There’s a war going on.

I gave a talk at our Education Forum this morning. It’s a different slant than I sometimes take. I talk about cheerios and TV channels. We have more of each than we need, but we continue to pay for them. What does this have to do with school policy? A lot actually. See what you think.

There’s a war going on, and the ammunition is fake news. Take for example, the charge that educators resist change. Recent history tells a different story. After WWII, everyone was expected to go to high school; most did not before. When I was in high school, the space race put pressure on schools to teach more mathematics. My grandchildren are now taking math courses in middle school that I took in high school. Consider also the upheaval in the 70s, when schools were desegregated. Now globalization and the loss of jobs due to technology require schools to educate children to create their own jobs.

In Florida, most people believe that public schools do the best job of preparing students for the diverse and complicated world in which they will live. School reform policy, however, assumes that consumer based competition with charter and private schools will make schools even better. In fact, competition in the private consumer sector does make many choices e.g. there are 13 types of cheerios and 189 TV channels most of which none of us has eaten or watched.

Educational choice has been around for nearly twenty years. There are 4,000 public schools, nearly 2,000 private schools, and 652 charters all drawing on the same pot of money. In Florida, we have more choices and less money than most states. Florida is in the bottom tier, 44th in state funding for education, and the State continues to cut funding. Competition is creating a crisis.
Businesses find ways to cut corners and shift costs. Sometimes a pound of coffee has only 12 ounces. While some charters find innovative ways to help kids, most replicate what already exists; it is less expensive. District schools are asked to do more with less, and they have reached a tipping point.

At least fourteen districts have joined together to sue the State over HB 7069, the education bill passed in last legislative session. The conflict, however, is about more than money. It’s also about local control, equity and quality. These are the issues:

Local Control. Who decides how our local taxes are spent?
Florida’s constitution gives the authority to levy taxes for schools to the elected school boards. A majority in the legislature, however, wants to control all funding even though it only supplies half of what is needed. Local property taxes provide the rest. The legislature now requires districts to share their property tax revenue with privately owned charter school buildings. It makes it impossible for districts to maintain their own facilities, and charters must cut corners as well. No sector, public, charter or private, can provide quality facilities.

HB 7069 also removes the federal authority given to local districts to determine how best to allocate money to help low income students. The State, not the district, now determines how federal money is allocated. This restricts districts’ ability to concentrate support where it is most needed, and it appears to violate federal law.

Equity: Is separate equal?

  1. Charter that screen and dismiss students increase economic and racial segregation even within low income areas. It becomes a have and have not system.
  2. Struggling district schools now can be closed after a year below a ‘C’ grade, but charters that take them over can stay open for five even though the school grade does not improve.
  3. Most of the state funding to help struggling schools goes to charters, not district schools. Yet, charters tend to have less experienced teachers and higher teacher turnover.

Quality: More is not better. For example,

  1. The failure to curb self-dealing corporate charter school business practices allows an excessive amount of money to go to charter real estate firms. Yes, they have their own real estate companies. To pay these leases, money is taken from teacher salaries and benefits and charged to parents for supplies.
  2. More teachers are leaving and fewer are entering the profession. The response by the legislature in HB 7069 is to reduce teacher certification requirements.
  3. There is a loss of instructional time and subject matter in order to support test prep strategies. Civics, for example is now taught one half hour per week.
  4. Choice alone does not raise achievement levels, and one-third of charters close. The money invested in is lost. Private schools do not even have to meet the public curriculum, testing or teaching standards.

    BOTTOM LINE: School choice that offers nothing new just repackages but does not improve our schools. It is not cost efficient or effective. In a system in which all choices become mediocre, everyone loses. It is time to rethink. How much choice of which types do we need? How can we redirect the conversation about school quality?

  5. Demonstrate what education should be to engage students: Passion to Teach.

  6. Support collaborative efforts to help teachers not just improve but want to join the profession.
  7. Make schools and communities mutually supportive. Find ways to better integrate pre school, after school, extra instructional time, and community activities into the schools. This is the goal of community schools like the one we are implementing at Howard Bishop.
  8. Recognize that the quality of schools and communities are intertwined. Ask: How can the community improve the schools and how can the schools improve the community? It matters where new schools are built, where and how students learn, what opportunities students have to interact with the world outside their schools.
  9. Learn about the tradeoffs of choice policies. Choice has a nice ring, and some choices truly are better for some children. But remember, more choice does not always create better choices. Ask how much is enough?

We have an example of a choice we must make right now…a mega CSUSA for-profit charter school has drafted a proposal for an 1124 student school in Gainesville. It would pull another $600,000 out of our facility budget in addition to the approximately $600,00 that will go to our local charters. It will impact every school as students shift around and take funding with them. It brings nothing new or innovative. It can discourage any child who is in any ‘different’ from enrolling and can dismiss any they find expensive or difficult to educate. In their proposal, they state they cannot compete academically with similar schools for at least five years.

Why should this ‘choice’ be imposed on our community? Wouldn’t we be better off to build our own schools and have a voice in how they are run?

Some of us have formed a PACT to help our community understand the choices that lie ahead. You can join the PACT; volunteer in schools, encourage less test prep and more activity based learning. Join the PTA and find ways to bring our schools into the community and our community into the schools.
Be aware; get involved.

Bash Schools or Build Democracy

The October Atlantic reports on the war on public schools. We know this war. The strategy is changing, and this is a good thing. The reform mantra that school achievement has declined, teachers are inadequate, unions protect mediocrity and school choice (read privatization) solves all problems has become hackneyed, if not outright false. The Atlantic article raises a much different and more fundamental concern. The attack on public schools reflects the emphasis on individual rights as opposed to the collective good. This is an age-old theme in America. It waxes and wanes, but the stakes are high.

The author cites the political theorist Benjamin Barber’s warning: “America as a commercial society of individual consumers may survive the destruction of public schooling. America as a democratic republic cannot.” Why?

Our schools integrate diverse groups from widely ranging backgrounds into our civil society. They learn to be ‘American’. The public schools give all of our people a stake in the future of our democracy. School choice, however, is further segregating our society and creates more enclaves. The impact on our communities is being felt. We no longer teach civics, and fewer young people participate in voting.

In some countries, the population disengages in their political system. When this occurs, the whole process of negotiation among citizens to resolve problems disintegrates. A good analysis is offered by Harry Boyte, Co-Director of the Center for Democracy. He says “Politics is how diverse groups of people build a future together”. This is the message that will determine our future. We have a choice. We can build or divide our schools and our communities.

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.

Positive Advocacy for Public Schools

There are many ways to support public schools. We are asking our county and city governments to support September: Public Schools Awareness Month. We hope to generate a public discussion about what is happening with our public schools. Here’s what we have planned. Let us know what you are doing.

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SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The League is trying to tip the balance toward our public schools and away from privatization. Here’s how. We have formed a coalition with the Alachua County Council of PTAs, the Alachua County Education Association, the U.F. College of Education Council and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to promote: September: Public School Awareness Month.

Events include:

• A Proclamation submitted to the Gainesville City and County Commissions

• “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 Pugh Hall

• 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

• “Bad Teacher” by Kevin Kumishiro a book to read on school reform. Watch the interview.

COME TO A COMMUNITY FORUM TO HEAR FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT ON: What is Happening with OUR Schools?
September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 a.m.

• Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Rennovating 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 on “CulturallyResponsive Classrooms”

HB 7069: Collateral Damage Hits Home

Imagine finding out that the State of Florida fired you, but you work for a local school. Imagine finding out you were fired because your students did not do well on the state assessments when 23 of your 39 students had left your school. Imagine being the Teacher of the Year when that happened. This is HB 7069 in action.

Imagine finding out you had to prove the State was wrong. Read this teacher’s story. She is not alone. It happened to teachers across the state.

NAACP Report: A Must Read

The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The newly published report gives the reasons why. Charters, however well an individual school may operate, have system failures that threaten our entire public school system.

Robert Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County says that they have closed 30 charters since he has been there. Hillsborough’s experience with alternative charters was described by Albert Fields, NAACP representative, as …”the warehouse on the way to prison.’

Issues of Access and Retention: Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against New Orleans charters
Concerns about Quality: 2500 charters have closed since 2001. Forty percent closure rate.
Issues Accountability and Transparency: Points include: Extreme variations in salaries and expenditures in charters, lack of parent access to management; disruption of charter closures
Transportation Challenges. In Detroit, “We have created school deserts.” As charters increase, neighborhood schools close. Charters locate in more desirable areas; thus many parents are faced with major transportation problems to get their children to school.
For Profit Charters. “For-profit operators have no business in education…(Our kids) are not assets and liabilities and should not be treated as such.”

Whatever individual charters accomplish, the system failures diminish. The NAACP calls for more equitable funding and investment in the education of students in low performing schools. Districts should be the sole authorizers, and they should be empowered to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight. For-profit charters should be prohibited, including those that send money from non-profit charters to for-profit management companies. Allowing for-profit companies to operate charter schools is an inherent conflict of interest.

http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Task_ForceReport_final2.pdf

Racist Rant or Reality Speak?

What are the driving forces behind school choice and privatizing education? In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers points to Betsy DeVos. Gartner says school choice is about “racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and homophobia”. Harsh words flying about.

For those of us who lived first hand through the integration of schools in the early 70’s, it’s impossible not to recognize all of those ‘isms’ that Gartner uses. We heard them and felt them. There’s no doubt that some groups now capitalize on somewhat ‘buried’ feelings of those who use choice to escape integration. There’s simply more to it.

Money comes to mind. Choice was supposed to save money. The private sector, according to some, could drive down costs. How? Breaking the teachers unions, for one. Unions have helped keep teacher retirement and health benefits. Charters and voucher progrBams don’t have to provide benefits, and most do not. School facilities are expensive, and the private sector can build them without directly going to taxpayers. The cost for facilities is hidden from the public unless people look at the financial audits. The money going into charter facilities comes out of teacher salaries and benefits and, of course, fewer services to students.

I go back to my professional life when I worked on critical thinking and problem solving skills. Sometimes there is no single correct answer to a question. Racism and all those other ‘isms’ are real for some people. Profiteering using fear tactics is also real. Simple greed is real. The answer to some of those critical thinking questions was often ‘All of the above”. Didn’t you really dislike those types of choices? Nevertheless, in real life, sometimes they are the correct answer. And then you ask, ‘Now what’? I have some possible answers, and I would like your suggestions.

Superintendents Argue Before State Board of Education

Florida’s superintendents’ association argued before the State Board of Education that the Schools of Hope take hope away from districts. These ‘takeover’ schools become charters and further drain funding from existing schools. They take capital outlay funds for school maintenance and give it to privately owned charters. Miami-Dade Superintendent Carvalho estimates the cost to his district is $23 million. Even conservative rural area districts are alarmed at the impact of current State policy on their districts.

It is time the public weighs in to support our public schools. Florida’s approach to school reform is moving toward privatizing our system. In countries like Chile, where privatization was pushed by the government, there is a three tiered system. The wealthy send their children to fully private schools. The upper middle class attend voucher supported private schools. Everyone else sends children to schools with a minimum level of funding. In other words, the privatization movement simply takes the inequities we now have and makes them much worse. For most families, privatization is a disaster. There is no pretense that families should have equal access to a free high quality education.

It may seem that it is not possible to correct our course. In fact, the only way to make changes is to insist our elected officials hear what we want. It’s up to us. Make your voices heard. Don’t take our public schools for granted.

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WE FACE IS TAKING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM FOR GRANTED.

http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2017/7/17/superintendents_to_f.html

NEA Has New Charter School Position

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed they could innovate unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles”, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes students success, undermines public education and harms communities.”

There are ways to provide flexibility to ensure charters have a positive role in meeting the needs of children. NEA lays out three criteria:

  1. Charter schools must be authorized by and held accountable to democratically elected local school boards. Locally elected school boards are the only way to ensure charters actually meet student needs in ways that the district cannot.

  2. A charter must demonstrate that it is necessary to meet student needs in the district and that it meets the needs in a manner that improves the local public school system.

  3. The charter must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools. This includes open meetings and public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations and profiteering, civil rights, labor, employment, health and safety laws, staff qualifications and certification requirements as other public schools.

There is a growing consensus that charters are overextended and inadequately supervised. This is a result of the reluctance of school reformers who are not willing to apply common sense policies to control the excesses that go along with the unbridled competition where no one wins.