Florida Files State Test Waiver Request

Governor DeSantis filed a request to waive federal requirements for state testing in 2021.  If approved, state tests would not be administered.  Specific federal waivers include:

  1. Implement and report the results of the state’s accountability system;
  2. Calculate progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress or indicators;
  3. Meaningfully differentiate among public schools using data from the 2020-2021 school year;
  4. Account for an assessment participation rate below 95 percent; and
  5. Identify schools for comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement, and additional targeted support and improvement based on data from the 2020-2021 school year.

Florida would still be required to:

  1. Continue to support previously identified schools in the 2021-2022 school year;
  2. Resume school identification in the fall of 2022; and
  3. Publically report the percentage of students, by subgroup, not assessed and the percentage chronically absent.
  4. The waiver application does not exempt Florida from state accountability requirements. The results of state assessments are crucial to help identify students who need specialized supports, help teachers tailor their instructional delivery to support individual student needs, and ensure equity in opportunity and closing achievement gaps for millions of Florida’s at-risk students.

For the most up-to-date data, FDOE will report school performance data, disaggregated by student subgroups, at www.knowyourschoolsfl.org.

Florida has its own requirements based on state test scores.  DeSantis’ emergency order will allow districts to opt out of reporting school grades, school improvement ratings, and learning gains associated with teacher evaluations.  Districts will be allowed to determine if students should be promoted or should graduate from high school.

These waivers are only for one year.  It is a good time to reevaluate the entire testing and accountability system.  There is no good reason to require expensive annual testing at every grade level.  The way Florida uses those scores to rank schools needs to be rethought.

SETTING EXPECTATIONS: A LETTER TO THE LEAGUE

These are my remarks to the LWVF Statewide Education Group
Sue M. Legg
February 4, 2021

The pandemic is slowing. Where do we go from here? In order to think about what may be next, I looked at the trends in educational policy over the past five years. I started at the local level, expanded to the state and then to the nation. Some things may change, the question is how much. I will try to read the tea leaves.

i. In my local school district, equity issues have dominated, and the past election changed the composition of the school board to a 3/2 majority black members. There is a reason for this shift. In 2018, the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic Research released a sobering report on equity. Alachua County has the highest achievement gap in the state. It also has a higher proportion of minorities living below the poverty level, and the geographic segregation here is the worst it has been in the last 26 years. Some believe that school create inequities and are responsible for low achievement. How much can schools actually do is open to debate. The U.F. report underscored that Alachua County, like most counties, have a myriad of social and economic problems that are strongly related to student achievement issues. How did Alachua County respond to the report?

Alachua County Schools have implemented an equity plan that focuses on staff sensitivity training, student services, standardizing discipline policies, improving the graduation rates, and increasing salaries both for teachers and some workers. In the past two years, county voters passed a One Mill referendum for student support services and a one-half cent sales tax to build and refurbish school facilities, and a Children’s Trust initiative to fund preschool programs. The new school board was installed in November 2020, and it changed the superintendent in December. She was viewed as competent but was considered to be more pragmatic than proactive. Now we are facing district-wide rezoning. There are too many under enrolled and overenrolled schools which is directly related to segregation by race, economic level and housing development. Alachua County generally is considered to be a progressive county, but will citizens support more busing? Or, will busing lead to more privatization?

  1. At the state level, I wonder if the past is prologue. To help me answer this question, I looked at the 2021 budget projections and the legislative education priorities. Then I considered changes in Florida’s population and school privatization rates. Here is what I have found:

Budget: Governor De Santis’ budget for 2021 is 4.3 billion dollars more than this year even though a $1.6 billion shortfall in revenue is projected for each of the next two years. This year’s budget would increase education funding by $550 million. Priorities include teacher pay and career education. Funding will largely come from an increase in revenue from higher property values. Basically, this means that the state will not fund the increase, local communities will. This is no surprise. State revenue comes primarily from sales taxes, and Medicaid increased expenses will likely consume the majority of the revenue.

Population Trends: There is no appetite in Florida for a state income tax nor is there an overwhelming consensus on education policy. This is due in part to population demographics. Florida is still growing, but the growth is greater for those over 65 years. Florida’s senior population is expected to increase from 20% to 24% in the next decade. Florida’s average family income is ranked 39th in the country. This combination, along with a low corporate tax rate and no income tax, minimizes incentives to increase state funding for education. PolitiFact confirms that Florida ranks 45th in per student funding.

Florida’s population is diverse. It is 53% white, 26% Hispanic, and 15% black, and there are policy divisions within each group and each political party. For example, Democrats for Educational Reform (DFER) support school choice for low income black students. Diversity in Florida is increasing, but the challenge for public education is not only to provide equal access to a quality education, but it must also promote the value of diversity within schools. Academic achievement improves for all students when students are exposed to people of different backgrounds and abilities. Our task is to expand awareness of the importance of diversity within a school in order to lessen the achievement gap.

Privitization: Enrollment in charters and private schools has increased over the last five years. Charter school enrollment grew by 60,000 students to 11.5% of all PK12 students. Private school enrollment has been steady except for the 52,000 student increase due to state funded voucher programs. Combined, charters and private school enrollment is over 727,000 students or about one quarter of the Florida PreK 12 population.

The largest racial/ethnic group in both programs is Hispanics who are predominate in south Florida. But, Hispanics will clarify that there are important differences in ethnicity. Dade County has 20% of students enrolled in its charter schools and about 17% in private schools. Most of these students are of Cuban or Latin American descent. Many Hispanics from other countries are more recent immigrants and have lower family incomes.

Given that income and racial/ethnic background is correlated, enrollment within and across public and private schools often results in uneven quality. If SB48 passes, economic segregation may increase. More white families may use vouchers as partial tuition payments to private schools. Thus, there is even less priority on providing equal access to a high quality education. Florida’s charters and private schools are already more racially and economically segregated than traditional public schools, as the Collins Institute has shown.

Online schools both public and private are also increasing. In April 2020, the Florida Board of Education approved a FLVS request to spend $4.3 million to hire 320 new instructors and buy new servers. There are 4,905 fulltime students in online charters and 5,104 in district online programs. The Florida Virtual School has 5,770 full time students.

  1. National trends
    Change in Leadership. President Biden’s educational platform opposes for-profit charter schools and strongly supports public school teachers. He has promised to at least triple Title I funding to aid students from lower income families. He supports universal preK for three and four-year olds. He has not, however, made any commitment to change annual testing requirements for federal funding. His appointments to the US Department of Education are a welcome change. Miguel Cordona is a well-regarded educator who strongly supports public education, but he has not made any statements about his views on charter schools. He supports testing. Cindy Marten, the nominee for Deputy Secretary, however, is an educator who strongly opposes charters and privatization generally.

Changes in Funding and Regulation. There is pressure to abolish the Charter School Program startup funds. Staff at the Network for Public Education is exposing charter school fraud and abuse across the country. Florida, for example, received federal Charter School Program grants. 503 opened and 186 closed for a loss of $34 million. In Florida, 125 charter schools received $50 million Paycheck Protection Plan loans, even though they operate with state funding. Questionable real estate transactions continue. Academica sold four charters to the Mater Academy Board for $47 million dollars even though Academica founded Mater Academy schools. Paramount charters in Titusville and Ft. Myers have been charged with embezzlement of federal funds. These issues have been ignored until now. These are only two of many such examples.

  1. The Path Forward: Now for the tea leaves.

Instructional Changes. In my district, placement of students in programs on the basis of test scores has come under fire. Magnet programs designed to fill under enrolled schools are criticized because they create a climate of exclusion. The value of student team-work vs. competition to promote learning has once again become a topic of discussion, but the required time for teacher collaboration to implement these programs is underfunded. Nevertheless, Sarasota has received community funds to implement group learning strategies in their middle schools.

School Management. Teacher shortages, student discipline and absenteeism rates plague schools. In January 2020, the Florida Department of Education reported that there were still 2,440 teacher vacancies. Teacher salaries are gradually improving.

Values and Policies. For the next few years, Florida is not likely to change its educational policies. Where should the League direct its energies? I have been focusing on local schools. I joined the District Advisory Council, the Half Cent Oversight Committee, the Equity Committee and the Discipline Committee. I understand what we value. We want our children to be competitive in a changing world. We understand that standards for what children should know and be able to do are needed, but we don’t agree on what they should be. Will the next experiment be tracking for vocational education? We know that testing to determine whether students meet standards has produced as many problems as it has solved. We do not know, however, how else to effectively evaluate the quality of our schools, and we think we must. Will we continue to rely on school grades? We have learned in the pandemic that technology does not replace teaching, and the allure of a seemingly simple way to use technology to fill teacher shortages is very complicated. Many of our students, for example, lack access to the Internet. Others sign into online classes but turn off their cameras. Some simply disappear from the roles.

I have come to believe that we know what we do not want, but we are having difficulty articulating what we do want. Or maybe there is no consensus on working for the greater good. If not, there is more turmoil ahead. For now, I plan to pay attention to equity issues, teaching and learning strategies, and assessment and accountability. I will follow the money. As much as I am able, I will let others know what I discover. I know you will do the same.

Slippery Slope or Steady Course for a Better Future?

President-elect Biden has kept his promise to hire an educator. He found a good one in Miguel Cordona. Cordona was Connecticut’s Principal of the Year in 2012. His career path has been meteoric. He went from being an assistant superintendent of a small school district to state superintendent within two years. Cordona has not entered the wars over the privatization of public schools. He is, however, a strong public school supporter. He has opposed tying teacher evaluations to test scores. He fits Biden’s image as one who governs from the middle. Where will this lead?

All we know now is that federal K12 education funding goes primarily to the Title I program to support underserved students. Biden has stated that this funding will increase substantially. How states must account for these funds has yet to be determined. This matters. Education policy has been driven by a focus on test scores. Turning children into numbers has not improved learning. It has prompted many educators to leave the classroom. It has also fueled ineffective charter and school voucher programs that divide people and resources.

Education has been asked to solve the problems of poverty and inequity. There are no easy answers, but how this issue is approached is the test for Biden’s administration. Will accountability for federal dollars prompt state leaders to think about where and how children learn best? Or, will it keep children glued to computer screens that the pandemic has shown to be problematic?

Who will replace Betsy DeVos?

President-elect Biden has narrowed his choices for Secretary of Education. There are two finalists. Both are strong advocates for public education. One, Leslie Fenwick, has publically focused on the need to keep public schools public. You can help influence this choice. Read about the former dean of Howard University Leslie Fenwick. The other choice is Miguel Cordona, the Connecticut Secretary of Education. Take action:

Mixed Blessings: Corporate Training Programs

Most of us are looking for answers about how best to help children learn.  The latest approach is to focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE).  Not all students are college-bound.  Few middle schoolers, however, are ready to plan the rest of their lives. Knowing that, many corporations decide to run campaigns with firms such as The Marketing Heaven to bring middle schoolers closer to the programs they offer in order to pursue a satisfying career. Some of these CTE options expect exactly that.

Big corporations like Amazon, CISCO, and Ford are implementing CTE programs in schools.  In this article, Jeff Bryant explains why.  He also interviews parents who initially were excited and then concerned about the control over the K12 curriculum that these companies exercised.  Were students being trained for specific jobs in particular companies that may or may not exist when they graduate?  

In this thoughtful article, you can follow the logic and the money involved.  It is worth the time to read it carefully.  Florida has already implemented changes to high school graduation requirements for CTE programs. Beginning in middle school, students can point toward a job right out of high school,
see temecula facial oral surgery.  In some cases, those students may graduate from high school with at least a community college degree.  In others, credits for graduation are reduced from 24 credits to 18 if they enroll in a CTE program.  

Public/private partnerships may have some real advantages.  The bottom line, so to speak, is always the issue need AC installation in riverside.  Whose interest is being served, and what is the impact of corporate controlled education on communities?  What happens to the students who complete a specific training program and find that there are fewer jobs than there are students who have trained for those jobs?  

Passion to Teach Revisited

Remember the posts about Bart Nouse’s film ‘Passion to Teach’? Friday, I saw this project based approach to learning in action. It was like a science fair, but not like one in important ways.

A Community School in a local lower income area held a poster session for its seventh grade students. Last fall, groups of three or four students selected a science or medical problem to investigate. The studies defined a similar investigative process across groups but no ongoing experiments. There were poster displays and T-shirts and prizes for the most well thought out ideas.

Essential differences between this activity and the usual science fair were:

  1. The students did their studies at school and in groups during the fall semester.
  2. The groups combined regular program and magnet program children.
  3. There was no project cost to the students.
  4. Teachers contacted every community group to request mentors for each project. The response was overwhelming. Each mentor spent at least an hour each week with a group, visit oasisnaturalcleaning.com.
  5. As the projects advanced, forty University of Florida faculty members were recruited to respond to content and process questions.

It does not matter who won or who lost in this competition. As I walked around and spoke to the students, I could see their pride and recognize their learning. These students from different abilities, backgrounds and races learned together for the benefit of everyone. The teacher who coordinated the activities said, “None of this was about testing.” It showed. There was so much learning in so many ways.

There was an uneasy undercurrent to this joy of learning.  As I spoke with administrators, I learned the school had been in lock down that morning.  No guns were involved but threats by a homeless person had been made.  I saw the rigorous screening of visitors to the schools.  I learned about the unmet mental health needs of many children.

The contrast between what could be and what is becomes obvious on a day like this.  If schools were balanced by income and race and threats were minimized,  learning can flourish.  When fear and failure become the norm due to the impact of school choice and economic segregation, everyone pays the price.  There is a better way; it is a choice communities must make.

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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