Sunday, August 14, 2011

School year begins under a cloud of official dishonesty

"The system will crunch FCAT data while taking into account factors outside a teacher's control, such as a student's absentee rate." 

This lie, or something like it, has been repeated in newspaper, radio, and TV stories across the state as mainstream media  reports how Florida will use FCAT scores to evaluate teachers. 

It's a lie because there is no way you can take into account the factors outside an educator's control that influence FCAT scores. There are far too many, such as health, early education, home support, naturally varying rates of growth, nutrition, family income, motivation, and on and on.

You might as well try to evaluate dentists by cavities. Whether patients brush their teeth or not, it's the dentist's fault if a cavity occurs. You might as well evaluate doctors using recoveries. Whether patients take their medicine or not, it's the doctor's fault if they don't get well. You might as well evaluate attorneys by wins and losses. Even if the client gets caught lying  on the witness stand, it's the lawyer's fault if the jury says guilty.

Teachers cannot control every aspect of a child's life that contributes to academic performance. It is a ridiculous expectation.

This is why assessment experts condemn the practice of using test scores to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools. It is a completely invalid practice that is done for purely political reasons. 

The mainstream news media in Florida has failed to explain this, so the Legislature's disinformation campaign calling for teachers to be held "accountable" for test scores goes unchallenged.

But wait. Shouldn't we hold teachers accountable?  

Yes, but using a bad evaluation system based on test scores does not get that job done. Based on any one group of students and all the factors that shape them, a good teacher's scores can look bad and a bad teacher's scores can look good.

A child can be three or four grade levels behind in reading proficiency, for instance, and the teacher is expected to bring that child up to speed in less than a year - even though the factors that contribute to the problem are completely out of the teacher's control.

The politicians who passed this idiotic law knew full well it would not work. The reason they keep making tests holy is simple and has nothing to do with learning - every test represents a juicy state contract for their friends in the test business. FCAT alone costs $40 million per year. What a racket.

So, how should we evaluate teachers? This job can be more accurately done without the costly test-score gimmick. All it takes is good faith and the standard tools of personnel management. Most school principals are decent, honest, intelligent people with very sound judgment. Let them do their jobs without political meddling. Unlike politicians, they have spent time in classrooms and know learning when they see it.

If we left the principals alone and trusted them to do their jobs, the evaluations would be more meaningful and the additional cost would be next to nothing.

Good work has been done this summer to deepen observations and improve the formal evaluations done by school principals. Unfortunately those good efforts only count for only half the evaluation - with unreliable, inaccurate test scores counting for the remaining half.

But wait. Shouldn't students be tested to see what they learned?

Yes of course. Testing itself is not the issue. Tests are very valuable if you use them intelligently for the right reasons - to diagnose students and help them learn.

Florida education law and the Race to the Top federal education grant both work against that goal. State and federal government require the use of high-stakes testing to punish students, teachers, principals, and schools by threatening job security and imposing dictatorial rule by the clipboard people, state bureaucrats more interested in checklists than scholarship.

In addition to misjudging teachers, the state-sanctioned testing frenzy creates two more serious problems.

First, cheating scandals erupt as pressure to succeed builds to a do-or-die atmosphere. Scandals center on major school districts like Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington, DC where school chiefs are targeted by so-called school reformers to produce better grades to save budgets and careers. The high-stakes atmosphere creates an incentive to win at any cost, and it will soon be felt throughout Florida as new state laws take effect.

Second, instead of allowing an intelligent approach to testing, the high-stakes testing frenzy causes schools to narrow the curriculum, dropping electives students need to succeed in college and careers.

Schools cannot afford rigorous academic and career programs any more because they must add test-prep courses and activities that have now become a matter of survival.

How did all this happen? Because politicians who set education policy refuse to listen to actual educators. 
Everything they do for schools has one purpose and one purpose only - to re-route public education dollars into private hands.

Politicians want people to think they care about education when in fact they are cutting school budgets, causing layoffs, and at the same time giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy backers who fund their campaigns. 

They call these millionaires and billionaires "job creators" but the jobs rarely materialize. Mostly, the cash gifts from Tallahassee and Washington just fatten the wallets of the rich, and stimulate other forms of investment besides new jobs. They sure haven't done much for Florida's working families.  

As a grandparent, I am outraged that the leadership of my state and country would adopt such an unethical agenda. 

As a teacher, I am disgusted with state and federal politicians who pretend to care about public education while doing everything in their power to tear it down and pave the way for privatization. 

As a taxpayer, I am fed up with Florida's phony economic policy. Research and history clearly show that one excellent way to build a stronger economy is to invest in education, rather than cut it to shreds, as Florida does. Well-supported schools lure business. Underfunded schools drive jobs away.

Teaching in Florida is like doing charity work or missionary work in a hostile country, where corrupt leaders attack you and steal the food and medicine so they can profit from it. You're there to make a difference, though, and no matter what's going on you still have to try to get this food and medicine to people who really need it.

Parents, teachers and school principals face similar  challenges. As Florida's legislative leaders and governor attack schools and use their power to re-route public resources to their private cronies, parents and educators must do all we can to deliver the learning that students need to succeed in life. If we don't educate these young people, nobody else will. 

I keep this in mind every day I teach. No matter what the politicians try to pull, no matter how much they denigrate schools and cut the resources, I stay focused on students. Their potential for success motivates me, as it does their parents. I applaud and encourage families that provide a solid learning environment at home. We're in this together.

I am a nationally certified teacher. I typically work 60 hours a week during the school year for far less pay than I earned in the private sector. In their bid to weaken public education, Florida politicians cut teacher pay this year. They are hoping good teachers will get fed up and quit. This puts even more pressure on school district leaders and principals to keep motivation from falling through the floor.

I happily undertake a heavy training schedule - mostly unpaid - every summer. Long hours, low pay, and busy summers are common for many teachers.

Whenever I hear people say teaching is a cush job, I invite them to see if they could handle it. 

I have been a writer, newspaper editor, and news service exec. While these jobs were very demanding, and while I am something of a workaholic, teaching is the most demanding job I have ever done. The washout rate is 50 percent in the first five years, mostly due to low pay and tough working conditions. 

All this doesn't phase me. I have worked hard all my life. The teachers I know work hard, too.

But hard work alone is not enough.

If parents and educators don't also work smart, and unite to dump the lousy leadership in Tallahassee while changing the dysfunctional education policy in Washington, the future of public education looks dim.    

Public schools paved a path out of poverty for many generations of Americans and provided a foundation for successful people in all careers. Public schools teach young citizens how to keep growing for the rest of their lives.

It's true that this school year begins under a cloud of official dishonesty from Tallahassee and Washington. But it doesn't help to focus on the past. Instead, let's team up and engage in the political process to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have their opportunity for a decent education. 

Calling every parent, every grandparent, every educator - if we don't unite now, it will be too late to save our schools.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Say no to the Florida education bills

The Florida Legislature is trying to make schools better because, compared to schools around the world, our schools lag behind.
You heard about this. 
We need more testing, says the Florida legislature. And we need to use test scores to evaluate teachers and principals.
Sounds reasonable. Don't you think?
Let’s see.
When politicians and school critics say our schools lag behind, they’re talking about our PISA score. PISA is The Programme for International Student Assessment. Test scores from 5-10 thousand students in participating countries are compared.
When PISA scores were released, education "reformers” raised an alarm  because it appeared that the US lagged behind other countries.
Of course it appeared that way. They were misreading the data, comparing our poorest students to their middle. When you look at the same data and compare apples to apples, guess who is No. 1 on the PISA?
The United States.  We are ahead of Finland, Netherlands, Japan – all of them.
So if our schools are not lagging behind, but actually leading the world, let’s revisit the motive for the Florida Legislature’s effort to “reform” schools.
The “reform” bills under way in the House and Senate require more high-stakes tests to cover all those subjects not covered by FCAT.
Who develops these tests? How will they be validated? How will they be administered? How will they be graded? 
If you are concerned about taxes, you might want to turn the radar on.
Wait. How much could one little test cost?
In the case of FCAT, about $40 million per year since 2002.
And now they want to add more testing at a time when the Gov. is talking about slashing school funds by $3 billion?
The Florida Legislature is rushing these “reform” bills through because backers don’t want anyone to know the impact.
These bills are basically welfare for test companies. Who pays? Florida’s regressive tax structure means the tax burden for these extra costs will fall heaviest on the poor and middle class. 
Let me give you just one example of how that $40 million gets wasted every year.
How much could it cost to oversee children taking a test? How complicated could that be? Don’t you just tell the kids to pick up a pencil and get started? Then make sure nobody cheats?
That’s what teachers used to do. Not any more.
Recently for FCAT Writes we followed a 114-page instruction manual with a color cover, graphic illustrations of how to prepare the test for mailing (including a diagram that explains how to pack the box), CYA language that covers every possible problem imaginable on test day, and a step-by-step script that tells the students how to write their names and record special codes in just the right places. A long list of instructions merely repeat the obvious, such as when to start, when to stop, and when 10 minutes are left.
The manual even has tear-out pages that announce what everybody already knows - we are taking FCAT today. This manual is so poorly designed and hard to understand that we had to meet twice just to untangle it.
These test instructions could have been better handled in a 1-page email, free. Teachers could have put up their own signs. Teachers could have simply handed out the test, told the kids when to start, and when to stop. It’s just not that difficult to give a test. We do it all the time and don’t spend a dime.
Instead taxpayers paid for this 114-page boondoggle to be sent to every teacher in the state who gave the FCAT. I’d love to know how much that cost and where our tax money ended up. Maybe you can tell me. The only publication ID on the booklet was FL00002520 and 12345ABCDE.
Taxpayers, are you beginning to get the picture? $40 million a year? Really?
Now, for people who care about the impact of these bills on students, please turn your radar on.
Backers of these bills don’t want parents to know how learning time will become testing time, adding days when children are forced to take even more tests.
The “reformers” don’t seem to care that these tests are abusive to students.
Go see for yourself. Check out the plastic buckets in elementary school on  test day. Listen to third-graders sobbing in fear the night before the test. Talk to the mom of a successful third grader who barely missed passing and now can’t be with her classmates anymore. Talk to a high school senior with passing grades and a solid work ethic who now can’t get a high school diploma.
But don’t these tests put healthy pressure on students to study harder and learn more?
Hardly. Take FCAT Writes, for instance. It is academically unsound, based on a false premise. It tells students to write persuasive or expository essays on the fly. In the world after school, these types of essays are normally written after careful research, so they can be founded on solid reasoning. With FCAT Writes there is no research. The kids have to pull the evidence out of …. the air. They do. The writing shows it. 
It’s fair to ask if the main impact of this test hasn’t been to train students to invent or exaggerate their evidence. I wrote and edited persuasive essays for most of my working life. When I came to understand the pernicious nature of FCAT Writes, my heart sank. What a disservice to students – testing them on how well they shoot bunk. Once students pass FCAT Writes, they must learn how to write for college, which means unlearning the FCAT method for handling evidence.
This is where we’re going in Florida. We’re not only harming children and schools, we’re wasting millions of tax dollars to do it.
Despite all this, the Florida Legislature plans to forcefeed students with even more high-stress testing. Every dollar wasted on this unsound practice is a dollar that should be going for books, science labs, writing labs, field trips, fine arts, decent technology, and courses students need to succeed in life, such as Internet Research and Information Literacy – courses we are still not offering because schools have been forced to become test-prep centers.
Here’s another malicious component of this bill. It is based on a known falsehood – that these high-stress tests are a good way to evaluate teachers and principals.
Education scientists are howling in protest about this. Why? Because when you use tests to judge teachers and principals, the random error rates render the conclusions useless. Research tells us there are many outside factors and conditions that influence test scores – poverty chief among them. But the backers of these bills don’t seem to care what the research says. Their goal is to generate revenue for test companies.
Politicians have no intention of airing the truth about what they call “teacher tenure,” either. They constantly complain about teachers having tenure similar to that of college professors, but teachers have nothing like it. They merely have an ongoing contract that gives them a chance to fix a performance problem before they get fired - not that different than the job protection system used by ethical companies. 
But even a little job protection is too much, says this bill. In the future, even the most skilled and experienced teachers will work from year to year, in a kind of perpetual probation. Excellent teachers can be fired on a whim. Excellent teachers can be fired using test scores that they had little or nothing to do with.  
Which leads us to the next manipulative lie from Tallahassee. It goes like this: We can’t get rid of a bad teacher and the proof is that so few teachers get fired.
Nonsense. Any teacher can be fired. All you have to do is first give that teacher a fair chance to do better.
Why then don’t teachers get fired more often? Same reason hospital doctors, company lawyers, military officers, scientific researchers, and other professional workers don’t get fired that often. If they see that things are not working out, they leave on their own.
But does anybody actually do that?  You bet they do, and that’s something else politicians don’t want you to know.
If you do it right, teaching is a rough job. The pressure can crush your spirit. The hours exhaust your health. Weekends get lost grading papers. Nights can be sleepless with worry. Even summer – the big perk everybody raves about – often gets filled up with jobs and training. Not everyone is cut out for this kind of stress.
That’s right, half. 
Who’s left? Those who can handle it. Those who can endure the working conditions.
What happens to those who don't understand the job, or those who were just looking for a safe ride and found themselves on a roller coaster?
Most of them are among the 50 percent who leave. Do a few boneheads slip by? Sure, the same way they do in any profession. That’s why existing rules provide ways for them to be removed.
But under this new plan, even the best teachers can be fired on a whim, or fired by the state-ordered misuse of data. This means taxpayers will fund another welfare program - new business for lawyers who handle wrongful termination cases.
Do we really want to throw the local school board attorney into a pit with Morgan and Morgan and expect the taxpayer to foot the bill? Don’t think so.
Most business execs are smart enough not to fire people on a whim. They understand that wrongful termination lawsuits not only waste time and money, but can cripple a company’s reputation with the very people they want most to hire. It’s hard enough to get the best teachers from other states to come to Florida now. Just wait. They will post warning signs on the state line.
Given the hostile workplace these new bills create, not only will legal hassles result, but teachers, already overstressed, will grow more cynical. They will see themselves as free agents with little loyalty to their school, their community, or the families they serve. If teachers know they could get fired for any cooked-up excuse, fewer of them will settle into a community. Fewer will buy houses. And more of them will keep looking for a more secure job somewhere else.
More teachers will teach to the test because that will be the only thing that matters in Florida anymore, and that will be the only way to get paid. More teachers will become competitive rather than collaborative, keeping their best ideas to themselves because they don’t want the teacher down the hall getting higher scores.
And if teachers feel mistreated, they won’t vent their frustrations in a heart-to-heart chat with the union rep who quietly gets them back on track. Instead, they will hire a sharp attorney who knows how to push up the settlement.
The smarter these teachers are, the better they are, the faster they will get out of here to someplace that offers normal job protection.
Under these education bills, taxpayers will pay for more and more testing. Those wasted dollars will end up feeding state contracts and CEO bonus checks.
Where will students end up? They will learn that success in school means learning how to take bubble tests. They will learn that critical thinking and solving real problems don’t matter anymore. Schooled under the Florida Legislature, every step of their academic lives micromanaged by the state, they will be lost when they hit the world.
Legislators need to hear from you right away. Please tell them to save tax dollars, guard students, and respect the teaching profession. 
Say no to the education bills. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jumping elephants

Straight-ticket Republican voters who don’t happen to be wealthy may have jumped off a cliff on election day.

These middle-class Republican voters said yes to the corporate agenda of low wages, more hidden tax hikes on the middle class, more tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy, and the possibility of state-sanctioned theft of pensions earned by people who worked many long years hoping to safely retire.

Corporate CEOs give cash to selected politicians because it's such a savvy investment for them - these politicians pass laws to lift the tax burden off corporations and onto the middle class. Back in the 1940s, corporations paid about a third of all taxes collected. Today they pay 15 percent. Meanwhile, the share of taxes paid by everyone else grew from 44 percent to 73 percent.

The corporate agenda keeps worker pay low as CEO salaries soar.  The paychecks of chief execs zoomed upward by 434% during the 90s, and during that same period worker pay grew only 34 percent.

Like obedient serfs, voters keep following the corporate agenda, electing leaders backed by corporations. How can so many people be lured into voting against their own interests? About $3 billion rolled into the hands of commercial broadcasters for political ads in this election, with corporate-backed candidates outspending their rivals by a margin of 7 to 1.

The closest comparison I can find is the buffalo jump, when hunters of old cleverly killed buffalo by spooking them to run off a cliff. Today’s hunters spook elephants with broadcast ads funded by corporate money.

Even though corporations scored a big win, election-day brought some benefits.

To their great credit, jumping elephants helped pass the Fair Districts Amendments. Unless the Legislature concocts some way to sabotage it, politicians no longer get to cherry pick their voters. Instead, district lines must reflect reasonable, normal chunks of territory, such as city and county boundaries. Candidates can then focus on getting out and meeting people rather than spending so much on advertising. I think candidates from both parties will gain some relief there.

Jumping elephants also helped make sure Amendment 8, the Legislature’s attempt to undermine class-size limits, didn’t pass.

Backers of Amendment 8 touted it as a way to add some flexibility so that schools would not have to spend a fortune to accommodate a new student or two. Just before the election it was revealed that this argument was baseless. The costs can be trimmed back simply by adjusting the law. So all the scary talk – and the half a million of your money that the Legislature spent pushing Amendment 8 - was unnecessary.

Because Democrats took a savage beating, we know what's going to happen next. In two years they will be hot for revenge. Then we may see a donkey jump – hordes of straight-ticket voters blindly selecting anyone with a D by their name.

That could be equally self-destructive and equally disappointing.
Blindly jumping off a cliff makes no sense for anyone.

Republicans and Democrats alike need to settle down and ask themselves a question or two. They need to figure out who really benefits from all the fear, anger, and fighting that characterize elections today. Could it be that they have more in common than they think? Could the whole Republican-Democrat debate be nothing more than a smokescreen to hide massive crimes now being committed against all middle-class Americans?

The Wall Street criminals who stole Granny’s pension didn’t care how she voted. The corporate criminals who sent jobs overseas while sacking American workers didn’t look to see which party the workers belonged to. The banksters who grabbed the bailout and still won’t lend money to struggling families could care less about their victims’ political views. Predatory lenders kick Republican and Democrat families out of their homes with equal enthusiasm.

The leaders of both political parties share one common characteristic – they cannot stop corporate crime. Corporations now have more power than government. According to the Corporate Crime Reporter, "Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live."

Consider this quotation:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. …corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Now, can you identify the author?

a. Al Gore’s favorite philosophy professor
b. A protest leader speaking at his arraignment after being arrested at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle
c. A croissant-nibbling, latte-sipping Harvard economist 
d. The nation's most famous, most respected Republican

To find the answer, please go here. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Frank Wood for Florida House

Florida House candidate Frank Wood’s endorsement by Republican Frank Sargent, well-known and well-loved, was music to my nonpartisan ears.

My voter card over the years bore the stamp of the Republican, Independent, and Democratic parties. I disappointed party loyalists sometimes, but I always voted for the candidate, not the party.

In my political utopia, the state Legislature is half blue and half red because that’s about the only time those guys have to climb down and listen to regular people. Some people call it gridlock, I call it making them sweat.

Plus, when the parties are equally matched, they can’t do too much damage in any particular direction, which comforts me.

In good times, we don’t even need a state legislature. The best thing they can do then is go home. But Florida’s in an economic hole today. Good times seem like a distant memory.

Here’s where somebody like Frank Wood comes in.

Jobs. Most of us agree with Frank that government should not be in the business of adding more employees. I can think of some bureaucracies we could do without, and I’m sure you can as well. Instead, government can and should do all it can to stimulate job creation in the private sector where it belongs.

Florida sits there waiting for more business based on medical technology, alternative farming, niche farming, online communications, alternative energy, entertainment, the arts, green tourism, mass transit, hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, and camping.

Instead of using tax breaks aggressively to create these jobs and to build family business, the current team in Tallahassee gives away millions with little accountability. So we get a few low-paying or part-time jobs while profits go up and working families stay down. This happens when one party gets too powerful.

Frank Wood sends a much healthier signal to business:  We will give you tax breaks. But you have to earn those breaks by putting people to work. Not in China. Not in India. Here.

The beauty of this simple economic truth is that first, more people will earn paychecks, and second, since they’re earning those paychecks here, they are also spending those paychecks here.

Frank has been a Republican as well as a Democrat. He knows that the link connecting economic prosperity to education is bigger than any political party’s platform. It’s simple economics.

Execs of prosperous companies are too smart to build or relocate  in places like Florida where schools get neglected. Sure we have low taxes and that’s appealing. But without good schools forget it. Just about all you’re going to get is business with low pay, no or low benefits, and little job security. This weakens the economy and hurts working families.

Consider two points. First, a strong business needs smart, well-trained workers. Second, the execs want decent schools for their children, and the children of their employees. 

Why then, has the ruling party cut school spending to the point where Florida is now one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in per-pupil spending among the 50 states?

Why then, did the ruling majority neglect public education so much that they were sued by parents of school children?

Why then, in just the last three years, did the ruling party cut kindergarten through high school by more than a billion bucks?

While it was busy slashing school spending, the Legislature could have been - should have been - investing in the economic potential of technology. More high school graduates today should know key subjects such as information literacy, connectivity, game creation, and web-based business. More high school graduates should be receiving vocational training in school, so they can be self-sufficient and productive.

Instead of learning what will help them make it in the world, though, these students waste time taking an endless series of fill-in-the-bubble tests ordered by bureaucrats in the Florida Department of Education, which currently suffers under the delusion that testing is teaching.  

When it comes to basic issues like jobs and education – issues that affect all of us - it should not matter what party you belong to.

Frank and his opponent Larry Metz both seem to understand this very well. They deserve a round of applause for conducting clean, positive campaigns. Thanks to these gentlemen, we have a race that could set the tone for future campaigns in the region. They remind us that campaigns don’t have to be divisive and negative.  

We’re all in this together. If the situation were reversed and Democrats controlled Tallahassee, misusing their power to the extent the Republicans now misuse theirs, I would argue just as strongly for balance in the other direction.

Yes, Florida’s got problems. But everyone in Lake, Seminole, and Volusia counties who votes for Frank Wood in House District 25 can be part of the solution.

To learn more about Frank: YouTube videos

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What you may not have heard about Amendment 8

Many parents and educators are receiving information from school districts and public officials about the requirements of the current class size amendment and the changes that have been proposed by the Legislature. The following has been approved by Ronald G. Meyer, Esq., FEA Legal Department, for distribution to FEA members and non-members at worksites and official school district functions.

8 Things You Should Know About the Proposed Changes to the Class Size Amendment

1.    Every year since voters approved smaller class sizes in 2002, there has been an attempt by the Legislature to change it.  Amendment 8 is the latest in a long line of these efforts.

2.    The state PTA and parents and classroom teachers are opposed to changing the current class size amendment.

3.    The current Class Size Amendment is working for Florida.  Class sizes are smaller and student performance is on the rise.  The changes that have been proposed by the Legislature would increase the number of students per classroom by an average of 20%.

4.    The proponents of changing the current class size amendment say it will save $350 million to $1 billion.  This could mean the amount of money the State is required to provide to local public schools will be reduced and public school classrooms will be allowed to become more crowded.  We believe that our local school districts will receive less state funding to use for smaller class sizes.

5.    Local school boards are not required to cut programs or raise taxes to comply with the original Class Size Amendment.  In 2002, The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the current Class Size Amendment "places the obligation to ensure compliance on the Legislature, not the local school boards."

6.    Many people do not know that flexibility in class size can be achieved through statute without changing the Florida Constitution.  In 2002, the Florida Supreme Court said that, "Rather than restricting the Legislature, the proposed amendment gives the Legislature latitude in designing ways to reach the class size goal."  In 2008, the Florida House agreed that amending the Constitution is not necessary and passed a bill allowing for flexibility in class size by statute.  The Florida Senate allowed that bill to die.  This year the Legislature again proved that they can provide the needed flexibility when they granted an exemption from class-size compliance to charter schools.

7.    The current class size amendment does not require school districts to close school enrollment, rezone schools, bus students, or hold double sessions.  The Florida Supreme Court has said that the class size limits are goals and that the Florida Legislature can provide the flexibility to deal with the so-called '19th child'.

8.    The Legislature did not provide the funding it is constitutionally required to provide to implement smaller class sizes this year and is now threatening to fine the school districts for not complying.  School districts across the state have already banded together to sue the Legislature if the State attempts to fine any school district for not meeting the class size goals because they know these fines would be found blatantly unconstitutional.

Thanks to LCEA President B Grassel for distributing this message. Please share it with others. Thank you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guest blogger: E.K. Emery

Education leads the way
to economic recovery
By E.K. Emery
I am running for Lake County Commission because our future depends to a great extent on what path we travel today. We have a new Comprehensive Plan, intended to guide us as we evaluate proposals presented for approval. The new plan recognizes that land use decisions affect our economy and quality of life; specifically: transportation, utilities, public services, water resources, existing land uses, and education. It is critical that the plan be implemented, not ignored.

I began to be involved in issues in Lake County at a time when few  recognized the need for co-ordination between land use changes and classroom construction. The Comprehensive Plan of 1991, which I had some involvement in, is silent on education issues. That plan is still in effect today, although the School Board and County Commission have built a framework of cooperation in an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the past.

I joined with other citizens to bring about some of the changes needed. In fact my daughter, a graduate of Eustis High School and now at UF, attended her first School Board meeting as a baby in my arms. It took intense lobbying and overwhelming citizen involvement to stop subdivision approvals until there was classroom space for the students. It has taken the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to build the schools that were needed.

We fought hard to get schools built. We continue to fight to get everyone to recognize the importance of a high quality educational system to our economic competitiveness. The employees of the Lake School District are a major part of our economy, as well as a major part of our economic development strategy. There is virtually no way for us to attract new businesses to our community without an educated workforce. High quality businesses, capable of adding to our tax base, will not come to Lake County unless high quality schools are available for employees' children.

As a friend of many teachers, and a parent of two students, I realize that the great teachers my kids have had over the years consider their work more than just a job. But it is a job, and we used to offer some security in exchange for the relatively low salaries. I disagree with those that claim that job security is a great threat to teacher performance. I also disagree that a single test score measures anything of value. This past Summer my kids and I were honored to join teachers in protesting Senate Bill 6 in Tavares, and we will continue to lobby for reforms that actually help teachers perform better in the classroom.

There is not enough space here to cover other important issues, such as safe routes to school and other transportation issues I have worked on over the years as a member of various appointed committees. The fact remains that there are many ways the County Commission impacts schools and I look forward to the opportunity to make a positive difference. My youngest child will graduate from Eustis High School at the end of this school year. Like many parents, I hope that when he completes his education he will have an opportunity to return to, and prosper in, Lake County. For more information please visit

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Guest blogger: LCEA President B Grassell


As you know, a collective vote from the education community can and will make a huge difference in the upcoming general election on Nov. 2.

   I firmly believe this election will change public education, including the way we teach, what we teach, how we are compensated, and who leads the way in Tallahassee.
   I also firmly believe it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and to vote for those candidates who support public education. 
   Public education will change after November 2.  How it changes is up to us!  
   LCEA members voted to endorse the following candidates. As president, I believe these endorsed candidates are excellent choices and will represent us well.
   Please read their messages to you. They have expressed their commitment to teachers and students throughout their campaigns. Their messages have not changed to address different target audiences. Their candidate questionnaires have been and are still available for members to read at the LCEA office.    
   Members, please plan to attend our next Rep. Council on September 28. We will include a “Meet the Candidates” session from 5:00-5:30. These three candidates will be there to meet you.
   Dr. JoAnn Jones is our endorsed candidate for School Board District 3.  
   JoAnn is a dedicated teacher at East Ridge Middle and is well respected by her peers. That respect was evident at our last rep council as you recalled stories of her mentoring and supporting those of you who have taught with her.  She was an LCEA member when she taught at Clermont Middle and East Ridge High.  She opposed SB6.  Her opponent is Dr. Tod Howard.
   “Reaching out to 1600+ people on my behalf is an endorsement that will certainly move the campaign in the right direction. Thank you. My message remains the same. We need to stand beside our teachers led by good principals who will ensure that the children of Lake County receive the best possible education available to them. I intend to work closely with the Union so that we can maintain a teaching organization that is second to none in Florida. I will see you September 28 at LCEA. Thank you for this gracious invitation.”  - JoAnn Jones
   Frank Wood is our endorsed candidate for Florida House of Representative District 25.  
   Frank has taught his entire teaching career at Mt. Dora High and has served LCEA in many capacities. He has been a member of our board of directors, vice-president, bargaining team, and FEA Public Policy Advocacy Committee.  He opposed SB6. His opponent is Larry Metz.
   "With heartfelt gratitude, I thank my colleagues for your endorsement. I have walked the halls with you for thirty years. As educators, we understand that quality schools are essential in building communities that have vibrant economies, safe neighborhoods and a society that is civil, just and thriving. I pledge to work tirelessly for children, parents and educators. With your help and support, you will have a voice in Tallahassee."  - Frank Wood
   Eunice Garbutt is our endorsed candidate for Florida Senate District 20.  
   Eunice is an energetic candidate with the best interest of Florida’s citizens, especially children, in her heart.  She is a program manager for Special Olympics Florida and has worked for other not-for-profit, service organizations.  She opposed SB6.  Her opponent is Alan Hays.
   “I’m honored to have earned the endorsement of the Lake County Education Association! It feels good to enter the campaign's final weeks with significant momentum on our side. We are in a very strong position with less than seven weeks left in this race in terms of ground operation and campaign strategy. With the committed support of the LCEA and hard working determined walkers ---we see victory on the horizon." - Eunice Garbutt.
   I hope this helps you in your research for the candidate of your choice.  Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Also, please remember that LCEA is a non-partisan professional organization and our endorsements are based entirely on the candidates’ views on and support for public education.
   Please enjoy your weekend.  You certainly deserve time to rest and relax.  Thanks for all you do for Lake County’s students and their families.  It is because of your dedication that I continue to be honored to represent and advocate for you.
   We must remember, and we must VOTE in November.
   Together in teaching and learning,
   B Grassel, NBCT