Florida Voucher Proponents Gave Up Everything to Keep From Being Held Accountable

The Senate version of voucher expansion serves as a stunning rebuke of SFO agent, Step Up for Students, and one which will keep it  from expanding and further enriching its executives. Lynn Hatter explains in WFSU‘s website:

Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) says his plan will add more accountability to the groups that administer the program, called scholarship funding organizations or SFO’s. There are now three of them, including longtime administrator, Step Up For Students.

“It prohibit eligible contribution and application fees from being used fro lobbying or political activity or related expenses,” Galvano says. “It strengthens accountability for SFO’s by increasing audit requirements, requiring the auditor general to conduct annual operational audits of SFO’s.”

Galvano also wants to give the state auditor general the ability to review the programs and mandate background checks for owners and operators.

Looks like Senate republicans didn’t buy Step Up for Students plaintive wails that they’d done nothing wrong when numerous accounts revealed otherwise. The Senate didn’t give SUFS the expansion they wanted and cut it off well below the income threshold they planned on.

Step Up for Students, in fact, lost everything except the thing the one thing they couldn’t lose to survive: voucher schools still don’t have to take the same tests that public schools do. From Lloyd Dunkelberger in the Lakeland Ledger:

The Senate bill would not require voucher students to take a state assessment test — like the FCAT — although it does provide that option to the parents of the students.

It would require more reporting on the norm- referenced tests that the voucher school students must take. The data, most of which will reflect statewide results, will be compiled by the Learning System Institute at Florida State University. But schools, which have more than 51 percent of their students receiving vouchers, will have to report results on school- by-school basis.

Galvano must have known where the red line was to ensure that Florida’s voucher system remained intact. And Step Up for Students must know that voucher schools cannot take the same tests as do public schools and that they fell on their sword on everything else.

Test weary Floridians won’t buy this latest republican voucher gambit, and are justified in asking why vouchers schools don’t want to be held accountable.




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Galvano’s Back Channel Amendment Allows Florida Voucher Schools to Dodge Accountability

The only thing that’s missing from Florida’s voucher mouthpieces and the politicians doing their bidding is a Russian accent voiceover:

“Our bouchers kidz take deeffarent tests. Tests just azz good. Same ding.”

And they may just get away with it, too, as a key Democrat, Sen. Bill Montford appears to have signed off on the deal. From the last reliable journalist at Step Up for Students blog, Travis Pillow:

While earlier debates had centered on testing, the new bill would not require students who receive scholarships to take the same tests as public school students. But it would change the way the state handles the students’ test results. State law currently requires scholarship students to take norm-referenced tests. The results are sent to an independent researcher, who is contracted by the state Department of Education to analyze the results and prepare a report each year. The Senate proposal would replace the current researcher, David Figlio of Northwestern University, with the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University. It would also require the institute to report the students’ overall performance instead of their learning gains from one year to the next.

While Figlio could no longer be trusted as an independent researcher,  just selecting what’s essentially a new testing contractor isn’t acceptable to Florida taxpayers who understand you cannot compare voucher students’ Learning System Institute apples to public school student’s American Institute of Research oranges.

Why do voucher proponents insist upon taking different tests?




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Epic Pearson Failure in Florida During State-Wide Testing, Blames Someone Else

From the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Testing was suspended Tuesday in several districts across Florida after students were unable to take the state’s standardized assessment because of a computer glitch.

In a letter to the testing contractor, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the glitch had created “significant problems” for students taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and end-of-course assessments.

“This failure is inexcusable,” Stewart wrote to an executive at Pearson, the company that administers and scores the FCAT. “Florida’s students and teachers work too hard on learning to be distracted by these needless and avoidable technological issues.”

Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick said in an email that 26 districts in Florida had reported some disruption to FCAT testing Tuesday. The level of disruption varied among those districts.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesman John Schuster said some students were able to complete their tests but many received an error message when they finished.

“Many more were unable to start testing when they were scheduled,” he added.

The Florida Department of Education blamed Pearson for the glitch, saying the contractor was having difficulty with a hosting provider.

Pearson released a statement saying Florida’s internet traffic disruptions were due to network issue with a third-party hosting service provider, Savvis.

“We are working closely with Savvis to remedy the situation as soon as possible,” the statement said. “Even with the disruption, which did present difficulties for some school districts, many students are testing normally with almost 200,000 tests delivered today.”

Gov. Rick Scott said the Department of Education would hold Pearson accountable.

“Our students have studied hard,” he said. “Their parents have pushed them and helped them study hard. Their teachers have helped them. It’s unacceptable.”

Pasco County Schools spokeswoman Linda Cobb said her district’s biggest concern was the reliability of test results. She said the district would be comparing the results of those who took the test as scheduled and those who could not because of the glitch.

“It just increases our concern about the window we have for transitioning to the new test and all computer-based testing,” she said.

Florida has been transitioning toward computer-based testing over the last several years, and state education officials are scheduled to implement a new exam from the American Institutes of Research in 2015.

Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the computer glitches “prove yet again that the state is not prepared for such a large undertaking.”

“This should be a teachable moment for The Florida Department of Education as they enter a new era of testing next year: Slow down, make sure every aspect of the testing program works, involve teachers and administrators in this massive undertaking and get it right,” he said.

The foot-stomping by Scott and Stewart is rich. They can throw Pearson under the bus now as the state’s new tests have gone to another vendor. And how about those “liquidated damages” that Stewart wants?

Naturally Pearson is now pointing the finger at somebody else in a press release:

“Pearson’s online testing services for Florida experienced internet traffic disruptions today due to a network issue with our third-party hosting service provider, Savvis.  We are working closely with Savvis to remedy the situation as soon as possible.  Even with the disruption, which did present difficulties for some school districts, many students are testing normally with almost 200,000 tests delivered today.”

Oklahoma had a state-wide failure yesterday, too.




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CAIR Arrives on the Scene to Debate Florida Education Policy

In 2007, federal prosecutors named the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR) an unindicted co-conspirator in an alleged criminal conspiracy to support a Palestinian Arab terrorist group, Hamas. Undeterred and unfiltered largely due to western cultures political correctness, CAIR has become the go-to mouthpiece ready to cry “Islamaphobia” at the drop of a hat. My, how far they have come. Now they weigh in on Florida education policy. CAIR has a Florida chapter and their Community and Government Relations Director, Ghazala Salam, has this in the Huffington Post:

In 1945, when U.S. diplomats from the Mid-East tried to persuade President Truman not to yield to Zionist pressure, Truman responded by saying, “I’m sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.” Indeed, that was a very powerful statement describing and linking the relationship between the public and lawmakers.

Yet, today, over 400,000 American Muslims constituents across the State of Florida are fighting a decisive battle against ignorance, intolerance and indifference in the Florida State Legislature. Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) and his low level of knowledge about Islam and Muslims has placed a special burden on our legislators to negotiate complex issues brought on by SB 864.

Senator Hays has said that he decided to file SB 864 after some residents in his district complained that students were being taught pro-Islamic textbooks, i.e., the World History textbook published by Prentice Hall. The complaints in Senator Hays’s district were provoked by groups like Citizens for National Security (CFNS) and ACT! For America (ACT), both organizations having been designated as hate groups by many including the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In fact, CFNS and ACT have been working with various county GOP clubs, REC leaders and Tea Party chapters to push school boards to remove and/or edit textbooks with references to Islamic civilization based on their biases and perceptions. Interestingly enough, Volusia County School Board and students took a stand in support of the textbook while Senator Hays chose to use legislation as a weapon, a weapon that reinforces the anti-Muslim/Islam stereotypes and justifies discrimination and slander against Islam and Muslims in Florida.

Ghazal Salam uses all the code words to illicit sympathy after playing the predictable antisemitic “Zionist pressure” card. That dreadful tea party and those loathsome GOP are getting involved in textbook content. Never has such transparent attempt to draw liberal democrat outrage been heard in the ongoing debate on Florida education policy.

CAIR’s propaganda strike is disingenuous and could potentially backfire. CAIR knows that a dozen Islamic schools already participate in Florida’s voucher program. “Islamaphobia” accusations on the same republican politicians who assure that taxpayer money funds Islamic schools may not be such a good idea.

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Dispatching the Al Lawson-Step Up For Students Smear of Paula Dockery

Former Florida senator turned education privatization super-lobbyist Al Lawson took his turn at mischaracterizing opponents of the Florida voucher expansion scheme that would enrich the executives who run it. To do so, he needed to misrepresent the words of a former senate colleague. Wrote Lawson of Paula Dockery’s recent opinion piece.

My former Senate colleague in this fight, Republican Paula Dockery, said in her column she is worried the scholarships harm public education. However, I’ve never seen that. I see a program that gives learning options to some of our most desperate parents. These parents aren’t against public schools. Their children are struggling, and they’re just looking for a place where they might blossom, and are so grateful when that happens. I have little tolerance for those who try to cast these parents as villains in public education. Education is a not a zero-sum game, and this scholarship is simply about giving poor families more options.

In its blog, Step Up for Students stayed true to form and didn’t link Dockery’s column. To do so would have been to expose Lawson’s complete distortion of what Dockery wrote. She, in fact, made no mention whatsoever of the parents of voucher students. But Step Up for Students was sure to mention that Lawson is a Democrat and doubled down on the smear with a headline titled, “Democrat: Stop Casting School Choice Parents As Villans in Public Ed.”

Step Up for Students also slanted Lawson’s resume. as they simply identify him as a former state senator who is “a  member of the unpaid Board of Directors of Step Up For Students.” Not Quite. Lawson has a lobbying firm which has represented Charter Schools USA, the Florida Charter School Alliance, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, and Parent Revolution.

No longer able to get what they want on the merits, well-paid  voucher expansionists now are now  reduced to demonizing opponents. Hardly something you’d expect from a bunch off folks who say how much they care about parents, kids and families.



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The Separartion of Republican Governors From Jeb Bush on Common Core: A Conservative Awakening

From the New York Times:

Its most outspoken Republican defender, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, is also the most talked-about potential presidential candidate among mainstream party leaders and donors. Mr. Bush has called out some Republicans who have switched positions, drawing what will be a dividing line in the campaign if he or other defenders of the Common Core choose to run. He is joined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, but theirs is becoming a small club.

“I’m a big fan of Jeb Bush; I think he’s an important leader on many issues,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “But on the question of Common Core, I emphatically do not agree with Common Core.” His opinion of the program is shared by two Senate colleagues and possible 2016 rivals for the presidential nomination, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Mr. Cruz’s view also aligns with that of several Republican governors contemplating presidential runs. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed legislation last month that made his state the first to opt out of the Common Core after having adopted it. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he wanted his state to establish its own educational goals. And Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana suggested that he might use executive authority to go around the State Legislature if lawmakers did not withdraw from the group of states developing the standardized test associated with the Common Core.

What’s happening here?

Perhaps its the long awaited awakening by conservatives on corporate-driven reform. Consider this from a recent story by Tim Murphy that appeared in Mother Jones:

There are Republicans and there are conservatives—conservatives would look at this and say, ‘This is not a good idea; why are we doing this?’” says Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, when I ask about Bush. “You have the elite crony capitalist wing of the party that supports it.”

You can’t get much more conservative than APP.

Florida’s awakening on Core has proceeded at a slower pace, strangely stalled by unusual bedfellows. Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist cynical support of Core is intended to make Rick Scott look bad. The Florida Chamber of Commerce want’s Core, too. It is they who represent Bush’s “crony capitalist wing of the party.”

John O’Connor reports in State Impact that opponents of Core in Florida want a special legislation session. While they won’t get one, it shows that Core opponents aren’t going away.  What the issue becomes in the upcoming race for governor likely between Scott and Crist remains to be seen.

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Academica Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation

UPDATE: Herald has reposted st

UPDATE after the bump

From Kathleen McGrory in the Miami Herald:

The state’s largest charter school management company has come under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education for potential conflicts of interests in its business practices, federal authorities have confirmed.

The Education Department’s Inspector General Office is auditing the South Miami-based Academica Corp. as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide. The audit will be complete this summer, department spokeswoman Catherine Grant said.

A preliminary audit report obtained by the Herald/Times identified potential conflicts of interest between the for-profit company Academica and the Mater Academy charter schools it manages. One example the auditors cited was the transfer of money from Mater Academy to its private support organization, which shares the same board of directors.

The Education Department’s findings come as the Florida Legislature considers a bill that could weaken school districts’ ability to control business practices at new charter schools.

The preliminary audit report hones in on the Mater Academy family of schools in Miami-Dade County. Fernando Zulueta founded the original Mater Academy in 1998 and was a member of its governing board until Sept. 2004.

The auditors found that three of the schools in the network — Mater Academy, Mater High and Mater East — entered into leases with development companies tied to the Zulueta family. Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board.

In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, state Rep. Erik Fresen, the report said.

“We identified four related-party transactions, two of which indicated, at a minimum, the appearance of conflicts of interest between Mater Academy and its CMO [charter-management company],” the auditors wrote.

Fresen declined to comment Friday.

The report also pointed to a potential conflict of interest between Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens and its non-profit support organization Mater Academy Foundation.

Continue reading

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Florida Republican Hypocricy Unmasked in Voucher Expansion

Writing in the Gainesville Sun, Alachua County School Board member Eileen Roy points to the numerous contradictions that school vouchers and their legislative enablers  cannot resolve:

These schools have little to no accountability and are not required to have certified teachers. As a taxpayer, I do not want my money diverted away from public schools. If parents want their children to attend a private school and pay for it, that is laudable. But taxpayers should not be paying for religious education and bad science.

It is an irony that the mantra in Tallahassee is that we want our students to be educated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses and to be prepared to compete in the global economy. Teaching children that science is corrupt is no way to equip them for the modern world and will cause them and society future harm.

All religious schools are not of this ilk, of course. But voucher programs for private schools are sometimes attractive to parents precisely because they are free of the innumerable unfunded mandates and endless testing inflicted on public schools.

Private school vouchers defy the Florida Constitution, which states that it is the state’s paramount duty to have a uniform system of high quality, free public schools. Corporate tax vouchers create a dual system that is profoundly unfair and dangerous

Florida’s republican legislators cannot dodge hypocrisy charges. Especially with so many angles to pursue:

Thought you were all about STEM education and careers: Check.

Thought you were about assuring Florida kids have a “great teacher” in the classroom: Check.

Thought you were all about insisting that Common Core Standards are essential to enabling our kids to “compete in a global economy.” Check.

Thought you were all about accountability: Check.

These conflicts aren’t lost on some senate republicans, and it may explain the push-back voucher expansion its receiving. But whether or not the unpopular program – a recent Sunshine State News poll revealed Floridians oppose vouchers by a wide margin – the state’s republicans run the risk of being easily broad-brushed as double-dealers when it comes to education policy.

They can’t have it both ways intellectually, but their massive majorities in both legislative bodies assures that they can politically.

Education policy is the long game. Floridians will lose when the adults in the republican senate caucus leave because of term limits. An education privatization zealot in Andy Gardiner takes over as Senate President when Don Gaetz leaves after this year. The drip, drip, drip of revelations which continue to discredit Florida’s voucher program may be the only thing standing in the way of the republican agenda to crush the state’s public school system.












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Meet the New FCAT, Same as the Old FCAT

Sunshine State News reporter Allison Nielson writes of FCATs last year with a paradox: “Parting is such sweet sorrow — sort of.” And also this:

After a dramatic drop in FCAT writing scores in 2012, the State Board of Education altered Florida’s grading formula to assess schools on the percentage of students whose essays earned a 3 or better. In 2011, the formula last year graded schools on the percentage that scored at least a 4.

With the changes and increased pressure to succeed came growing criticism and controversy over the FCAT.

Many across the state, including teachers and parents, expressed concerns that the test was becoming too heavily emphasized and that teachers had become test-obsessed, ultimately resulting in only teaching students enough to make sure they passed the FCAT.

“[The FCAT] was designed to be a diagnostic tool that could help teachers, administrators and parents understand where they needed to focus attention on particular students,” said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow. “What it morphed into was something that became the all-encompassing arbiter of public education in Florida.”

While the test originated with good intentions, Pudlow said the FCAT was quickly spread too thin and ended up measuring too much in Florida’s education system.

“Something that was designed to be a diagnostic tool is being used for just about everything but a diagnostic tool,” he said, noting school grades, teacher evaluations and school funding are all reliant on FCAT performance.

Those folks making all those Jeb Bush-is-an-education-miracle-worker TV spots will snort that Pudlow is paid by that loathsome teacher union, but Pudlow is just giving Floridians a fact-based history lesson. In this instance, shooting the messenger would be intended to suppress truth-telling.

While Bush and the rest of the state’s education policy-makers are touting Florida’s new and improved American Institutes for Research tests (AIR), nothing’s really changed. It’s just another high-stakes test, one of which was never meant to be more that a “diagnostic tool,” that will still serve as the end-all on “school grades, teacher evaluations and school funding.”

It’s really worse than Floridians know, too.

Common Core Standards of which Bush’s latest propaganda arm is flacking aren’t evidenced based, and are not even close being fully implemented. Those new tests are supposed to be based on those, too.  And those new tests are being field-tested this year in Utah before being dropped on Florida kids next year. Even FCAT was field-tested for five years – and on Florida students.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects are out repeating the same old Common Core blather about how kids in other countries are outperforming ours and that these new Core-based AIR tests will prepare our kids “for a global workforce.” Repeating such unsupported rot is rehearsed agitprop spun for the 24-hour news cycle.

Do they really know what they are talking about or are they more like Nancy Pelosi who once urged passage of Obamacare with, “we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it?”




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United Front in Jacksonville Opposes Field Test Folly

From Denise Smith Amos in the Florida Times-Union:

Decrying what they call an untested test, leaders in Duval schools and teachers union — and some parents — urged voters Wednesday to flood state legislators’ phones and emails this week, urging them to slow down on some of the punitive aspects of the state’s new tests.

Duval teachers union president Terrie Brady, three school board members and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti called a press conference Wednesday, saying the new tests that will replace Florida’s FCATs are still under development and there won’t be enough time for them to be “field tested” properly before students must take the tests in spring 2015.

They warned that people will feel less confidence in the new test results and in the state’s A-through-F grading system, if the new exams are not properly vetted and improved before the scores count against students, schools and districts.

Duval Teachers United, like other teacher unions in Florida, recommends the state wait three years before imposing sanctions or punishments for poor test scores.

“For 15 years FCAT has judged, sorted and doomed the students of Florida,” Brady said.

“They’re failing third graders, denying diplomas to students who work hard every day and tying test scores to teacher salaries … We are asking for a suspension of the entire accountabilty system for three years to get it right after so many years of getting it wrong.”

When the FCAT began in 2000 there were five years of field testing before sanctions were imposed on schools or districts, Brady said.

Vitti opposes issuing any school grades for a year, until the state knows that its test works.

“Anyone will tell you that before you use a new assessment, it needs to be properly field tested,” he said. “We are losing what little faith people have in the accountability system when we (in Florida) make irrational decisions.”

This remarkable press conference which featured Vitti unified with the board and teacher’s union is extremely noteworthy as he has been lionized by the state’s school choice cabal. And the visual demonstrates how isolated republican legislators, test-based lobbyists and bureaucrats have become. It is the later who benefits most from this lock-down on this out-of-control accountability regime.

Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now explains in the Tampa Tribune:

For years Florida politicians and bureaucrats have struggled to explain their public education vision. The move to a new test has been plagued by a lack of foresight. For example, it must be taken on computers, yet there’s no meaningful plan to fund technology for all 67 districts.

Even the selection of the new test provider, AIR, was made at the 11th hour and the much-discussed “field test” is the entire state of Utah, not targeted areas of Florida as the superintendents suggested. And because no Florida test exists, Utah is going to bill us $5.4 million to use some of their questions.

Given the fact that the Florida Board of Education has publicly recognized the shortcomings of Florida’s A-F School Grades Accountability System, the only thing on members’ mind should be taking the high stakes out of testing. Instead, they built their entire “transition” around preserving school grades: the weakest link of all.

Neither today’s press conference, nor Oropeza’s piece make mention of the Common Core bait-and-switch that has enraged Core’s opponents. The bad news for Florida’s ed policy ruling class is that their opponents are beginning to find common ground.


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