A Dog Fight for the Soul of Education

teacher-403004_1280 (1)Last week the Alachua County school board faced some harsh realities.  The teacher shortage has hit home.  We now have long term substitutes for positions we cannot fill.  Board members attended the Rally in Tally to support our schools and teachers.  They announced that 4,000 people were there.

Perhaps the most hopeful moment at the board meeting came when a parent, Kanh-Lien Banko spoke.




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teacher-23304_1280I saw a bit of trivia in the Tampa Bay Times the other day.  It made me laugh or cry, not sure which, at life’s absurdities.

Based on VAM achievement gain scores only, 32 teachers in 18 districts had highly effective evaluations and 5 districts had elementary teachers who consistently earned unsatisfactory ratings over 4 years.  Such small numbers can only mean that VAM scores are worthless.

There are 175,006 teachers in Florida.  Could it just possibly be that VAM scores reflect which students are assigned to a teacher rather than which teacher is assigned to a class?  It does not take high level critical thinking to answer this question.

The Florida legislature could come up with a better evaluation system.  Almost any one of the options would be better if laced with a little common sense.




Comparing Canada and the U.S. on Education

flag-1040547_1280A reader sent this thoughtful article by Ben Levin.  I was pleased because I too have been musing about Canada’s high ranking on the international PISA test.  Canada significantly out performs the U.S. in math, science and reading.

I looked for reasons–Canada has a strict immigration policy based on skill levels of applicants.  Canada has a lower poverty rate.  These things are true, but according to Politico, if you use scores only from white U.S. citizens, Canada still outperforms the U.S. fifteen year old students. To make it to the top of the score scale, the U.S. can only use schools with less than ten percent enrolled from families living in poverty.  Even in those schools, math scores would only be ranked 8th, but reading and science would be second to Shanghai.

Florida paid to get its own PISA scores.  The results were surprisingly low.  Our students were well below the U.S. average PISA scores in science and math and just average in reading.  As a leading proponent for school reform, this is not good news for Florida.

The U.S. has the largest income gap in the world. Depending upon how it is measured, however, basic living conditions for the poor in the U.S.  are not worse than in other developed countries.  Yet, PISA scores have gone up in many countries, ours remain stagnant.

In the following article, Ben Levin compares U.S. and Canadian educational systems and finds some similarities and four very real differences.  Perhaps we can learn from our northern neighbors.  How uneven is the funding for U.S. schools?  How uneven is the quality?  This has to be a serious concern.  There are lawsuits over equity and funding all over the U.S., and yes, in Florida.

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FEA Challenges Teacher Bonus Plan

teacher-403004_1280 (1)The Florida Education Association (FEA) filed a complaint against the Best and Brightest bonus plan.  The complaint was filed with the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.  This is the $10,000 bonus for teachers with high SAT and/or ACT scores who received highly effective ratings.  Well, not exactly.  First year teachers were exempt from the teacher evaluation rating.  Not enough money was allocated to cover the $10,000 cost per qualified teacher.

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Congress Passes New Federal ESEA Bill

legislation1We posted several analyses of the updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Current legislation, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is on its way to the President’s desk.   No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top are gone.  What remains are annual testing requirements and support for charter schools.  Responsibility for most education accountability reverts to the states.  Thus, each state can determine how test scores are used for teacher evaluation, school grades and the Common Core.

States are required to identify schools with under performing students and help fix them.  What this means is unclear.  For a good analysis, see Education Week.  Many provisions are subject to different interpretations.  One thing is clear, citizens need to turn to their state legislatures  to make reasonable, valid decisions about how test scores are used.  Continued policies that force districts and teachers to focus instruction on ‘passing the test’ can be changed, if the voters insist.


Best and Brightest Teachers Bonus Needs Study

teacher-590109_1280Efforts to reward highly effective teachers are understandable.  An expression comes to mind, however, about a road to….being  paved with good intentions.  We need to know where the road leads.  The Tampa Bay Times published an article this morning that delineates flaws with the teacher bonus selection process.  Of the state’s 172,000 teachers, Forty-two percent of Florida’s teachers earned ‘highly effective’ ratings in 2014; of these 5,200 qualified for bonuses of $8,500 each.  Some who appeared to be qualified were left out.  No one received the $10,000 initially promised.  The amount of money the legislature allocated did not cover the cost.  We should know where the money went.  There may be unintended consequences.  This program needs fixing.Continue reading

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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