Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More high stakes tests coming for Florida's students

From the Tampa Bay Times, by Cara Fitzpatrick

A third of Americans can't name any of the three branches of government. Fewer than half understand what separation of powers is, and twice as many can name a judge on American Idol than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Survey after survey has shown that Americans lack basic knowledge about how their government works. That's something Florida lawmakers hope to change.

The state is introducing a new end-of-course exam in civics for middle school students, the first high-stakes test required for middle school promotion. Students now have to take a civics class in middle school. By the 2014-15 school year, they'll have to pass the end-of-course exam to attend high school.

High-stakes tests aren't new to Florida. Third-graders must pass the reading Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to move to the fourth grade, while high school students must pass the FCAT to graduate. The civics exam affects this year's incoming sixth-graders.

Leslie Christenson, a Hillsborough County mother of a rising sixth-grader, said she thinks the state should teach civics. But she thinks a high-stakes exam is overkill.

"I think it's good for them to know it, but not to be held back because of it," she said.

State education officials plan to field test the new civics exam this year. In the 2013-14 school year, 30 percent of a student's civics grade will depend on the test score.

The state also has developed other end-of-course exams, which affect high school graduation. This year's incoming ninth-graders will have to pass tests in algebra, biology and geometry to graduate. Students also will take an end-of-course exam in U.S. history, but it won't affect graduation.

The new civics exam represents a big change for Florida, which only recently began to require students to take a separate civics class. For years, the subject often was included in a government class, usually taken at the end of high school.

Of Florida school districts surveyed between 2003 and 2005, fewer than 10 percent offered a stand-alone civics course, according to the Florida Law Related Education Association.

Lawmakers changed that in 2010, requiring students to take the end-of-course exam and one semester of civics in middle school. It passed without any opposition in either the state House or Senate.

Christenson said she fears that students won't be interested in civics and it might make it tough for them to pass the end-of-course exam.

"They're not going to want to study it," she said.

Some teachers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties already are using a virtual program, iCivics, to try to engage students.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor created the iCivics program after leaving the bench to address the lack of government knowledge among Americans. It offers virtual civics lessons and interactive gaming modules, alongside lectures and homework assignments.

Eric Leopold, a civics teacher at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, said that the favorite games of his students are "Counties Work," "Do I Have a Right," and "Immigration Nation." He credits the games with improving students' knowledge of political issues.

Angela Zollo, social studies department chair at Palm Harbor Middle School, said that the iCivics programs "reinforce the civics standards that we are required to teach."

"It is a great visual and hands-on activity for students," she said.

Nicholas Fox, 13, used iCivics when he was a student in Leopold's class. He said he enjoyed the games and "learning about the law."

"Coming into it from sixth grade, I did know about the very basics — like that there are three branches of government — but I didn't know a lot," he said. "After I took the class, I learned."

Correspondent Alexander Heffner contributed to this report. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com, (727)-893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Teachers join parents and school boards in saying no to the FCAT

From the Tampa Times, by Jeff Solochek

The push for an end to state's heavy reliance on standardized test results got another boost late Monday when the National Education Association annual representative assembly adopted a resolution opposing the "misuse" of testing.

Hundreds of delegates from Florida participated in the event and supported the resolution.

"In Florida, we know the negative impact that the testing mania is having on our students, our teachers and on public confidence in our schools," Florida Education Association president Andy Ford said in a news release. "It's past time that we undertake a comprehensive examination of the testing culture in our schools and align standardized tests so they help students and that the tests are not improperly used."

The NEA's move comes as little surprise. The teachers union was among the original backers of the National Resolution On High-Stakes Testing. But its voice does add to the chorus in the state and country that is pushing back against what they say is a pendulum swing too far in the direction of high stakes placed on testing for accountability.

Florida political leaders have said there's no turning back on testing on their watch. But they have signaled a willingness to at least talk about how the results are used.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pinellas 50 Applicants for Super, Duval 2

I knew we were in trouble but I didn't know this much. -cpg

From the Times Union, by Topher Sanders

Duval County Public Schools' Chief Academic Officer has applied for the superintendent position in Pinellas County.

Kathryn “Kathy” LeRoy is among 50 applicants for the Pinellas job. LeRoy came to Duval County from Miami Dade in 2007 in the role of Chief Officer of Math and Science. She was promoted in 2008 to Chief Academic Officer.

Inquires for comment from LeRoy were not immediately returned.

LeRoy received letters of recommendation from board member Paula Wright and from former School Board candidate and education consultant Kenneth Manuel.


John Heymann’s charity pays him six figures in salary

$118,464 to be exact. Maybe six figures isn’t what it used to be but I have real issues with administrators making six figures at the same time we are cutting art teachers and Para professionals and at the same time when so many teachers have to pay for basics out of their own pockets. People have the right to make as much as they can in the private sector and I am all for teachers getting paid more too, but at the same time our schools have needs going unmet while more and more people seem to doing pretty well on education’s dime.

I wonder is he will turn down a school board salary if elected. He hasn’t said so one way or another.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

School Board member Becki Couch says, there is a boogeyman!

Well she actually said the district was required to have word wall Nazis but that’s practically the same thing as a boogeyman.

When giving an impassioned monologue about how being on the school board is different than being a teacher (really?!?) she said the district is often forced by Tallahassee to do things they think are bad for our teachers, kids and schools and above was one of the examples she gave.

I wonder if Tallahassee also forced the district to get rid of our attendance and tardy policies, gut discipline, destroy rigor and treat teachers like second-class citizens because those are some of the things the district has done too?

Public Education's obituary

From EducationAlchemey

If you are a person of a morbid and twisted ilk like myself, then you perhaps, like me, have tended from time to time to mentally write your own obituary, or to imagine what it might sound like. I like to do this, especially when I am taking off in an airplane. The mental exercise demands that I take honest and immediate stock of my life: Do I have any regrets? Do I need to mend any relational fences? Have I been the person I have wanted to be? Have I lived fully? What is left undone that is of importance to me?

You get the idea. When the plane lands, which (obviously) it has done every time so far, I am left more compelled than ever to remind myself of what’s important, and take actions I might not have otherwise. It’s easy in daily life to get bogged down in the not so important bullshit and to lose sight of what matters.

In the last two days I have taken to imagining the obituary for public education, should that ever come to pass. How would it read? Here lies public education … death by homicide (at the violent hands of corporate reform)? Or, will it read “…death by suicide (at the hands of our own fear, and or apathy)?

I don’t write this with the assumption that public education WILL die! First, if I really thought its demise was inevitable I would not dedicate the emotional and physical efforts I do—taking time away from my children, from any remote resemblance of a personal life, risking my job security, or sacrificing sleep—if I thought the fight was in vain. Secondly, if indeed we are to lose this battle, I can sleep with myself at night knowing that anything that the reformers took from me, my profession, my children’s education, or our democratic rights as a society, they took from me with deeply embedded claw marks in it.

I choose death by homicide. In other words: “Game on mother fuckers- come and get me.”

If you’ve been following recent discussions and events around the NEA, and its convention going on right now in Washington DC, you know there’s been a great deal of discord and debate over several matters including a statement made by United Opt Out National’s call for the NEA leaders and members to step up and take direct and decisive action against the trifecta of education reform: The imposition of a national common core, Value Added Measures in teacher evaluations (VAM), and high stakes testing.

As someone who had a hand in writing the statement, I think my feelings about the matter are self-evident. But if you’re someone who read the statement made by United Opt Out and hated it, believe it or not, I love you for it. Really. I am not being smarmy. Why? Because the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. The passionate disagreement shows that you still care. Whatever I say, and even if you disagree with me (or I risk being misunderstood) shows at least I am in this for the fight, I am willing to take risks, I am willing to piss you off, because remaining silent out of fear is worse than not being liked.

I’d rather step on a giant land mine trying to escape my own death than stand still with my eyes shut and wait for the bullets to rip holes through the cavity of my body. I’m a believer in ripping open the dialogue right down to the bone. Why? Because even if you disagree with me, even if you don’t like me I can still like, and respect you. I don’t treat personal relationships like baseball trading cards. Because only from discord, can new possibilities emerge. Because discord only happens over something that matters. Because my god, we’ve been playing the polite quiet game out of fear waaayyy too long. And the reformers gain rapid ground everyday that we play “nice.” We’ve been avoiding the necessary conversations and perhaps uncomfortable actions too long.

Disagreements and discord do not trouble me so much as silence. Everyone knows that the end of a marriage isn’t when the fighting starts. Its when the fighting stops.

Every day that teachers are afraid to take actions, or are resigned to “their fate” because of potential backlash from “higher ups,” the reformers put a nail in our coffin. In higher education where I work I hear my own colleagues tell each other “Shhh, shhhh….don’t say that, you’ll get in trouble!” as if we were little kids using the word poop at the dinner table. “You can’t say this! Don’t do that! Be careful not to…” Everywhere educators are now told what they can and cannot speak to, what they can and cannot teach, and pretty much where and when they are allowed to take a shit. Enough. I’d rather step in shit than be afraid to move. Our discords may be ugly sometimes, but I’ll take them (as we fight against our collective homicide) over suicide any day.

Suicide is the result of fear and/or apathy- it’s either death by paralysis, or death by not caring enough to think that your actions can matter. It’s like not even having the desire to move off the tracks when you see the train coming.

Is that how we wish for the obituary for one of the most significant cornerstones of our democratic society to be written? That we were too afraid or too resigned to do everything, absolutely everything, we could do in our power to try and save it from the hands of corporate greed and self interest?

Death by suicide will happen if too many of us—teachers and teacher leaders—remain silent out of fear (of not being liked? Of making people we respect angry? At losing something we have or not getting something we want?). Don’t worry, the corporate reformers will take all of that from us anyway if we remain silent long enough.

Everywhere: In unions Local, state and national), in non-union states, in k-12 classrooms, in universities, in PTA meetings, on the playground with other parents—everywhere, parents, teachers and teacher leaders MUST not allow the story of the future of public education be consigned to writing a suicide note. If it must be death by homicide so be it. But I am at my very core hopeful this will not happen because I am a believer in miracles. I am a believer in the underdogs. I am a believer in the 11th hour. I am a believer in “fat lady” who sings.

And I am hopeful because what I have seen lately has been anything but indifference. Agree or disagree. We debate. We misunderstand. We understand but don’t agree anyway. We differ. We hold fast to our own ideas while being willing to listen to others. We discuss. We consider alternative views. We wrangle with provocative ideas. So I have hope.