RUBIO INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO EXPAND SCHOOL CHOICE

Washington, D.C. – Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation today to help families pay for more school options through a new tax credit. The Educational Opportunities Act creates a federal corporate and individual tax credit to promote school choice by allowing contributions to go to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) that will distribute scholarships to a student to be used toward private school tuition or expenses related to attending a private school.

“Education plays a central role in the 21st century knowledge economy”, said Senator Rubio. “If we want our children to thrive economically, we need to equip students and families with the tools they need to succeed and make it in the middle class and beyond. Parental school choice is a critical piece in this, which is why I introduced the Educational Opportunities Act. This bill will incentivize investment in students and empower parents and K-12 students by allowing more educational opportunities, especially in low-income households that would otherwise not be able to afford it. It’s the kind of incentive that will help improve education in America and prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow, without additional burdens on the American taxpayer.”

The Educational Opportunities Act is the first bill Senator Rubio has introduced in the 113th Congress, and is part of an effort to help build a 21st century middle class, as discussed in his speech last December at the Jack Kemp Foundation Dinner. In order to provide tax encouragement to help parents pay for the school of their choice, the bill creates a corporate and individual federal tax credit to go toward a qualifying, non-profit 501(c)(3) Education Scholarship Organization, so that students from low income families can receive a scholarship to pay for the cost of a private education of their parents choosing.

WHAT THE EDUCATION COMMUNITY IS SAYING ABOUT THE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ACT:

Former Governor Jeb Bush, Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education: “Parents across the nation are struggling now more than ever and few can afford to pay for the tuition or education services their child deserves. Choosing your child’s school is as fundamental as choosing which doctor’s office is best for your child and this legislation will help make that choice more affordable to more parents.”

Kenneth Campbell, President of the Black Alliance For Educational Options: “The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) was founded based on the belief that all children,  despite their family’s income, should have access to a quality education. We wake up every day with the knowledge that too many of our children are in crisis, therefore we fight every day to ensure that low-income and working class Black parents have both the freedom and the power to chose where and how their children are educated. The Educational Opportunities Act proposed by Senator Marco Rubio has the potential to allow tens of thousands of children across this country to access an education that would otherwise be unavailable to them. We applaud the Senator for taking this bold step and we are hopeful that our nation’s elected officials will see this bill as an opportunity to help our most vulnerable children and not allow partisan politics or ideologies to prohibit this bill from moving forward.”

Julio Fuentes, President of Hispanic Council For Reform and Educational Options: “Sen. Rubio’s bill would move the country a long way towards leveling the playing field for Hispanic students and families. We know the achievement gaps for minority students have been too heartbreakingly wide for too long. We know the expansion of parental school choice is another tool we can thoughtfully use to narrow them. A federal tax credit scholarship program will give students around the nation more options to excel regardless of their zip code or their socioeconomic background.”

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Esq., Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America: “Agudath Israel applauds Sen. Marco Rubio for his bold move to increase parental school choice options for low-income families nationwide. Jewish day school families, among many others, will be able to use this scholarship program to better give their children the access they deserve to a high quality education. Our children, our communities, our democracy and our nation will all be the better for it. We encourage lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, to put a bipartisan stamp on the common-sense issue that is at the heart of this bill: the ability of parents to choose the learning environment that is the best fit for their child.”

Kevin P. Chavous, former D.C. City Councilman and current Executive Counsel for the American Federation For Children: “We are grateful that Senator Rubio has introduced a bill to help children access a great education, regardless of their zip code. At a time when our nation continues to have a tragically high dropout rate and millions of kids remain trapped in traditional schools that do not work for them, we must have the courage to put all options on the table – options we know work for disadvantaged kids.  Senator Rubio understands that every child matters and we applaud his leadership and commitment to helping these kids.”

To view the bill click here.

Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time

The reform of public education has been an elusive goal. All seem to agree that public school reform is much needed. International rankings and national tests show American public school students falling behind their peers. Many scholars have studied public schools and their failures, governments have written thousands of studies addressing this issue. So what must happen to truly change public schools for the better?

A natural disaster like hurricane Katrina!

Walter Isaacson, a former managing editor of TIME, president of the Aspen Institute and chairman of the board of Teach for America, in his 2007 column “The Greatest Education Lab” wrote:

“Paul Vallas, the man who took over the troubled school systems of Chicago and then Philadelphia and upended them, stood before a crowd of New Orleans parents in a French Quarter courtyard earlier this summer and offered a promise. ‘This will be the greatest opportunity for educational entrepreneurs, charter schools, competition and parental choice in America,” he said. Call it the silver lining: Hurricane Katrina washed away what was one of the nation’s worst school systems and opened the path for energetic reformers who want to make New Orleans a laboratory of new ideas for urban schools‘.” [My emphasis]

What did New Orleans do to reform its broken public education system? It chartered every school in the district. Hurricane Karina emancipated the parents and students from the old public school structure and allowed them to achieve control of what was once a government monopoly.

C. Bradley Thompson in his article “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time” wrote:

“I begin with my conclusion: The ‘public’ school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution in the United States of America today, and it should be abolished. It should be abolished for the same reason that chattel slavery was ended in the 19th century: Although different in purpose and in magnitude of harm to its victims, public education, like slavery, is a form of involuntary servitude. The primary difference is that public schools force children to serve the interests of the state rather than those of an individual master.” [My emphasis]

A radical conclusion notes Thompson. But is it?

Thompson wrote, “Twenty-first century Abolitionists are confronted, however, by a paradoxical fact: Most Americans recognize that something is deeply wrong with the country’s elementary and secondary schools, yet they support them like no other institution. Mention the possibility of abolishing the public schools, and most people look at you as though you are crazy. And, of course, no politician would ever dare cut spending to our schools and to the ‘kids’.”

Thompson states unequivocally, “The solution is not further reforms. The solution is abolition.” Read more here.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed 150 years ago. Perhaps it is time for an Education Emancipation Proclamation?

Status of Educational Choice Programs in Florida “Unclear”

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has release the 2013 edition of “The ABCs of School Choice“. The report shows the strength and weaknesses of school choice in Florida.

According to the Foundation website , “Florida has two private school choice programs (special-needs vouchers, limited tax-credit scholarships). The state also has a charter school law and enables public virtual schooling. Limited open enrollment exists, both for intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice. ”

The Foundation notes:

The status of school choice in Florida is unclear. Unfortunately, in an unprecedented decision, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s groundbreaking Opportunity Scholarships voucher program for children in chronically failing public schools. The court declared that the program violated the state Constitution’s education article, specifically the requirement to provide a “uniform” public education. Contrary to state supreme courts in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Florida court decided that the Legislature may not provide educational options beyond those in the public schools. Still, the court limited its decision to Opportunity Scholarships only, leaving untouched Florida’s other school choice programs.

Earlier in the same case, a Florida appellate court struck down Opportunity Scholarships under the state’s Blaine Amendment. That ruling ran counter to years of Florida Supreme Court rulings on the Blaine Amendment permitting “incidental” benefits to religious organizations as the by-product of programs designed to advance the general welfare. The Florida Supreme Court did not review that issue, and the validity of the appellate court’s holding is unclear under Florida law.” [My emphasis]

A constitutional amendment was on the November 2012 ballot to eliminate the Blaine Amendment but it failed to garner the votes to pass. Unions and even some TEA Party activists were against the amendment.

Florida’s two educational choice success stories are:

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Enacted 2001 • Launched 2001

Florida provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships for low-income students and foster care children and… Read More

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

Enacted as a Pilot Program 1999 • Expanded 2000

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public school students with disabilities or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or another public school. Read More

Despite the uncertainties surrounding vouchers, tax credit programs are completely consistent with the Florida constitution, even as interpreted by Holmes, because they involve private rather than public funds. –Quote from the Institute for Justice (April 2007)

Governor Scott comes under fire for his $2,500 teacher pay giveaway

Governor Rick Scott announced that Florida will have a budget surplus in 2013-2014 of $437 million. That is good news. Republicans got to this point of a surplus after years of budget deficits by cutting the size of government programs. The Republican party stands for less government, lower taxes and less spending.

So what does Scott want to do with that money?

He wants to give teachers an across the board pay increase of $2,500, which will spend the entire surplus and more. This idea is drawing boos from teachers unions. It is also drawing fire from other public service employees such as fire fighters, EMS personnel and law enforcement officers. Why teachers and not them? Some are even saying that Scott is buying votes, much like President Obama and members of Congress who increase benefits for government employees and those who take for a living via welfare programs.

Here is something that Scott may not have considered: Why not give the money back to the taxpayers?

It is the taxpayer who carries the burden of the salaries and benefits of public employees. Any salary increase to any public employee is a further long term burden on the Florida Retirement System. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “In a major victory for the state, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against state workers and allowed the state to retain the 3 percent levy on worker salaries to offset the state’s investment into the Florida Retirement System.”  Download Retirement ruling.

Union leaders do not like it when their members have to contribute to their own retirement programs like public sector employees do. So this move by Scott appears to be pandering to one group of union employees. Scott may be giving up hard fought ground based upon the recent Florida Supreme Court decision.

Who holds the bag for any government employee pay increase? Answer: Florida’s taxpayers.

We will see what the Florida legislature does with the budget surplus. Any bets that they will find a way to spend it? Are Republicans morphing into Progressives? What the legislature does with this surplus will be a key indicator of where they stand on taxes and spending.

Michelle Rhee Grades Florida Among Top Two States in the Nation on Education Policy

Students First, founded by Michele Rhee, has issued its 2013 State Policy Report Card. No state received an “A” grade. Florida and Louisiana both received a grade of “B”, all other states were graded “C” to “F”. Florida received an A- for Elevating Teaching, a C- for Empowering Parents and a C for Spending Education dollars wisely.

The following outlines the rationale for these grades and why Florida was ranked in the top two nationally by Rhee:

“Florida has established itself as a national leader in putting students first. The state has adopted meaningful educator evaluations, and it requires districts to base all personnel decisions, as well as compensation structures, on classroom effectiveness. Florida is also a model for empowering parents. The state provides parents with useful information regarding school and teacher performance. Parents can also choose from a robust network of public charter schools and a tax credit scholarship program. Florida should provide comparable funding to public charter schools and needs to improve in holding local districts accountable for increasing student outcomes with their investments. The state should also allow mayors to take control of local districts that fail to improve under existing governance structures. Lastly, to ensure career flexibility and sustainability of Florida’s retirement system, it should require teachers to participate in its portable retirement option.”

ELEVATING TEACHING A- (GPA 3.64):

Florida is a leader for the rest of the country when it comes to ensuring effective teachers and principals are identified, retained, and rewarded by districts. Florida requires districts to evaluate educators meaningfully; several key multiple measures are incorporated, including student academic growth, which comprises 50 percent of the overall evaluation. Of importance, Florida mandates that performance drive all district personnel decisions, including placement, layoff, and tenure decisions. The state has already made progress in its implementation as well. Additionally, Florida invests in compensating its teachers through strong performance pay systems and in recruiting top teaching talent though its alternative certification programs. Adopting comprehensive reforms has allowed Florida to lead the country in its efforts to improve teacher quality and elevate the profession.

EMPOWERING PARENTS C- (GPA 1.94):

All families should have the information and access they need to choose high-quality schools for their children, and no student should be forced to attend a low-performing school or be taught by a low-performing teacher. Florida empowers parents by requiring all PK-12 schools to receive annual report cards that include an A-F letter grade based on student achievement and by requiring that parents are notified when their children are placed in the classroom of a teacher who has been rated ineffective. The state should pass parent trigger legislation that empowers parents to sign a petition to turn around a failing public school. Florida allows for the formation of public charter schools that must meet key accountability provisions, but it should allow for multiple authorizers. Additionally, the state should establish a publicly funded scholarship program limited to low-income students in chronically failing public schools and ensure private schools that participate meet certain accountability provisions.

SPENDING WISELY C (GPA 2.0)

Florida allows the state to intervene in academically underachieving schools and districts, but additional governance flexibility, such as mayoral control, is needed. While Florida allows districts to achieve cost efficiencies through multiple management alternatives, it should require districts to link spending data to student outcomes and permit governance changes when funds are mismanaged. Adopting these changes will strengthen Florida’s ability to ensure that resources are spent wisely and that districts are focused on improving student achievement. Florida has made significant progress in teacher pension reform by establishing a fully portable retirement option for teachers. The state should continue its reform efforts by requiring all teachers to participate in its portable plan.

To see how your state was graded click here.

Grassroots movement to arm teachers gains momentum

Long before Wayne LaPierre held his press conference the internet was alive with practical solutions on how to prevent another Newtown, CT like attack on schools. Most comments coalesced around arming school based administrators and teachers. One idea is to provide concealed carry training to school based administrators and on a voluntary basis to teachers. The school district would cover the costs of the training, license and purchase of an approved weapon.

Virginia is considering legislation requiring teachers be armed.

Several photographs and photo-shopped signs were circulated graphically demonstrating the popularity of this solution. Two stand out and were the most often received by WDW. Below is a widely distributed photo allegedly depicting an Israeli teacher and her class of elementary school students:

armed teacher in israel

This photo-shopped sign with the caption “Which sign is most likely to deter a school shooting?” is widely circulating on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites:

 GunFreeZoneSign

Comments on these images may be best represented by a common sense approach to the issue. The argument goes something like this – if there is something valuable that society wants to protect and defend then society must have armed guards in place. Examples of protected areas include: government offices at every level, sensitive installations such as military bases or nuclear power plants, airports, banks, prisons and national parks.

Many are asking why we are not similarly protecting our most precious natural resources – our children?

USA Today reports, “About 70% of public schools don’t have [a] police officer and almost 60% don’t have any security staff. Those with police tend to be big and urban schools, according to a USA TODAY data analysis.” Clearly at some point schools decide to have an armed guard present. The only restriction is cost weighted against the potential threat.

Political opponents focus on taking away guns, not on protecting the children as is done for most politicians. History and statistics work against opponents to arming those most responsible for the protection of our children – school based administrators and teachers.

PLEASE TAKE OUR ONLINE SURVEY ON THE QUESTION OF ARMING SCHOOL STAFF:

RELATED COLUMNS:

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School that President Obama’s daughters attend has 11 armed guards

Adoption of Common Core Standards a Big Mistake?

On July 27, 2010 State Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair issued the following statement:

“Today, the Florida State Board of Education, in a unanimous and unified vote, approved the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics. This approval marks a vital next step on Florida’s long-standing and successful education reform journey by strengthening our curriculum standards for these critical subjects and laying the groundwork for the comparison of our state’s academic progress with our nation and the world.”

Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and former Senior Associate Commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education, states in a research report:

“Since coming to office, the Obama Administration has been intent on standardizing what is taught at each grade level in all of the nation’s schools. It has used its flagship ‘Race to the Top’ competitive grant program to entice states to adopt the K–12 standards developed by a joint project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It has also suggested, in its 2009 Blueprint for Education Reform, that adoption of these common standards could one day be a qualification for states wanting future Title 1 dollars for low-income schools.”

“Parents, teachers, and education leaders along the political spectrum are increasingly raising questions about the constitutionality and transparency of this joint project, called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). They are also expressing concern about the high cost of implementing the standards and the national tests that will be based on them, as well as the potential loss of local control of curriculum and instruction,” notes Stotsky.

Stotsky concludes, “Common Core’s standards not only present a serious threat to state and local education authority, but also put academic quality at risk. Pushing fatally flawed education standards into America’s schools is not the way to improve education for America’s students.”

On announcing the appointment of Dr. Tony Bennett as Commissioner of Education, State Board Chair Gary Chartrand said, “Florida has made a great deal of educational progress over the past decade as yesterday’s announcement of the international assessment results clearly showed. We still have more work to do as we continue our transition to Common Core State Standards and ensure we offer a world-class education to Florida’s students.

Dr. Bennett is touted by some as a free market educator. However, Indiana adopted the Common Core Standards on August 3, 2010. If CCSSI is “a serious threat to state and local education authority” and “puts academic quality at risk” then it is also incompatible with a free market education philosophy.

What will Dr. Bennett do now that the CCSSI strategy is being questioned?

Arm Teachers and Ban Gun-free Zones

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

There are three truths that are emerging from the tragedy in Connecticut.

The first is that gun-free zones do not work. Glenn Harlan Reynold in his column,”Gun-free zones provide false sense of security” notes, “”After a shooting spree,” author William Burroughs once said, “they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.”

According to Reynold, “There are a lot of problems with this approach, but one of the most significant is this one: It doesn’t work. One of the interesting characteristics of mass shootings is that they generally occur in places where firearms are banned: malls, schools, etc. That was the finding of a famous 1999 study by John Lott of the University of Maryland and William Landes of the University of Chicago, and it appears to have been borne out by experience since then as well.”

The second is that school administrators and teachers must be armed. David A. Patten in an exclusive  interview with Professor Lott, one of the nation’s leading gun experts asked, “Could arming teachers and getting rid of gun-free zones have averted a tragedy such as we saw in Connecticut? Professor Lott responded:

The amount of time that elapses between when the attack starts and when someone can get to the scene with a gun is very important in determining what the carnage is going to be. The faster you can get somebody [there], the more you can limit it. If you could get the police there in 8 minutes, which would be record time, that would be an eon for people who are there helplessly having to face the killer by themselves with no protection.”

The third truth is doing more of the same things inextricably leads to more deaths. Time for a paradigm shift.

State Board of Education Names Tony Bennett as Commissioner of Education

The Florida State Board of Education voted to select Dr. Tony Bennett as the next Commissioner of Education.

State Board Chair Gary Chartrand said, “Florida has made a great deal of educational progress over the past decade as yesterday’s announcement of the international assessment results clearly showed. We still have more work to do as we continue our transition to Common Core State Standards and ensure we offer a world-class education to Florida’s students.  Tony has had a tremendous impact on education in Indiana and we are delighted to have him lead Florida into the future.”

Governor Scott said, “We are excited that the State Board of Education chose Tony Bennett as Florida’s new Commissioner of Education.  Tony has a great record of achievement in Indiana and I am confident he will be a tireless advocate for Florida’s students.

“I am committed to improving Florida’s K-12 education system through continued support for education funding, teachers and students. My College and Career FIRST Agenda focuses on ensuring that Florida families get a quality education for their children to help them get a great job and pursue their dreams, and we are grateful for the leadership of Interim Commissioner Pam Stewart who helped shape this agenda.

“I am holding Tony accountable for driving the College and Career FIRST Agenda forward in support of Florida’s students and teachers. I look forward to working with him on our goals to increase education funding and advocate for the professional development of Florida teachers, which is critical for student success.”

Dr. Bennett said, “I am honored and excited by the opportunity here.  I look forward to getting out, visiting schools, and meeting with and listening to students, parents, teachers, and leaders in districts across the state as we work together to ensure that every student in Florida has the kind of world-class education that allows them to flourish.”

Dr. Bennett was elected Superintendent of Indiana’s public schools in 2009, promising to increase student performance, reward great teachers, increase options for parents, and strengthen school autonomy.  He was instrumental in increasing the state’s graduation rate beyond 85 percent, implementing the Indiana Growth Model detailing the amount of progress each student has made, and A-F school grades similar to Florida’s grading system.

Dr. Bennett was named 2011 Education Reform Idol by the Fordham Institute and 2010 Government Leader of the Year by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.  Dr. Bennett holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in secondary education and a doctorate in education.  He began his career in education as a high school biology teacher, while coaching several sports including basketball, baseball and track and field.

Dr. Bennett will replace Chancellor of Public Schools Pam Stewart who has served as the department’s interim commissioner for the past three months.

To learn more about Governor Scott’s College and Career FIRST agenda, visit http://www.flgov.com/2012/10/25/governor-rick-scott-announces-college-and-career-first-agenda/

Florida’s High School Graduation Rates – a Shocking Report

For the first time ever, new data details just how many students by race are not graduating high school in each state. The data, released by the US Department of Education, measures how many ninth graders graduate with a standard diploma within four years.

The 2010-2011 results indicate that affirmative action may be a failure.

As Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life state, “The practice of affirmative action has been a classic example of the ‘everything not forbidden is compulsory’ mentality, as the idea of forbidding people to discriminate by race mutated into the idea of compelling everyone to help produce equal outcomes by race.” Herrnstein and Murray noted, “It is a mark of how far things have gone that many people no longer can see the distinction between ‘not interfering’ and ‘treating the same’.”

Have we reached that point where the data shows that efforts to interject fairness into our education system have failed?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed. Ultimately these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career.”

The School Year 2010-11 Four-Year Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates for Florida are:

All Students – 71%
American Indian/Alaska Native or Native American – 70%
Asian/Pacific Islander – 86%
Black (not Hispanic) or African American – 59%
Hispanic/Latino – 69%
White (not Hispanic) or Caucasian – 76%
Children with disabilities (IDEA) – 44%
Limited English proficient (LEP) Students – 53%
Economically Disadvantaged Students – 60%
Asian – 86%

What does this data tell us? Nothing new really.

Asian and white students graduate at a higher rate than blacks and Hispanic/Latinos. Economically disadvantaged students do one percentage point better than black students. The District of Columbia has the worst graduation rate in the nation at 59%, while Iowa has the highest at 88%.

According to Take Part, “Despite the District of Columbia State Board of Education being only 1.4 miles (a walk through the capital building) from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s office, Washington, D.C. ranked dead last in national graduation rates at 59 percent. D.C. boasts the largest disparity in the country between white students and minority students who graduated during the 2010-2011 school year. Eighty-five percent of white students graduated, while only 55 percent of Latinos and 58 percent of black students earned their diploma. Iowa graduated 88 percent of students. Every major racial and ethnic group had a graduation rate over 73 percent.”

While Secretary Duncan points out this data is a snap shot, it is revealing in that it tells us what we are doing in public education is not working.

Graduating from high school is a key indicator of future success, even more so than a college degree. Studies show that states have been lowering standards for graduation. States and the federal government have poured more money into education than any other industrialized nation. Yet public schools are not graduating our young. Millions of our youth are without a high school diploma, even one that is watered down to the point of becoming meaningless.

With nearly 7000 students dropping out each day, a study from the Alliance for Excellent Education predicts that 12 million students will drop out in the next decade.

Herrnstein and Murray found, “As of the end of the twentieth century, the United States is run by rules that are congenial to people with high IQs and that make life difficult for everyone else … The systems have been created, bit by bit, over decades, by people who think that complicated, sophisticated operationalizations of fairness, justice, and right and wrong are ethically superior to simple black and white versions.”

The data is black and white. Will we continue as a nation to force the Utopian ideal of equal outcomes on the education system, or not? Are equal outcomes achievable? Is doing the same thing getting different results? These are the questions.

Herrnstein and Murray suggest as their first policy prescription: A wide range of social functions should be restored to the neighborhoods when possible and otherwise to the municipality. Perhaps it is time to get back to neighborhood schools?

How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions?

The debate over whether teachers unions help or halt education reform has caused much controversy among educators, parents, and communities as a whole. Critics are up in arms over the alleged hold unions have on education policy—specifically regarding how difficult it is to fire an ineffective tenured teacher. Proponents of the unions argue that they protect teachers’ rights, support professionalism, and aren’t against reform.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute took an in-depth look at the role unions play in each state. The study ranks teacher unions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on resources and membership, involvement in politics, scope of bargaining, state policies, and perceived influence.

The five strongest are: 1. Hawaii, 2. Oregon, 3. Montana, 4. Pennsylvania and 5. Rhode Island. The five weakest are: 1. Arizona, 2. Florida, 3. South Carolina, 4. Arkansas and 5. Virginia.

Click here for the full state-by-state report.

This timely study represents the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted, ranking all fifty states and the District of Columbia according to the power and influence of their state-level unions. To assess union strength, the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now examined thirty-seven different variables across five realms (see below map):

Click on map for larger view

The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey. The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest and providing in-depth profiles of each.

Broward Schools consider observing Muslim Holidays

Today, November 1, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. the Broward County Public School Diversity Committee will take up a request for schools to be closed on Eid, a Muslim holiday. The Council on American Islamic Relations -Florida (CAIR) will be at the meeting presenting a proposal for Broward County School System closure on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report states, “Broward County public schools are being asked to close for two Islamic holidays a year under a controversial proposal before the district’s Diversity Committee. The request, from the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, would make Broward the first in Florida and one of only a few districts in the country to add Muslim holidays into its calendar.” [Emphasis mine]

Speakers from both sides of this issue will be present to comment on this request. Pensacola  Florida based ACT for America has sent out an alert asking its members to contact to Broward County School Board. CAIR in an email states, “We ask parents of all Muslim Students attending Broward County Public Schools K-12 to be present at the meeting on Thursday November 1st at 6:30 pm. Your presence at this meeting will show unity and support for the proposal in requesting school closure for these two Muslim holidays. The larger our presence the more impact it will have!”

The fundamental question is: Are Muslims required to celebrate typical American holidays?

Muslim American Sheikh Ahmad Musa Jibril in his column Celebrating The Holidays of The Infidels goes into great detail to show how Muslims must not celebrate the holidays of infidels lest they become like them.

Jibril concludes after his lengthy analysis of the Qur’an:

[I]t is clear to anyone who has a heart and understanding that it is prohibited to celebrate the holidays of the kuffar [non-Muslim]. Whether this be by participating with in them in any way, greeting them, mingling with them on their holidays, entering the places where their parties are taking place, or any symbolic move, action or gesture that would appear symbolic or sympathetic for their holiday.

We should not purchase gifts for parents on fathers or mothers day, rather every day of a Muslims life is fathers and mothers days.

We should not celebrate birthdays because those better than us did not do so, and its origin was by the kuffar.

We should not decorate for their holidays as they do on Christmas, nor should we wear like them as they do on Halloween, nor should we eat as they do on Thanksgiving.

We should not eat Turkey and say our intention was otherwise; there are 364 days in the year for you to enjoy your Turkey, to choose that day specifically is symbolically participating in their holidays.

The same applies to those who decorate their homes with Christmas trees or seasonal lights during Christmas season, then claim their intention was otherwise.

If we do not wake up and take a stand, we will wake up one day before a hopeless generation that knows Islam only by its name. This is because celebrating and enjoining in the holidays of the infidels is a cancerous tumor in the core of the Islamic belief that will spread and will not stop until it devastates us and causes us to loose our identity and dignity. Worst of all, it will subject us to the curse and wrath of Allah.

Jibril writes, “[T]he Jews, Christians, and their likes were in the Muslim lands, and that they celebrated their holidays there. Not once was it recorded that the Muslims joined them in their celebrations, or even greeted them for their holidays. Had it not been for a strong command from the prophet (Sallah Allahu Alayhi Wasalam) that we not enjoin them in their holidays, we would have heard many situations in which the prophet (Sallah Allahu Alayhi Wasalam)’s companions and their followers did so.”

Watchdog Wire will report on the outcome of the Broward County Public School Diversity Committee meeting.

Do we really need to hire more teachers and adminstrators?

The candidates for President have different strategies for dealing with education and visions of the role of  the federal government in public schools. President Obama has stated that he wants the federal government to hire more math and science teachers. Governor Romney says the decision on hiring teachers is best made at the state and local levels. Who is right? A new study sheds light on the hiring of teachers and administrators since 1992.

The findings show states have consistently hired more teachers and administrators, far outpacing the growth in student population.

According to Dr. Benjamin Scafidi’s November 2012 study The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools“Between 1950 and 2009, the number of K-12 public school students increased by 96 percent. During that same period, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew by 386 percent. Of those personnel, the number of teachers increased by 252 percent, while the ranks of administrators and other staff grew by 702 percent—more than 7 times the increase in students.”

America has more teachers than ever in the classroom and more administrators overseeing them.

Dr. Scafidi’s research found, “[I]f student growth had matched that of non-teaching personnel from 1992 to 2009 and if the teaching force had only grown 1.5 times faster than the pupil enrollment, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year—the equivalent of an $11,700 a year increase in salary for every American public school teacher.”

According to the study from 1992 to 2009 Florida had an increase in student population of 33% with total school personnel increasing by 55%. From 1992 to 2009 teachers increased by 70% and administrators and other staff increased by 41%. 

In 2002, Floridians approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution that set limits on the number of students in core classes (Math, English, Science, etc.) in the state’s public schools. The class size amendment took effect in the 2010-2011 school year. It appears this amendment was ill advised as the number of teachers to pupils doubled despite the amendment.

The costs to meet Florida’s class size Constitutional mandates are negatively impacting overall education funding at the district level.

Dr. Scafidi states:

However, parents, other citizens, and policymakers may want to cast a wider net in looking for opportunities to improve the education offered to students. In contrast to the static student achievement in public schools (despite massive increases in taxpayer funding), school choice programs have a good track record. All forms of enhanced school choice tried in the U.S. have led to an improvement in academic outcomes—in just one case was there no effect—for those who remain in public schools. The most recent empirical study on that topic, by Figlio and Hart (2010),33 shows ‘evidence that public schools subject to more competitive pressure from private schools raised their test scores the most following the introduction of Florida’s program.’ They found that the greater the competition for Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program, the larger the benefits to Florida public school students. [Emphasis mine]

Florida has been a national leader in providing parents with school choice options.

According the the Department of Education website, “Florida’s A+ Education Plan was the impetus for policies and programs that thrust Florida into the spotlight as a national leader in providing parents and students with a wide array of school choice options directed to meet individual learning needs and styles.” Among these choices is charter schools.

According to the Florida DOE, “Charter schools are public schools of choice. They are very popular—and among the fastest growing school choice options in Florida. Charter schools are largely free to innovate, and often provide more effective programs and choice to diverse groups of students. Since 1996, the number of charter schools in Florida has grown to over 400 in 2010. Charter school student enrollment has grown well over 175,000 students.” For statistics on Florida charter schools click here.

Offering school choice options, particularly opening charter schools, remains in the hands of local school boards.

Sarasota County, Florida has been a leader in providing charter school options for public school students. The numbers of students enrolled in Sarasota County charter schools has gone from 1,807 in 2004-2005 to 5,728 in 2012-2013, an increase of 300%. At the same time the number of teachers, administrators and support personnel have all declined. Sarasota County is doing more with less, yet remains one of the top districts in Florida on FCAT scores.

The ratio of growth in teachers and administrators nation wide continues to outpace student growth. Florida is no exception but has experienced less of it compared to other states such as Hawaii and Ohio.  According to Table 2 – Comparing the Increase of Students to the Increase in Public School Employment, FY 1992 to FY 2009, Delaware, Florida and California are tied for third lowest with a ratio of growth of  1.5.

The demand by parents for charter schools is increasing. Does this study show that teacher quantity is not a factor but teacher quality is?

Educators Set Student Goals By Race?

The Florida Board of Education has a history of lowering educational standards and has now come under-fire for doing so based upon a student’s race. CBS Tampa reports, “The Florida State Board of Education passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race.”

“On Tuesday [October 9, 2012], the board passed a revised strategic plan that says that by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent. It also measures by other groupings, such as poverty and disabilities, reported the Palm Beach Post,” states CBS Tampa.

This decision has raised eyebrows, some calling it racist. But is it racism or reality? Is lowering goals the right way to deal with student achievement in reading and math?

This issue is not new, rather it has been swept under the rug since 1994. Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their seminal book on cognitive ability The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life state, “The question is how to redistribute in ways that increase the chances for people at the bottom of society to take control of their lives, to be engaged meaningfully in their communities, and to find valued places for themselves.”

Herrnstein and Murray found, “Ethnic differences in higher education, occupations, and wages are strikingly diminished after controlling for IQ. Often they vanish. In this sense, America has equalized these central indicators of social success.”

Herrnstein and Murray asked, “What are the odds that a black or Latino with an IQ of 103 – the average IQ of all high school graduates – completed high school? The answer is that a youngster from either minority group had a higher probability of graduating from high school than a white, if all of them had IQs of 103: The odds were 93 percent and 91 percent for blacks and Latinos respectively, compared to 89 percent for whites.”

The key factor in setting goals is IQ. Is it time for Florida to lead the way and reintroduce IQ testing for all students?

Herrnstein and Murray concluded:

  • We have tried to point out that a small segment of the population accounts for such a large proportion of those [social] problems. To the extent that the [social] problems of this small segment are susceptible to social-engineering solutions at all, should be highly targeted.
  • The vast majority of Americans can run their own lives just fine, and [public] policy should above all be constructed so that it permits them to do so.
  • Much of the policy toward the disadvantaged starts from the premise that interventions can make up for genetic or environmental disadvantages, and that premise is overly optimistic.
  • Cognitive ability, so desperately denied for so long, can best be handled – can only be handled – by a return to individualism.
  • Cognitive partitioning will continue. It cannot be stopped, because the forces driving it cannot be stopped.
  • Americans can choose to preserve a society in which every citizen has access to the central satisfactions of life. Its people can, through an interweaving of choice and responsibility, create valued places for themselves in their worlds.

Herrnstein and Murray found, “Inequality of endowments, including intelligence, is a reality.”

“Trying to pretend that inequality does not really exist has led to disaster. Trying to eradicate inequality with artificially manufactured outcomes has led to disaster. It is time for America once again to try living with inequality, as life is lived: understanding that each human being has strengths and weaknesses, qualities to admire and qualities we do not admire, competencies and in-competencies,  assets and debits; that the success of each human life is not measured externally but internally; that of all the rewards we can confer on each other, the most precious is a place as a valued fellow citizen,” found Herrnstein and Murray.

Finally, Herrnstein and Murray wrote, “Of all the uncomfortable topics we have explored, a pair of the most uncomfortable ones are that a society with a higher mean IQ is also likely to be a society with fewer social ills and brighter economic prospects, and that the most effective way to raise the IQ of a society is for smarter women to have higher birth rates than duller women.” Shocking words in 1994 and indeed even more so today. Is it time to have a national public debate on cognitive abilities?

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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.