How to Fix Failing Schools and How Not To

directory-466935_1280The League asked the Florida State Board of Education:  “What Next?”    What should be happening to fix problems, not just point fingers?

The New York Times published some solutions that are working in Union City, New Jersey.  Note that it is not Newark, New Jersey where big money and celebrities tried to impose charter school solutions. Less hoopla and more methodical, careful community planning make a difference in Union City.  See how click here.

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Florida Tax Credit Scholarships Abused

dollar-726881_1280Sending public money to private schools is unconstitutional in Florida.  The legislature gets around the law by allowing corporations to claim tax credits if they donate their tax obligations to foundations that provide scholarships to private schools.

We do not know much about these schools.  They are shielded from disclosure laws public schools face.  Evidently, at least someone in the DOE is watching.  According to the Florida News Service, here’s one private religious school facing the loss of state scholarships.

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President Obama Calls for a Cap on Testing, or does he?

dmbtestIs there hope that the testing craze may have peaked?  Finally, a reputable study has reported that tests are overwhelming public schools.  Teachers, students and parents have been saying so for several years.  Their voices have reached the top.  Today, the Council on Great City Schools released its preliminary report of a survey of testing practices.  President Obama also says there is too much testing.  Read the fine print.  What is really being said?

Here are some findings from the Great City Schools report:

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Arne Duncan Visits S. Pinellas Failure Factories

FAILED1 South Pinellas schools are a civil rights problem said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.  The Tampa Bay Times series ‘Failure Factories’ on the five schools seemingly abandoned by the district received national attention.  Secretary Duncan, his heir apparent, John King, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor met with parents and district officials yesterday.

Duncan said that the children were not failures, but the adults had failed the children.  They praised the efforts of the current superintendent to improve the schools, but much is yet to be done.  Duncan acknowledged that there were ‘tremendous unmet needs’ for family services and early childhood education.  A parent called for after school services and more experienced, quality teachers.

What happens next remains to be seen.  The Florida Department of Education is investigating whether or not their has been misuse of federal Title I funds designated for children from poor families.

Even though some progress has been made under the direction of the current superintendent,  the schools cannot solve the impact of their neglect by themselves.  The solution to the problems at the schools will require intensive community involvement.  Yet, only two school board members attended the event.  The Chair of the board said she was not invited. One former parent simply called the event a ‘press conference’.  Let’s hope it was more than that.

You can watch the video and read the Tampa Bay article here.





Can States Opt Out of Federal Testing and Teacher Evaluation Programs?

hat-157980_1280Annual testing is federal law, but not all states follow it.  Using test scores as part of teacher evaluations is the law, but not all states use scores this way.  The basic question is: Who is in charge of education, the states or the federal government?  Where is the line when federal support becomes federal intervention?

Can states opt out of federal testing and teacher evaluation mandates?  This really is a tricky question.

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LWVF Press Release: School Accountability System Broken

LWV_OpenLogoThe Florida League of Women Voters released a statement today detailing the constant revisions to the school accountability system from 2011-2015.  Over and over, the legislature and the Department of Education have tried and failed to get it right.  It is more than a problem with a test.  School grades, teacher evaluations, scoring of exams, and student passing rates all are constantly changed.  It reminds me of the expression: ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  It is time to change direction if we want to improve our educational system.

Read the statementIt is Time to Focus on Teaching, Not Testing.  Send it everywhere.

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Arne Duncan to Resign in December

John King Jr.

John King Jr.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will resign at the end of the year.  His replacement will be Deputy Secretary John King Jr.  Mr. King was Commissioner of Education in New York prior to going to D.C.  in January 2015.

A NY Times article about King’s departure from New York stated that King was the center of a contentious debate about testing, teacher evaluation and training and charter schools.  He oversaw the first administration of the Common Core tests in New York and was firm in his commitment to the test and evaluation system.  He was named in a lawsuit filed by a teacher’s union and parents over a property tax cap that they argued would further the funding gap between wealthy and poor districts.  The NY State United Teachers Union gave King a vote of no confidence last spring lobbied against his appointment.

Call Timeout on Testing

dmbtestPaula Dockery makes the case that it is time to learn from out mistakes.  Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served sixteen years as a Republican legislator from Lakeland.  She joined the Board of Directors of the Florida League of Women Voters in 2014.

In her step by step recital of how Florida got into the crisis over testing and accountability, it is clear that the Florida legislature and the Department of Education need to stop and reconsider.  Read Paula Dockery’s piece here.  Make your voices heard in the legislature even if Senate and House Education Chairs wish you would not.

A + School Grade System Fails: New System Proposed

school report

There is a debate about the validity of school grades.  There are reasons to think twice about releasing the 2015 results.  School grade formulas change regularly, so it is difficult to know whether the grading formula, the characteristics of the student body, and/or statewide test results have the greatest impact on a school grade.  The school grade formula will change again this year.  In addition, the grading system has a new set of challenges.

What will happen with the new school grade system that calculates achievement gains based on scores from two different tests:  FCAT and FSA?  Even if the passing standard is equated to ensure the same percentage of students pass, it does not mean that students are proficient on the new standards.  It means that school grades will move around until the DOE matches the items with the standards as suggested in the FSA validity study.

I looked at Palm Beach’s school grades over the last five years.  Grades in most schools shift from one year to the next.  This cannot be due to changes in instruction!  Then, I looked at how grades were calculated.  Therein ‘lies the rub’.

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