Incessant Testing Does More Harm Than Good

An Eastside High School teacher in Gainesville speaks her mind. Who benefits from all this testing? Certainly not the students How about the teachers? Some do and some equally proficient do not. For example, if you teach an AP course, you get a bonus. If you teach in a school that receives an ‘A’ grade two years in a row, you get a bonus. If the school gets an ‘A’ one year and a ‘B’ the next, you do not.

Teachers get frustrated. Many students cry or sleep through the test. What a waste of time and money. Read this teacher’s story.
http://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20171n004/amanda-lacy-shitama-incessant-testing-does-more-harm-than-good?rssfeed=true

There are those who say testing is a good thing. Surely, these same people understand that there can be too much of a good thing.

Who Gets Rewarded and Why?

The State of Florida DOE released the names of schools that received bonus money for schools with good test scores. To be eligible, the school grade must be high and/or school achievement gains must be large. These bonuses are supposed to be incentive awards to work hard and produce results. Is it effective? Some argue that the whole concept is totally unfair and counterproductive. The bonus money which amounts to about $50,000 for a school with 500 students goes to teachers, school equipment or temporary support staff.

I am including a link to the schools in each district that were rewarded. I looked at Alachua to see which schools got money. Here’s what I found:

  1. Schools receiving an ‘A’ school grade for two consecutive years received a $100 bonus per child.
  2. Schools receiving a ‘B’ school grade (9 schools) or below for two consecutive years received no bonus.
  3. Schools that dropped a letter grade, even from an ‘A’ to a ‘B’ received no bonus.

School grades are correlated with the socio-economic status of the children’s families. Thus, fluctuations in grades have as much or more to do with which students are enrolled than with the quality of the instruction.

For a small school, the most direct way to improve a school grade is to enroll fewer students from struggling families and more from more stable and affluent families. District schools are not able to control enrollment, and school grades can fluctuate as families enter and leave the school. Charter schools are able to screen and dismiss schools more freely. They are often motivated to do so since they can be closed if they receive consecutive failing grades. If charter schools attract more students from stable families, when these students leave a district school, the district school grade is likely to decline. They then have a harder time attracting experienced teachers. A downward spiral often begins.

School grades can be improved by extra instructional time and high quality staff. These factors are important and costly, but are not sufficient approaches to a quality education. Children learn from one another, and schools that can enroll students from diverse backgrounds can create a school climate in which all students feel they have a chance to succeed. The trade off may be that an ‘A’ school becomes a ‘B’ school because some children from low income families are enrolled. The quality of instruction may be even better as a result, because those children from disadvantaged backgrounds may have rich experiences but lower test scores.

School grades are meant to be incentives to improve schools. Parents are supposed to vote with their feet to seek better schools. Too often, this shifting students from one school to another has the opposite effect. Districts may not be able to estimate enrollments, plan appropriate instructional programs, and know which types of teachers they need.

Bottom line? Bonus incentives can simply add insult to injury.

FTC Scholarships: Who Benefits? Who knows!

Yes, there is yet another study about Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for private schools. This one is funded in part by the Walton and Bush foundations. Don’t bother to read it you say? Not so fast. I found some useful tidbits.

The study looks for evidence that students who stay in the FTC program benefit by enrolling in college (community college) at a higher rate than similar students from public schools. Depending upon how you count, about five percent of the FTC program students are more likely to attend, but not graduate from, a community college. We can all celebrate students who succeed. We can also predict who they are likely to be.

What the report admits is that this study is not about student achievement. Florida private schools do not administer state tests, so comparisons cannot be made with public schools. In fact, Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio studies demonstrated that participating in their FTC programs reduced student achievement on state tests. So, the researchers asked different questions.

Who enrolls in Florida FTC private schools? What happens to them?
1. The study supposedly matched public school and FTC private school students by income and race. The match had problems. The public school group included 4% more children from families below the poverty level. Data on FTC students in the reduced lunch category, which is about a $10,00 higher income level, was even more starkly different. Only 11% of the FTC students were in the reduced lunch group compared to 31% of public school students. This fact alone may explain the difference in the rate of college enrollment between the two groups.
2. The Florida DOE data show that 83% of FTC students attend a religious private school. FTC students who enrolled in a Catholic or a non Christian religious school were more likely to enroll in college, but few FTC students enroll in these schools.

Who benefited from the FTC program?
1. FTC students who are most likely to attend college are Hispanic students who were born outside the U.S.
2. FTC students enrolled in private schools that were in existence before the program began in 2003 are more likely to go to college.
3. As more FTC students enrolled in a school, the less likely the students enrolled in community college.

No matter how the numbers are manipulated, private schools are no answer to improving student achievement. The students who succeed attend selective, well established private schools that will only enroll a few scholarship students. No doubt these children were carefully screened for admission.

The State can no longer even say that the tax credit scholarships save money. The legislature increased the stipend for tuition. The legislature must turn its attention to improving the quality of schools. Simply moving children around from place to place harms kids. Even this study mentions this disruption.

Resegregation of Florida Schools: Problem or Solution?

We came to Florida in 1966. Florida was the ‘New South’ thanks to Governor LeRoy Collins. It was to be a model of positive change, and for many years, it was. Florida led the nation in desegregation. Then in the 90’s, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions repealed desegregation mandates. The ‘Separate but Equal’ era reasserted itself. Districts–communities–ended bussing and suburban sprawl was the norm. Large, mostly urban pockets of very low performing schools developed due to racially and economically segregated housing patterns.

In a just released study of Florida public education, the bottom line for children is that with whom they attend school matters. The report states: “White, middle-class student enrollment is especially important since these students have access to more challenging courses, peer groups and support systems in strong schools. These educational advantages benefit disadvantaged students in ways that enrollment in predominately minority schools do not.”

Reaching the goal of racially and economically diverse schools is a challenge. Florida’s population has become more diverse and less affluent. The percentage of white/Asian students fell from 60% to 43%. While the percentage of black students in public schools remains about 20%, the percentage of Hispanics doubled to 31%. Are the public schools more diverse? Well yes, on average. We have more multi racial schools– 1/5 in 1994 to 1/3 in 2014. The diversity, however, is not uniformly spread among schools. The percentage of schools that are 90-100% minority has doubled from 10% in 1994 to 20% in 2014.

While exposure to other races and ethnicities has increased over time, the typical student in each group tends to go to schools where the majority of students are like themselves. This is especially true for white students. They attend schools with about one-third minority enrollment, whereas black and Hispanic students are typically in schools where they represent two-thirds of the school’s enrollment. Given the economic differences among racial/ethnic groups on average and the correlation between income and achievement, it is predictable that concentrations of low performing schools are found in low-income areas.

Under the school choice policies initiated by Governor Jeb Bush in the 2000s, parents are offered choices to escape the problems associated with concentrated poverty. Resegregation, as a result, increased. One in four black students attends an intensely segregated charter school. Hispanic students in charters are even more likely to attend a charter school with a predominately Hispanic student body. In Florida, Hispanic students are the largest group attending charter schools. Given that charter schools are counted as public schools, the conclusion that public schools are becoming more segregated is no surprise.

The obvious problem is what can be done that encourages a better cross section of students who can learn from one another. In Governor Collins’ era, the State supported research to design desegregation plans. Florida does have a controlled enrollment option for districts. Lee and St. Lucie counties have implemented this approach to school assignment in order to better integrate its schools. Okaloosa County has voted to go in this direction. Nevertheless, the report concludes that Florida has come a long way since the era of LeRoy Collins, but the integration of public schools is not one of them.

Where Choice Leads!

We need a full campaign to raise awareness about the impact of choice. What is happening in our schools and why we can’t repair roofs, expand programs, and even meet basic needs should be at everyone’s fingertips. We are making choices, but some are being made blindly. Shed light on what the consequences of unregulated choice are. Why are lawsuits spreading. Help people get involved. Here’s our approach to raising awareness of the reasons for problems and strategies for overcoming them.

SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH ACTIVITIES In GAINESVILLE. Events are free and open to the public. Parents are urged to attend. You can learn about the challenges and opportunities facing our public schools at:

A Lecture: “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. September 20 at 6pm in Pugh Hall

A Forum: Our Local Schools Now And Going Forward on September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 am. with:
Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Renovating Old Schools”
Sue Legg, Florida League of Women Voters Education Chair: “Impact of Choice Legislation”
Anne Wolfe, Education Specialist and Valerie Freeman, Director of Educational Equity and Outreach: “Culturally Responsive Classrooms”
Moderated by Khanh-Lien Banko, President Alachua County Council PTA

A Film and Discussion: ‘Passion To Teach’ led by the film producer, Bart Nourse. The film shows how courageous, skillful teachers teach from the heart despite a disheartening top-down reform system. A Michigan Superintendent said: The film…”captured my emotions and it gave me chills”.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School and
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

Read a book describing the issues we face with school reform: “Bad Teacher” by Kevin Kumishiro. Watch the interview.

Find out even more by visiting the September Public Schools Awareness Month website.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

There was a big extravaganza on TV just before Irma hit Florida. Supported by Lorraine Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Project XQ seeks to reinvent American high schools. This is not a ‘school choice’ solution to education reform. Rather, Project XQ explores ways to give students more control over their learning, and it builds on students’ talents and interests rather than sorting them by test scores into winners and losers. I am always excited when examples of what high quality, impactful teaching can be. It’s why I like the film ‘Passion to Teach’.

John Merrow reviewed XQ Super School Live. He is the former long time PBS education correspondent who views the reliance on high stakes testing as the path to increasing mediocre lessons ‘and worse’ for our children. In his book, Addicted to Reform, he argues that test based accountability stifles the creativity economists assert our schools need to promote.

Merrow concludes that Project XQ missed an opportunity to explain how the current reliance on testing and choice policies fail to address the real problems confronting students, teachers and schools. The show simply claimed schools were ‘out of date’.

There is a kernel of understanding that is emerging in the ‘testing or teaching’ debate. Reliance on test scores to drive instruction is not a new problem; it is just the modern day version of a drill and practice methodology that has a place in learning but should not be the most important one. Drill and test using technology do not replace effective teaching; they can, however, be helpful resources. It is time to examine, but not rely on, their appropriate roles.

Efforts like Project XQ are asking the right questions about effective teaching. It is also helpful to see films like ‘Passion to Teach’ that demonstrate teachers in action who develop students’ ability to control and engage in learning meaningful to them.

We are primed to enable our schools to emphasize what works. At least now we have experimented with the testing and grading reforms long enough to recognize they only make bad problems worse. Not only are we sorting kids in schools; we are sorting schools into winners and losers.

At first, we may have to focus on one school and one maverick teacher at a time, but every time we succeed, we should celebrate and replicate the experience. We do not have to accept what is, and we can make a difference by working toward what could be and should be.

Public School Awareness Month

Alachua County Cities and the County Commission to Proclaim:

SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The Alachua County League of Women Voters, Council of PTAs, Education Foundation, and the University of Florida Education College Council have jointly requested that the month of September be proclaimed: Public School Awareness Month. This Proclamation has been submitted to the Alachua County Commission and to all Alachua County City Commissions.
We ask our community to become engaged. Our public schools are threatened. This is a critical time to understand what these threats are and how our district is responding. You can learn ways to make a difference by attending these events:

• “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. UF’s “Schools on Screen” Symposium—September 20 at 6pm in the U.F. Pugh Hall.

• Forum: OUR Local Schools Now and Moving Forward, September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 am. featuring:

Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Renovating Old Schools” and a panel discussion about making our schools responsive to our children’s needs. Sue Legg will speak about how State policies led us to where we are. Valerie Freemen and Anne Wolf will reveal the Culturally Responsive Teaching programs that Alachua County is launching. Come see how well this fits together as we move forward here.

• Florida Premier of ‘Passion To Teach’ and discussion led by the film producer, Bart Nourse.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

See our webpage: http://acpublicschoolsawareness.org/

What Do Parents Really Want?

A new PDK poll is out saying people want more than straight academics in their schools. More parents oppose than support vouchers, value diversity in their schools, don’t believe tests measure what is most important, believe support services for children belong in schools, and, if they are parents, like their schools.

It could be there is a media problem with how schools and teachers are described that accounts for less positive ratings for schools by people who aren’t closely associated with them. There is some work being done on this topic by Dr. Mary Dalton. From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television. Dr. Dalton is speaking at the University of Florida Graham Center on September 20th at 6p.m. in Pugh Hall.

We are spreading some more good news here in Gainesville. The film: Passion to Teach will be shown at two schools in Gainesville and the events are open to the public. The film maker will be here from Massachusetts to lead a discussion about how communities are using the power of this film to enlighten the public about what is possible for schools to be even in this test driven culture.

If you want to see what else we are doing, go to our September: Public Schools Awareness Month website. I learned today that another Florida county will have a similar awareness month in November.

CSUSA Hits the News Again

There are a few facts we should know automatically. Here are some about Hillsborough:

  1. Charters compete with good public schools; they do little to help communities. There are 101 charter schools in Hillsborough. Only 35 charters serve low income area students and only a third of those achieve an A or B on school grades.

  2. Charter schools are no panacea for poverty. CSUSA for example, has 19 charters in the area. Those that serve high income schools do well just as those district-run schools do. Charters that draw predominately from low income families struggle.

  3. Charter schools have high teacher turnover. The WFTS Tampa Bay reports on Channelside, a CSUSA charter that is losing ground. Its school grade is dropping. Its students are not doing as well as they once did. The reason? A student describes the loss of her teacher for three months. They watched movies with an uncertified substitute teacher.

Public Education, Our Children, and the American Dream

Here’s a letter from the Florida League about our children’s future under HB 7069. Take the time to feel the impact. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald.

HB 7069, which passed the Florida Legislature has been described as “harsh, severe, and promises to undermine not only the economic viability of our school system, but the long-term stability of public education in our community and across the state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

While the bill has some good aspects, especially recess for K-5 students, there are many parts which negatively impact our public schools, and children and families in our Florida communities.

We all agree that our children deserve a public funded (no cost) education so they can achieve their full potential. That is what distinguishes our country from countries around the world. This is a core American value; the foundation of the American Dream.  HB7069 does exactly the opposite. It was crafted in the middle of night, behind closed doors, with little public input, or access to the language of the bill; it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believe that HB7069 needs serious revisions: public schools must have access to tax dollars to maintain and construct our schools; fiscal and academic accountability should be the same for all schools receiving public funds; state standardized testing should continue to be reduced; funds for parental involvement activities should be restored; the role of our communities and parents in local schools be reinforced and not diminished or eliminated; that free play recess be guaranteed to all K-5 students in all schools, public and charter; that school choice by parents be strengthened by providing teacher and student attrition data to school performance information for all schools (public and charters equally); that because charters receive our tax dollars, parents should have access to charter management company profits and guidelines for lease and management fees; and that school authority reside with locally-elected school boards who are accountable to local communities, to us, the taxpayers and voters.

We believe that with access to a public education, our children, especially of working families, or from poor homes, or with disabilities, or with other challenges, can become the very best they can be and grow up to contribute to our communities, as future working adults, paying taxes, and making our communities across Florida better places to live.  Any child can enroll in our schools and get a public education, no matter our child’s economic status, or race, or religion, or any other category. When my family arrived from Russia, or my friends came from Cuba or Haiti, or from name the country, our families’ children were welcomed by the neighborhood public school. That is America and Florida and Miami.

With HB7069, all that we believe is at risk. While charter schools provide parents a choice, let’s remember that the source of charter schools’ funding is our local tax dollars. The very first line of your County 2017-18 Proposed Tax Bill is for school taxes; the taxes that support our core value, a public education.

When it comes to allocating our hard earned tax dollars to public schools, we expect that this money will be spent responsibly to meet the needs of our children.  Indeed, that is at the heart of any elected official’s responsibility – to make sound spending decisions regarding our public dollars, with accountability and transparency.

This is what we must strive for in our school system for Miami and across Florida, for all our children and the very future of our communities.  “The word that comes to mind is courage,” said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, School Board Member, “We’ve got to have the courage to do what is right.”

Pamela S. Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida