“Amid a flurry of TV ads and a media event in St. Johns County, Gov. Rick Scott signed the state's budget Tuesday. He's promoting his commitment to public schools. But the governor wants you to forget about how he slashed funding for our public schools in his budget a year ago and how for the past five years schools have been asked to do much more with much less support. In the Florida Constitution, providing for our public schools is called a ‘paramount duty,’ but the actions of Scott and the leadership of the Legislature have shown that providing for our neighborhood schools and our children are far down their list of priorities. Scott and lawmakers found money to further slash taxes on corporations and provide for plenty of projects in the districts of legislative leaders. Next school year, we will have more new students, lower property tax values and a flame-out of federal stimulus money. Further, the money will not cover the program mandates, the future increases in testing, the full cost of transportation, increases in insurance and health care costs.”
-- Andy Ford, in a commentary in The Florida Times-Union.
“As a parent and a teacher, I am deeply concerned about the future of public education in Florida. Years of crippling budget cuts have resulted in teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and the loss of arts, music and, in some cases, athletic programs. This is hardly building a quality school system for our students and communities. I thought my outrage had peaked last year with Gov. Scott's massive $1.4 billion cut to public education. These cuts were made to pay for more corporate welfare and tax breaks for special interests and campaign contributors. Yet, I find myself more outraged that the governor is taking credit for this year's ‘increase’ in public school funding. Let's review: In 2011, Gov. Scott and his legislative henchman cut a staggering $542 per student from our already underfunded public schools. At Riverside Elementary, in Marianna, we have about 610 students. Last year's cuts took $330,000 away from Riverside. This year, he saw fit to return a mere $150 per student, or about $91,500 to Riverside. This means we are still $392 short per student, or $239,000 per year here at Riverside (there are 15 elementary, middle and high schools in Jackson County). Yet, with this new budget, Gov. Scott is presenting himself as the savior of Florida public education. Really? Is this fooling anyone? Clearly, his definition of ‘let's get to work’ is very different from mine and, I would imagine, that of most working families.”
-- JCEA President Dave Galloway, in The Tallahassee Democrat.
“All across Florida, third-graders and their parents and teachers are freaking out this week about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Because the system was created to cut funding if there is poor performance on the test, and teachers live in fear for their jobs for the same reason, it's no wonder parents and teachers overtly or subliminally pass along fearful messages to these children as FCAT week approaches. And then, to compound the problem, we see the Legislature playing games by manipulating the ‘scoring system’, which magically creates more failing grades in the process. For what purposes? To create the perception that our schools are ‘failing’ and need to be privatized? To pull ‘triggers’ on our public schools and divert millions more to charter schools to be run for profit without any empirical evidence that they are improving the quality of education? It is long past time to pull the plug on the FCAT. It hasn't accomplished anything other than costing millions of dollars for grading the test and diminishing respect for our schools and our teachers. We should be teaching children how to think and solve problems -- not how to take one particular standardized test.”
-- Gary Gibbons, in The Tampa Bay Times.
Constant testing takes away from developing whole student
On Monday, students across the state began taking the FCAT. Regardless of whether they must pass this year's FCAT in order to move on to the next grade or to graduate, the test is high stakes for all students. Those who score below the minimum threshold for grade-level proficiency in reading or math will be placed in intensive reading or math classes, as required by state law. This requirement excludes these students from electives that might develop creativity or career interests, in addition to stigmatizing them among their peers. Aside from the negative effects of testing, at its core, it may sound like a good plan -- provide additional instruction and practice for students who are not performing on grade level. Certainly, parents hope the instruction, practice and assessments employed will assist their children in reaching acceptable levels of performance in basic skills. But do they? Students now are subjected to as many as 28 standardized assessments in reading throughout the school year, excluding the FCAT. The purpose of these tests is to determine mastery or need for improvement on the 13 (out of 81) language arts benchmarks tested on the FCAT. Aside from the loss of instructional time spent administering these assessments, the question must be raised publicly as to whether they measure what they are intended to measure, and to whom this measurement is beneficial. The results of these assessments may well determine what your children spend their school day working on, what small-group instruction they receive, what grades you see on their report cards and, most importantly, how they perceive themselves as students. Education in its most noble form should model and promote intellectual honesty, curiosity and integrity. It should promote creativity, problem-solving and inquiry. It should develop individual talents and natural aptitudes. Incessant testing does none of these things. In at least some schools, the data these assessments produce serve as the only indicator of student success that matters. As struggling students recognize that they're playing a losing game, they begin to resent their teachers and their schools, and to disengage from the educational process. As a teacher, I have spent 10 years promoting accountability measures because I believe schools should be required to do what they are paid by the taxpayer to do, and I recognize the value of ensuring basic literacy and numeracy in the citizenry. However, our current approach, which focuses solely on standardized tests and the increasing standardization of instruction to match the tests, is not accomplishing that aim, and it doesn't provide students the benefits one would hope. What it does is satisfy bureaucrats and box-checkers, while it destroys young people's self-image, motivation and opportunities to become contributing members of society by labeling them as incompetent and ultimately turning them out of the system with no marketable skills.
Palm Beach School Board decries high-pressure FCAT
Milwaukee vouchers doesn't produce better results
A longitudinal study on students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) found little differences between voucher students and those attending Milwaukee Public Schools overall, according to an academic review released today. Three recent reports of the MPCP, produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas use largely sound methods, but the data they assemble provide little in the way of an endorsement for the 22-year-old school voucher program – the largest urban voucher program in the nation.
Education seminar focuses on college prep for high schoolers
During an education seminar in Tallahassee on Wednesday, three Florida lawmakers stressed the need to get high school juniors and seniors engaged in learning so they are properly prepared for college-level courses. Sens. Anitere Flores and David Simmons, and Rep. Erik Fresen, all Republicans who sit on key education committees, pointed to national test results and increased remedial education at universities and state colleges as evidence Florida’s high school graduates need to be challenged more consistently in the two years leading up to graduation. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests taken by Florida students every two years, scores have stagnated the past four years after they increased through the first part of the last decade. Also, the last time high school seniors were tested in 2009, just 19 percent tested proficient in math. Now, some lawmakers and educators are starting to look at ways to keep upperclassmen interested in the classroom. They say after 10th grade, the last time students are required to take the FCAT, even high-level students can take a cooler approach to their studies. “I believe that if we don’t provide an accountability measure for 12th grade, we’re going to find from school officials that there’s a tendency to slack off in Florida,” Simmons said during a panel discussion at Hotel Duval to an audience of school administrators. He suggested that having NAEP test seniors more often would help keep upperclassmen engaged. But more testing is not necessarily a silver bullet, some educators said. It needs to be backed up with policies aimed at improving performance. “To measure for measurement’s sake, it’s an exercise in trivia,” said Pam Stewart, chancellor of public schools for the Florida Department of Education. Not everyone, though, was enthralled with the emphasis on quantitative data, measurement and tests that have been the mantra of Republican efforts to reform education since Gov. Jeb Bush was in office. “I think the grading of schools -- that’s the worst thing that the state has done. The students say, ‘Why should I try? I’m in an F school,’ ” said Jefferson County School Board member Edward Vollertsen.
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