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College is far from a priority with today's politicians

From the Tampa Bay Times editorial staff

The nation's great system of public universities got its start 150 years ago this week when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, creating land-grant colleges. The Congress of 1862, convened while the United States was engulfed in the Civil War, took an enlightened long view and saw the value of strong government support for higher education. Unlike today's leaders, members of that Congress were able to look beyond a depressing present to a better future — and were willing to provide the means and money to educate tomorrow's citizens.

These congressmen didn't demur. They didn't say that military expenditures had to come first or that there was no time, amid a war, to worry about anything else. Instead, they made an audacious bet on the future of a country in crisis. They gave away hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land for states to sell to create endowments to start colleges. From such farsighted leadership came the great public research universities we have today. The University of Florida was the state's first land-grant institution, and Florida A&M University benefited from a later iteration of the act. Across the country, more than 70 universities benefited, including the renowned University of California.

Contrast that achievement with today, where state and federal support for higher education has declined and students are increasingly left to shoulder more of the burden. Today's leaders face no bloody Civil War, merely an economic downturn, but still they retreat at a full run from the promise to higher education made by their forebears, a vow that made higher education a democratic meritocracy and fostered the American Century.

Vermont Rep. Justin Morrill, after whom the land-grant act was named, never attended college. He was the son of a blacksmith who couldn't afford the tuition. But Morrill made his own way in the world and when he had the chance, he pushed the legislation that opened up to the deserving masses the very education that he had been denied. Now there's a history lesson.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/when-wise-heads-put-education-first/1237953

Testing mandates flunk cost-benefit analysis

From the Washinton Post's Answer Sheet, By Peter Smagorinsky

According to Wikipedia, cost–benefit analysis “is a systematic process for calculating and comparing benefits and costs of a project, decision or government policy (hereafter, ‘project’). CBA has two purposes:

1.To determine if it is a sound investment/decision (justification/feasibility),

2.To provide a basis for comparing projects. It involves comparing the total expected cost of each option against the total expected benefits, to see whether the benefits outweigh the costs, and by how much.”

I believe that it would be prudent to apply this process to the current accountability movement now being administered in public education, primarily in the form of testing mandates such as No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. Although I am not an economist — I’m an old high school English teacher now engaged in teacher education at the university level — I believe that I understand the issues at stake as well as anyone currently employed in the U.S. Department of Education.

First, let’s consider the costs. In Texas, taxpayers will pay about $93 million this year to administer standardized tests to Texas students . . . or nearly ten times the cost of just nine years earlier. The Georgia state Department of Education pays McGraw-Hill about $11 million a year to produce the CRCT, and more than $5.4 million to NCS Pearson for the EOCT; and as listed here, these are just two of the many tests administered in my home state. The annual cost of standardized testing in the United States has been estimated at somewhere between $20 billion and $50 billion.

Some defenders of standardized testing maintain that critics exaggerate the costs in order to overstate the case against the accountability movement. Upon further consideration, I must wonder exactly what is computed to determine the costs of test administration and scoring: Teacher salaries during test preparation? The cost of #2 pencils? Operating a school building on Saturdays to accommodate testing? And so on. With that caution, I’ll accept only the lowest estimate, a mere $20 billion price tag, and proceed from that assumption. Now, what are we getting for our $20 billion?

* Some of the lowest teacher morale survey responses ever recorded.

* Massive, pervasive cheating on tests by administrators, and by the teachers bullied into enforcing their pressure for high scores.

* Six-figure bonuses for school superintendents whose scores meet a minimum standard, no matter what it takes to achieve them.

* Federal penalties for schools caught cheating, denying them essential operating budgets.

* Students who see their role models on the faculty and in the administration behave in unethical ways in order to artificially raise test scores by cheating.

* Curriculum and instruction that focus on fragmented knowledge bits and avoid time-consuming, process-oriented, insight-driven teaching and learning.

* Immense profits for textbook publishers who have entered the competition for designing and administering the tests and writing the curriculum materials that are aligned with the tested content.

* An institutionalized assumption that poverty is not a factor in student achievement, in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary.


Based on this cost-benefit analysis, I conclude that the accountability is making education very profitable for a limited number of publishing companies who, it turns out, have invested heavily in political connections (e.g., McGraw-Hill and the Bush family). It also is quite lucrative for school superintendents who don’t get caught cheating, although it can cost them their jobs if they do get caught. Apparently, their own cost-benefit analysis of cheating typically leads to high-risk behaviors with high-stakes consequences.

Other groups pay for the accountability, and not just through the taxes they pay to raise that $20 billion annually to support the testing apparatus. Teachers increasingly dislike their jobs and consider their work environments to be hostile and depressing. According to Richard Ingersoll, 40 percent of new teachers nationwide bolt the profession within five years because of the terrible working conditions; and a new report by the Education Trust identifies the “culture” of school—the work conditions — to be the top priority in a satisfying teaching career, particularly in high-poverty schools. The primary motive for entering a teaching career and staying in it, then, has been sacrificed to the accountability movement.

Students as well do not benefit from this approach. Rather, their education is reduced to an endless series of assessments of their ability to fill in bubble sheets, at the expense of more extended thinking such as writing or composing other sorts of texts that they find useful and meaningful.

I can only conclude that the $20 billion annually spent on testing as a means of educational accountability is a poor expenditure of our tax dollars. I would now like to propose a different means of assessment that I believe has greater validity as an educational measurement, and will produce a more satisfying teaching environment that is more likely to keep the best teachers in the profession. Unfortunately, it has the downside of failing to enrich superintendents and publishing companies, but I am willing to live with that unfortunate consequence.

But first, let’s keep that $20 billion budget available. Here’s how I would reinvest it, beginning with some suggestions for addressing the needs of children more than the needs of publishing companies and other wealthy entities cashing in on the new accountability mandates:


* Provide a good nursing staff, particularly in impoverished areas, so that kids who live in poverty can undertake their studies with a reasonable degree of health and balance. Sick, dizzy, aching, itching, wounded, and distracted children with limited access to health care or guidance in navigating the health system would benefit from the immediate care of a qualified health professional.

* Expand free and reduced-price meals for children from homes where fresh food is not available, and work to improve the healthiness of the food offerings under these services. Kids who haven’t eaten are very difficult to teach effectively.

* Staff school libraries with knowledgeable, helpful media specialists who can direct students to books that benefit their reading and educational development.

In general, invest in school infrastructures so that they are in good operating order, rather than falling apart at the seams.

Note that I am not calling for increased teacher salaries, although that would sure be nice. I am proceeding according to the assumption that for many teachers, good work conditions matter more than a high salary. So I am starting there, assuming that my $20 billion can only go so far.

My last suggestion concerns assessment. To be blunt: Standardized tests are a really stupid way to measure learning. Hardly anyone involved with education finds them to be valid; they are mostly believed to be worthwhile expenditures of time and money by people who have never taught. People like Arne Duncan and Bill & Melinda Gates.

I recommend instead that assessment proceed more authentically. Linda Darling-Hammond, Jacqueline Ancess, and Beverly Falk described this approach in the mid-1990s, and their ideas still resonate today — perhaps now more than ever. In their view, schools could institute such assessments as comprehensive, interdisciplinary projects through which students embody what they have learned during their studies. A boy might build a set of cabinets, for example, incorporating mathematics, physics, chemistry, kinesthetics, drawing, writing, speaking, and other knowledge and skills in order to design, build, polish, and then explain the project and what it involves. This proposal for project-based learning and assessment is taken up in some schools, such as Simon Hauger’s “Sustainability Workshop” in Philadelphia, where kids build solar charging stations, full-sized electric vehicles, and other machines to demonstrate their knowledge. Hauger, I should note, accomplishes these remarkable feats with kids from West Philly, not from The Main Line.

Now, some might wonder, how can this plan work, when it relies on such complicated projects and means of assessment? What about the elegant simplicity of a nice, firm test score? Doesn’t a quantitative test score tell more about a kid’s mathematical knowledge than his ability to measure a cabinet door so that it fits the frame? And what about the broader community? How will they know how this kid stacks up against another cabinet builder from Milwaukee? What if their cabinets both work equally well, albeit for different purposes—perhaps one to store DVDs, the other to display china? How will we know who won the Race To The Top under this approach?

Here’s where some of my $20 billion budget comes in handy. As part of a broader effort to increase internet capacity, some amount — let’s ballpark it at $2 billion annually, 10% of my budget, although I could be off by a few billion dollars — could be dedicated to expanding each school’s server space, or perhaps link each to a national database, so that each student’s work could be displayed. What would you rather be able to do: (1) learn that Freddi got a 79 on the CRT (and see if you can figure out what these scores even mean) or (2) go online and see a web demonstration of the new wardrobe that Freddi has designed, cut, sewn, and tailored along with a verbal account of the process she went through and the academic knowledge that she incorporated into the project?

So, there you have it, one person’s view of a cost-effective way to invest $20 billion in the necessity of educational assessment. It’s a bit more complicated that what we’ve presently got, just like learning and life in general. It puts money into classrooms and school infrastructures, instead of in the bank accounts of book publishers and the politicians they influence with contributions. It requires more work of the taxpayer in seeing and understanding educational outcomes, but the products are multidimensional and real, rather than paper-thin and abstract. And that new technological infrastructure could probably serve a few additional beneficial purposes for school districts beyond the immediate and designated purpose of publishing assessment results. I’m thinking here of one of my neighboring counties, where the computers available to teachers still use Windows 3.0 for their operating system.

I offer this proposal entirely for free, unlike the situation in states like Colorado where 35% of their federal education money is paid to consultants. You are free to take it or leave it. But whatever you do, you can’t say that it cost you too much.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/testing-mandates-flunk-cost-benefit-analysis/2012/06/30/gJQACqfsDW_blog.html#pagebreak

Jeb Bush's legacy tarnished as High-Stakes Testing Resistance Spreads Across Florida.

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

The Bradenton Times has a comprehensive story this morning titled, “High-Stakes Testing Resistance Spreads Across Florida.” Highlighting Manatee county’s decision, the Times has this:

In Florida, more than a dozen countywide school committees serving three-quarters of a million students endorsed the National Resolution, according to FairTest. Early supporters included Broward County, the nation’s sixth biggest district, and Palm Beach County, the 11th largest. Then, the state association of school boards annual convention voted to endorse a state-specific version. Dozens of newspaper editorials, opinion columns, and letters to the editor have called for a reduction in testing and an overhaul of the state’s assessment system.

Members of the Manatee School District feel an unjustified overemphasis is placed on high stakes testing. They voted to adopt the resolution at Monday night’s meeting.

“We are in favor of accountability – not against it,” Chairman Harry Kinnan said at Monday’s meeting. “Accountability is a fact of life. We are advocating change to the current demands of the legislation because we have seen no evidence that the legislative pipeline will bring relief to this issue.”

My emphasis on Chairman Kinnan’s statement illustrates how far apart the realities are. In Tallahassee legislators have been affecting education policy in Jeb Bush’s echo chamber where voices like Kinnan’s aren’t heard. Nor are they wanted.

The wave of resolutions against high-stakes testing is an emerging threat to Bush’s legacy as a transformative figure in education. He’s can’t demonize teacher unions or trot out favorable data this time as a legitimate counter. The resolutions are driven by real grassroot efforts that unlike faux charter school movements like Parent Revolution, aren’t funded by corporate and hedge fund dollars. Real opposition to his test-based regime is coming from parents – or consumers if you like – for whom Bush purports to be championing “choice.”

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/why-resolution-on-high-stakes-tests-was-necessary-in-florida-no-evidence-legislative-pipeline-will-bring-relief/

Diane Ravitch: who is winning the fight for education reform?

From the Diane Ravitch blog,

Back when I was on the right side of the political fence, I was on the editorial board at Education Next. It is supported by the Hoover Institution and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, both conservative think tanks with which I was affiliated. The journal, which is based at Harvard and edited mainly by Paul Peterson, was created to counter what was seen as the liberal bias of the mainstream education media.

Education Next is a well-edited journal (I used to write a monthly book review there), but it does have a strong bias in favor of charter schools, vouchers, and testing. It is the journal of the corporate reform movement.

The current issue of Education Next has a fascinating article about the “reformers’ fight club.” I have been writing and speaking about the interconnections among these organizations (and there are many more), and it is good to see confirmation of what I have been saying.

For some reason, these incredibly rich and powerful organizations like to portray themselves as underdogs in contrast to the teachers’ unions.

So, get this picture: On one side are the 3.2 million teachers who belong to the NEA and the AFT. On the other side are the Gates Foundation ($60 billion), the Broad Foundation (billions), the Walton Foundation (billions, and spent $159 million this past year alone on education grants), the Dell Foundation, big corporations, Democrats for Education Reform (Wall Street hedge fund managers who can pump millions into political campaigns at will), and 50CAN (more hedge fund managers). And there are supposedly “liberal” advocacy groups like Education Trust and Ed Sector.

Gosh, that is surely an unequal lineup. No wonder the “fight club” feels like underdogs. Those teachers’ unions are just so doggone powerful and rich. Why, they have the big foundations and Wall Street trembling. Who knew that teachers had so much power?

http://dianeravitch.net/

Florida is open for business, Pearson Spends hundreds of thousands on lobbying efforts

Click below to watch video. -cpg

9 Investigates: Impact of lobbying contracts on children's...

Despite late scores and questions about grading practices, the state pays International Pearson Incorporated hundreds of millions of dollars to administer the FCAT.

Now, investigative reporter George Spencer discovered Pearson has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to legislators.

In her summertime routine, fifth-grader Erin Newman has now gotten over her FCAT writing score, which as for many Florida students, was lower than she expected.

But in Tallahassee, WFTV learned that the private company behind the test deals in numbers that are very high.

Despite scoring problems and student failures, the state is paying Pearson $249 million for five years of tests and grading. WFTV also found that Pearson spend hundreds of thousands to influence those same leaders.

"Public education is open for business. Whoever the best bidder is, you can come in and administer our test for us," said parent Rebecca Newman. "It's ridiculous!"

WFTV studied public records and discovered that since 2007, two years before getting its current contract, the International Pearson Incorporated has spent at least $580,000, and possibly as much as $800,000 on lobbyists in Florida's capital.

But Pearson's quarterly spending often put it in the highest tier of lobbyist spending by firms in any sector.

Lobbyists are paid to advocate their clients' interests in the halls of power, meeting face-to-face with lawmakers. They're known to be persistent, sometimes returning time and again to make their case.

Pearson's money went to Uhlfelder and Associates.

According to the group's website, it was named "one of the top lobbying firms in Florida by Influence magazine."

The group claims to have "extraordinary knowledge of the people, the policies and the processes of Florida government to "get the results our clients demand."

"Should the state cut its ties with this company?" Spencer asked.

"I absolutely think that we should cut out ties," said Representative Geraldine Thompson.

Thompson, a longtime educator, was already troubled by Pearson's late grading debacle in 2010, an avalanche of writing test failures this year and concerns about test questions with more than one right answer.

WFTV learned that other education firms also use lobbyists.

Uhlfelder said he was chosen as lobbyist for his educational expertise and that his lobbying work had no impact on Pearson's FCAT contract. Pearson said its reputation for educational excellence allows them to use lobbyists only to inform and advise elected officials.

Who has come out against the FCAT so far? Hint Duval County is not on the list

Since The National Association of Secondary School Principals today endorsed the National Resolution Opposing Over Reliance on Standardized Tests, I thought you might like to know who in Florida has as well.

In Florida We're up to 18 counties, the FL PTA (330K members) and the Florida School Board Association which passed its own version.

The Duval County School Board remains silent.

Duval County needs to bring back magnet school transportation.

Think back friends. The district pled poverty firing people and cutting programs like magnet school transportation while sitting on over a hundred million dollars. Well now that it turns out they have the money it is time to bring some of the programs back like magnet school transportation or at the very least for the district’s middle school students.

I met the parent of an eleven year old last night and she told me about the trials and tribulations she has had getting her son to school, she then pause and told me about families that had it worse. Do we really want kids that young getting up hours early hanging out in bad neighborhoods waiting for their schools to begin?

Instead of creating more administrative positions, which seems to have been the main thing the board did with the “found” money, it is time the district reinvested in making sure our children are taken care of.

More on this to come.

Martha Barrett and Connie Hall skip candidate forum

What do these two have in common? One has been on the board for ten years and is seeking four more, one was hand picked as Betty Burney’s replacement, which means in short they both represent the establishment that has been so harmful to local education.

Friends we don’t need more of the same. We need new ideas and a new direction.

The Times Union's school board candidate questionnaire

Along with my answers, the blog posts expand on them. -cpg

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE:

A. What is your major accomplishment in public life?

I have been writing about education issues for years in the county. I have played a role in getting the word out about the problems in our schools and I along with my teacher colleagues have come up with solutions that the school board is now starting to put in place.

B. Have you ever been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy?

I have never been sued or filed for bankruptcy but I have been arrested. I detail it in my blog.

http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/p/chris-guerrieris-skeletons.html

http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/p/10-education-questions-for-chris.html

C. What endorsements have you received?

Duval Teachers United

1. What will you do to see that the next superintendent builds a strong management team with people fully capable of taking over as the next superintendent?

In our district who you know rather than ability has often determined promotions. We need to develop a set of criteria, which includes reviews from subordinates that establishes a better way to determine promotions. We desperately need a house cleaning.

2. Are you committed to finding funds to support transportation for magnet students?

Yes and here is one place that I think we should start.

http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/2012/06/duval-countys-misplaced-spending.html

3. Do you support the FCAT? If not, what would you replace it with?

I do not support the FCAT, I recently urged the SB to join the anti-high stakes testing movement.

http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/2012/05/chris-guerrieris-take-on-fcat.html

4. Is it ever appropriate for a board member to get involved in daily operations of the schools? If so, when?

No, but school board members need to be in the schools constantly, not looking for gotcha moments, but to see what policies are and are not working.

5. Should all board members be involved in intervene schools?

Yes, we are only as strong as our weakest schools.

6. What can the board do to gain more respect for the school system in the larger community, especially the business sector?

We have to do things the right way, rigorous classes, disciplined schools and to treat teachers as collaborators and colleagues rather than easily replaceable cogs. Furthermore we need to ramp up our career academies, teaching more trades, skills and arts in our schools, that prepare more kids to be productive citizens even if they are not going to go to college.

7. What can be done to rally support of alumni to struggling schools whose student body has changed? Forrest High School comes to mind.

Instead of getting alumni who have abandoned their schools maybe we should seek to rally the communities that the schools are in?

8. What¹s the single most important job of a superintendent?

To empower and support the districts teachers.

9. Is the school district too large to effectively manage with 170 schools and over 8,000 employees? Describe how a CEO copes with such a large organization.

It is not to large but it has been plagued by poor management. Fix the management issues and we will see better results.

10. How can the school district and city government work better together?

Communication, I also have an idea for a shadow board made up of community members and govt. officials that separate from the school board would tackle the same issues that the board does and come up with solutions. Then we would compare what they came up with, with what the board does. If there are serious divides we should figure out why.

School Board Candidate Forum tonight at Northstar Substation

This month, the Jacksonville Young Democrats will be hosting a candidate forum for our upcoming School Board race. As this race is non-partisan, it is more important than ever that we have an opportunity to listen to what the candidates have to say, and ask the important questions.

Come on out and hear what they have to say!

Northstar Substation, 119 E Bay Street, Jacksonville, Florida 32202

What parents need to know about Education Reform

From EDUCATIONALCHEMY

Dear Parent Friends,

For a while now you’ve been hearing me rant about the negative effects of high stakes testing in education. Most of you have offered polite nods of understanding-being kind because of our friendship. Perhaps you even agree with me, but feel that either you don’t have enough understanding of the issues, or because you quietly concede that while such testing practices are in fact harmful, there’s little you can do to change things. I write this letter to you to explain as best I can exactly how high stakes testing plays into what is called a “corporate-reform” model of education, how a corporate reform model works, and how it’s fucking our kids. And lastly, I’d like to suggest that in fact there is something we can do about it.

I think we can all agree on the simple basic facts about high stakes testing: It dumbs down the curriculum, it creates a narrow and often inaccurate portrayal of how our children are doing in school, it takes away time from genuine and more creative learning experiences, and just makes the kids stressed out. Race to the Top (RtTT) requires schools use the Common Core Curriculum (in spite of its many flaws), increase testing, and adopt new teacher evaluations that attach teacher’s jobs to their test scores. Legislation is being pushed across many states to increase school vouchers. But what does this have to with corporations? How exactly does that work?

Over the last 30 years, corporations (by which I mean the multinational giants) have developed a stranglehold on policy/legislation across many sectors including agriculture, energy, and health care. Their billions of dollars go into lobbying and “research” that force into law changes in regulations that serve their own interests. Having sucked the life’s blood out of the banking and housing industries in 2008, these same corporations have set their sights on education as the next way to make their profits at the expense of the public’s well-being.

I wondered at first why companies like State Farm, Walmart (via their “Walton Foundation”), Bill Gates, UBS AG, Eli Broad, GE, News Corp and RAND had any interest in throwing money at education. Of course there’s always the motive of the tax write-off for philanthropic giving. But wait. There’s more!

These are the same multinational corporations who spend billions of dollars in lobbying efforts and use their “non-profit” affiliations to sway legislators to write laws to their own benefit. The policy advisers (think-tanks and non-profits) driving education reform have direct and close ties to corporations and politicians who will benefit financially and in other ways from these education reforms. Nearly every single policy adviser, body of “research” and piece of legislation have the same agenda: Uniform standards of measurement and curriculum, increased funding to charter schools, teacher and school evaluations based on high stakes tests, dissolving teachers unions, and eliminating senior level teachers (replaced with younger teachers usually from Teach for America). These corporations are often members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), a secretive organization led by right wing CEO’s and politicians to sway government policy toward free market practices that benefit the top wealthiest 10% and erode legislation aimed at protecting our environment, the food we eat, the air we breath, and our rights to a secure job and health care. Exxon and Phillip Morris for example, are leaders in ALEC. However, the efforts to privatize public education are not categorically led by “right wingers”-they are led by corporatists. While corporatists are frequently of the right wing persuasion, many Independents and Tea Party activists are opposed to the corporate domination of our public sector as well.

But why are corporations interested in education? Because there is money to be made in education reform. Data is used to track teachers and children. Data is also used to close public schools and reopen them as charter (choice) schools. The city of Philadelphia is attempting to turn the entire Phillie public school system into a charter/private model. Bobby Jindal, (former consultant for the billionaire consulting firm McKinsey and honored by ALEC) and now Governor of Louisiana, is pushing to privatize public schools for the entire state of Louisiana. But even if your school isn’t in danger of being “foreclosed” on, there is still big money to be made from the testing and curriculum forced on public schools by this “model legislation.” Pearson makes billions of dollars off the new testing and curriculum reforms while most schools eliminate teaching positions and quality programs due to insufficient funds. Where did the money go? Ask Pearson. The testing also serves as a form of “surveillance” as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and the Department of Defense are all now acting as the keepers of your child’s private information and test scores from kindergarten through high school.

And who invests in these new charter schools? Hedge fund managers and free market venture corporations do. Billions of public tax dollars are funneled to subsidize school vouchers (which go to the corporations who opened these schools), to pay Pearson for providing the new rounds of tests, curriculum, and evaluation, and for per pupil funding that follows the kids to their new charter school replacements. In order to turn schools into private stocks for profit they need what McKinsey and Company (one of the world’s most powerful consulting companies and biggest backers of school reform) call “big data.” “Big data” can easily be provided by using a national Common Core Curriculum and standardized tests. “Think tank” consulting firms like McKinsey fund the lobbying to craft the legislation. Pearson, who has acquired partnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, MSA, SAT testing, GED testing, ACT testing, and the delivery of the National Common Core, receives state-wide contracts and receives billions of education dollars for their services. Then, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates get paid to manage the data as a private third party once it’s collected. The same billionaires who lobbied against telling the public about the ill effects of smoking in the 1970’s and who now pay “experts” to tell us that climate change is a “hoax,” have their sights on massive PR and lobbying campaigns to harness public education to their own selfish ends. Don’t be fooled. No matter what you read or hear, absolutely none of these reforms have anything to do with providing your child with a quality education. In fact the opposite is true. They are destroying any chance for a quality education your child might have in the name of making billions of dollars for themselves. And those tests our children take, which by 2014-2015 will double, and begin in kindergarten in all subject areas, are the keys they need to create their kingdom. Our children are merely data sets, dollar signs, and blue chips in the stock exchange for them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a teacher testing my child. I am all for assessments aimed at determining my child’s needs and abilities. I am all for holding teachers accountable for excellence in their craft. But these high stakes tests being forced on schools and the Common Core Curriculum serve no benefit to children. The former does nothing to inform my child’s teacher about my kid’s abilities or needs, and the latter has been seriously challenged by teachers and teacher educators who have seen first-hand how the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate and robs our kids of many important experiences like exposure to fiction, creativity and the imagination.

There are a lot of times and places in our lives where we feel powerless to change the course of political policy. This should not be one of them. For once, we CAN do something. Tell your child’s school administrators that your child will not be taking the high stakes standardized tests. Opt out! Tell them why. Expect push back from them. But it’s your right as a parent to opt your child out. This will stop only and if we stop it. How long are we going to be willing to rob our schools of the funding they need, and to subsidize billions of our dollars to pay billionaire corporations for the opportunity to destroy our children’s education?

http://educationalchemy.com/2012/06/26/education-corporate-reform-101-what-parents-need-to-know/

How to make money off Education

From Tallahassee.com by Lisa Fingeroot

Charter schools were intended to be a public school option for children stuck in bad schools, but dollar signs have transformed them into big business commodities.

As the nation’s first charter school heads toward its 20th anniversary in Minnesota in September, some in Florida are asking how schools here came to be touted as commercial investment opportunities on developer websites, and when business people began to flip schools for a profit.

“What happened is over the years so many more people have gotten involved,” said Jackie Pons, Leon County Schools superintendent. “The for-profits have come in and are trying to make money off educating children.”

Proponents of charter schools suggest that tracking results is more important than following the money.

A spokesman for former Gov. Jeb Bush, who still yields great influence over Florida’s education policy, questions why people are offended by schools making a profit when they don’t question whether a textbook publisher makes a profit.

“This question of what makes some for-profits OK and some not OK is why focusing on outcomes is important,” said Bush spokesman Jaryn Emhof.”

Basing decisions on student results will take personal philosophy out of the equation, she added.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate a little differently than traditional public schools, but still receive public funding.

Simply explained, the big picture of for-profit charter schools is one where companies build a school and most times create a local board to govern that school. The hand-picked board then contracts with the company to manage the school for a fee, which becomes the company’s profit.

Many charter schools also have complicated business relationships between parent company, management company, and even finance companies created to borrow the money to construct a school that is then leased back to the school board for a profit.

Pons said it is nearly impossible to follow the family tree of individual for-profit charter school companies because of the number of intertwined corporations. “You go through layers and layers,” he said. “It can be very mind boggling.”

To read the rest of the article, and you really should, click this blog's title or paste bleow into your browser. -cpg

http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20120624/POLITICSPOLICY/306240026/Education-profit?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7Cfrontpage&nclick_check=1

Why won’t the Duval County School Board come out against the FCAT? (rough draft)

In case you have missed it, school board after school board throughout the state as well as the state PTA have joined a resolution calling for an end to the reliance on the FCAT and other high stakes tests. The movement didn’t begin overnight either and I am sure they have heard about it too. Following Rita Solonet’s lead three school board meetings ago both Chris Guerrieri and Casey Barnum encouraged the school board to say enough to the test, which has quite frankly hijacked our education system.

The Duval County school board however has remained silent. The question is why but I think I might have an answer.

The school board has subscribed to the Broad Foundation’s school of governance. This means they make many decisions in private, they don’t like to vote on controversial issues in front of the public and they believe in corporate reforms like high stakes testing, like the FCAT.

What started with a few bloggers writing about and a few parents and teachers questioning has snowballed into a full on movement, a movement that the DCPSBoard has thus far ignored.

It is way past time the School Board got on board or just admitted like several others have, Jeb Bush, Gerard Robinson, Gary Chartrand, that they believe the FCAT is the way to go.

Forida spends tens of millions to develop tests

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Erica Rodriguez

Heather Wright often meets people who are confused about exactly what she does for a living.

That's not surprising. After all, how many psychometricians have you ever met?

Wright, an energetic former English teacher, is a leader in a little-known realm of education. Psychometrics is the intricate science behind measuring what people know.

Experts such as Wright work closely with teachers to help devise new standardized tests in niche subjects such as web design, creative writing and psychology. It's an incredibly complex process that school districts are diving into as they rush to fulfill an unfunded state mandate tied to the merit-pay plan for teachers.

The merit-pay rule calls for half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on students' standardized-test scores. Districts have used mostly FCAT scores for that purpose, even for teachers who don't teach FCAT-related subjects.

Because of the rule, districts are banding together and scrambling to create dozens of assessments to help grade teachers in subjects where no standardized test exists.

"You want to be evaluated on what you taught — not on whole school scores or on assessments that measure what students learned maybe a year or two before they were in your classroom," said Wright, a psychometrician with the Lake County school district.

Wright is leading a group of teachers and other psychometricians who will be creating dozens of tests.

But the process isn't easy — or cheap. Wright estimates the project will produce about 82 tests and cost as much as $603,000, which is paid for on the school district's dime. The costs are in addition to the $52 million the state is already spending on plans for testing in subjects beyond the FCAT and end-of-course exams.

The state Department of Education is spending $20 million of federal Race to the Top money to pay for four districts to make tests for subjects such as art, music or physical education. The state also recently awarded Pearson, a national testing company, a $32 million contract to develop a test bank and software program that districts can use.

"Either way, whether you're developing it yourself or buying it from another district, there is a considerable price tag," said Ruth Melton, legislative director for the Florida School Boards Association.

The group recently adopted a resolution that calls for the state to fully fund its accountability system and criticizes the state's "over-reliance" on "high-stakes" testing.

But teachers familiar with the process say being involved in test-making is helping them understand their subjects better and they're happy to have a hand in making the tests that will eventually be a part of their personal rating.

"It's giving teachers the opportunity to be a significant part of the assessments that are being created," said Angel Teron, a teacher who is helping make rules for a creative-writing test. "And it's not something that's being delivered telling them, 'This is what you have to teach.' "

Others hope it can help teachers be more consistent from school to school, but critics say it's just another flawed way of trying to measure teacher performance.

"They are being forced to create yet another yardstick to measure adults," said Kathleen Oropeza, who heads the advocacy group Fund Education Now. "Our children are being used as test-taking minions to prove that adults are doing their job."

Educators agree that the task of creating assessments for every subject a district offers by 2014 is daunting. Districts can have up to 1,000 courses that don't currently have standardized tests, but some are hopeful these new assessments will help teachers diagnose students' problems before it's too late.

"The hope is that teachers and students will use this to determine where students are at over time — not just at the end of the course," said Tod Clark, director of Race to the Top assessments.

It can easily take three years to make a test that's valid and proven, a process that involves high-level statistics, the guidance of expert teachers and a psychometrician or two.

Teachers with special training have to break apart the state's standards for, say, anatomy. Then they must decide what can actually be measured on a standardized test and what would better be measured in, perhaps, a small group.

Teachers then come up with rules for test writers that explain how complex to make questions or what not to ask students. Then teachers, with the help of experts such as Wright, make a test blueprint.

After more review by another team, students will take the test, but the results must be statistically analyzed before educators deem it scientifically sound. The results from those tests will then be used as a base to determine teacher effectiveness, which is where the controversy in education circles thrives.

As the testing push in Florida continues to be fueled by state and federal laws, Wright thinks school districts and parents will pay more attention to the science behind what she does.

"If you're a parent and your student is in one teacher's class, you would hope that your student is measured in the same way as in another teacher's class," Wright said. "You would want that equity."

ericarodriguez@tribune.com or 352-742-5928

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-06-25/features/os-school-testing-psychometrics-20120625_1_measure-teacher-performance-ruth-melton-tests

Why don't we blame doctors for obesity?

From the Huffinton Post, by Davis Macaray

Blaming Teachers for Our Low Test Scores Is Like Blaming Doctors for Our National Obesity Epidemic

Two damaging misconceptions about labor unions: (1) Union members tend to be substandard workers (lazy, unreliable, surly, privileged), and (2) union members can't be fired because their "masters" will always go to bat to protect them.

Where they got that first one from, the notion that union members are bad workers, is a mystery. After all, a quick look at the economics should tell us that union jobs -- those, typically, with the highest wages, superior benefits and best and safest working conditions -- are going to attract the best workers in a community. Why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't the best jobs in a community attract the best people?

And as widespread as this anti-union propaganda is, it's especially virulent when it comes to public service unions. Apparently, everyone and their brother (including President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, et al.) just naturally assume that it's the teachers' union that prevents conscientious, well-meaning school administrators from firing bad teachers.

People like to believe that if incompetent teachers did not belong to a powerful labor union, if they did not have cadres of union lawyers standing by ready to defend them, the administrators would be free to do the right thing -- to drain the swamp and rid our schools of those union-created monsters who are holding our students hostage and depriving them of a decent education. That may be a compelling narrative, but it's total fiction.

The following statistics were taken from the anti-union website "Teachers' Union Exposed." The site's most recent figures show that California school teachers are 87.5 percent unionized. Accordingly, the percentage of "experienced" California teachers that were fired was 2.03 percent, and the percentage of "probationary" teachers that were fired was 0.98 percent.

By comparison, North Carolina, which is 97.7 percent non-union, fired 0.6 percent of its experienced teachers, and 0.3 percent of its probationary teachers. In other words, California and its big, bad teachers' union was "tougher" on its union teachers than North Carolina was on its non-union teachers. It's puzzling. School administrators in non-unionized North Carolina are in the position to fire any teacher they choose, but they don't do that. They don't fire their teachers. And it's not just North Carolina. It's true all across the country.

And why don't they? Why don't these non-union schools fire more teachers? The answer is obvious. It's because teachers -- everywhere and anywhere, union and non-union -- don't deserve to be fired. And why would they? Why on earth would we expect our school teachers to be fired for general incompetence? Are our colleges, universities, and credentialing programs turning out such lousy, substandard candidates, we have no recourse but to get rid of them? That doesn't even make sense.

Also, when you ask adults if they had gotten as much out of their school years as they could have, many will say they did not. And when you ask them why they didn't, the overwhelming majority blame themselves. They will tell you it was because they didn't apply themselves, that they didn't buckle down and do the work. I have never heard one person blame their teachers. Not one person ever said, "My teachers were incompetent. They couldn't teach me enough."

We need to understand something. This move we're witnessing against public schools and teachers' unions is being orchestrated not by educational reformers interested in improving our schools, but by greedy entrepreneurs looking to privatize the whole shebang. Having millions of kids leave the public schools and enroll in privates or for-profit charters represents a potential bonanza.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that it's the unions who are responsible for the problems our public schools are facing, take a moment to set them straight. Make it clear that this whole "union teacher vs. non-union teacher" dichotomy is a hoax. It's a con game. Put it to them in the simplest possible terms. We're being played for suckers.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-macaray/blaming-teachers-for-our-_b_1616007.html?fb_action_ids=3588303150846&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline

Jason Fischer, candidate district 7, thinks I should run CSX

If you go to his website, he says: As a businessman and a concerned parent, I believe that I can provide the leadership necessary to transform our schools from failure into success.

First our schools aren’t failures, do they have issues, yes, are many struggling, yes, but failures, not even close and many of the issues our schools are experiencing are because of the policies of his backers, Bush, Thrasher and Wise but more on this in the future.

I am a teacher and have been on a train; maybe I should run CSX, where Mr. Fischer works. Or wait I have been to the doctor, maybe I could start performing surgeries. Instead of running for school board, maybe I should have run to be a judge, why not; I have seen a lot of Law and Order.

Education is the one field that people who have nothing or very little to do with think to themselves, hey I can run that or do that and it is partly because of this mindset we are in trouble.

The truth is we need people like Mr. Fischer to be involved, to donate their time and to give ideas but just like we wouldn’t want me running a hospital we don’t want people like Mr. Fischer running our schools.

Dual Enrollement in Florida on the way out

From the Orlando Sentinel, Lauren Ritchie,

Bang that gong

This summer, the target is dual enrollment.

The state Legislature in 2006 decreed that smart students with decent grades must be informed that they could simultaneously enroll for free in college courses while finishing high school. Students could get a high school diploma and an associate's degree at the same time.

A stern memo from the state's Office of Articulation (Office of Articulation? Is that a joke?) stated all the books would be free and costs waived for dual enrollment students. College classes should be taught at the high schools where possible. Local school districts should just make it happen, the memo ordered.

It happened, all right. Last year, some 50,000 students across Florida swarmed the community colleges, and the schools couldn't collect a nickel from them.

Statewide, the cost of dual-enrollment students was $50 million for the 2010-11 school year, and the locals had to just suck it up. For the school year that just ended, the price tag was more than $11 million for public colleges in Orange, Seminole, Brevard, Lake and Volusia counties.

Let the whining commence.

"Basically we're eating out of our hides so to speak," said Dick Scott, vice president for business affairs atLake-Sumter Community Collegein Leesburg.

"There's more demand for dual enrollment than we can possibly meet in our budget," said Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College in Orlando.

Hearing any clanging gongs yet?

On Tuesday,Lake-Sumter's trustees considered whether to cap the number of classes that a dual-enrolled high school student can take. If the Lake school district won't pony up some cash, trustees are likely in July to impose the cap.

That's a maddening thought for Tavares High School senior Kallie Santos, a state champion speller who juggled two high-school classes, soccer and a full course load at Lake-Sumter last school year. She won't get her associate degree next year if trustees cut back on the classes.

"Times are tough, but they shouldn't penalize students who aim higher," Kallie said.

Of course not. But leave it to the manipulative state Legislature to set up the tension and step back to watch: Officially, state education officials are slobbering all over dual-enrollment they love it so much. That leaves local school districts and colleges trying to eat each other's young to pay for it. Nice strategy — for the elected types.

But how do you think that students will fare in this one? Conned. Count on it.

This is the annoying truth about a good education: It costs money. It's a lesson that the state Legislature never learns. For years, Florida has cared little about students in general and even less about the brightest ones. Officials demonstrate their lack of concern by repeatedly creating such obviously unsustainable programs as dual enrollment, which are supposed to promote education and prove that Florida cares.

Oh, officials talk plenty about the importance of learning, imposing accountability and readying students for the job market. But when it comes to paying for it, they always do it on the cheap. It shows. It's why the state of Mississippi, traditionally at the bottom of any nationwide education assessment, has come to love Florida.

Things have gotten to the point, unfortunately, where the motives of state officials are transparent to the likes of smart students like Kallie and to the teachers, parents and administrators who truly care about giving Florida students a boost in what has become a fiercely competitive global market.

Terry Geter, the mother of a Lake-Sumter dual-enrolled student, said it best in a letter to the college president, protesting the proposed cutbacks: "Thank you for leading the way in taking educational opportunities from great students."

Lritchie@tribune.com

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-06-24/opinion/os-ed-lauren-ritchie-duel-enrollment-062212-20120622_1_dual-enrollment-students-with-decent-grades-college-classes

Maybe the Duval County School Board does listen on occasion

I sent the following to the school board after the last school board meeting: I appreciate you tackling discipline, it has been one of the things I have been writing about for years but I am concerned the changes you have made are just cosmetic.

You can put whatever you want in the code of conduct but it might as well be blank if you don’t have principals that back teachers up or principals that ignore discipline because they think it might affect their evaluations.

One way to help improve discipline is by stop tying principal’s evaluations to referrals and suspensions. Let me suggest creating A Chinese wall that shields these stats from the superintendent or at least this superintendent who has made decreasing numbers, even if it makes things worse, his priority.

I received the following from W.C. Gentry (sent from his phone so please read around his abbreviations)

Will also b changing evaluation to eliminate disincentive to discipline. Chris, the real world takes a little time but I do listen ( as do most of the other. Board members ) + we are dealing with the main problems while working w/I the parameters of our governing authority.

As you know I have a problem with the boards, “governance role”, to me it is them setting policy and then crossing their fingers and hoping things get carried out but at the same time I welcome and real commitment to improving discipline in our schools. And as I have written many times, severing a principal’s evaluation from referrals and suspensions is a good first step.

Reasons to be concerned about the FCAT

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Marion Brady

Gerard Robinson, Florida's Education Commissioner, and Kathleen Shanahan, chair of the State Board of Education, want to "continue to talk about the FCAT" ("Raising standards: FCAT is a portal to a lifetime of success," Orlando Sentinel, June 10).

Great. I have some concerns.

It worries me that the tests:

(1) can’t measure complex thought processes

(2) provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers,

(3) lead to the neglect of physical conditioning, music, art and other nonverbal ways of learning,

(4) give unfair advantage to those who can afford test preparation,

(5) penalize nonstandard thinkers,

(6) radically limit teacher ability to adapt to learner differences and

(7) give test manufacturers control of the curriculum. It worries me that the tests

(8) encourage use of threats, bribes and other extrinsic motivators,

(9) use subjectively set pass-fail cut scores,

(10) assume that what the young will need to know is already known,

(11) produce scores that can be (and are) manipulated for political purposes,

(12) emphasize minimum to the neglect of maximum performance,

(13) create unreasonable pressures to cheat and

(14) reduce teacher creativity.It worries me that the tests

(15) take inadequate account of ethnic, social class and regional differences,

(16) have no “success in life” predictive power,

(17) are open to scoring errors having life-changing consequences,

(18) are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality,

(19) create negative attitudes toward schooling,

(20) perpetuate the artificial compartmentalizing of knowledge and

(21) waste taxpayer money.It worries me that the tests

(22) put corporate profit ahead of learner performance,

(23) ignore the creative potential of human variability,

(24) unduly reward mere short-term memory and

(25) undermine the democratic principle that those closest to problems are best positioned to deal with them.

My list isn't complete, but it's probably long enough to start a dialog. It may be relevant that the National Academy of Sciences was asked by Congress to study the issue, and the academy said that standardized tests "have not increased student achievement."

Hmmm. Millions of dollars for nothing? Shouldn't somebody be held accountable?

Everybody agrees that we're in a hole. Wouldn't it be a good idea to stop digging while we talk?

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/taking-up-the-jeb-bush-gang-of-five-on-their-offer-to-talk-about-fcat/

How school choice (privitization) is killing public schools

From the Diane Ravitch blog

A reader posted a comment that I think is profound. The more that people begin to see education as a consumer choice, the more they will be unwilling to pay for other people’s children. And if they have no children in school, then they have no reason to underwrite other people’s private choices.

The basic compact that public education creates is this: The public is responsible for the education of the children of the state, the district, the community. We all benefit when other people’s children are educated. It is our responsibility as citizens to support a high-quality public education, even if we don’t have children in the public schools.

But once the concept of private choice becomes dominant, then the sense of communal responsibility is dissolved. Each of us is then given permission to think of what is best for me, not what is best for we.

Here is what the reader wrote:

Parents have always been free to direct their personal funds to the private schools of their choice, for what they see as the additional private benefit of their own children.

But people pay taxes to support the public school system whether they are parents or not. If only parents are given a choice in the type of school system that tax dollars support, then only parents of school-age children should pay school taxes, and based on the number of children in school.

Private individuals are not entitled by any consideration of the common good to divert public funds for the sake of private corporate profit and personal religious preferences.

When people start seeing education as a private commodity that parents buy for their own children — just another personal choice, like whether to buy designer duds or that hot new toy — then we are going to see a taxpayer revolt like we have never seen before, and public-funded education will cease to exist.

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/06/24/how-choice-may-kill-public-education/

John Adams on school choice

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” — John Adams

Here is what school choice won’t get you

School choice advocates argue that if parents had more options then schools would be doing better. Unfortunately this is a disingenuous argument meant to see their true goal, which is privatization.

In our district now if a child is attending an F or D graded school then they can use and opportunity scholarship and the district will pay to send them to a public school that is rated higher. The problem is good kids that leave continue to do good and kids that have been struggling continue to struggle too.

Private schools and charter schools do not have some magical wand that negates the effects of poverty. But if they are allowed to siphon scarce resources from public schools then public schools and the children who attend them will suffer.

Furthermore charter schools and private schools don’t have the same accountability that public schools have and as a group don’t do any better.

We all know the true goal is privatization and since that is the case why don’t they just embrace that and sell it? Why do they hide behind disingenuous catch phrases? The end game can’t be school choice just for choices sake.

School choice will not mitigate poverty and until we put systems in place to do so we will continue to struggle.

Another school board rejects the FCAT, soon Duval will be the only one left that hasn't

Fom the Daytona News Beach News Journal, by Linda Trimble

- It's time for FCAT -- the exam used to measure students' academic progress, grade schools and evaluate teachers' performance -- to be tested itself for validity, cost and impact on what Florida children learn.

That's the thrust of a resolution the Volusia County School Board is expected to approve Tuesday, putting it squarely in the midst of a statewide debate about how the test is used and should be used.

"It's not an anti-testing resolution, it's a 'let's take a breath and reassess what we're doing' resolution," said School Board member Candace Lankford, a past president of the Florida School Boards Association that originated the measure and passed it last week by unanimous vote.

Flagler County's School Board passed a similar resolution earlier this month.

"We want to promote high standards and rigor, but we also must realize all this raising the bar takes time to implement," Lankford said.

The resolution calls for an independent evaluation of Florida's school-accountability system; addition of multiple forms of assessment and limits on standardized testing, and elimination of using test scores as the "primary basis" for evaluating teacher, administrator, school and district performance.

It also says changes to the accountability system should be phased in to allow sufficient time to prepare students for them, and the state should pick up the full tab for student assessment. This spring, the State Board of Education lowered the FCAT writing-exam proficiency score at the last minute after preliminary passing rates plummeted.

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has criticized the resolution, saying it's based on a fear of high-stakes assessments that ignores the state's "proven track record of success" in improving student performance since FCAT was launched in 1998.

The Flagler School Board passed a similar resolution in early June based on a national version before the Florida School Boards Association finalized its state-specific wording. The national version asked state officials to re-examine the school-accountability system and develop one "based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing."

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is the foundation of the state's school-accountability system. It helps determine who graduates from high school, which students move up from one grade to the next and how public schools are rated -- a process that yields cash rewards for top performers and sanctions against schools that fail repeatedly.

It's not the test itself but the way it's used that's rankled Volusia County School Board members.

"You're hanging stuff on this test it wasn't designed for," said School Board member Stan Schmidt. "I don't think anyone would tell you they fear a test. Classroom teachers have given tests forever. There has to be trust this (test) is OK."

Volusia School Board member Diane Smith said the flap over this year's writing scores was "laughable."

"Why don't we take a step back and assess the test and assess the (testing) company? I certainly have questions about the validity," she said.

Smith said the state emphasis on testing hampers teachers' creativity in the classroom.

"We hire these talented people to be in front of our kids and then don't let them do what they do best," she said.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the resolution in a meeting that starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the School Administrative Complex, 200 N. Clara Ave.

http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/west-volusia/2012/06/24/volusia-joins-flagler-in-growing-fcat-debate.html

Florida's education bureaucracy, not classroom teachers, are accountable for the FCAT mess.

From the NapleNews.com's editorial board

"Role of student testing under fire."

That was the headline on our front page the other day.

The story under it told how school boards in Lee and Collier counties are joining colleagues and educators around the country who are paying more attention than ever to standardized testing and how results are used.

In Florida, the big standardized test is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), whose results are used to assign letter grades to schools and entire school systems and help determine funding.

Results also can impact teachers' and administrators' careers.

Testing is a part of our everyday lives. All of us are tested in one way or another. But testing in public schools invites a special level of debate, because there are so many variables and the stakes are so high for students and their families — and educators and their families.

A hospital is not sized up for an entire year by a single snapshot or day's job performance.

A factory is not judged by that standard.

Neither is a plumber or contractor.

Neither is a newspaper.

Thank goodness. Some days are better than others. There are a lot of moving parts.

And sometimes it is not valid to compare one year's performance with another's, yet that is what we do with schools — even though clients change from year to year and sometimes are less than fluent in the language of the test.

The timing of this peak interest in the future of testing comes as we are concluding the FCAT does not work — just as it is about to be replaced by a national test.

Granted, there were flashes of hope, as when low-scoring schools would rally and students would hold celebrations.

There have been too many mistakes made by its administrators. Last but not least is the folly of scores on some writing exams being so low — due to misunderstandings about what teachers were to emphasize? — that grading had to be dumbed down.

This is all about accountability — though not the kind the FCAT sought to assign.

Florida's education bureaucracy, not classroom teachers, are accountable for the mess.

How many years have our taxes and time been misdirected? Fourteen.

Plus, we have this unpleasant question: What assurance do we have that the next big test, FCAT's replacement, will be any better?

We need to get smarter.

We can start by asking how much weight should be assigned to standardized tests and what other measures should be taken into account. Should graduation rates and college admissions get factored in?

How do other countries, which may be better at teaching and learning than us, measure the product? Let's find out, because we should be aiming high rather than groping for minimums.

Education is a behemoth that is slow to change. Perhaps, though, the time is right to find what has been elusive — a report card that shows how schools are passing or failing assignments that the community believes are important, and where we go from there.

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2012/jun/24/passing-real-test-of-accountability/

Long time Florida Superintendent has grave concerns about the future of public education

From the Orlando Sentinel, By Dave Weber,

SANFORD — Bill Vogel has grave concerns about the future of public education in Florida as he ends nine years at the helm of one of Florida's highest-achieving school districts.

With local control largely lost to the state Legislature and governor, Vogel says, school boards across Florida are being marginalized to the point where they have little say on how to run their own schools.

Vogel, superintendent of Seminole County schools, has a reputation as a vocal leader in public education — and he has been speaking even more forcefully as he heads toward retirement at the end of the month.

Over-testing; a misguided teacher-evaluation system; inadequate funding; charter schools; and the push to privatize public education and finance religious schools with tax dollars are on his worry list. A crisis looms, he says, that could topple public faith in how the schools measure student success.

"The credibility of the entire education-accountability system is at risk," Vogel said.

At the core of his concerns is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — a simple exam originally designed to help teachers measure what students have learned and correct their academic shortcomings. The test, he says, is increasingly being misused.

Assessments such as the FCAT now drive curriculum and narrow the focus of education to reading, writing, math and science, Vogel said. That makes it difficult for Seminole to pursue its "Triple 'A' Experience" for students that emphasizes a balance of academics, arts and athletics.

But Vogel's concerns will be largely academic in a few days as he wraps up a 44-year career in Florida education and hands over the reins to successor Walt Griffin.

Vogel, 65, stumbled into education while a senior history major at Rollins College in Winter Park. During a stint as a substitute teacher at Edgewater High in Orlando, he found his calling.

After graduation, he took a teaching job at Osceola Junior High in Kissimmee but quickly moved into administration and worked his way up the ranks to assistant superintendent. In 1996 he became superintendent of St. Lucie County schools and returned to Central Florida in 2003 for the Seminole superintendent's job.

During his tenure in Seminole, Vogel's reputation as a statewide leader in education has flourished.

"Bill has served exceptionally well not just as superintendent in Seminole County," said Bill Montford, a state senator and former Leon County superintendent who heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents in Tallahassee. "Bill has been influential in public education in Florida for years. He is well-respected."

Montford said Vogel "knows education" and has the professional and personal skills to make strong, clear statements on important topics.

That's what he has been doing during the heated debate over using FCAT and end-of-course exams for purposes such as deciding whether teachers should get pay raises or even keep their jobs.

"We have an accountability system that is going to fall apart like a house of cards," said Vogel, criticizing state leaders for "making up the rules as they go along" without listening to educators.

"It has gone too far. The whole system needs to be reviewed," Vogel said.

Case in point, said Vogel, was the Florida School Boards Association's recent call for state officials to stop using the tests to define the success or failure of students, teachers, schools and entire school districts.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson quickly chided the group, saying that, although it had the right "to express its opinion about Florida's accountability system," school boards also "have the obligation to implement the education laws approved by the Florida Legislature."

Once more, Robinson made clear that state officials know better, are in charge and will tell the districts what to do, Vogel indicated.

"I was disappointed in his response," Vogel said. "He missed an opportunity to bring school-board members and superintendents together to discuss a very important issue."

But Vogel is used to disputes and unexpected challenges. All has not gone smoothly during his years in Seminole.

Early on, there was a legal battle over school rezoning involving Lake Brantley High School when some students were moved to Lyman High.

Later, hurricanes damaged some schools and ripped the roof off the school-district office, requiring millions of dollars in cleanup and repairs.

And when the economic bust came to Seminole, declining student enrollment left the district with more than 9,000 empty classroom seats and the continuing prospect of closing schools. Falling revenues from local taxes and the state have forced budget cuts that Vogel says are beginning to reduce quality of the schools.

Still, Vogel has served the district well through good times and bad, said Sandy Robinson, who was on the School Board for 20 years before retiring in 2010.

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-06-23/features/os-seminole-vogel-retires-20120623_1_bill-vogel-charter-schools-public-education

High stakes tests fail to prepare kids for colleg

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

From reporter Chris Umpierre in the Fort Myers News-Press:

For many Southwest Florida students, receiving a high school diploma isn’t the end of their high school education.

About 70 percent of Edison State College’s incoming freshmen have to take at least one remedial course to learn the skills they should have learned in high school. About 50 percent of Hodges University’s incoming freshmen take remedial courses.

“Their writing scores are always an issue,” said Rita Lampus, Hodges’ vice president for student enrollment management. “We have two levels of English remedial courses and one level of math to get them up to speed.”

Nationally, 43 percent of students at two-year public intuitions and 29 percent at four-year public colleges take remedial courses, according to a study by advocacy group Strong American Schools. Not only does remediation make students more likely to drop out of college, it creates an economic burden on taxpayers, said Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The national cost of remediation in the 2007–08 school year was $3.6 billion, according to a study by the alliance. Florida paid $123 million — the fifth highest in the U.S. — for students to learn the same material in high school and college.

The much ballyhooed high school end-or-course exams won’t do any better as they, too, are multiple choice tests which do not address the remediation realities. This morning’s Tampa Bay Times story aptly describes FCAT as the “be-all and end-all” and voters will make the association between the $123 million dollar remediation costs and FCAT’s domination.

While Governor Wise is at least recognizing the remediation problem - and he’s closely allied with Jeb Bush on education policy – he is a Common Core Standrads (CCS) devotee and feels their adoption will solve everything. Both Wise and Bush still need see high stakes tests as the “be-all and end-all” in their visions. They say CCS can be effectively measured through hyper-standardized national tests and serve as a “be-all, end-all” system of “accountability.”

Florida has already been operating under common standards. And even powerful figures like these two charismatic former governors cannot overcome stark examples of their formula failing spectacularly in Florida which also includes a tragic number of kids who aren’t ready for college when they get there.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/awareness-grows-that-high-stakes-tests-are-failing-to-prepare-students-for-college/

Why do Eli Broad and Bill Gates have more influence over education than parents do?

From Parents Across America

The question I ask is why should Eli Broad and Bill Gates have more of a say as to what goes on in my child’s classroom than I do? – Sue Peters, Seattle parent

In recent months, three prominent school district superintendents resigned or were fired, after allegations of mismanagement, autocratic leadership styles, and/or the pursuit of unpopular policies. All three were trained by the Broad Superintendents Academy: Maria Goodloe-Johnson (class of 2003) of the Seattle school district, LaVonne Sheffield (class of 2002) of the Rockford, Illinois school district, and Jean-Claude Brizard (class of 2008) of the Rochester New York school district. Brizard resigned to take the job as CEO of Chicago schools, but his superintendency in Rochester had been mired in controversy. Another Broad-trained Superintendent recently announced his resignation: Tom Brady (class of 2004) of Providence, Rhode Island.

Three more Broad-trainees have been recently placed in new positions of authority: John Deasy (class of 2006), as Superintendent of the Los Angeles United School District, John White (class of 2010), Superintendent of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, and Chris Cerf (class of 2004), New Jersey’s Acting Education Commissioner. Tom Boasberg was appointed Denver’s Superintendent in January 2009, shortly after taking an “Intensive” training at the Broad Academy. (See map below from the Broad website, showing where until recently their trainees served.)

This summary is designed to help parents and other concerned citizens better understand the Broad Foundation’s role in training new superintendents and other “reform” activities, and how the foundation leverages its wealth to impose a top-down, corporate-style business model on our public schools. It is time for communities to become aware of how this major force works.

What is the Broad Foundation?

The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation engages in venture philanthropy in four areas: education, medical research, contemporary art, and civic projects in Los Angeles. The foundation was established in 1999 by billionaire Eli Broad (b. 1933) who made his fortune in real estate and the insurance business.

A closer look at the Broad Foundation’s “investment” in education

The Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation form a powerful triumvirate. The combined net worth of the three families who operate these foundations is $152 billion. By strategically deploying their immense wealth through training school leaders, financing think-tank reports, and supporting “Astro Turf” advocacy groups, these three foundations have been able to steer the direction of education reform over the past decade.

The Broad Foundation is the least wealthy of the three, but has still spent nearly $400 million on its mission of “transforming urban K-12 public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition.” But what does that actually mean?

The signature effort of the Broad Foundation is its investment in its training programs, operated through the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems and the Broad Institute for School Boards. The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems is the larger of the two and consists of two programs: the Broad Superintendents Academy and the Broad Residency in Urban Education.

The Broad Superintendents Academy runs a training program held during six weekends over ten months, after which graduates are placed in large districts as superintendents. Those accepted into the program (“Broad Fellows”) are not required to have a background in-education; many come instead from careers in the military, business, or government. Tuition and travel expenses for participants are paid for by the Broad Center, which also sometimes covers a share of the graduates’ salaries when they are appointed into district leadership positions. The foundation’s website boasts that 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates in 2009.

The Broad Superintendents Academy’s weekend training course provides an “alternative” certification process which has come to supplant or override the typical regulations in many states that require that individuals have years of experience as a teacher and principal before being installed as a school district superintendents.

The Broad Residency in Urban Education is a two-year program, during which individuals with MBAs, JDs, etc. in the early stages of their careers are placed in high-level managerial positions in school districts, charter management organizations, or state and federal departments of education. The Broad Center subsidizes approximately 33 percent of each Resident’s salary.

For financially struggling school districts, the Broad Foundation’s offer of trained personnel or services for a free or reduced cost is extremely appealing, and creates a “pipeline” of individuals with the same ideology who can be installed in central office positions.

The Broad Institute for School Boards provides three training programs for elected school board members and non-Broad-trained superintendents conducted in partnership with the Center for Reform of School Systems (CRSS). The Institute trains new board members at a one-week summer residential setting. Its Alumni Institute is an advanced course for experienced school board members. The third program, Reform Governance in Action, is by invitation only and provides “a long-term, training/consulting partnership program to selected large, urban districts.” The Broad Foundation underwrites 80 percent of all program costs through a grant to CRSS.

The “Broad Prize for Education” is an annual monetary award which is designated for college scholarships; it is given to the urban school district which the foundation deems as the most “improved” in the country. The selection process is sometimes seen as more political than based on actual results.

The Broad Foundation also supports a broad range of pro-charter school advocacy groups, as well as alternative training programs for non-educators who want to work as teachers and principals (Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools).

In addition, the foundation offers free diagnostic “audits” to school districts, along with recommendations aligned with its policy preferences. It produces a number of guides and toolkits for school districts, including a “School Closure Guide,” based on the experiences of Broad-trained administrators involved in closing schools in Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Miami-Dade County, Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Seattle.

The foundation finances the Education Innovation Laboratory, run by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, which carries out large-scale experiments in schools districts, focused on teacher pay for performance and rewarding students for good test scores and grades. So far, these trials have failed to demonstrate positive results.

The foundation provided start-up funding for Parent Revolution (formerly the Los Angeles Parent Union), the group which developed the “Parent Trigger” legislation, designed to encourage the conversion of public schools to charter schools. Broad has also has given large amounts of money to Education Reform Now, a pro-charter school advocacy organization.

Eli Broad has said he “expects to be a major contributor” to Students First, former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s organization that advocates for the expansion of charters, vouchers, and an end to seniority protections for teachers. And journalist Richard Whitmire, author of “The Bee Eater,” an admiring biography of Rhee, expressed his gratitude in the book to Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter lobbying organization, for serving as the “pass through” for funds from the Broad Foundation which allowed him to “invest everything in book research.”

The foundation provided start-up funds to New York City’s Leadership Academy, which trains individuals to serve as principals in the city public schools, several of whose graduates have been accused of financial misconduct, as well as arbitrary and dictatorial treatment of teachers, students and parents.

The foundation also helps sponsors media events (a PBS series on the “education crisis” hosted by Charlie Rose, the series Education Nation on NBC, etc.). These programs help promote for Eli Broad’s vision of free-market education reform.

In addition to using his foundation to effect change to American public education, Eli Broad has made personal campaign contributions to candidates who are favorably disposed to his preferred policies, even down to the local school board level. In this way, he has helped influence the selection of superintendents who are aligned with him ideologically, even though they may not be Broad Academy graduates.

For instance, Broad contributed to the campaigns of school board candidates who supported former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alan Bersin’s appointment as superintendent of San Diego’s school district. A 2006 Vanity Fair article by Bob Colacello reported that “Broad believes reform must come “the top down” and that his foundation “plans to virtually take over the Delaware school system in 2007, pending approval from that state’s legislature.”

In 2003, Joseph Wise (class of 2003) was installed as superintendent of Christina School District, Delaware’s largest. In 2006, Wise was succeeded by Lillian Lowery (class of 2004), who served until 2009 when she was appointed as the state’s Secretary of Education. Two Broad Residents work under Lowery at the state level. Another Broad superintendent, Marcia Lyles (class of 2006), replaced Lowery as superintendent of Christina School District.

Along with Bill Gates, Broad contributed millions of dollars to the campaign to extend mayoral control of the public schools in New York City under Michael Bloomberg. Among the leaders he is close to and has personally advised behind the scenes are former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.



How the Broad Foundation affects public school families

Broad and his foundation believe that public schools should be run like a business. One of the tenets of his philosophy is to produce system change by “investing in a disruptive force.” Continual reorganizations, firings of staff, and experimentation to create chaos or “churn” is believed to be productive and beneficial, as it weakens the ability of communities to resist change.

As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, a proponent of this philosophy has said, “…we can afford to make lots more mistakes and in fact we have to throw more things at the wall. The big companies that get into trouble are those that try to manage their size instead of experimenting with it.”

A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay for performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.

Several communities have forced their Broad-trained superintendents to resign, including Arnold “Woody” Carter (class or 2002), formerly of the Capistrano Unified School District; Thandiwee Peebles,( class of 2002), formerly of the Minneapolis Public School District; and John Q. Porter (class of 2006), formerly of the Oklahoma City Public School District.

A number of other Broad-trained superintendents have received votes of “no confidence” from the teachers in their districts, including Rochester’s Jean-Claude Brizard (class of 2008), Seattle’s Maria Goodloe-Johnson (class of 2003); Deborah Sims (class of 2005) while Superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District (CA); Matthew Malone (class of 2003) while Superintendent of the Swampscott School District (MA); and most recently, Melinda J. Boone (class of 2004) Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools (MA).

The Oakland Unified School District (CA) experienced a series of three consecutive Broad-trained, state-appointed administrators over a period of six years. The first, Randolph Ward (class of 2003), aroused huge protests with his plans to close schools and even hired a personal bodyguard for the duration of his tenure. Ward was followed by Kimberly Statham (class of 2003), and Vincent Mathews (class of 2006), all of whom left the district in financial shambles. A civil grand jury found that


“….the district was hampered by continuous staff turnover, particularly in the area of finance, numerous reorganizations and a succession of state administrators…After nearly five years of state management, OUSD’s budget remains unbalanced and the district’s future is unclear.”

Joseph Wise (class of 2003), formerly Superintendent of the Duval County Florida Public Schools, was found to have spent thousands of dollars on personal purchases while a superintendent in Delaware, before being fired by his Duval post in disgrace. While a finalist for the post of Superintendent in Washoe County in Nevada, Kimberly Olson (class of 2005) pled guilty of having engaged in war profiteering when she was a colonel in Iraq.

Chris Cerf (class of 2004), the acting New Jersey Education Commissioner, has been criticized for not identifying his involvement in a consulting firm which developed an secret plan to turn many Newark public schools over to charter operators. The Broad Foundation acknowledged that it put up $500,000 to pay for the plan. Deborah Gist (class of 2008), Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, has supported the firing of all teachers in Central Falls and more recently in Providence, and is aggressively fighting seniority protections for teachers.

General Anthony Tata (class of 2009), has been embroiled in controversy for dismantling Wake County’s desegregation plan. John Covington (class of 2008), Superintendent of Kansas City Schools, has announced his intention to close half the schools districts in the city. Robert Bobb (class of 2005), the Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, recently sent layoff notices to every one of the district’s 5,466 salaried employees, including all its teachers, and said that nearly a third of the district’s schools would be closed or turned over to private charter operators. At a recent town hall which Bobb had called so he could go over his plan, angry students, parents, and teachers drove him from the meeting. He was escorted out by his six bodyguards.

Conclusion

Eli Broad is a wealthy individual, accountable to no one but himself, who wields vast power over our public schools. Parents and community members should be aware of the extent to which the he and his foundation influence educational policies in districts throughout the country, through Broad-funded advocacy groups, Broad-sponsored experiments and reports, and the placement of Broad-trained school leaders, administrators and superintendents.

Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent. We strongly oppose allowing our nation’s education policy to be driven by billionaires who have no education expertise, who do not send their own children to public schools, and whose particular biases and policy preferences are damaging our children’s ability to receive a quality education.

http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/04/a-guide-to-the-broad-foundations-training-programs-and-policies/

Does Dr. Young of Ribault hold the fate of the school district in his hands?

This is what we know. We know he has led teams of teachers that have turned around several schools. These teachers generally respect and like Dr. Young speaking about how he supported them and empowered them. We also know Dr. Young will be out of a job in a couple weeks having resigned. What we don’t know is why.

What’s going to happen if Dr. Young comes back and says, the reason he left was because people with lesser qualifications passed him over for promotions. What if he says his school was micromanaged by education directions and they proved more of a hindrance than help. Or what if he says Duval is dysfunctional, who you know rather than your ability determines placement in jobs and it’s reliance on scrubbing the numbers hurts kids and teachers alike. What is going to happen if he says one of those things? What if he says them all?

The school board has been a master of cognitive dissonance able to ignore teachers and the evidence in front of them but I don’t think they could ignore Dr. Young too.

So for now the whole city holds its breath and wonders why this capable and successful educator has decided to move on.

How the FCAT ate Florida's Schools

From the Tampa Bay Times, By Cara Fitzpatrick and Jeffrey S. Solochek,

A week before the fourth-grade writing exam, Shelly Ladd-Gilbert's daughter started complaining about stomachaches.

On the day of the test, the 10-year-old burst into tears, saying the pain was too severe to go to school. A trip to the doctor yielded a surprising diagnosis: severe test anxiety.

Florida has tested students for decades, but since its inception 14 years ago the FCAT has evolved from a simple measure of student learning to an all-encompassing arbiter of student, teacher and school performance. The test factors into third-grade promotion, high school graduation, class placement, teacher pay and evaluations, even whether a school stays open.

The state's signature test has become a constant thread in the community, too.

Parents use FCAT scores — and the school grades based on them — to decide where to live and what public school their child should attend. Or whether that child should go to public school at all.

Real estate agents promote neighborhoods with A-rated schools. Community leaders woo new businesses with A-rated schools. Gov. Rick Scott ranked every school in the state this year, providing even more fodder for comparison.

All based on FCAT scores.

Few educators, parents or political leaders question that the state needs a way to measure how much students are learning. And the expansion of the FCAT has brought tremendous academic gains, developing Florida's reputation as a national leader in education.

But some fear that Florida's model has turned into a runaway train of testing.

With pressure to perform, school districts have adopted their own assessments to gauge how ready students are for FCAT. That means even more testing — and little consistency from one county to another.

In Hillsborough County, third-graders alone take up to nine district-required tests in addition to the reading and math FCAT. Palm Beach County's third-graders take 11. Alachua's take 13. And in Pinellas, they take three.

For the first time, state education officials have seen a strong backlash against its signature test, and they have been forced to wage a public relations campaign to defend it.

Rather than quiet the din, the result has been an intense debate about testing and a growing chorus of voices against the widespread use of FCAT.

Sal Bologna, a Pasco County grandfather of a fourth-grader, said he likes that the state has an annual test to track student performance. But he worries about the stress it puts on children.

"If they fail the FCAT, they wind up in summer school. If they don't do well in summer school, they get left back," Bologna said. "It is a lot of pressure, especially on young people."

Florida has a lot to show after more than a decade of ramping up standards and increasing the number of tests students take.

Graduation rates have climbed steadily. More students take advanced placement exams, and passing rates have risen. Until recently, Florida students posted some of the biggest gains in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called the "nation's report card."

Even before the FCAT, Florida had a statewide assessment system.

The state was the first in the nation to require a test for high school graduation in 1977. During that decade, it introduced testing for third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

Two decades later, officials decided that minimum standards weren't good enough. The FCAT was introduced in 1998, just before Gov. Jeb Bush was elected.

Under Bush the stakes changed — for everyone.

Schools became rated A to F. The spotlight suddenly focused on two grades: third and 10th, both with major testing hurdles for students.

Teachers and principals — entire schools — started to analyze student data more than ever. Students and parents learned about data. Predicting how a child would fare on the FCAT became a normal part of the parent-teacher conference.

Many teachers and school leaders say such widespread use of testing is having unintended consequences.

Susan Spaulding, who teaches in Pinellas County, said she tries to make the FCAT seem less threatening to her third-grade students by calling it the "F-Kitty." On test day, one student showed up teary-eyed. Another vomited.

Lori Moritz, a Pasco County mother, said the FCAT unnerved her daughter Alyssa, an incoming fourth-grader.

"She was nervous. She said, 'There are kids in my class already who failed the FCAT last year,' " Moritz said. "She didn't want to be one of those kids."

Ladd-Gilbert, a candidate for Pinellas County School Board, said she would rather see students tested once at the beginning of the year and once at the end to measure learning growth. But, she said, "I don't think it should be making the children sick."

Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia has not wavered on her commitment to accountability. She also hasn't hesitated to criticize state education officials for what she has seen as problems or missteps in the system.

She led a challenge of questionable 2010 FCAT results, for instance, and she blasted the state Board of Education's proposal to change the way it considers test scores for students with special-education needs this year.

But Elia said she takes a long-range view past the rhetoric that many are wielding. Testing can be used to measure student progress and how well teachers are passing along the curriculum.

"There are good uses for testing," she said.

Most recently, Florida's lawmakers have aggressively pushed education policies that emphasize standardized testing, linking it to teacher pay and evaluation.

The state Department of Education introduced a harder FCAT last year and increased the passing scores this year.

The intense reactions this year to FCAT results, Elia suggested, are a result of so many changes coming at once, including a more difficult test, higher passing scores and a move to computerized testing, all when school districts are trying to balance their budgets with less money than they had seven years ago.

But the FCAT's reliability has raised concerns.

"When you're going to base as many different things off a test as you're basing off the FCAT — merit pay, grading of schools, whether a teacher has a job — then people need to have confidence in the test," said Lee Swift, immediate past president of the Florida School Boards Association.

In past years, glitches, human error or cost-saving measures inflated reading and writing scores and delayed test results.

None of those issues prompted the widespread backlash seen this year when the state increased passing scores on the FCAT, contributing to a statewide decline in the percentage of students scoring on grade level.

Perhaps the biggest fiasco came when the state Board of Education was forced to lower the passing scores on the writing test to account for plunging results. Even the most ardent testing supporters were left scrambling.

"The DOE and its contractor led with a glass jaw and brought some of this criticism upon themselves," said incoming state Senate President Don Gaetz.

School leaders haven't remained quiet either.

The Florida School Boards Association approved a resolution this month that says the state's "overemphasis" on testing had stifled students, limited what's taught in schools and made it difficult to keep good teachers.

State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson fired back in a public statement, suggesting that school districts, not the state, overtest students.

Swift said it's "only natural" that school districts, facing so much pressure to perform, would try to get a sense of how students are doing ahead of time. But he thought the commissioner missed the point. School leaders aren't opposed to testing; they lack confidence in the FCAT, he said.

"We want to know what students are learning and have (the test) be an accurate representation of what they're learning," he said.

Much of the debate about the FCAT is history, Gaetz noted.

By the 2014-15 school year, the exam will be largely gone, replaced by end-of-course exams and the Common Core, a state-led effort to develop national academic standards.

"I don't think there's much to be gained by changing that course of action," Gaetz said.

Already, the science and math FCAT exams for high school students are gone. This year's incoming ninth-graders must pass end-of-course exams in algebra, biology and geometry. Similar exams are coming for U.S. history and civics.

The high stakes remain — students must now pass multiple exams to graduate from high school. Robinson has said increasing the rigor on the FCAT will better prepare Florida students for the next generation of testing.

Some parents say the transition has been needlessly painful.

"If they're doing away with the FCAT, do away with it now," Moritz said. "Why make other kids suffer?"

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/has-floridas-education-model-turned-into-a-runaway-fcat-train/1236727