We Are Moving to a New Site. Please Follow Us.

This month we celebrate our one year anniversary. It has been a good inaugural year: we have published 60 blogs, had almost 50,000 views and our CBE post even got noticed by Diane Ravitch!

We are celebrating by moving to a new website where we can have a few more bells and whistles and fewer scary clowns (yes, we had a few complaints). Our goal remains the same, to call out the “baloney” in Florida’s Accountability System… and believe us, there is an overwhelming amount of baloney there.

Please follow us on our new page: accountabaloney.com, spread the word and don’t forget; if you smell accountabaloney, say something!

Sue and Suzette


The Bane of Florida’s Education System

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “bane” is “a source of harm or ruin.” On Tuesday, August 2, 2016, Florida’s Commissioner of Education referred to textbooks as the “bane of our education system.”
Let that sink in… The Commissioner of Education believes BOOKS may be the source of harm or ruin in today’s education system.

As documented in the Citrus County Chronicle (read the entire article here):

Stewart stood in front of a packed auditorium at Lecanto High School on Tuesday morning to share her thoughts on what she sees at the inevitable digital takeover of education.

“I would like to do away with all textbooks,” she said. “I believe that they may be the bane of our educational system.”

The best way to teach to the standards, she said, is with digital content.

How are text books ruining education? What is her evidence to back up the claim that digital content is best?  What about the impact of a quality teacher? What will our schools be like if she gets her wish and textbooks are eliminated?

Last month, the Conservative Review described “Digital Learning” as “expensive and ineffective.” In addition to the high cost and potential health risks, they described how digital learning can remove teachers from the learning process. They point out that “students learn best when they “interact with real people who respond to them in real-time and with real interest, tossing ideas back and forth to explore a subject.” This obviously doesn’t happen with digital learning.” They summarize by saying “Common Core requires digital learning that is extraordinarily expensive, that minimizes the effect of a good teacher, and that (as Bill Gates admits) doesn’t work. What a deal.”

You can read more, here, about Bill Gates’ recent admission that, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into education technology, there has been little change in students’ academic outcomes. To be clear, the amount of money funneled into technology is huge. According to their 2014-15 Digital Classroom plan, on 5/29/2013, the School Board of Miami-Dade agreed to a proposal for digital devices totaling up to $63,450,000! $64 million in one county…

Please, let’s not burn the textbooks just yet. There is a significant amount research that should make Florida question whether the “inevitable digital takeover” is a good thing.

Reading and comprehension of paper-based textbooks appears to be superior to the reading of digital content:

  • This fascinating Scientific American article looks at the science of reading on paper vs screens and suggests that “reading on paper still boasts unique advantages.” Among other things, it suggests that reading on a computer screen may impair comprehension.
  • This paper reviewed studies comparing reading on paper to reading on computer screens and showed reading from computer screen is “slower, less accurate, more fatiguing, decreases comprehension and is rated inferior by readers.”
  • study from Israel, showed learners prefer studying text from printed hardcopy rather than computer screens and, when reading on paper, had a better sense of their own understanding. When reading from computer screens, students thought they had absorbed the information but tests showed otherwise.
  • A Missouri study showed that college students, when given the choice, overwhelmingly prefer paper textbooks.
  • A study out of Dartmouth found that reading on digital devices seems to reduce abstract thinking. “Reading on computer screens and smartphones has made people unable to fully understand what they are reading as our brains retreat into focusing on small details rather than meanings”, the study claimed (read more here).

The use, or overuse, of digital devices in the classroom may interfere with learning:

  • A study out of MIT looked at the use  use of electronic devices in classrooms at the United States Military Academy and the results indicated that students performed worse when personal computing technology was available. Researchers also found that reduced grades because of electronic usage were especially problematic for males and for students with higher GPAs. (Read more here.)
  • Another report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)  showed that “moderate” technology use in the classroom can improve learning, but that too much screen time is linked with a decrease in performance. “In a survey of students from 64 countries, the OECD found that students’ reading ability had declined in the countries that reported the most technology in the classroom.” (Read more here.)
  • Research  from the London School of Economics found “schools that banned pupils from carrying mobile phones showed a sustained improvement in exam results, with the biggest advances coming from struggling students.”

Handwriting, note taking and test taking with pencil and paper appears to have significant advantages for students:

  • The digital classroom emphasizes typing over handwriting. Read here and here to learn about concerns regarding brain development and handwriting.
  • This Scientific American article discusses how students who wrote their notes by hand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of material than those who typed notes on their laptop.
  • In Rhode Island,  Illinois and Maryland, PARCC scores were shown to be higher when students took the test on paper rather than computer, suggesting taking these tests on the computer puts students at a disadvantage.

In addition, there are significant health concerns associated with the digital classroom:

  • Read here about growing concerns regarding the health impacts of WiFi (Radio Frequency (RF) exposure) on young children.
  • Read here to learn how digital devices may be affecting children’s eyes, leading to a rising incidence of nearsightedness, which increases the risk of later glaucoma or retinal detachment.
  • Read here to learn how scientists have urged Google to “Stop Untested Microwave Radiation of Children’s Eyes and Brains” associated with Google Cardboard devices in schools.
  • Read here to see evidence the effect of excessive screen time on the brain, including gray matter atrophy, compromised white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning and impaired dopamine function. “In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function.”

In 2000, the Alliance for Children called for a moratorium on the introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education and recommended a refocus on the “essentials of a healthy childhood” : “strong bonds with caring adults; time for spontaneous, creative play; a curriculum rich in music and the other arts; reading books aloud; storytelling and poetry; rhythm and movement; cooking, building things, and other handcrafts; and gardening and other hands-on experiences of nature and the physical world.” If only someone had listened…

Finally, in this brilliant blog the author outlines parental concerns regarding the digital classroom including lack of teacher involvement, lack of real-life experiences, lack of balance in content, and lack of knowledge of content by teachers and parents. This last point may be the most relevant to Commissioner Stewart’s disdain for textbooks:

“As for parents, if no textbook ever comes home, they have limited access to the ideas being presented to their children.”

When the textbooks are eliminated, it will be very difficult for parents to review the scope, content and quality of their children’s curriculum. Perhaps that is by design.

There has been surprising little conversation regarding the quality of the content in these programs. Monica Bulger discusses this concern in “Personalized Learning: The Conversation We’re Not Having“:

How Good is Personalized Learning Content?

While the responsiveness of personalized learning systems hold promise for timely feedback, scaffolding, and deliberate practice, the quality of many systems are low. Most product websites describe the input of teachers or learning scientists into development as minimal and after the fact (Guernsey & Levine, 2015). Products are not field tested before adoption in schools and offer limited to no research on the efficacy of personalized learning systems beyond testimonials and anecdotes. In 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt commissioned independent randomized studies of its Algebra 1 program: Harcourt Fuse. The headline findings reported significant gains for a school in Riverside, California. The publicity did not mention that Riverside was one of four schools studied, the other three showed no impact, and in Riverside, teachers who frequently used technologies were selected for the study, rather than being randomly assigned (Toby, et al., 2012). In short, very little is known about the quality of these systems or their generalizability.

Why are we spending hundreds of millions on programs without documented research confirming their efficacy?

At freedictionary.com, the word “bane” has a secondary definition: “A source of persistent annoyance or exasperation.” Perhaps this is what Commissioner Stewart meant when she called textbooks the bane of education. All the documented evidence showing “old-fashioned” text books to be more effective, less harmful and more favorable must be exasperating to a woman whose vision is to completely digitalize Florida’s classrooms.

There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that, currently, tech-ed is NOT superior to traditional education and the digital classroom may have significant consequences to a child’s health and well-being. These problems won’t go away if we eliminate textbooks. Billions of dollars are being funneled into technology with, as Bill Gates admitted, little positive academic results. Ed-tech companies, and their investors, are becoming rich. Is this an appropriate use of our limited education budgets? Parents and taxpayers should be outraged.

This wonderful article by Dr. Karen Effrem, explains that, rather than corporate education technology and “Big Data” driven education, parents want “proven methods of education — teaching by human beings, plus focus on handwriting, classic literature, standard algorithms, and actual content knowledge — instead of skills-training and constant invasive psychological manipulation and assessment.”  Such schools, where human interaction is valued over technology, exist (read about them here and here) and could be models for creating the education programming parents want for their children in Florida.

What is the “bane” of Florida’s education system? Is it our textbooks? I don’t think so. The bane of our education system is the rush to the digital classroom, where profits and privatization matter more than providing a quality education for all our children.

Please don’t burn the books.

Public Comment on ESSA: We Need a REAL Accountability Overhaul

“Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.”   -Unknown

In December 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replacing No Child Left Behind, which had been in place since 2002.  The ESSA purports to allow states greater flexibility for the design of their education accountability system, which is great news for us because we have been calling for a complete overhaul of Florida’s accountabaloney system since day 1 of this blog! We hope Florida can rise to the occasion and take full advantage of this opportunity to address our deeply flawed accountability system.

Some states appear to be rising to the challenge. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt advises a system that focuses on students:

“If we don’t come out with an accountability system focused on students, then we’ve failed. It can’t be about adults chasing points. The system needs to promote what’s best for students.” -Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt 4/17/16

If Florida isn’t careful, Kentucky may become the leader in education accountability! They certainly appear to be headed in the right direction (which is away from the adults chasing points to ratify the A-F school grade system). Good for Kentucky!

Floridians are waking up to the realities of the system. Florida’s students are not well served by a high stakes test focused system, as recently explained by the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board:

“A major part of the problem, as we have written before, has been the use of the high-stakes tests for purposes to which they are unsuited. Those include school grades and teacher evaluations. Legislatures and governors with a stick-it-to-public-education attitude have hurt teacher morale, recruitment and retention, exacerbating the situation…

The “reformers” have now become the entrenched special interests. They want more of the same. Floridians should want better.”

These are all wise words and Florida’s Department of Education and legislature should heed them.  On June, 21, 2016, one day after it was promised, the FLDOE opened a website for public comment on changes to the Education Accountability system and ESSA. We invite all Florida citizens to comment on Florida’s current accountabaloney system and demand change. Sadly, if you are going to do so using the new website, you might need a law degree. It is just that convoluted. There are nine individual surveys and each one asks you to comment on specific portions of the ESSA legislation or draft regulations. Even the Florida Association of School Superintendents (FADSS) complained at today’s State Board of Education meeting, asking for a more authentic voice than an online opportunity. (You can watch here around 1:48:00). They demanded that stakeholders have a real voice in the process.

A real voice in the process will be difficult given the convoluted website. Here is what I did: I wrote up a list of my demands, copied it and pasted it into every comment box on each of the one surveys. I asked the FLDOE to determine which part of my demands corresponded to the confusing question they were asking. You might want to try a similar plan (you can copy my list if it suits you), but please let your voice be heard.

What should you ask for?

First, remind the FLDOE of “the original intent of ESEA, which was to facilitate equitable, thriving, and successful public education for all schools via distribution of funding free of strings attached other than need and a comprehensive and viable game plan for success.”

Demand a complete accountability overhaul: eliminate high stakes attached to state testing, minimize state standardized tests to those mandated by ESSA, return classroom assessments to teachers, utilizing primarily locally-based, teacher-controlled assessments, protect student data and make student data privacy a top priority.

  • Eliminate high stakes attached to state testing. It is the stakes attached to the tests that have, more than anything else, corrupted the education system.
    • End the mandatory 3rd grade promotion requirement as well as the graduation requirement to pass the Algebra 1 EOC and 10th grade FSA-ELA . These are not required by federal law or regulations. Many states already have eliminated their test dependent graduation requirements.
    • Dramatically reduce or eliminate the weight of the state EOC exams on the students final grade, from 30% to 10% or less.
    • Stop the use of VAM and test scores to evaluate teachers. ESSA eliminated any federal mandate for test-based teacher evaluation.
    • Test scores should make up no more than 51% of the total points in the A-F School Grade formula  (the minimum percentage allowed under ESSA).
    • Ensure that School Grades are used to identify schools in need of assistance (including additional funding) and not to punish schools identified as “low performers.” ESSA does require states to rank all schools and act to improve the lowest performing, but it no longer specifies the types of interventions required.
  • There should be no state standardized tests beyond those mandated by ESSA (reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school, science once in elementary, middle and high school). 
    • Minimize required state standardized tests to those mandated by ESSA. In Florida the Biology EOC and Algebra 1 EOC, along with the 10th grade FSA ELA could satisfy the high school requirements. The 9th grade FSA-ELA and all other state mandated EOCs could be eliminated.
    • The state should advocate for pilot programs allowing grade span testing or sampling in place of current ESSA mandates.
    • State should forbid standardized local interim, benchmark, predictive, formative, or other such tests, including those embedded in commercial on-line curricula. Eliminate all test data reporting requirements beyond the ESSA mandated assessments.
    • Institute a ban on standardized testing in pre-K through grade 3.
    • End the secrecy around state mandated assessments. Allow educators and parents to view and review state assessments.
  • Return classroom assessments to teachers, utilizing primarily locally-based, teacher-controlled assessments, such as projects and portfolios. The New York Performance Standards Consortium has demonstrated better outcomes with fewer standardized test, and should serve as a guide.
  • Protect student data and make student data privacy a top priority.
    • Eliminate digital classroom mandates, allowing districts to incorporate technology as a tool rather than a curriculum replacement.
    • Allow parents the option to safeguard their child’s data by allowing families to opt out of digital instruction.
    • The computer based, state mandated Civics exams allows the possibility of collection and sharing of sensitive data of a political nature.  In order to ensure the safety of such sensitive information, this exam, especially, should be paper based.

We encourage everyone to comment on the Commissioner’s site. Send copies of your comments to your state representatives, as well. It is time to overhaul this disaster. It is time to stop clinging to this mistake.

P.S. We are under no illusion that Florida will actually use this opportunity to eliminate mandatory 3rd grade retention, test based graduation requirements or the rank and punishment of schools based almost solely on student test scores, restoring teacher autonomy in the classrooms and local control to  our elected school boards. In fact, we are pretty sure the passage of ESSA was designed to open the flood gates towards further privatization of public schools and the profit generating, data sharing Competency Based Education (CBE). CBE is meant to convert public schools into data mining computer centers, where teachers are mere facilitators and massive profits are made for investors.

We agree with Peggy Robertson, that ESSA is not an opportunity to save public schools but rather the law that will hasten its demise.  Here, she points out the irony:

“And the passage of ESSA means that the end of year test eventually could become passé.  ESSA is pushing for online, daily testing – testing that is embedded inside online curriculum.  Children will now be subjected to online modules in which they must master something before moving on to the next online module.  It might be called personalized learning, mastery learning, proficiency-based testing, competency-based education, innovative assessments, and more. ESSA is pushing for these online assessment systems, as is ALEC, and the many foundations and organizations that are hoping to cash in.

As Stephen Krashen states: Competency-based education is not just a testing program.  It is a radical and expensive innovation that replaces regular instruction with computer “modules” that students work through on their own. It is limited to what can be easily taught and tested by computer, and is being pushed by computer and publishing companies that will make substantial profits from it. “

Why do I get the overwhelming sense that Florida’s accountability plan will lead us further down the path of the profiteers and CBE? Because this is Jeb’s mistake and they will cling to it until we vote the reformers out of office.

CBE has already infiltrated our schools. Nearly every one of Florida’s public school children have already used CBE programs (like iReady, iStation and Achieve 3000) and some districts are moving towards complete conversion to CBE within the next 5 years via a recently approved pilot study. Notice how “the Jeb Bush-founded Foundation for Florida’s Future — which lobbied for the program — praised the Legislature for approving” the CBE Pilot Study bill.

What can we do to save our public schools? We must educate other parents, school boards and communities about the inherent dangers in ESSA and CBE (share this video demonstrating the $270 million “pretendathon” happening in Baltimore, don’t let this happen to your district!).  It is time to refuse online curriculum and other online programs that are being used to cash in on our starving public schools and our children. And, by all means, VOTE THE REFORMERS OUT.