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Greater Consortium of Florida School Boards says “Suspend High Stakes Testing”

Meetings of The Greater Consortium of Florida School Boards are not usually big news, but this meeting, Friday September 19, in West Palm Beach, Florida was an exception as parents have become a volcano of discontent and school board members are rising to address their concerns. The Consortium is eleven school boards which team together for the purpose of lobbying the state government. Forty two percent of the K-12 children in Florida attend their schools.

In fact, many school board meetings are now the “hot” places to be as pressure mounts against the maniacal testing demands which come with Common Core. News this week included hundreds of new tests to be administered, costing each district millions and crowding out precious learning time. It is estimated that over 40% of class time is already spent on testing alone. Schools have gone so far as to end recess in K-6 so that more time can be spent testing.

Eruptions have occurred in local school board meetings all around the state. In Lee County, there was a vote to “Opt out” of state mandated tests altogether. Hundreds of parents jammed into the board meeting wearing red in solidarity and gave passionate testimony about the disastrous effects of Common Core and high stakes testing.

Now, the rebellion has swelled and the Consortium voted unanimously to include a main plank in their legislative agenda to “suspend high stakes testing.” This will be confirmed by a vote in each school district and will be used as a lobbying platform.
The move was stunning as all districts must agree on issues in the platform which usually results in only non-controversial proposals, not bold statements. But big problems require bold action.

The state, itself, has admitted there are many problems with the deliver and administering of tests. Just last week the Florida DOE ended the K-2 “FAIR” test.

What is “high stakes” testing? Why the aversion to tests? Isn’t “accountability” important?

In the “old days” when schools worked, certified teachers taught in accredited schools and the teachers gave final exams and evaluated the body of student work to produce a grade which was entered in the report card. Students were accountable for their results.

Since 1994, criticism of results led some legislators to say “Let’s raise the bar.” Let’s impose “higher standards” and base teacher pay and tenure on student results. This is “outcome based education.” And this was a big mistake which got bigger as time went on.

The federal government passed No Child Left Behind in 2002. This required tests to show ALL students would progress at a certain rate, or schools would be taken over. Teachers would be paid and fired on results. This led to frustration, teaching only to the test, and widespread cheating scandals.

Of course, accountability for one’s actions is important. But we should not be accountable for results we do not control. That is what we have done to teachers and schools. Lessons are scripted and teachers are not allowed to slow down or speed up as their lessons are “paced.” Bright students get bored and those who don’t catch on right away are left behind.

The state dictates the standards and curriculum must match because pay and even their jobs depend on getting good results on tests the state mandates. Students are not measured on a body of work, but can have life changing decisions made for them on the basis of a single test. Third graders are held back a year, and high schoolers must pass one test in order to graduate. State mandated End of Course (EOC) exams count for 30% of the yearly grade in core subjects.

We should also not be rewarded and punished using unattainable goals as in “No Child Left Behind.” Here’s a simple example: I can reward someone five feet tall millions of dollars to beat a seven fool tall NBA player at basketball and it is nearly impossible for him to attain that goal no matter how hard he tries. I can punish him when he fails, and there is no positive result from either to the shorter player. There would be an enormous negative effect, deflating the ego of the player and discouraging him from trying at all.

Realizing all of this, and examining the disastrous empirical results, we must support the bold move supported by the Greater Consortium of Florida’s School Boards, and press the Governor and Legislators to stop this unworkable, unwise, and unaffordable method of meaningless measurement.

Unwinding the bloated bureaucracy in which corporate cronies such as Pearson PLC, Bill Gates and Jeb Bush have benefitted massively, won’t be easy. But we must free our children of the tests which line their pockets and steal nearly half of their class time for learning.

It is OUR responsibility to raise our children, not the village, not the state, and certainly not Washington DC.

We, the People, must take back our parental rights and demand that the schools, our state, and our nation remember they serve at the CONSENT of the Governed, not the GOVERNOR.

We must be free to teach the truth and America will once again be that Shining City on the Hill where American Exceptionalism is common…

Not Common Core.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Common Core: It Seemed Like a Good Idea Until It Existed

PARCC and SBAC States Agree to Deliver Student-level Data to USDOE

School Board Privatization: Committee for a Better _________ (Your City Here)

Common Core: Law Center Develops Opt-Out Form for Parents

Amidst growing concerns from parents and teachers surrounding the Common Core State Standards and the Federal government’s control of classroom curriculum, the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) has prepared a Student Privacy Protection Request form for use by parents who wish to protect their children by opting-out of Common Core aligned curricula, data mining and the release of information concerning their children’s personal beliefs.

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, designed the comprehensive opt-out form for parents concerned about Common Core and who want to protect their children’s privacy from educational data mining. The form allows parents to choose which Common Core State Standards and data driven practices they do not want their children to be a part of, including standardized testing.

Click here to download a copy of the Student Privacy Protection Request form

The form allows parents to opt-out of sharing their child’s information with the federal government, as well as outside agencies and private contractors. Information which parents can opt-out of sharing ranges from test scores and religious and political beliefs, to biographic, biometric, and psychometric data, such as fingerprints, DNA and information related to children’s personality and aptitude.

Richard Thompson, TMLC President and Chief Counsel, commented, “The opt-out form is based on the constitutionally recognized fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children and on federal statutes which were designed to protect student privacy.  Our Founding Fathers recognized the dangers to our freedoms posed by centralized control over public education.  However, today, all but a handful of state governments, enticed by millions of dollars in federal grants, are voluntarily inviting the federal government to take control of our public schools, imposing untested educational standards and obtaining personal information on children and their parents which would make any totalitarian government blush with envy.   We must ever keep in mind, ‘The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will become the philosophy of the government in the next.’ Clearly, Common Core is a threat to individual privacy and liberty, and to our Constitutional Republic.”

Religious and private school educators have also criticized Common Core. In a statement the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of faithful Catholic education said, “This school reform effort is nothing short of a revolution in how education is provided, relying on a technocratic, top-down approach to setting national standards that, despite claims to the contrary, will drive curricula, teaching texts, and the content of standardized tests.  At its heart, the Common Core is a woefully inadequate set of standards in that it limits the understanding of education to a utilitarian ‘readiness for work’ mentality.”

Political Commentators Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin have repeatedly reported on the dangers and horrors of Common Core, with Malkin saying, “It’s about control, control and more control.”

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed under the supervision of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to ensure that education and educational outcomes were consistent across the United States. The CCSS provides a set of standards they claim are “essential, rigorous, clear and specific, coherent, and internationally benchmarked.”

However, the CCSS have come under heavy fire since the beginning for a variety of grievances including: incomprehensible, political and inappropriate assignments; costly ties to big corporations; in-test advertising; the elimination of locally appropriate standards; and the emphasis placed on standardized testing.

In addition, with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, whose educational value has not been demonstrated, also comes an alarming explosion of data mining within the classroom.  Student data are stored in databases designed to follow students from their entry into schools in pre-Kindergarten up through their entry into the workforce. These databases, through a complicated network of contracts and agreements, can then be shared with the federal government, contractors, researchers and other outside agencies. Testing corporations can then analyze the test data, produce recommendations for how to “remediate” student weaknesses, and then sell that information back to states and school districts.

These state databases, often referred to as P-20 systems, like Common Core are tied to federal funding, through the 2009 Federal Stimulus package and Race to the Top waivers, and in some instances can contain over 400 individual data points per student including health-care histories, income information, religious affiliations, voting status, blood type, likes and dislikes and homework completion. The data is then available to numerous public agencies. Despite federal student privacy protections guaranteed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the administration is paving the way for private entities to buy the data while the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging the shift from aggregate data collection to individual student data collection.

As a result of concerns expressed by a Michigan member of the TMLC regarding Common Core in March 2014, the Law Center began its study of the issues regarding the Common Core Standards.  The Student Privacy Protection Opt-Out Request was designed by the Thomas More Law Center as a result of that study.  It is available as a general reference and guide for all concerned parents.  However, each state has different laws that may impact educational issues differently.  Therefore, if parents are dealing with schools outside of the state of Michigan, it is important that they consult with a licensed attorney in their state for additional review and modifications of the opt-out form to comport with the laws of their respective states.

RELATED VIDEO: How Education Savings Accounts Are Empowering Families:

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

The Common Core: A Poor Choice for States – The Heartland Institute
Common Core Issues – Home School Legal Defense Association
Common Core: What’s Behind the Language – Rachel Alexander
Common Core – The Eagle Forum
10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know About the Common Core – Cardinal Newman Society

Common Core Rapidly Losing Support

As their children either start or return to school, parents are naturally concerned about the quality of education they receive from kindergarten through twelfth grade. In the past, before the teachers unions gained virtual control of the schools and before the federal government decided it had to impose “national standards”, it was the job of local boards of education to ensure students learned the basics—the three R’s—and, if history is any indicator, they did.

There should be no federal intervention in our school systems, but programs such as 2001’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” have conditioned people to accept its role. The most recent example is Common Core, but it is the creation of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The support it has received from the White House, the Department of Education, and voices on Capitol Hill has left many with the impression it is a federal program. That doesn’t make it any less awful.

If you want to learn the facts about it, read a brief analysis by Joy Pullman, “Common Core: A Bad Choice for America”, which you can download for free from The Heartland Institute’s website or purchase copies in quantity. Pullman, a research fellow, is the managing editor of Heartland’s “School Reform News”, published ten times per year. For the record, I am a Heartland advisor.

As Pullman notes in her analysis, “In 2010, every state but Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia adopted Common Core education standards, a set of requirements in each grade in math and English language arts.” As school begins this year, four states, Indiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Carolina have already dropped the program. Watch other states such as Louisiana and Wisconsin do the same.

Common Core

Click on the image for a larger view. Poster courtesy of ThePeoplesCube.com.

Here’s why. As Pullman notes in a recent article, for the first time the annual Pi Kappa Delta/Gallup poll revealed that “a majority of Americans—81%–has heard of Common Core. And 60% oppose it.” As more Americans learn more about Common Core, they too will oppose it, but the most intriguing finding of the poll was that, among teachers, there was a drop of support from 76% last year to 46% this year! The poll demonstrated that “Majorities wanted local school boards to have far more control over what schools teach than state or federal governments.”

Pullman said, “Everyone is for ‘standards’ in the abstract. Everyone is not for ‘standards’ that, like Common Core, coerce teachers and schools, and impose bad education theories on the countries.”

“Nationalizing education, like nationalizing anything,” says Pullman “requires compromise to get enacted. And compromise inevitably sacrifices quality. Quality has to grow from the ground up, through cooperation and competition, or it will never exist.”

What teachers and parents subject to Common Core requirements have learned rather quickly is that the program has a number of serious flaws. It not only slows the process of learning multiplication, it dampens the development of the creative thinking process, and offers a skewed, leftist selection of reading materials about U.S. history.

Pullman says, “The most important thing to understand about education standards is that research has demonstrated they have no effect on student achievement. That’s right: no effect at all. A series of data analyses from the Brookings Institution found no link between high state standards and high student achievement.”

Any parent and any teacher will confirm that different students learn at different rates and some encounter problems in certain areas. Some are better at mathematics. Others are better readers and writers. Still others find science or the arts of greatest interest. People are different. It is foolish to think that children aren’t.

This is not to say that the states don’t have education standards. They do and local boards ensure that their curriculums meet them.

At the national level, Pullman points out that “the country already has a national testing program that sets cut scores: the National Assessment of Educational Progress” that is “a valid, well-respected measuring stick that already offers states and citizens the ability to compare schools’ progress across state lines without the intrusions and muddle curriculum Common Core introduces.”

I recommend you download Pullman’s analysis, but in the meantime let me offer a good way to understand Common Core. It is the Obamacare of education.

© Alan Caruba, 2014

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is by RealClearEducation.com.

Miami, FL: Possible FCAT Science Cheating at Crestview Elementary?

An official complaint has been filed with the Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools regarding suspected test cheating on the FCAT Science exam at Crestview Elementary School during the 2013-2014 school year. The complaint is based upon a report from Mr. Keith Guthrie.

Guthrie stated he had suspicions about test scores on the Grade 5 FCAT Science exam involving two students (one ESE, the other ESOL). Mrs. Matilda Ysidro, told Guthrie that she witnessed the former Science Coach, and current Grade 5 Science teacher, Ms. Lori Caraccia assisting these two students last school year by “emphasizing” the answers on the science exam.

Guthrie came to me “for direction,” as his case is similar to the test cheating on the Industrial Arts exams at Miami Norland Senior High School in April 2012. Guthrie knew my experience with exposing test cheating. I have also represented Guthrie in past grievances and labor disputes with Crestview administration.

Guthrie told me that the events occurred while Ms. Caraccia was testing these two students for the Grade 5 FCAT Science exam during the last school year. Mrs. Ysidro told Guthrie she walked in on them and observed Ms. Caraccia “emphasizing” the right answers. During a second interview with Guthrie, Ysidro said as students were taking the test, if the student marked the wrong answer, Ms. Caraccia would tell them, “You better check your answer”, in some cases multiple times, until the student marked the right answer before moving on to the next question.

Mr. Guthrie deemed what Mrs. Ysidro told him as credible because the two students in question attended his classes. One student was ESOL, the other ESE, and both students failed his class. Both students hardly participated in class and displayed Level 1 performance on their last FCAT Reading exams. Yet both students scored Level 5 on the Grade 5 FCAT Science exam- a clear disparity between classroom performance and their FCAT Reading scores.

Guthrie said only five (including these two) Grade 5 students scored a Level 5 on the Grade 5 FCAT Science exam.  He knew the other three students; he tested them; and their scores were reflective of their classroom achievement and other test scores.

I advised Mr. Guthrie to email the Florida Department of Education Inspector General. He indicated he would email his complaint. Mr. Guthrie has not contacted the FL DOE IG at the time this column was published.

The Florida Department of Education investigators simply need to obtain the names of the five students who scored a Level 5 on the Grade 5 FCAT Science exam; identify those coded as ESOL and ESE and confirm with Mr. Guthrie that they failed his class.  After the two students, and potentially others, are identified, retest them using a different proctor. As the school went from a “D” to a “C,” and Grade 5 FCAT Science performance shot up from 27% in 2013 to 38% in 2014.

Recently school administrators have been involved in cheating scandals in other states (Atlanta, El Paso, Houston, and Philadelphia). Ms. Caraccia was the Science Coach appointed by the principal and on her leadership team. It will be up to the District, and the FLDOE IG, to determine whether or not school administration was aware of possible cheating (coaching) of these students and, if so, when they knew it.

The dramatic rise in Crestview’s school grade from a “D” to a “C” (Crestview scored 477 points; 42 points above the minimum of 435)  lead to a total a payout of $40,000- $50,000 in teacher incentives from the Florida School Recognition Program.

Hopefully it was an isolated incident, but given that test cheating at Norland went largely unnoticed and unpunished by the FLDOE and by law enforcement, the message is clear that cheating pays.

I am reporting what was told to me by Guthrie. This case is not unlike what happened at Miami Norland Senior High School two years ago.  Only a complete and thorough investigation will get to the bottom of how widespread the test cheating is, as was the case at Norland.

If substantiated, many troubling questions are raised: why is there cheating on different levels within the Norland feeder pattern?  What will the District do about it? Will the people involved go the way of Emmanuel Fleurantin or Brenda Muchnick? Time will tell.

The following is a comparison of FCAT Science test results for Crestview Elementary.

Elementary
School Percentage Passing (Satisfactory and Above)
Grade
Level
Science
(Achievement Level 3 and Above)
2013 2014
Dade
Top of Form CRESTVIEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (1161) Bottom of Form
5 27 38 

 

Elementary
School Percentage Passing (Satisfactory and Above)
Grade
Level
Reading
(Achievement Level 3 and Above)
Mathematics
(Achievement Level 3 and Above)
Science
(Achievement Level 3 and Above)
Writing Essay
(3.5 and Above)
2013 2014 2013 2014 2013 2014 2013 2014
Dade
Top of Form CRESTVIEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (1161) Bottom of Form
3 41 48  40 42  NA NA  NA NA 
4 55 56  61 58  NA NA  42 30 
5 49 55  42 48  27 38  NA NA 

 

Study calls on US DOE to stop bribing states to adopt Common Core

The United States Department of Education (USED) should be prohibited from making adoption of national English and math standards known as Common Core a condition or incentive for receipt of federal funding, and both USED and organizations like the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, whose dues are paid with taxpayer funds, should make public the amount of time and money they have invested in promoting Common Core according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

“Common Core fundamentally alters the relationship between the federal government and the states,” says former Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, the author of A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education. “States are sacrificing their ability to inform what their students learn.”

To read the full study click here.

Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the federal government from directing, supervising, funding, or controlling any nationalized standards, testing, or curriculum. Yet Race to the Top (RttT), a competitive $4.35 billion federal grant program, gave preference to states that adopted or indicated their intention to adopt Common Core and participated in one of two federally funded consortia developing assessments linked to Common Core.

USED subsequently made adoption of Common Core one of the criteria for granting states conditional waivers from the accountability provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

In his preface for the paper, Iowa’s U.S. Senator Charles Grassley writes that when gov­ernment makes “decisions that affect a child’s education, these decisions should be made at a level of government close to the parents and students who are affected.” He goes on to criticize how what began as a plan to develop standards that states could adopt voluntarily has become a subject of federal coercion.

Scott notes that the adoption of new standards normally takes years from the time they are initially written by panels of educators, made available for extended periods of public review, and revised until they are adopted. But because of RttT’s deadlines, these periods were reduced to a few months or even weeks.

As a result of the rushed process, states adopted Common Core without knowing about assessments; the outcomes for which students, and in some cases teachers, will be held accountable. Other unknowns include what the passing score will be, who will set it, and whether it will be the same from state to state.

The three most populous states – California, Texas and Florida – also have systematic processes for adopting textbooks. These reviews happen on a regular cycle and would be disrupted and often expedited due to the need to adopt instructional materials aligned with the new standards in time for them to be implemented.

The expedited process by which Common Core was adopted in most states meant teachers had no opportunity to inform the standards’ content. In some states, the new standards are substantially different than what had been taught. In many cases, teachers will be teaching material in different grades than it had been before.

Scott describes all the “learning on the go” Common Core will require as a very expensive gamble. The one-year cost of new technology, instructional materials and teacher professional development is estimated at $10.5 billion for the 45 states and the District of Columbia, which have adopted the standards. With ongoing expenses, the cost is expected to rise to about $16 billion.

Scott also describes why Texas chose not to adopt Common Core while he served as commissioner of education. Disruption of the textbook adoption cycle, the lengthy process of making the standards available to the public and seeking approval from the state Board of Education, and the cost of changing procedures and parts of the education code were among the reasons for the decision not to adopt.

Texas would have been in line for a $700 million RttT grant, but “it costs more than $300 million per day to run public schools in Texas,” Scott says. “Giving up substantial autonomy to direct education policy in return for roughly enough money to run the schools for two days was not a trade-off we were willing to make.”

This report is co-sponsored by the American Principles Project, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Civitas Institute. Pioneer’s extensive research on Common Core national education standards includes:  Common Core Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade,The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers, and National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards. Recent national media coverage includes op-eds placed in The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard.

ABOUT THE PIONEER INSTITUTE:

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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

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.