. Hopefully too many people did not make any drastic decisions based on the results of now incorrect school grades. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Initiatives with Less Funding

Kim Wilmath of the Tampa Bay Times posted a story on the newspaper's Gradebook blog about the state hiring a consultant to look into ways to expand the state's postsecondary online education options.

 An outside consultant has been hired by the Florida Board of Governors to study ways to expand online learning in the state university system. 
The Parthenon Group, with offices in Boston, London, Mumbai and San Francisco, was chosen out of seven companies who bid on the $270,000 project. That money was appropriated to the board during the last legislative session, the board announced Thursday.
The study follows a suggestion by incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford that the state look into adding a new, all online university to the state.

Florida has already cut $289 million from the higher education budget for the upcoming academic year. Despite this, the state managed to allow the Lakeland branch of the Tampa's University of South Florida to become its own independent university now known as Florida Polytechnic University. Now, the state is hiring a consultant to review the expansion of postsecondary online learning options with the ultimate goal of creating a thirteenth state university that will be completely online? Florida sure does love piling on new initiatives and requirements in education without providing the means to fund them. Why couldn't the money that may eventually be spent to create a thirteenth university be invested in expanding the existing universities' online learning options? This option seems to be the better move. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Conflict Between National and State Level Control

Many conservative politicians argue for more local control of education. I do not see anything wrong with that and given things such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, I do not imagine many liberals disagreeing with the notion. States like California and Florida are going to have different issues to tackle than states like Vermont and Wyoming. One-size-fits-all mandates from the Federal Department of Education will not always account for individual state needs. However, it is difficult to argue for local and/or state control of education while constantly comparing the test results of the United States as a whole to other countries. If we are trying to compete on a global scale, how can the United States compete effectively when there could be as many as fifty different sets of educational standards? 

One could argue that as long as individual states are making gains using their own unique systems, then our overall national results will still rise. But what should be done about the states whose students do not make gains? What if the individual state reforms are not working? What if one state decides to put more emphasis on the skills needed to succeed in its economy? Should it then be the job of the Federal Department of Education to intervene and fix that state's problems? Wouldn't that usurp the state's desire to do what it feel is best for its people? 

How can we satisfy the need to diversify our country's educational needs while remaining competitive on a global scale? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Doctor not with a Patient? You're Not Working!

  • The evening news anchor only works for 20 minutes a day.
  • The cable news show anchor only works 40 minutes a day.
  • The lawyer is only working when in the courtroom or during arbitration.
  • The doctor is only working when seeing a patient.
  • The salesman is only working when he is talking to a customer.
  • The radio host with a three hour talk show only works two hours a day.
Not including commercials, Diane Sawyer only works for twenty minutes a day? Rush Limbaugh only two hours? Their time preparing for these shows don't count as work? The time a lawyer spends alone in his office building his client's case doesn't count? The physician who takes some time to read the latest research on a patient's medical condition can't count that as work? 

These assertions sound absurd, right? People in these professions would be extremely angry to hear someone make such claims about their work. Yet people frequently say these things about teachers. They only consider time spent with students to be actual work. They feel that planning periods, teacher workdays, and duty-free lunches are just ploys by teachers unions to lessen the amount work its members have to do. To the contrary, this allows teachers time to grade papers, prepare future lessons, hold conferences, etc. For most teachers, the forty or fifty minutes a day of planning is certainly not sufficient, so they end of volunteering a lot of their own time to create the best experiences for their students. As with all things, all good work takes planning. Though your doctor, lawyer, keynote speaker, media personality, etc. may not bill you for preparation time per se, please be assured that time used for preparation is factored into the cost of the product they are selling or the service they are providing. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Testing's Impact on Non-Tested Subjects

Scott Shuler, the outgoing president of the National Association for Music Education, wrote an outstanding column for the June 2012 edition of the Music Educators Journal discussing the negative impact the testing culture has had on music education. He discusses the importance of a well-rounded education, shows how several educational policy documents (including No Child Left Behind) identify the arts as a core subject, and how music educators and supporters in general should go about advocating for increased access to arts education. 

It is a fact that the quality or availability of non-tested subjects has declined since 2001, especially in low-income schools as they hire additional staff, adopt expensive intervention programs, and offer more remedial courses to improve test scores. Brad Rogers talks about this in a recent column in regard to the impact of Florida's FCAT exams on the availability of elective courses: 

What [reformers] fail to acknowledge, though, is what has been sacrificed in the name of FCAT success. Huge numbers of children have been denied electives so they can be warehoused in remediation classes, decimating bands, athletic teams, and what’s left of our music and art programs.

Under Florida's A+ plan, middle and high school students who fail the reading and/or math portion of the FCAT must enroll in a remedial course during the next school year. This does not replace the grade-level reading or math course. The remedial course is an additional period of study, which takes the place of an elective class. The schools that still operate on a six-period day end up with many students who are not able to take an elective due to their test scores. When a student expresses interest in taking a performing arts class or another elective, the teacher pretty much has to respond to that interest with this question: "How did you do on the FCAT?" The answer to that question will determine if the student will actually be able to join the elective class. 

How can educators do a better job of elevating the study of non-tested subjects such as music, art, social studies, physical education, etc. in this era of stressing STEM courses? Is it necessary to advocate for the creation of standardized tests and accountability measures for these subjects in order for them to gain more credibility in the eyes of the current crop of reformers? Or should educators advocate for a  reduction in the frequency of testing and some of the accountability provisions in order to allow breathing room for exposure to other subjects? I believe that landing somewhere in the middle is the only way these subjects will have any increased value in the education arena. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Teachers Upset with Florida's New Evaluation System

This weekend, the Orlando Sentinel published a story about how disgruntled teachers are with the  observation component of the state's new teacher evaluation system. 

In order to receive federal Race to the Top funds, states had to adopt new teacher evaluation tools basing a portion of that evaluation on student performance on standardized tests. The other aspect of the federal program involved states and districts adopting new teacher observation systems based on the latest educational research. Most of the districts in Florida adopted the evaluation framework of Robert Marzano, and the article focuses on this system since this is what most Central Florida districts adopted. Other districts are using systems by Charlotte Danielson and Douglas Reeves.

Though most teachers would agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with Marzano's or the other researchers' strategies, they are extremely disappointed with how districts have implemented the new teacher observation systems. The first problem is that the implementation of these strategies don't allow teachers to formulate and pick the strategies that work best for their individual classrooms. This system essentially acts as a cookie-cutter approach to teaching and doesn't allow much margin for teachers create or modify strategies that are effective for them and their students. These systems unintentionally result in all teachers having to teach exactly the same way, regardless of the content area, personality of the teacher, and the personality and learning styles of the students. 

Secondly, there has been a lot of ambiguity in how administrators have assessed teachers' implementation and performance of these strategies. There are countless stories of teachers doing exactly what one of Marzano's strategies instruct only to be told that they are doing too much or doing it too little. There are stories of two administrators observing a teacher at the same time and coming up with opposing scores. There are stories of some principals stating that no teacher will receive "innovating," the highest score, while other principals are giving out those scores liberally. 

The Orlando Sentinel article cites an award-winning teacher being cited as "beginning" in one of his observations. He had just erased the learning goal from the board, a large component of the evaluation system, to write something else immediately before his administrator walked into the room for an observation.

High-school chemistry teacher Steve Fannin was honored recently in Washington, D.C., as one of the nation's best math and science educators.
Fannin, a 31-year veteran of Tallahassee schools, has mastery of his subject and "exemplary" classroom skills, according to the judges of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Yet when Fannin was evaluated under Florida's new teacher-assessment system, the results weren't so impressive.
A mid-year evaluation identified him as a "beginning" teacher.
His failing? Fannin had erased the day's "learning goal" from his board to make room for information to help his students grasp the chemistry lesson at hand.
"It's just been real frustrating all the way around," Fannin said of the new system. "I don't see how that promotes innovation. I don't see how that helps student learning."
His views are echoed by teachers across the state, who say a classroom-observation system meant to improve their teaching instead reduces their work to what one Lyman High School educator called a "humongous checklist" of "artificial gestures."

Like I said, I do not believe that the strategies in the evaluation system are bad unto themselves. I believe that the problems stemmed from districts having to rush to pick an evaluation system, resulting in them not being able to train their administrators and teachers in the effective use of those strategies.  The Florida merit pay law required immediate implementation of its provisions with the only delay being the implementation of merit-based compensation. 

However, there is one district that took a different approach to phasing in the observation portion of the evaluation system, and I believe that there is not as much strife in this district as there are in other districts because of the methods used. Leslie Postal, the author of the Orlando Sentinel article posted this on the newspaper's blog about Volusia County's approach to the new teacher evaluation system:

But in Volusia (using a modified version of [Charlotte] Danielson’s plan) the teachers union is positive about the new system. The difference?
The district, working with the union, tweaked the model to include a teacher-directed improvement plan (that is each teacher selected something to work on based on their students’ needs and their own).  And Volusia decided to pilot the new system in just 14 schools this year, holding off going district wide until this coming August.
That made a huge difference, said Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teacher’s Organization.
“I’m not going to say there’s not apprehension from teachers. There is,” he said.
But he feels like Voluisa’s plan gave teachers “authority in their evaluation” and the year-long pilot gave the district and the union time to work out problems — and there were plenty.
“If we didn’t have this one year of learning time, we would have been screaming and crying like everyone else,” Spar said.
Volusia County Schools did what many successful companies do with a new product. (I thought I'd throw that in since government is always told to act like the private sector). The district sought the input of its teachers and piloted the program to work out the kinks. Though there will always be people who will be resistant to change, I think this district and its union did a magnificent job of softening the blow of such a rapid change. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Education and Customer Service

I recently read a guest post from Joshua Rivers on Chris LoCurto's blog about enhancing customer service and satisfaction. He came to the conclusion that happy customers are the result of happy employees. I believe one of Chick-Fil-A's executives is known for saying that his customers are not the patrons buying food, but the thousands of employees making and serving the food everyday. Businesses, or at least the successful ones, always place a huge emphasis on how leadership impacts results. Here is an excerpt from the blog:

Here are some quick lessons learned about this concept:
  • Customer service flows from leadership, through employees, to customers - It is foolish for a boss to think that they can improve customer service or patient care by bypassing the employees. It is the employees who are on the front-line with the customers.
  • Happy employees make customers and bosses happy - When employees are happy, they can more easily make customers happy. When customers are happy, the bosses are happy. Isn’t it great when everyone is happy?
  • Happy employees save the company money - If you have unhappy employees, they will either leave or tear things up. If they tear things up, it costs money to replace what they damage—and usually things are more expensive the second time around. If they leave, there is the additional cost of finding and training someone new. To save your bottom line, make your employees happy

Imagine what would happen if states and mayor-controlled school systems treated their employees like this. School districts seem to be losing their power to the will of state governments and even the federal  government. Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson recently told a gathering of the Florida School Boards Association that their job is to carry out the will of the Florida Legislature.

I know most people would assume that I am making an argument for increased pay and benefits, but that is certainly not the case. Here are some solutions that don't cost much money at all:
  • Enlist a panel of teachers to advise the governor and/or the legislature's education committees on proposed education legislation, including educational government contracts. 
  • Acknowledge that teachers are not 100% to blame for the problems plaguing public education.
  • Value experience like we do in other occupations. Recent college grads complain about employers wanting people with experience, yet experience seems to be a negative in education. 
  • Allow teachers to use teaching techniques that work for their subject, grade level, and student populations instead of imposing one set of techniques upon all teachers. 
  • Delegate properly. Tell us what you want us to accomplish and then allow us to figure out how to get there. 
This is not by any means an exhaustive list, but it is a start. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Vouchers are Not Cheaper" Follow-Up

I recently posted a blog taking about how a "vouchers for all" plan would being exorbitantly expensive. I only spoke hypothetically, using the population of one pretend private school within a school district's boundaries to explain my claim. Well, now it is time to work with real numbers. I will use Florida figures to explain this. 

  • How much does Florida spend per pupil? Florida spends an average of $6,357 per student. Florida media outlets report a $6,000 figure while national media outlets report an $8,000 figure. Perhaps the national figures add capital funding, federal money, or local supplements into the mix. To be on the financially conservative side, I will stick with the lower figure of $6,357. 
  • How many of Florida's students are in private schools? There are 339,582 students enrolled in Florida private schools. I am not sure if this figure includes the 24,000 students who are already in Florida's voucher program for disabled students called the McKay Scholarship Program
  • How many of Florida's students are being homeschooled? There are more than 60,000 students being homeschooled in Florida. 

So, if we were to enact a full-scale voucher program in Florida, we would have to give all current private school and homeschool students vouchers first, since the state does not currently allocate money for them. At the current per-pupil rate of $6,357, Florida taxpayers would be liable for an additional $2,540,142,774 in education spending! That's $2.5 billion

Starting such a program today would be daunting financially in addition to the possible controversies that could arise from spending state money on private schools. In a perfect ed former's world, all students would receive a voucher from the state to send to the school of their choice. However, I believe that the astronomical costs of launching such a system is why politicians only limit such programs to students with disabilities and/or low-income parents. They are aware of the costs associated with this and are settling for a lighter version of the program. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Romney's NAACP Speech = Support Charters!

Mitt Romney spoke before the NAACP at its annual convention. His speech started well by emphasizing the importance of the family. It is an undeniable fact that if you get married, have kids, and stay married, you are going to have better economic outcomes compared to those who have children as teenagers or even young adults without first being married. In my opinion, this is something that the government cannot fix and is something that individuals must accomplish on their own with the moral assistance of their churches. 

Then the tide turned when he started to state that charter schools and vouchers are the solution to the black community's problems. I've already gone over some of the advantages that private schools have over public schools.  A blog article by Diane Ravitch describes the advantages that charter schools have over traditional public schools. She concludes by saying that if public schools had these same privileges, then they would see significant growth as well. 

Well, you are not going to see traditional public schools gain those advantages, at least initially. This charter school agenda is not about loosening red tape. It is not about providing students with more exposure to educational best practices. If that were the case, then all schools would be afforded those privileges at the stroke of the governor's pen. It is all about money. Education takes up the most space in state budgets with most of that being tied up in personnel. The only way to reduce this financial "burden" is to lower the cost of labor. In fact, this is how we Americans get to enjoy so many products for relatively little money (otherwise known as "Made in China"). The only way to lower the cost of labor is to get rid of seniority rules and pay scales that emphasize experience and graduate studies. Experienced teachers are the scapegoats in public education, and being able to get rid of them will reduce the cost of labor. (It's funny how recent college graduates complain about not being able to get jobs because they lack experience in their field, yet having experience is becoming a negative attribute in public education).

Charter schools mostly employ young, inexperienced teachers. There is high attrition in these schools, which allow them to bring on more young, inexperienced teachers as replacements.  This practice helps explain the belief that charters can do the same job with less money. They don't have 25-year teachers at the top of the pay scale to pay. This is the goal of the charter school movement. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

School Boards vs. The State

Across the country, the power of locally elected school boards are being taken away in order to comply with ever increasing state and national mandates. Here is a post from the Tampa Bay Times education blog discussing a column written by Citrus County School Board member Pat Deutschman making such claims.

School board members across Florida are proclaiming their support of education accountability as they adopt resolutions opposing the state's reliance on FCAT results for so many measures, such as teacher performance and third-grade promotion.
While many focus on the testing aspect of the issue, Citrus County School Board member Pat Deutschman adds another angle to the conversation. She suggests in a column for the Citrus County Chronicle that people also should be up in arms about the state's strong-arm tactics.
Local school board members know better than some unelected bureaucrats and political appointees in Tallahassee.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interesting Article Comparing ObamaCare and Ed Reform

I just read an article on another blog about the similarities between the debate leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act and Race to the Top. According to the blog, the opinions of the "troops on the ground," the doctors and teachers, where left out of both debates. It's an interesting comparison.

The first moment of realization came after reading this line in Daniel Henninger’s editorial, “Have you noticed what got lost in this historic rumble? Doctors. Remember them?” Oh, no! You mean they didn’t consult any actual doctors when they devised the Affordable Care Act? Sounds just like Secretary Arne Duncan’s decision to ignore teacher voices in the creation of Race to the Top.

You can read more on kafkateach's blog. 

Are Private Schools Still Private with Vouchers?

Private schools enjoy many privileges that public schools do not have. Some privileges will vary from state to state. They get to be selective about their population. They get to select their own curriculum. They can schedule the school day and school year in any manner they choose. They get to select which standardized test to use, whether it is the newer, state-mandated No Child Left Behind exam or a long-standing test such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. They can also choose not to administer a standardized test at all. If the school is affiliated with a religious institution, they get to stay true to their beliefs without fear of First Amendment lawsuits. They can impose and enforce dress codes, such as the use of uniforms. They can invest in the latest technology or send their teachers out to conferences for continual professional development without the public crying "waste." They can remove students who cannot or will not perform academically and/or behaviorally. Though there are private schools out there that accept or even specialize in teaching students with disabilities, they are not obligated to do so. The ring of education reformers and media pundits only focus on these schools' ability to fire ineffective teachers with ease, but as you can see, these schools have a host of other advantages over their public school counterparts. 

If voucher supporters get what they want and every student is given a voucher to spend at the school of their choice, which could include private schools, will these schools continue to enjoy the many privileges they have? Will they now have to accept every student? Will they have to accept students whose families do not share the same religious beliefs? Will they have to follow the state curriculum and administer the state exam? Will they have to reduce their level of religious instruction? Will they be able to enforce the wearing of school uniforms? Will their staff compensation and other expenditures be subject to public scrutiny? Will they have to retain every student regardless of their performance?

My answer is yes. Just as I predicted that controversy would arise when a non-Christian religious school applies for voucher funds, I predict that a few years after the installation of a voucher program, lawsuits will spring forth demanding that private schools do X and Y because "they accept public funding." At that point, these private schools that once had so much freedom will cease to be truly private. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Florida's Governor Scott Shows Caution on Testing

There is an interesting story in the Tampa Bay Times about Governor Rick Scott beginning to question the worthiness of constant standardized testing in Florida's public schools.

Gov. Rick Scott said on Friday that schools might be doing too much of a good thing when it comes to student testing and that he is talking with state education officials, school superintendents and teachers about possibly changing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The governor addressed a conference of newspaper editors from five Southern states and said that Florida received more parent complaints this year than in past years, especially about the FCAT. The state received 800 calls after the release of the FCAT writing scores earlier this year.
"Parents and taxpayers expect measurement. We've got to measure, we've got to find out who the best schools are," Scott said. "We have to have a good measurement system, but we have to make sure we don't have too much of it."
He said among the FCAT, federal testing and end-of-course exams, students might be tested too much. He said he is talking to officials and teachers about what changes should be made.
"In the end I think it's going to change a lot," he said.

I wonder if he will actually consult the opinions of teachers and school administrators on any possible policy changes. Before now, he has only seemed to listen to the non-teacher headed foundations who support increased testing, the removal of due process procedures for teachers, merit pay based on test scores, top-down curriculum mandates, charter schools, private school vouchers, etc.  It will be a miracle if he does consult the opinions of those people who are actually on the ground in the classrooms than these foundation heads who only look at schools from the outside in.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Responsibility for Charters

The purpose of charters is to usurp the regulations of school districts and states, which proponents believe will allow them to perform better than traditional public schools. As a result of this, they get to operate without much oversight from the local community though tax money funds them. However, districts are still held responsible for their results. There have been quite a few charter school scandals in Florida, and the one depicted in the Miami Herald story below is one that was almost allowed to continue at the blessing of the Florida Department of Education. 

An appeals court on Thursday struck down a decision by the state Board of Education that had given a troubled Florida City charter school the power to open its doors again after being shut down by the Miami-Dade School District.
In 2010, Miami-Dade school officials closed the Rise Academy after finding a litany of problems at the charter school: unsanitary bathrooms and food storage, a shortage of textbooks, and questionable spending by administrators. The school had no science, social studies, art or writing programs, no student computers, no library — and recess was held on an asphalt parking lot, Miami-Dade officials found.
If Florida is going to allow the charters to do whatever they please and overturn school district's decisions to revoke or reject charters, then the school districts should be released from liability for their performance. There is a case of high-performing Seminole County Schools turning down a charter school because the charter network's existing schools didn't perform as well as Seminole's public schools. The state overturned that decision as well. Yet, Seminole County schools will be held accountable for this school's results. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/05/2883293/appeals-court-miami-dade-school.html#storylink=cpy

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Problem with "Waiting for Superman"

I saw Waiting for Superman a little over a year ago. I borrowed it from the library. :-)

Though the movie expressed some legitimate concerns, there is one big problem with this documentary. The documentary provides a very lopsided view of our education system. It goes into the worst of the worst schools in New York City (and Washington, DC if I remember correctly) and uses those schools as the example of a typical public education. Then they present charter schools as the alternative, using the best of the best charter schools as its example of what a typical charter school education can provide.

I do not see how people don't see past this blatant bias when watching the movie. My school district has a few struggling schools, but it also has some high-achieving schools. It would be totally unfair for a media crew to use the performance of the struggling school(s) to judge of the performance of the entire district.

Unfortunately, many people take this movie as gospel and often cite it in debates about public education. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tide is Turning on Testing

For the past 10 years, the main theme in education has been accountability. That accountability comes through the ever-increasing use of standardized tests to judge the quality of teachers, schools, and districts. Florida has gone so far as to rank districts and schools by their performance on the state's standardized test. The "Student Success Act" passed in 2011 now requires that teachers be judged in part by their students' performance on standardized tests. Because these tests put so much at stake, school districts have created benchmark exams to predict how students will perform on the standardized tests. Teachers are told only to teach those benchmarks that will be covered on the state tests, which helps to explain the sudden drop in writing scores when spelling and grammar were added to the criteria for passing. Furthermore, districts will now have to create subject-area exams for those classes who do not have an existing standardized test. 

Well, the tide is turning on testing. School districts across Florida and the country are signing resolutions calling for a reduction in testing or at least a change in how the tests are used to judge the very worth and value of students, teachers, schools, and districts. I don't think anyone wants standardized testing to go away altogether. I don't think we could succeed politically with that. However, I do believe that there is an argument to be made for using these test scores as diagnostic tools to discover the ways to help advance students rather than using them as a sledgehammer. As far as  creating new subject area exams is concerned, do we really need standardized tests in PE, music, art, etc?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Vouchers: Not Just Catholic Schools

One of the most controversial aspects of school voucher proposals is that taxpayer money could be used to send students to private religious schools. The ACLU-types probably fume at this idea. However, we already fund private school vouchers by allowing college students to use federal Pell Grants and federally subsidized student loans at private universities such as the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America. I am a Christian, and I do understand that there are many Catholic and other Christian-based schools that do a terrific job. Since vouchers seem to be an inevitable reality in today's political climate, I won't be upset if students choose to use this money at Catholic schools or other established Christian institutions of learning. Despite those intentions and given our increasing religious diversity in America, Christian schools won't be the only ones asking for voucher funds. 

Currently, there is a brewing controversy out there because of our nation's growing Muslim population.  Muslims are starting their own postsecondary institutions and K-12 schools, and I am sure they will want their students to have access to the same financial aid as everyone else. I predicted this years ago when I first started paying attention to educational politics. This is the case in Louisiana where an Islamic school applied to receive money under the state's new voucher program. Here is some information from an article posted on the Huffington Post

Stakes escalated last week when, to the frustration of some lawmakers, the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans applied for federal funds under the [new] voucher program. Republican state Rep. Kenneth Havard objected to the Islamic School's request for 38 government-paid student vouchers, saying he opposed any bill that "will fund Islamic teaching," the Associated Press reports. 
The lawmakers were able to breathe a sigh of relief because the school withdrew its application. However, I do not think this will be the last time we hear of such a request from a non-Christian religious school.
Another Louisiana lawmaker made an intriguing prediction:

"It'll be the Church of Scientology next year," Democratic state Rep. Sam Jones told AP.

Well, that's already happened in Florida.  A charter school in the Tampa Bay area is accused of using Scientology methods in its instruction

Politicians and education reform foundations tout the idea of vouchers assuming that the only participating religious institutions would consist of generally well-respected Catholic schools and such. To the contrary, they are now learning that they have put themselves in a tough position as other religions seek to provide their followers with a religious education and wish to be entitled to the same benefits and stature Catholic schools have enjoyed all of these years.