Monday, 23 September 2013

Rick Scott insults all of Florida’s teachers... again.

By placing
a Teach for America hobbyist on the state board of education, Rick Scott thumbed
his nose at all the hard working men and women who sacrifice so much for the
state’s children.

Teach for
America in case you have been living under a rock takes non education majors,
puts them through a five week access course and then puts them in our neediest
classrooms or the exact opposite of what people call best practices.   

In case
you were wavering because of the pennies he recently threw the states teachers
please also remember that under his watch the state stole 3 percent of teacher’s
pay to balance the books, and a draconian and nonsensical teacher evaluation
system was enacted.  

This also continues the state's policy of not putting educators or experienced applicants in charge of education and then we wonder why we are in trouble.


Rick Scott places Teach for America alumni on the state board of education.

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

where was I, oh yeah, Rick Scott appoints 32 year old TFA alumnus Rebecca
Fishman Lipsey to the state board of education. Sorry I think I need to throw
up again.

First there wasn’t
one teacher in the whole state qualified? How about a native of Florida or somebody
who has been here longer than 5 years as Mrs. Fishman Lipsey arrived, to work
for TFA, in Miami Dade from New York, just in 2008.

“With an exceptional career in education, Rebecca is committed to student
success and accountability, and it is clear she will be a tremendous advocate
for all Florida students," Scott wrote in a statement.

Um career? She spent two
years in a classroom and what 7 or 8 years tops in education, though I hesitate
to use Teach for America and education in the same sentence? Heck in some districts
that lack of experience would have put her on the surplus list.

Here is a resume I found for her on-line: Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, Teach for America

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, 30, is the Executive Director of Teach for America in
Miami-Dade. During her three-year tenure in that role she has tripled the size
of the local program and increased fundraising 11-times over. Rebecca is a
musical composer, and she wrote the theme and background music for a
documentary on eating disorders in 2008. Last year, Rebecca won the
International Stevie Award for Women in Business, in the category of "best
executive." - See more at:

Florida is this really the
best we have to offer?

MSNBC, liberal democrats and Hollywood attack public education.

The battle to regain control of public education from corporate
interests took a turn for the worse as several supposed friends attacked public

First is director M. Night Shyamalan who penned the book: I
got schooled, 5 Keys to Unlocking Quality Education. I can’t compete with the
excellent Edshyster who has already written about it but I feel comfortable
saying shouldn’t he be more concerned with 5 keys to quality filmmaking? Come
on friends, we can all agree the Sixth Sense was great but what has he done
since then? Even Signs and Invincible are now found lacking now as we realize
we were still caught up in the Sixth Sense after glow.

MSNBC however must have thought his book was groundbreaking
as they invited him to speak at Education Nation with all the teachers, err a
couple teachers, what no teachers have been invited?!? Seriously WTF it’s
called education nation, not how to profit off of education, nation. That’s
right friends the Education Nation guest list is a who’s who of corporate education
reformers and anti-public education politicians.

One politician who didn’t get an invite though it seemed
like he was trolling for one is Jared Polis, a self described progressive
democrat from Colorado who thinks Diane Ravitch is evil, his words not mine.
Mr. Polis is anti-teacher, anti-union and pro charter school, which makes me
think he doesn’t understand what progressive means. If only Fezzik were here to
ask him.

You know what all the sudden attacks have in common, money,
that’s what. First Shymalan and Polis are rich; heck make that mega rich and
sadly that brings hubris with it, Gates, Koch brothers and the list goes on and
on anybody.  They equate wealth with intelligence
and don’t need facts or evidence to make up their mind, instead relying on the
zeroes in their bank accounts. MSNBC on the other hand wants to make money and
they know their audiences will be bigger with Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and the other
corporate reformers than it would be with P.S. 109’s Mrs. Mcgilicutty and who
cares if she has more educational knowledge in her little finger than the
entire group has combined.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Why the rich and powerful hate the classs size amendment

Rich and powerful policy makers often attack smaller classes as a waste of resources despite the fact no teacher ever said, I wish my class had 10 more kids because that would make me a better teacher. Jeb Bush has often attacked the class size amendment in Florida which was a citizen driven initiative that passed in 2002 and withstood a recall in 2010. He routinely attacks the class size amendment despite the fact he sent his children to the exclusive prep schools Bolles and Gulliver Prep who use their small class sizes as a selling point.

Gary Chartrand the chair of the state board of education has also attacked the class size amendment. He recently said in multiple papers, “In my opinion we are wasting money to the tune of half-a-billion dollars a year, limiting the number of students in a class doesn’t help kids achieve but rather is just “wasteful spending,” he said.

Ironically enough Mr. Chartrand also sent his children to the Bolles schools and his protégé, Duval County school board member Ashley Smith-Juarez went there as well. One of the reasons he sent his children there was undoubtedly the smaller class sizes. Bush and Chartrand might justify their positions because they also support vouchers that allow poor children to attend private schools.

Well let’s consider vouchers, here in Florida the family of a poor child can receive 4,335 dollars to send their child to a private school. Well they would need nearly five to seven times that amount to send their child to Gulliver Prep or Bolles ($28,000 and $21,000 respectively). That’s the difference between a school in an abandoned strip mall with uncertified teachers being paid 12 dollars an hour and an exclusive prep school with a well rounded curriculum, small classes and teachers with loads of experience and advanced degrees.

Let’s also look at the curriculums at the schools they sent their kids to compared to the schools where they want us to send our kids. The schools that Chatrand and Bush sent their children to tout a variety of arts programs which until recently had been cut from most public schools. From the Bolles web-site, Offering programs in chorus, dance, drama, instrumental music, and visual arts both in the classroom and in extra-curricular activity, Bolles upper school students are given the opportunity to shine through individual projects, school productions, and outside performances. Visiting artists, field trips locally and out of town, and invitations to perform at prestigious events and venues broaden the scope of the arts experience at Bolles.

My last year at Ed White most kids were funneled in an elective called research which was basically an FCAT prep class that no kid would elect to take given the choice. Just for fun I typed vouchers into both Bolles and Gulliver Preps search boxes and recieved a total of zero hits.

Those two schools also don’t participate in the kill and drill high stakes testing agenda that public schools are forced to. On the contrary at Bolles and Gulliver prep students are encouraged to explore a curriculum that plays to their strengths and passions. The FCAT is not mentioned on either web-site. In fact the closest I could find about standardized tests is that parents are recommended to have their children take the ACT or the SAT.

Let’s get back to the class size for a moment. Gary Chartrand said schools would be better served if instead they could use it to maintain an average class size instead. Well the problem with that is you see art classes with fifty kids, PE classes with a hundred and special education classes become nothing but babysitting because their numbers are so high. The types of classes that the children of Bush and Chartrand would never see.

They also like to simultaneously talk about the improvement in Florida’s schools since Jeb Bush started his reforms but they never talk about how this improvement corresponds with the enactment of the class size amendment, instead they take every opportunity they have to slam it and call it a waste however a former Florida education commissioner disagrees with them.

Last Summer I asked then Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson at a town hall meeting: “the state says the FCAT has led to increased scores, I say it is smaller class sizes, why are you right and I am wrong?”

He didn’t say I was wrong, in fact he said both played a role in increasing test scores. Usually these guys are on message but Robinson let slip how important and beneficial the class size amendment has been. Which by the way is one of the few reforms, not vouchers, not merit pay, not charters, that has actual evidence that says it works.

Some of you might be thinking who cares, they are rich and they should be allowed to send their children to the best schools possible, though I would question if either Bolles or Gulliver was better than our magnets or much better than schools like Mandarin or Fletcher. The answer is they should be allowed to send their children to whatever school they can afford but they shouldn’t be allowed at the same time to create a system that they would never send their children to. Our system of standardized tests and limited curriculum options sucks the joy of learning out of so many children and that sets them up to fail too. Also doesn’t it kind of make them hypocrites and do we really want hypocrites running the show?

Why do they and other rich and powerful education reformers attack smaller classes and design systems they would never send their children too? Well friend’s it is because what is good for their kids isn’t good for ours and that should tell you all you need to know about why we are at where we are.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Jeb Bush's business partner gets 12 years in prison.

The same Jeb Bush whose family, friends and supporters have benefitted financially from his so called education reforms may have some explaining to do about his business dealings with Miami businessman Claudio Osorio who was sentenced to 12 years in prison the other day.

Apparently Jeb served on the board of a company that Osorio used to bilk investors.

From the Miami Herald: Innovida had a manufacturing facility in North Miami-Dade, and prominent board members including former Gov. Jeb Bush and Miami condo king Jorge Perez, the company never gained traction.

Osorio was convicted of using Innovida, which claimed to produce high-tech building panels, to deceive investors and line his pockets. Osorio, represented by attorney Humberto Dominguez, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas in Fort Lauderdale federal court in February. As part of his plea, the U.S. attorney’s office agreed to drop 19 other charges.

How many more Jeb Bush straws do we need before the camel’s back breaks and the public realizes what a self absorbed charlatan that he is.

Rethinking Financial Aid's Role in Student Retention

The administration of federal student aid is a highly complex and bureaucratic job thanks to a great deal of program complexity and regulation. Financial aid offices are often overwhelmed with the tasks involved in that administrative process, with staff finding that little time for anything else remains at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, simply following the rules and norms associated with financial aid administration is demonstrably insufficient when it comes to meeting the needs of today's students.  With a far greater number of students entering higher education without the support of college-educated parents, and facing more significant financial constraints (and higher college costs), an effective financial aid office must do more than distribute financial aid and apply rules and regulations.  To ensure that the aid dollars are spent in a cost-effective manner, aid offices must also be part of a cross-campus effort focused on student retention.

Everyone who works on the campuses of colleges and universities today has a shared responsibility for supporting undergraduate retention. This responsibility is essential if they want to help higher education become an engine of equality and social mobility, rather than the engine of inequality that it currently is.  Many of the nation's financial aid officers are committed to this goal and eager to achieve it.

In today's context, a traditional aid office focused on regulation and personal responsibility is contributing to a crisis.  Across the country, students who have overcome enormous challenges to college access find their way onto campus but struggle to retain their financial aid due to rules surrounding the 'satisfactory academic progress' (SAP) standards.   SAP usually means that students must maintain a C average or risk losing their aid. When students fail to do this, there are significant institutional consequences (a loss of Pell dollars, lower graduation rates) and thus the school has failed as well.

Given the stakes, it is reasonable to ask: what role should financial aid offices play in ensuring students make SAP and keep their aid so that they have the financial support necessary to stay in school and reach graduation?

Recent conversations with aid officers suggest that the typical answer goes something like this:
"We want all students to succeed. We tell them that they must make SAP and what will happen if they don't. When they get in trouble, we let them know, and tell them to get help.  We have lots of students to support, and some do their job, and others don't."

I'm sympathetic to that answer, but research suggests it is woefully inadequate.  Here are three critical facts about first-generation college students to illustrate the problem:

1.  They do not know what actions to take to increase their grades.   Research across the educational spectrum shows that holding students responsible for outcomes they do not know how to achieve is ineffective and counterproductive.  Example #1: a student tries to improve her GPA decides to take fewer classes, which results in her becoming part-time, and losing her grants that require full-time enrollment.  Example #2: a student tries to improve her GPA by taking more courses, because she does not know how GPA is computed and she thinks more is better.

2. They are ill-equipped to sort out good advice from bad advice.   When they follow instructions and go seek advice from advisers, they do not know how to handle conflicting advice or determine when that advice is under-informed.  I have encountered academic advisers who do not know that student #1 above will lose some financial aid, or do not tell student #2 that taking more classes could put her at risk.

3. They have little external support, experience more family crises, work longer hours, and are often more averse to taking on loans.  While they might want to seek out help from others, that help is often offered only during daytime hours when their schedules are packed.  In addition, when told they they should take on loans, they feel alienated and misunderstood. 

The growing presence of such students in higher education and the consequences of failing to support them to make SAP as they work their way through college requires financial aid offices to rethink their role in student retention. The financial aid officer is often the first to know the student is in trouble.  This should trigger an early warning system.  In 2013, the implementation of an early warning system ought to be required at every Title IV institution.  The result of an early warning trigger should be proactive efforts (coordinated by multiple offices as needed) to reach the student for comprehensive advising that integrates academic, financial, and family support.  Proactive efforts must reach the student where they are-- email is notoriously ineffective for this purpose. Until the office is connected to the student and progress is occurring, contact should be by phone or in person.

Effective advising is be supportive, non-judgmental, and aligned with the realities of students' lives.  First generation students are more than willing to take responsibility for their academic performance and they are, at the same time, right to expect their colleges and universities to be responsible in return for serving them.    In this day and age, responsibility in financial aid office goes beyond using the same old practices for every student, irrespective of need. We will never increase equity in graduation rates or do our jobs in a cost-effective manner without this fundamental transformation.

The nation's colleges and universities are littered with dropouts who began college with support from financial aid, only to lose it because of an insufficiently supportive environment.  That is a tragedy we cannot afford.   It's time to act.

Data Note:

Some schools are open and honest about the extent of their SAP challenges.  It would be great if more schools published reports like this one from El Camino.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Three Radical Ideas for Improving (not Reforming) Higher Education

While watching the annual Gates Postsecondary Education Convening from afar via twitter, I am struck by the apparent absence of discussion about several core underlying issues keeping more students from succeeding in earning college degrees.

We cannot increase the success of undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds without ensuring that they are safe, healthy, and ready to learn. Food insecurity is a growing problem in higher education, as revealed by institutional surveys, and hopefully soon tracked by national data (I'm working on it).

Idea #1:  Institute a free/reduced price breakfast and lunch program at all public colleges and universities where at least 1 in 3 students receives a Pell Grant. 

Far too many of today's faculty are ill-equipped to teach the students of tomorrow.  The focus on research has trumped the emphasis on high-quality teaching even at institutions with no research mission.

Idea #2: Make teaching a priority in public higher education. 

a. Require that all new hires have teaching experience of some kind.

b. Require a pedagogical talk in the hiring process.

c. Require bi-annual professional development credits.

There is a well-known and very basic resource problem in higher education. The fewest dollars flow to the neediest students.  Per student spending of about $6000 in community colleges is a travesty.

Idea #3: Focus funding where it can do the most good. Require that all states receiving any Title IV financial aid maintain adequate per-student spending at their community colleges.  Based this on appropriate adequacy funding studies done by state.

None of these answers involve technology, I know. None speak to "quality" because I do not think the evidence on declining quality is solid-- the demographic changes in higher education have collided with the redefining process, and thus it is far from clear that reformers are saying anything more than "these students" aren't as good as yesterday's.

Without three these reforms in place, I don't think the technological solutions constitute anything more than tinkering towards utopia, and any efforts to cut costs could do more harm than good.