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.

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Kindergarten Achievement Gap

teacher-590109_1280Family income and student achievement rise together.  You know that.  The Economic Policy Institute published its top graphs of 2015 showing it once again, but one chart focuses just on preschool.

If you compare kindergarten readiness for the lowest income groups to the highest, there is a full standard deviation difference.  I wondered how many children were in the lowest groups, and how much money it would take to improve preschool education.

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LWV New Mexico Focuses on Strategies for Academic Success

by Meredith Machen, LWV New Mexico

nm2Meredith Machen, President of the New Mexico League, has just won The New Mexican 10 Who Made a Difference award for 2015.  She sends us their LWVNM positions and strategies to support public education.

This could not be more timely.  Here in Florida, we are working on a similar statement.  It is easier to criticize the many shortcomings of current education policy than it is to formulate workable strategies, but New Mexico has set a high standard.  They address many current problems in constructive ways.

The LWV-Florida is compiling strategies from other state leagues as well.  Send us yours.

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Congress Conference Committee Resolving Differences on Education Bill

dmbtestYou can watch the conference committee in action yesterday and today.  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) looks  to be headed for passage.  The bill is now called: S. 1177  Every Child Achieves Act.  Basically, the bill will strip the punitive aspects of Race to the  Top such as teacher evaluations based on test scores and take overs of struggling schools.  Annual testing, however, remains.

While Common Core may not be mandated, most states already have developed tests to measure the standards or are using the two national tests.

The brief discussion of testing acknowledged concern about over the impact of testing and will encourage states to enact limits.  The committee members, however, stated that federal testing requirements were not the problem.  The problem was the use of test scores for accountability.  The authority for how test scores will be used is returned to the states.  This does not mean that currently mandated accountability systems for grading teachers, schools, and districts are gone.  They just are not federally mandated.

Remember that the Florida legislature stated that its tests were not the problem, the problem was over testing in the districts.  Districts state that the amount of testing is due to the requirements to use scores for teacher evaluations.  Florida’s 2016 legislative session could be interesting.  Annual testing will not disappear.  How scores are used could change.

I watched today.   Some amendments were approved by both the House and Senate committee members that are of particular interest were approved:

Rep. Thompson:  Study Title I funding formulas

Sen. Enzi: Study early childhood program overlap

Rep. Bonamici: Include arts and interdisciplinary course content in Title IV STEM programs

Sen. Bennett:  Place caps on the amount of testing time required

There were a few other amendments related to teacher training for the appropriate use of student data and extending dual enrollment for ELL students.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Gainesville Sun Forum: Too Many Tests

dmbtestThe Gainesville Sun, The Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida, and the Alachua County League of  Women Voters sponsored a panel on the over abundance of required tests in Florida public schools.  Moderated by Nathan Crabbe, the panel included Superintendent of Schools Dr. Owen Roberts, Dr. Sue  Legg, President, Alachua County League of Women Voters, Susan Bowles, Alachua County Teacher of the Year, and Shan Goff, Policy Director of the Florida Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The discussion was wide ranging.  Questions were raised about the validity of the new Florida Standards Assessment, the rationale for and impact of annual testing, the use and misuse of achievement test scores for teacher and school accountability.  Dr. Roberts spoke about the need for quality preschool educational programs rather than tests that do not help children learn.  He laughed and said: If you want to help a pig gain, you feed it.  You don’t just keep weighing it.  Children’s brains need to be nourished, not measured to make them expand.  You can watch the video here.

Sandy Stenoff posted this comment on Facebook:

Susan Bowles & Sue Legg knock it out of the park on an education panel!   In response to the FEE line about needing benchmark tests to assess students, Susan Bowles countered, to audience applause,
“I am capable of assessing my children,”Sue wrapped it up with common sense, “Let’s not rush into assigning consequences for this test until we get these problems fixed,” I love the women in this state fighting for our children!

 

Florida LWV Legislative Priorities Due

legislation1The Florida LWV legislative priorities are coming due.  Please make your voices heard within your local leagues.  In order to be able to advocate for our Education Team issues, we have to make it into the top priorities statewide.

Make education tops for your local league.  Here is a list of topics we expect to come up in the legislative session.  Remember that committee meetings start in September.

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Visiting Day Care Centers

teacher-590109_1280

by Janet Allen

The LWVAlachua education committee made visits to numerous child care centers in Alachua County that ranged from family centers to large commercial centers like O2B Kids and Baby Gator. We had the opportunity to talk to teachers and administrators as well as children.  When we asked about current needs they were remarkably the same.

Our Florida legislature has a major bill (SPB 7006) to improve childcare standards, and the Governor’s budget includes funds to expand the Voluntary PreK program for four year olds.  There are, however, many different types of childcare programs, and we are learning how their programs differ and what their challenges are to provide quality childcare.

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Repurposing Struggling Schools: A Different Approach for Public Schools

education-548105_1280Alachua County, Florida Superintendent Owen Roberts announced a plan to restructure three elementary schools.  Two are struggling schools that have received funding to extend school days, add teachers, and add tutors.  The schools still struggle, and they are under enrolled.  Part of the problem is due to students who leave for charters and private schools in hopes of improving access to better schools.  Unfortunately, those options make little difference for those students either.  So, what do you do when conventional wisdom does not help? Continue reading