Thursday, August 23, 2012

Florida Judge Strikes Down Merit Pay Rules

There was a victory in Florida as an administrative law judge struck down the state's merit-pay rules as "invalid." It appears as though this will not rid the state of its merit pay law nor will it change evaluations from the 2011-2012 school year. However, it will slow down rapid changes in the future. Florida just released the Value-Added Scores to the districts for the 2011-2012 school year, and teachers are still waiting on results. Teachers could be waiting until as late as early October for last school year's results to finalize.

Here's the story from the Orlando Sentinel School Zone Blog:

The ruling likely won’t have a huge impact on the 2011-12 evaluations — which are to be finalized soon — but it could slow the process for any changes to evaluations that might have been planned for this year, said the attorney who brought the challenge.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More Scott Wavering on Testing

In this post, I talked about how Florida Governor Rick Scott seemed to be showing caution about our state's overemphasis on testing. Well, he has now apparently released an ad showing such concern. Here is what the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook Blog is reporting: 

From the News Service of Florida:
[Gov. Rick] Scott is in a new ad, in which he makes it clear that he agrees, at least in part, that high stakes testing as it has been used for 15 years in Florida, may have been overly emphasized.
"I've learned a lot as governor - you can study all the numbers you want, but listening to parents and teachers is still the best education," Scott says in the ad.
"I've listened to the frustrations parents and teachers have with the FCAT," Scott says. "Next year we begin improving our testing system. No more teaching to the test."

I don't know how genuine this is, but hopefully this can signal some sort of change in direction. As others have noted, SB 736 (Florida's merit pay law) has made testing even more important. Not only will teachers be evaluated in part by their students' performance on standardized tests, but it also requires districts to create assessments for non-tested subjects such as art, history, music, physical education, etc. This law essentially makes public education in Florida all about passing standardized tests. The first way of showing a true change of heart will be to rescind this law and to commission a panel of teachers (not non-teacher "reformers") to come up with a quality evaluation system.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Exams Coming to Florida

The Orlando Sentinel reports about the new standardized tests that will replace FCAT 2.0. They are known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. These exams compliment the new Common Core standards many states are in the process of adopting.

The FCAT, long Florida's most important and sometimes most reviled exam, is headed for a retirement of sorts. 
But when the state shuts the door on the math, reading and writing sections of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, it will usher in a new set of tougher standardized exams in those same subjects. 
The introduction of the new tests will come at a time when the state is facing increasing criticism about what some call its "testing mania." Some complain the state relies too heavily on scores from one-day FCAT exams to make key education decisions, from student promotion to teacher evaluations.
The criticism reached a high point this spring after the state ratcheted up scoring standards for FCAT and the FCAT-based grading formula for schools. 
Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers do not have a problem with standardized testing per se. The issue is with how the tests are used. The current FCAT tests and the eventual PARCC exams will determine student placement, teacher evaluation and pay, school grades, school funding, etc. While many will focus on the "one test on one day" argument (which is a legitimate one), I tend to complain about students taking these tests in February and April. School doesn't end until June! Therefore, the teacher is responsible for teaching a school year's worth of material and helping her students achieve mastery approximately eight weeks before the end of the school year. That doesn't make sense. 

Well, it does make sense to the testing company, who needs weeks to grade and compile the data. (In Florida, that hasn't even been enough time as they have delayed Florida's results before. They also came under fire for a glitch that kept 7,000 New York City elementary and middle school students from  walking in their graduation ceremonies.) Considering the brouhaha over the validity of the tests themselves, are we really serving our students by testing them  in April? Should the fourth grade teacher or seventh grade teacher be responsible for teaching the next grade's material after FCAT season, or should those teachers only be responsible for teaching their grade level's material? 

Since these tests are here to stay, we might as well figure out a way to make them work for our students. I think the best answer is to shift the tests to the end of the school year so they truly gauge how much the students progressed during the school year. 


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why aren't Doctors Blamed for Health Problems?

If teachers are to blame for poor student academic performance, then you would think people would blame doctors for America's health issues, right? Have you heard legislators and governors calling for healthcare reform when it comes to treating and preventing conditions? Have you heard them talk about how doctors should be paid less or paid based on patient outcomes?

The answer is a big, fat no. I bet they'd beat up the PE teachers for our country's health problems before they attack doctors. By the way, I am of the opinion that doctors are not to blame for our health woes. It is the responsibility of individuals to take care of their own bodies and to follow the guidance of healthcare professionals. I also feel the same way about education. Though both parties have some responsibility in ensuring results in their respective fields, they are not deserving of 100% of the credit or the blame for those results. Both fields involve multiple parties who all have a role to play being successful.

There was a wonderful editorial in last week's Des Moines Register discussing this issue. It explains the governors charge to citizens to take responsibility for their health. It's just too bad that same line of thinking doesn't apply to the education of the state's students. Here's an excerpt:

Gov. Terry Branstad has talked repeatedly about making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. To accomplish this, he wants residents to eat better, exercise and “take responsibility” for their lifestyles. He has not suggested Iowa doctors do a better job. There have been no proposals to pay physicians in a different way or require a minimum grade-point average for incoming medical students.
Why not? Because such proposals are obviously ridiculous. No one would lay the responsibility for the complicated task of improving the health of an entire state on the professionals working in health care.
So why is the governor fixated on teachers when it comes to the complicated task of improving education in Iowa? His proposals to create “world class” schools are disproportionately targeted at educators. He has pushed for a new pay structure, mentors and even personality assessments for teachers. His education reform proposal would require college students to have at least a 3.0 grade-point average to be admitted to teaching training programs.

You can access the full article here

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Follow Up to Student's Fox News Interview

In a previous post, I wrote about an interview I watched on Fox and Friends with a student named Nikhil Goyal. He said some really good things about what was wrong in education that one would not typically hear from the current crop of education reformers. Fox posted the video online, so you can watch the interview here.

I do not want to give him a ringing endorsement as I do not know what he would do if he had total control over education, but I am sure that many teachers would agree with the solutions he stated in this interview. These included the abolishment of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the reduction of standardized tests, adding more field experiences to education, etc.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Some Teachers Upset About Extra Hour of Instruction

The Florida Legislature recently passed a new regulation (go figure) mandating that students in the 100 lowest performing elementary schools must go to school for an extra hour per day for additional reading instruction. In contrast with previous mandates, the Legislature allocated $30 million for the implementation of the program. Here is the an excerpt of the law in the Florida Statutes:

 For the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years, each school district that has one or more of the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools based on the state reading assessment shall use these funds, together with the funds provided in the district’s research-based reading instruction allocation and other available funds, to provide an additional hour of instruction beyond the normal school day for each day of the entire school year for intensive reading instruction for the students in each of these schools. This additional hour of instruction must be provided only by teachers or reading specialists who are effective in teaching reading. 

Apparently, that is not boding well with teachers in the affected schools. Districts like Miami-Dade are still trying to figure out how to pay for it inasmuch as their allocation of funding (about $3 million) may not cover the cost of paying teachers. Some teachers have lost total confidence in the accuracy of the scores themselves given all of the changes instituted by the Department of Education after the 2012 FCAT season.

Here's an excerpt of the report from in South Florida:

On Thursday, Miami-Dade teachers working at those schools learned they’d be working an extra hour. Pay for the additional hour has not been negotiated. The United Teachers of Dade told Local 10 that Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho would fund the extra hour from the current budget without additional money from the state. Of the 100, 11 schools are in Miami-Dade County, 10 of which are public schools.
Many teachers are against the idea because the scores are in question.
“The state has played so many games with scoring that we have no confidence in scores generated," said Karen Aronowitz with United Teachers of Dade. “The bottom line is, they're asking the teachers to pay for this... We do not know how much they will be paid for the extra hour of work."

Even if the teachers receive extra money at their current hourly rate, I question whether this will really solve the reading problems. Reading is something that must be introduced early in the home and valued in the home as a child ages. Reading skills grow with extra practice. If the students are not engaging in independent pleasure reading at home to get that practice, how much impact will an extra hour of instruction have on their performance? I guess we'll have to wait and see at the end of next year's testing season.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is Privatization Really About the Children?

Supporters of privatizing education claim that the teachers, oops I mean their union, is not for the children but only for themselves. I ran across a wonderful essay with a different point of view through Diane Ravitch's blog. It is written by Matthew Mandel, a teacher in Pennsylvania. Here is an excerpt:

If it were about children, in Philadelphia, a state takeover charged with both improving financial management and educational outcomes would be put to rest as a failed experiment. A district’s management team wouldn’t be able to run a district into insolvency, say they are sorry, and then move on to lucrative consultant positions. Reformists like Michelle Rhee and Arlene Ackerman—who help to cultivate a culture of testing “irregularities”—wouldn’t be allowed to exit with a golden parachute before being held accountable for the results under their leadership.

If it were about children, boisterous, spotlight-seeking politicians who wax poetic about school vouchers as an elixir for what ills public schools would be required to do their own homework and examine research that compellingly indicates that vouchers don’t work. These same politicians would also be too embarrassed to call the fight for vouchers in Pennsylvania “the Civil Rights battle of our generation.” Our nation’s true Civil Rights leaders died trying to create greater opportunities for those without. Proponents of Senate Bill 1 are crusaders for someone’s interests, just not for our children’s.

If it were about children, legislators who stump for vouchers would have to guarantee a source of funding to bridge the gap between the value of the voucher and the cost of tuition at elite public and private schools. They wouldn’t be allowed to get away with deceiving families with the notion of “choice” when such choice belongs solely to the schools, not to the students and their families.

You can read the rest of the essay here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

British TV Offers Challenge to Michelle Rhee

From what I've seen, Michelle Rhee and many other school reformers often appear on cable news channels unchallenged. Due to this, they get to repeat the mantra that the public school system as a whole is a failure, claim that there is a plethora of bad teachers and that the unions protect them, and that the only way to improve the system is to abolish "tenure," increase the amount of standardized testing, and to evaluate teachers in part by the performance of their students on standardized tests. Well, BBC recently featured a debate between Michelle Rhee and Mary Bousted. Bousted is a union leader in the UK.

A union leader said the on-air sacking of an American headteacher was the "ultimate humiliation".
The ATL's Mary Bousted tackled Michelle Rhee, who used to run Washington schools, on her dismissal of a head teacher which was shown in a TV programme.
The pair debated American lessons for UK schools, claims of cheating in the US system, and how under-performing teachers were removed in Britain.

Check out the video here on BBC's website.

If only we can see more debates like this on American television.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Run Mississippi Run

Apparently, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has been conferring with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on setting education policy in the state. Here is an excerpt from an article from

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is urging Mississippi leaders to follow his state's example on education changes, and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is signaling his support for many of Florida's approaches.

Bush, a Republican, wants the state to consider higher expectations for students, stronger academic standards, more accountability for schools and options such as charter schools and vouchers. He says such measures worked in Florida.
"I think we're in a crisis mode," Bush told a group of Mississippi lawmakers and other officials at the Old Capitol in Jackson. "I think this should be the highest priority for our country." 
Bryant, also a Republican, has said he wants the 2013 legislative session to focus on education improvements. He's supporting charter schools and a merit pay system for teachers. Bryant says he wants to consider holding back third-graders who aren't reading on grade level and may want to do the same with  underperforming eighth graders. 
"What we need to do is create our own legislative package," Bryant told reporters after the speech. "Much of it is very similar to what Florida has done."
Mississippi has already adopted some of what Bush is calling for, including an A-to-F grading system for schools and school districts, the national common core academic standards and publicly financed scholarships to private schools for dyslexic students. 
Some parts of what Bush described may be hard for Bryant to push through the Legislature. He called for Mississippi to adopt charter schools, to offer tax credit-financed scholarships to private schools for poor students and extolled Florida's prekindergarten program.

It's interesting that charter schools failed in the Mississippi legislature last year, given the conservative make-up of the state. However, it looks like it will surely come up again given this new set of advice from Jeb Bush. According to the article, Governor Bryant also conferred with neighboring Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on education policy. Does he really want to bring what has happened in Louisiana over to Mississippi? All I can say to Governor Bryant is to run, run, run!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tenure for Charters?

The crop of education reformers (politicians and activists alike) oftentimes deride public schools for the practice of "tenure." They say that any teacher who breathes in a school for 3-5 years (depending on the state) can earn a job for life and usually can't be fired unless they commit some egregious crime.  (Let's forget the fact that almost half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years.) According to some, even teachers who commit these crimes can manage to keep their jobs thanks to the defense provided be the teachers union. Of course, this is preposterous! (It's sad that these people never seem to use teachers who simply can't do their jobs well and only those teachers who won't do their jobs well when speaking negatively about tenure.) 

Egregious crimes aside, they argue that teachers who don't improve student performance cannot be fired because of tenure. That is also not true. 

The politicians who say such things about public school teachers are quick to provide charter schools with protections that seem eagerly similar to the very tenure laws they decry. Yet in the open, they say that the "market" will take care of the schools that do not perform well. In Florida, if a school district rejects a charter school, that school can appeal to the state who can then overturn the district's ruling. If a charter school performs poorly and the district pushes to close the school, the school can appeal to the state who can overturn that decision as well. Let's not forget that though districts cannot meddle in charter school affairs, they are held accountable for their results in district grade calculations. 

Jodie Cadle, president of the Florida School Boards Association, echoed similar concerns in a question and answer session with the Orlando Sentinel:

Q: Do you see a need to reform charter-school accountability and restore total oversight to local school boards? 
A: Yes. It is very frustrating when school boards deny charters and the appeal process allows the State Board of Education to overturn the local board's decision. The school boards' constitutional authority is to operate and supervise all public schools — including charters — within their districts. When it becomes necessary to shut down poor-preforming charter schools, the closure process is difficult and time-consuming. As a result, the students suffer. School districts need a more effective and efficient process to rescue students from poorly performing charter schools.

"When it becomes necessary to shut down poor-preforming charter schools, the closure process is difficult and time-consuming. As a result, the students suffer." Boy, this sounds exactly like what the state politicians and education reformers say about teacher tenure. The teachers in a charter school may not have tenure, but the schools do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Another Hit Against Experience

As I delved more into what is going on in the world of education policy, I have become a huge fan of Diane Ravitch. I believe she is one of the biggest authorities on education policy and THE biggest advocate against the current tide of school reform efforts. Unfortunately, she does not get as much media attention as she should. The media tends to favors those people who advocate for more testing, unregulated charter schools, etc. Today, she posted a blog about a report done by The New Teacher Project, which is an organization founded by Michelle Rhee. It essentially concludes that young teachers, including first year teachers, are more effective than teachers with multiple years of experience. 

Here is the tip-off to their self-interest: “In fact, in these districts, 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are less effective at advancing academic progress than the average first-year teacher.” Imagine that! The average first-year teachers (that is, the ones you can get if you work with TNTP) are far more effective that 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years experience! You can see where this is leading: experience is irrelevant because those great first-year teachers are better than 40 percent of the veterans. Why not ditch tenure and seniority and get rid of 40 percent of anyone who has taught for more than seven years?
I really don't get it. With the exception of athletics (due to the physical constraints that come with age), what other career devalues experience? I remember applying for summer jobs in college and seeing ads for fast food, quick service, and casual dining restaurants only seeking people with experience.  Before I can work at Backyard Burger, I guess I have to work for McDonald's. Before I can wait tables at Ruby Tuesday, I gave to work the graveyard shift at iHOP or Waffle House. But if you want to be a teacher, you better be fresh out of school, preferably without a degree in education or even the field in which you plan to teach! 

We always hear recent college grads make this complaint about the job market: "All of the companies want people with experience. How can I get experience if no one will hire me?"

I guess they should become teachers in the districts ran by these reform-minded mayors and superintendents. Thankfully, that does not appear to be an issue where I live. However, when it comes to the state government, I do not see that lasting forever. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Teaching Ranked as One of the Most Unhappiest Jobs

I was watching the morning news this morning, they were talking about a list published by Career Bliss listing the happiest and unhappiest jobs. The results were based on surveys by the website's members. Teaching was listed as the 3rd unhappiest job with an average salary of $43,663. 

Now, I do not believe that salary alone contributes to this ranking. I think a lot of it has to do with the media's portrayal of teachers and many people's attitudes about public education. When you're told by people who have little to no experience in education how to do your job, constantly told that the quality of the people in your profession is poor solely based on test scores, looked down upon because you have experience, etc. then I can imagine the teachers in this survey ranking themselves as being unhappy. When governments allow non-educators like those who run these education reform foundations to have massive influence on educational policy and operations that they would not extend to government institutions like the military or police, then I can see why teacher morale is sinking. When teachers have to take 100% of the blame for the problems students have instead of being one entity amongst many responsible parties (such as parents, students, neighborhoods, etc.), then some teachers are going to feel less enthused about their career. 

I am optimistic that we will return to an era where teachers are respected and treated like professionals. I'm just a little concerned about how long this period in our history will last. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Giving the Union Too Much Credit

It appears as though the general public, or at least those opposed to public education, seem to ascribe unparalleled amounts of power to the teachers unions. When it comes to education reform, the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and their local affiliates are public enemy number one. Many believe that the unions actually run and control the schools, therefore making them responsible for all shortcomings. Whether it's a district adopting a controversial math curriculum or some school not allowing staff to provide sunscreen to students, you can bet that the union will be blamed for it. 

I believe that this is one of the biggest myths out there about public education. Based on my experience, the union is there to support and improve the working conditions of its members. They negotiate wages and benefits and help prevent teachers from being dismissed for improper reasons. Though they may provide advice on other matters, none of it is binding, and they usually refrain from getting too involved in the intricacies of teaching. When it comes to creating curriculum, hiring teachers, training teachers, selecting textbooks, etc., the union has little to no say.  Those decisions are usually made at the district or state level. If the union does have any say in those matters, it's a plea for current teachers to be included in the decision-making process. In my opinion, decisions pertaining to curriculum, textbooks, pedagogy, etc. have a greater impact on educational outcomes than things in which the unions typically involve themselves, so unions cannot be the primary source of public education's problems.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

School Board Member Testing Resolution Proposal

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Hillsborough School Board Member Candy Olson offered up a version of an anti-testing resolution for consideration by the board. I believe that it is a very acceptable resolution and strikes a balance between the need for testing and assessment and the desire not to overdo it. Here is my favorite part of it:

1. Stop making any changes to tests, requirements or scores, cut scores, and add no new high stakes tests for at least three years. We ask for recognition that reduced financial resources have reduced staff, that it takes time to "get it right," and that new standards, with new tests, will be in place in ___ (year).

You can read the rest of it here

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Student Gets It Better Than "Reformers"

I saw an interesting education segment on Fox and Friends this morning. They tend to do education stories at 45 minutes after the hour on many days, and I always cringe because it's almost always negative when discussing public education. The segments are always packed with people with opinions on education who never taught with the usual cries against "tenure" and pensions. 

Well, after citing the usual statistics about our education system lagging behind other countries such as Latvia, there was a 17 year-old student on today's program who offered a different opinion on how to improve things. I see him as being more informed and knowledgeable about this issue than most adults who provide the typical anti-public education commentary on the show. His name is Nikhil Goyal, and he wrote a book called One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School that will be released in September. I am afraid to give a full endorsement of him and his beliefs, because I obviously have not read the book and can only base my opinion on what I saw in this short interview. However, his solutions are nearly identical to what teachers have been requesting all along. In fact, when teachers say these things, they are usually accused of supporting the status quo, called "union thugs," and are assumed to be poor in ability and just want job protection. 

Here are some of his suggestions:
  • Schools have become too "drill and kill" with standardized tests.
  • Endless testing must stop.
  • Students should learn through the use of projects and field experiences.
  • President Obama should call for the immediate repeal of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
  • There should be some sort of council of parents, teachers, students, and politicians to drive education policy. He stated that teachers and students have been left out of the discussion
Notice that none of these suggestions would cost any extra money. It was refreshing to hear an education story on Fox News without the usual cry against teachers unions who don't select textbooks, create curriculum, train teachers, hire teachers, or guide their instruction. Yet they are constantly seen as the source of all of the problems.  

I will scour YouTube over the next few days to see if a video of the interview appears so you can get the entire context of the video.