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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

We Owe it to Our Students to be Honest With Them

There is no doubt Florida has been bold with its education policies over the last 15 years, and we can all agree Florida’s students have made tremendous strides in this same time period.  For this, we are all thankful and proud.

Now our state is facing a huge choice with respect to the way it measures and defines student subject-area proficiency.

If handled the wrong way, Florida will veer from its path of progress for all students.  And the time to speak up about this problem is now!

The issue is how to set “cut scores”, which are the scores Florida education officials establish to define student proficiency on state-administered tests.

Currently, there is a troubling disconnect between what Florida defines as proficient and what the Nation’s Report Card and dozens of other states define as proficient.

The State of Florida is saying more students are proficient than what is being reported on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered the gold standard.

As a vivid example:  recent comparisons of Florida’s 8th grade reading scores and these same students’ national test scores showed that  56% of Florida’s 8th graders scored proficient in reading on the state’s assessment, whereas only 33% of these same students tested proficient in reading upon completing the national assessment (NAEP). 

This gap of 23 percentage points is troubling; it is strong evidence that Florida has had too low a bar on setting of proficiency standards. 

If we don’t raise our proficiency expectations, many will see this as a continuance of widespread social promotion, where students move on from one grade to the next without mastering grade level material…only to find out later – taking remedial courses in college, being unprepared for workplace arithmetic, or not passing military entrance exams – that they were simply shuffled along throughout their public school years.

Entrenched special interests, bureaucrats, administrators, some politicians, and various other guardians of the system want to keep cut scores artificially low so the general public won’t get 

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Education Success Story Nobody Wants to Talk About

New Orleans post Katrina has been up and down.  New Levies were built to replace the ones that failed. The former Mayor went to prison for corruption. The Saints won a Super Bowl.  The city lost 200,000 in population.  Through all of this-- The school system was deplorable, even before the storm.

But for the decade since Katrina, New Orleans has formed a network of charter schools that have showed an amazing level of progress; this is not the sort of success that establishment types will celebrate, though.  So the article that came out this weekend celebrating the successes of New Orleans charter schools will not receive much notice, sadly.  It will be ignored, and if brought up, the person mentioning this success will be castigated by the establishment types, and the results will be questioned in not outright rebuked.

But Statistics and numbers don't lie....

From  Urban Education Reform:  New Orleans Proves Charter Schools Can Work:

"In a short period of time, urban charters have yielded impressive, even astonishing, success at closing the academic achievement gap between the poorest children and more privileged ones. The management of charter schools varies widely, but in urban centers, where education reformers have concentrated most of their energy, their performance has been especially strong.  A major study earlier this year by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes carefully comparing equivalent student populations found that urban charters on the whole produce an extra 40 days (eight weeks)of classroom learning in math and 28 days of extra classroom learning in reading per student per year.. New Orleans provided the largest-scale experiment in charter education in the United States--a complete overhaul, undertaken all at once. The results have vindicated the strategy. As the authors concluded, "We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.. New Orleans is the breakthrough social equity liberals have been waiting for. "We tried to make urban districts better for 50 years. We tried more funding, more accountability, more pipelines of talent, more [professional development], more training, more certification rules, and on and on and on. After all of that time, and all of those cities, we still don't have a single high-performing urban district in America. Not one," Andy Smarick, an education-policy analyst, told me. "But the very first time we try an all-charter system, the first time ever, we get dramatically better results in only a decade." And some liberals, like the Obama administration, have encouraged and praised its success."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Should a Parent Do if Their Students are Assaulted or become Victims of Battery at School?

It becomes frustrating for parents if they have a student that has been assaulted or battered at our schools because parents trust us to keep their kids safe while appropriately punishing  violent bullying offenders, and yet we as an educational entity cannot divulge the punishment we give such offenders.  Discipline records are educational records and cannot be divulged under FERPA.

If the same parents press charges, they will receive information on the offender to include charges and eventual disposition of the case--to include any punishment given.

I struggle with this.  When parents have students that have been assaulted or abused at school, and the school minimizes the issue or downplays the severity, this infuriates parents.

As an example, right now at PHS there is an issue brewing of which I am aware that may erupt and result in Police being brought in;  The issue, incessant bullying and harassment of one student by another, with the aggressor hauling off and slapping the victim's head multiple times on multiple occasions over a multiple week period--frequently in the presence of other students.  This abhorrent behavior continues to this day.  The victim is afraid to defend himself, and is humiliated and demoralized because this keeps happening, and he does not know what to do.  According to what I have been told, the school has been made aware of this, and has taken a "boys will be boys" nonchalant stance on the matter---which is infuriating the parent.  Nothing is being done, and the student who is being victimized intends to transfer out of this school as soon as he can, in order to escape this bullying and harassment.

These incidents must be met with immediate steps to stop the behavior.  Allowed to continue, who knows how such behavior might escalate.  Perhaps the next time it could be something horrific like this past Wednesday's high school beating in a Baltimore High School...There must be zero tolerance for violence, bullying, and harassment in our schools, Zero Tolerance!

Why does the school not follow policy and put an end to this?  I'm going to dig into this PHS incident like an industrial horizontal boring machine.  I'm tired of hearing these stories about how our schools

What is it That's Really Holding Us Back?

To solve a child's fear of the dark, the first step is confronting and removing, not ignoring, the monster living under his bed....

Two education-related articles recently appeared in the local press.

These two articles got me thinking.  One article laments the lack of diversity among the ranks of teachers locally and points to this phenomenon as a significant hindrance to educational progress in our schools; the other touts a lack of pre-k readiness as one of the biggest issues that affects educational outcomes and graduation rates in Escambia County.

But are these really the causes of the issues of poor academic achievement— are these knee-jerk, ready-made, and convenient explanations really the causes or are they actually red herrings that sound like they should/could be the problems?  Are they actually the convenient and politically acceptable explanations?

If I want to solve my child’s fear of the dark, knowing there is a scary monster living under his bed, I have to confront the monster under the bed.  What good does it do to my son and his problem if I go into the room and ignore the monster under his bed while simultaneously proclaiming that by removing the clown dolls, installing a brighter night-light, and painting the walls a brighter, lighter color of paint I can solve his fear of the dark?! 

"Faux Monster"Kindergarten Readiness as the Big Reason Graduation Rates are Low…

Kindergarten readiness is a big buzzword these days-but it wasn’t too long ago that kindergarten didn’t even exist in American public schools!  Preparation for primary education was the responsibility (and still is) of the family.  But kindergarten was designed and implemented to help students and families be prepared for primary school.  At great expense to American taxpayers.

Next came pre-kindergarten, to prepare students for kindergarten.  And now comes the huge push for universal pre-k funded by the government to prepare students for kindergarten.

What comes next, pre-pre- kindergarten, paid for by taxpayers to help families prepare their students for pre-kindergarten?  What follows this-- do we take babies directly from the maternity wards of America and prepare them for pre, pre-kindergarten?

When does the lack of parental action to prepare students properly become cited as the real reason

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When Frustration Boils Over Regarding School Safety

A frustrated parent attended last night's board meeting, and he gave the board and superintendent an ear full!  His issues--incompetence in record-keeping, ineffective administrators, ineffective teachers, and most importantly---violence and bullying in school and a lackluster response to these incidents of violence.

Watch his speech to the board at minute 5:32 of the public forum part of this video.

His son has been the victim of bullying, as has his nephew.  Both students were recently assaulted at the same school.

His nephew had his nose broken in an assault, and his son was punched and kicked in a classroom in front of all his peers--bruising his ribs badly.

This parent is more than frustrated.

After the meeting, in a private meeting between this parent, law enforcement, district administrators, myself, and superintendent Thomas, the  conversation continued.

"There is a disconnect between you all and what is going on in those classrooms.  I want you to do your jobs and keep these students safe." His anger and frustration was evident, yet he kept his

About the Scaled-Back Testing.....

The Pensacola News Journal has a piece today about Escambia County Schools scaling back the number of standardized tests administered annually district-wide.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, agrees we were testing students way too much.

This is not a new issue, and the blame game between districts and the state as to whom it is/was that was requiring so many tests continues to this day; local administrators blame the state for all the testing, and the state blames the districts.

So last legislative session the issue was addressed via a law that limits the number of hours students can spend taking tests.  Many of us feel this law did not go far enough.

Now, the ideological perspectives bubble up, determining what tests to cut, and what tests to keep.

Establishment types, unions, liberals, and other educrats want nothing less than an end to all standardized, summative assessments that actually measure student mastery of content and that carry any real consequences.  While they won't necessarily (openly) admit this, they DO want a return to the days of no accountability, no tests that can group students by ability levels or ----wait for it----- actually prevent social promotion.  They want teachers to be the arbiters of pass/fail, not a test, and this scenario all but assures that social promotion will once again re-emerge even stronger than ever! (teachers can be, and are often, chided into passing students who should not be passed.)

Politicians and lobbyists for the testing industry are agnostic as to the value and or consequences of testing, but simply want more testing, summative, formative, and every type in between that  they can sell. (they make money-- big money--- selling tests).

But conservatives and reformers like me want a better, more balanced approach.  We want fewer tests and more classroom learning time and teacher autonomy.  We don't want the elimination of summative tests, but rather fewer of them and much less "drilling and teaching" to these summative tests.  We understand that an educational world devoid of summative tests does not prepare students for the real tests of life that carry real consequences.  And to focus on formative tests exclusively is lazy and redundant; pop quizzes, classwork, projects, assignments, and homework give teachers the information they need to inform teaching practice to their students.  Keeping only the formative assessments is akin to taking the easy way out and is, no matter what a bureaucrat tells you to the contrary, an act of dodging accountability.

In this battle, the educational establishment types have won this skirmish locally.

Is this a victory though, or is this regression?

On the current trajectory, I see the slow and plodding watering down of assessments that carry any real consequences, under the guise of saving class time and eliminating "high stakes testing".  But

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg, A Vanishing $100 Million Grant, and No Good Deed Goes Unpunished....

No good deed goes unpunished.  That phrase is soooo true when it comes to well intentioned philanthropists spending money to "fix" schools.

Take Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for instance.  In 2010 he gifted $100 Million to Newark schools at the urging of then Mayor Corey Booker.

Over the next several years, the money was squandered on things that did not work, ideas that did not bear fruit, and problems that did not exist. Now, according to several news reports, the money is all but spent and the schools have not improved much at all.

Now Zuckerberg is being chided by the peanut gallery.

No good deed goes unpunished....

The New York times did an interesting piece on this disaster, and now the effort to try to fix these blighted urban schools is under attack via a scorching new novel "The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?"

While the book sounds like a title that an education reformer like me would have picked, it actually was written by an "education establishment defender"  and this book quickly devolves into a blame game blurry mess of finger pointing and the usual arguments for the continuation of the status quo in education----only with more taxpayer resources plugged in.  Like that would ever work either....

Thankfully, Zuckerberg will not repeat his mistake again as he gives another huge ($120Million) gift to struggling schools in the San Francisco Bay area.  This time around, he will work with on the ground stakeholders---parents, teachers, and charter schools-- in administering this gift, by-passing the unions, administravia, bureaucrats, politicians, and the other guardians of the status quo.

I hope this effort is more successful, and I applaud Zuckerberg's generosity.

Violence in Some Local Schools Continues

I was contacted by another concerned, irate parent yesterday afternoon about school violence.  The issue, incessant bullying and violence directed at his 7th grade son.  "I'm worried my son will snap, I'm worried he will go off on these students that are harassing him, and this is going to be really bad if it happens!" he stated to me in our long phone conversation yesterday afternoon.

"I've never ever dealt with such an incompetent response to a significant problem---what can I do, what should I do to ensure this does not happen to my son any more at Escambia County Schools?" was the question from this concerned father.

"It has been on-going ever since elementary school, and nothing ever changes and students are bullying and harassing my son and other students as well-- and it is getting to a point where I will consider pressing charges!" he continued  "Last week, my nephew that attends the same school with my son was attacked, he was punched in the face and he was badly injured!--when will the employees of this school control this situation?"

I have received numerous complaints about violence in this school over the last three years.  I am going to follow this particular incident very closely to ensure that our board policy is being followed with respect to the students who attacked other students at this school.  There must be swift punishment for violent, aggressive and/or abusive misconduct at our schools.  If the school only gives a weak consequence or worse yet no significant consequence for this sort of assault, I believe this parent will press charges.  And I don't blame him.

The parent asked if he could take a couple of days to get the whole story out of his son and call me back on Sunday;  additionally, he said he is going to talk to the school principal to see what is being done to correct this misbehavior.  If the issue is not fixed, he reiterated the idea hat he may call the police and file a report.

Sad as it may sound, with all of the chances we give, sometimes and not infrequently it takes a parent pressing charges to permanently remove some predatory students from some of our schools.  This is sad but true.  Just last year, at a different middle school, we had a 6'1" 270lb 15 year old 8th grade student, on his 15th referral( with a previous record of several violent/aggressive incidents), punch a 6th grade girl in the face and injure her.  In that case, that student received an anemic punishmnet--a week out of school.  When he came back (which he should not have been allowed to do, in my opinion) he eventually ended up sexually assaulting two different female students on a bus, their

Thoughts from Escambia County School District's Open House 2015-2016

Last night many of our district's schools held their open house event.

I attended the open house at West Florida High School.  Several things caught my attention at the open house--most notably how well the event was attended.  As is typically the case at WFHS, I'd estimate that 50%-70% of the school's population was present.  Additionally, there were many 2-parent attendees per child; several of the classes became standing room only affairs.

The teachers were pleasant and well prepared, and most of the classrooms had a sign-in sheet where parents could leave their contact information.  Additionally, every teacher stressed the importance of attendance--one teacher went so far as to say "your child's success depends upon his attendance; attendance is the number one key to success"

Every class had contact information for parents, a way to allow parents to directly contact the teacher.  This was very helpful and most of the parents were writing this information down.

Google Classroom was the big star of the night.  Nearly every classroom and every subject has an online presence on Google Classroom.  Several teachers encouraged the parents to log in to Google Classroom to see what is happening in the class.  More than one teacher spoke glowingly of Google Classroom as compared to Moodle.

A big part of what made the open house extra-successful was the parents being present in large numbers.  One teacher, elated at the attendance, stated wryly "At the last school I worked at, we had only 2 parents attend the open house, only 2."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Conservative School Board Members become Target of a Recall Election

National Review posted an interesting story this morning, an update on three conservative school board members who had begun the work of reforming some bad policy and practices in Jefferson County, Colorado.

Now that this group of three conservatives has gone against the edcrat's grain, renegotiated a terrible contract, instituted merit pay, and televised bargaining sessions---powerful special interests and the teacher's unions are looking to have them all recalled in a special election to be held this November.

From "Coloradoans Vote on Recall of Conservative School Board Members"

"The education war in Jefferson County began in 2013, when voters dissatisfied with faltering schools elected a conservative majority to the school board. The incumbent superintendent promptly resigned, and the board went about implementing reforms such as fully funding charter schools, linking teacher pay to performance and empowering principals to make more decisions at the school level. The board also angered the local education–industrial complex by building a new school without incurring any new debt..Such refreshing transparency may have helped the board and the union come to an agreement on a new and improved contract last month. The 41-page document (down from 120 pages in the last contract) limits layoffs based purely on seniority, ends automatic deduction of union dues from teacher paychecks, and allows teams of teachers and administrators to make many decisions on training, school calendars, and caps on class sizes. But union president John Ford trashed the contract even after it was signed. “It’s a bad deal, we know it. We absolutely know it,” he said. “But we had to get rid of this distraction. . . . We have to get to work right now. We have a big lift in November,” with the recall..The Denver Post, which endorsed Barack Obama for president twice, calls the recall “nakedly political.” 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Freedom of Speech Part I: Political Satire is Protected Free Speech

The Mayor of Peoria, Illinois, was furious.  Someone was making fun of him via a fake twitter account, so the Mayor went to war.

What happened next is both weird and fascinating.

Chronicled in a well written story in today's New York Times--this is a lesson we in politics should all understand:  Just because a politician is a powerful elected official with thin skin and a massive ego--this person still cannot deny someone their right to free speech.  And using official taxpayer funded resources to go after someone who parodies elected officials ends badly for such a politician (and taxpayers too, unfortunately...)

From the Chicago Tribune's coverage of this story:

A Peoria man who repeatedly parodied the city's mayor on Twitter, then saw police raid his home in an unsuccessful attempt to bring criminal charges against him, has agreed to settle his lawsuit against the city, his lawyers and the city announced Wednesday.
Peoria will pay Jon Daniel $125,000 in damages and attorney's fees to settle the lawsuit brought in June 2014, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, whose lawyers represented Daniel.
"I'm really satisfied with the outcome in this case," Daniel said in a 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Could This be the Thing that Drives Teachers Union Memberships Even Lower Locally?

People I speak with at education conferences around the state and country are amazed by the fact that union membership is so low in Escambia County among the classroom teachers.

In many parts of the country, union membership is mandatory for public school employment.  (This is a practice I strongly disagree with, by the way...)

Most years, from what I've been told ever since I've been on the school board in Escambia County, the majority of public school  teachers are not members of their local union.

I don't know that our local union has ever garnered more than 50% membership?


Teachers Unions have been pilloried nationally for spending member dues, overwhelmingly, on partisan (Democratic) issues and candidates, and for siding with teachers over students in many high profile cases of teacher misconduct.

Recently retired National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel's fiery tirades at  national conventions and his fat $500,000 K + Salary earned from the backs of hard working public school  teachers didn't help the union's cause at all.

Van Roekel's  disdain for embracing true education reform did little to garner sympathy for public sector white collar unions from skeptical conservatives and independents...

But some teachers locally, even conservative ones, begrudgingly maintain union membership for the liability protection it offers.  If a student makes an allegation of misconduct or worse--such an allegation can ruin a teacher's career and life.

So the widely known and understood yet never discussed fact of the matter is that locally some journeyman teachers who already hold continuing, professional contracts, are paying their monthly dues simply for the liability protection union membership offers.

Recognizing this, Florida House of Representative leaders, in the last session, funded a blanket insurance policy that pays for the professional liability insurance for all of Florida's classroom teachers.

At the end of August, the Escambia County School district sent this email to all classroom teachers in our schools.  Attached to the email was this flyer describing the program's benefits.

A teacher I know said to me recently "Jeff-- I'm doing it.  I'm quitting the union!"  when I asked him why, he said it was because of the email and the new liability protection offered by the state.  "I hope I'm making the right decision"  he said.

Could This be the Thing that Drives Teachers Union Memberships Even Lower Locally?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reaction to the FSA Validation Study is Predictable....

The independent study commissioned by the legislature to assess the validity of the FSA has been completed.  The study concluded that, overall, the FSA is a valid instrument to measure student progress on learing the Florida Standards.

Now come the reactions to the study.

Predictably, the legislature is pleased and will move forward with directing DOE to utilize last year's grades to assign letter grades and utilize the data from the tests as a part of teacher evaluations.  The standardized testing contract in Florida was a huge expenditure and the poor PR generated by the complete train-wreck of testing debacles and results delays over the last several years has infuriated the legislature.

The Florida Association of District Superintendents of Schools, meanwhile, is wary of the results and in an email blast to districts urged caution and restraint in using the data.

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members believe that there is too much testing overall, and that the appropriate resolution to this problem is to implement the "Sunshine Solution" which balances the need for assessment for accountability (utilizing time tested, existing norm-referenced assessments) with the need to reduce lost classroom learning time to test administration and preparation.

Other organizations and districts individually have their own various opinions on the subject; some districts, like Escambia County, won't get behind Dr. Walt Griffin's plan to fix Florida's testing woes--yet these same districts like Escambia won't say precisely why or what they dislike about Dr. Griffin's plan.  It appears some districts won't embrace the solution because they did not develop it "themselves."  Yes, pride of authorship becomes an unspoken yet apparent reason why many will not embrace a common-sense solution.  Some things are clear, though:

Some stakeholders (Unions) will find fault with any standardized testing that is used, to any degree, to help assess teacher performance.

Other stakeholders (Superintendents) talk about accountability yet they do not necessarily embrace a common solution to allow for grading of school and/or district performance.

This might sound sarcastic or jaded (or both) but I'm convinced there are administrators and others  throughout the state that would love nothing more than if we would just give up every statewide assessment and just go back to the days before accountability---knowing that this would lead to a regression in Florida public school systems.  Some just want to let things be, these are the "trust us and give us more money, we got this" set....

Meanwhile, the parents I speak with want less testing overall, good teachers, school choice--because they want to send their children to the best public school available--and less testing drama.

I happen to think the parents have it right and more people should listen to what they want.