Friday, March 13, 2015

"A major victory in the effort to reverse ... Common Core!" (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I explained what SB1496-Assessments and Accountability would do, put the bill in a broader national perspective, and pointed out the local efforts to support it.  In this post, I’ll give you my take on what’s at stake, and suggest some next steps.

What's at stake: educational standards
Florida ranked 32nd of 50 states in the 2014 Education Week Chance for Success Index. This index is a compilation of 13 individual metrics including preparation in early childhood, performance of the public schools, and educational and economic outcomes in adulthood.

While Florida is in the bottom half of the states in the national ranking, the nation is in a disappointing position as well. An evaluation of education systems worldwide by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked the United States 36th of the 64 countries tested in 2012. Our mean PISA score was below the PISA country average in mathematics, and only at the PISA average in reading and science.

The lack of competitiveness of Florida’s and America’s schools concerns me. It concerned the drafters of what came to be known as the Common Core State Standards as well - which is why the standards were developed in the first place. (See my prior post about Common Core.)

It seems obvious that having each local school district choose its own educational standards, a feature of SB1496, will only make matters worse. In my view, all public schools in the United States should be held to the same high standards, developed by professional educators who are experts in their fields. Therefore I oppose the changes to educational standards that are proposed by SB1496. What’s at stake is the competitiveness of our nation.

What's at stake: testing
There is a consensus among all interested parties, including the Governor and Florida legislators as well as superintendents, educators, parents and students, that there’s too much testing in Florida’s schools.

It is a concern nationally as well. According to a report last year by the Center for American Progress, 49 percent of parents think there is too much standardized testing in schools. But that same report cites another poll in which 75 percent of parents said regular testing is important.

For the same reasons (national competitiveness) I do not support local control of standards-setting, I do not support solely local control of testing.

To me, what’s important is not how frequently kids are tested, but what is tested, how well the test results reflect what students know, and whether those results are used to improve instruction and assess our competitiveness with other districts, states and nations. The less instructional hours devoted to accomplishing those goals, the better.

I support legislative and district-level efforts to reduce the frequency of testing and the amount of time students spend taking tests, but I do not support SB1496’s removal of statewide standardized tests and the requirement to participate in national and international education comparisons. Nor do I support its allowing each district to choose its own pre–2009, national norm-referenced assessments.

I hope the Legislature finds a way to reduce the amount of testing while maintaining the ability to compare student achievement from district to district, state to state and nation to nation. Only in this way will stakeholders know which districts need help so they can attempt to address the problem. Again: what’s at stake is the competitiveness of our nation.

What's at stake: data collection
I would be very surprised if data currently reported to the state or federal government isn’t “anonymized, de- identified, and aggregated.” I simply do not share the concern of those who fear the government’s collection of information from our schools. Unless and until there is a problem, I think the benefits of measuring and monitoring the results of our schools exceeds any concerns about hypothetical privacy infringement. Without measurement and monitoring, how will we know how our schools and students are performing? So I do not support the provisions of SB1496 to put additional laws in place to limit data collection. What’s at stake - once again - is the competitiveness of our nation.

What's at stake: sex education
Sex education is taught in public schools because young people are sexually active, and they start at an early age. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, a 2011 survey of Florida high school students found that eight percent had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13, and 16 percent had sexual intercourse with four or more people. In a 2009 nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 48 percent of female high school students and 53 percent of male high school students in Florida reported ever having had sexual intercourse, and 37 percent of both male and female respondents reported being currently sexually active (defined as having had sexual intercourse in the three months prior to the survey).

It is inevitable that requiring parents to explicitly allow their child to participate in sex education (i.e. opt in) as opposed to the current opt-out law that requires the parent to forbid the child’s participation (i.e. opt out) will result in more teen pregnancy. This will make it harder for those teens to focus on their studies and complete school. Ultimately - again - the competitiveness of our nation is at stake.

Next steps
Florida Legislators have introduced over 100 bills concerning education for consideration this session. It is very likely that something will be passed that changes current law concerning each of the areas addressed by SB1496.

We know that the people behind the bill are working hard to get its key provisions passed into law. And there are many ways to get that done. It doesn’t have to be this specific bill; they can amend other bills to include their desired language.

I urge you to consider what’s at stake. Then write or call each of the elected officials who represents Collier County in Tallahassee and share your views on the issues - educational standards, testing, data collection, and opt-in vs. opt-out sex education - rather than this specific bill.

Governor Rick Scott - (850) 488–7146
State Senator Dwight Bullard - (850) 487–5039
State Senator Garrett Richter - (850) 487–5023
State Representative Matt Hudson - (850) 717–5080
State Representative Kathleen Passidomo - (850) 717–5106
State Representative Carlos Trujillo - (850) 717–5105

Contact them regularly. Let them know you’re watching them and that you care. Don’t let those who don’t share your values be the only voices they hear.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

School Board Meeting civility at risk

“No names, please: Parent challenges board’s bid to keep comments from getting personal.”

That title on a front-page story in Sunday’s Naples Daily News was meant to get your attention. It got mine. (Online article behind paywall here.)

Two School Board members and some community members, according to the Daily News article, object to School Board policy 0169.1 that has been interpreted to mean speakers cannot personally make comments by name about or to members of the Board, the Superintendent, or staff. Yet according to the article, "similar policies in other school districts are not uncommon. The Miami-Dade School Board, for example, doesn’t allow speakers to address board members by name and bans 'personal attacks.'"

Those of us who have attended or watched meetings where Board members, the Board attorney and/or the Superintendent have been addressed personally know how important this policy is for keeping meetings civil.

At issue is this sentence:
The presiding officer may: 1. interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant;… [emphasis added]
The policy to be discussed Tuesday proposes either removing the words “personally directed,” or replacing those words with:
The presiding officer may: 1.interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when such statement is too lengthy, abusive, obscene, irrelevant or repetitive. Comments that are personally directed are allowed when they are authorized speech that are related to the topic being discussed or within the scope of District business so long as such comments are not abusive, obscene, irrelevant, or repetitive;
While examples could no doubt be posited of a personally-directed comment that is not abusive, obscene, irrelevant or repetitive, allowing personally-directed public comments starts the Board down a slippery slope. I want the Board Chair to have as much discretion as possible to ensure that speakers maintain decorum at Board meetings; removing the words "personally directed" limits that discretion.

Read the proposed policy changes here.

But there is a line between maintaining decorum and violating a speaker's First Amendment rights. According to the Naples Daily News, Collier parent Cory Seegmiller filed a lawsuit last month against the School Board and Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo claiming his freedom of speech and freedom of equal protection were violated because he was stopped from speaking at a Board meeting as a result of this policy.

The article quotes Seegmiller’s lawyer as saying Curatolo will be served during Tuesday’s Board meeting.

The proposed changes to the policy are on Tuesday's agenda to be discussed by the Board toward the end of the meeting.

If you’re concerned that the proposed change will make it harder to maintain the civility of Board meetings, please join me at the Board meeting or email Board members with your comments.

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo -
School Board Member Erika Donalds -
School Board Member Kelly Lichter -
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague -
School Board Member Roy Terry -

The business portion of the meeting begins at 5:30 PM Tuesday, March 10, at the District Administration Building, 5775 Osceola Trail.

I hope to see you there.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015


I try hard to ensure factual accuracy in all my posts, but unintentional errors are inevitable. I encourage readers to point them out to me as soon as possible, so that I can publish corrections.

On March 6, Jared Grifoni, Chairman, Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC), messaged me through the Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page. He wrote, in part:
I have recently noticed that some of your blog posts contain a good deal of factual inaccuracies. I think you are mischaracterizing some of the Libertarian positions vis-à-vis local control/common core/SB864/etc in an effort to lump everyone you disagree with together. Perhaps it’s easier to create a monster when dealing in generalities instead of specifics?"
He then pointed out several statements that I would like to correct:

In a post on February 1 and again in a post on March 5, I said that representatives of the Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC) urged the Board of County Commissioners to support the Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment bill. The LPCC has never endorsed the bill.

In a post on February 1, I said Jared Grifoni is a past chairman of the LPCC and a regular public speaker at School Board meetings and workshops. Mr. Grifoni is the current Chairman of the LPCC, not a past Chairman. And according to Mr. Grifoni, the first time he addressed the School Board was in January 2015 and he has not spoken at or attended a school board workshop to date.

In a post on February 9, I said, “The Resolution [petitioning Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature to enact legislation to 'restore the local School Boards’ control of educational standards, curriculum, and student assessments']" was initially put forward at a Board of County Commissioners meeting by Mr. Grifoni, Peter Richter, Vice Chairman of the LPCC, and Keith Flaugh, who leads the Southwest Florida Citizen Alliance. The Resolution was read into the record at the BCC meeting by LPCC Vice Chairman Peter Richter, not all three people mentioned.

In a post on February 16, I wrote, “Don’t let a very vocal but small group led by the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, Libertarian Party of Collier County and Parents ROCK disrupt the way our District is run.” According to Mr. Grifoni, “No officers of the LPCC have spoken at any of the book review workshops yet you have lumped the LPCC in with the SWFL Citizen’s Alliance and Parents ROCK as part of that effort.”

I would like to thank Mr. Grifoni for pointing out that I conflated the actions and interests of the Libertarian Party of Collier County, the SWFL Citizens Alliance, and ParentsROCK. While this was unintentional on my part, he is correct. The groups may share positions on some issues (e.g. opposition to Common Core), however they do not necessarily share positions on all issues.

I appreciate that Mr. Grifoni took the time to provide his feedback.  I encourage other readers to do so as well. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"A major victory in the effort to reverse ... Common Core!" (Part 1)

Updated: 3/7/15, 1:35 PM

Last week, the Florida Citizens Alliance triumphantly announced “a major victory in the effort to reverse course on the implementation of Common Core (aka ”The Florida Sunshine State Standards“) and return control of education to local school boards!”

They were referring to the filing of what they call the “Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment Act” as bills in the Florida Senate (SB1496) and House (HB1121).

In this post, I’ll explain what SB1496 would do, put the bill in a broader national perspective, and point out the local efforts to support it. In Part 2, I’ll give you my take on what’s at stake and suggest some next steps.

What SB1496 would do

Under the unassuming bill title “Assessments and Accountability,” the bill provides this summary:
  • Deletes Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and requires districts to select certain standards;
  • Requires Commissioner of Education to develop and maintain proposed list of certain standards;
  • Provides standards that must be included on list;
  • Requires district school boards to select and implement set of standards from among those on list;
  • Prohibits the state Department of Education or district school board from entering into certain agreements that cede or limit state or district autonomy over academic content standards and corresponding assessments;
  • Requires the state Department of Education or district school board to amend or terminate certain agreements;
  • Revises required public K–12 educational instruction;
  • Revises assessment program;
  • Removes statewide, standardized assessments;
  • Provides for scheduling, administration, analysis, and reporting of specific assessments;
  • Revises school grades.
I’ll highlight just some of the specifics; you can read the entire 41-page bill here.

The bill removes the Sunshine State Standards

The first thing the bill does is get rid of Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards which under current law include English Language Arts, mathematics, science, social studies, visual and performing arts, physical education, health, and foreign languages. Bill proponents conflate the Sunshine State Standards with Common Core; in their jargon, the bill would “stop Common Core.”

Instead, it would have the State Commissioner of Education, a gubernatorial appointee, “develop and maintain a list of English Language Arts and mathematics standards from the best available standards in place before January 1, 2009.”

Rather than having state-wide standards as we do today, each district school board would choose standards from the Commissioner of Education’s list “after a broad, transparent discussion and comment period with parents, teachers, and other stakeholders.”

You can see the similarity between this proposal and the textbook selection process required by last year’s SB864 that I wrote about here.

All references to standards for science, visual and performing arts, physical education and foreign language in the current law are gone, leaving it to the local school districts whether those subjects are to be taught.

The bill addresses concerns about data collection

Public speakers at our local School Board meetings have expressed concern about what they call “data mining” on several occasions. SB1496 requires that “before student data may be used for education research, parental consent must be given and the student data must be anonymized, de- identified, and aggregated.”

The bill changes state-mandated testing

SB1496 strikes the current requirement that student assessment programs “identify the educational strengths and needs of students and the readiness of students to be promoted to the next grade level or to graduate from high school.”

It also strikes the current requirement to participate in national and international education comparisons such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

And rather than the statewide standardized assessment program we have now, the Commissioner of Education would “develop and maintain a list of pre–2009, national norm-referenced assessments” from which each district school board would choose.

The bill changes sex education to opt-in from the current opt-out

Buried in the bill is the requirement that “A parent must give written consent for his or her child to participate in the teaching of … reproductive methods.” It strikes language in the current law that says “Any student whose parent makes written request to the school principal shall be exempted from the teaching of … reproductive health.”

There’s more, but I think you get the drift.

The national perspective

An October 2013 “Special Report on Education” by The Heritage Foundation titled “Common Core National Standards and Tests: Empty Promises and Increased Federal Overreach Into Education” said:
Federal intervention in education has been enormous under the Obama Administration, and has been coupled with a gross disregard for the normal legislative process. And today, Americans face the next massive effort to further centralize education: the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The battle over national standards and tests is ultimately a battle over who controls the content taught in every local public school in America. Something as important as the education of America’s children should not be subjected to centralization or the whims of Washington bureaucrats. What is taught in America’s classrooms should be informed by parents, by principals, by teachers, and by the business community, which can provide input about the skills students need to be competitive when they leave high school.
Setting up the very legislative changes we’ve seen in Florida in the past few years and that I expect we’ll see more of in the current Legislative session, The Heritage Foundation said:
Choice in education through vouchers, education savings accounts, online learning, tuition tax credit options, homeschooling—all of these options are changing how education is delivered to students, matching options to student learning needs. It’s the type of customization that has been absent from our education system. Choice and customization are critical components necessary to improve education in America. Imposing uniformity on the system through national standards and tests and further centralizing decision-making will only perpetuate the status quo.
And explaining what we’re seeing today, it concluded:
The good news is, citizens and leaders in a number of states are fighting to regain control over standards and curriculum, defending against a nationalization of education. Ultimately, we should work to ensure that decisions are made by those closest to the student: teachers, principals, and parents.
The Heritage Foundation, according to its website, “is a research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” According to The Center for Media and Democracy, it has received funding from organizations with connections to the Koch brothers who, “as two of the richest people in the world, … are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN).”

Local support

In 2013, the Libertarian Party of Collier County passed an anti-Common Core resolution that referenced the 2012 Libertarian Party platform and condemned the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Florida. It called for “a free market education system that empowers parents and guardians, who are best situated to decide what is in their own children’s best interests, to freely decide how to educate their children through the use of all measures that enhance the educational choices available, including charter schools, vouchers or tax credits for private school tuition, and home schooling.”

SWFL Citizens’ Alliance was formed in 2013. Its core initiatives are to “Stop Common Core” and “Protect Your Right to Keep & Bear Arms.”

And another local group active in this movement, Parents Rights of Choice for Kids (aka ParentsROCK), was started in 2013 by School Board member Erika Donalds to “support and advocate for parents’ rights and parent choice” and to “influence policies and legislation to protect you and your children.”

In recent appearances before the the Marco Island City Council, Collier County Commission and Collier County School Board, representatives of the Libertarian Party of Collier County and the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance have spoken against Common Core, and representatives of Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance has spoken in support of the “Florida Education Empowerment Act.” The Collier Board of County Commissioners last week voted 3–2 to adopt an “Education Sovereignty Resolution” initially put forward by the vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County. (See my pre-meeting blog post here.)

In conclusion

I hope you have a clear sense of what the Florida Citizens Alliance was lauding when it declared a “major victory in the effort to reverse course on the implementation of Common Core…and return control of education to local school boards.” I hope you see that this is part of a nationwide effort supported and funded by sophisticated national groups, and that you know the names of some of the local organizations that are carrying out those national groups’ bidding.

In Part 2, I’ll tell you what I think is at stake, and suggest some next steps.

Note: This post was revised on March 7, 2015. The Libertarian Party of Collier County has not endorsed the Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment bill. The post as previously published said they did. Also, the“Education Sovereignty Resolution” was initially put forward by the vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County, not by the LPCC Chairman.

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