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Public Education: The Republican Football July 14, 2012

Posted by tetrahedron in Uncategorized.
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The following story appeared in the online version of the Tampabay Times. It just goes to show how public education continues to be the football of the Republican Party. The “goal” is to divert your taxpaying dollars, not just in Florida, but nationwide, to privately-owned and Republican-connected charter schools. The students aren’t on the winning team as there is no proof that charter schooled students perform any better academically than their regular public school counterparts. It is the corporate owners of these charter schools that walk away with the win, in terms of your tax dollars. Read on…

A Times (Tampabay Times) Editorial

FCAT farce just gets worse.

No wonder Gov. Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson have suggested in recent weeks they are ready to reassess the FCAT. After more than a decade of leading the national charge on school accountability, Florida on Wednesday released 2011-12 grades for public elementary and middle schools that were largely meaningless. The grades have been tweaked, adjusted and tweaked again. Even ardent supporters of the A+ plan appeared willing to concede that the process, which began with the ill-conceived grading of the state’s FCAT writing test, has been a complete mess.

Now leaders in Tallahassee should begin the serious discussion about what is next. Florida’s plan to jettison the FCAT for end-of-course exams is still two years away. That’s too long to wait to overhaul the A+ Plan if there’s any hope of restoring faith with teachers, parents and the public that Florida’s school accountability program is actually fair.

Wednesday’s results would have looked even worse if the state Board of Education had continued on its original track, backed by Scott and Robinson, to dramatically raise requirements for student passing scores on the FCAT, on which school grades are largely based. By May, it was clear the state was moving too fast and risked labeling thousands of additional students and their schools as failures.

Results from the FCAT writing exam — which included tougher grading and a higher passing score — suggested that in just one year Florida schools went from teaching 81 percent of fourth-graders to write at grade level to just 27 percent. Robinson and the education board quickly recalibrated the scores. But the massaging didn’t stop there.

The school grades released Wednesday also — compared with a year ago — de-emphasized the performance of a school’s lowest achievers on the FCAT and prevented any school from dropping more than a single letter grade in one year. In Pinellas County that second provision meant 12 schools — including seven schools that received A’s last year — otherwise would have dropped to a C or lower. And in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, more than 40 schools were saved from an even lower grade because of the change. In Hillsborough, West Tampa Elementary, would have dropped from and A to an F under the tougher formula before it was tweaked. How is that possible?

The results will obviously fuel the growing backlash against the FCAT. Even Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County school superintendent and the incoming Senate president, distanced himself from the results. He issued a statement reminding parents that by 2014-15 the FCAT will be gone, replaced with end-of-course subject tests that can be compared with national results.

But that’s two years away, and the question Tallahassee should be deciding is what to do now. School grades and FCAT scores play a role in both school funding and teacher merit pay. Will that now be based on the faulty formula used Wednesday? And will the Legislature and Scott accept some responsibility? The new grades, after all, measured a school year in which per student funding dropped 8 percent. For that, voters should hold them to account.


Guest blogger: Bridget Foster

As a Florida educator, this comes as no surprise to me. I can remember when the FCAT was first rolled out as part of Florida’s 1990’s education reform program, Blueprint 2000.  As we field tested hundreds of ninth graders on a meaningless test, the inside cover of the test manual stated that the test was not meant to be an exit exam but rather an assessment tool for teachers to identify student weaknesses. Within five or so years, under Jeb Bush, it did become an exit exam, with Neil Bush and his company becoming the benefactor as they provided the practice materials adopted by the state. The stakes have become higher and higher, as evidenced by the large number of 15 and 16 year old students still in middle school due to failure to pass the FCAT Reading test in 3rd grade, resulting in repeated years of retention. Additionally, 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is now based on the FCAT reading and math scores of assigned students…no matter how students perform throughout the year, the performance on a single test on a specific day of the year determines how “effective” your instruction is and whether you are eligible for merit pay. Worse still, those of us who have no direct instructional responsibility have 40% of our evaluation based on the grade assigned to the school as a whole with a “value-added” score designed to reduce the impact of the school grade. Either way, when you combine a change in the format of the test (6th grade reading is now computer-based) with an increase in the required passing score,  as well as a new teacher evaluation system all in the same year, there are bound to be problems. But it’s all a smokescreen…consider that our illustrious governor “increased” the spending on education by 1 billion dollars in the SAME YEAR as the aforementioned changes, the cry will now become: “We increased spending on public education and look! student scores plummeted, school grades dropped and none of the teachers or administrators were evaluated to be “Highly Effective”!  Public education doesn’t work! We need to divert the dollars to opportunity scholarships so parents can send their children to private schools…we need to fund more charter schools, etc. etc. etc.” This so-called “increase” in spending on public education is another farce, as it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars that have been cut from the education budget over the past six or eight years.

Our children’s education is not a game, folks. It’s time to elect people who really support public education and that includes people who will hold PARENTS responsible for how their children perform and for their readiness (or lack thereof) for school.  Educating children is like baking a cake: you can have the finest ingredients to make the batter, but if you pour that batter into a dented pan, you will have a dented cake!



1. petit4chocolatier - November 15, 2012

I enjoyed reading this article. I worked with the FCAT for several years. And my own children were part of the FCAT full generation of testing. Good post!

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