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Betsy DeVos blames staff, teachers blamed for everything

So you think you support school choice

President Trump says our public schools are flush with cash, um come on man!

From the Gadfly on the wall blog

Donald Trump lies.
If you haven’t learned that yet, America, you’ve got four more cringe-inducing years to do so.
Even in his inaugural address, he couldn’t help but let loose a whooper about US public schools.
“Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves,” he said. “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. … An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
To which nearly every poor, nonwhite public school parent, student and teacher in the country replied, “What’s that heck did he just say now!?”
Los Angeles Unified School district routinely has broken desks and chairs, missing ceiling tiles, damaged flooring, broken sprinklers, damaged lunch tables and broken toilet paper dispensers.
They’re flush with cash!?
New York City public schools removed more than 160 toxic light fixtures containing polychlorinated biphenyls, a cancer causing agent that also hinders cognitive and neurological development. Yet many schools are still waiting on a fix, especially those serving minority students.
They’re flush with cash!?
At Charles L. Spain school in Detroit, the air vents are so warped and moldy, turning on the heat brings a rancid stench. Water drips from a leaky roof into the gym, warping the floor tiles. Cockroaches literally scurry around some children’s classrooms until they are squashed by student volunteers.
They’re flush with freakin cash!?
Are you serious, Donald Trump!?
And this same picture is repeated at thousands of public schools across the nation especially in impoverished neighborhoods. Especially in communities serving a disproportionate number of black, Latino or other minority students.
In predominantly white, upper class neighborhoods, the schools often ARE “flush with cash.” Olympic size swimming pools, pristine bathrooms – heck – air conditioning! But in another America across the tracks, schools are defunded, ignored and left to rot.
A full 35 states provide less overall state funding for education today than they did in 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which focuses on reducing poverty and inequality. Most states still haven’t recovered from George W. Bush’s Great Recession and the subsequent state and local budget cuts it caused. In fact, over the same period, per pupil funding fell in 27 states and still hasn’t recovered.
And the federal government has done little to help alleviate the situation. Since 2011, spending on major K-12 programs – including Title I grants for underprivileged students and special education – has been basically flat.
The problem is further exacerbated by the incredibly backward way we allocate funding at the local level which bears the majority of the cost of education.
While most advanced countries divide their school dollars evenly between students, the United States does not. Some students get more, some get less. It all depends on local wealth.
The average per pupil expenditure for U.S. secondary students is $12,731. But that figure is deceiving. It is an average. Some kids get much more. Many get much less. It all depends on where you live. If your home is in a rich neighborhood, more money is spent on your education than if you live in a poor neighborhood.
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world – if not probably the ONLY country – that funds schools based largely on local taxes. Other developed nations either equalize funding or provide extra money for kids in need. In the Netherlands, for example, national funding is provided to all schools based on the number of pupils enrolled. But for every guilder allocated to a middle-class Dutch child, 1.25 guilders are allocated for a lower-class child and 1.9 guilders for a minority child – exactly the opposite of the situation in the U.S.
So, no. Our schools are not “flush with cash.” Just the opposite in many cases.
�But what about Trump’s other claim – the much touted narrative of failing schools?
Trump says our schools “leave… our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
Not true.
Graduation rates are at an all-time high of 83.2 percent. Moreover, for the first time minority students are catching up with their white counterparts.
It’s only international comparisons of standardized test scores that support this popular myth of academic failure. And, frankly, even that is based on a warped and unfair reading of those results.
It depends on how you interpret the data.

Betsy Devos is far from the best and brightest

Tonight, Betsy DeVos refused to commit to enforcing the law to protect students with disabilities, and didn’t seem to know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law. The U.S. Secretary of Education must know and promise to defend the rights of all students, including those who experience disabilities, and my concerns about Mrs. DeVos’s suitability to lead the Department of Education are only heightened after tonight’s hearing.- Senator Maggie hassan

Superintendent Vitti blows off teacher openings

From the Times Union

“Vacancies have always been a challenge,” Vitti said. “The numbers are not significantly different than they have been in the last couple of years. I don’t think we need to be sounding five alarms over it.”

Um, this is the same guy who created an entire school to service one of his children. Must be nice to be the boss right. Who wants to bet none of his children have had a long time substitute or even a Teach for America teacher?

Superintendent Vitti, instead of blowing the problem off the correct response is, any opening pains us and we are working around the clock to fill them.

Oy vey


Elizabeth Warren's letter to Betsy DeVos the most unqualified secretary of education nomination in history

"There is no precedent for an Education Department Secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education."

Duval is a district in big trouble. *updated*

Recently the Times Union printed a piece that superintendent Vitti wrote talking about our increased graduation rates. Likewise, this was cited by the Times Union’s editors when they were urging the board to keep the Superintendent last fall. Neither piece however noted that graduation rates are up nearly everywhere across the country.

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge and even celebrate our rising graduation rates but I believe they only tell part of the story.

The other part of the story is that we annually replace about fifteen percent of our teachers, fifty-one percent of our teachers are considered chronically absent and we currently have ten pages of openings. To give you some scale the Palm Beach school’s system which is twice our size only has three pages of openings. These are all signs of a district in big trouble.

Furthermore, the district has to replace about a hundred Teach for America teachers annually.  If you didn’t know it, Teach for America takes non-education majors, puts the through a six week course and then into our classrooms, where most stay two years or less. As a bonus the program is very expensive as well.

So a rising graduation rate is part of a story, another part is marginalized and overworked teachers, fewer and fewer wanting to make education a career and a constant churn of the staff. If we are going to give Vitti credit for the increased graduation rates, we must give him credit for those things as well.

Finally, I submit, we will never reach our potential as a school district if those in charge don’t treat teachers like the professionals that they are.

To see the job openings for Duval, open the link
Then scroll down to current vacancies and open the excel sheet

To see the openings for Palm Beach, click the link

The district asked me to put this up, I have not verified it.
  • According to DCPS, only .3% currently separates Duval County Public Schools anPalm Beach County School District in terms of teacher vacancies as a percentage of total number of teachers. Vacancies Since Winter Break: Duval County Public Schools - 1.3% and Palm Beach County School District - 1.1%.


Duval's teacher absenteeism problem.

Teachers missing ten or more days are considered chronically absentee. Full disclosure this is my sixteenth year and I was probably chronically absent at least ten times. Once because of an illness and another time because of an injury but when I was younger I wouldn't carry any days over. I figured if they gave me ten I was going to miss ten.

Enough about me.

Nationally about 27 percent of teachers are chronically absent. In the state of Florida that jumps to 39 percent and I was told that in Duval that  number climbs all the way to 51 percent. Over half our of our teachers are considered chronically absent. Here is the thing, when I was told that I replied, it's that low? Thinking the number would be much higher.

Now I don't think for a second that this is a symptom of a staff that doesn't care. I think it is a symptom about how the district is run.

When a teacher feels hopeless, or over worked or marginalized or disrespected or overwhelmed or insert a dozen other feelings that teachers in Duval routinely go through then they are going to miss days and I don't blame them one bit. They have to sacrifice a day to be able to work ten or fifteen others.

I think it's also a symptom that Duval has embraced the transient nature of teaching in today's age. If you only plan to teach for a year or two, then missing a day becomes that much easier, especially since the district doesn't pay out full price when you sell them back.

I was told as much by the superintendent a while back. In so many words he said people don't want to teach for a career, they want to do it for a few years and them move along. The causal acceptance of this I believe plays a roll in chronic absenteeism. teachers think, hey is I am just going to do it for a year or two, I might as well use all my days and apparently in some cases and then some.

Then newer teachers have it rough, imagine doing the alternative certification and trying to teach. I can't. When I did it, it was basically ten two or three paragraph reports that you were capable of doing in a couple afternoons. Now it is a full workload, it's like a full time semester in college. I get it we want teachers to be prepared but we should want them to return for year two as well.

We should require new teachers to have a few days out of the classroom where they just come to work and observe veteran teachers or give them time to work on lesson plans so they don't get burned out but instead as often as not they get the hardest classes with the hardest kids. It's almost like we want them to fail.

Then there is teach for America. Instead of spending millions on recruiting veteran teachers or people who might spend more than just a year or two in the classroom. We spend millions to recruit these college kids, non education majors who with the barest of training say, I'll give that a try. How many of them are selling hours back at sixty percent after their two years are up? My bet is not many.

When we overwork our young teachers and don't respect experience that's a recipe for a 51 percent chronic absenteeism sandwich.

We have a problem with teacher absenteeism which is bad for our kids but it's the system of overworking and marginalizing teachers as well as devaluing experience that is to blame and that didn't originate in the classroom, that came from downtown.

Who will be grading our kids tests? Prepare to be disappointed in 3,2...

An advertisement running in the Tampa Times, notice no experience necessary.

No automatic alt text available.

Education should be about making snowflakes not ice cubes

From the Salt lake Tribune, by Lynn Stoddard and Jim Strickland

Are American students treated like ice cubes or snowflakes? In discussing the kinds of crystals created from the simple process of water freezing, James Gleick in his book, "Chaos: Making a New Science," compares the formation of ice cubes with that of snowflakes: "When solidification proceeds from outside to inside, as in an ice tray, the boundary generally remains stable and smooth... But when a crystal solidifies outward from an initial seed — as a snowflake does, grabbing water molecules while it falls through the moisture-laden air — the process becomes unstable ... new branches form, and then sub branches ... The final flake records the history of all the changing weather conditions it has experienced, and the combinations may as well be infinite."
The process of freezing from the "outside in" compared to crystallizing from the "inside out" produces dramatically different results.
A snowflake is a good example of individuality and intricate beauty that naturally develops in an atmosphere of freedom. You cannot "mold" a snowflake, but only create the conditions where it can grow. "You can teach only by creating an urge to know." (Victor Weisskopf )
What we often find happening in schools is that educators love to talk the talk of snowflakes — every child a unique and precious individual, while continuing to walk the walk of ice cubes — every child molded to fit a uniform pattern. The emergent nature of a more student-centered approach to education requires that we relinquish our obsession with controlling the end results and support the unique pattern of each individual child to develop. This demands trust in growth, respect for the child, and faith in the process.
Do we have the moral and political will to develop atmospheres that truly nurture positive human differences?
All over America there are outstanding teachers who swim against the current of an imposed curriculum in order to help students develop like snowflakes. David was a student who had a lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. Since none of his required courses seemed to fit into what he needed, he became disenchanted with school and began missing classes.
A caring and perceptive teacher saw what was happening and arranged with the local fire chief and school administration for David to spend time learning from the firefighters at the nearby station. To make a long story short, David got the education he needed without graduating from high school and went on to become a highly qualified firefighter and fire safety specialist.
The sad part of this story is that the teacher who saved David and some others from falling through the cracks lost favor with rigid policymakers and curriculum specialists. He found the pressure to produce "ice cubes" too great, and so decided to resign and do other things. It was a tragic loss to the profession. How many students have suffered over the years because of the loss of creative teachers like this? How many adults have talents lying dormant inside of them because they attended a school system that was obsessed with having uniform graduation requirements?
We have a decision to make in American education. Are we going to continue trying to force young people into a standardized, uniform mold, or are we going to create the conditions for individual greatness to flourish? In other words, do we want ice cubes or snowflakes? Our answer makes all the difference.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired, long-time educator, argues for making curriculum fit a great variety of students. Jim Strickland is a teacher and advocate of Student Centered Education in Marysville, Wash.

Testing right before vacation, the DCPS way.

I get it we are in the age of testing and the district wanting to end the first semester before winter break is an idea even I can get behind, though why do all the other local districts already out for vacation seem to be playing chess while we are playing checkers?

All that being said, isn't testing the last few days before a long break a recipe for disaster? A lot of kids are going to miss and even more have checked out thinking of a fat man in a red suit bring merriment and joy.

I ask because of the following note I received. I edited it to take out all possible identifiers. the teacher in question did not want to get a lump of coal from the district.

   Holiday cheer comes in all shapes and sizes!  I teach XXX grade XXX.  Was told, earlier this month, I was not doing mid year PMAs.  TODAY, at 3:10 I was told the District IS REQUIRING xxx grade to do this assessment and the window is only open through Dec. 22.  Tomorrow, Dec. 21 is our school wide Holiday Celebration Day...hmmm...should we cancel that for xxx grade?  Or maybe, let's test kids on Dec 22 the last day before our break...those are sure to be accurate results. Well, maybe we can just wait to test on Jan. 5th or 6th our make-up hurricane dates.  Those dates will be MUCH BETTER because all of our students will be back and "ready to roll."   SURE!

I AM CRAZED by the lack of concern for classroom functions and the impact these kinds of decisions have on kids.  Really, I am living in a state of disbelief, daily.  Since December 1st our xxx graders have already had 320 minutes of testing.  Well, that isn't that much you might say.  The problem is, when kids are absent or testing schedules are "jostled" all over the day to accommodate IEPs...320 minutes means kids are effected for 2 weeks...that is not an exaggeration. are going to add another 80 minutes on the two days before break.  SPEECHLESS does not begin to describe how I feel. 

I have not taught ALL of my students at their scheduled class time for ALL of December.  I HAVE BEEN MANAGING rather than teaching.  It has been RIDICULOUS!  

Ridiculous is right, sometimes don't you feel like we are being set up to fail?