“We’ve Been VAMboozled” in Florida


So said United Teachers of Dade president Fedrick Ingram at yesterday’s “Walk a Mile in Our Schools” rally in Miami. From David Smiley’s report in the Miami Herald:

A handful of local politicians participated in Friday’s rally, including Democratic state senators Oscar Braynon II and Dwight Bullard, and Miami-Dade School Board members Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Perla Tabares Hantman and Martin Karp. Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein started a chant of “Scott Free” — as in Rick Scott-free in 2014. And Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, riled the crowd when she claimed former Gov. Jeb Bush told her that children were “casualties of war” in the battle for education when he was fighting to bring in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in the late 1990s.

“This whole high-stakes testing has nothing to do with accountability,’’ she said. “It has to do with money, the billions of dollars these companies are making.”

One of the most-cited issues Friday was Florida’s evolving teacher evaluation system, which uses testing and a value-added formula to determine whether teachers are successful. The formula, often called the VAM, remains controversial as teachers continue to receive evaluations based off test scores in subjects they don’t teach.

“We’ve been VAMboozled,” Ingram told the crowd.

For Patrenia Dozier Washington, a teacher at Ojus Elementary for 26 years, the problems she and her 17 first graders experience come down to underfunding. She said she didn’t receive enough reading textbooks this year to give one to each student. And she won’t have working interactive classroom technology until the district rolls out its bond-funded high-tech blackboards in the coming weeks.

“I just want people to know,” she said. “Come walk in our shoes and see how we feel.

The inclusion of three Dade school board members is not a one-off.  Over 20 local boards and their state association signed on to the Resolution Against High-Stakes Tests in 2012.

Florida sure has this testing business down as evidenced by Education Week’s positive findings in testing and standards. But another Smiley story in the Herald earlier this month detailed where Florida isn’t doing well at all:

The state, however, continued to rank in the latter half of the nation when it comes to the role education plays in students’ lives “from cradle to career” and in the funding of education. Florida distributes funds equitably, according to the report, but spends about $2,000 less per student than the national average when taking into consideration regional cost differences.

The Ed Week ranking assumes that testing, standards and accountability measures are a good thing. Corporate America and republican delegations in state houses think so, too. The folks at yesterday’s march obviously don’t agree.

But doesn’t Ed Week‘s observation that Florida lags in its “role that education plays in students’ lives from cradle to career” serve as condemnation of the state’s 15 year focus on testing and accountability regimes? We’ve found out that students aren’t ready for college and career, but, hey, we’re great on tests and we’re sure holding teachers and schools accountable.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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