A Step in the Right Direction

Have you ever been in a maze and had trouble finding the exit?  Tracking bills through the legislative process is like that.  Well, it is even worse because some bills get lost and others change their identity.  I tried to check on the Best and Brightest bills.   SB 1552 is no longer just about teacher recruitment bonuses.  It is also about school improvement.  But, school improvement used to be about Schools of Hope.  Forget all the old bill numbers; it is time to start anew.  Here’s what happened:

Senator Simmons filed an amendment to his Best and Brightest teacher recruitment bill SB 1552.  The bill incorporates many of the provisions in House bill 796 and broadens eligibility for scholarships.  It adds college level tests and grade point averages etc. to those high school SAT and ACT scores that seemed such a bizarre way to select and reward teachers.  The new bills are not perfect but are an improvement.  They could help make teaching a more attractive option in this time of teacher shortages.  At least the bill provides multiple and diverse ways to qualify for salary bonuses.

Yesterday, SB 1552 changed again.  Senator Simmons filed another amendment to insert some School Improvement language from HB 5105.   The League was unhappy with HB 5105 last week.  It promoted Schools of Hope that took control of struggling schools away from districts.  Pulling students out of the district simply weakens all schools.

Senator Simmons’ amendment not only eliminates Schools of Hope funding, it maintains district control.  It provides support and flexibility that has long been needed.  Schools receiving grades below a “C” will have turn around support that includes:

  • An additional  hour of instruction.
  • Wrap around community support services provided by a non-profit entity that includes health services, after school programs, drug prevention, college and career readiness and food and clothing banks.
  • Principal autonomy mostly in the curriculum.

Traditional public schools that fail to improve after three years of intensive support still face a choice to either reassign students, close the school and reopen as a charter, or contract either as a conversion charter school or with an outside agency to run the school.

 SB 1552 addresses two crucial needs.  The first is to attract more teachers to Florida’s schools who are beginning to feel the teacher shortage.  The second is to help districts receive the resources and support to make a difference in schools that are struggling.
We can all wish that more could be done, but this bill is the beginning of a break through.  The Senate is addressing the problems that districts face and providing support rather than wresting away control.  It does not assume that the private sector can somehow ‘do it better’ when the evidence has repeatedly shown it does not.
 Sometimes there simply is not a straight line to the exit.  Hopefully, the exit leads to a better place.
 

 

 

Increase FSA passing standards?

Senate bill SB 926 contains a phrase that changes the name of the level 3 on the FSA from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘proficient’.  What does that mean?  Amendment # 351834 was filed to find out.

It asks the Commissioner of Education to study achievement levels and their relationship to student performance and success.  The Commissioner is charged to recommend changes in the meaning of the achievement levels to the Governor and the Speaker, the President of the Senate and the State Board of Education by July 2018.

This is the procedure that is required in existing law to change performance standards on the FSA.  It has been tried before.  What would the approximate impact be?

 

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It’s Take Over Time

Legislation

It’s that time in the legislative session.  The proposed budgets are out.  The bargaining begins.  The Florida House wants money for charter schools.  The Senate wants money for public schools.

Many legislators want money to expand tuition payments to private, mostly religious schools. HB 15 adds children of military families to the tax credit voucher program.  The per student increases from 80 to 88% of the FEFP public school amount for elementary students.  Middle school funding increases to 92% and high school to 96% of FEFP.  The pretense that the Florida tax credit scholarship program saves money is gone.  Corporate taxes that could help Floridians go to private schools that have little accountability and uncertified teachers.

Charter school bills feature getting a share of local property taxes for facilities, taking over struggling public schools, and creating a separate charter school system.  In addition, they allow uncertified teachers in charters and require public school facilities be given to charters.  There is more.

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Rotten to the Core: Cheating Children

In 2011, the Miami Herald published an expose on the McKay scholarship program that is supposed to benefit students with disabilities.  The article was called ‘Rotten to the Core‘.  It was followed by a list of private schools that headed its “Fraud Hall of Shame“.  In theory, the Florida legislature corrected the accountability problems and the DOE has posted new regulations.  Not so.

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida testing bills surface

SB 964: Montford, Garcia and Lee, has teeth.  This bill would have a significant impact by reducing the number of state required tests as well as reducing the negative impact on instruction because it:

  • allows SAT/ACT for 10th grade language arts and deletes the FSA 9th grade language arts, civics, algebra II, geometry and U.S. history exams.  The FSA for grades three to eight remain along with Algebra I and biology.
  • allows paper and pencil administration of online tests.
  • eliminates the Florida DOE supervision of teacher evaluations and rules that tie evaluations to student test score results.

Two other bills would only move testing to the end of the school year instead of beginning state wide testing in February.

  • HB 773  Cortes, Donalds, Eagle, Fischer, and Gruthers.  The language of this bill is very similar to the language of the SB926 thus is a companion bill.
  • SB926 Flores and Bradley moves testing to the end of the year but allows students expected to be proficient based on proficiency measures to take the state assessment once per quarter during the year.  It authorizes a comparison of SAT and ACT content with the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at the high school level.

While moving the exam period to the end of the year has some advantages, it does little to reduce the amount of testing or the time required to conduct testing.  Given that requirements to base a large percentage of teacher evaluations on student test results, the focus on drill and practice and test prep rather than on more effective, long range student learning remains.

 

Blow Open School Choice Year?

It’s National School Choice Week, and Florida House leaders say this is their year to get rid of restrictions to the expansion of Florida Tax Credit Scholarships and charter schools.  House Education committee chair Michael Bileca, R.Miami and House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Chair Manny Diaz R. Hialeah are leading the charge.  They may be aided by Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the House, R. Pasco.  Corcoran’s wife started Classical Preparatory School.  It is not a Title I school; it has only 30% minority and FRL children.  The percentage of minority children (30%) is similar to the district percentage.  The difference is that Classical Prep charter has 31% who qualify for FRL while the district percentage was 56.3.  So, this charter is selecting children primarily from higher income families.  It is not clear what need this charter fills.

 

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New Education Bills

Legislation

It is early days, but education bills are emerging.  Here are two that still need Senate companion bills.

HB 253 Rep. Duran, D. Miami.  The Bright Futures Scholarship recipients must log 30 hours per year volunteer work.    already has a GPA requirement and repayment if grades fall.

HB 303 Rep. Daniels, D. Jacksonville.  The bill will allow religious expression in course work, activities, and personal attire.  School employees must be allowed to participate in religious activities.

Turn around schools: Principal Autonomy Pilot Program

Making positive change is by definition, good.  Rep. Manny Diaz believes principals need more autonomy in order to improve schools.  In a pilot program he sponsored, three high performing principals in seven districts would be allowed to choose a nationally recognized turn around program for schools that have received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ twice in the past two years.  These schools are near but not at the level of Florida’s programs for failing schools.

The turn around model of transforming schools with student low achievement assumes that the school leadership has been unable to create an appropriate school learning environment.   Principals would bring in a three member leadership team and have increased fiscal and management authority.  Staff development, student services and the use of data to inform instruction are typical components.  In some models, rewards for individual teachers based on student learning gains are provided.

Teaching and learning strategies including additional time in school are typical turn around strategies.  Some programs adopt a ‘no nonsense’ student discipline model in which every aspect of children’s behavior is monitored, rewarded and/or punished.

Turn around models.  The approach to school improvement may vary.  The rules governing this latest principal autonomy project for nearly failing schools will be adopted at the State Board of Education meeting in Stuart on January 17th.  Districts must choose one of four national turnaround models that has at least a five year history.

National models typically include the following or a hybrid version of them:

Restarts:  Schools are closed and reopened as charters with new staff and management.  All former students are eligible to attend.

School Closure:  Schools cease to operate and students are transferred to other schools.

Turnaround schools:  Replace leadership and about one half of the teachers.  Extend teacher and student time in class.

Transformation:  New principal and leadership, professional development, financial incentives, additional instructional time

We have a turnaround school here.  I have been looking at the data and have a lot of questions.  If I can find answers, I will share them in a blog post.

Who Controls Our Schools?

by Carole Hentscel

power-money-trap-5441169This is a profound piece of writing by the Independent Media Institute, read the complete report listed (e-book ).  It asks, I think, are we playing a shell game with education dollars by diverting them to charter chains, testing companies and construction?
pg 29 & 30  Tampa- addresses Charter Schools USA using tax exempt bonds to acquire land and build schools, but then its related management company rented those facilities back at exorbitant prices.  Charter Schools USA charged 5 percent management fee to local Charter School operators, but siphoned off 23 percent of one school’s budget  reported by local CBS TV affiliate.
pg 33 “Despite myriad reports detailing many conflicts of interest and examples of profiteering state legislators and congress have imposed few additional transparency and accountability requirements in Florida, Texas and California”.
pg 38 Recommendations:
1.  A moratorium on charter expansion
2.  Audit and account for all public funds granted to date
3.  Subject charter boards to public meetings and open records laws.
4.  Ban founders from hiring relatives and firms where they have ownership stakes.
5.  Require more evidence based school practices to obtain federal funds.
6.  Adopt national standards for competitive bidding and contracting by charter boards
7.  Restore elected/appointed school board oversight of charters in their district.
8.  Enforce open and inclusive enrollment practices.
9.  Require charter trade associations to disclose political donors and activities.
10.Ban on-line charters.  Except for carefully overseen pilot projects within districts, with clear evaluation, assessment, and sunset provisions, on-line charters must be abandoned.
The privatization of American public education is carefully explained in this just released report.  How a group of billionaires has aggressively pushed to privatize the traditional public school system is outlined step by step.