Regular ol’ parents … with ties to Jeb Bush, John Thrasher
I am constantly amazed at the lengths to which Florida officials will go to avoid hearing from the rank-and-file people they supposedly represent. Take the state’s newly compiled task force on school grading, for example. The topic is controversial. But to make sure they had a wide variety of opinions, state leaders decided to set aside three of the 18 seats on the task force for regular ol’ “parents.” Only, it turns out, the parents they chose weren’t so regular after all. One parent was Patricia Levesque, the executive director of Jeb Bush’s education foundation. The other was Julie Thrasher Weinberg … daughter of powerful State Sen. John Thrasher. Now, I know Julie. I like Julie. I think she’s smart woman and dedicated mom. But for heaven’s sake, I think it’s also safe to say that Julie already has ways to make her voice heard with powerful people. There are a lot of other smart women and dedicated moms who have no such opportunity. Commissioner Gerard Robinson claimed that, when he appointed Thrasher’s daughter, he didn’t realize who she was … which makes for a fascinating coincidence in a state with 17 million people. For Levesque’s part, she apparently acknowledged her connections but said that, in this case: “I really do want to participate in this as Mom.” How nice for her. Except, I imagine there are about 100,000 other moms in this state who would like to participate -- but who will never get the chance, because they aren’t working for Jeb Bush or related to a powerful senator. Now, after the state released the original names -- and questions were raised -- Robinson beefed up the task force’s size, adding more members, including a migrant worker whose children are still learning English. You can read Leslie Postal’s full post at the Sentinel ‘School Zone’ blog here.
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Resisting the script
In teaching I saw a powerful profession, one in which I could develop meaningful relationships with people. To me, teaching was work that would allow me to resist the rampant injustice I saw in the world and to avoid becoming just another cog in the machine. I still see teaching this way, and this vision continues to guide me as a teacher of teachers at the university level today. I worry about the teachers, future and present, in my education courses. Most of them are young, in their mid-20s to early 30s. Although most are working on their credentials, I also have many who are already classroom teachers returning to get their master’s degrees. No Child Left Behind and its draconian test regime started more than 10 years ago, and in many states the testing juggernaut was already well under way. My university students took high-stakes tests through elementary, middle, and high school. Most took high-stakes tests to get into college. They take tests to become credentialed teachers. Almost always good test takers by the time I see them, my students are members of the tested generation. I worry about the toll that these high-stakes, standardized tests have taken on the educational consciousness of my students. The cumulative effect on their commonsense understanding of education and teaching is profound: Even if my students do question the tests and see the detrimental effects of high-stakes testing on teaching and learning, they often have a hard time envisioning classrooms that could be or should be any different. Their horizons are limited because they have mainly known and experienced high-stakes testing in their educational lives. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that maybe this was the intention of the test pushers. Get one generation as the “tested generation,” and we’ll have a bunch of educators who cannot effectively imagine an alternative. Unfortunately, due to a combination of their own constrained vision and current educational policy, in most cases my students have this testing-is-the-only-option pedagogy reinforced when they get into classrooms. Whether they are student teachers or classroom veterans, the refrain they hear from district, state, and federal officials has been maddeningly consistent these last years: more standards, more tests, more pacing guides, more scripted instruction, more administrative threats, and more students in the classes they teach -- all with fewer resources, fewer rights, and fewer protections. The current state of teaching under high-stakes testing is obvious. In my own research, as well as the research of countless others, the findings support what many classroom teachers know from their day-to-day experiences: Regimes of high-stakes testing are pressuring teachers to change both their curriculum and teaching to match whatever is on the tests. The control of teaching by test-based accountability schemes is perhaps best illustrated through the rise of scripted reading curricula. Under such programs, administrators mandate teachers use prepackaged curricular materials that require no creative input or decision-making on the part of the teachers. Teachers in many low-performing schools and districts have been required by school leaders to use commercially packaged reading instruction programs, such as Open Court, which tell teachers exactly which page to be on each day as well as every word and line they are allowed to say while teaching reading, all in preparation for the high-stakes testing.
Testing our limits
I walked away from the rest of my class and over to the three computers in the corner of my classroom. Two of my 1st graders, Jasmine and Jayden, sat at their computers with their headphones off, waiting for me to reset their computers to Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test number 2. “I got 162,” said Jasmine. “You got 142.” “You did better than me,” replied Jayden with a frown. Shelly sat at the third computer. “I don’t wanna do the computer test,” she pleaded. “Do I have to?” In the past three years I have experienced unimaginable computer frustration. Don’t get me wrong: I treat my MacBook Pro like a third child, and I definitely use technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning. I’ve been accused of being in love with my iPhone, which serves as a timekeeper, meteorologist and DJ in my classroom. And the opaque projector is an excellent, plastic transparency-free alternative to the overhead projector. Computers and technology have come such a long way in the past 20 years, and they hold a big place in the lives of this generation of students. Unfortunately, one use of technology is failing in my classroom: the rapidly increasing use of computers for testing. Computerized testing, including the widely used MAP test, has infiltrated the public schools across the nation like an uncontrollable outbreak of lice, bringing with it a frightening future for public education. High-stakes standardized tests can be scored almost immediately via the internet, and testing companies can now easily link districts to their online data warehouses, which allows districts to quickly access test scores (which would be good if the tests were generating usable data). This system provides momentum to those who believe more tests should be given to “track progress” throughout the year. In my district this means that every classroom teacher tests students at the beginning, middle, and end of the year, administering four tests in math and reading each time.
Limited funding and fewer staff in our district, as in most urban public schools, creates even more of a problem because there are not enough adults to serve as proctors. Setting up these tests is a tedious, time-consuming job involving a web of long, nonsensical passwords and codes. Teachers are being mandated to use many hours of valuable instructional time and limited teacher planning time to complete these tasks. In schools like mine that don’t have a computer lab, teachers have only a few computers in their classrooms. We are asked to simultaneously teach while setting up and administering a few tests at a time, seriously compromising the quality of instruction we are able to deliver.
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Senate approves redrawn maps after making changes
Using a court ruling as its road map, the Florida Senate voted 31-6 Thursday for a second and final redistricting plan that leaders said would create an unprecedented number of minority senators and a more politically competitive chamber. It is now up to the Florida House, which will meet for three days next week, to sign off on the plan. If this second attempt fails to follow the state's new anti-gerrymandering standards, the Florida Supreme Court will step in to draw the lines that will determine the Senate boundaries for the next decade. "This plan is sensible to our constituents, understandable to all the members of the Senate and faithful to the Constitution,'' said Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, before the Senate vote. Democrats warned that despite three grueling days of debate this week, the map designed by Gaetz continues to violate the new constitutional requirements. They predict the courts will reject the proposal again. "We may have had an excuse last time but, for this go around, there is none,'' said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston, "Incumbent protection is written all over the map." A Times/Herald analysis of the new plan shows Republicans will retain a majority in the Senate, though it gives Democrats one more seat than their original plan. Based on voting data from the 2008 and 2010 general elections, the map would allow for the election of 23 solid Republican Senate seats, two competitive seats and 15 solid Democratic seats — compared with the current composition of 28 Republicans to 12 Democrats. It also creates five districts designed to favor black candidates and seven districts that favor Hispanics. One Orlando-based Hispanic seat would be dominated by Democrats. The court rejected the first Senate map on March 9, invalidating eight districts saying it "was rife with objective indicators of improper intent" that violated the new Fair Districts standards approved by voters. The governor called lawmakers into extra session to redo the Senate map. The House Redistricting Committee will meet Monday to review the Senate map. If the House adopts the plan, the attorney general will have 15 days to ask the Supreme Court to conduct a second review. The court would have 30 days to complete that review.
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