Drop Outs or Push Outs? Does anyone care?

Gaming the system, no matter which system, is a sport for some.  For others, it is a survival mechanism.  The Florida school accountability system is high stakes, and accusations of manipulating data occur frequently.  If you want a school to receive a high grade, then the easiest approach may be to ensure the school attracts the best students and discourages those who struggle.  So, what then happens to struggling students?

ProPublica has one example of what is done in Orlando, Florida.  The authors argue, and provide data, that at least one of the district’s public and for profit online alternative charter schools are in cahoots.  This may be a little strong, but the mutual advantage is clear.  It is also clear that the Florida accountability system is inadequate to track how students are ‘counseled in or out of schools’.

Continue reading

Florida testing bills surface

SB 964: Montford, Garcia and Lee, has teeth.  This bill would have a significant impact by reducing the number of state required tests as well as reducing the negative impact on instruction because it:

  • allows SAT/ACT for 10th grade language arts and deletes the FSA 9th grade language arts, civics, algebra II, geometry and U.S. history exams.  The FSA for grades three to eight remain along with Algebra I and biology.
  • allows paper and pencil administration of online tests.
  • eliminates the Florida DOE supervision of teacher evaluations and rules that tie evaluations to student test score results.

Two other bills would only move testing to the end of the school year instead of beginning state wide testing in February.

  • HB 773  Cortes, Donalds, Eagle, Fischer, and Gruthers.  The language of this bill is very similar to the language of the SB926 thus is a companion bill.
  • SB926 Flores and Bradley moves testing to the end of the year but allows students expected to be proficient based on proficiency measures to take the state assessment once per quarter during the year.  It authorizes a comparison of SAT and ACT content with the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at the high school level.

While moving the exam period to the end of the year has some advantages, it does little to reduce the amount of testing or the time required to conduct testing.  Given that requirements to base a large percentage of teacher evaluations on student test results, the focus on drill and practice and test prep rather than on more effective, long range student learning remains.

 

Radical Change Proposed in U.S. Congress

Rep. King, R, IA filed H.R. 610, a bill which is a major assault on public education.  The bill would repeal the Education and Secondary School Act of 1965.  Instead, the U.S. DOE would award block grants to qualified states.  States would then distribute block grants to local education agencies (districts) in a manner that apportions funds to families who elect to home school or send their children to private schools.  In a word, it is a ‘voucher’ bill.

Curiously, the bill also revokes the nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs.

Our public schools are the backbone of our democracy.  This bill undermines an educational system that serves everyone, not just those that private schools chose to accept.  This is just the beginning of an assault on public education.  It is time to push back and keep pushing.

The Network for Public Education has an Action Alert to notify your representatives to oppose this bill.  You can access their site here.

Blended Learning: A Paradigm Shift?

by Krista Sobel

Krista argues that Florida was the first to launch into online learning in any significant way with the Florida Virtual School (FLVS).  This is true.  It is also true that Florida had significant growing pains. In 2013, enrollment in the virtual school dropped 32 percent and funding reductions caused serious layoffs.  It seems that FLVS was allowing students enrolled full time in public schools to take multiple online courses at the same time.  They made a lot of money using that policy.  The legislature stepped in.  There must have been a quality gap somewhere.

Quality gaps of other online companies reached national attention as well. 

FLVS filed a 2014 lawsuit and won against K12 Inc., the mega online course management company, over copyright infringement.  The State of Florida filed a suit against K12 Inc. for falsifying teachers who were assigned to courses.  Many local districts countered the practice by negotiating their own online academies taught by local teachers.  The districts also kept the records of student progress.  They might purchase rights to online course content, or they may develop their own courses, but they control the process.

Problems with for-profit online companies are everywhere.  Politico published a series on the academic failure and profiteering of the online charter schools.   They may advertise blended learning experiences, but the reality is too often a computer or two in a corner.  What is clear is that citizens have a duty to be wary but an obligation to recognize the opportunities new technologies can bring.   Read Krista’s vision for change.  This is her view; it does not represent LWV positions.

Continue reading

Constructive Committee Discussion

The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.

State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?”  “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?

Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)?  He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.

The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs.  Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.

Of course we need to test to see how children are learning.  It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used.  Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.

Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs.  Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs.  Teachers and students leave.  Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems.  It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.

The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is.  Bad problems get worse.  Everyone blames everyone else.  Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.

Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done.  Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services.  The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district.   Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind.  Once we had high quality early Head Start.  Once we had teachers who loved their schools.  Gone, all gone.  But, at least people are talking.

League Forum on Schools of the Future


The League of Women Voters invites you to join us in Gainesville on March 4th. We are celebrating the Schools of the Future with Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teachers Certification organization.  She is on the President’s Commission on Education.  Peggy was a teacher and innovator in Florida for many years before joining the National Board.

Following her presentation will be a panel of educators who will respond to audience questions.  Panelists include the Deputy Superintendent, Teacher of the Year, elementary and secondary curriculum specialists and the head of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.

Continue reading

Blended Learning a Threat?


by Krista Sobol

The picture of children sitting in front of computers that track their every thought has many parents alarmed.  In the League, local groups study an issue and bring it to the state convention for consideration.  Blended learning may be on the way to convention!  However, the League has no position on blended learning.

Space Coast League Education Committee Concerned About Blended Learning

 

 

Continue reading

DeVos Confirmed: Split Vote in Florida

The telephone lines to D.C. were jammed with protest votes over the DeVos nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Florida, Senator Rubio voted yes and Senator Nelson voted no.  The U.S. Senate was tied and VP Pence broke the tie.

I saw a note about a one sentence bill to abolish the Department of Education.  It was filed by Rep. Thomas Massie RKY.  He thinks local parents and communities should control schools.  He may be right.

Continue reading