Don’t Blame Godby for Florida’s Accountabaloney Policies

When you combine a flawed metric with high stakes reward and/or punishment, you get Accountabaloney.  Florida’s education policy is full of it…

This week, in an interesting article written by Amanda Curcio, the Tallahassee Democrat documented a perfect case study in Accountabaloney. By placing all their students into Advanced Placement U.S. History classes, rather than routine or honors U.S. History classes, it appears that Leon County’s Godby High School was able to raise their calculated school grade and benefit from increased funding, even though 97% of their students failed the corresponding  Advanced Placement test. This blog is not an attempt to vilify Godby but rather an opportunity to demonstrate that policies, like Florida’s A-F School Grade system, are flawed and continue to corrupt our public education system, creating this baloney.

According to the national 2015 PDK/Gallup poll of the public’s attitude toward the public schools, here are the most important factors families consider when choosing their children’s school (the top 6, in order, are: quality of teaching staff, curriculum, student discipline, class size, variety of extracurricular activities, and reputation of school).

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Here is how Florida calculates a high school’s A-F school grade (School Accountability presentation here):

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Do you notice any differences? The State calculates school grades almost entirely based on standardized test scores. Parents choose schools based on almost everything BUT standardized test scores. So, if A-F School Grades do not assist parents in choosing schools based on the public’s priorities, what good are they?  In Florida, A-F grades can significantly impact a school’s funding. This impact on funding encourages schools to embrace the Accountabaloney.

What happened at Godby?

  • “Florida adopted an AP incentive program that offers schools bonuses of $700 per student who passes an AP exam. Teachers receive $50 for every passing student score, capped at $2,000, and $500 for the first passing score in a “D” or “F” school. The state also pays the College Board for testing fees — $87 each, or $53 for low-income students.”
  • “And under the proposed grade rule, schools are not penalized when students “fail” — a “1” or “2” score — AP exams.”
  • In Florida’s A-F grading system, schools are now given extra points for student participation in AP courses, encouraging more liberal enrollment in these courses, whether a student is qualified for the course or not.
  • Beginning in 2014-2105, performance on the state’s U.S. History EOC (End of Course) exam was calculated into the A-F formula (as “Social Studies Achievement”).
  • The U.S. History EOC is a graduation requirement, EXCEPT for those that take the U.S. History AP exam. At Godby, it appears a select group of students may have been “chosen” to take the state EOC.  In 2015, only 26 Godby students participated in the U.S. History EOC (91% were “proficient”) compare to 250 students in 2014.
  • PASSING the U.S. History AP exam is NOT required for graduation, which was “lucky” for Godby because 97% of their students received a “1” or “2” on the AP test (A “3” is considered “qualified” to earn college credit).

How does Godby benefit? “Boosted by the 91 percent in social studies, Godby would jump from a “C” to a “B” under the proposed school grades set by DOE. This improvement could grant the high school as much as $126,700 in school recognition dollars — given to “A” schools and the schools that improve at least one letter grade.” This is, of course, in addition to the $700 per AP passing score and the financial incentives to the individual students.

While Godby financially benefits, what is the impact on the students? What is the impact of enrolling possibly underprepared students into college level AP courses? Is it possible to maintain the same challenging level of curriculum if 72% of the class are struggling readers? Will the high achieving students get the same high level, college-like experience, expected in an AP course, in overcrowded classes containing unprepared classmates?

“A representative of the College Board” (which, by the way, writes the exams and financially benefits every time a student takes one) claimed “taking an AP exam, even for students who score a “1” or “2,” increases the expected on-time college graduation rate for students when compared to academically matched peers who did not take an AP exam.” I would love to see those studies.  I wonder if they included students who were randomly placed in AP classes, from schools with a 28% reading proficiency level? What is the impact on the self-esteem and confidence of teenagers asked to sit for exams that 97% of them will fail? Would they have been better served in a “regular” U.S. History course? Were they placed in the AP course for its rigor or to avoid the state EOC?

To be sure, Godby is not alone in this scheme. As school began in August, parents across Florida found their children enrolled in AP courses they had not signed up for.  Students found themselves in overcrowded AP courses with unprepared classmates. The dramatic changes in AP enrollment policies can only be attributed to new state education policies.

One Manatee County parent, in response to the Godby article posted on Facebook, expressed her frustration. “I am furious. This directly affects my kid right now. He has 40 kids in his class, his textbook is 17 years old, and the majority of the kids did not sign up for the class, they were just thrown in there. The class has zero rigor and my son never has any homework ever. I am horrified and angry and have been to admin about it many times… I took that same class in high school. I wrote a critical essay a week, read volume after volume of history books, did exhaustive research. Last week, for the first homework he had in weeks, my kid drew a cartoon with 6 squares depicting the entire revolutionary war.”

Perhaps there are benefits to students who participate in AP courses without passing the exam, but the dramatic shift of all of Godby’s U.S. History students into Advanced Placement, along the significantly increased enrollment into AP classes statewide, appear to be consequences of Florida’s School Grading system, in other words: Accountabaloney.

One thing is certain, when school funding depends on jumping through A-F grading scale “hoops”, you can count on schools focusing a significant amount of time and effort practicing “hoop jumping”.

Florida’s entire A-F school grading system has corrupted our public school system. Rather than focus on education best practices, administrators and districts contrive ways to score more points on the latest A-F grading scale, which may or may not lead to improved educational outcomes. In this situation, Godby got caught, but ALL of Florida’s schools have changed the way they educate students in pursuit of the all important letter grade. Parents know this, teachers know this, students suffer due to this… the system is full of Baloney.

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Guess what? It’s Even Dumber Than We Thought

On Monday, 12/21/16, the Florida Education Association (FEA) filed formal complaints  criticizing Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher scholarship program (read about it here or here ; learn more about the bonus program in our last blog “Worst and Dumbest, the Sequel“). As we have already noted, we applaud all efforts to challenge “the worst bill of the year.”  We will continue to encourage the Florida Education Association teacher’s union to pursue further legal action.

The FEA’s claims are outlined here, claiming, among other things “Because no percentile data is available from ACT or SAT for teachers who took these tests before 1972, such teachers are disqualified from receiving the bonus.” Today we discovered that, for Florida natives, it isn’t just a matter of no percentile data but, possibly, of no data at all… 

We discovered this: Did you know that prior to 1973, Florida universities used Florida’s 12th grade test for college admission?  The SAT was not used, or needed, for admission to Florida Universities until 1973.

It appears, despite Mr. Fresen’s claims, sitting for the SAT may not be as universal as he believed; certainly a bonus should not be based on an exam that was not required or even accepted at our state institutions when our most experienced teachers matriculated. Why should experienced teachers be required to sit for an exam that our own state did not require when they were in high school?

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Those 1972 Florida high school graduates would be about 60 years old now… We wonder how many went into teaching and are still teaching today? Those teachers should be challenging this law. A clearer case of age discrimination could not be imagined. We encourage the FEA to actively seek out such teachers.

Could it get any dumber? Only if our legislature makes this program permanent (as proposed in this sessions HB 7043 and SB 978). We strongly encourage “no” votes on these bills.

We agree with the 12/18/15 Tampa Bay Times Editorial:

“Attracting and retaining the most qualified and effective teachers is a tremendous challenge as professions with higher pay and often better working conditions beckon top students. Providing incentives to remain in the classroom is a worthy idea, but the Legislature has fumbled this effort from the start. Lawmakers shouldn’t have shoehorned the money for this program into the state’s budget without adequately vetting the idea. Had they allowed for discussion of the proposal, they might have reached the logical conclusion that using old high school-era test scores is no way to measure current ability.”

Spending $44 million on this program this year was a mistake… making the “the Worst and Dumbest Idea Ever” permanent would be complete and utter accountabaloney.

Worst and Dumbest, the Sequel

Representative Eric Fresen’s (District 114, Miami) much maligned “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program, which snuck into Florida statute during last summer’s extra budget session, is back and it is apparently worse than we originally knew and it’s about to get a whole lot dumber. It is the perfect example of Accountabaloney.

The bill, which Fresen claimed he dreamed up after reading a book purchased at the airport, provided bonuses of up to $10,000 to be paid to Florida public school teachers who scored in the 80% on the ACT or SAT tests they took in high school.  Current teachers also were required to be rated “highly effective” under the state’s teacher evaluation system but new teachers (who had not yet been rated for effectiveness in the classroom) could qualify for the bonus on the basis of their exam scores alone.

In March, Fresen filed HB 5011, the bill proposing the bonus, it passed the House but died in the Senate before being heard in committee. During the special session in June, it was quietly added into the budget where it escaped Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

After the bill’s passage, legislators were “shocked” to learn the budget bill they had passed included $44 million for the scholarships (link here)

“State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called the legislation the “worst bill of the year” and an example of how the legislative process has broken down

“The bill went through absolutely no process,” Detert said. “Never got a hearing in the Senate. We refused to hear it because it’s stupid.”

Other Senate Education Committee members, also, questioned the bill’s wisdom.  (read entire article here)

“There are a lot of questions about the implementation and the wisdom of Best and Brightest. I’ve questioned it myself,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “It is very misguided.”

The scholarship program was repeatedly criticized by teachers and education experts and ridiculed in the national media as a nonsensical way to attract and reward excellent teachers.  An editorial in the Herald Tribune suggested it be renamed “the Worst and Dumbest Idea Ever” (read it here). When you Google “Frequently Asked Questions FL Best and Brightest” you get “Where did this crazy bill come from?”

Does the program deserve the criticism?  Fresen claimed that “multiple studies indicate students learn more from teachers who achieved high SAT or ACT scores” and that such teachers should be rewarded.  According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study report, however, the only predictor of effectiveness is teaching experience; students of veteran teachers tend to have higher academic achievement.

If teaching experience is correlated with effectiveness, why were new teachers rewarded bonuses without need for evaluation beyond test scores?  Critics suggest the “Best and Brightest” was created to benefit Teach for America recruits (who have high SAT/ACT scores but limited teacher training) and charter schools. (See here and here). Fresen has ties to the Charter School Industry (he is a paid consultant for Civica, a firm associated with Academica, the charter school company employing his sister and brother-in-law). Charter schools, like the almost 100 Academica schools in Florida, employ a disproportionately high number of first year teachers, who might benefit from the Best and Brightest scholarship.

This legislative session, Rep. Fresen has brought back the Best and Brightest program, attaching it to HB 7043, with the intent of making the $44 million annual program permanent.  You can watch the House Education Committee discuss the bill here. (Fresen describes the bill at 20:00, be sure to watch Reps Gellar and Fullwood questions the rationality of it. In the end, Fullwood has to “agree to disagree” with the nonsense.) Fresen continues to insist that the scholarship program is designed to attract and retain high quality teachers.

Question for Mr. Fresen: Where is the evidence?

  • Where’s the proof that teachers were attracted by this program?
  • What proportion of teachers qualifying for this year’s bonus were new teachers?
  • How many of those teachers will go on to have a “highly effective” rating?
  • How many will continue teaching beyond the standard 2 year Teach for America contract?
  • How many will stay with teaching for 5 years, the period of time generally felt to be necessary to develop a high quality teacher?
  • Why renew a $44 million program indefinitely before there is any data available to demonstrate its effectiveness?

Does the program attract new teachers?  Will it improve teacher retention? No One Knows.

That’s where we are today: HB 7043 includes the permanent continuation of the $44 million/year worst and dumbest idea ever.  Where is the evidence that this will be an accountable use of public funds?  There is no evidence… It is, clearly, accountabaloney.

Today, the Herald Tribune reported three Sarasota School District employees have challenged the decision that they did not qualify for the Best and Brightest bonus. You can learn about them here. Here’s the catch:

Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee attorney representing two of the petitioning Sarasota educators, said the employees were required to file administrative complaints against the School Board instead of the Florida Department of Education because under the program, the district administers the scholarships.

“I regret that because the program’s illogical nature isn’t the doing of the school district,” Meyer said. “The district is somewhat hamstrung in having to interpret the statute in a manner the DOE says it needs to.”

We applaud these educators for challenging this “stupid” program.  We hope this will not be the only challenge to “the worst bill of the year.” We encourage the Florida Education Association teacher’s union to encourage further legal action.

As for Representative Fresen, by requiring districts to administer his “Worst and Dumbest” scholarship program thus avoiding any legal challenges, he perfectly demonstrates the amount of accountabaloney that permeates Florida’s education policy. Fresen is now asking legislators to make permanent his $44 million program that is based on conjecture.  If the program is challenged, it will be the districts’ duty to defend it.

It is time to demand real accountability from representatives, like Mr Fresen, for the continued irresponsible use of Florida’s limited education dollars. We urge you to contact your legislators and tell them, HB 7043, “The Best and Brightest” is the worst example of accountabaloney.  There are better ways to spend $44 million of public education funds.