Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day is Here!

Today is Election Day. All across the country, voters will turn out to the polls to vote for the people who they hope will successfully lead America, their states, and their cities to the next area of freedom and prosperity. In addition to political positions, citizens will be deciding whether to support initiatives that will have a significant impact on school funding and school operations. Here are just a few of the ballot measures out there that will impact education:

  • Voters in Georgia will be voting on a referendum that would allow the state to create charter schools without much input from school districts. 
  • Florida will be voting on Amendment 8, which would allow the state to give money to religious institutions that provide social services. Many feel that this is a backdoor to the expansion of school vouchers.
  • Voters in Washington State will be voting (again) on whether to allow charter schools to open in the state.
  • Seminole County, Florida voters will determine whether the district can levy a property tax hike to fund the financially starved, yet high achieving school district.

When it comes to the presidential election, there really is not a clear choice based on education alone. Barack Obama's Race to the Top is not much different from the typical Republican's education policy. The only difference is that Obama draws the line at private schools vouchers while still supporting charter schools. In contrast to Republicans, the Obama administration is at least willing to fund its initiatives adequately. However, adequate funding does not placate bad policy. 

Although there has been a lot of federal meddling in public education in the past ten years, I do believe the biggest fight is still at the state and local level. It's a (really real) long shot, but it would be great if at least one of Florida's legislative chambers turned Democrat to balance things out a bit. Though Governor Scott seems to have mellowed a bit after his "listening tour," he is still a staunch supporter of  unfettered charter expansion, virtual schools, and teacher evaluations based on standardized tests. 

Regardless of the outcome of this election, it is going to be important to engage with your elected representatives on education (and other issues, of course), even if you did not vote for them. Most politicians are lawyers and small businessmen. Though there is nothing with those professions, sitting in classrooms as a student from kindergarten through high school does not make one an expert in education, and it is important that teachers and parents spend time educating them on how schools really work. I am really tired of everyone BUT teachers having such a large influence on education policy in this country. 

This movement of teacher bashing, ascribing more and more powers to unions than they ever actually had, and looking to every expert but ones who actually teach for perspective on how to improve education has to stop. We are the only ones who can do it. 

What role will you play in the legislative process during the next cycle? 

  • Follow education news.
  • Write your representatives.
  • Attend school board meetings.
  • Write your governors and federal representatives.
  • Attend town hall meetings.
  • Demand respect for your expertise and experience as a teacher. 
  • VOTE!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Teachers are Dumb, But Certification is a Hurdle?

When I read news articles or watch news discussion segments about education, I will usually read comments such as these:

  • Teachers come from the bottom of their high school class.
  • Teachers have the lowest SAT scores.
  • The education degree is "easy" and is often a fallback for those who didn't do well in another major. 
  • Those who can't do, teach. 

However, some of these same people will talk about how teacher certification is a barrier to getting teachers in the classroom.

Which one is it? 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

TPT: How Much Flexibility Should Public Schools Have?

The Tampa Bay Times Gradebook Blog posted the question of "How Much Flexibility Should Public Schools Have?" in response to Governor Rick Scott's plans to ask for more school flexibility in the next legislative session.

In announcing his education plan for the coming year, Gov. Rick Scott made clear his support for giving public schools more flexibility to meet parent choice desires:
"Like other public schools, charter schools are held to assessment and accountability standards to reinforce student achievement.  Unlike traditional schools, however, charter schools have flexibility to determine their own curriculum, instructional strategies and educational focus. To increase and incentivize more competition and choice options for students and parents, districts that currently sponsor a charter school should be given the ability to open District Charter Innovation Schools that could be operated by the district with the same funding levels. This increased competition and choice for students and parents will drive continued success for our students."
The idea of giving districts back some degree of local control won praise from Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association, among others. It brought to mind the long forsaken idea of giving Florida school districts charter status of their own, so they can operate free of much of the red tape and bureacracy that the state ties them to right now.
It's interesting how Scott says that districts should be able to open their own charter schools. Why not allow districts to do what is best for their populations with existing schools? Tallahassee could accomplish this by immediately halting new regulations on schools. That is what Scott wants to do with  businesses, right? 

As far as the newspaper's question is concerned, I believe that public schools should have the same kinds of flexibility that charter schools and the McKay Scholarship private schools enjoy. This includes flexibility in curriculum, textbook selection, remediation techniques, teaching techniques, evaluation systems, allowing schools to require uniforms rather than just encourage them, opening up more technical/career training options in high schools for students who are not college bound, etc. Once public schools are able to do those things, I believe there will be a significant increase in student outcomes. 

One flexibility option I believe existing public schools will not be able to employ is the selectivity of private schools and the ability by both private and charter schools to remove students who cannot or will not perform academically and/or behaviorally. This is a necessary component of a public school system. However, that will continue to give traditional public schools a slight disadvantage. However, if the state grants public schools with some or all of the aforementioned  freedoms, then perhaps some of those challenging students will be able to be placed on a pathway that will allow them to be more successful.