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.