The Drum Beat Rolls On

Representative Byron Donalds was named Chair of the Florida House PreK-12 Education Quality subcommittee. Donalds is married to Erika Donalds from Collier County. She was the organizer of the alternative Florida school board association whose members represent charter school interest. She was also sponsor of portions of the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Amendment 8 to create an independent school system. Since that amendment was removed from the November ballot, forms of it will no doubt emerge from the upcoming legislative session. The Donalds also helped found a Classical Academy charter school and are starting another one. These charters focus on ‘Christian values’.

State Board of Education to Vote December 17

There may be no search, no discussion, not even a meeting. The State Board of Education is having a conference call to vote on Richard Corcoran as State Superintendent of Schools. The conference call number is: 1-888-339-2688 Passcode 817-040-81.

Want to know who is on the SBE? They are all leaders in their fields. Click on the links to see the bios.

Marva.Johnson, Chair
Andy.Tuck, Vice Chair
Gary.Chartrand
Ben.Gibson
Tom.Grady
Michael.OlenickJoe.York

DeSantis Appoints Education Transition Team

Read the goals and see the list of advisors in the article here.

I looked at the list of appointees for the governor’s new education transition team. It is pretty obvious to whom he intends to listen. He won’t have to hear much about public schools, only three districts are represented. Higher education does better, and prochoice advocates do best of all. Missing is a voice for teaching and learning.

Politicians: Bob Cortes, Don Gaetz, Governor Scott Chief of Staff
Ed Related Companies: New Teacher Center
Higher Ed Representatives: FIU, Higher Learning Advocates, Polk State College, Broward College, Pensacola College, University of Florida Trustees, Tallahassee CC Board of Trustees, Independent Colleges and Universities,
FSU, State Board of Education,
K12 Groups: Walton County Superintendent, Hillsborough schools govt relations, Miami-Dade school board,
Political Commentator: Annenberg School lecturer Felzenburg
Pro Choice Advocacy Groups: Home Education Foundation, Erika Donalds alternative school board group, Florida Citizens Alliance (2), Florida Consortium of Charter Schools, CSUSA, Lake Highland Prep, Teach Florida, Step Up for Students, lift Academy, Charter School Alliance, Academica
Business: First Coast Energy, Career Source, Physicians Dialysis, Bags, inc., Vestcor, Apple.
Community Group: Urban League

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.

Charter School Teacher Unions Strike

Some charter school teachers in Chicago have gone on strike. Part of the allure for management companies to open charter schools is that they are not part of the teacher unions…or are they? In Louisiana, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that charters are not a subdivision of the state. Therefore, they are subject to the National Labor Relations Act. The court declared that even though New Orleans was a charter dominated system, it was the public school system. It was not, however, a politically accountable entity. Basically, the court argued that since the state could not control the charter board membership, the charter was independent. Independently run charters must allow employees to unionize. Teachers can then bargain to be covered in health insurance and retirement programs or increase salaries.

In Chicago, the teachers, both public and charter, are fighting for their profession. Some charter teachers have organized their own union, and/or join the public school system unions. It gets complicated! Nevertheless, in 2016, the union bargained with the mayor to put a moratorium on charter school expansion. Teaching conditions have not improved. Now, 500 charter school teachers who did unionize, have gone out on strike.

The issues for Chicago charter school teachers are real. They work longer days and have a longer school year…about 20% longer. Their class sizes are larger and their salaries are smaller than for public school teachers.

Florida has a strong teacher’s union, but it is hampered by an agreement to ban strikes. Back in 1968, Florida teachers launched the nation’s first statewide teacher strike. The settlement included a ban on future strikes. So, teachers like parents must choose to accept what is offered or leave. Many are. It is one way to raise awareness that when some groups are treated unfairly, everyone suffers. Surely, there must be a better way!

An interesting question comes to mind. Are Florida charter teachers public employees? They are hired by private companies, not school districts. Can they organize and strike?

What is amiss with VPK?

As always, when a state test indicates kids are failing, parents have to wonder whether the problem is the test or the program. Now the focus is on the Voluntary Prekindergarten program. (VPK). Over forty percent of children who were enrolled in VPK do not meet the new STAR readiness standards for kindergarten. Once again, the stakes are high. Early learning providers can be placed on probation if fewer than 60% of children enrolled do not meet the state standard established for the new STAR kindergarten readiness test.

The new readiness test has higher standards than the previous one, so a drop in kindergarten readiness rates is no surprise. Back in 2012, Florida OPPAGA reported that 72.9% of VPK children were ready for kindergarten and now only 40%??.

There is a lot we do not know about the quality of VPK programs. The VPK program only provides funding for 540 hours of instruction for children…about 1/2 time during the school year and 300 hours in the summer. So, programs may offer VPK in the morning and just daycare in the afternoon. Lead teachers must be at least 18 years old have post secondary course work in early childhood education. Is this adequate to meet state standards?

We do know that the kindergarten standards have gone up, and in usual Florida style, the funding has gone down. We also know that about 25% of eligible children, mostly from low-income families, do not attend a VPK program at all.

At issue is more than the results of a test. Test scores go up if teachers teach to the test. Children can spout facts and reproduce simply defined skills if enough time is spent on drill and practice. As many of us know, however, memorizing words and facts does not an essay make. Spouting facts and skills does not produce critical thinking and problem solving. Naming tools does not equate to the ability to make things or do things. Fixing that problem with a test and high stakes consequences for failure makes a bad problem worse. Knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge and think critically about the result is what is required for a strong educational system. The legislature needs to put this into practice. Test and punish philosophies just do not work.

Will Richard Corcoran Replace Pam Stewart?

Politico reports that the new Florida Commissioner of Education is rumored to be former House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Stewart had announced her plans to retire at the end of Governor Scott’s term, but the State Board of Education asked her to remain to ‘groom her successor’. Corcoran pushed for Schools of Hope to replace struggling public schools with charters. He also supported the Hope Scholarships to give students who were bullied Florida tax credit scholarships to private schools. The State Board of Education is already solidly in the pro choice camp, so they likely will rubber stamp this nomination.

A preview of the conservative agenda for education is available from the Florida Citizens Alliance advocacy group. They anticipate that Governor-elect DeSantis will expand choice programs to include vocational programs that focus on apprenticeships, ending proprietary testing, and ending Common Core Standards. (I do not see where DeSantis makes any statement about K12 testing policies.)

Amendment 8 proposals to expand civics education, term limits and centralized charter systems are likely to resurface. DeSantis has made civics education a priority. This is a national priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative coalition of legislators. The idea is to focus on concepts that, according to Betsy DeVos, lead young people to support socialism rather than a conservative ideology that is anti-government.

If this agenda succeeds, Florida’s educational system will once again be in turmoil.

Getting to know Manny Diaz: Senate Education Chair

Politico interviewed Senator Diaz about his priorities for education policy. He wants to expand school choice and to review the guardian program that is intended to provide security assistants for schools. The interview also refers to Diaz’s support for a state level charter school institute. Such an institute would centralize the preparation of charter school proposals that must then be authorized by local school boards. This is an idea that has taken many forms over the past several years. It includes advocacy for a High Impact Charter Network to allow charters to expand in new areas without local board approval. Another unstated form was behind the 2018 Amendment 8 constitutional revision proposal that Florida’s Supreme Court took off the ballot. The ballot language referred to state control of schools not established by local school boards. Informed educators would recognize the intent of the language, but voters in general would not. Thus, the proposal was removed from the November 2018 ballot, but it is likely to reappear in some form in the 2019 legislative session.

LWVF Files Lawsuit Over Duval County Schools Gun Policy

Duval County schools want an inexpensive way to have armed guards in schools. They used the school guardian provision of the Florida law to hire ‘safety assistants’. These SSAs will carry concealed weapons in 100 schools in Duval County. The LWVF lawsuit contends that there are better and safer ways to protect schools than to hire armed guards. These guards must be high school graduates with 200 hours of training with the Jacksonville Police Department and the Duval County School Police Department. You can see their qualifications here. These SSAs, however, receive much lower pay than police officers.

Florida Senate Education Leadership Named

So,,,,newly elevated from the Florida House, Manny Diaz will head the Senate Education Policy committee. Vice Chair is Senator Bill Montford D Tallahassee. Diaz was appointed in 2013 by Academica to head Doral College. This is the college that the Miami Herald skewered. It had no students and was created to provide online dual enrollment credit taught by Academica high school teachers. Remember that former Representative Erik Fresen, the brother-in-law of Academica’s CEO and a consultant to Academica, was convicted of tax evasion in 2018 for the eight year he served in the Florida House. We really do not need to have Academica lead educational policy for the state of Florida.

It will be interesting to see how Diaz and Senate Pro Tempore David Simmons will work together. Simmons lost his chairmanship of the education committee last year when he opposed HB 7069. Montford and Simmons are supportive of public school funding. Of course, the House leadership will continue to push school choice. How will any serious review of the impact of choice be conducted?

It is time for a statewide push in support of public schools. To see the other education committee members, click on STATE NEWS.