Florida Public School Teacher Exposed by Students

Parents are becoming more aware of the quality of the teaching their children receive in Florida’s public schools. Additionally, there are a number of websites that allow students to candidly rate their teachers. Among them is RateMyTeachers.com.

Pine View School in Sarasota County, Florida is unique and its students are considered gifted. Principal Steve Largo writes on the school official website, “The only public school of its kind in the State of Florida and one of only several throughout the country, Pine View takes its ‘tradition of excellence’ very seriously.” [My emphasis]

One of the faculty members at Pine View is science teacher David Yotsuda.

Yotsuda holds a Bachelors Degree in English as a Second Language (ESOL) and English from Hawaii Pacific University, yet he is teaching advanced placement science courses. President Obama stated during the first Presidential Debate that he wanted to add 100,000 science and math teachers. Perhaps the Sarasota County School Board should first determine if they have teachers with science and math degrees teaching science and math, starting with Pine View?

Students continue to question what is happening in Yotsuda’s science classroom.

“Yotsuda recently showed Al Gore’s film ‘Inconvenient Truth’ with the purpose of analyzing ‘how politics impacts science’,” according to Principal Largo. The film was part of an advanced placement environmental studies course taught by Yotsuda. Several parents questioned why a film that has been proven in court to be misleading and is based upon a theory of global warming that has been discredited is still being shown in public schools.

Parents point to what former students have said about Yotsuda and his penchant to wander off topic in the classroom.

In 2009 one student wrote on Yotsuda’s RateMyTeachers.com page, “I was looking forward to actually learning something in his class, but was in for great disappointment. Horrible teacher in my opinion. Does everything but teach. He skips important chapters that are crucial for our advance into the next years. Instead of teaching he shows us movies that are irrelevant to want we have been learning. His subject isn’t even SCIENCE, he used to be a language arts teacher. He doesn’t know the answers to simple science questions and must check the book for the answer.” [My emphasis]

Several former Yotsuda student’s comments include:

“Spends too much time on tangents  Some examples: Disney, Hawaii, male roommate, Disney, Tickle me Elmo Extreme, Season Passes to Disney, Volunteering at Disney, Marathon, Solar cars, Disney, Hawaii …

“Obsessed with Disney, his male roommate TOMMY, who likes to play with solar cars and Advil  and Hawaii. FYI guys, my roommate just broke the solar car while playing with it at the Hawaii version of Disney …

“Obsessed with Disney. He has a male ROOMMATE who he is willing to call his ROOMMATE instead of his housemate. Also rants about how overpriced Tickle me Elmo extreme costs.”

Other students posted positive comments such as, “Mr. Y was a pretty cool guy, but he gets off topic very easily, and every assignment was so simple. I had a 98 all year. Don’t talk in class or he’ll say you have diarrhea of the mouth … Pretty awesome teacher, if you pay attention he actually covers a lot in class, even if it is indirectly … Two years purposefully. I’ll always remember him, he’s excellent and our study guide once for a final, WAS the final. It was amazing. Oh, and be prepared for stories and a lot of “FYI GUYS~!”

Yotsuda leads the Pine View sustainability program. He is listed as the faculty point of contact for the Pine View Welcome to Sustainability@ PV! website which states, “We, at Pine View School, believe that educational growth and the well-being of society are inextricably tied to the health of the environment. Accordingly, we embrace our responsibility for environmental stewardship and are committed to integrating leading environmental practices and sustainability principles into our learning, teaching strategies and extra- curricular activities.” Yotsuda was behind the Sustainability@PV logo contest.

For a high caliber school such as Pine View it is both fitting and proper for students and parents to judge the quality of faculty members. It appears Yotsuda has no degree in science but is teaching it at Pine View. His students may be the best judge of his classroom performance.

Currently there is no Department of Education procedure for students to candidly rate their teachers and have those ratings posted online. Perhaps it is time to create such a website?

NOTE: The featured photo used is courtesy of Justin Lebar.

REPORT: Child Obesity Caused by Single Parent Households

In 2010 Michele Obama made it her mission to address the “child obesity epidemic”. The goal of Mrs. Obama is to reduce child obesity from the current 20% of all children to 5% by 2030. WebMD reports, “To accomplish this, the plan makes 70 recommendations for early childhood, for parents and caregivers, for school meals and nutrition education, for access to healthy food, and for increasing physical activity.”

According to WebMD, “Obesity is an excess proportion of total body fat. A person is considered obese when his or her weight is 20% or more above normal weight. The most common measure of obesity is the body mass index or BMI.”

“U.S. kids haven’t always been obese. Only one in 20 children ages 2 to 19 was obese in the 1970s. But around 1980 child obesity began to rocket to today’s stratospheric level: Nearly one in three kids is overweight or obese, and nearly one in five is frankly obese,” notes WebMD.

What is the cause of this stratospheric increase in child obesity? ANSWER: Single parent households.

In July 2010 the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reported, “Prevalence of childhood obesity and its complications have increased world-wide. Parental status may be associated with children’s health outcomes including their eating habits, body weight and blood cholesterol.” [My emphasis]

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for the years 1988–1994 provided a unique opportunity for matching parents to children enabling analyses of joint demographics, racial differences and health indicators. Specifically, the NHANES III data, 1988–1994, of 219 households with single-parents and 780 dual-parent households were analyzed as predictors for primary outcome variables of children’s Body Mass Index (BMI), dietary nutrient intakes and blood cholesterol.

The NHANES survey found:

  • Children of single-parent households were significantly more overweight than children of dual-parent households.
  • Total calorie and saturated fatty acid intakes were higher among children of single-parent households than dual-parent households.
  • On average, Black children were more overweight than children of other races.

The study results implied a strong relationship between single-parent status and excess weight in children. The NHANES survey states, “Parental involvement in the development of school- and community-based obesity prevention programs are suggested for effective health initiatives. Economic constraints and cultural preferences may be communicated directly by family involvement in these much needed public health programs.”

Mark Mather from the Population Reference Bureau reports, “In the United States, the number of children in single-mother families has risen dramatically over the past four decades, causing considerable concern among policymakers and the public. Researchers have identified the rise in single-parent families (especially mother-child families) as a major factor driving the long-term increase in child poverty in the United States.” To read the full report click here.

Data from the Sarasota County School Board shows that since President Obama took office the number of children who are classified as obese is Sarasota public schools has risen as the children progress from Grade 1 – to Grade 3 – to Grade 6. The cohort obesity numbers go down at Grade 9. For example, 15.7% of students in Grade 1 in the 2008/2009 school year were obese. In 2011/2012 school year 18.8% of students in Grade 3 were obese. An increase of 3.1% of students in grade during school year 2008/2009 18.8% were obese. In Grade 6 that cohort increased to 20.1%. The Grade 6 cohort in 2008/2009 data was 21.5% and in 2011/12 dropped to 17.6%.

Public schools do not keep data on obese children who live in single parent households. 

Many are questioning whether the First Lady is addressing the root cause of child obesity – single parent households. Some see this health initiative as expanding government control of parents and children. Setting caloric standards is the first step in setting eating limits. Limits lead to control of food sources, leading to the redistribution of calories. Should not we be focused on the rising number of single parent households?

Perhaps it would be better for the First Lady to focus on increasing the number of traditional two parent families? After all, she has a traditional family and her husband and children all have normal weights according to the BMI calculator.

JUST FOR FUN:

As an aside, Watchdog Wire looked at some well known public figures and calculated their BMI scores.

Using the BMI calculator we determined that New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, who is 6′ 3″ tall and weights 236 pounds, is overweight. If Tebow gains 5 pounds he will be categorized as “Obese Class 1”. In fact the entire New York Jets offensive and defensive lines are obese.

Muscle Chemistry lists the height and weight of actors. Those in Hollywood who are overweight according to the BMI calculator include: Whoppi Goldberg, Al Pacino, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Sylvester Stallone is rated as Obese Class 1.

American Public School Students Going Hungry?

The Huffington Post column “Michelle Obama’s Low-Calorie School Lunches Slammed By ‘Hungry’ High Schoolers” reports, “Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity initiative has been the subject of conservative criticism for some time, and now there’s another group joining in on the attack.”

The group that HuffPo is referring to are public school students, whose video titled “We Are Hungry” [watch below] about school lunches has gone viral.

The video beings with the statement – Active teens require between 2,000 and 5,000 calories a day to meet energy and growth needs (“A Guide to Eating for Sports“).

According to Beverly L. Girard, PhD, MBA, RD, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Sarasota County Florida Schools, “President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Act on June 4, 1946. Though school food service began long before 1946, the Act authorized the National School Lunch Program. The legislation came in response to claims that many American men had been rejected for World War II military service because of diet-related health problems [recruits were undernourished]. The federally assisted meal program was established as ‘a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities’.”

Upon signing the National School Lunch Program legislation President Truman stated, “Despite our capacity to produce food we have often failed to distribute it as well as we should … Congress has contributed immeasurably both to the welfare of our farmers and the health of our children.”

Have we met, if not surpassed, the initial legislative intent of Congress? Do we need government to be concerned about those volunteering for our military services having diet-related health problems? Do we need to be concerned about the redistribution of food given our nation wide system of grocery store chains? Is government the best determiner of a child’s eating habits? Do taxpayers need to provide welfare for farmers?

Many citizens are questioning governments expanding role in the free and reduced lunch program as amended by the Health and Hunger-Free Act of 2010. The new guidelines — the first major overhaul of school meals in 15 years — mandate public school cafeterias serve less fat and sodium and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Taxpayers are also questioning the growing number of students on free and reduced lunches. Sarasota County, one of the wealthiest counties in Florida, has 50.37% of students in the district currently eligible for free or reduced price meals according to Dr. Girard.

Dr. Girard notes, “The determining body for the revised USDA meal pattern was the Institute of Medicine, chaired by Virginia Stallings, MD, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania.” Why does one institution have such power in determining what and how much children should eat?

The lunch caloric ranges for students are: elementary students – 550-650 calories; middle school students – 600 to 700 calories and high school students – 750 to 850 calories. Dr. Girard states, “If a child eats lunch at school for the 180 days of the school year, they receive about 16.4% of the meals they eat in a year at school. Sarasota school lunches represent adequate portion size and nutritional balance.”

Michelle Obama is concerned about obesity in America. It appears that the free and reduced lunch program’s initial intent to address the diet-related health problems of our draftees is no longer needed. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the need for this federal program?

If obesity is a problem then is there an over redistribution of food in America?

Is this the the American version of Hunger Games?

In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.” ― Leon Trotsky.

Leon Trotsky was a Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist. He was one of the leaders of the Russian October Revolution in 1917, second only to Vladimir Lenin. During the early days of the Soviet Union, he served first as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army and People’s Commissar of War. He was also among the first members of the Politburo.

RELATED VIDEO:  “We Are Hungry” done by students from Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs,Kansas.

Teacher Takes Students to Terrorist Linked Mosque But Not To A Church

According to Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist for the Sarasota County School Board, about 90 students from Riverview High School took a field trip to three houses of worship on Thursday, September 20, 2012. One was left off the list – a church.

The teacher who organized the field trip was Riverview High School Social Studies teacher Stephanie Simmons. Ferguson notes, “As always, parental permission was required for any students who attended.” According to Ferguson a fourth house of worship, the Taoist Tai Chi Society, listed on the permission form was not visited due to time constraints.

The public high school students visited Temple Emanuel, Kadampa Meditation Center (Buddhist) and Mosque Salaat.

Ferguson states, “The purpose of the field trip was to provide information about these religions to students in order to promote knowledge and understanding. Ms. Simmons felt that the students already were familiar with the teachings of Christianity so they would have a basis for comparison with the tenets of Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.” [My emphasis]

Bill Warner, a private investigator, reported in October 2009 that Muneer Kazem Arafat, a member of the Islamic Society of Sarasota/Bradenton (ISSB) raised funds for suicide bomber’s families. Mosque Salaat was being built at the time by ISSB. Warner reports, “Imam Muneer Arafat’s former mosque in Sarasota raised money for martyrs families – hosted terrorists Sami Al Arian, Mazen Al Najjar and Hussam Jubara.  Muneer Arafat, revealed in court that he declined Sami Al Arian’s invitation to join Palestinian Islamic Jihad because he was a member of a different group!”

Sarasota Imam Muneer Arafat

According to Warner, “Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton (ISSB) featured repeated guest appearances by Al-Arian terrorist colleagues Mazen Al-Najjar and Hussam Jubara. Al-Najjar, who was a Director of IAF, was deported from the United States in August of 2002.” Joe Kaufman, Chairman of Americans Against Hate, stated, “Given the fact that Al-Arian’s colleagues were heavily involved with ISSB, and given the fact that ISSB was raising money for the families of martyrs, it is imperative that law enforcement focus much of its efforts on ISSB.”

“The Department of Justice, on Saturday, November 24th, 2001, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) arrested Mazen Al Najjar, in Tampa, Florida. The arrest is based on a final order of deportation recently upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, Georgia. Mazen Al Najjar was ordered deported because he violated his visa. Mazen Al Najjar,” reports Warner.

Ms. Simmons reported that at Mosque Salaat a woman did most of the presentation to students. She showed slides of the architecture used in mosques and photos of mosques around the world. She pointed out several features of the mosque in Sarasota, including the dome, balcony, purification rooms, carpet and courtyard. The presenters talked about how the mosque was received by neighbors and the community and showed the students Arabic writing and the calligraphy used in artwork around the mosque.

Florida Ranks 2nd On Parent Power Index

The Center for Education reform has released its Parent Power Index. According to its website, “PARENT POWER means parents have access to quality educational options and are provided with good information to make smart decisions about their children’s education. The PARENT POWER INDEX gives parents an interactive tool to discover whether their state affords them power – and if not, what they can do to get it. ”

The top ten states are:

INDIANA: #1 Overall PPI: 84.0%
FLORIDA: #2 Overall PPI: 83.0%
OHIO: #3 Overall PPI: 79.0%
ARIZONA: #4 Overall PPI: 78.0%
D.C.: #5 Overall PPI: 77.0%
LOUISIANA: #6 Overall PPI: 76.0%
PENNSYLVANIA: #7 Overall PPI: 75.5%
UTAH: #8 Overall PPI: 75.0%
MINNESOTA: #9 Overall PPI: 74.5%
WISCONSIN: #10 Overall PPI: 70%

To see how your state ranks on the Parent Power Index click here.

According to the Center for Education reform, “Florida ranks consistently in the top ten for its charter laws. Florida also has been a leader in providing educational options for children with broad school choice programs. More than 22,000 children with special needs use private schools. Another 38,000 receive tax credits. Parents will find state websites easy to navigate to learn about their schools and the options available to them. Florida also is the top scorer on Digital Learning Now’s index for online learning opportunities. While there is no parent trigger available and much work still to be done, Florida ranks high in affording parents power.”

“Florida is leading the nation in transforming education for the digital age. Florida leads the nation in online course enrollments, with more than 250,000 course enrollments last year. Florida can improve by adding digital enrollments to its data collection, exploring innovative ways to provide students with Internet access devices, and creating a statewide website to provide a one-stop-shop for digital learning,” reports the Center for Education Reform.

ABOUT THE CENTER FOR EDUCATION REFORM:

In the emerging landscape of education reform, the Center for Education Reform is the leading voice for structural and sustainable changes that can dramatically improve educational opportunities for decades to come. Our guiding purpose is to improve the accuracy and quality of discourse and decisions about education reform, leading to fundamental policy changes that make a difference long after news and election cycles have ended.

As part of our core mission, the Center works on three primary fronts:

  • Generating and sharing leading ideas and information
  • Supporting and enabling grassroots activism
  • Protecting and stimulating media coverage and issue accuracy

“Vote for Obama” Pledge Prof. Under Investigation

Professor Sharon Sweet is being investigated after dozens of complaints were received by Brevard Community College. Complaints allege that Professor Sweet required students in her mathematics classes to sign the below pledge to “Vote for President Obama”. According to College officials an investigation has been initiated and all of Professor Sweet’s students will be interviewed. There are over one hundred students in Professor Sweet’s mathematics classes. Professor Sweet has been removed from the classroom and all teaching and campus duties.

The in depth investigation will be conducted by senior college staff according to John J. Glisch, Associate Vice President, Communication. As of this date no other Brevard Community College professors have been implicated according to Glisch. The investigation is expected to take time due to the large number of interviews needed.

According to RateMyProfessors.com Professor Sweet is rated overall poorly by students. Some student comments on the RateMyProfessors.com website include:

6/1/12 Class:MAC1105 – Had to use the math lab A LOT because I couldn’t understand her. Lets you correct problems on your test and gives half your points back BUT she counts the final twice – counts as the final AND replace your lowest test score. My lowest test was an 87. I got a 60 on the final (accumulative, HARD) and she STILL replaced it! Many students failed 🙁

12/11/11 Class: MAT1233 – She is an aweful person. Told the class no excuses you miss a test its an F. My sister passed away, I got an F, for attending her funeral. Sad Sad Lady. She doesn’t explain and doesn’t help.

8/2/10 Class: MAT 1132 – Sharon was awful she wouldnt even help her students get out of her class…everyone dropped her class after the first test, then you would think shed cut everyone who stayed a break..that witch still ended up failing the ones who stayed.

11/15/-9 Class: MATHLA – This is my second time taking Sweet, i still think shes a great teacher. extra credit, test corrections so even if you get a 50 you still have the chance to make it a 75. Also all homework due on test day, review before test. i dont understand why no one likes her. even if you not good at math she deff. give you the chance to get an A! TAKE HER!

Brevard Community College released the following statement:

Brevard Community College has received complaints alleging politically-based inappropriate behavior on the part of Associate Professor Sharon Sweet, an instructor of mathematics.

The allegations center on her soliciting support in her classes for President Obama in the upcoming election.

College officials learned of the allegations Thursday afternoon, Sept. 13, following a call from a concerned parent and immediately began an investigation.

The College has specific policies that address the political activities of faculty and staff, which state that no College employee shall solicit support for a political candidate during regular College work hours or on College property.

Based on the allegations, Associate Professor Sweet has requested, and been granted, a leave of absence without pay effective immediately.

The College will continue its investigation into the matter, which will include interviews with students in her classes.

Additionally, the College is taking steps to reiterate its policy on political activity to all faculty and staff.

RELATED VIDEO:

Professor makes class sign “Vote for Obama” pledge

A citizen, whose nephew attends Brevard Community College, reports that he brought home the below bookmark pledging to vote for President Obama. The bookmark and pledge was handed out during a mathematics class taught by Assistant Professor Sharon Sweet. This occurred “while the student was in class at the request of his College Algebra teacher, Sharon Sweet, from Brevard Community College in [Melbourne] Florida.”

On the tear away GOTTAVOTE.org pledge form that students recieved, was the requirement to “state their party affiliation”. The student reported that Sweet has repeatedly stated her personal political views in support of President Obama in class. The student noted, “There is an older gentleman in the class that will argue with her but he said most of the students did not.”

Actress and Singer Tatyana Ali supporting GOTTA VOTE

GOTTAVOTE.org is a site paid for by the Obama-Biden campaign to urge Floridians to register and vote. The website is targeted at young voters.

It appears Sweet may have violated the College’s harassment policy by handing out the GOTTA VOTE pledge. The Brevard Community College policy on harassment states:

Definition of Harassment

Harassment is any repeated or unwelcome verbal or physical abuse which intimidates or causes the recipient discomfort or humiliation or which interferes with the recipient’s educational or job performance. Any form of harassment related to an employee’s, applicant’s, student’s, or student applicant’s race, ethnicity, color, genetics, religion, national origin, age, gender, gender preference, physical or mental disability, marital status, veteran status, ancestry or political affiliation is a violation of this policy. [Emphasis added]

Brevard College policy states, “Any employee or student of this institution, who is found to have harassed another employee or student … will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination, suspension and or expulsion, within the provisions of applicable current College Procedures and Board rules.”

NOTE: According to the Brevard Community College staff directory, Sharon Sweet is an Assistant Professor in the Mathematics Department at the Melbourne Campus. A request for comment has been sent to Ms. Sweet and Ms. Darla Ferguson, Chief Equity & Diversity Officer for Brevard Community College.

RELATED VIDEO:

UPDATE:

The following was posted as a comment to this column:

Darla Ferguson forwarded your email to me. I am the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Learning Officer for the college. Thank you for referring your concern to us. The college does have specific procedures related to the political activity of faculty and staff. The expectation is that no employee of the College shall solicit support of any political candidate during regular work hours or on College property.

The college first learned of this concern on Thursday and an investigation was initiated. Any inappropriate activities will be curtailed and the faculty will be dealt with according to college policy.

Again, thank you for your concern. The college is taking appropriate actions. We do not want any student to feel coerced.

Linda Miedema, PhD, MSA, BSN

Vice President Academic Affairs

Chief Learning Officer

BCC Administrative Building, Viera

Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working

A new study titled Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working by State Budget Solutions found that, “Higher levels of funding do not ensure higher graduation rates, nor does it directly correlate to higher test scores on the ACT.” Florida’s numbers show that spending more on education has not moved the needle on student ACT scores or reduced the state’s drop out rate.

State Budget Solutions examined national trends in education from 2009-2011, including a state-by-state analysis of education spending as a percentage of total state spending, and a comparison of average graduation rates and average ACT scores per state. The study shows that states that spend the most do not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor do they have the highest average graduation rates.

Florida is no exception to this rule. State Budget Solutions reports, “None of the states spending the least on education (as a percentage) had the lowest average graduation rates. The same is true for ACT scores. An outlier to this general trend was Florida. In 2009, Florida spent less on education than 46 other states. In fact, Florida spent five percentage points less than the national average on education. Florida also underperformed in ACT scores, ranking third for the states with the lowest average ACT scores, but did not similarly underperform based on average graduation rates.”

Here are the Florida specific numbers provided in the study:

Percent of Florida’s Total Spending on Education:

2009 – 25%
2010 – 24.8% (NOTE: In 2010 Florida received an additional $700 million in federal RTTT funding)
2011 – 25.2%
2012 – 25.6%

Average ACT Composite Score for Florida:

2008-09 – 19.5
2009-10 – 19.5
2010-11 – 19.6

Florida Education Spending & Student Performance Data:

2009-10 Per Pupil Funding $400
2009 Drop Out Rate/NCES Drop Out Rate 76.3%/63.6%
2010 Drop Out Rate/NCES Drop Out Rate 79.0%/65.0%
2011 Drop Out Rate/NCES Drop Out Rate 80.1%/66.9%

NCES: National Center for Education Statistics

According to the study, “Each year, the United State spends billions of dollars on education. In 2010, total annual spending on education exceeded $809 billion dollars. Although it is unclear whether that figure is adjusted for inflation, that amount is higher than any other industrialized nation, and more than the spending of France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia combined. From 1970 to 2012, total average per pupil expenditures in the U.S. has more than doubled.”

“Despite higher levels of funding, student test scores are substantially lower in the United States than in many other nations. American students scored an average of 474 on a 600-point scale, performing only slightly better in science, with an average score of 489. By comparison, Canadian students scored an average of 527 and 534 on the same tests, and Finnish students scored 548 and 563, respectively,” notes the State Budget Committee study.

A conclusion of the study is, “As a result of centralization, states have less authority to develop state-specific metrics to accurately measure education initiatives. Localized control results in more narrowly tailored metrics and a better understanding of failure and success based on those metrics. Oversight at a local level is more practical and more effective than federal oversight.”

RELATED VIDEO: Teachers union speaks out against new film ‘Won’t Back Down

Putting Adults Before the Kids

Mark D’Alessio at the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce points out a few facts about the dismal performance of Chicago public schools:

As of 12:00 a.m. this morning, more than 26,000 teachers in Chicago officially went on a union-led strike impacting 400,000 kids in 675 schools. The first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years was brought upon the city’s children and their parents as a result of failed negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public School officials. Some topics of negotiation include teacher evaluations, guaranteed wage increases, and health benefits.

Although the details of the contract negotiations are murky, according to the Wall Street Journal, preliminary demands from the Chicago Teachers Union included a 19% salary raise in the first year. The current average teacher salary in the city of Chicago is $70,000. Additionally, the union is demanding that any members who are laid off be first in line for new jobs. This would not allow a principal the flexibility to hire the best teacher for the job, but the one that the union says is “next in line.” And finally, the union takes issue with a new teacher evaluation system which would be based partially on students’ standardized test scores.

But Tampa’s schools aren’t any better and in some cases worse than Chicago’s. Below are the Chicago, IL and Tampa, FL public schools numbers according to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Nation’s Report Card in math and reading:

Chicago, Illinois NAEP Report Card Scores:

8th grade math

  • 90% of black students are not proficient.
  • 80% of Hispanic students are not proficient.
  • 84% of low-income students are not proficient.

8th grade reading

  • 87% of black students are not proficient.
  • 79% of Hispanic students are not proficient.
  • 84% of low-income students are not proficient.

Tampa, Florida NAEP Report Card Scores:

8th grade math

  • 90% of black students are not proficient.
  • 77% of Hispanic students are not proficient.
  • 83% of low-income students are not proficient.

8th grade reading 

  • 88% of black students are not proficient.
  • 76% of Hispanic students are not proficient.
  • 80% of low-income students are not proficient.

The Battle Over Florida’s Amendment 8 Begins

On November 6, 2012 Floridians will be asked to vote on eleven amendments to the state constitution. Of these amendments Amendment 8 has become the flash point with groups favoring and opposing passage digging in their heels. The war on words has become a full-fledged battle for the hearts and minds of voters.

The proposed ballot question reads:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

The proposed measure would amend Section 3 of Article I of the Florida Constitution to read:

There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

Two groups launched websites explaining Amendment 8: Say Yes on 8 and Vote No on 8.

Vote No on 8 states, “Amendment 8, the so-called ‘Religious Freedom’ Amendment, isn’t about Religious Freedom at all. Amendment 8 actually allows the government to give our tax dollars to any group claiming to be a religious organization.”

Say Yes on 8 states, “Amendment 8 preserves time-honored partnerships between government and social service organizations. Amendment 8 ensures continued delivery of social services by faith-based organizations, lowering government costs for taxpayers. Amendment 8 eliminates discrimination against churches and religious institutions that provide social services.”

Amendment 8, if passed, would take the Blaine Amendment out of the Florida Constitution. The Blaine Amendment refers to constitutional provisions that exist in 38 of the 50 state constitutions in the United States, which forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have any religious affiliation. The Blaine Amendment was originally aimed at Catholics, most notably the Irish, who had immigrated to the U.S. and started their own parochial schools.

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision partially vitiated these Blaine amendments when it ruled that vouchers were constitutional if state funds followed a child to a privately chosen school, even if it were religious. For a voucher program to be constitutional it must meet all of the following criteria: the program must have a valid secular purpose; aid must go to parents and not to the schools; a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered; the program must be neutral with respect to religion; and there must be adequate nonreligious options.

Billy Atwell in an editorial for the Diocese of Venice in Florida states, “Some support the work of faith-based institutions, but disagree with these institutions accepting government money. They fear faith-based groups would become beholden to the mighty arm of government. Shouldn’t these groups be allowed to serve those in need and do what they do well? It is one thing to say faith-based groups shouldn’t accept government dollars—it is entirely different to outlaw their eligibility for these funds. The current law also flies in the face of religious freedom. Singling out capable social service providers simply because they are faith-based is fiscally unsound and, without a doubt, discrimination.”

While the arguments used by each group focus on religious freedom the real issue is control of taxpayer dollars for K-12 education.

For many it boils down to money, particularly money for K-12 schooling flowing into charter or private faith-based schools. Proponents argue that parents should decide where their child goes to school and the money allocated by the state should follow the child. That is not the case in Florida. Public education fits the definition of a monopoly. This amendment would free parents from being forced into a particular public school. School choice would be empowered if Amendment 8 passes by giving the funding for the child directly to the parent.

Florida Representative Stephen Precourt, a spokesman for the Say Yes on 8 campaigns, stated, “They shouldn’t be telling a group that just because you’re faith-based organization you shouldn’t be participating in the market! Education is a marketplace.”

The ballot question boils down to: Should public funding for education follow the child?

RELATED COLUMN: North Carolina Voters Say Public Education Underperforming, On Wrong Track

RELATED VIDEO:

Do We Really Want a Strong Commissioner of Education?

Jeffrey S. Solochek, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, reports, “Florida’s next education commissioner needs to have room to do the job without political interference, state Board of Education members said Friday as they set requirements for the vacancy.”

But do the Commissioners really want to stop political interference?

The Florida Board of Education (BOE) is itself political. Outgoing Chairwoman Kathleen M. Shanahan has held federal and state public policy positions of chief of staff for Florida Governor Jeb Bush, chief of staff to Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, deputy secretary of the California Trade and Commerce Agency, special assistant to then Vice President George Bush, and staff assistant on President Reagan’s National Security Council.

Vice Chairman Roberto Martinez, a lawyer, served as Chairman of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission; Special Counsel to Attorney General Charlie Crist; and as Chairman of the District Board of Trustees of Miami Dade College; Chair of Attorney-Elect Charlie Crist’s transition; General Counsel to Governor Jeb Bush during the gubernatorial transition.

Solochek quotes Martinez as saying, “The person has to be able to deal with the political process. But I think all of us … need to understand we need to give that person a lot of autonomy so they can function professionally with minimal interference from the political folks.”

On September 7, 2012 the State Board of Education moved forward with the search for the next Commissioner of Education approving the candidate profile developed by Ray and Associates. The search firm is conducting a nationwide search for Florida’s chief education officer who will be responsible for all aspects of the state’s Pre-K-20 education system. The deadline for applications is Sept. 27, 2012.

The Florida Legislature and Board of Education have come under fire from citizens with two actions that have disenfranchised students, parents and citizens.

The first action was removing citizen participation in the selection of text books used in Florida’s public schools. More recently the BOE unanimously voted to lower school passing scores after 2011 FCAT scores plummeted. This lowering of school passing scores occurred after political pressure from teachers unions, the superintendents association and school boards across Florida.

The Florida based Textbook Action Team (TAT) in May, 2011 became outraged with a provision in SB 2120 lines 118-120, which was passed by the Republican led legislature. The provision cuts out lay people from the State Instructional Materials Committee.

“Today all of Florida’s public school textbooks will be selected by bureaucrats, not citizens and parents” notes Sheri Krass, State Chairperson for TAT. Krass stated in a letter to Governor Scott, “Now, in a boldfaced attempt to avoid having to seat some of these individuals on the Committee, your State Legislature has passed SB 2120 which employs ‘three state or national experts in the content areas submitted for adoption’ to review the instructional materials and evaluate the content for alignment with the applicable Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. This move allows them to continue to deprive our students of the quality education they deserve.”

The second action was lowing the passing scores of public schools statewide.Cara Fitzpatrick, Shelly Rossetter and Jefferry S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times in their article “After FCAT scores plunge, state quickly lowers the passing grade” reported, “After conceding that poor communication with teachers could have contributed to the unprecedented plunge in Florida students’ writing scores this year, the state Board of Education voted Tuesday to lower the passing mark for the test.”

Teachers and administrators have known about the new testing standards for over a year. Teachers and school administrations actually write the Sunshine State Standards, the test questions and administer the tests. Many parents and citizens do not accept the premise that there was a communication gap. The new standards require that a student use proper sentence structure, punctuation and spelling. Each of these are fundamental to learning how to write.

All members of the Florida Board of Education are political appointees. How can politics be taken out of the classroom and replaced by empowered parents, students and citizens?

How do you take politics out of education? Perhaps this video from the Reason Foundation titled “The Machine” will help explain:

Former Mayor Responds to Sarasota County School Board Raising Taxes

David Merrill, businessman and the former Mayor of the City of Sarasota, Florida, sent the below email to all Sarasota County School Board members.

School Board Members,

I urge you to reject the proposed increase in property taxes for schools. You can eliminate the need for the extra taxes by cutting wasteful policies and programs, and you have failed to make the case that the money will actually improve the education of our children.

Instead of looking to more taxes, you can find more than enough savings to eliminate the need for the taxes by replacing your credential-based compensation system for teachers.  Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, and Bill Gates have said we need to find the money to improve our schools by eliminating the waste and inefficiency from the type of compensation system that you use. Yet, other than perhaps for some new-hires, Sarasota’s teachers’ salaries are set from a salary table with two variables: advanced degrees and years of teaching.

In 2010 Arne Duncan said, ”There is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers.” Despite this information, Sarasota pays for more advanced and special degrees than any other district in Florida. A full 67% of Sarasota’s teachers have a degree above a bachelor’s degree.  While some advanced degrees may be appropriate, does giving two-thirds of the teachers at Phillipi Shores Elementary School higher salaries because they have advanced degrees really do anything to help our children learn the alphabet and the multiplication tables?

When it comes to teacher longevity, Sarasota’s teachers have the 7th highest average longevity out of the state’s 67 school districts. However Harvard Professor Paul E Peterson’s study titled “It’s Easier to Pick a Good Teacher than to Train One: Familiar and New Results on the Correlates on Teacher Effectiveness” reports that there is little increase in a teacher’s effectiveness after the first three years of teaching.  But you continue to increase teachers’ salaries based solely upon the number of years that they’ve been teaching, when, instead, we should pay them based on a performance evaluation like other professionals.

Some of you may say that you know these arguments, but politically you can’t cut teachers’ pay.  Therefore, in the absence of courage to confront the teachers union, your argument is that you have no choice but to increase taxes.  But, based on FCAT and EOC Assessment scores, you can’t show that you have been good stewards of the half-billion dollars you have collected from the referendum-initiated school tax since 2002.

Looking at our FCAT history, Sarasota’s ranking among Florida’s school districts on the high-school Reading FCAT and Math FCAT are lower today than they were a dozen years ago.  For the first three years of the high-school Math FCAT back in 2000, 2001, and 2002, Sarasota’s score was either the second or the third highest in the state. Likewise, for the first two years of the high school Reading FCAT in 2000 and 2001, Sarasota’s scores were either second or third in the state.  When the school-tax referendum passed in 2002, everyone looked forward to new and innovative educational strategies to build on our excellent school district, but, instead, the school district immediately went into an inexplicable funk, from which you’ve not yet recovered.

(I use the FCAT scores from the highest grade in high school that the test is given because they include the cumulative learning from lower grades, and they are the closest measure of the performance of your finished product, the high school graduate.)

Sarasota’s Ranking on High School FCAT among 67 Districts

2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Math
3
2
3
10
11
12
9
10
11
12
6
6
Reading
2
3
6
16
12
16
9
13
12
12
6
9
Science
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
11
8
11
12
10
11
9

 

Fortunately, we’ve begun to regain some of our former glory.  On the recent Algebra EOC Assessment, Sarasota had the second highest score, which may be the beginning of getting back to where we were 11 years ago.

Unfortunately, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of supplemental taxes that taxpayers have given you since 2002, Sarasota’s high school student’s FCAT scores are still determined more by Sarasota’s favorable demographics than the school district’s extra efforts.  As you know, demographic factors such as adult personal income, percentage of free and reduced lunch, adult educational levels, and student racial composition are good predictors of a district’s FCAT scores when considered together.  In fact, there is a good argument that our county and city commissioners are more responsible for Sarasota’s FCAT scores than the school board since the commissioners’ policies have had the most influence on our demographics.

If you were to chart these demographic factors for Florida’s school districts, most school districts’ FCAT scores would fall within a narrow band of where one would expect to find them based on their demographics.  However, when districts deviate from their demographic prediction, it’s possible that their school district is doing something different from the other districts.

Accordingly, there are three districts on the high school FCATs who have challenged Sarasota’s scores, but who shouldn’t be able to based on their demographics alone. These districts, Sumter, Gilchrist, and Wakulla, all have less attractive demographics for adult income and educational levels compared to Sarasota, and their free and reduced lunch percentages are either similar to or higher than Sarasota’s.  Even with these unfavorable demographic characteristics, and along with having less money per student, fewer teachers with advanced degrees, less teacher experience, and lower teacher pay than Sarasota, these lower-income districts have achieved some impressive FCAT scores. They are obviously doing something right given what they have to work with.

District
County Adult Data
2011 11th Grade Science FCAT Students
Teacher Data
2011 High School FCAT Scores
Personal Income
% College
% High School
% Free-Lunch
% White
Advanced Degrees
Median Salary
Science
Math
Reading
GILCHRIST
$29,682
15%
72%
48%
92%
33%
$42,829
322
339
324
SARASOTA
$52,331
34%
87%
38%
72%
67%
$55,264
317
339
322
WAKULLA
$28,711
22%
78%
35%
82%
37%
$37,042
317
338
322
SUMTER
$24,836
17%
77%
45%
71%
33%
$42,365
320
334
317
FLORIDA
$38,210
23%
76%
45%
47%
41%
$45,723
307
329
309

 

If you could show a similar pattern of consistently having higher test scores than our demographics alone would predict, you could make an argument that you are efficiently and effectively using your resources, and that giving you more resources could lead to even higher test scores. However, you can’t make the argument because our high school students don’t consistently outscore the districts with similar or more favorable demographics.

On the 2011 FCAT tests, there were six districts that outscored Sarasota’s combined test scores and who also have demographics at least as favorable as Sarasota’s.  (I’ve excluded Gilchrist, which is shown above.) The districts are St. Johns, Okaloosa, Brevard, Seminole, Martin, and Santa Rosa. Each district has its favorable and unfavorable demographic factors, but they would all be considered similar.

Some key characteristics for these districts are shown on the table below.

District
County Adult Data
2011 11th Grade Science FCAT Students
District Data
2011 High School FCAT Scores
Personal Income
% College & Prof. Degree
% Free-Lunch
% White
Teacher Advanced Degrees
Teacher Median Salary
All Gov. Revenue Per Student
Science
Math
Reading
ST. JOHNS
$ 48,640
40%
13%
84%
41%
$44,370
$        9,360
324
344
332
OKALOOSA
$ 41,024
33%
23%
74%
42%
$48,779
$        9,245
328
342
330
BREVARD
$ 37,284
33%
25%
67%
43%
$42,421
$        9,226
326
341
326
SEMINOLE
$ 40,133
40%
31%
60%
48%
$43,301
$        8,910
318
343
327
MARTIN
$ 51,723
33%
25%
71%
41%
$43,677
$      10,739
321
340
326
SANTA ROSA
$ 34,838
32%
28%
80%
37%
$42,729
$        8,791
317
338
331
SARASOTA
$ 52,331
34%
38%
72%
67%
$55,264
$      11,961
317
339
322

 

Although the demographics are similar, as the chart shows, the Sarasota’s median teacher pay is 25% higher than the average of the other districts, and Sarasota takes in 28% more tax revenue per student than the other districts on average, or about $2,500 per student.  And, yet, with more lower-paid teachers and far fewer financial resources, these other districts have typically outscored us.

To put a better perspective on the magnitude of this disparity in revenues between districts, Sarasota has about 40,000 students, so a difference of $2,500 per student amounts to $100,000,000.  That’s how much Sarasota could save each and every year if we matched the average budget of the other six districts above.  Or, said another way, that’s how much money we could save if our school district were as efficient and effective in delivering high-scoring high-school graduates as other top districts – like we used to be a decade ago.

The table below summarizes the calculation for the extra tax burden that Sarasota taxpayers must fund annually above what the other top districts on average must pay.

Calculation of Sarasota’s Extra Tax Burden Relative to Top-Scoring Districts
Sarasota’s Per-Student Tax Revenues
Avg. Tax Revenue of 6 Higher-Scoring Districts
Higher Tax Burden for Sarasota Per Student
Sarasota’s Student Enrollment
Sarasota’s Total Extra Tax Burden
$11,961
$9,379
$2,583
41,076
$106,078,770

 

So, the questions before us are whether or not Sarasota has the potential to be the top school district in Florida, and whether we need to collect an extra $100,000,000 in taxes to do it.  And I’ll answer the first question with an unequivocal “Yes!”  And I’ll answer the second question with a “Hopefully not”.

The first question is easy to answer because we right there at the cusp a decade ago.  Back then, before the extra taxes started gushing in, our high school kids were just shy of having the highest scores on the FCAT.  In fact, it was the promise of being the top school district that got the voters to rally behind the property-tax increase in 2002 after having voted down a similar referendum in 2000.  Our recent 2nd-place score on the Algebra EOCA shows that we still have the potential, and it’s not unusual in the lower grades for us to have top FCAT scores.  By effectively using the financial resources that the public has given you, you can overcome any demographic advantages that even a district like St. Johns enjoys, and our high school students can be the very best in the state.

However, the reason I don’t support a continuation of the extra $100,000,000 in taxes is because the need for it is purely remedial. There are only two reasons that the extra taxes are needed.  One possibility is that you have failed to develop a school district that is as efficient and effective the school districts that are currently at the top of the FCAT rankings.  The other possibility is that our city and county commissioners have failed to create an economy that provides enough jobs for high income, college educated workers.  After all, it’s their children who get the top scores.

But continuing the extra $100,000,000 in taxes drains our economy of productive resources and makes our community-development plans more difficult. Other districts that don’t have to pay it are gaining a competitive advantage over Sarasota.  Over a decade, the cumulative impact of draining this much money from our economy is huge.

In less than two years you will have another vote to extend the property tax for schools.  (It only provides about half of the extra $100,000,000 in taxes that you collect.)  I predict that you will fail unless you do two things.  First, you must develop a compensation system that rewards our many excellent teachers and eliminates the bad ones.  (Ever read RateMyTeachers.com?  We still have bad teachers.  My 7th grade son just got one of the worst ones at his school.  Why is Ms. Friedland still allowed to teach?)  Secondly, you must restore Sarasota’s high-school test scores to their rightful place at the top of all districts.  Unlike a decade ago when we were Number 2, with all your extra resources, we need to be Number 1.

Finally, with $100,000,000 more than the average of the other top districts, you don’t need more money.  You need a better plan.  Arne Duncan has said that schools need to do more with less.  I suggest you show your understanding of the new reality by voting down your proposed tax increase.

Best regards,

David Merrill
Arox Land Development, Inc
700 Bell Road
Sarasota, Fl  34240

Romney Applauded 27 Times at NAACP Convention

Major media wires are reporting that Mitt Romney was booed once during his speech at the NAACP Convention. This is a classic case of “man bites dog” reporting. What the news wires did not report is that during his twenty-five minute speech Governor Romney was how many times he was actually applauded. Reverend Wayne Perryman in an email notes, “The media did it again. They focused on the fact that Romney got booed at the NAACP Convention, but they didn’t say how many times they applauded him. I charted the speech and each time they applauded him during his speech. They Applauded Total of 27 times in 25 Minutes.” Following time sequence prepared by Reverend Perryman:

1:56 He would represent every race

2:58 He will help the middle class

3:58 He complimented the NAACP

6:39 You are entitled to an answer

7:27 A quote from Frederick Douglass

8:27 Blacks have waited long enough

9:53 He support strong families & traditional marriages

11:15 He will help the middle class

11:58 Bring Jobs back to the United States

12:24 He will clamp down on cheaters like China who steal our jobs

12:52 He will stop spending

13:02-13:18 He was booed regarding overturning Obama Care

14:22 He would protect social Security and Medicare with higher benefits for those with lower income and lower for higher income

14:51 He reference to minimum wage jobs and the need for skilled workers

15:52 Wages will rise again

16:28 His goal as President it to create jobs for American people

16:39 If you want a president to make things better for the African American Community, you’re looking at him

18:12 The 4 year Scholarships program that he created while governor

19:58 He joined with the Black Legislative Caucus in Mass to promote Charter Schools

20:36 He won’t let special interest groups stand in the way of education reform

21:03 Money for education will be linked to the student for true choice

21:49 The hospitality that they (NAACP) will be returned and he will seek their counsel

22:12 If they invite him back next year as President he will say “Yes”

22:57 He talks about his father as a man that he admired for equality and justice

23:14 His father was a man of faith that knew that everyone was God’s children

24:01 He said God’s Mercy endureth forever

24:55 NAACP and their past victories and their victories in the future

25:15 Ended his speech

The full text of Mitt Romney’s speech follows:

Thank you, Bishop Graves, for your generous introduction. Thanks also to President Ben Jealous and Chairman Roslyn Brock for the opportunity to be here this morning, and for your hospitality. It is an honor to address you.

I appreciate the chance to speak first – even before Vice President Biden gets his turn tomorrow. I just hope the Obama campaign won’t think you’re playing favorites.

You all know something of my background, and maybe you’ve wondered how any Republican ever becomes governor of Massachusetts in the first place. Well, in a state with 11 percent Republican registration, you don’t get there by just talking to Republicans. We have to make our case to every voter. We don’t count anybody out, and we sure don’t make a habit of presuming anyone’s support. Support is asked for and earned – and that’s why I’m here today.

With 90 percent of African-Americans voting for Democrats, some of you may wonder why a Republican would bother to campaign in the African American community, and to address the NAACP. Of course, one reason is that I hope to represent all Americans, of every race, creed or sexual orientation, from the poorest to the richest and everyone in between.

But there is another reason: I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families, you would vote for me for president. I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color — and families of any color — more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president.

The opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. Nonsense. The rich will do just fine whether I am elected or not. The President wants to make this a campaign about blaming the rich. I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class.

I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the President has set has not done that – and will not do that. My course will.

When President Obama called to congratulate me on becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, he said that he, “looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America’s future.” To date, I’m afraid that his campaign has taken a different course than that.

But, in campaigns at their best, voters can expect a clear choice, and candidates can expect a fair hearing – only more so from a venerable organization like this one. So, it is that healthy debate about the course of the nation that I want to discuss with you today.

If someone had told us in the 1950s or 1960s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised. Picturing that day, we might have assumed that the American presidency would be the very last door of opportunity to be opened. Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have come down.

Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before. And across America — and even within your own ranks — there are serious, honest debates about the way forward.

If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. Instead, it’s worse for African Americans in almost every way. The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, and median family wealth are all worse for the black community. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.
Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover – and you, in particular, are entitled to an answer.

If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, black families could send their sons and daughters to public schools that truly offer the hope of a better life. Instead, for generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide – but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.

Our society sends them into mediocre schools and expects them to perform with excellence, and that is not fair. Frederick Douglass observed that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Yet, instead of preparing these children for life, too many schools set them up for failure. Everyone in this room knows that we owe them better than that.

The path of inequality often leads to lost opportunity. College, graduate school, and first jobs should be milestones marking the passage from childhood to adulthood. But for too many disadvantaged young people, these goals seem unattainable – and their lives take a tragic turn.

Many live in neighborhoods filled with violence and fear, and empty of opportunity. Their impatience for real change is understandable. They are entitled to feel that life in America should be better than this. They are told even now to wait for improvements in our economy and in our schools, but it seems to me that these Americans have waited long enough.

The point is that when decades of the same promises keep producing the same failures, then it’s reasonable to rethink our approach – and consider a new plan.

I’m hopeful that together we can set a new direction in federal policy, starting where many of our problems do – with the family. A study from the Brookings Institution has shown that for those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and wait until 21 before they marry and then have their first child, the probability of being poor is two percent. And if those factors are absent, the probability of being poor is 76 percent.

Here at the NAACP, you understand the deep and lasting difference the family makes. Your former executive director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, had it exactly right. The family, he said, “remains the bulwark and the mainstay of the black community. That great truth must not be overlooked.”

Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal. As President, I will promote strong families – and I will defend traditional marriage.

As you may have heard from my opponent, I am also a believer in the free-enterprise system. I believe it can bring change where so many well-meaning government programs have failed. I’ve never heard anyone look around an impoverished neighborhood and say, “You know, there’s too much free enterprise around here. Too many shops, too many jobs, too many people putting money in the bank.”

What you hear, of course, is how do we bring in jobs? How do we make good, honest employers want to move in and stay? And with the shape this economy is in, we’re asking that more than ever.

Free enterprise is still the greatest force for upward mobility, economic security, and the expansion of the middle class. We have seen in recent years what it’s like to have less free enterprise. As President, I will show the good things that can happen when we have more – more business activity, more jobs, more opportunity, more paychecks, more savings accounts.

On Day One, I will begin turning this economy around with a plan for the middle class. And I don’t mean just those who are middle class now – I also mean those who have waited so long for their chance to join the middle class.

I know what it will take to put people back to work, to bring more jobs and better wages. My jobs plan is based on 25 years of success in business. It has five key steps.

First, I will take full advantage of our energy resources, and I will approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada. Low cost, plentiful coal, natural gas, oil, and renewables will bring over a million manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

Second, I will open up new markets for American products. We are the most productive major economy in the world, so trade means good jobs for Americans. But trade must be free and fair, so I’ll clamp down on cheaters like China and make sure that they finally play by the rules.

Third, I will reduce government spending. Our high level of debt slows GDP growth and that means fewer jobs. If our goal is jobs, we must, must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn. To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare, and I will work to reform and save Medicare and Social Security, in part by means-testing their benefits.

Fourth, I will focus on nurturing and developing the skilled workers our economy so desperately needs and the future demands. This is the human capital with which tomorrow’s bright future will be built. Too many homes and too many schools are failing to provide our children with the skills and education that are essential for anything other than a minimum-wage job.

And finally and perhaps most importantly, I will restore economic freedom. This nation’s economy runs on freedom, on opportunity, on entrepreneurs, on dreamers who innovate and build businesses. These entrepreneurs are being crushed by high taxation, burdensome regulation, hostile regulators, excessive healthcare costs, and destructive labor policies. I will work to make America the best place in the world for innovators and entrepreneurs and businesses small and large.

Do these five things – open up energy, expand trade, cut the growth of government, focus on better educating tomorrow’s workers today, and restore economic freedom – and jobs will come back to America, and wages will rise again. The President will say he will do those things, but he will not, he cannot, and his record of the last four years proves it.

If I am president, job one for me will be creating jobs. I have no hidden agenda. If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him.

Finally, I will address the institutionalized inequality in our education system. And I know something about this from my time as governor.

In the years before I took office our state’s leaders had come together to pass bipartisan measures that were making a difference. In reading and in math, our students were already among the best in the nation – and during my term, they took over the top spot.

Those results revealed what good teachers can do if the system will only let them. The problem was, this success wasn’t shared. A significant achievement gap between students of different races remained. So we set out to close it.

I urged faster interventions in failing schools, and the funding to go along with it. I promoted math and science excellence in schools, and proposed paying bonuses to our best teachers.

I refused to weaken testing standards, and instead raised them. To graduate from high school, students had to pass an exam in math and English – I added a science requirement as well. And I put in place a merit scholarship for those students who excelled: the top 25 percent of students in each high school were awarded a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship – which meant four years tuition-free at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning.

When I was governor, not only did test scores improve – we also narrowed the achievement gap.

The teachers unions were not happy with a number of these reforms. They especially did not like our emphasis on choice through charter schools, particularly for our inner city kids. Accordingly, the legislature passed a moratorium on any new charter schools.

As you know, in Boston, in Harlem, in Los Angeles, and all across the country, charter schools are giving children a chance, children that otherwise could be locked in failing schools. I was inspired just a few weeks ago by the students in one of Kenny Gamble’s charter schools in Philadelphia. Right here in Houston is another success story: the Knowledge Is Power Program, which has set the standard, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the late Harriet Ball.

These charter schools are doing a lot more than closing the achievement gap. They are bringing hope and opportunity to places where for years there has been none.

Charter schools are so successful that almost every politician can find something good to say about them. But, as we saw in Massachusetts, true reform requires more than talk. As Governor, I vetoed the bill blocking charter schools. But our legislature was 87 percent Democrat, and my veto could have been easily over-ridden. So I joined with the Black Legislative Caucus, and their votes helped preserve my veto, which meant that new charter schools, including some in urban neighborhoods, would be opened.

When it comes to education reform, candidates cannot have it both ways – talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers unions, but you can’t be both. I have made my choice: As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America, and I won’t let any special interest get in the way.

I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that a true choice by ensuring there are good options available to all.

Should I be elected President, I’ll lead as I did when I was governor. I am pleased today to be joined today by Reverend Jeffrey Brown, who was a member of my kitchen cabinet in Massachusetts that helped guide my policy and actions that affected the African American community. I will look for support wherever there is good will and shared conviction. I will work with you to help our children attend better schools and help our economy create good jobs with better wages.

I can’t promise that you and I will agree on every issue. But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned. We will know one another, and work to common purposes. I will seek your counsel. And if I am elected president, and you invite me to next year’s convention, I would count it as a privilege, and my answer will be yes.

The Republican Party’s record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn’t know history the way you know it.

Yet always, in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who called injustice by its name. For every one of us a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney.

It wasn’t just that my Dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Michigan Constitution, though he did. It wasn’t just that he helped create Michigan’s first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights in Detroit – though he did those things, too.

More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God.

I’m grateful to him for so many things, and above all for the knowledge of God, whose ways are not always our ways, but whose justice is certain and whose mercy endures forever.

Every good cause on this earth relies in the end on a plan bigger than ours. “Without dependence on God,” as Dr. King said, “our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G. K. Chesterton called ‘cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve.’”

Of all that you bring to the work of today’s civil rights cause, no advantage counts for more than this abiding confidence in the name above every name. Against cruelty, arrogance, and all the foolishness of man, this spirit has carried the NAACP to many victories. More still are up ahead, and with each one we will be a better nation.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Gov. Scott: Raising the Public Education Bar Works

Governor Rick Scott issued a statement today on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test grades for Elementary and Middle Schools. Test standards were raised by the Florida legislature and student grades fell significantly.

Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson said in announcing the school grades, “This has been a year of tremendous change for Florida’s students, teachers and schools. The high standards we have in place today will help our students prepare for college, the workforce and life.” Robinson added that he was “confident we are on the right path.”

Governor Scott noted, “Florida is raising education standards because we know from past experience that students and teachers consistently rise to occasion when challenged. In just two years, Florida will move to a new testing standard that significantly reduces our reliance on the FCAT and moves to Common Core State Standards. This new system will allow us to compare our students with those in other states so that we can benchmark results, measure progress, and adjust curriculum to better prepare students for college and the workforce, so that they are better able to compete in the global marketplace.”

Governor Scott states, “As part of our ongoing accountability efforts, we’re constantly reviewing the level of and kinds of testing occurring in our classrooms. Our goal is to make sure we’re not testing for testing’s sake, but working to ensure our students are prepared for college and the workforce. Common Core assessments are an example of that kind of tool.”

“It is never easy to raise the standards for excellence in education. This year is no exception. But every time we raise the expectations of our students and teachers, they ultimately get better in later years. Simply put, raising the bar works,” Governor Scott said.

The Florida Board of Education voted to lower the school passing scores for the 2012 tests. This led to many saying lowering of the public education bar is harmful to future student achievement. According to Dave Weber of the Orlando Sentinel:

“Statewide, 46 elementary and middle schools earned Fs, compared to 32 last year, and 238 earned Ds, more than doubling last year’s 117. The totals of As, Bs and Cs slipped, too, with A schools showing a marked slip from 1,480 statewide last year to 1,112 this year.

To cushion the blow, the State Board of Education agreed several months ago that no school would be dropped more than one letter grade from last year’s score, regardless of how its students performed. That likely has saved some schools from slipping to Ds or Fs.”

FL Educators’ Reaction to Low Student Writing Scores: Kill the Messenger

The 2012 Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) results are out for writing. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Preliminary results released Monday indicate that just 27 percent of fourth-graders earned a passing score of 4.0 or better (out of 6) on the writing test. A year ago, 81 percent scored 4.0 or better. The outcomes were similar for eighth- and 10th-graders.”

So what do Florida’s professional educators say about these preliminary results? 

The attacks are nearly unanimous that the testing company got it wrong and that tests are harmful and should be disregarded. Governor Rick Scott’s newly appointed Commissioner of Education wants to lower the standards for passing the test. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “On Monday, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson proposed reducing the FCAT writing passing score from 4.0 to 3.5. Under that standard, 48 percent of fourth-graders would have passed the test with a 3.5 or better, along with 52 percent of eighth-graders and 60 percent of 10th-graders.” The FCAT passing score has since been lowered “temporarily”.

Governor Scott released this statement about the dismal writing test scores: “Our students must know how to read and write, and our education system must be able to measure and benchmark their progress so we can set clear education goals. The significant contrast in this year’s writing scores is an obvious indication that the Department of Education needs to review the issue and recommend an action plan so that our schools, parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the results.” I hope Governor Scott understands that lowering the standards does not improve student performance in reading, math or writing.

Some say this is akin to saying that because most airline pilots cannot pass the annual flight exam it is good policy to lower the standards so that more pilots pass. 

Community leaders such as former Sarasota City Mayor David Merrill have been saying Florida students are not performing well on standardized tests. One of the best tools for measuring performance is a standardized test. Tests are used in every aspect of daily lives be it in education, professional development, business or medicine. Standardized tests, when properly developed and implemented, measure subject matter knowledge and performance. To not measure performance can be harmful to the individual and eventually to their prosperity.

David Merrill, former Mayor of Sarasota and Harvard Business School graduate, looked at FCAT scores for Sarasota County, Florida. David, in a July 2011 letter to the Sarasota County School Board, stated:

“I have recently provided several analyses that compared the Sarasota School District’s performance on FCAT tests to other school districts in Florida, and these analyses formed the basis of my conclusion that Sarasota’s school district has performed poorly over the past 9 years of FCAT data, especially when we consider the hundreds of millions dollars in extra taxes that we have paid in order to have a top district. Our school district has been near the very top of the ladder for spending, and yet the test scores for our black and Hispanic students are near the bottom of the scores for their racial subgroups, and during that time our white students have scored only a little better than the average for all white students in Florida.” [Emphasis mine]

So what is the response of Superintendent Lori White to the release of lower writing scores? The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports, “Districts were notified in a memo last summer to expect more emphasis on grammar, punctuation and spelling. But teachers were not told how much weight that would receive, said Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Lori White. ‘I don’t understand how the scoring could be done in such a way to cause such a decline in proficiency levels,’ she said.”

Sample of FCAT student writing.

Superintendent White knew about the change in standards, has more money than any other district in Florida due to passage of a $1 million tax providing the district with over $35 million more each year since 2002 and says she does not understand the problem.

Grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and conventions have not been a priority in education for decades and now we are seeing the results – students who cannot write with any coherence. Just look at the writing example contained in this column to understand just how bad the situation really is. If I were a parent and read this essay from my son or daughter I would be outraged. This cannot continue. Blaming the test is not the answer. It is time for serious introspection. It is time for teachers to be given the full ability and responsibility to teach. Time to empower parents to pick what their children learn, not education bureaucrats in some distant state capitol or ivy covered university.

It is past the time to teach our children how to learn so they may be prosperous no matter what they decide to do in their lives.