Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Local Union President Blocks District's RTTT Proposal

Florida won Federal Race to the Top grant money in 2011, which required winning states to enact a series of reforms to improve education outcomes. The biggest reform was Senate Bill 736, which ties up to 50% of teachers' evaluations to student performance on standardized tests. The other half of the evaluation system requires districts to adopt "research-based" observation systems that focus on current best practices in education. The most popular system adopted by districts is the evaluation system of Dr. Robert Marzano. About 30 of the state's 67 districts adopted this program. Teachers and school districts are already overburdened with implementing this new system along with other state mandates. Now, districts have the opportunity to apply for individual grants. 

Seminole County Public Schools, one of the highest performing districts in Florida, applied for a $40 million grant from the Federal Department of Education, which would be distributed over four years. However, opposition from the Seminole Educators Association president K.T. Caldwell is stalling the district's efforts to win the grant. Here is an excerpt from the Orlando Sentinel School Zone blog:

The Seminole School Board’s hopes to receive a federal grant of up to $40 million over four years have been stymied by the teachers’ union.

K.T. Caldwell, president of the Seminole Education Association, has refused to sign off on the board’s application for a Race to the Top education grant targeted to better prepare students for college and careers. 
“I did not sign,” Caldwell said Wednesday after pondering school district officials’ pleas Tuesday not to hold up the application.
Caldwell says the federal money will come with burdensome strings that will pile more paperwork and accountability measures on already overworked teachers. It happens every time, she said.
“Teachers don’t need more pressures, and teachers don’t need more accountability,” said Caldwell.

K.T. Caldwell is absolutely right. While the general public will assume that this is money the district can use to help plug budget holes, it is anything BUT that. This Race to the Top money is for a designated purpose and will not help the district that is struggling to balance its budget for future school years. This program will most likely add unnecessary burdens to already overstressed teachers, and this is not needed, especially in such a high performing district. Furthermore, this federal money will not last forever and the burden will be on the district to continue whatever the Race to the Top grant requires.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Study: Florida Teachers Union "Weak"

The Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, ranked the Florida Educators Association 50th out of 51 unions (including Washington, DC) in overall strength. The organization based this ranking on relatively low membership numbers and the union's inability be victorious in fighting legislation it opposes, such as the merit pay law and pension reform.  Here's an excerpt from the Orlando Sentinel:

Florida's teachers union is among the weakest in the nation, working with limited resources and a "feeble reputation," according to a new national study released today.
The Florida Education Association, however, called the study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute "laughable" and of little value.
"It's a right-wing think tank, and you have to question, what's the political game?" said Andy Ford, the association president.
The institute, headquartered in Washington, is conservative-leaning and focused on overhauling education. It believes "too many American children receive an inferior education," particularly those from low-income families. It blames the problem, in part, on school districts "too often held hostage by adult interest groups, including but not limited to teacher unions," according to its website.
The institute took on the study "because everyone knows that teacher unions matter in education politics and policies, but it's hard to determine just how much they matter — and whether they wield greater influence in some places than in others," reads the forward to the study.

The study ranked Florida's union 50th out of teachers unions in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Only Arizona's union was rated weaker. Hawaii had the strongest teachers union in the country, the study said. Other strong unions were in the West and Northeast, while other weak ones were also in the South.
Nationwide, union influence "may be waning at the state level," the study found, noting that in the past few years more states have adopted policies not in line with union priorities.
The Florida union ranked low in part because the state, with its right-to-work law, limits union power. That means Florida's has lower membership and more-meager financial resources than many other unions.
The Florida Education Association has about 56 percent of the state's teachers as members. In Hawaii, nearly 97 percent of teachers are union members.
Florida's union also is considered weak because the state's Republican leadership has adopted laws — such as a new one on teacher merit pay — that run counter to what the association thinks is best.
The goal of the study was to highlight the work of teachers unions, which often goes beyond traditional collective-bargaining duties and includes advocacy and political lobbying, said Dara Zeehandelaar, one of the co-authors.

Andy Ford, FEA President, dismissed the findings, but I find this assessment by Fordham interesting. This is an organization that pushes the privatization agenda. It is most certainly anti-union at its core (or at least anti-teachers union). For it to rank Florida's union as "weak" should dispel the privatizers' notions that the union in Florida controls every facet of education and is therefore to blame for all education woes. This has never been the case, and I would argue that this is not the case even in stronger union states. People tend to ascribe the teachers union with more power than it actually holds. Here are some key elements of education over which the union has little or no control or influence:

  • Employment (hiring, granting of Professional Service Contracts pre-2011, looking for ineffective teachers)
  • Textbook selection
  • Curriculum (Sunshine State Standards, Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Common Core)
  • Evaluation (System like Robert Marzano and Charlotte Danielson's systems are required by Race to the Top)
  • Student discipline
  • Grades
  • Pedagogy (Marzano and Danielson have more influence now than anyone in Florida)
  • Order of instruction

So, these items impact education more than anything, yet the union has no large influence over the decisions made in these areas. If the unions are fighting for anything in these areas, it is for individual teachers to have more influence in these decisions rather than people with little to no classroom teaching experience. 

The Fordham Institute is pretty much saying that Florida is fertile ground for privatization efforts since there will not be much successful opposition. Will this study force people to recognize the fact that the union is not nearly as possible as they claim?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Orlando Charter School Scandal

Controversy is brewing in Orlando with a charter school principal who received a huge payout after the district closed the school for poor performance. Here is an excerpt from the Orlando Sentinel article:

The principal of a failed Orange County charter school took home a check for more than $500,000 as the school closed down in June and is still being paid thousands of dollars a month to wrap up the school's affairs. 
The check for $519,453.36 in taxpayer money was cut to Kelly Young, principal of NorthStar High School, two days after the Orange County School Board accepted the school's plan to close in lieu of being shut down for poor performance. 
The payment, which was authorized by the charter school's independent board, appears to be legal.
But Orange County School Board chairman Bill Sublette is outraged at the payout, calling it "a shameful abuse of public tax dollars" and "immoral." 
State Sen. David Simmons called for a thorough investigation. "There's no room for abuse by charter or traditional schools," Simmons said. "All it does is hurt children."

Leftover money from a charter school that shuts down, minus grant and capital dollars, are supposed to go back to school districts upon closure. 
NorthStar, which had a balance of $717,293 at the end of the 2011 school year, has not turned over any money to Orange County Public Schools. 
A statement provided to the district by the charter school showed a balance of less than $10,000 on June 29. 
Young's payout was based on a contract that called for her to be paid about $305,000 per year through 2014, even though the school's contract was up for renewal in 2012. She was paid 85 percent of her remaining contract. 
Her yearly pay and bonuses to run the school, which served about 180 largely at-risk students in east Orange County, was higher than that of Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of the 181,000-student Orange County Public Schools. 
The highest-paid principal at a traditional Orange school this year made $116,565.
I know I should not use this story to paint all charter schools with a big brush, but reformers and others who hate public schools don't seem to play by those rules. This seems to be a trend amongst many charter schools. This school has 180 students, yet the principal was contracted to make $305,000 per year through 2014. The superintendent (whose receives criticism over her salary) oversees 181,000 students and makes about $230,000 per year. High school principals in the area who oversee anywhere from 2,000 - 4,000 students max out at $116,000. This is absolutely ridiculous, and it is a shame that school districts are not able to reign in on these abuses before they spin out of control. 

The really sad thing about this story is that it will most likely remain a local news story. If this were a traditional public school, it would be all over the national news. It will be up to bloggers and commenters on the internet to spread stories such as these to inform the public of what is really going on in this evolving world of education reform. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Student Effort Matters in Student Achievement

UPDATE: The author of the blog cited below contacted me to let me know that her post was satire and not real. I wrote this post a week or two ago. I was so excited about something out there matching so well with reality that I completely fell for it. I could just delete this article and hope no one digs it up in the Internet Archives, but I'm going to let it stay. Though I credit my own teachers with some of my success as a student, I always understood that I had a significant role to play in my own success. Perhaps some researchers can conduct a real study on how student effort impacts academic achievement. 

As I stated in yesterday's post, teachers usually receive the blame for poor student performance. If a student doesn't show accute knowledge of a subject area and/or does not perform well on the standardized test, then many will blame the teacher. In many states, teachers evaluations will depend partially on students' performance on standardized tests. Diana Senechal, an education blogger, wrote about a recent study which shows how much of a positive impact student effort has on performance. As I know from my own educational experience, a teacher can teach her heart out, but if I do not do my part of the deal, then there will be minimal progress. I am sure that this research is meaningless to reformers, because they will simply reply that the teachers of students who don't study did not do a good job of motivating them to study. You can check out the whole article at Diana's website

Education policymakers have long assumed that students who learn more have been taught more effectively. A startling new study conducted by an international consortium of scholars at PeutĂȘtre University in Toronto has thrown this assumption into question. According to project director Pascal Feldspar, students who take a course in a subject—and study it—show more learning gains in the subject than students who do not. While gains varied slightly from one section of a course to the next, the starkest differences were between those who took a course and those who did not, and those who did the work and those who did not.
“It is too early to generalize the findings,” said Feldspar, “but we found, for instance, that students who took French for a year, and did their homework, showed significantly more learning gains in French by the end of the year than students who took no French.” The same applied to geometry, ancient history, piano, and Shakespeare. “We gave fifty students a test on Henry IV, Part 1,” he said, waving a copy of the play at us. “They were asked to identify a series of quotes, explain their meaning, and discuss their relation to the work as a whole. Before anyone had read Henry IV, performance on the test was uniformly poor. Then we split them up into an experimental group and a control group. At the end of the study, the members of the experimental group—the ones who studied the play—performed better than the control group by more than two standard deviations. Put simply, the more you study, the more you learn. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but that’s the idea.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Education: A Cooperative Endeavor

It is sad how teachers seem to get all of the blame for all of America's education problems. Contrary to all of the research touted by reformers on teacher quality being the largest influence on student success, teachers understand that education is a cooperative endeavor between the teacher, student and the parents. The research states that the teacher is the most important in-school factor in student achievement. This research does not imply that factors outside of school do not have any impact. They do. Here is an article from ABC with advice from Georgia teachers to parents to help strengthen this important partnership. I'll list the five pieces of advice below.

  1. "We're on the same team."
  2. "Curriculum isn't always up to us." 
  3. "Share the responsibility."
  4. "A track record doesn't guarantee a track star."
  5. "We know where you're coming from."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Perspective on Race-Based Academic Goals

Florida is continuing to undergo a national fallout from its plans to set academic goals based on race. The goals do not change students' passing scores based on race but sets passing rate goals by race. Although this may not have been the best thing for the Florida Board of Education to do, I do believe some of the outrage is more about initial shock rather than anything else. Naples News columnist Brent Batten and some Collier County district officials feel the same way. 

Much ado is being made of a recent Florida State Board of Education plan that sets out different goals for different ethnic groups.
According to top Collier County education officials, it's much ado about nothing.
Stories running under headlines such as "Florida to measure student goals by race," and "Florida passes plan for racially based academic goals," may have created the perception that different standards are being endorsed for individual students based on race. USA Today ran a story. Gov. Rick Scott weighed in.
But the initial shock isn't warranted, according to Collier School Board members and top administrators who've looked at the state board's plan, passed at its meeting last week.
What it did, rather than setting different passing test scores for individuals in different ethnic groups, was recognize that there already exists an achievement gap between those groups.
The goal going forward is to narrow that gap, said Collier School Board memberBarbara Berry. "When you read that article, it's kind of like taking a sledgehammer and hitting you between the eyes unless you see how scores were reported in the past," Berry said. "Subgroups are reported, have been reported. You are interested in where the groups fall and narrowing the gap."
For example, statewide 68 percent of white students scored 3 or above on the FCAT reading test for the 2011-2012 school year. For black students, the number was 37 percent and for Hispanic students it was 52 percent.
The proficiency score of 3 isn't different for any of the races and it won't be under the new plan.
The state plan sets targets for the number of passing students going forward and those numbers are different for each race group.
The goal is for 88 percent of white students, 74 percent of black students and 81 percent of Hispanic students to meet the proficiency grade by 2018.
Collier School Board member Roy Terry said he can understand why people might be startled hearing about the state plan for the first time. "When you look at what the state put out, it looks like different grade levels for each race. It was poor communication by the state Department of Education, in my opinion."
Like Berry, he said he supports efforts to recognize and narrow the achievement gap. "We've always had goals. The percent of black students reading at grade level should increase by a certain percentage," Terry said.
While the state's targets in its strategic plans are new, recognition of achievement gaps between ethnic groups are not. Efforts to erase them date back at least to the George W. Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind initiative of 2001, which carried the legislative title, "An Act to Close the Achievement Gap..."
Many in the public do not understand that race was always a factor in No Child Left Behind, and that this is merely the state's admission that the goals therein are unattainable. The bill calls for 100% proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Recognizing that this goal is impossible and realizing that the performance of some subgroups (a NCLB term and not mine) are better than others, the state thought it best to set goals based on how the groups are performing today. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Student on Education Reform

When I first started this blog, I brought up an interview that Nikhil Goyal gave to Fox News on education policy. You can read those posts here and here. I haven't done a ton of research on him and his views, but what I have read and heard  has been more refreshing than the typical garbage spouted by education reformers. 

Here are some highlights: 
  • Politicians and media have listened to every person involved in education except the students. (I would argue that teachers are in the same group.)
  • Michelle Rhee's Students First group does not have any students. 
  • Education needs to be student-centered (not in the way Jeb Bush states).
  • Testing and drill-and-kill are damaging education more than helping it.
  • Schools must embrace student creativity. 
  • Talks about the creativity and highlight's Google's unique approach to it (with its 20% rule).
  • "How can we make school the best hours of the students' day?"

It's interesting how this 15-minute speech does not include any discussion about tenure, test scores, accountability, etc. What refreshing insight, especially from a student! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Some VAM Scores are In

Some districts are receiving results from Florida's new Value-Added Model for teacher evaluation. In this system, student performance on standardized tests will account for up to 50% of teachers' evaluations. Here's an excerpt from a story from the Tampa Bay Times

Geoffrey Robinson is a National Board certified teacher at Osceola High School in Pinellas County who says 60 percent of his upper-level calculus students last year tested so well they earned college credit.
But this week Robinson received his teacher evaluation, based on a controversial new formula being rolled out statewide.
He was shocked to see how poorly he scored in the "student achievement" portion: 10.63 out of 40.
He's not alone. Teachers all over Pinellashave received their scores, calculated by a new formula that confounds even math teachers. Hillsborough teachers also got their scores, though their situation is different due to participation in a grant program with its own evaluation rules. In Pasco, the scoring is on hold while the teachers union and the district figure out how to implement it.
In the past, school administrators evaluated their teachers. Even though Pinellas administrators spent months preparing brochures, handbooks, Web posts and workshops to explain the new system, some teachers are reacting with anguish.
"My percentage was a 57 out of 100, and that's being one of the top teachers in the state'' judged by student achievement scores, said Melanie Brock, an East Lake High School math teacher. "I know I'm good, I've been teaching for 19 years, I'm not stressing about that. But if I was new, I'd go home crying."
Florida is not yet using the VAM scores to determine raises, though it soon will. Schoolwide scores for teachers — though not individual grades — also will soon be available to parents.
But already, the demoralizing potential of the puzzling test is drawing ire from some in a profession that has seen much criticism and little in the way of pay increases in recent years. And many wonder if it will do anything to improve education.
The most controversial aspect of this system is how this impacts teachers who do not teach tested subjects. Teachers who teach third grade and under as well as elective teachers and several secondary level teachers (like calculus, history, etc.) will receive ratings based on either their students' performance on the FCAT Reading and Math exams or school-wide results in those subjects. Teachers who teach at multiple schools or teachers with instructional job titles who work in district offices will receive VAM scores based on whole-school results of the schools where they teach and whole-district performance, respectively. 

The Florida Legislature rushed the "Student Success Act" through the legislative process without any regard to effective implementation. The same politicians who decry how the Affordable Care Act sailed through Congress without much scrutiny did the same thing with education in Florida. Given that such flawed education policies seem to be inevitable nowadays, it would have been more wise to phase in the implementation of the law by giving districts time to create subject area exams and building supporting data before implementing VAM. That way, at least teachers would be judged based on the subjects they actually teach. 

At the end of the day, judging teachers by student performance on standardized tests is not the most valid method of evaluating teachers. However, if the government is going to insist that we do it anyway, then it should at least implement the laws in a reasonable manner.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Florida: King of Unfunded Mandates

Districts are scrambling to come up with ways to pay teachers in 2014 when the merit no-pay law kicks in full gear. The state has passed too many regulations without the funding to implement them well. Districts are faced with the tasks of finding ways to implement the tenants of the law. Here is an article from News-Press describing this battle:

A system designed to hold teachers accountable and reward achievers could soon become a mess that hurts morale and drives teachers to quit.
That’s the feeling of area school administrators who say the Legislature in 2011 pushed through too many changes they must deal with the next three years. Their message: It’s one thing to abolish teacher tenure and link pay raises to student achievement. It’s another to make it happen.
“We cannot be ready to start paying teachers performance pay along with everything else,” said Doug Whittaker, Charlotte County Schools superintendent. “We can’t do it and do it right. It will be a train wreck. We’ve asked the governor to use whatever influence he has with the Legislature to buy us a little time.”
Adding insult is the state didn’t provide additional money for merit pay. It’s like demanding districts take money from under-performing teachers and give it to higher performing ones, administrators say.
The performance pay issue is part of a triple whammy that also requires the districts, over the next three years, to carry out Common Core Standards and a new statewide assessment, all by 2014-15.
By then, assessments and classroom exams will be used to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. The other 50 percent, under the Student Success Act, will be determined by administrators. Teachers who are evaluated as highly effective or effective on evaluations will receive a bonus or additional merit pay. While those who are labeled as “need improvement” or found unsatisfactory would see no pay increase.

When will education in Florida gain some stability? Standards were just changed with the introduction of FCAT 2.0, and the state is now moving full steam ahead to the implementation of the national  Common Core Standards. 

Because the evaluation portion merit no-pay law became active immediately, FCAT scores will determine teachers' evaluation scores regardless of the subject area. Districts will have to create subject-area exams to cover courses like art, music, physical education, history, etc. 

Florida needs to slow down and give existing regulations time to work. However, unless there is a significant shift in the legislature after the election, this will never happen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Explaining Florida's VAM System

Florida Today had an interesting article on Sunday explaining Florida's new evaluation system and how Brevard County Schools is implementing the program. Up to half of Florida's teacher evaluations will be determined by an algorithm created by Washington-based Americans Institute for Research. The article discusses how newer hires will remain on annual contracts for the duration of their career and how teachers currently using the Professional Service Contract will have to forgo that contract if they wish to participate in the merit pay system. 

Brevard County teachers soon will learn how much impact they had — or, at least, how much impact a new state formula says they had — on the students they taught last school year.
For the first time, a complicated statistical formula is being used in teacher evaluations to help determine how well they’re doing their job.
The goal? State lawmakers want a quantifiable way to measure teachers in order to reward the best, target training toward those who need it and make it easier to identify educators falling short of expectations.
“There has to be some kind of accountability. We have had some disappointing teachers,” said Palm Bay resident Jean Beck, whose daughter is a junior at Bayside High. But she added: “They’ve been the exception rather than the rule.”
The Value Added Model calculates how a student is expected to score on state tests such as the FCAT reading or math. The student’s predicted score is then compared against their actual score to determine the teacher’s effectiveness — or the teacher’s “value added.”
For many teachers, this new value-added, or VAM, formula is a source of concern, particularly because it will now make up just over one-third of their annual evaluation.
With data from more than a million students included in an elaborate web of sub-calculations, the formula is so complex that calculating it would be impractical, if not impossible, to do by hand. And until course-specific tests are developed, all VAM scores will use FCAT reading or math scores — even if educators teach other subjects or teach grades that don’t take the FCAT.
School leaders will take the VAM score and, together with other measures, such as how well teachers design lessons and relate to students and parents, give every educator one of four rankings: highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory.

My biggest question is about funding. Many districts have not provided the menial step increases in the past few years because of the lack of funding. If districts do not have the funding to do this, how will they be able to fund the permanent salary increases this new merit pay system promises? I prefer to call this system the "merit no-pay" program.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More on Florida's Race-Based Academic Goals

Florida is experiencing a huge fallout for its decision to make academic goals based on race. From CBS Tampa:

 The Florida State Board of Education passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race.
On Tuesday, the board passed a revised strategic plan that says that by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent. It also measures by other groupings, such as poverty and disabilities, reported the Palm Beach Post.
The plan has infuriated many community activists in Palm Beach County and across the state.

Though I can understand the initial outcry (especially if all people did was read the title of the story), this does not appear to be as bad as people are making it out to be. This rule does not lower passing scores based on race. It merely looks at where student groups are today and makes reasonable projections as to where these students should be in a few years. Gradual gains are acceptable everywhere else, so I do not understand why we expect schools to go from 38% to 100% overnight. As I said before, this rule is a response to the absolute failure of No Child Left Behind.

All students will still be expected to make learning gains. I cannot imagine a teacher writing off a black student because less of them have to pass in order to meet a state goal. A coach may go into a season knowing that getting to the championship is a long-shot, but I assure you they are going to fight to win at every game. 

All teachers, regardless of if they actually teach the subjects, will be judged based on standardized test score results. Despite the flaws in the system (as Florida teachers still wait on results from the 2011-2012 school year), all teachers have a vested interest in increasing learning gains from year to year since test scores will be part of their evaluations. 

Furthermore, these state goals are not reflective of the mandates placed on schools. Districts adopted new teacher observation systems to comply with SB736 and Race to the Top. Again, test scores will determine up to 50% of a teacher's evaluation. Third graders who fail the FCAT will be retained. Secondary students who fail a section of the FCAT will have to forgo an elective course and take a remedial class. Schools and districts will still receive A to F ratings each year. The governor may choose to rank individual schools and districts according to FCAT results again. 

Are we really lowering standards? I think not. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Duke Football Team Must Win National Title

The title of this article is absurd, right? Let's say that Duke University (or Vanderbilt or whoever), which in athletics is known more for basketball than for football, hired a new football coach. Even if the school hired one of the greatest football coaches, who I'm sure would be someone with experience instead of an inexperienced one as would be the case if this was a prominent education position, it would be unreasonable to expect that coach to take his team to the national championship and win the first year.

This would be a more reasonable progression of success: 
  1. Focus on having a winning season.
  2. Focus on being at the top of the division within the conference.
  3. Win the conference championship.
  4. Compete well and occasionally win a BCS Bowl Game.
  5. Compete for the national title. 
If Duke merely has a winning football season, that would be a monumental accomplishment unto itself. Why is this progression reasonable, but expecting one group who currently passes the state exam at a rate of 38% to rise to 68% while expecting another group who currently passes at 60% to rise to 85% is lowering expectations? In both instances, students are making gains, and as the first group reaches its goal, the passing goal will rise with it. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Still Waiting on VAM

As of October 15, teachers in Florida have yet to receive their Value Added Model (VAM) results  from the 2011-2012 school year. This is the portion of the new teacher evaluation system that will be based on standardized test scores, accounting for up to 50 percent of the final score. The very people who decry government bureaucracy and government inefficiency have turned a two page evaluation system that provided immediate results into a multiple page system that is cumbersome to complete and a value-added system that keeps teachers waiting well into the next school year for results. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Race-Based Academic Goals

Florida is under fire along with a few other states for adopting race-based goals for academic achievement. These goals are a part of these states' waivers for the No Child Left Behind Act. Many are interpreting this as setting lower standards for minority students.

This rule adopted in many other states receiving waivers is the direct result of the failure of No Child Left Behind. This law mandates that 100% of students will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. That is literally impossible for all racial groups, let alone groups who struggle. As a result of this,  states have been clamoring for ways to exempt themselves from such damaging and unrealistic mandates. As I did in a previous post, let's see if this is type of progress is expected in other fields:

  • Salesmen: Are you expected to make a sale to every client (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Entertainers: Are you expected to pass every audition (100%) to be effective?
  • Lawyers: Are you expected to win every case (100%) to be effective?
  • Athletes: Are you expected to win every game (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Doctors: Are you expected to heal every illness (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Military: Are you expected to win every battle without deaths (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Journalists: Are you expected to have every reader in your market (100%) read your articles?

Of course no other profession expects 100% success in order to be considered good!
This categorization by race is not new. No Child Left Behind makes schools accountable for the progress of students based on race/ethnicity and other factors. The progress of subgroups (black, hispanic, free-reduced lunch, ESOL, etc.) will make or break a school's status. Florida's school grade program includes many of these factors in its evaluation as well. I once read a commenter on an education article state that her child's school does not seem to care about her white, middle-class child. Well, I believe that is an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind. Though the school should be working in the best interests of all students, the students who impact the school's rating by the federal law or state accountability system will get the most attention.

As a result of No Child Left Behind's unreasonable demands, states submitted waivers to be exempt from the law. From what I've read about this rule, I don't see it as lowering standards. Let's say that we are trying to get two groups to 80% passing this school year. If one group is currently at 45% and another group is at 74%, don't you think it will be incredibly more difficult to get that 45% group up by the end of this school year than the 74% group, regardless if this 45% group is a race/ethnicity or people who wear purple everyday? I think this waiver is just setting a more reasonable trajectory of improvement for these groups. As one online article commenter suggested, perhaps it would have been better to make these goals based on socioeconomic status instead of race. However, No Child Left Behind did not do that.

Again, if it is a raging success in the business world for someone to go from 45% success in whatever area to 60%, why can't that same logic be applied to education? It's interesting how people bash public schools for apparently perpetuating self-esteem over the reality that not everyone is "special" and everyone has different abilities and talents, yet they expect all public school teachers to increase their students' test scores 100% of the time and for 100% of students to pass. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Invest in a Charter School, Get a Visa!

Miami Today has a story about Chinese investors earning money to invest in Florida's charter schools. In exchange for their investment, they get a visa under the EB-5 investment visa program.

 Investment money is pouring into Florida from wealthy Chinese who find that Florida has exactly what they are looking for — and what they need to secure US green cards. 
   Chinese investors are taking advantage of the EB-5 investment visa program, the so-called "green card via red carpet," by putting millions into Florida's charter schools and an aquaculture farm in Central Florida.  
   Under the EB-5 program, through investments of at least $1 million — or $500,000 for "targeted employment areas" — foreign nationals are able to obtain legal residency in the US so long as the money they invest will help secure or create at least 10 full-time jobs.  
   A group of Chinese investors have put $30 million into the state's charter school program to date and are looking to invest three times that amount in the next year, Ilona Vega Jaramillo, director of international business development for Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development arm, said in a US-China roundtable discussion last week.  
   She would not name any of the investors, citing confidentiality.
You can read the rest of the story here.  

Forget the fact that this seems so ludicrous, though this EB-5 program has been around for a while. However, the bigger question is whether charter schools will still be able to lobby for more state funding when they are receiving lots of extra funds via foreign investment. Well, I am sure they will still lobby for more money, but should the state provide the additional funding? If the amount of money they receive from investors combined with their state funding goes over the FTE amount for traditional public schools, will the state decrease the charter schools' funding by the difference? I doubt it, but it doesn't hurt to ask. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Florida's Goal to Expand Charter Schools

It doesn't look like the charter school movement is going to slow down anytime soon in Florida. The State Board of Education adopted its five-year plan, which includes a goal of doubling the amount of students in charter schools. Here's an excerpt from the story on the Orlando Sentinel School Zone blog:

The State Board of Education is slated to adopt its five-year strategic plan this morning, a “road map for Florida’s education community that shows where we are, where we want to be, and how we will get there.” 
Among the goals: Expanding school choice, so that by the 2017-18 school year the number of students attending charter schools or using taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private schools would jump considerably. 
The board’s proposal calls for the number of students enrolling in charter schools to double — with the number of charter schools expanding from 518 to 829 — while the number taking part in the Tax Credit Scholarship program would jump 2.5 times. 
If these gains come to be, they’d represent a significant expansion in the school choice movement in a state that already prides itself  on giving parents “the freedom to choose the educational path that is right for their child.” They’d likely also open the door wider to critics who view these options outside traditional schools as unproven, driven by private, profit-making companies and/or undermining public education.

It's interesting how many of these education "reforms" only focus on getting students out of public schools instead of improving the schools. Expanding the number of unregulated schools that compete against traditional public schools who are beholden to burdensome state mandates will create an unfair, dual education system that will only paint the traditional schools in a negative light. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Louisiana's Evaluation Supervisor has Two Years of Experience

Controversy is brewing in Louisiana as they hired someone with two years of teaching experience and a lapsed teaching certificate to oversee the state's new teacher evaluation system. You can read the story here in The Advocate. 

The director of Louisiana’s controversial new system to evaluate public school teachers had her own teaching certificate lapse.
“My teaching certificate is not active right now,” said Molly Horstman, who oversees the new review setup that state officials call Compass, Thursday.
Horstman, who spent two years in a New Orleans classroom, said the lack of a teaching certificate has nothing to do with her current post, which pays $77,000 per year.
“My job does not require that I go into the classroom to teach right now,” she said.
Horstman, 27, said she did not take the steps needed to renew her certificate, which is typically required for teachers every few years.
But state Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said Horstman should have a teaching certificate so that, if required to do so, she could enter a classroom and demonstrate proper teaching methods “to provide the kind of assistance a teacher would need.”
This is absolutely ridiculous. This person only has two years of experience in the classroom as a Teach for America teacher in New Orleans, and now she gets to dictate how teachers teach and how their work will be evaluated! In what other profession do such inexperienced people hold such high positions of authority and influence? Did they send soldiers straight out of boot camp to run the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Do fresh medical school graduates get appointed to state and federal medical oversight posts? Does an attorney with two years of experience who let his law license lapse get to become the new state attorney general? Absolutely not! 

However, this practice seems to be just fine when it comes to education. It is as if everyone thinks that since they sat in a classroom for 13 years as a student (remember kindergarten) that they know how to run a classroom and school effectively. I've spent plenty of time inside of Walmart during my life, but I'm sure they are not going to appoint me as their CEO anytime soon. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Spending and Progress

An Orlando Sentinel reader made a very good point in a recent Letter to the Editor. It is in response to a guest column about Seminole County's voter referendum to increase property taxes to fund schools. 

George Noga, in his Front Burner column on Sept. 28 against a tax hike for schools in Seminole County, writes that there is no correlation between per-pupil spending and educational quality.
If this is the case, private schools that spend nothing are just as good as those that charge exorbitant tuition, and so there is obviously no need for the expensive voucher programs Noga promotes.

The writer makes a good point. There are private schools that charge as little as $5,000 per year, and then there are private schools in my area that charge as much as $17,000 per year. The funny thing is that people tend to view the more expensive schools as the most prestigious ones. Now, I am not for runaway spending in education or any area of government. However, this broad swipe notion that increases in education spending do not produce improved educational outcomes falls on its head when we think about the "best" private schools and their correlation with cost. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

We Need to be More Like Asia?

In an online discussion with someone on another blog, the person made a reference to a story that compared American schools to schools in South Korea. Of course, the article proclaims how successful South Korean schools are despite having as many as fifty students in a class. This is in contrast to American public school teachers demanding to have a class of no more than 20-25 students, especially in the younger grades. (Disregard the fact that no successful private school would have classes with fifty plus students.)

 Do we really want to compare our schools to Asian schools? Do these people understand that there are huge cultural differences that contribute to the success of Asian students in those schools? Furthermore, do they release that though Asian companies produce a lot of products, American companies are the ones coming up with the creative products they produce? Our "drill and kill" charter schools have nothing on the testing machine in Asian schools. This article by Jay Mathews in The Washington Post sheds some light on the Asian school environment. Here is an excerpt.

Officeholders, lobbyists and think tanks offer embarrassing figures as proof that we need to train our teachers better and give students more time in class like Asian schools do. But Boris Korsunsky, a physics teacher at Weston High School in Massachusetts, sensed holes in the argument. He had been a successful student in the high-pressure schools of Moscow, so he sought comment from Asian students who had moved to U.S. schools and knew what they were talking about.
Korsunsky’s informal online survey of about 80 students, most of them from China and Korea, is worth mentioning next time your neighbor says Asian schools should be our model. People in this region who think our many high-performing schools are pushing kids too hard should also pay attention.
“The pressures and workloads that the students and the teachers in the U.S. are facing nowadays are, perhaps, greater than they were a decade ago,” Korsunsky said in a recent paper. “But still, compared to a typical Chinese or Korean school, a high-pressure U.S. school is a summer camp.”
Let’s start with discipline. Korsunsky’s student sources are not describing a Chinese version of a blackboard jungle with metal detectors at the main entrance. These are some of the best and most selective schools in Asia. Being “tardy usually results in physical punishment, such as running in the gym a few times or doing jumping jacks. Forgetting to do homework and talking during class will often result in hitting with ruler or some sort,” one student said.
U.S. students and parents frightened by the SAT should recognize it is a paper tiger to students who grew up in Asian nations where the national college-entrance tests are much more important. Selective universities in China and Korea are not so impressed if you set the school shot-put record or volunteered weekly at a hospital. Asian schools spend little time on art, sports or extracurricular activities. The test is everything. Teachers don’t let you forget it.
Instruction is by lecture — and more lecture. Students are usually sitting the whole day, which can run eight hours or more, scribbling notes. One student wrote that weaker students never ask questions in classbecause the teachers “would be mad at you if you ask what they consider stupid questions.”
“In China, teachers stay at the board instructing after the bell and students do not leave unless told to do so,” another student said.
Sciences are often taught through memorization. Homework is a mountain of practice problems. If you get something wrong, you have to write out the correct answer repeatedly. Labs are rare, because they won’t help you much on the exam.
“We did only one physics lab, one chemistry lab and no bio lab,” one student told Korsunsky. “Ironically, the physics lab we did was for an American high school principal who visited our school.”

You can read the entire article here. The Asian immigrants mentioned this article found our schools to be  culture shock. A good culture shock. I think if American schools start to function more like Asian schools, it will be a huge culture shock to our population. It will be a shock full of complaints and noncompliance. 

Here's the question that is never asked when comparing American schools to Asian schools. If teachers are suddenly expected to perform well as Asian teachers supposedly perform, then should there also be an expectation that American parents raise their children in the Asian cultural tradition? Their success of these schools is not limited to the performance of the adults in the classrooms. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

100% Success=Good!?!

There is a strong opinion amongst some when it comes to education that teachers must achieve 100% success in order to be considered good. If a Florida school moves from an F to a C rating and celebrates, it is seen as foolish because a C is apparently not worth celebrating. Disregard the fact that there was improvement in student performance. If 68% of students pass the state exam, especially if it is an improvement from previous years, it is seen as a failure inasmuch as it is the equivalent of a D. It is as if teachers must pass all students all the time or else be deemed a failure. This is the case with No Child Left Behind. It states that 100% of students will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. 

Do we hold other professions to the same standards?

  • Do people in sales have to sell to 100% of customers in order to be good?
  • Do doctors have to have a 100% healing rate in preventable and/or treatable conditions in order to be good?
  • Do athletes have to win 100% of their games in order to be considered good?
  • Do lawyers have to win 100% of their cases to be considered good?
  • Do entertainers have to pass 100% of their auditions in order to be considered good?
  • Do entertainers have to sell their products to 100% of the population in order to be considered good?
  • Do chefs and cooks have to send out 100% error-free dishes in order to be considered good?
  • Do parents have to raise 100% perfect kids in order to be considered good?

The answer is NO. However, according to public opinion and federal law, teachers and schools have to have a 100% passing rate on standardized tests by 2014 in order to be considered good. If all areas of life, we tend to accept the idea that perfection is not possible. However, we seem to make education the exception. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Teacher Bashing

I started this blog because I was tired of all of the false and/or misleading information I was hearing from commentators in the media as well as the nasty replies in the comments sections on education-related stories online. Recently, commentators in the media have gotten just as nasty in their comments towards teachers and public schools as the anonymous posters on internet forums. 

Well, the QMSTECH Blog compares the treatment teachers receive to someone in an abusive relationship. Please understand that this is not belittling abusive relationships, but merely examining the similarities between the two. I thought it was an interesting and thought-provoking post.

What is an abusive relationship like?

Aside from the physical abuse inherent in many interpersonal relationships, the psychological abusive has many characteristics. Here are some with interpretations of how they relate to being an educator in today’s society:
  • Using economic power to control you.  Schools in NY are cash strapped. There have been across the board cuts to help balance the budget and the APPR has essentially become another unfunded mandate. Every school I know has cut its staff over the last 4  years. Our administrators are run ragged and have less time to promote instruction. I have read articles about schools who may go bankrupt soon because they can not meet their expenses with the maximum 2% tax cap that the state has mandated.
  • Threats. We are going to fire you if your score doesn’t meet our cut off limit despite the fact that this is an untested system. We are going to publish your score in the paper. If your school doesn’t perform, we will close it and hire new teachers. 
Visit the blog here for the entire posting.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Florida Charters Want More Money

Though marketed on the premise that they can operate (and perform better) for less money than traditional public schools, charter schools in Florida are asking for more money. Here's an excerpt from a posting on the Orlando Sentinel's School Zone Blog:

A Legislature-created task force has begun chewing over a proposal that aims to provide construction money to Florida’s charter schools — but looks likely to also generate lots of controversy.
The proposal — presented to the task force by the Florida Department of Education today — would allow local school districts to levy additional local property taxes for charter schools.
The task force was created by the Florida Legislature amid concerns from charter-school advocates that those independent but publicly financed schools have struggled with funding for facilities and other capital projects.
Last year, some lawmakers pushed a bill that would have forced districts to share property tax money with charter schools. The bill failed, and lawmakers then created the task force to study the issue.
While public schools are struggling to keep up with operation and construction costs, they now face the threat of charter schools usurping their limited funding. What if this was the plan all along? Charter schools come to town marketing themselves as a cheap and better alternative to traditional public schools. Once they have a formidable footing, they raise their prices and lobby the state for additional funding. Or perhaps, they are realizing that education is a little more expensive than they imagined. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bring on the Choice!

The current crop of reformers think that school choice will solve all of our problems. Want better teachers? School choice. Want better curriculum? School choice. Want lower costs? School choice. Want more involved parents? School choice. 

First and foremost, I do not think that school choice is the knee jerk solution to all of those problems. However, since school choice in the form of charter school expansion and vouchers seems inevitable, all I can do bring something to the bargaining table. That is, if there is a bargaining table there for teachers. I doubt it in this environment when the opinions of people who actually teach for a living are deemed irrelevant. 

In order for private schools and/or charter schools to receive public funding, the state needs to grant public schools the following privileges that private and charter schools share: 

  • The ability to pick students who meet the school's goals (like private schools).
  • The ability to dismiss students who cannot or will not perform academically and/or behaviorally (like private schools and charter schools).
  • The ability to select textbooks (like private and charter schools).
  • The ability to follow a curriculum and utilize pedagogical techniques that are best for the population and the teachers teaching it (like private and charter schools).
  • The ability to stress the importance of reasonable class sizes with credibility (like private schools and charter schools).
  • The ability to institute uniforms and provide negative consequences for noncompliance instead of only being able to reward students who participate (like charter and private schools).

The first two are the most important inasmuch as the students in a private school have to be a good match for the ideals and goals of the school. However, it is also important that public schools be freed from academic programs that are not bringing results. It is unfair to hold schools and teachers accountable for student outcomes on standardized tests while forcing them to use ineffective  materials in their instruction. 

If public schools are able to do these things or perhaps the private and charter schools receiving public funding can lose those privileges, then I say bring on the school choice!