Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No Unnecessary Tests (NUT) Report: Good Riddance Day

Today is Good Riddance Day, a tradition to say goodbye to something that caused misery, worry, and other negative reactions during the year. To join this event, Grumpy Educators wishes to say good riddance to unnecessary tests and illogical forced compliance.

For followers, the story of South Carolina mother, Gretchen Herrera, is familiar. For others, the story crystallizes the twisted nature of compliance-driven high stakes assessment regimes, which puts the health and well-being of children at risk. After denied exemption from standardized testing for her son based on a complicated medical condition, Mrs. Herrera filed a formal complaint with the US DOE Office of Civil Rights (OCR). In the jurisdiction cited by the OCR, it investigates allegations of regulations that discriminate against students on the basis of disability "by treating them differently (e.g. less favorable) from similarly situated students who are non-disabled." The OCR findings conclude that the complaint lacks sufficient evidence that discrimination based on disability occurred.

In South Carolina, limited reasons are permitted by regulation for a school to exclude a student from its reporting. Exclusions apply only to students who are homebound or not homebound, but physically/mentally unable to test on the days and make up days of testing, and have a physician letter, death, expulsion, incarceration, or transferring. Given these definitions, the OCR finding concludes that the reporting system works without discrimination.

Nevertheless, the finding leaves more questions than answers. The deeper issue regarding the rights of a parent to protect the health and well-being of their child remains unaddressed. Parents and children are caught in the middle of a reporting system that affects school grades and funding. What is in the best interest of the student is not part of the equation. The opinion of school-based and school-district staff was that the medical letter was opinion and did not qualify under any of the regulated exclusions.

In a U.S. Supreme Court determination, Troxel v. Granville, the justices relied on the 14th Amendment:

(a) The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause has a substantive component that “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests,” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, including parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children, see, e.g., Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651. Pp. 5—8.

In October, South Carolina Virtual Public Charter School "withdrew" the student citing the parent's failure to comply with the school rules. The student is homeschooled; however, receives specialized services in coordination with a middle school. Under this arrangement, the health, well-being, and specific educational needs of the student are the first priority and protected.

During the November 2011 Senate ESEA Reauthorization Hearings, a Kentucky teacher and witness described a terminally ill student who was denied exclusion from standardized testing, in spite of being barely able to breathe. Notably, the testimony received no follow up question by any Senator and only one follow up news report. In Correct the record in No Child Left Behind Hearing, Greg Skilling adds detail to the story. The teacher and school assistant principal filed papers and appeals without success; and finally, in spite of the lack of exclusion and instructions to begin testing, the school determined they would not test the child. Five months after the first submission of paperwork, the exemption was granted and a few months later, the child died. This event took place in 2007 and Skilling reports that the "Kentucky Department of Education is still investigating this case and has not reported any findings prior to the publication of this article."

Parent witnesses were not included at the ESEA Hearings in spite of mounting evidence of parent concerns over the effects of test-centric, compliance-driven accountability, and loss of parental rights. There are more of these stories that go unreported, underreported, and unexplored.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

FCAT hits national news: "They are defending a test that has no validity."

UPDATE: This story inspired a new movement! Join #takethetest - Invite your politicians to take state standardized tests and publicize their results.

Orange County School Board member Rick Roach did not believe that students were unable to read and read well in the 10th grade as measured by the FCAT. The 39 percent pass rate of reading at grade level in 10th grade caused him to question the test itself.

I have to tell you that I’ve never believed that that many kids can’t read at that level. Never ever believed it. I have five kids of my own. None of them were superstars at school but they could read well, and these kids today can read too.

“So I was thinking, ‘What are they taking that tells them they can’t read? What is this test? Our kids do okay on the eighth grade test and on the fifth grade test and then they get stupid in the 10th grade?”

In a bold move that garnered national attention in the Washington Post, Roach asked to take the FCAT that by state law only allows it to be taken by students. He was ultimately able to take a version of it. For an experienced professional with bachelor of science degree in education and two masters degrees, in education and educational psychology, the results were a surprise. He did not pass.

He found the reading section suspect as a valid indicator of reading ability:

He said he understands why so many students who can actually read well do poorly on the FCAT.

“Many of the kids we label as poor readers are probably pretty good readers. Here’s why.

“On the FCAT, they are reading material they didn’t choose. They are given four possible answers and three out of the four are pretty good. One is the best answer but kids don’t get points for only a pretty good answer. They get zero points, the same for the absolute wrong answer. And then they are given an arbitrary time limit. Those are a number of reasons that I think the test has to be suspect.”

He found the math section also suspect:

The math section, he said, tests information that most people don’t need when they get out of school.

“There’s a concept called reverse design that is critical,” he said. “We are violating that with our test. Instead of connecting what we learn in school with being successful in the real world, we are doing it in reverse. We are testing first and then kids go into the real world. Whether the information they have learned is important or not becomes secondary. If you really did a study on what math most kids need, I guarantee you could probably dump about 80 percent of math scores and leave high-level math for the kids who want it and will need it.

His conclusion? “They are defending a test that has no accountability.”

Florida Department of Education Commissioner, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Jeb Bush support an increase in 10th grade cut scores, which will make the new retooled FCAT harder to pass. School superintendents disagree with the logic in such a position.

Who pays? Who benefits?


State Education commissioner, local superintendents spar over minimum acceptable FCAT scores for high school students

Gerard Robinson Sides with Jeb Bush and Florida Chamber of Commerce on FCAT Cut Scores

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Anti-Common Core Resolution questions constitutionality, evidence, and costs

ALEC is a controversial organization that draws ire from public school advocates for its support of vouchers and charter schools. Recently, Jeb Bush, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Achieve, all supporters of common core initiatives, seemed to have "gained ground" with the organization. However, this month its educational task force considered a document signed by 350 prominent education policymakers, researchers, teachers and parents titled Closing the Door on Innovation, which opposes Common Core initiatives. The result was an approved resolution that could be as model legislation to be introduced in state legislatures. This effort was sponsored by the American Principles Project, The Goldwater Institute, and the Washington Policy Center.

The model legislation can be found in The Growing Tide Against National Standards is not difficult to read and understand. Here is one highlight:

WHEREAS, when no less than 22 states face budget shortfalls and Race to the Top funding for states is limited, $350 million for consortia to develop new assessments aligned with the CCSSI standards will not cover the entire cost of overhauling state accountability systems, which includes implementation of standards and testing and associated professional development and curriculum restructuring; and

According to Ed Week coverage, although the education task force approved the resolution, the ALEC board must take action.
But it's not final, or official ALEC policy, unless it is approved by the organization's board of directors. No word yet on when there might be a decision on that. If the board approves it, the package is the sort of thing that would would join other types of model legislation ALEC has crafted for states' use.

This resolution stands as irrefutable evidence of the widespread disagreement regarding common core initiatives, irrespective of ideology, and an event that should be followed.

Who pays? Who benefits?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Washington State: Bringing Parent Opposition and Resistance Out of the Shadows

Grumpy Educators is committed to highlighting the growing numbers of parents, community members, and taxpayers who question the costs, validity, and impact of excessive standardized testing.

Below is a slightly edited version published letter sent by a parent to the Seattle Public Schools asserting parental rights over participation in standardized testing.

To Whom It May Concern:
My name is _____. I am the father of two Seattle Public School students, XXXX and XXXXXX who are currently enrolled at _____.
It is my intention that this letter serve as notice to Seattle Public Schools (SPS) that I wish for my two children to not be assessed using the Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) either during the next scheduled assessment or any future assessment, scheduled or unscheduled, that SPS imposes on its students.
While I am not theoretically opposed to the use of standardized assessments, I am opposed to the administration of the MAP by Seattle Public Schools for the following reasons.
The State of Washington mandates the annual assessment of elementary and middle school students through the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP). While some might disagree with me, I firmly believe that the MSP is a valid measurement of a child’s educational progress and that any additional assessments given above the classroom level are redundant and unneccessary.
The MAP is expensive to administer, not only because the subscription to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is costly but also because of the extra staff that is needed for its administration. As SPS has difficulty meeting its budgetary obligations and has had to reduce or eliminate programming in order to keep its budget in-line, it seems illogical for the District to spend scarce resources on the MAP. This is especially true if one agrees with me that the MAP is unnecessary and redundant.
Administration of the MAP comes at the expense of valuable instructional time. When students are being assessed, they are not learning anything except how to take the MAP. For our students, time would be better spent in the classroom learning from their teachers.
The MAP also forces schools to set aside facilities such as the computer labs and libraries for extended periods of time in order for the test to be administered. These facilities are needed for other purposes with actual educational merit.
While NWEA has cautioned that the MAP should not be used to rate teacher effectiveness, that is exactly what Seattle Public Schools intends do with the MAP. Indeed, there is no research extant that supports the use of standardized tests as a means of judging whether a teacher is effective or not. Considering this, I find it unconscionable that SPS intends to use the MAP in this way. Not only will this irresponsible use of the MAP potentially ruin a teacher’s career it will also ruin our children’s education as teachers narrow the curriculum to fit the test in order to safeguard their livelihoods. There is ample evidence that this is already happening in other school districts throughout the country.
It is unbelievable that District officials are unaware of the mounting evidence against the use of standardized tests either as an assessment tool or as a method for ensuring the quality of teachers. I cannot help but conclude that there are other, insidious reasons why Seattle Public Schools continues to march down the path it has taken regarding the use of the MAP. It is shameful that the people entrusted with our children’s education would ignore their needs in order to pursue an agenda that has nothing educational as its goal.
I cannot compel Seattle Public Schools to abandon its use of the Measurement of Academic Progress. That power resides with the Superintendent and the School Board. Still, I can demand that my two children be exempted from taking part in this malicious farce. As stated above, it is my intention that this letter serve as notice to Seattle Public Schools that I am making such a demand.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2011 EduBlog Award Nominations

UPDATE: TIME TO VOTE! Three of my nominations got short-listed (original post below):
Best Group Blog - Cooperative Catalyst
Best Edu Tech - Innovative Educator
Best New Hastag - #occupy EDU

VOTE NOW, it's easy.


Non-educators, parents and students are writing and reading blogs to become informed on initiatives that affect their communities. As a non-educator, I read widely to make meaning of the rapid changes occurring. These bloggers have provided consistent fact based information. I applaud the increase in parent blogging. Here's my list for 2011 Edublog Award consideration.

    Nancy Flanagan writes Teacher in a Strange Land, with views on the educational landscape. The post that stood out for me this year is Opting Out. She is a strong supporter of public education but adds: "In the end, I believe parents have absolute justification to take control over their children's schooling."

    The Cooperative Catalyst is a group blog that encourages dialogue among teachers, but does not exclude non-educators, to promote "facilitating a positive and rich learning environment, where the negative and unnecessary wounds traditionally inflicted by schools, will not have a place. I will build a culture that honors, listens to, nurtures, and empowers all learners. I will not tolerate events, actions or words that cause any student to think or feel that they are stupid or worthless......” Cooperative Catalyst gives opportunity to students and others to participate via the blog.

    The Definition of Education by Jabreel M. McChisley, a 17-year old who attends Ohio Virtual Academy. He aspires to be a children's rights and family law lawyer. He is the CEO of Students Coalition for Responsible School Choice. The post was hosted by Cooperative Catalyst.

    Race to the Top is a Race off a Cliff posted on Seattle Education 2010 brings parent activism out of the shadows.

    Scathing Purple Musings keeps an eye on all things education in Florida. This blog keeps Floridians up to date on the fast moving events affecting education so that parents, community members, and taxpayers get the facts.

    The Innovative Educator explores ways technology can have positive effects on classroom instruction. This blog is real "thinking outside the box" and we need to be comfortable with being challenged by new ideas.

    The Unplugged Mom is creative, dynamic, informative, and supportive for those considering or on the path of home education.

    Parent at the Helm is a non-judgmental and supportive blog, full of resources for home educators. With a steady increase of parents choosing home education, these resources should be welcomed.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Grumpy Educators Award Nominations

"Knowledge is power."

Blogs written by parents and community members on the subject of education reform is increasing and explaining education reform initiatives that main stream media ignores. It is still difficult for non-educators to access information explained well; but there are some solid resources available now. Since January, after careful review and selection, I visit several to learn and stay current.

Inspired by Edublog Awards, Grumpy Educators created its own awards and announces winners for the education-related blogs that contributed the following:

  • Brought parent, community member, and student perspectives out of the shadows

  • Brought factual information to the public that would not be found otherwise

  • Encouraged avenues for critical and constructive dialogue on educational change

The Golden Grumpy Educator Award
Huge thanks to Education Matters for the most referrals of all time that led readers to Grumpy Educators and for the comprehensive reporting on all things education, and provides focus on North Florida. Education Matters is a very important resource for all Floridians.

Scathing Purple Musings keeps an eye on all things education in Florida. Scathing Purple Musings scooped a real analysis on the success of charter schools in Florida, revealing that 15 of the 31 Florida "F" schools were charters. This fact did not go unnoticed. Florida Senator David Simmons recently commented on this fact. The storm clouds are brewing for the 2012 legislative session. Scathing Purple Musings will remain my go-to blog for current information.

Florida has a sizable population of students who are learning the language and the academic subjects. ESOLFlorida is a resource covers the actions of the Florida legislature and the Florida DOE and the effects of those actions on those students in this state.


Largely, the public is uninformed regarding the facts of education reform initiatives. The popular narrative, cleverly controlled by education reform advocates keep the facts in the dark. Truth in American Education (TAE) is a one-stop facts only resource, providing the details on Common Core standards, Common Core assessment, and the longitudinal database (Pre-K through first year of college). To get a complete picture presented in a reader-friendly manner, TAE is the best resource on the internet.

Missouri Education Watchdog (MEW) calls out bi-partisan support, on local and national levels, for educational initiatives that undermine local control, parents rights, and otherwise, make no sense.
Clearly written and fact-based, MEW provides a view of Missouri and of the national scene.


#edparents - Great idea from The minds of kids blog. The blogger notes:
"I've not found a general hashtag for parent activists interested in connecting with other parents nationwide. We are critical to the fight against corporate education reform and high-stakes testing culture. Parents who advocate for a truly child-centered education for all students need a hashtag to call our own."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

#OCCUPYEDUN17: Bring parent, community member, and taxpayer opposition out of the shadows

Public opposition to education reform initiatives is widespread although it receives little national news coverage. Legislators at all levels are unresponsive, uninterested, or part of the problem. The numbers of parents, non-educators, community members, and taxpayers who are becoming informed and organizing are increasing nationwide.

Weakening and undermining local control over education are outcomes of the education reform efforts. Local control is a cornerstone to our democracy and a constant in communities. There is broad agreement across ideologies on that fact.

In an effort to bring public opposition to education reform initiatives out of the shadows, below are some areas of consensus:

1. End the expensive, ineffective, and punitive high stakes assessment.
2. End classroom environments that have been converted into test prep and testing centers.
3. Use the savings from #1 and 2 to return interesting and valuable electives - drama, art, home economics, computer skills, physical education, and vocational education courses.
4. Use the savings from #1 and 2 to maintain manageable class sizes so that teachers are able to meet individual needs.
5. Stop sending large sums of dollars going to Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other companies for the purpose of implementing unfunded and unfundable compliance and data-driven mandates.
6. Use the savings in #5, to restore reasonable class size for core classes, vocational education, and electives.
7. Hold Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and these other companies accountable to the same degree as schools are being held accountable.
8. Apply greater transparency regarding deals and paid for "junkets" made with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other companies jumping into the profitable education sector. Unsure on the "junkets"? Read about 10 state commissioners of education who traveled around the world on Pearson's tab, "When Free Trips Overlap With Commercial Purposes."
9.Ensure meaningful school-based accountability that meets the NUT principle (No Unnecessary Testing).
10. Use existing measures, such as NAEP, to give a snapshot of student achievement and to report on sub-group accountability.
11. Support local control via publicly elected School Board members and maintain a reasonable salary for those elected positions.
12. Ditch the preschool through college longitudinal database and maintain parent rights guaranteed under FERPA, requiring consent for sharing of student data.
13. Ensure parent rights to opt out of any and all assessments, punitive-free.
14. Leave it to local control to implement teacher evaluation systems that are not dependent on students taking high stakes assessment.
15. Support communities and families so that all students are fed, housed, and receive medical care versus supporting runaway testing initiatives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Education Reform: Show me the money - still asking

More and more fact-based, smart, and talented parents, community members, and taxpayers are blogging on education reform initiatives, filling in a notable gap and spurring a better informed public on the current initiatives.

Grumpy Educators recommends Race to the Top is a Race Off a Cliff posted on the Seattle Education blog.

Education reformers like to use the words "disruptive innovation" to describe current initiatives. I see a lot of expensive disruption and little innovation.

Seattle Education details on the costly confusion and waste that Race to the Top is causing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

HELP Committee leaves out parents

Pearson lobbyist Sandy Krell was listed as a witness to the full Senate HELP committee hearing on the reauthorization of legislation affecting national education. The ESEA bill is to replace NCLB. (Correction: Kress was not on the final list published 11/8).

However, parents were excluded from the hearing. Not a single parent was allowed as a witness to express national concerns.

Here's a statement from Parents Across America on the lack of parent voices.

Today, Parents Across America sent a letter to the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee after noting that panelists testifying this morning at a committee hearing on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education law included no parent representatives.

PAA has reached out to the HELP committee repeatedly with our concern that parent voices are being left out of this critical discussion of the federal laws which will impact our children’s education for years to come.

Below is the text of the letter to the HELP committee, which includes PAA’s recommendations for an improved ESEA. A chart comparing PAA’s positions with the current Senate proposal is here.


November 8, 2011

Re: Reauthorization of ESEA

Dear Senator Harkin and members of the HELP Committee:

We applaud the fact that you included several teachers and other educators as witnesses in today’s important hearing on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, we were disappointed to see no parent representatives on the panel. As the primary stakeholders of the public schools, parents have a deep-rooted understanding of the challenges facing our educational system. Our perspective would provide valuable information and ought to be included in your deliberations.

Had a representative from Parents Across America been asked to testify, here’s what we would have said:

PAA opposes the current version of ESEA because, while some important modifications have been made, too many of the ineffective, damaging elements of NCLB remain in the Senate reauthorization proposal, and it does not address more important, fundamental problems facing our nation’s schools and students.

Specifically, instead of the rigid menu imposed on high-poverty schools needing improvement, including punitive school closings, privatization, or other set policies imposed from above with no track record of success, solutions should be devised through stakeholder input from the ground up, including parents. In addition, options should include research-based improvements such as class size reduction, expansion of preschool programs, and more parent involvement in decision making at all levels. Right now, schools with the most at-risk children are being closed or forced to arbitrarily fire half their staff. Not only does this seriously disrupt children’s lives, but it also undermines communities and fatally weakens the effort to recruit and keep high-quality teachers in our neediest schools. Given the harsh school budget cuts being carried out across the U. S., this is simply not the time to throw more precious education funds away on more experimental programs or damaging policies. with little oversight and few meaningful results.

We also feel strongly that parents must have the right to have their children opt out of high-stakes testing, and that any accountability
system should include multiple measures of success, including parent and teacher surveys. Attached please find a summary of specific
recommendations from PAA for a better ESEA, and a chart displaying our position on the current Senate bill.

We would welcome the opportunity to testify at any upcoming hearings called on the topic of ESEA reauthorization, or meet with legislators or staff at any time.

Thank you so much for your time and attention, and for your service to our children.


Julie Woestehoff, Legislative Chair, Parents Across America

"Pearson" the corporate veil

The practice of the Pearson Foundation paying for Education Commissioners trips to China, Singapore, and Finland to meet their counterparts was reported in the New York Times. Included in that list was former Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith, who went to Finland. Questioned about that trip, Smith says he checked with the Florida Department of Education's General Counsel to make sure accepting the paid trip was okay. The Counsel said it was and so he went. While Pearson refutes any notion of this being an unethical practice, Florida does have a $250 million contract with the company.

The Miami Herald reports that on Monday, Florida Representative Dwight Bullard called for an "inquiry" to be undertaken by the legislature into "state’s relationship with Pearson." Bullard says an inquiry is necessary:

“If the contract comes up again, and there is someone who can do it better and cheaper, and we put it out for a bidding process, trips to Helsinki seem to be a nice incentive to keep doing business with the company,” Bullard said. “I want to make sure Florida is getting the best bang for their tax dollars.”

Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, an organization which opposes standardized testing had this to say about Pearson's growth over the last decade:
“But in the course of this extremely rapid growth, the company has developed a track record that is the worst in the industry,” he said.

Having effectively driven out most of the competition, leaving too few to compare with, Pearson is likely to remain the worst.

Who pays? Who benefits?

Read more: Lawmaker calls for inquiry into testing company

Pearson fattens in the global learning sector

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Florida: Bringing Parent Activism Out of the Shadows

In Brevard County, Florida, parents are fighting to keep the public schools in their communities open as the School Board looks for cost savings by closing schools that are considered too under capacity and moving the students to schools considered with room but not in the "under capacity" definition.

These closures have nothing to do with the performance of the schools, teachers, or students. Parents are certainly involved.

Under current conditions, Florida school boards are making tough budgetary decisions.

Little notice is given to parents who support the public schools in their communities.

This news report is worth paying some attention to.

American Consumers Say: These boots are made for walking.

Consumers participated in "Move Your Money" and "Bank Transfer" starting yesterday, a movement that is paying off for community credit unions and community banks. It all started with Bank of America's announcement to charge debit card fees.

At least 650,000 consumers have already joined credit unions since Sept. 29, the day Bank of America announced plans to impose its controversial $5 debit card fee, according to a nationwide survey of credit unions by the Credit Union National Association.

That's more than a year's worth of members in a single month -- with credit unions adding 600,000 members in all of 2010.

The new memberships in October amount to $4.5 billion in new savings accounts, CUNA said.

Bank of America dropped its idea of debit fees, but reports suggest that fees will pop up for other things. Bank of America has financial problems apparently stemming from its mortgage lending practices. The bank is reported to have "exhausted $20 billion in reserves," cut 40,000 jobs, and eliminated some branches.

U.S. consumers ended the honeymoon with Nextflix after the company announced a more expensive, two-company solution to watching movies. CEO Hastings apology to faithful consumers has not been effective:
"It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology."

Last month, Netflix reported losses of 800,000 customers and a 37% drop in shares. Increased losses are predicted for next year. Blockbuster sees these events as an opportunity to regain its once profitable business.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Education Reform: Parents, community members, taxpayers, and experts excluded

In May 2011, Grumpy Educators reported that two experts involved in writing the Common Core standards refused to sign the final product. On October 29, Parents Across America published Stotsky's views on the development process. Stotsky says to her knowledge no parents were involved in the development process and the primary writers had no prior experience in writing standards.

She adds additional insights to the composition of the writing process:

What struck me when I first saw the CCSSI lists of committee members was that there were almost no high school teachers of math or English, or college-level instructors of either on these lists–and here was a project to develop college-readiness standards, supposedly. The exclusion of the two teaching groups most relevant to CCSSI’s explicit goal was my first tip-off that CCSSI had a different agenda.

Mainly testing people and a few employees of Achieve and America’s Choice were on these committees. The media never commented on such peculiar committee membership. After my complaints on the Validation Committee, one or two high school teachers were added. But Jim Milgram remained the only mathematician in this group, and I was the only one who understood ELA standards-writing.

Parents, community members, and taxpayers continue to be left out of education reform initiatives. At a presentation of the new statndards, New York city parents demonstrated their impatience with their exclusion from decision-making:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bringing Homeschooling Community Opposition to Education Reform Out of the Shadows

Many bloggers are dedicated to topics of interest for the homeschooling community. Grumpy Educators is focused on education reform initiatives and leaves homeschooling to others. This week, however, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) published a statement opposing the current U.S. Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. The U.S. Senate HELP has a full committee hearing on Tuesday, November 8.

HSLDA admits they were less involved in 2001, but have observed the failures of NCLB. They are equally concerned about the increased federal control through the Common Core standards and assessment at the expense of local and parental control. While there is nothing specific in the legislation relating to homeschooling, the HSLDA sees a potential threat for the homeschooling community if the requirements of the bill in its current form federal take hold.

It is still unclear at this point whether homeschool protections will stay in the Senate’s education bill, but even if they do, the trend of national standards could lead to homeschoolers losing the freedom to choose the curriculum for their children. For these reasons, HSLDA is urging opposition to the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization legislation.

The HSLDA urges calls to U.S. Senators to voice opposition to the bill.
HSLDA’s federal relations staff have read this 868-page bill, and we believe that while it does not directly impact homeschool freedom, the bill will 1) increase the federal role in education at the expense of state, local, and parental control, and 2) will greatly increase the pressure on states to align their curriculum and standards, resulting in de facto national education standards.

News reports indicate a national increase of parents choosing the homeschooling route. In Florida, Volusia and Flagler counties report an 11.5% increase. Pasco county saw a 13.5% increase in homeschooling students at the start of classes this fall. Parents choose the homeschooling option for a variety of reasons and one often repeated reason is a rejection of the current test-driven curriculum and testing that they believe does not serve their child's needs.

The homeschooling community represents parents whose voices, objections, and concerns must also be brought out of the shadows.

Oregon Parent Opts Out of Standardized Testing

Oregon parent Jen Norman explains why she will not permit her son to take standardized tests this year.
We can complain about the choices our administrators make, but at the end of the day, their job is to get every student to pass the OAKS test. That’s the system that is in place, and they’re working very hard to ensure that it happens. They’re doing a good job; teachers are working hard, schools are trying innovative ways to raise test scores. The question is whether or not we as a society want this one test to be the only way we measure success for students and teachers.

It is time that we look at the bigger picture and grab the attention of the policy makers in Salem and Washington, DC. We need to tell them emphatically that the system is not working for our children and needs to be changed.

I’ve thought a lot about this since my son first began taking the state test three years ago. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one way to have our voices heard: withdraw our children from OAKS testing.

Read the entire statement here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011 NAEP: The Nation's Report Card

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing results were released for reading and math. Math scores show increase; however, there is little change in reading scores. Nationally, 4th graders scores in reading were "flat" or on the average unchanged since 2009. The scores for 8th graders in reading continued to rise. The results also indicated that scores for Hispanic and Black-American students continued to increase. Nevertheless, compared to White students the average scores had not significantly narrowed for Hispanic and Black 4th and 8th graders in reading.

In Florida, there was no significant change in reading scores as compared to 2009.

The Foundation for Florida's Children
, an organization that lists Jeb Bush as chairman, issued a press release today in response to the publication of these scores. In that statement, the organization recommends that Florida legislators increase reading and math requirements through the FCAT to raise "flat" scores and increase funding of public schools:
“Since 1999, Sunshine State student achievement has skyrocketed, but today’s data shows performance has plateaued,” said former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future. “Now is the time to raise the bar. We cannot rest on our first decade of success.”

One certainly would like to see an upward trend; however, for over a decade, test-centric instruction has dominated instructional environments. Washington D.C. reading initiatives, funded through NCLB, have yielded no return on investment (ROI). Florida continues to face declining high school graduation rates. In 2011, Florida graduated 63.1%, which leaves 36% high school drop outs or 83,516 students.

Parents, community members, and taxpayers are not convinced it makes any sense to do continue investing and mandating requirements that do not achieve results. The term "disruptive innovation" is used frequently these days for education reform initiatives. There is a lot of disruption, to be sure; but very little innovation.

Perhaps innovative disruption is more appropriate terminology.

Read the press release from the Foundation for Florida's Children below.
2011 NAEP Underscores Need for Higher Standards
Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tallahassee, Florida – Today, the 2011 Nation’s Report Card for reading and math was released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Although Florida’s overall results show no significant progress between 2009 and 2011, Sunshine State fourth grade readers continue to score above the national average in reading.

“Since 1999, Sunshine State student achievement has skyrocketed, but today’s data shows performance has plateaued,” said former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future. “Now is the time to raise the bar. We cannot rest on our first decade of success.”

“Right now, we have the opportunity to raise achievement levels for math and reading on the FCAT, the foundation of Florida’s data-driven system of accountability. Commissioner Robinson and education leaders have proposed higher math and reading requirements in grades 3-7, and we encourage them to increase grades 8-10 as well. We must also prioritize ensuring that every student masters the skill of reading. Early literacy is the cornerstone of learning. And investing in education is also important. We urge the Florida Legislature to protect funding for public education, particularly policies and programs that support, incentivize and reward student achievement. These are critical elements for keeping Florida’s students on a path of continued success."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Charter Schools 101: Buyer Beware

Although Florida parents have been testing the charter school waters over the years, I was unable to locate a comprehensive analysis that examined how many parents stayed, how long did they stay, and if they left, where did they take the children? Anecdotal evidence indicates that some parents have been satisfied with their charter school experiences; others not so much. The forces of power, access, and money fueling the spike in charter school expansion are certainly counting on more of the former and less of the latter.

To that end, it is not surprising to learn that the Walton Foundation is funding a new Florida lobbying organization with members, such as KIPP, a nationally recognized charter management company, and Patty Levesque from Jeb Bush's Foundation and also an education advisor to Governor Scott.

Other players in the scene include Charter USA's CEO Jonathon Hage, who was also on Governor Scott's education transition team. Charter USA will challenge Polk County's decision to reject the application to open charters in that county.

Recently, House Representative Erik Fresen was cleared by the Ethics Commission, which investigated a complaint asserting he failed to disclose a conflict of interest as it pertained to SB7195, a bill making it easier for charters to expand. Supporting the complaint is the fact that Fresen's sister and brother-in-law work for Academia, which operates 12 charters in Florida. The Ethics Commission found that since passage of SB7195 affects all charter schools and not just Academia, no conflict of interest applies. Representative Fresen is a member of several education committees. Read more here.

Then, there is Vice President Joe Biden's youngest brother, Frank Biden, who is president and director of development for Mavericks High School, charter management company. Biden plans to open 100 more charters for at risk and high school drop outs in the next year and a half.

The Mavericks High School charter has an interesting focus and since they already operate 8 schools, I decided to see what information was easily available that would help a parent make an informed decision. I discovered that Mavericks has been operating in Florida since 2007, but I was unable to uncover performance data, retention information, or graduation rates.

How will parents make informed decisions?

This question must be on the minds of many right now. According to one report, Florida parents are showing greater interest in charter schools. The same report provides a questions for parents to consider before making a decision to change from a public school to a charter. Here's that list of questions:

Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether a charter is right for your family and, if so, which one.

What is the basis of the charter school's curriculum, and how does it incorporate Florida's common-core requirements?

How is learning evaluated? Do students get report cards or grades? Do they use books or iPads?

How experienced are the teachers, the principal and other administrators?

Does the school offer extracurricular activities such as music, art or sports?

Who sits on the school board, and when does it meet?

Aside from state and federal funding, where does the school get its money: community fundraising, private foundations?

How successful is the school? How long has it been around? Is it financially sound, and how do students perform on state-mandated tests?

Because charter schools typically don't provide transportation, is the location convenient?

Although the list puts school success and track record near the bottom of the list, I think parents would be wise in this environment to move that question up and be prepared to make a personal visit to the charter and a call or two to the school district office to get some answers to that question. Each charter stands on its own, so it is hard to say if Florida-wide performance is even available. There is much to consider and charters are not for everyone.

In short, buyer beware. There is much to consider.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Florida's Charter School "Boom"

According to Charter Schools USA, new Florida legislation "has sparked a 38 percent increase in charters applying to open, or nearly 100 more this year over last year’s 252. The state has more than 400 charter schools, the third highest number in the country. More than 130,000 Florida students, or 5 percent of its public-schooled students, attended charters in 2009-2010." This new law provides an easier process for opening new charters for those who have demonstrated academic and financial success.

Nevertheless, elected county school boards are still responsible for determining how many and which charter applications will be accepted. Some disagree with this process and suggest that an independent body should replace local control in these determinations. One proponent of such a change is Charter School USA CEO John Hage, who was an advisor to former Governor Jeb Bush and participated in the drafting of Florida law creating charter schools in 1996. Local school boards express concerns over further erosion of local control.

Polk County rejected Charter School USA's request to open a charter school citing a failure to demonstrate compliance with "the state's new law for duplicating the programs of other high-performing charter schools." Charter School USA has decided to appeal this rejection to the State Board of Education.

Clay County schools is the largest county without any charter schools citing its existing quality programs as the reason. The Clay County school board is unconvinced that charters will exceed what the traditional schools already offer. However, School Board chairman Frank Ferrell worries that "lawmakers would further erode the limited oversight school districts have over charters."

“I think some of that authority is being taken away,” Ferrell said.

Read more in School Board's Getting Tough on Charter Applications.

Charter Schools: Parent Caution Advisory

While charter school expansion continues in Florida, so do the challenges to local decision-making. KIPP is a nationally recognized charter operator; however, KIPP Jacksonville operates a middle school with an "F" performance. The charter's application to open two new charters was questioned by the Duval School Board, which asked KIPP to explain why they should approve an application for more schools when they are operating one with an "F". Duval will vote on the application on November 1; however, KIPP has said they will appeal if their application is rejected.

Parents, community members, and taxpayers rely on school boards, who have the mandated responsibility of approving applications to open charters, monitoring them, and closing those who are non-performing. The application itself does not include reporting on a charter's performance history. Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson does not believe the application should include such information; however he does believe that school boards must consider charter performance as part of their decision-making process. In a Florida Department of Education statement, Robinson's views were clarified:
The Commissioner contends that performance of charter schools should be taken into consideration prior to any new charter school development because providing a quality learning environment for all students is paramount.

The Florida Times-Union quotes Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who said that "a poorly performing school shouldn’t be approved to open new schools."
“KIPP nationally is a great organization, but every school still has to earn its own way,” Richmond said.

“So if you’re an 'F’ school, you’ve got to bring that grade up before you can start talking about opening some more schools.”

The November 1 decision is one to follow as well as Charter USA's challenge to the recent Polk County School Board's rejection of their application.

With mounting challenges to a local school board decision, what can parents rely on to make informed decisions on school choice?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Charter Schools: The Tale of Many Cities

This week Florida Senator David Simmons, chair of the PreK-12 Budget subcommittee, commented at a recent meeting that charter failures in the state are worrisome. Simmons had this to say:
“The finanical impact is great,” he said. “Some of them are failing, and that’s a financial issue…Those that are failing are costing not only a human toll but a financial one.”

Some examples that may have crossed Simmons desk include:

The Miami-Herald reported that two Miami-Dade charter schools, the Academy of Arts and Minds and the Balere Language Academy, were shut down last week.

Many parents have been complaining that The Academy of Arts and Minds the school did not have enough books or teachers when school started in August. Parents have also complained about the school’s governing board decision-making, when the decided to hire the charter founder and landlord, Alonso-Poch, to also be "the school’s manager under a $90,000 no-bid contract." The chairwoman of the school’s board did not vote in this decision; however, Ruth “Chuny” Montaner is Alonso-Poch’s cousin.

Balere Language Academy troubles include a pending foreclosure lawsuit on its school building, $136,000 in outstanding debts, including $99,000 owed to a previous landlord, and is "under investigation after advertisements surfaced indicating that the school was being used as an adult-themed nightclub on the weekends. The school’s principal, Rocka Malik, has denied that the school was doubling as a club — though a phone number on the ads comes back to her husband’s business.

A West Melbourne charter school is in danger of closing due to poor performance. The charter's parent management company has sent $1 million to keep the school going and redirected to improvement. Nevertheless, parents have been pulling their children out of the school. A Florida Today article reviews the rather interesting real estate purchases and sales that has flowed into the investment. Two Imagine Charter schools, located in North Lauderdale, are also failing as identified in an investigative report by Scathing Purple Musings. This report revealed that 15 of 31 "F" schools in Florida are charters. Imagine Schools CEO Dennis Bakke was on Governor Scott's education transition team.

As charter applications are on the rise, Simmons interest is timely. Such events are not limited to Florida.

Who pays? Who benefits?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Parent Across America submits proposals for ESEA reauthorization

Parents Across America wrote to Senator Harkin, starting the letter this way:
Dear Senator Harkin,

Your proposed revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act show that you and the HELP Committee have listened to some of the concerns voiced by parents and others about the problems with No Child Left Behind.

The letter was followed by a list of proposals Parents Across America wish to see excluded in the new legislation as well as items that they recommend be included.

Below are three of the listed recommendations for inclusion:

• Less emphasis on standardized testing and more reliable accountability and assessment practices including local, teacher-designed assessments supplemented with teacher and parent surveys and site visits.

• A full range of parent involvement opportunities including a stronger parent voice in decision making at the school, district, state, and national levels.

• The right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

Grumpy Educators hopes that Senator Harkin, the full committee, and the U.S. Congress pays attention to the concerns of parents, community members, and taxpayers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Florida Tea Party Network Want Governor Scott to Quit Race to the Top

Hat tip to Scathing Purple Musings for posting the announcement by Florida's TEA Party on Race to the Top. For months now, Grumpy Educators has been asking where they stood on the issue.

Here's a segment:
The Tea Party Network, a consortium of 70 tea-party organizations statewide, argues that “for states to regain control of education and bring it back to the local level, they must stop taking federal money and the strings that come with the money.”

Read the entire article Florida Tea Party Network Want Governor Scott to Quit Race to the Top for their complete statement.

UPDATE: Governor Scott signed the grant proposal and says he will return the money IF there are any strings attached. The Pre-K funding is not a gift and to know the strings, someone has to analyze the grant application and requirements first. Much has already been written about the requirements. Scott does not say what parts he found helpful and which less so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ESEA legislation: Which way is the wind blowing?

Legislation regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act hit the proverbial fan. Some of the key initiatives promoted by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other education reformers are being revisited, reduced, diminished, or disappearing. One thing is clear, there is bipartisan support for shifting authority over education away from Washington D.C. and back to the States.

Several articles to help understand these current events can be found here:

Ed Week journalist Alyson Klein says there are over 144 amendments to the recently filed Harkin-Enzi bill, the one to replace NCLB. Klein points to areas to watch for in Wednesday's markup.

Alexander Russo of the Scholastic Administrator notices the absence of ed reformers with the announcement if the Harkin version of new education legislation.

Rick Hess gives his views of the Harkin-Enzi proposal and a follow up on the current legislative events in Harkin-Enzi ESEA Madness.

Shifting Focus by Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post points to changes in direction on federal mandates regarding teacher evaluation.

And one more about Senator Lamar Alexander's proposal, what he thinks of Harkin-Enzi legislations, and the concerns over a "national school board."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ed Week follows up on S.C. parent

Ed Week followed up on parent Gretchen Herrera. What I found interesting was this comment at the end of the article:

This is a classic instance of retaliation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA. I hope the parent pursues an OCR complaint and other remedies. She and others needing help with lawless school districts might want to join the Council of Parents, Advocates, and Attorneys (COPAA) at www.copaa.org and participate in the listserve, for lots of helpful free advice and support.

The South Carolina parents have filed Office of Civil Rights complaints and the investigation is ongoing.

Grumpy Educators reported that the student has now enrolled in a public middle school and his complex medical condition and recommendations of the medical team apparently will be honored.

UPDATE: A comment added to the Ed Week follow up article is worth reading.
"Thanks for the followup on this story. I am concerned that any virtual school does not recognize medical advice as official. I thought virtual schools were often chosen by families because of medical conditions a child might have that would make attending a regular school difficult. This situation seems to have flown in the face of what was best for this student. After reading your original article, I contacted this school via facebook and was advised that to eliminate the possibility of a medically fragile student having to endure any state mandated tests, it would be best to enroll said child in the private virtual school also run by this company.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

SC parent finds help in local school district

After a protracted battle with the South Carolina Virtual Charter School, a K12 franchise, over standardized testing, parent Gretchen Herrera has enrolled her son in a public middle school. Mrs. Herrera reports that her first experiences with school staff have been positive, they appear knowledgeable, and willing to accommodate her son's complex medical condition as indicated by his medical team while addressing his educational needs.

Grumpy Educators wishes this family best wishes and good luck to Anthony. We look forward to hearing of his progress and success in middle school.


No family should have to fight this long and this hard to ensure the health and well-being of their children in public school or publicly-funded charters. In this environment of charters springing up like mushrooms, the message to parents is: Buyer Beware.

Ed Week recently reported on this story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

NCLB Reauthorization: Who gets control?

The U.S. Congress is showing mixed results in addressing the reauthorization of NCLB legislation in spite of broad consensus that it requires urgent attention. According to the NY Times, the U.S. House education committee leadership wishes to proceed in a "piecemeal" fashion; however, few pieces have been forthcoming. The New York Times sees the House actions this way:
"The House leadership has appeared unwilling to move toward a full rewriting of the law, which could give Mr. Obama a domestic policy triumph going into an election year."

The U.S. Senate has filed a comprehensive bill. According to Senate education committee chair Senator Tom Harkin, this bill was developed in bipartisan fashion and returns some of the powers to the states that were taken away via NCLB legislation. Accountability remains in place.

"Mr. Harkin’s bill would keep the law’s requirements that states test students in reading and math every year in grades three through eight, and once in high school, and make the scores public.

But for about 9 of every 10 American schools, it would scrap the law’s federal system of accountability, under which schools must raise the proportion of students showing proficiency on the tests each year. That system has driven classroom teaching across the nation for a decade.

States would still face federal oversight for the worst-performing 5 percent of schools, as well as for the 5 percent of schools in each state with the widest achievement gap between minority and white students. Districts in charge of those schools could lose federal financing under the Harkin plan if they failed to raise their student achievement."

There are critics who maintain that local control is the problem.

“Harkin’s bill would return control to the state departments of education and the local school districts, and they’re the ones that got us into the mess that No Child was designed to fix,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who headed the Department of Education’s research wing under President Bush. “Districts and states have not been effective in delivering quality education to children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, so why should we think they’ll be effective this time around?”

Other groups advocating for minority and special education students fear that the relaxing of sub-group accountability turns back the clock for these students.

Ed Week provided more perspective on the Senate ESEA draft bill. Adequate yearly progress requirements will disappear and replaced by state identified continuous improvement and ability to use either a yearly test or interim measures that show progress. The comprehensive Senate bill proposes to:

  • Codify the Race to Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhood programs, all top Obama administration reform initiatives.

  • Require states to set college- and career-readiness standards, either with other states or alone.

  • Largely keep the law's testing system in place, but eliminate the 2013-14 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency in math and reading.

  • Require states to develop new teacher evaluation systems.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More groups pushing back on the Common Core initiatives

Via Truth in American Education.

In a letter to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, Alabama legislators ask that the state retain control over "academic standards, curriculum, instruction, and testing" and reject national initiatives.

The National Federation of Republican Women (Nebraska, Delaware, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Tennessee) passed a unanimous resolution, "Defeat National Standards for State Schools." The resolution opposes "national standards, national curricula, or national assessments."

Resolution proposed to NCTE to oppose common core standards...

This resolution was submitted to the National Council of Teachers of English for their consideration.

Schools Matter: Resolution: NCTE will oppose common core standards...: Resolution on National Standards and Tests Submitted to National Council of Teachers of English, Committee on Resolutions...

South Carolina parent responds to charter school

On Friday, October 7, Education Week covered the complaint and concern of South Carolina parents of special needs student and high stakes assessments. Read here.

On Saturday, October 8, parent Gretchen Herrera received notification from the SCVS director that her son was expelled for her failure to give permission to her son to take assessments. She also protested the rules and regulations on the SC State House steps that day.

Yesterday, Mrs. Herrera replied to the charter school director.

My reply to the director's letter about Anthony's expulsion.

Ms. Reid,

I received a letter from you stating that my son is withdrawn from your school effective 10/10 because I refused to let him take the PASS test.

My son is a 12 year old little boy with Aspergers and a brittle diabetic. I presented Cherry Daniels and Donna Strom with a letter from his diabetes team stating my son should NOT take the test. It stated clearly that he would have a dramatic reaction in his health, but still he took the first part.

My son's blood sugar spiked over 200 points in 30 minutes!

I had sent ANOTHER letter in as well to his homeroom teacher stating that not only did his blood sugar go up, but while there was all of this turmoil, after I refused to let him get ill AGAIN by finishing the PASS tests, his overall blood sugar (A1C) was dangerously high! All of the stress he went through over will he or won't he be allowed to come back because he didn't return to a situation that made him physically and dangerously ill caused his A1C to reach 9.0 from a 7.0! That is documented.

Your school ignored the letter from his endocrinology team and subsequently caused him to be in a very harmful situation with his health.

Your letter states that you have to follow the SAME rules and regulations of the brick and mortar schools of this state. I have spoken to the SC DoE and was told my son can go in, sign in and leave. That would fulfill his participation. I have also spoken to my child's special needs director for Palmetto Pediatric and was told children with my son's illness and disabilities have been opted out before.

You had the appropriate documentation. Your school had a letter in hand stating clearly NOT for Anthony to take the PASS test. There was no doubt about what it was saying.

Yet, because he has a disability that exacerbates an already tricky condition, you've removed him from your school.

From where I sit Ms. Reid, your school is valuing it's testing prowess higher than a child's health.

Now surely, that can't be. Can it?

You were correct in your closing line. SCVCS didn't meet my son's needs. I trusted your school would WANT to keep my child safe. I see I was wrong.


Gretchen Herrera

Sunday, October 9, 2011

South Carolina Virtual School sends student packing

On October 8, 2011, South Carolina parent Gretchen Herrera was informed that her son was withdrawn by the virtual public school school officials due to her refusal to allow her son to take further standardized testing. School officials have ignored the complex existing medical condition and doctor's evaluation that the testing exacerbates the condition. The parent received this letter:

Dear Learning Coach,

The South Carolina Virtual Charter School is a virtual public school of choice, whereby students and their learning coaches are required to follow school policies and procedures to remain compliant and in good standing. As you recall, as part of the enrollment process, we requested that all families carefully read the 2011-12 Parent Student Handbook, sign the contract (located on page 27) and return to your homeroom teacher. By your signature and that of your son/daughter, this indicates your commitment to adhere to the schools rules and regulations addressed in the document.

Please understand that as a virtual public school we are obligated to the same state policies and procedures that our sister brick and mortar schools are required to follow. Therefore, we are accountable for student attendance, progress, reading, and answering K mails, submitting work and attendance at state testing and overall, being in good standing with the school.

As a result of your decision of being non-compliant, your student will officially be withdrawn from SCVCS October 10, 2011 and their name and contact information will be forwarded to the public school district in which you reside.
In closing, I am disappointed that SCVCS virtual learning did not meet your expectation and I wish you the best in your future endeavor.

Director of Elementary and Middle School Education

Recent report on this story:
Shah, Nirvi, "Testing, No Testing, Too Much Testing", Ed Week, October 9, 2011.

Friday, October 7, 2011

South Carolina parents get a national spotlight

Grumpy Educators has been following the experiences of South Carolina parents who sought waivers from high stakes assessment for their students with complex medical conditions. If there is a poster child for compliance-driven testing that fails to protect the health and well-being of children, second guesses medical input, and hinders parent rights and involvement, then South Carolina takes the prize.

At long last, this important story has garnered some national attention. In "Testing, No Testing, Too Much Testing," Nirvi Shah, Education Week's On Special Education journalist, writes about South Carolina parents and reports on California trends to increase the number of tests all students must take, including those with special needs. Citing the California Bee, Ed Week notes the following:

"Repeated failure on the regular test was beating down many special education students, Sacramento City Unified district spokesman Gabe Ross told the Bee."

"Is it more accurate to give students who have special needs a test that we know they will not be proficient in?" he asked. "How does that give you an accurate picture of student learning?"

South Carolina parents protest punitive high stakes assessment on South Carolina State House steps, Saturday, October 8, at 10 AM.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Education Matters: Florida faces $1.2 billion education shortfall

Education Matters: Florida faces $1.2 billion education shortfall: From the FloridaCurrent.com A triple threat of factors will have Florida lawmakers scrambling to close a projected $1.2 billion shortfall ...

NUT Report: Portland Maine parents to opt-out

Bangor Daily News reports parent requests to opt-out of high stakes standardized testing. Maine education officials say that every year a small group of parents request opting out of mandated high stakes assessment, but find no increased trend district-wide. Officials recognize parent concern regarding the amount of time test prep and testing is taking out of instructional time and note more conversation among parents on how to opt-out.

"Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin also noted the danger too many opt-outs present for schools in terms of complying with federal laws, but said school officials cannot compel parents to put their kids in the testing rooms."

“Every year we get a small number of folks who decide to [opt out], and we move on,” he said. “We can’t force students to take standardized tests. There’s no real ‘opt out’ provision in the law, but there’s also nothing that forces students to take the tests. Just like if there’s a parent that doesn’t want their child dissecting a frog in science class, we can’t force them to, or if there’s a parent that doesn’t want their child going on a particular field trip, we can’t force them to.”

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, sees a national trend developing this year as more parents realize that there will be no testing relief through the reauthorization of NCLB and as parents "learn their rights and go public with their complaints."

“There has been, just this year, a resurgence in interest in opting out of tests,” he said. “Earlier this decade, we saw small movements [in certain places], but this year, as frustration has grown with the damage that NCLB and state testing requirements have done, more and more parents have looked into opting out, and more have taken advantage of it.”

On Saturday, October 8 at 10AM, South Carolina parents will protest punitive high stakes assessment on the S.C. State House steps. Unlike Maine, South Carolina education officials second-guess medical input to force testing in spite of parent request to opt-out for their students with complex medical conditions. Instead of helping, South Carolina's policies protect the testing and not the students.

Some resources for opting out information:

Some resources on Facebook:
Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing
OPT-OUT of the State Test: A National Movement
Testing is Not Teaching! PBC citizens united to make a difference.
Parents Across America

15 Things Parents, Community Members, and Taxpayers Want the Nation to Know About Education

Lisa Nielsen attended the recent Education Nation conference and reported on the last panel, consisting of students. She reported on the students' perspective in the blog 20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education. In response, a teacher and blogger wrote 20 Things A Teacher Wants the Nation to Know About Education.

So I decided I'd better write one to reflect the important part of the whole discussion - parents, community members and taxpayers. I listed 15 things leaving the last five for input from readers. Here's my list:

1. End the expensive, ineffective, and punitive high stakes assessment.
2. End classrooms environments that have been converted into test prep and testing centers.
3. Use the savings from #1 and 2 to return interesting and valuable electives - drama, art, home economics, computer skills, physical education, and vocational education courses.
4. Use the savings from #1 and 2 to maintain manageable class sizes so that teachers are able to meet individual needs.
5. Stop sending large sums of dollars to Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other companies for the purpose of implementing unfunded and unfundable compliance and data-driven mandates.
6. Use the savings in #5, to restore reasonable class size for core classes, vocational education, and electives.
7. Hold Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and these other companies accountable to the same degree as schools are being held accountable.
8. Apply greater transparency regarding deals and paid for "junkets" made with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other companies jumping into the profitable education sector. Unsure on the "junkets"? Read about 10 state commissioners of education who traveled around the world on Pearson's tab, "When Free Trips Overlap With Commercial Purposes."
9.Ensure meaningful school-based accountability that meets the NUT principle (No Unnecessary Testing).
10. Use existing measures, such as NAEP, to give a snapshot of student achievement and to report on sub-group accountability.
11. Support local control via publicly elected School Board members.
12. Ditch the preschool through college longitudinal database and maintain parent rights guaranteed under FERPA, requiring consent for sharing of student data.
13. Ensure parent rights to opt out of any and all assessments, punitive-free.
14. Leave it to local control to implement teacher evaluation systems that are not dependent on students taking high stakes assessment.
15. Support communities and families so that all students are fed, housed, and receive medical care versus supporting runaway testing initiatives.

What did I miss?

UPDATE: Responding to a private comment on the importance of these views. Ed reformers, who share Chester Finn's view on local control, will no doubt find any list and input from parents, community members, and taxpayers disruptive to their plans. If parents and the public are excluded from decision-making in their communities and over the lives of their children, what is it that we have exactly?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Missouri Education Watchdog: The Trouble With Data

Missouri Education Watchdog: The Trouble With Data: Several weeks ago, I listened to our high school principal extol the virtues of data that they will use to "guide" every one of their decisi...

Gov. Rick Scott e-mails 'cleaned out' from third source - St. Petersburg Times

Gov. Rick Scott e-mails 'cleaned out' from third source - St. Petersburg Times

Something fishy in the disappearing emails that cannot be retrieved.

Imagine a world without local school boards | Education articles blog on schools in Florida & Tampa Bay: the Gradebook | tampabay.com & St. Petersburg Times

Imagine a world without local school boards | Education articles blog on schools in Florida & Tampa Bay: the Gradebook | tampabay.com & St. Petersburg Times

Local school boards are troublesome to education reform efforts according to Chester Finn, who has great responsibilities to the non-public entity driving common core standards. Finn states the following:
These traditional structures are lethargic, bureaucratic, and set in their ways; while people within them may have experience managing schools and complying with rules, they seldom have the capacity to innovate, to make judgments about matters beyond their customary duties, or to stage successful interventions in failing districts and schools. Moreover, many of these people fiercely oppose the policies they are asked to implement.

Finn gives no support for his claim; however, local school boards are in fact accountable to the parents, community members, and taxpayers in the area they serve. Is he suggesting that democracy is troublesome? Maybe it is a good thing that "many of these people fiercely oppose the policies they are asked to implement."

In this compliance-driven-distantly-mandated landscape, parents have little to say about the educational environment of their students. "Fierce opposition" by parents, community members, and taxpayers is growing and more visible.

South Carolina parents protest punitive high stakes assessment on the State House steps on Saturday, October 8 at 10 AM. They do so because at all levels of educational officials, medical professional advice was ignored so the testing would proceed without regard to parental rights and the duty to protect the health and well-being of children. Grumpy Educators supports these efforts.

Read more:
Previous posts related to South Carolina parent opposition to excessive testing:
The State Op-Ed: South Carolina parent asks why students cannot opt out of high stakes assessment
South Carolina parents to protest high stakes assessment
A letter from a 12 year old---
Bringing Parent Opposition and Resistance Out of the Shadows
South Carolina Parents Challenge Standardized Testing
NUT Report: No parent involvement wanted

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Speed bump: New teacher evaluation process in Brevard County, Florida

A front page story in the paper edition of the Florida Today caught my eye today in the supermarket. "Teaching tool or trouble brewing?" describes the implementation of the new requirements for teacher evaluation in Brevard County, Florida schools. By 2014, this evaluation system will be used to create a merit pay system, which will affect teacher pay in accordance with recent legislation. So far, the article has not appeared in electronic format.

According to the article, "school board members have heard that the evaluation process is not being consistently implemented in the schools - leading to frustration and confusion among some of the 5,000 teachers." The process speed bump seems to center on the teacher-written professional growth plan, which accounts for 50% of the evaluation procedure. Teachers in the district report different directions on how to proceed with professional growth plans, apparently at the school level. School district official, Joy Salamone, said the district would fix the issues if the union provided specifics.

The Florida Today article described at least two specific incidents in adequate fashion for the district to act. The new process is a dramatic change, so confusion can be expected. While teachers and administrators should be focused on school students, their attention is diverted to non-instructional tasks. Let's hope the school district can create and maintain an atmosphere where confusions can be clarified without fear and without substantial time taken from classroom instruction.

The other 50% of teacher evaluation will be based on student performance results on FCAT reading scores or standardized end-of-course exams. It is still unclear, at least to this community member, how student performance will apply to P.E. teachers and special education teachers and how the algorithm will be developed.

It is refreshing to see the Florida Today do some reporting on educational issues and hope they do more.

Reference: Ryan, Mackenzie, "Teaching tool or trouble brewing?," Florida Today, October 1, 2011.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education

NBC sponsored Education Nation is billed as a national summit on education. Panel after panel discussed and debated a wide variety of topics. Perhaps I am one more in the pool of parents, community members, or taxpayers who never heard of it. Could it be this important pool remains at the fringes of the national discussion?

Thanks to Lisa of the Innovative Educator blog, I learned that there was at least a student panel. This insightful blog is reposted below.

20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education

It's rare for education reformers, policymakers, and funders to listen to those at the heart of education reform work: The students. In fact Ann Curry who hosted Education Nation's first student panel admitted folks at NBC were a little nervous about putting kids on stage. In their "Voices of a Nation" discussion, young people provided insight into their own experiences with education and what they think needs to be done to ensure that every student receives a world-class education. After the discussion Curry knew these students didn't disappoint. She told viewers, "Students wanted to say something that made a difference to you (adults) and they did. Now adults need to listen."

Below are the sentiments shared by these current and former students during the segment.

  1. I have to critically think in college, but your tests don't teach me that.
  2. We learn in different ways at different rates.
  3. I can't learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.
  4. Teaching by the book is not teaching. It's just talking.
  5. Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.
  6. Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.
  7. We need more than teachers. We need life coaches.
  8. The community should become more involved in schools.
  9. Even if you don't want to be a teacher, you can offer a student an apprenticeship.
  10. Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.
  11. You should be trained not just in teaching but also in counseling.
  12. Tell me something good that I'm doing so that I can keep growing in that.
  13. When you can feel like a family member it helps so much.
  14. We appreciate when you connect with us in our worlds such as the teacher who provided us with extra help using Xbox and Skype
  15. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.
  16. Bring the electives that we are actually interested in back to school. Things like drama, art, cooking, music.
  17. Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas including teacher evaluations.
  18. You need to use tools in the classroom that we use in the real world like Facebook, email, and other tools we use to connect and communicate.
  19. You need to love a student before you can teach a student.
  20. We do tests to make teachers look good and the school look good, but we know they don't help us to learn what's important to us.

The students are ready to talk to us. How are we going to make time to listen and incorporate their voices into the policies and decisions that affect them?

Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback - Philadelphia Eagles
Shadrack Boayke - Brentwook, NY
Colton Bradford - Mobile, AL
Ron Daldine - Auburn Hills, MI
Rayla Gaddy - Detroit, MI
Katie Oliveria - Las Vegas, NV

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Date change for South Carolina parent protest: October 8 at 10 AM

South Carolina parents moved the date of the protest in response to parents, students, teachers, and community members, who have expressed interest in joining the event on a more convenient day.

The new date is Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 10am on the front steps of the South Carolina State House in Columbia SC, facing Gervais Blvd.

Parents object to high stakes assessment that converts classrooms into test prep and testing centers and the denial of parental rights to waive testing in order to protect the health and well-being of their students with complex medical conditions.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NUT Report: New standardized health and sex education test heads to Washington D.C. and South Carolina

The No Unnecessary Testing or NUT Report is written by Sandra.

“Teaching to the test for health, too?” asked Nakisha Winston, head of the PTA at Langdon Education Campus in Northeast Washington D.C.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Washington D.C. school students will be the first to take a new health standardized assessment to measure what they know about "human sexuality, contraception and drug use" as well as nutrition and mental health. Students will take this 50 question health and sex education assessment in addition to "reading and math (grades 3 through 8 and 10), composition (4, 7, 10), science (grade 5) and biology (grade 10)" in April 2012.

The test was developed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education based upon sample questions "devised by" the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The Washington Post reported that parents want to know more about the test and expressed concerns about more testing requirements. D.C. school officials say the test is in response to legislation; however, the bill sponsor said the legislation required only an annual report and not the creation of another standardized assessment. Officials recognize that parents may have differing opinions on this initiative.

In an updated Washington Post report, D.C. officials clarified that assessment results will only serve to report percentage of questions answered correctly and will not provide individual scores, nor affect teacher evaluations.

According to the CCSSO Health Education Assessment Project (HEAP) website, South Carolina "utilized the item bank, collaborative editing and online testing capabilities, to develop and field-test several assessment forms at the elementary, middle and high school grade levels in preparation for a statewide health assessment." Searches reveal zero South Carolina media coverage on this topic. The Washington Post article points to the CCSSO website as the reference for the information.

The test bank of questions can be reviewed at the HEAP website.
Take a brief pop quiz of questions taken from the test bank here.


The CCSSO website is not likely a place where parents will visit to get information on their state's initiatives.

  • Are South Carolina parents, community members, and taxpayers in the dark as to the priority, legislative requirements, and costs related to this additional test?

  • Will South Carolina parents be advised and have a right to opt out during field and final implementation in accordance with SECTION 59-32-50. S.C. Code of Laws Title 59 Chapter 32 or will the absence of the word assessment lead to enforcement of taking the assessment?

  • Will compliance-only prevail for parents who object to sexual education assessments for personal reasons?

Currently, South Carolina has no legislation that allows parental right to opt-out of any standardized tests. This apparent legislative vacuum has led to compliance-only enforcement, including for students who have complex medical conditions. S.C. education officials second-guess doctor's recommendations that students not be tested to protect their health and well-being.

Parents will be protesting on the steps of the South Carolina Senate Building on October 3. Perhaps South Carolina legislators will break their silence, explain their position on parental rights, and have something to say about this new test to parents then.

UPDATE: Date change for parent protest. New date is Saturday, October 8 at 10 AM.

Previous posts related to South Carolina parent opposition to excessive testing:
The State Op-Ed: South Carolina parent asks why students cannot opt out of high stakes assessment
South Carolina parents to protest high stakes assessment
A letter from a 12 year old---
Bringing Parent Opposition and Resistance Out of the Shadows
South Carolina Parents Challenge Standardized Testing
NUT Report: No parent involvement wanted