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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DeVos Report Confirms Loss of Federal Dollars for Charters

The Network for Public Education’s (NPE) two reports…Asleep at the Wheel…claimed that over a billion dollars in federal funds were lost due to charters that never opened or quickly closed. The charter industry was enraged, scoffed, and claimed that the reports were inaccurate. NPE’s Carol Burris replied in this story published by the Washington Post. Carol underestimated the amount lost! It seems that DeVos reported to Congress that two billion dollars were actually lost.

Time periods in the compared reports varied somewhat, but the problem is actually worse than NPE’s report indicated. Carol explains the differences. What cannot be explained is where the money went. Both the Congress and the U.S. Department of Education were Asleep at the Wheel.

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 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.

House Appropriations Slashes Charter Start Up Funds

In response to a report by the Network for Public Education, the federal startup funds were cut $40 million this year and another $100 million next year. The committee noted the lack of oversight of federal startup funding.

There is other good news in the proposed budget for full service community schools, look lars remodeling. This is a direct rebuke to the DeVos Department of Education budget proposal. The committee also noted the abuse of for-profit online schools.

Good things can happen! The budget section begins on page 182.

Catch up on Florida Tax Credit Vouchers

Much of what has been happening with these tax credit vouchers has been under the radar. I took a peek, and here is what has happened lately. The cost keeps going up, but are corporations getting fed up?

Changes in the FTC program funding are reflected in the automatic increase in the cap for corporate donations, the expansion in eligible funding sources, changes in family income eligibility guidelines, and the increase in percentage of the per student allocations for public schools allowed for private school scholarships.

Most years, excluding 2016-17, the Florida Tax Credit scholarship program saw a 10,000 student increase in participation. In 2016, the enrollment doubled from the previous year due to legislative changes in eligibility. In 2018-19, however, enrollment dropped by 10,000 due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2016-17, the income qualifications based on a family of four were raised to 185% -260% of poverty level or from about $44,123 to approximately $62,000 per year. The proportional amount of the full scholarships are reduced for middle income families.

• FTC scholarships are funded from corporate tax rebates up to a designated funding cap. The program funding sources were expanded to include credits against insurance premium tax for contributions to eligible non-profit SFOs, severance taxes on oil and gas production, sales tax liabilities of direct pay permit holders, and alcoholic beverages taxes.

• There is a 25% automatic increase in the cap as long as enrollment exceeds 90% of the cap.

• The amount of the scholarship was originally set at 72% of the FEFP per student funding for public schools, but an automatic increase was provided up to 82% of FEFP in 2016-17. In 2017, the FEFP percentage was again increased from 82%, depending upon grade level, to 88-96%. The maximum award in 2017-18 was $5,886. Step Up has reported a 10,000 student decrease in 2018-19 FTC enrollment due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2017-18, Step Up distributed $689 million of the dollars to 108,000 students in over 1700 private, mostly religious schools. These donations were about 10% below the allowable cap. This year, corporate pledges are $687 million. The largest corporate donors to the FTC scholarships are the beverage industry and United Health Care.

• Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion. Given the projected decrease in corporate funding, the legislature turned to donations from sales taxes for new cars to expand the FTC program. These are called Hope Scholarships and were implemented in 2018-19. The maximum scholarship award for a student ranges from $6519 to $7111 for those whose family income is no more than double the federal poverty level. There were 66 participating students in fall of 2018.

References.
http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/k-12-scholarship-programs/ftc/ftc-faqs.stml
https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/1314/Analyses/
2017s01314.pre.ed.PDF
https://www.tampabay.com/article/20180815/ARTICLE/308159799

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship enrollment drops


Click to access 14-fsba-issue-brief-on-ftc.pdf

Florida – Hope Scholarship Program

NPE: Five Reasons Why Charters Can Not Be Reformed

Some charters are innovative and productive; most are not. Why not? Here are five reasons why Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris believe that no reform of the ‘charter system’ will work. I have listed the reasons below, and you can read the rationale for these inherent flaws in the charter school system here. It’s good to have the five points at your fingertips as you talk about your concerns about school privatization.

  1. Freedom from regulation and oversight through public governance has resulted in persistence and undeniable patterns of waste and fraud.
  2. Defacto discrimination is baked into the charter school model.
  3. Charter schools bleed money from the public school system, which results in either a lesser education for public school students or an extra burden on tax payers.
  4. Charter schools eliminate democracy from school governance, and this lack of voice is most acutely felt by parents in disadvantaged communities.
  5. Loose laws around conflict of interest combined with a lack of transparency regarding spending have provided a fertile ground for profiteers and grifters.

Will Florida’s Education Leadership Be A ‘One Trick Pony’?

Pam Stewart has resigned as of the date Governor DeSantis is inaugurated. Rumors abound that DeSantis has fingered former House Speaker and school privatization advocate Richard Corcoran for the job. Do you hire someone to run Florida’s public schools who wants to end public schools? Corcoran’s bio tells a lot about him. He graduated from St. Leo and earned his law degree from Regents University (RU). RU was founded by Pat Robertson as the Christian Broadcasting Network University whose goal is to foster Christian leaders. While Corcoran was a bankruptcy attorney, he soon became career politician. He first ran for office in 2008. He has now term limited out of the House and is job hunting.

The law states that the State Board of Education (SBE) appoints the State Superintendent, not the Governor The SBE typically does national searches. Florida needs qualified education leaders who have training and experience. Who we have so far is Rep. Jennifer Sullivan as House Education Chair.  Sullivan wrote the curriculum for TeenPact on the proper role of government.  TeenPact is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.  She was home schooled and a college drop out from a private Christian college. She says her ignorance could be an asset.

Senate Education Committee Chair, Manny Diaz, graduated from St. Thomas and earned a masters degree from Nova which may account for his support for online education. He does have experience in public schools. He also has joined the for-profit Academica charter management firm as Chief Operating Officer of Doral College, an online non accreditated school created to offer dual enrollment to high school students taught by their teachers. The credit does not transfer to any other college, but it does provide a six figure salary to Diaz.

Now are Floridians to be offered Richard Corcoran, career politician and school privatization advocate to implement legislative policy? Granted the Governomr appoints members to the State Board of Education, but are they simply to rubber stamp the Governor’s agenda? Is there any room in the policy leadership for the interests of the 80% of children who attend Florida’s traditional public schools? Will anyone have an interest in curbing the abuses of the unregulated charter and private tax credit scholarship schools? See the Tampa Bay Times’ take on the issue.

Reformers Say: Testing Does Not Work!

Speaker after speaker at a conference held by the Center for Reinventing Education (a pro-choice think tank) lamented that current testing and accountability programs are not working. Large scale standardized testing does not improve achievement or close achievement gaps. This is no surprise. Tests take the temperature; they don’t improve teachers, instruction, or the motivation to learn. They do not build up neighborhoods; they more likely tear them apart. Everyone wants the ‘A’ school and tries to escape the bottom rung. Only in Lake Woebegone, however, are all children above average.

One wonders if the current wave of criticism of testing is simply manufactured by companies who have invested heavily in data driven online learning. To make room for the new, business practice destroys the old. Picture students who sit in front of a computer much of the day learning in a ‘new way’. They read an excerpt, answer a few questions, take a quiz, and generate lots and lots of data. Companies build data bases, build evaluation tools, and create pictures of what a student knows every day. Hmmm, I see the image of a gold mine where students don’t profit from all that data mining but companies do. No wonder this movement is sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

Don’t get me wrong! The current test and punish philosophy is destructive. A system rigged against most kids is destined to fail everybody. The focus has to shift to teaching and learning. To make meaningful changes in what and how children learn, we need skilled teachers and a school climate where all children feel valued, not just measured and found wanting. Getting there will take a careful look at the consequences of how test scores are currently used….school grades, teacher evaluations, selection into academic programs, and monetary rewards. These scores emphasize who does not measure up and who will be left out. No one needs to be hit with bad and often fake news everyday.

When we rediscover ways to make teaching an attractive profession and learning a joy, we can test every few years to get a sense of how things are going. Right now we have the cart before the horse.