Selective Data and Outrage from the Bush Foundation Discredited By Those “Devious Plans to Undermine Class-Size Amendment”

Writing for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, Mike Thomas bemoans Florida’s class size amendment as a “$30 billion mistake.”

What sounded good on a ballot turned chaotic when implemented to the letter of the law. We now have an annual exercise in head counting, body shifting and last-minute scrambling. Districts found in violation are fined, draining funds intended for educating students. Some districts have intentionally violated the class-size requirements because it can be cheaper just paying the fines.

Thirteen years after voters approved the amendment, the state has spent $30 billion implementing it. In 2010, researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School examined test scores between 2004 and 2009 in grades 3-8 and concluded that shrinking classes “had no discernible impact upon student achievement, either positive or negative.’’

The rapid academic gains made by Florida students over the past 15 years track accountability reforms, not class-size reductions.

If you had to summarize the national research, the general consensus is that smaller classes most benefit disadvantaged children in the early grades. Beyond that, any advantage becomes far less clear.

Floridians know that no piece of propaganda comes out of Bush’s foundations without  data being water boarded into submission. Collier county school board, Erika Donalds member easily dispatches this Bush blather with a more honest look at some of the data that Thomas touts in a  substantive memorandum which appeared in the Naples Daily News:

While the citizens of Florida should be proud of the educational gains since the mid-1990’s, several indicators should give pause for reflection as the State and its districts contemplate changes to its assessment and accountability model:

* Florida ranks about average on NAEP relative to other states. However, in recent years it has posted below average gains and lost ground.

 *Improvements in FCAT have also plateaued with modest gains in reading and no gains in math for 5-6 years.

 *Half of Florida’s graduates cannot read at grade-level2.

 *High school graduation rates remain among the lowest in the country (rank: 40th).

 *College going rates remain average relative to other states.

 *The percent of Florida’s graduates who score at high levels on the ACT or SAT is significantly lower than the national average, even among states with similar percentage of students tested.

 *A larger percent of students attending college in Florida require remediation relative to those in other states (about 54% versus about 40% nationwide.)

Always parroting the Bush foundations rhetoric, the FDOE predictably dismissed Donalds’ memorandum as “it neglects to characterize real gains.” This is code for “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Worse for Thomas attempt to cite government waste in the state’s class size amendment, Donald’s memorandum cites waste in Florida’s high-stakes testing regime which serves as life’s blood to the FDOE-Bush tag team. Along with co-author, Adam Cota who interestingly has prepared research for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Donalds indicated there is a “financial ‘opportunity cost’ associated with lost instructional time.”

In other words, Donalds-Cota are showing that Florida taxpayers are paying quite a bit for real instruction time that’s understandably lost because of tests –  as much as $1.8 billion. Bush loyalists won’t even hear of such blasphemy.

Thomas screed against costs of the class-size amendment is a demonstration of real chutzpah as it was his boss, Jeb Bush, who said in 2002 that he had “devious plans” to undermine the class-size amendment. It was Bush who put the “$30 billion mistake” in motion.

The growing number of educrats who flow back and forth between Bush-controlled foundations and the FDOE are dependent on maintaining both the state’s high-stakes test regime and the Florida model of faux success. Any contrarian read of their data is a real threat to them, but a service to all Floridians. Donalds and Cota  have done just that.





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Donalds-Cota Dispatches Florida Test-Based System, Discredits Bush-FDOE Data Spin

From Sunshine State News reporter Allison Nielsen:

Overtesting is costing too much and could be causing Florida’s performance to stagnate on the national level, according to a new report released this week from a state school board member and a prominent researcher on national education.

Using data pulled from the Florida Department of Education, Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds and researcher and InfiLaw Academic Affairs team member Adam Cota estimate that schools will spend around 10 percent of class time testing, and each Florida student will spend around a full school year testing before graduating high school

Lost testing time comes with a hefty price tag, too: the new report found districts and the state will spend roughly $2 billion in lost instructional time.

Donalds and Cota believe the biggest source of lost time was the loss of focus at the end of the year after high-stakes assessment tests have already been given. Because assessment scores are nearly 50 percent of teacher evaluations and hence are a primary focus in the classroom, the report says it’s predictable that teachers and students lose steam academically and may kick back and relax after the assessments are complete.

Nielsen reports that the Florida Department of Education is pushing back against Donalds-Cota for it’s read of data as it conflicts with the narrative they and its close allies at Jeb Bush’s foundations have been advancing.

But the department says the report neglects to characterize the “real gains” that have taken place in Florida’s education system. The DOE says districts should be responsible for these types of reports.

“It would be most appropriate for districts to conduct the studies recommended in the paper, and to have them collect data, rather than the anecdotal evidence cited in the report,” read a statement from the FDOE. “For example, the ‘loss of focus metric’ is the largest proportion of the statistics cited for ‘indirect loss of instructional time,’ yet there is no clear basis provided for this estimate.

The FDOE’s current and ongoing gross mischaracterization of FSA validity eliminates what little credibility they had left – particularly when it comes to massaging numbers. They’d surely dismiss data on “indirect loss classroom instructional time” as it “neglects to characterize real gains.”

Donalds-Cota’s findings are easy to read and void of the sort of  statistical academic gas that FDOE and the Bush foundation educrats spew:

…despite the fact that the state is spending this much time on testing, the report found that Florida has still been trailing behind at the back of the pack in many respects, despite making hefty gains in education in the late 1990s.

Take, for instance, Florida’s high school graduation rates. The state had a 60 percent graduation rate several years ago, a number which has climbed to 75 percent. But Florida still ranks 40th in the nation among all states in high school graduation rates, and has for a number of years.

Florida students aren’t posting gains as high on national assessment tests, either. The percentage of Florida students scoring “advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test only increased from 5 percent in 2003 to 6 percent in 2013, while the national average jumped from 5 percent to 7 percent.

NAEP scores have failed to remain consistent over the years as well. Fourth-grade reading scores improved from 32nd to eighth from 2003 and 2013, but the group of 4th-graders which took the NAEP test in 2009 (where they ranked 10th nationally) fell to 33rd as 8th-graders.

The findings are worrying for Donalds, who says although the state might be doing a better job at preparing students for a basic level of thinking, they aren’t quite as prepared for the rigors of college or more advanced subjects.

When students get to college, around 54 percent of Florida’s college freshmen taking placement exams require remedial education, opposed to about 40 percent of college freshmen nationwide.

Senate republicans blew a unique opportunity yesterday to ease the pressure on themselves that the current FSA disaster is creating. They should have embraced Hays’ amendment to SB 616 which ended 3rd grade retention and held stakeholders harmless until FSA results can be validated, but there were too many republican Jeb Bush absolutists seated in the Appropriations committee. Too many republicans march to the “we won’t retreat from accountability” meme.

Donalds-Cota is a new threat as it comes from one on their own. Donalds is part of a spin-off group of local school board members whom embrace vouchers and the republican-driven school choice agenda. Though now a maverick among colleagues, her memorandum finds common cause with Floridians save the “we won’t retreat from accountability” crowd.







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Why Alan Hays Pulled His Amendment Which Protected Florida Students From Invalid FSA Tests

During yesterday’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, and quick little sidebar away from the microphones occurred between four senators. The sponsor of the senate version (SB 616) of high-stakes testing reform, Senator John Legg was huddled with Senator’s David Simmons, Bill Galvano, and Alan Hays. The later, Hays, had filed an amendment to Legg’s bill which would have ended 3rd grade retentions and hold harmless all stakeholders from the results of new FSA tests until they were found to be valid.

A few minutes later, Hays pulled his amendment in favor of a watered down amendment by Simmons. Galvano was there to tell his republican colleague that he didn’t have the votes and Simmons made sure that Hays had a way to save face. Legg was there because it was his bill and he had obviously informed Hays that he was going to classify his amendment as an unfriendly one.

During Hays remarks surrounding his amendment and his decision to pull it, it was clear he believed in it. Maybe Simmons did, too. But because there weren’t enough republican votes for it yesterday in Appropriations, that it was best that it not suffer a defeat. Hence, the senate has the spirit of Hays amendment in its place in the form of Simmons’ amendment.

Legg later reportedly refused to meet with a group of parents because they weren’t from his district. They met with Legg’s chief of staff, Jim Browne instead. When addressing the parents concerns about special populations among the bottom 20 percent of a bell curve, Browne curiously replied that “they didn’t care about the bottom 2o percent.”

The words of Legg’s chief of staff indicate that Legg and republican leadership don’t want to be challenged on FSA validity in general and 3rd grade retention in particular even in the face of real test validity issues. While Simmons has done a good job of pointing out to his colleagues that FSA has real validity problems and that Pam Stewart’s FDOE isn’t being entirely candid, he’s not known to bucking leadership. But Hays will.

It’s fair to wonder whether or not Hays thought back yesterday to 2012 when he told Jeb Bush, “No.” Hays had been a sponsor of a controversial parent trigger bill but voted against the bill in a dispute with then senate president Mike Hairodololis.  Bush dispatched an influential member of Hays’ community, Gary Lester, VP of the Villages retirement community  to call on Hays. Hays held firm.

Bush later attributed the defeat – via a 20-20 tie – was due to the senate’s “Byzantine traditions.” Odd for a guy who doesn’t mind being referred to as Veto Corleone. In 2012, Bush Corleone sent Luca Brasi from the Villages to make Hays an offer he couldn’t refuse, but Hays refused. Who could blame Hays if he thought Bush just used other lieutenants yesterday.

Hays has a lot on his plate during this session – he was ripped by the Ocala Star-Banner  today in his role as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, so he cannot be blamed for looking to do a little horse trading. But Hays has demonstrated that he will take on the big boys and it was quite clear yesterday that he believed in his amendment.

Somehow, you just know Hays’ amendment will make its way to the senate floor. A vote by Bush’s lieutenants against Hays amendment or even Simmons’ watered down version  will show they aren’t concerned about FSA’s validity and what it might mean for Florida kids.




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Erika Donald’s Game-Changing White Paper on Florida’s Testing Regime

Knocking on the door of state-wide recognition as a leader in state education policy since her election to the Collier county school board member, Erika Donalds may have eclipsed her own expectations with the release of a white paper memorandum of state testing policy. From Kate Rosenberg in the Naples Daily News:

NAPLES, Fla. – Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds has a message for the Florida Legislature and the Department of Education: It is time for reform.

Donalds announced Wednesday she co-wrote a 31-page white paper saying school districts should analyze how much instructional time is lost directly and indirectly due to standardized testing. She said the authors question whether overtesting is responsible for stagnant academic performance.

On Page 1 the paper recommends: “Governor Rick Scott direct Commissioner Pamela Stewart to investigate the indirect loss of instructional time associated with on-the-ground testing realities and revise the Department of Education’s Assessment Investigation Report (“DOE Report”) and make changes to recommendations as needed.”

The link to Donald’s memo is embedded in the story.

Among the findings in the memo which Donald’s prepared along with well-respected education policy expert Adam Cota:

*Florida ranks average or below average on most measures of academic performance and college preparation and is no longer improving faster than other states.

* Florida’s well-documented rise in education performance relative to other states ended abruptly around 2009.

* Florida ranks about average on NAEP relative to other states. However, in recent years it has posted below average gains and lost ground.

* Half of Florida’s graduates cannot read at grade-level

* A larger percent of students attending college in Florida require remediation relative to those in other states (about 54% versus about 40% nationwide.)

* NAEP gains were primarily driven by improvements in 4th grade achievement. However, this progress is not sustained by the time those same students become 8th graders raising questions about the level of learning.

* Florida students may be losing almost 10% of class time to testing in 2014-15 including FSA exams, EOCs, benchmarks, first-time takers and retakes, and other lost instruction time.

Particularly timely is the Donalds-Cota analysis of SB 616, Sen. John Legg’s testing reform bill:

SB616 states “A school district may not schedule more than 5 percent of total school hours to administer statewide, standardized assessments and district-required local assessments.” It is unclear however, what is counted in this 5%. For instance, at a student level, only ~1% of instructional time is lost directly to testing. Capping direct testing time to 5% fails to address the larger indirect costs (~8% of instructional time lost). Including indirect costs in the cap will create an unwieldy bureaucracy required to track and audit lost instructional time. Perhaps more importantly, it would have no impact on the largest indirect cost to the current assessment model – the loss of focus after end-of-course and other high stakes tests are given.

It remains to be seen what impact the Donalds-Capa white paper will have. Donalds, after all,  has taken the unusual move to create a spin-off state school board association, one which is more friendly to school vouchers. Still, she has staked out her own territory.



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How Alan Hays’ Amendment to SB 616 Helps Republicans

From Collier County reporter Sophie Neilsen-Kolding for  NBC2:

The Southwest Florida Citizens’ Alliance paid for robo calls to 55,000 voters across the state and visited Representative Kathleen Passidomo’s Collier office and spoke with her staff. Then they made their way to Senator Garrett Richter’s office to do the same.

“We want him to vote no tomorrow,” (Keith) Flaugh said.

There is little chance that Sen. John Legg’s SB 616 will be voted down in the Senate Appropriations Committee today, but the amendment that Sen. Alan Hays is introducing provides republican senators like Richter a way to address the concerns of constituents. According to Jefferey Solochek of Gradebook, Hays’ intentions are as follows:

To end third-grade retentions, graduation decisions and school grades based on state standardized test scores until the tests are more thoroughly vetted as valid.

Hays’ amendment, moreover, puts into place a much more certain “relief valve” for Florida in the event FSA testing meltdowns continue as standardized assessments may not be used:

Until the technology infrastructure, connectivity, and capacity of all public schools and school districts has been load tested and independently verified by either the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation or one of the member professional associations as appropriate, adequate, efficient, sustainable, and ready for successful deployment and implementation of online assessments

Senators have become skeptical of what they are being told by the Florida Department of Education and are long-accustomed to high-stakes test drama every spring. Hays’ amendment provides some welcome guidelines for the FDOE.

The interest in the Hays amendment from a wide variety of groups who have been pressuring republican senators has the potential to be quite persuasive. Much less ideological than the hyper-partisan House,  senate republicans have often demonstrated that they are the adults in the room. Among those is Legg, SB 616’s sponsor, who could signal that he finds Hays amendment to be friendly.

Today won’t be the last opportunity for Hays to submit his amendment.  There is enough support from senate republicans for Hays to bring it up again during a full floor vote. Long understood to be an independent thinker, Hays may do just that. Still, Hays’ amendment offers the sort of third way some of those adults among Hays’ republican colleagues in the senate have been looking for.



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Significant Support Emerges for Alan Hays’ Compromise Amendment to Testing Reform Bill

Unlikely allies are rallying around Umatilla republican senator Alan Hays amendment to SB 616 as a compromise on the state’s high-stakes test drama. Writes Jefferey Solochek for Gradebook:

A conservative Florida senator with a flair for headline-grabbing proposals could generate lots of support in the anti-testing sector with his latest recommendation.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has filed an amendment to the Senate’s major testing reform bill (SB 616) that goes to its final committee stop on Thursday. His objective: To end third-grade retentions, graduation decisions and school grades based on state standardized test scores until the tests are more thoroughly vetted as valid.

Hay’s amendment offers the Senate the “relief valve” they’ve been looking for.

c) The statewide, standardized assessments may not be used to determine grade 3 retention pursuant to s. 1008.25(3); high school graduation pursuant to s. 1003.4282; personnel evaluations pursuant to s. 1012.34; and school grades pursuant to s. 1008.34 until:

1. A report showing their psychometric validity, the coefficient alpha reliability, the content description validity, the differential item functional analysis, the criterion prediction validity, standard error of measurement, and the construct identification validity is produced and verified by the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, or the National Council on Measurement in Education. Once an independent organization certifies the assessment as psychometrically sound, the test item specifications must be published on the department’s website and be reported to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and

2. Until the technology infrastructure, connectivity, and capacity of all public schools and school districts has been load tested and independently verified by either the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation or one of the member professional associations as appropriate, adequate, efficient, sustainable, and ready for successful deployment and implementation of online assessments

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Jeb Bush Jumps the Shark By Linking National Security With Education Reform

Somehow you just knew the January announcement that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been appointed chair of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education meant that Bush would exploit Rice’s national security cred in his POTUS bid. He has. Consider this from his top education policy advisor, Patricia Levesque:

The link between K-12 education and national security is one not often discussed or even considered by those advocating for reform. But the correlation is very real and creates yet another compelling argument for the reform movement.

In 2012, a Council on Foreign Relations task force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, examined this issue

In a report titled U.S. Education and National Security, the task force made this bleak observation: “Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security. Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

Smarter weapons require smarter soldiers. The threat of cyber-attacks requires highly skilled cyber warriors. Security agencies and the State Department require analysts and linguists. Defense contractors require a new generation of employees proficient in math, science and engineering.And most importantly, a capable national security apparatus requires a strong economy to sustain it. In the 21st century, economic strength depends on academic strength

Jeb Bush’s high-stakes tests, charter schools and common core standards are sure to  make Vladimir Putin lose sleep and keep ISIS savages off social media. No? Continue reading

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Janet Adkins Stunning Facebook Post Which Opens the Door for Opt-Out


In a remarkable two days of Facebook back-and-forth with a handful of Florida parents regarding Florida’s new FSA tests, Fernandina Beach republican state senator Janet Adkins engaged with Sandy Stenoff, co-founder Opt-Out  Florida and Opt-Out Orlando and made the following comment:

Janet Adkins Sandy – have you reviewed HB 7069? In Florida you have school choice, do you believe that exercising these school choice rights you can “opt out” of standardized testing? If not I would like to know how school choice does not allow you to “opt out” – I have a fundamental belief in parent rights and believe that we need a system of education that is truly student centered.

Gradebook’s Jefferey Solochek wrote of the exchanges on March 16 and then updated his story to indicate that Akins had taken her original post down.  Stenoff was taking issue with Florida commissioner of education Pam Stewart’s assertion that Florida students  cannot legally opt-out of state-mandated testing.

Its unclear if Adkins believes that HB 7069 or its companion SB 744 in anyway address a parent’s right to opt-out of state testing, but her philosophical remark on school choice leaves little doubt. Her remark is at odds with a decade of republican legislative intent. Small wonder Adkins took it down. Continue reading

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Has Jeb Bush Used Money From His Education Foundation to Pay for His Presidential Bid?

Writes Beth Reinhard for the Wall Street Journal:

The educational foundation founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush paid about $3 million in 2013 and 2014 to a public affairs firm headed by a top political adviser, Mike Murphy.

Mr. Murphy is a partner at Revolution Agency in Alexandria, Va., which ran the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Learn More, Go Further campaign marking the 15th anniversary of the former governor’s education overhaul. Mr. Murphy is also a top adviser to Right to Rise, the political committee that has been collecting millions of dollars since January as Mr. Bush explores a potential bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

The foundation’s Learn More, Go Further campaign in 2013 and 2014 included a website and other online media, television and radio ads, and live events in Florida to promote the state’s educational system.

An $841,652 payment to Revolution Agency from the Foundation for Excellence in Education was listed in its 2013 report to the Internal Revenue Service detailing revenues and expenses. The 2014 report is expected to show another $2.2 million payment to Revolution Agency, which had not previously contracted with the foundation. The foundation considered proposals from other firms before choosing Revolution.

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Marlene O’Toole: Convenient Shill for Florida Republican’s Failing Education Record

The hyper partisan republican body in the Florida House, save the handful sponsoring anti-common core legislation, march in lock-step with their leadership which takes its marching orders from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Council of 100. So it stands to reason that only believers ascend to chairmanships of critical committees. No better example exists than that of Rep. Marlene O’Toole (R-The Villages) who chairs the powerful Education Committee.

Fresh off news that she’s up on ethics charges for not disclosing her $50,000 salary she accepts for representing an organization which receives education dollars which were appropriated through her committee, Marlene ‘OToole’s words are being carefully followed by the media. She’s even been fact-checked. Twice this week on three whoppers.

First by Amy Sherman for PolitiFact regarding recent FSA test failures:

During a House Education Appropriations Committee meeting March 12, chairwoman and state Rep. H. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake, put the blame solely on the cyber attack.

“On the testing problems, many of you may have read in the media, that the problem was not that of a vendor, the problem was not that of the test materials itself, it was the product of a cyber attack,” she said.

O’Toole’s claim suggested that the sole problem was the cyber attack, but that conflicted with news reports and information provided by the state Department of Education.

Wrong. The cyber attack didn’t even occur after a full week of multiple state-wide failures. Even an under-the gun FLDOE didn’t try to spin it that way. Let’s look at two more of O’Toole’s statements from this week’s debate on testing changes. From jjeffrey Jeffrey Solochek in Gradebook:

During discussion on HB 7069, Jacksonville Democrat Rep. Mia Jones noted that schools experienced significant problems with their online writing exams this spring. (Jones has been pushing to delay school grades and other related consequences as a result, to little effect.) Noting the technology “glitches” that lasted nearly a week, Jones asked sponsor Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake, how the state would protect against similar troubles moving forward.

“They’ve been taking tests on computers for two years. This is not a new thing,” O’Toole responded, adding that the House has proposed doubling the budget for school technology.

Two years? Not exactly. It’s actually been longer. We’ve been writing about the transition since 2008, when high school FCAT retakes first moved to computers. Some of the concerns raised now have been discussed even longer. Check out this old FLDOE chart showing the gradual shift.

And this:

Rep. Reggie Fulwood, another Jacksonville Democrat, observed that many House Republicans favor academic choices for parents. He asked whether the bill included choices for parents “who dissent or are disgruntled.” In other words, did it include an opt-out provision that some have requested.

O’Toole answered that her Education Committee had examined the issue.

“We found the constitution is very clear about how we must educate our children,” she said. “What we found was, opting out was not an option.”

Education commissioner Pam Stewart has made clear in letters to lawmakers that state law does not provide for opting out: “Participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts and all students attending public schools,” according to chapter 1008.

But the Florida Constitution does not address the issue at all. The only time the word “test” appears in the document, it refers to pigs.

O’Toole’s easily dispatched statements show her to be more of a Sunday morning hack than committee chair. Just saying anything to maintain a narrative is shameful. Republicans say every education legislation they advance is about children, but their continued

dishonesty shows its more about them.

Does anyone really think that O’Toole is so clueless that she can so easily be fact-checked three times by the media in two days by two different journalists? In a bind with leadership for her ethics problem, she may be carrying the water for leadership to protect their shoddy record on education policy.



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