Sunday, January 17, 2010

“Now, let me be clear: This is not about the kind of testing that has mushroomed under No Child Left Behind. This is not about more tests. It's not about teaching to the test. And it's not about judging a teacher solely on the results of a single test.”

States hustle to grab a piece of the federal Race to the Top grant. Awards go to “ambitious yet achievable plans” for education reform. The feds want us to work together for the good of students.
“We will scrutinize state applications for a coordinated commitment to reform,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Coordinated commitment. What a terrific idea. Sounds like a no-brainer.
Florida’s Department of Education wants the dough, but can’t seem to accept the “coordinated commitment” it takes to qualify.
Instead of teaming up with schools to get the job done, the education bosses of Florida appear frightened at the idea of sharing power.
So, instead of collaborating with local districts and teachers, FLDOE wants to use the federal grant to extend its same old big-government policies that aren’t working – policies that could end up costing our schools more than they deliver.
Such a waste. Had teachers, school principals, and school board members been included in a more meaningful way, Florida’s plan could be an efficient trendsetter. Instead, it’s a sad victim to a state government where leaders won’t share decision-making with the people who will be doing the work.
No wonder the teacher associations in most of Florida's 67 counties rejected the FLDOE's plan. These teachers are thinking about their students; FLDOE is just thinking about itself.
Building turf, hoarding power, pushing the same failed gimmicks euphemistically called reform. That won’t make schools stronger and it won’t improve learning.
People with little knowledge of how learning works want to blame teachers for not signing on to FLDOE’s plan, no matter what it says. After all, it’s more money, right? Actually, with teachers and school districts shut out of the process, there is no way of knowing. It could end up costing more than it delivers.
Consider this thought from Lake County Education Association President B Grassel, who recently spoke to the Lake County School Board:
"FLDOE wants us to sign on for four years. Would anyone purchase a car if the cost were unknown? If the interest rate and payments were unknown? If the make, model, mileage, and condition were unknown? ... FLDOE want districts to take a leap of faith and to trust them with a state plan that FLDOE admits is not complete."
Wondering why so many folks might not be willing to take that leap of faith? Examine these numbers:
Lake County lost nearly $19 million in school funds since 2007. Orange County lost $105 million. Osceola, $42 million. Seminole, $40 million. Sumter, $2 million. Volusia, nearly $54 million.
Check out and have some aspirin handy if you want to keep checking the losses county-by-county around the state.
Trusting Tallahassee so far not only led to budget cuts, but also more high-stakes testing with fewer teachers to help children learn how to read, write, solve problems, and think. It has meant inadequate technology to help students prepare for the future, fewer electives for college-bound students, and less job training for those who are willing and able to go to work.
Just the sort of problems Race to the Top is supposed to help solve.
President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan understand a very simple rule of business: If you want your plan to succeed, then you have to respect and include the people who will actually be doing the work.
Once again, it seems like a no-brainer.
Yet Florida’s DOE didn’t do that. Teachers got the brush off. Why? Could it be that the egos of our leaders in Tallahassee would not allow them to concede that somebody else involved in education might have an idea worth considering?
Consider this comment from Pat Santeramo, Broward Teachers Union president: “Sadly, (Florida Education Secretary Eric) Smith has twisted Obama's intentions for the grant funds in a power grab to pay for existing education initiatives that have repeatedly failed.”
The top-down attitude Santeramo describes needs to change. The education commissioner should be reaching out to teachers, principals and school board members. Instead, FLDOE prepared the grant application using, as Santeramo describes it “every old initiative that has already resulted in our schools being in a race to the bottom.”
Translation: More testing and blaming, less teamwork.
In her address to her school board, Grassel asks a question that deserves an answer: “Why can’t, or won’t, FLDOE agree to realistic revisions proposed by FEA, superintendent, and school board leaders?”
Of course teachers want the federal grant. But they want it to be used as intended – to help students. They are raising a warning flag here: Florida’s obsession with testing and blaming, wrapped in financial uncertainty, could make things worse, not better.
The decision not to sign was difficult, and took courage. Consider this comment by Kathy Donato, president of Osceola Classroom Teachers Association:
“We agonized over the decision. We knew it could be a public relations nightmare and appear that we were turning down millions of much-needed funding. While these are substantial amounts of money and worthy goals … unfortunately the Memorandum of Understanding and the accompanying documents that were issued from the Florida Department of Education ignore substantial portions of the objectives of Race to the Top...”
I applaud B Grassel and her colleagues around Florida for standing up and telling the truth in a difficult situation, knowing that their words would be twisted and used to create the false impression that all teachers care about is salaries. If that were true, there wouldn't be a teacher left in many Florida school districts.
B's complete statement is printed below. If you want to help get the truth out, please pass her comments along to your friends.
Please encourage people to also read FEA President Andy Ford's response to the Florida Department of Education, along with comments from B’s colleagues in Osceola and Broward.
Why is it so important to get the truth out? Because things won’t get better until parents, taxpayers, and voters all know what’s really blocking progress.
I wish this weren’t true, and I hope it changes, but the evidence shows pretty clearly that FLDOE will start cooperating in good faith only when the public insists upon teamwork from Tallahassee.

Race To The Top Message
Lake County School Board Meeting – 01-11-2010

B Grassel, NBCT
President, Lake County Education Association
Good evening, Superintendent Moxley, Chairman Barrow, Vice Chairman Stivender, Mrs. Fischer, Mrs. Brandeburg, Mr. Metz, and Mr. Johnson.

For the record, I am B Grassel, president of the Lake County Education Association. Thank you for the opportunity to share my message with you.

When I first learned about the federal Race To The Top grant, I believed this would be an excellent opportunity to assist states and districts in the development and implementation of much needed education redesign.

I appreciate the inclusion of teacher unions in the federal plan.

As the federal plan, our state plan memo of understanding calls for signatures of the superintendent, school board chairman, and teacher union leader.

Since the beginning of this process, I have stated my hope that all of us would sign this MOU for the same and right reasons.

I find it very disheartening that we find ourselves backed into this corner filled with unanswered questions and unrealistic timelines.

Our dilemma is because of the Florida Department of Education’s version of the memo of understanding for Race To The Top grant.

During last week’s school board workshop, you expressed real concerns. I share and support your questions and concerns.

You should have a Detailed Scope of Work Preparation (January-July) presented at the steering committee’s meeting on Wednesday. It is a four-page document, printed in the landscape format.
I believe when you to study this you will be amazed at the staff hours needed to accomplish writing the plan…just developing the plan.

What will not be done by staff in order to accomplish writing this plan?

I believe if we write a plan specific to Lake County, we jeopardize FLDOE approval. The FLDOE memo does not lend itself to individual needs of our district. If it not approved, we have spent resources and countless staff hours developing a plan of which parts may or may not be needed with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

At the bottom of page one is a list of items that must be bargained according to Florida Collective Bargaining Laws. The LCEA has made it clear that we are ready to negotiate anything necessary to meet state statutes and to promote realistic, quality education redesign.

We currently have a joint committee addressing the Differentiated Accountability mandates.
Can we accomplish all this by July? I don’t know, but we have quality, dedicated bargaining teams trained in Interest-Based Bargaining.

According our state bargaining laws, once bargaining begins, it must result in agreement or impasse, then the district could impose whatever it wants. I truly do not believe Lake County Schools would do that to teachers, but other districts are concerned.

I have great concerns about the financial aspects of this MOU. The media reports the federal grant is $4.35 billion. Florida’s share was reported to be anywhere from $350 million and $700 million.That is a huge range of funding.

Now FLDOE has stated that Florida could receive $1 billion. How does FLDOE believe Florida deserves almost ¼ of the total national funding? And half stays at the state level to possibly fund competitive grants for which we could apply.

If our district obtains all three required signatures on this MOU, it is a legal document, and then we are held accountable for the specifics contained in the MOU.

FLDOE has issued a written statement that some are accepting as an “escape hatch.” I believe the language is still ambiguous and does not protect our district from possible sanctions if all the obligations are not met.

Our Lake County School Board has consistently demonstrated fiscal responsibility.
This may be a financial risk to avoid. The business community wants our schools run more like a business.

What will this grant cost to implement? What is the grant award amount? How much time will be needed to implement all the aspects of the grant? But FLDOE wants us to sign on for four years. Would anyone purchase a car if the cost were unknown? If the interest rate and payments were unknown? If the make, model, mileage, and condition were unknown? But sign on for four years.

FLDOE want districts to take a leap of faith and to trust them with a state plan that FLDOE admits is not complete. Why can’t, or won’t, FLDOE agree to realistic revisions proposed by FEA, superintendent, and school board leaders?

A few years ago, Lake County Schools faced challenges about TAP. We were very concerned regarding unknown questions and answers. The result was over $1/2 million spent from our operating budget, Fund 100.

Now we are faced with RT3. I am concerned again.

We know the questions. We don’t have the answers.

Professional, dedicated teachers know that increased time spent testing, documenting, and meeting equal less time planning and teaching. The amount of non-teaching tasks given to teachers has grown exponentially in the last several years. I truly am concerned about the physical and emotional wellbeing of our dedicated teachers. Teachers do not want to work less; they want and need to plan and teach more.

Again, I find it disheartening that educators across Florida are scrambling for money. Our state leaders continue to fail to honor their oath to follow the State Constitution requiring “adequate funding for public education.”

We voters continue to return the same legislators to Tallahassee year after year. Lawmakers must be held accountable - teachers are.

The only lasting financial relief is to VOTE in the next legislative election. We must remember!

No matter what you decide as a board, the LCEA will continue to work collaboratively toward needed, realistic education redesign.

However, as president of the LCEA, I have made a promise to teachers. As President Ronald Reagan once said, “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

Therefore, I cannot and will not sign anything that will add more to teachers’ already overwhelmed workload or that may put our district at financial risk. I sincerely hope all of us do not sign this MOU for the same and right reasons. Thank you for your attention.


  1. Mike,
    Powerful Article!!! I have to agree with you. Until FLDOE starts listening to the people who actually "do the work" NCLB and RTTT are doomed to fail. Reform in Florida is just top down requirements that make no sense in the real world.

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  3. A powerful, sobering expose. I applaud the teachers and admins who had the courage to vote thumbs down. Hopefully their voices, and yours, will be heard.