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Call to abolish Florida Department of Education

Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita, University of Alabama.

Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D., former Senior Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Education and Professor Emerita at the University of Alabama, released a statement concerning the upcoming summit called for by Governor Rick Scott on Common Core State Standards.

Dr. Stotsky is known nationwide for her in-depth analyses of the problems in Common Core’s English language arts standards. Her current research ranges from the deficiencies in teacher preparation programs and teacher licensure tests to the deficiencies in the K-12 reading curriculum and the question of gender bias in the curriculum. She is regularly invited to testify or submit testimony to state boards of education and state legislators on bills addressing licensure tests, licensure standards, and Common Core’s standards (e.g., Utah, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Florida and Texas).

The following is the full text of Dr. Stotsky’s statement:

I have been invited by parent groups in Florida to comment on Common Core’s English language arts standards using the format that Interim Commissioner Pamela Stewart chose to give them.  Although Governor Scott requested meetings at which parents could express their concerns, she deliberately chose a method that in effect prevents discussion and an open forum.  By telling parents that they can comment only one by one, and only on the particular standards in Common Core, in a 3-hour period of time, she is in effect spitting in their faces. Parents can also send in their individual comments by computer, a method that also prevents discussion. If this is how a Department of Education treats the parents of the children whose education this Department is supposed to improve, then there is no reason for Florida parents to support the existence of such a Department. It should be abolished by referendum.

I was a senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003.  At no time were critics of the Department’s draft documents treated as shabbily as Florida parents are now being treated.   Public comment was regularly allowed at Board of Education meetings, and the Department held many meetings around the state when it was developing the Bay State’s own standards. And when criticism was received on drafts of standards documents, the Department staff courteously and publicly answered these criticisms. They acted as public servants, not as bureaucrats trying to foist their own untested ideas on other people’s children.

The Massachusetts Department of Education also held a large public meeting on Common Core’s standards to which the standards writers were invited. It was informative for the audience to hear Jason Zimba, the mathematics standards writer, indicate that Common Core’s math standards would not prepare high school students for STEM. I recommend that the Florida Department of Education hold a similar meeting and invite parents and teaching faculty at its own higher education institutions to attend and question Common Core’s standards writers.

WDW – FL contributor Diane Kepus wrote, “Governor Scott recently tossed the parents and taxpayers of Florida a bone regarding implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) leading many to believe he was going to “shut down” implementation of CCSS via his Executive Order Number 13-276. However some are questioning if the EO has any teeth.”

“Governor Scott issues an Executive Order and uninformed citizens believe he is stopping CCSS in Florida. What he did was withdraw Florida from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) only. He stated he was going to hold three hearings for public comments, look into finding someone else for testing and acknowledged concerns regarding the Federal overreach and the data collection of psychological attitudes and beliefs,” noted Kepus.

Kepus concluded the bottom line is: The Florida implementation of Common Core State Standards is untouched, unaffected and on track. It appears former Commissioner Stotsky has come to the same conclusion.

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.