I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

FEA Loses in Court, Rejected says the Judge!

1 Down and 1 to Go……

The Florida Teacher’s Union, the FEA, received a devastating loss today in the Florida Courts.  They had sought to invalidate SB 850, and twice now the judge in the case has rejected their arguments.  From the Tampa Bay Times Buzz Blog:

“A judge on Tuesday dismissed one of two lawsuits aimed at Florida's controversial school voucher program. The suit challenged the 2014 expansion of a program that provides private-school scholarships for low-income children. It also threatened a new program creating scholarships for children with special needs. A second lawsuit, which is still pending, alleges the voucher program conflicts with the state Constitution. Both are being driven by the statewide teachers union…On Tuesday, Francis said the new complaint lacked "a legally sufficient basis to sustain a finding of special injury."

Read the whole story here  

On AM1620 Discussing IFCAA

I was invited on to the AM1620 morning show with Andrew McKay yesterday to discuss IFCAA.  

I was contacted by the station to discuss this proposal after they read the Viewpoint I submitted that appeared in this Sunday's PNJ.

The reception to my proposal was warm, and the discussion went very well.  The podcast of my discussion is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The National Significance of Vergara v. California

Vergara v. California is a case that everyone throughout America that cares about education should be watching closely.  The case was brought on behalf of nine students who were in schools that did not have effective, high quality teachers. 

The crux of Vergara is this:    California seniority and tenure job protections for teachers serve to deprive students, primarily poor minority students, the rights guaranteed under the California constitution assuring all students equality in education in high quality schools, with high quality teachers. 

The suit, which was historically decided in favor of the plaintiffs earlier this year, has now been appealed by California Governor Jerry (Moonbeam/moon bat) Brown and the California affiliates of the NEA and the AFT.

The powerful and influential teachers’ unions are working overtime to defeat this suit on appeal.  If upheld, the Vergara ruling reforms California’s ridiculously short (16 Months) time-frame for evaluating new teachers for the purpose of granting tenure, streamlines the dismissal process for ineffective teachers, and prohibits union language that makes seniority the most important factor when teacher layoffs occur.

Other states, particularly the dark-blue northeastern states with very similar state constitutional language on education, should pay very close attention to this case.  Florida has already reformed tenure, but Florida could reform dismissal protocols and LIFO practices as well.  Every state should watch this battle.

 Once Vergara is upheld and the appeal is defeated in California, I would not be surprised to see similar challenges in courts in other union stronghold states.  Stay tuned to this one. 

An excellent summary/timeline of the case is here.   

The most profound quotes from the Judge’s June, 2014 ruling can be found here.

What is IFCAA?

"I recently met a very powerful statewide education leader at a conference in Washington DC, and while discussing my latest frustration with the FSBA, their lawsuit attempting to kill the tax-credit scholarship that benefits 1,000 primarily poor and minority students in Escambia County, this leader simply, wryly, said “Why do you keep funding them, then?”  He makes a great point.  Why do we?  IFCAA, my legislative proposal, fixes this problem.  IFCAA is a mechanism that allows each individual board member to allocate (or not expend at all) his/her individual portion of a taxpayer funded board, committee, council, and/or commission’s advocacy budget."

IFCAA stands for the Individual Freedom of Choice in Advocacy Act--A method for disrupting "Iron Triangles."  

IFCAA (Individual Freedom of Choice in Advocacy Act) is a proposal I have developed and given to Escambia’s legislative delegation, members of the Florida House and Senate, and to other conservative school board members around the state.

As school board members we are duly elected, individual constitutional officers-just like County Sheriffs, elected Superintendents of Schools, Supervisors of Elections, Tax Collectors, Property appraisers, etc.  

Unlike the individual officeholders mentioned above, however, our individual choice in advocacy for our constituents is handcuffed by a system that stifles individual officeholders’ choice.

What do I mean?

If the statewide “Sheriff’s” advocacy organization suddenly started advocating for ideals contrary to what an individual Florida County Sheriff believed—that individual Sheriff could (and would) rightly withhold the dues from said organization, or  choose to fund a different law enforcement advocacy organization that more accurately represented the ideology of this sheriff and his constituents. 

Same for Superintendent’s, Supervisors of Elections, Property Appraiser’s, Tax Collectors, and the list goes on...

Every office in the state that has an officer or board also has a professional advocacy “association.” These “organizations” receive massive taxpayer subsidies from state and local officeholders.
As school board members, we send taxpayer funding for advocacy to the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA).  

While the FSBA has done many beneficial things in the past, recently they’ve made some choices and decisions that have alienated conservative members; something must change.

The distinction between individually elected office-holders and members of elected boards is that the advocacy organizations that purport to represent us as bodies or units sometimes neither represent many of us individually nor do they represent the collective values of our individual constituencies. 

Worse--sometimes these very organizations actively work against what many of us want, yet we’ve no choice individually but to fund them.

This isn’t $30 to NRA or $50 to AARP —For the Escambia’s Board, FSBA’s price tag is more than $20,000.00 yearly!

While discussing my significant disagreement with FSBA’s lawsuit (attempting to kill the tax-credit scholarship that benefits 70,000 primarily poor and minority students statewide), a powerful, statewide education leader simply, wryly, stated “Why do you keep funding them, then?” 

Why do we keep funding them?

FSBA didn’t represent my views when they supported the class size mandates that blew up the budget-destroying our ability to significantly raise teacher pay.

FSBA didn’t represent my views when they sought to block necessary tenure reform in Florida, yet I had no choice but to fund them.

FSBA has ignored every conservative idea I have submitted for six years running for their statewide

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Wish for 2014--Restoration of Parental Choice in Educating Their Children

Restoring parental power in education

Our education system in America from top to bottom not only needs to change, it needs a complete and dramatic overhaul. While it’s easy for those who control educational decisions at the state and local level to stick with what is most familiar, and to simply request more and more taxpayer funding to do things the very same way they have always done them, this has not worked. We are falling behind the rest of the world. 

So this Christmas, my wish list, as a taxpayer, father, policy maker, and school choice proponent, is this:

1. We must start listening to parents and stop telling them we're the only ones who know what is best for their children. Parents want to send their kids to the very best schools, not to the schools some bureaucrat tells them they can attend!

2. We must stop wasting precious taxpayer money fighting school choice in court. Florida is fighting entrenched special interests over parental choice, and this is ridiculous! Associations that purportedly represent the interests of teachers, school board members, school administrators, and parents initiated this litigation. Hanging in the balance are 70,000 students who love the tax credit scholarship schools they attend. They do not want their scholarships taken from them by the guardians of the status quo.

3. We must focus on making all of our schools better, rather than fixating on quashing competition from any and all other education providers. Competition forces us all to improve, and competition will make the public schools better.

We simply must evolve or our system will implode.

Countries around the world are spending less per pupil and achieving better outcomes than we are. In order to compete, we must innovate and empower parents to choose the right school for their children. The future of the public school system in America depends upon our willingness to listen to our constituents. We need to offer a wide assortment of choices and options to all students, including virtual, traditional, vocational, technical, private schools, or any combination thereof. Taxpayer-funded education for students is a right, and I believe it is a right we owe students and parents — not to a dysfunctional governmental jobs and enrichment system that too often fails. 

Education in 20 to 30 years will look very different than it does today. Homeschooling will continue

Friday, December 12, 2014

District's Employee Health Clinic: Financial Performance on a 1-10 Scale a "10 +"

A few years back the School District's self insured health plan took significant hits due to the exponential rise in costs related to the provision of health benefits to employees.

At one point, we were losing $175,000 monthly because costs were rising, and we could not bargain plan changes quickly enough to ameliorate the losses.

To make matters worse at that time, we could not even discuss the issue in the public because it was being "bargained" with our union and everyone was terrified we would get hammered with a ULP if the real, behind the scenes story of how we were hemorrhaging  cash (and the real reason why) was ever leaked to the press....The thought was that it would potentially paint the union in a bad light....

Fast forward a year.

So after we got through that mess, the Affordable Care Act was ram-rodded through and our costs again began to escalate geometrically.

As a method of addressing these cost increases, discussions began among board members about creating a district health clinic to reduce costs.  Other school districts, cities, and counties throughout the country were doing this with great success.

In 2011 we voted to start one locally.  In 2013, the clinic opened.

At today's board workshop, we discussed the clinic's finances now that we have more than a year's worth of financial data.  And we are being asked to renew the second option year at a cost of $1.4 Million dollars.  Because that is so much money, I asked our risk management director to give us his opinion on the clinic's performance.

(full disclosure--I love the clinic concept... I use it, as does my family.  with 3 kids that all play sports, I save $120 on co=pays on physicals alone-never mind the fact that the clinic has very flexible and convenient hours...)

According to Kevin Windham, ECSD risk management director, within 6 months of opening, the clinic had recouped the investment in opening it when "hard" and "soft" costs were considered.

At 1 year, the clinic was in the black just looking at "hard" costs.  The soft cost savings were gravy.

The clinic is proving to be a HUGE hit for the lower paid employees, and it is also enhancing our district's wellness initiatives.

I asked Kevin Windham   "How would you rate the economic performance of our clinic on a 1 to 10 scale?"

His reply was resounding......"A 10+!"

Using CCTV to Foster Better Discipline, Redux

Last month at the School Board's discussion workshop, I discussed the idea of having cameras in the classroom to bolster security, enhance and improve student behavior, and to improve the overall learning environment.

The reaction I got was very lukewarm... no money was the rationale from the administration, and my colleagues were not enthused about the idea.

Fast forward a month, and we see all the fallout from Ferguson, MO, and NYC with the Eric Garner case, and the push for cameras for police--and I decided to bring the idea again.  I reiterated at the meeting the following important point.  We have utilized CCTV systems throughout the district to enhance security, we utilize CCTV on busses with great impact (to protect both students and employees and to maintain behavior), and now we are including the use of CCTV systems in school cafeterias to improve behavior--it is even written into the behavior management plan for Woodham MS.

So why the resistance to cameras in classrooms?

Others are doing it.  Fayeteville, NC is installing cameras to foster better discipline.  From The Citizen:

"The advantage of the teacher-controlled system is two-fold, staff said. It will allow a teacher to video a classroom lesson to increase professional learning and it will serve as a system to alert school staff and others to behavioral or other issues that require a quick response...The system “provides a ‘natural view’ of the student in the classroom if their behavior is a concern. This type of natural view has the added possibility of assisting educators with response to interventions. If there is a behavior disruption which is serious, the teacher can press the alert/panic button and help is much faster to arrive because of the immediate notification to the front office and or administrators."

Like it or not the future is coming, and cameras are the future and cameras protect students and teachers.  I'm going to keep bringing this idea, because I strongly believe it will help teachers and schools improve the learning environment----and it is coming sooner or later so we may as well get ahead of it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What is the Academic Value of Early Childhood Education and Pre-K Programs?

A local survey regarding the academic efficacy of Early Childhood Education programs suggests continued strong support among educators, while the latest published studies show minimal, if any, academic benefit attributable to such programs.... Why?

In early November, 2014, I surveyed approximately 1,900 teachers in the Escambia County School District on the subject of Early Childhood Education.

I immediately received nearly 400 responses to the six question survey I distributed, and I am very thankful to all who responded and submitted responses!  These summarized responses are presented in the table below.

I completed  a research project utilizing the latest published study results from this field combined with these local survey data on the subject of VPK, Universal Pre-K, Head Start, and other taxpayer subsidized early childhood education.

The results of the survey were not surprising; the vast majority of teachers locally strongly support the continuation/expansion of these taxpayer subsidized ECE programs--- even if the academic benefit of such expenditures, according to recent studies I cite in my research--- cannot be clearly demonstrated.  This overwhelming support for continuation is seemingly at odds with the majority of responses to question #5 below.  Interesting and perplexing.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Interesting Insights into How We Evaluate Teachers Locally

...“Why would anyone work here with so much at stake?” one teacher related to me recently, a teacher who’s ranking went from “Effective” to “Needs Improvement” because her VAM was developed utilizing a small sample size due to a small stability group because she works in a high-poverty school with tremendous student mobility..

The formula for evaluating teachers is complex.  Not only is it intricate-it can be unfair to teachers in some locations and to those teachers that teach ESE students.

Previously in our district, we had an evaluation system that was a joke, it was horrendous.  And I discussed it frequently because it was so bad; it was almost as bad as a pass/fail civil service evaluation.  Everybody is great, everybody wins-you know the type...  But it was terrible, it did nobody any good, and needed to be scrapped.  Eventually the district put together a much better system that was much more objective.

Recently the state mandated that student test data become a component in the teachers’ evaluation—an idea I strongly support if it is done fairly and correctly.  Under this scenario, not only does the teacher get evaluated based upon the test scores of the students the individual teacher teaches-but this data also has huge consequences and can significantly impact a teachers’ overall rating.  

In some cases, the addition of the test score data (or VAM data),  can take a “highly effective” or “effective” teacher all the way down to “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory!” (Under state law now, two consecutive teacher evaluations that are “unsatisfactory” can lead to removal of a teacher from the profession—so the stakes could not be higher)

So how can this happen?  I was wondering that too so I had a long conversation with the district’s director of evaluation services so that I could understand how the process works.  Here it is in a 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Florida Governor Rick Scott Visits Pensacola

Florida Governor Rick Scott stopped in Pensacola Saturday evening to thank supporters and to talk about the next four years in Florida and his agenda for continuing Florida's forward progress.  He was in the midst of a six stop trip around Florida, celebrating the huge conservative election victories nationwide and statewide.  Local small business success story, Global Business Solutions, Inc., hosted the event at their headquarters here in Pensacola.

Governor Scott discussed the crucial importance of K-12 Education in Florida, and committed to continuing the increases in funding to Florida's K-12 system over the next years that he will be in office.  In addition to discussing education, he reiterated his desire to keep adding jobs in Florida, as a driver of revenue to the state that will enable him to continue increase funding for worthy programs like education without raising taxes.  

In addition to prioritizing education funding, the Governor also recommitted to the goal of making Florida the most Military friendly state in the nation for both active duty and retired military personnel.  He recalled that when he was discharged from the Navy in 1974, the climate for military personnel was not good in Florida;  Scott stated that one of his big priorities as Governor was to ensure that Florida remains military friendly.

Scott also thanked the locally elected officials in attendance, including Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward,  Sheriff David Morgan, State Representative Mike Hill, Myself, and newly elected County Commissioner Doug Underhill.

He mentioned that crime in the state has been declining, and he noted that having strong  officeholders at the local level is a critical key for Florida's continuing strong performance in many areas.

In my brief conversation with the Governor, I congratulated him on his election victory, his conservative leadership, and I thanked him for continuing to make education a priority.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Andreas Schleicher's 57 Minutes at #EIE2014--The Video Every School Policy Maker Nationwide Should See!!

The single most impactful presentation at this year's #EIE14 summit, in my opinion, was the data-rich session moderated by German statistician Andreas Schleicher.

His stark assessment of where the U.S. stands in relation to other countries around the world with respect to educational outcomes for the monies expended was amazing..

Schleicher literally had the room of over 1,500 silent, you could hear a pin drop, as he went through his presentation.

At the table where I sat, our jaws dropped collectively at some of the information he presented, it was that compelling, it was outstanding.  And it was eye-opening.

Everyone in our country that is involved in ANY aspect of education should see this.  He does not pull punches, sugar coat pills, or soften the flawed aspects of our system--or any other system worldwide for that matter.  His presentation contained data that was compelling and accurate, data that could nnot be refuted.  He lets the data tell the story.

This is 57 minutes that will keep you mesmerized if you care about educating our future generations.

Full video is here  enjoy.

Individual School Site Behavior Management Plans are Posted

The school-wide behavior management plans have been posted on the district's website, and can be accessed by following this link.

For those that are interested in seeing what your student's individual schools are doing to improve discipline at your school, you can look and find your school at the above link.  Then, you can look at what other schools are doing as well--if you are interested.

As I have perused several of these plans, I think there are some incredibly good ideas.  If these plans are implemented and followed, there is no doubt that they can help to improve the school climate district-wide------- If these plans are implemented as presented  and followed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Statistical Information on Students at Risk for 1st Grade Retention, By School

One of the most profound actions we have taken as a district to address early reading comprehension is to create a first grade gate--mandating a benchmarked level of reading proficiency prior to advancement---ahead of the state-mandated 3rd grade gate over which we have no control.  A couple of years ago, the district implemented this mandatory gate at first grade--in an effort to catch those students most at-risk of falling behind due to their inability to read on grade level upon completion of first grade.  I strongly supported this gate at 1st grade, and I continue to champion the idea that we need one at 8th grade as well--however that gate gets no support unfortunately, for reasons that are more social than academic.  

The best part about the gate we all agree upon, this first-grade gate,  is that it MANDATES parental participation in the process, with required contacts with the parents throughout the year in order to keep everyone updated on the progress the 1st grade students are making.  The parental engagement piece has been a vital key to the process.  As the below pictures indicate, most schools are now achieving the goal of having 100% of at-risk students' parents engage in conferences with the schools.  This is a feat, given the social mobility in many of our schools.  One of the interesting data points that we should be able to glean from this extra effort, beginning at the end of this school year, is the ability to see if the number of 3rd grade retentions in the district declines for the cohorts that have gone through the 1st grade gate, as compared to previous years where the district did not engage so aggressively at the first grade level.  That will be an interesting analysis that I'm interested in studying.

Additionally, we are funding several elementary schools for extended days for the purpose of intensive reading focus.  The success of this extra hour, or if it decreases the number of students held back, should also be apparent at the end of this school year, if similar students from other non-extended day schools are used for comparison.  I look forward to all of this data being made available, and I hope all of this extra effort increases the number of elementary school students that will be reading at grade level.