For Tools for the Resistance, Read ‘Slaying Goliath’ by Diane Ravitch

This book is timely. It is personal. It describes real events led by passionate people who have made a difference. It gives hope.

Who is David and who is Goliath in the battle over public schools? The ‘Disrupters’, as Diane Ravitch calls them, are the corporate giants behind the move to destroy public schools. Ravitch devotes an entire chapter to those who seek to dismantle public schools and profit from public tax dollars. David is the ‘Resistance’, or the millions of parents, teachers, and students whose interest public education serves.  They are the ultimate winners in this war for the heart of our democracy. It is a classic David vs. Goliath tale.

Ravitch asserts that David is triumphing once again. She backs up her assertions by dismantling claims that testing, rewards and punishments, and school choice will result in better educational opportunities for children. She underscores her points with examples of the failure of the Disrupters in Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Washington D.C. among others. She cites evidence to underscores how Disrupters shift course as each of their assertions fails. No meaningful achievement gains have been realized. Teachers have voted with their feet as teaching vacancies mount nationally. The greed and corruption of the movement to privatize schools can no longer be hidden. Communities and even states have put on the brakes. Choice has stagnated as charters close as often as they open, and parents remove children from ineffective private schools.

Ravitch credits the many volunteers who advocate for public schools and galvanize unease into action. Parents now understand that ranking students and schools on test scores creates few winners and a plethora of losers. They recognize that students who do not ‘fit In’ are excluded. They are uncomfortable about the lack of equity among increasingly segregated charter and private schools. They are angry about how money is siphoned off as public schools struggle to repair roofs and air conditioners.sikisxxx arap pornoZ

Perhaps the strongest message from Slaying Goliath is the power of ideas. In this arena, the corporate giants become small people with limited goals. The greatest strength of The Resistance, says Ravitch, is citizens who are motivated by “a passion for children, a passion for education, a commitment to their community, a dedication to democracy, and a belief in the value of public schools”.

This is no time for complacency. The power of the purse is undisputed. No doubt major propaganda campaigns will be launched by the Corporate Disruptors to regain their edge. It reminds me of the Franklin D. Roosevelt quote: …the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Slaying Goliath documents the assumptions and strategies of fear mongers. It provides hope that the nation is turning its attention to resolving inequities and restoring the joy of learning.
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Slaying Goliath is Out!! The Florida League is in it.

This review of Diane Ravitch’s new book underscores the importance of her work. But, her work is also the work of grassroots efforts around the country in support of public education. The work the Florida League of Education did with its charter school study is recognized in Slaying Goliath. When I was active as an educational researcher in my professional career, I was well aware of the excellent work of Gene Glass and David Berliner in the field. It is worth your time to read their review of Diane’s latest book. You too can be a David. Read Diane’s post here.

Florida Legislators at Work….For Themselves

Remember when the three Jefferson County schools were closed and taken over by Academica, the largest for-profit charter management company in the state?  The story makes your hair curl.  Here is a report by WLRN news that details where the money came from and where it went. Find out how Academica works and how the students fared.

New funding included a $2.5 million special appropriation from the Florida Legislature, $2 million from federal startup grant funds, and a $1.9 million interest free loan from Academica’s Somerset division.  This was funding denied unless it became a charter district. Academica received $327,000 in fees in 2017-18 to manage the fewer than 800 student K12 school.  The per student cost rose to $16,600 which school leaders recognize cannot be sustained.  The state pays much less.

The behind the scenes orchestrators for the takeover were Senators Manny Diaz and Anitere Flores, both of whom have close ties to Academica. Diaz is an administrator at Doral College and is Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  Flores is deputy Majority Leader for the Florida Senate and moved from being the head of Doral College to the Academica foundation.  The current Doral College president, Rodriquez,  was named to supervise the transition of the Jefferson County schools to Academica.

In previous posts, I reported on a series of misdeeds associated with Diaz and Flores related to their association with Doral College.  The college was bankrupt and had no students or faculty when Academica took it on.  It now offers online courses to Academica students.  The credit was worthless because the college had no accreditation.  Diaz worked to get a private school accreditation agency to recognize the college.  Diaz’s personal interest is noted here.  

What is the result of the takeover?  Behavioral specialists were hired to help students, teacher salaries increased, and the physical facilities were improved. Initially, the school grades rose to a ‘C’, but the elementary school has now reverted to a ‘D’.  The increase in the percentage of students passing the FSA state examinations in order to raise the school grades may have had as much to do with discipline policies as with learning strategies.  The charter school policy created a 45 day suspension policy in which students were given a laptop and sent home.  They were to take online classes from Doral College.  Many students never returned.  It is one way to raise school grades…just limit which students take the tests.

There is no question that the years of neglect in Jefferson County created the abysmal schools.  Parents who could, mostly white, had left for private schools or for schools in nearby Leon County.  Those few students who remained had the greatest needs and the fewest resources.  No doubt some students and their families were grateful for the influx of new funding for the charter district, but it cannot last.    

This is the result of a choice system in which racial and economic segregation flourishes as described in ‘Tough Choices‘, a report sponsored by the Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University.  It has happened in other Florida cities.  It is the dark side of a choice system that favors some at the expense of others.

 

Miami: Is This Really Our Future?

Miami is the school choice capital!  According to this EducationNext article, 20% of Miami’s public schools are charters.  Another 20% of students are in private schools, and approximately half of those are paid for with vouchers and tax credit scholarships.  It does not stop there.  District-run choice programs now enroll 61% of public school children.  Is this a school choice dream or a nightmare?

Dade County schools tout high academic achievement.  The district receives an ‘A’ grade from the state and no failing school grades.  Of course, there are only 15 schools in the state that have an ‘F’ rating, so Miami is not unique there.  An ‘A’ school only has to earn 62% of the possible points based on state assessment test scores etc.  Over one-half of all Florida’s schools earn an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.

Miami’s  fourth grade students rank above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test, but there is no statistically significant difference between Duval, Hillsborough and Dade Counties’ scores.  Could it be that third grade retention pushes Florida scores up because so many fourth graders were retained?

The Dade County eighth grade NAEP scores also seem to be higher in comparison to other cities.  Yet, the average Miami-Dade score is right at the national average.  Miami’s high school graduation rate is just below the national average.  It would seem that Miami-Dade is good at hype.  The reality is quite different on the ground.

According to the report ‘Tough Choices‘, Miami is the second most segregated district in the state.  Of 460 schools in Miami, 214 are considered isolated.  They are more than 85% single race.   Miami’s lowest performing schools are overwhelmingly black.  Hispanic students also tend to be enrolled in segregated schools.

Is this what Florida is striving for?  Our schools are driven by grades which are easy to manipulate.  Yet, Florida, the third largest state in the nation, is just average in student achievement and children are increasingly separated by race and economic status.

Choice has had an impact in Miami-Dade, but it is on the lives of families and funding for school facilities.  One wonders how families manage the challenges presented by so many choices, many of which are not good choices.

*What happens when parents chose a school, but the school does not chose their child?  How do parents manage when their child’s school is located an hour’s drive away?

*What happens when children are told  that their school is not a ‘good fit’ for them.

*What happens when a parent realizes that the teachers at their charter or private school are not well qualified and tend to leave quickly?

*How does a parent console a child whose test scores do not qualify for a magnet program but his friend’s score does.  The score difference may be minimal, but the impact is not.  This is the world that broad-based choice creates.  A feeling of anxiety permeates these schools defeating a child’s willingness to learn.

Florida will expand its career and technical programs in the next legislative session. adding another level of complexity,.Finding competent teachers for these skills will be a challenge.  Even more difficult, Florida closure rate for charters is exceptionally high.

The Achievement Gap Discussion We Seldom Have

How we see ourselves has so much to do with our willingness to dream. All the hoopla about various forms of equity fall short if children feel hope does not apply to them. What may make a real difference to children is the sense that they belong to a successful group. School grades, however, create winners and losers. Take away school grades and it becomes possible to have real integration, not only by race and economic class but also by academic achievement. Unfortunately, with school grades, ‘A’ school parents are worried their children might suffer if lower achieving students enroll. The ‘A’ grade will fall even if their children have the same courses and teachers.

Richard Rothstein studies this issue. In an article published by the Economic Policy Institute entitled Revived Debate Over School Busing Highlights Deepening Racial Segregation, Rothstein begins with Kamala Harris’ statement in the presidential debate: “That child was me”. She is now running for president, and she was bused to school as a child. Is there a causal link? Read Rothstein’s article. How we see ourselves has so much to do with our own notion of what we can and cannot do.

My school district has passed a large facilities building program. It has instituted a strong equity program. Will it also consider alternative routes to achieve a better racial and economic balance in our schools? Housing patterns make this difficult but not impossible. Real change in achievement takes a commitment to a sense of belonging for all children. It is a difficult road, but maybe the best goal over the long run.

Florida Pension Plan Shortfall

There are rumblings that the 2020 Florida Legislature may revise funding for the Florida Pension Plan.   There is no question that the retirement system revenue has declined; it has not been 100% funded since the 2008 recession. The current rate is about 84% of the cost if all people retired at one time. Of course that is an unlikely scenario, but there are now more people vested in the system than are contributing to it. One million public employees participate in the system, about half are teachers and the others are local and state government employees. As retirees increase and new participants decrease, covering costs becomes more problematic.

While there is no immediate crisis, the problems cannot be ignored in the longer run. There are four basic reasons why the funding has declined:

  1. Expectations that the stock market will do well are not always met. Average earnings across years are about 1% below expectations.
  2. The state is not making sufficient employer contributions to the retirement system.
  3. How the state calculates the value of promised retirement benefits increases risk and makes real debt larger.
  4. The switch to 401(k) accounts in 2017 did not require sufficient contributions from employees and employers to cover costs. It may benefit new teachers who leave the profession but not the profession as a whole.

Pensions are not the problem..The real question as always is whether funding pensions is mostly a political, not a financial issue.  The National Association of State Retirement Administrators cited a report stating that an 80% funding level is the federal benchmark for financial stability of state pension systems.  Florida’s level exceeds that benchmark. Nevertheless, there is a political divide over providing pensions, and it is closely tied to those supporting school privatization.  Florida charters and private schools typically do not contribute to retirement systems, and the resulting high teacher turnover keeps salaries lower.   Thus, there is more money available for management companies in the private sector.   This is not a recipe for a high quality educational system.

This issue may have a strong impact on the growing teacher shortage. Pensions help retain teachers.  Kentucky’s teachers’ complaints about pension revision strategies were partially responsible for the recent defeat of their governor.  Yet, there are those who advocate replacing teachers with technology.  The motivations of those who attack the teaching profession whether they are political or financial in origin, need to be considered.

Florida 2020 Education Legislation Priorities

The 2019 legislative session focused on moving money and managing guns. The laws that emerged funded Schools of Hope vouchers for private schools and shifted funds from public schools to charter school privately owned facilities.   A lawsuit against the Schools of Hope vouchers is expected.  Funding increases for teachers and students were minimal, but teachers were allowed to carry guns.

The Florida Educational Association (FEA) reached an agreement to end a lawsuit against the ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus system that discriminated against minority and older teachers.  A signature from a federal judge will provide compensation to some teachers.

Teacher Recruitment. The focus of the 2020 legislative session may shift to teacher recruitment  and what is taught. FEA reported 4,000 teacher vacancies in the fall of 2019, and months later 2,000 positions remain unfilled.  In response to significant teacher shortages, Governor DeSantis is calling for a higher starting salary for beginning teachers. The impact may be mixed. Teacher recruitment may improve, but teacher retention may decline. New teachers may earn more than many experienced teachers.  At least half of these teachers did not graduate from college level education programs and will need mentoring and professional development that typically is not a legislative priority.

Curriculum Standards.  The Governor also called for a revision to the Florida curriculum standards that determine what is taught at each grade level. Draft standards have been released, and a summary of the results of public comment has been released. There was relatively little support indicated for eliminating the Common Core elements that have been in effect for the past ten years. More concerns were reported about the age appropriate level of standards particularly for children in K-3 but also in grade nine mathematics. As content taught in higher grades is pushed down to lower grades, the expectations for reading and math readiness for six to nine year old students become inappropriate for many children.

Where these concerns will lead the legislature is uncertain. Politically, the Governor has promised to end the Common Core skills that confuse parents. Practically, yet another change in standards not only changes what skills teachers must focus on, it also mandates that the state tests, school grades, and teacher evaluations  adapt. Teachers’ frustration are due to more than inadequate salary levels.  What are the expectations they must meet?

Adding fuel to the fire is the release of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results and the SAT and ACT test results for college admission. Scores are down yet again. Achievement gaps between white and minority students are higher. Choice based on competition and test scores is not working within public schools or among public, charter, or private school voucher-type programs.

Parents from all walks of life are questioning the system that pressures students to enroll in advanced courses e.g. AP English, math and science in order to improve school grades or admission to college. For a few students, these courses are a good option. For most, it results in an unrelenting pressure to chase test scores. Once they enroll in college many retake the same course in part because the passing standard of ‘3’ is too low for success in subsequent courses. Some colleges, like the University of Florida, require a ‘4’ on AP exams to earn credit.

It is a conundrum. Students need challenging courses that stimulate their interests, and Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of students who take and pass an AP exam. Yet, less than half of Florida students who take AP pass the exam with a score of ‘3’ or higher. This score represents a ‘C’ grade at the college level. The University of Florida requires at least a ‘4’ in many subjects in order to earn college credit.  Many students would prefer advanced courses geared toward alternative career options rather than the basic college track.

How will the Florida Legislature respond to the stalemate in student achievement? More of the same test-driven competition for scores does not work. Dividing funding among public, charter, and private schools is neither less expensive nor more effective.  Teacher recruitment and retention and quality facilities are an even bigger problem for charters and most private schools.

2020 legislative priorities for professional education associations are listed below.

Florida School Board Association.

Florida Association of School Administrators.

Florida Education Association.

What We Know and are Afraid to Hear

“Fixing” education solutions run the gamut…except for the basic issue which is segregation. Most students are segregated by race, economic status and test scores in cities even though all students must have access to high quality programs in schools with diverse enrollments in order to succeed.

New York City has tackled the issue based a new study released by the School Diversity Advisory Group. The angst in the city is palpable, but the determination to reduce segregation is real. Gifted and talented programs will no longer be targeted to the top 4% of elementary students. These children were identified by test scores when they were four years old. Admissions to kindergarten, middle and high schools based on scores also will be reexamined.

The October 2019 issue of the Atlantic includes an article titled: The Culture Wars Devours the Children written by George Packer. Packer is a parent and well known author who shares progressive values but questions the zeal with which they are being implemented in NYC. He recognizes the value of project based education, but he is concerned about political ideologies from the right or left that are imposed upon all students.  Carol Burris, CEO of the Network for Public Education and Leonie Haimson from Class Size Matters discuss the NYC integration plan in NPE’s new weekly radio broadcast called Talk Out of School.

Alachua County Schools in Florida have recognized this equity problem. They have taken some steps to broaden participation in magnet schools and offer advanced learning programs for a broader range of students. It is a step in the right direction to remove labels from students and improve school culture. There is always concern that too much integration will compel more parents to resort to charter and private schools which are prone to increase segregation.

Parents recognize that the stakes are too high when a child’s future is dependent upon test scores in preschool. Parents worry that education opportunity has become so competitive that minor differences in talent and achievement loom large. The problem is real for all families. It is time to listen to the whispers and make our voices heard.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Have you ever wondered what ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ really means? Thomas Jefferson was an avid student of Aristotle which is where the idea of a pursuit of happiness originated. I am reading a new book called ‘Aristotle’s Way’ by Edith Hall. I came across a paragraph about Aristotle’s view of public education that I would like to share with you:

“The eighth book of his Politics opens with this famous dictum: “None will doubt that the legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth for the neglect of education does harm to the constitution.” He means that education at all levels, from small children through to young adults, is of such fundamental importance to the flourishing of the community under any form of constitution that it must be publicly determined and can’t possibly be left to the decided ad hoc by each parent. Since the goal of any city-state is to ensure that its citizens live the good life, “it is manifest that education should be one and the same for all, and that it should be public, and not private.” Page 54-55

These are matters of common interest on which the pursuit of happiness is based.

“An incisive and devastating critique of the Bush A+ Plan”

You have to tell it like it is, especially when so many people have so much money invested in a failing education reform policy. Read the summary of the report: Twenty Years Later: Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan fails Florida’s Children posted by Diane Ravitch. Find out the hard truth about the impact of the A+ Plan on student achievement, school grades, teaching, and communities. Insist on an end to policies that seek to destroy public schools and rob children of a high quality education.