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Vouchers, who cares if there is no accountability? Not the Florida conference of Catholic Bishops anyways.

Somebody who benefits from vouchers says vouchers are great. Facepalm!

You know what gets me about the guys that support vouchers? It’s that they are so insulting. They think if they can use some flowery rhetoric the community will just go, yeah, who cares if voucher schools have scant academic and financial accountability, the teachers at them teach students not subjects, like they do at St. Andrew Catholic School in Pine Hills.

Saying how his school teaches students not subjects is how James B. Herzog is the associate director for education at the Florida Conference for Catholic Bishops, an organization that greatly benefits from vouchers started his pro-voucher piece.

Let’s just completely ignore how vouchers, even the back door method Florida uses, obliterates the first amendment and force citizens to support religion and instead let’s just focus on the lack of accountability that they have.   

Mr. Herzog goes on to say that parents benefit when they have more options, well I wonder how the thousands and thousands of students whose parents enrolled their children in charter schools that subsequently failed feel about that. 

It also directly contradicts what Dr. Raymond of the Stanford Credo Charter project recently said, I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And (education) is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed… The policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. We need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools. But I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.

The thing is Charter schools in Florida which as a group under perform when compared to public schools at least have a semblance of oversight where vouchers do not.

Herzog then goes on to parrot the voucher talking points but as usual leaves out that most of the schools because they receive less than 250 thousand dollars don’t have to report how the money is spent and that since they are exempt from the state tests we have no way to compare how they are doing with public schools. 

I will bottom line it for you, if you want vouchers, have all the schools that receive them report how they are spending the money and have all the schools take the same tests. If voucher schools were to agree to do those two things then the lion’s share of resistance to them would fade away. The fact they resist both of these things however should really tell you all you need to know. 

I will take Herzog at his word that there are good things going on at his school but how do we know there are good things going on at the other 1700 barely regulated private schools that can teach creationism as science and don’t have to have certified teachers or recognized curriculums? The answer is we don’t but that’s okay because at Herzog’s school they teach students not subjects.

Next year vouchers can take nearly a half billion out of the states coffers and education and the truth is we have no idea how the vouchers schools are doing. That shouldn't be acceptable to anyone.

Things have really changed for Florida's teachers

As the school year comes to an end a lot of teachers have a decision they need to make and it’s not where they will go on summer vacation. As the economy slowly turns around and more and more teachers have options, they have to decide if they will return to the classroom.

When I became a teacher over a decade ago, teachers were guaranteed step advancements, cost of living increases, raises, class size limits and if they did their job well, job security. There wasn't a 3% contribution to the FRS, or punitive VAM evaluations, and testing was something we did for a week towards the end of the year, not the end all be all of education that it has become. Things have really changed, well except for Florida's teachers being some of the poorest paid in the nation that has been pretty consistent.

Perhaps the biggest change however is how Florida views its teachers. They used to be respected and sometimes revered members of the community. Now more often than not they are ridiculed for being members of a union, which as you can see from above isn’t the bogey man ramming demands through and blamed for not being able to single handily overcome the debilitating effects of poverty. Teachers have become the scapegoats of politicians and business interests who are seeking to privatize and profit off of education and a community that has allowed it to happen.

If people truly care about education and want to see it improve, then they have to stop letting Tallahassee injure the teaching profession, we can’t marginalize, blame, and run teachers out to improvement.

Above is based upon a face book rift that several teachers are doing.

The absolute ridiculousness of Florida's education system.

Okay before you continue reading, make sure you have swallowed all your milk.

Florida's tests are only going to count if they are valid. This is because of tons of problems that resulted from rushing head long into something the state wasn't prepared for. Florida has received one bid to see if the test are valid, and the company will do it for a cool half million dollars, and yes that is a problem too, but I will address it later.

According to the Tampa Times: The group would submit its project plan by June 19, preliminary reports by July 31 and final report by Aug. 28. 

August 28th by the way is after every school district in the state is back to school.

That might be all well in good but third graders have to make plans because the state of Florida plans to fail a fifth of them no matter what. 

Also from the Tampa Times: gives schools the responsibility to prove that children scoring in the lowest 20 percent ("bottom quintile") on the state reading test deserve promotion according to existing law. That law sets forth seven acceptable good cause exemptions for promotion, such as a portfolio demonstrating the student's abilities.
"If they can't prove promotion, they won't be promoted," bill sponsor Sen. John Legg explained.
But this brings us back to the problem, families have to start making plans and the results of the validity study won't be back until late August and hey what if they say the test wasn't valid? 
According to a letter sent to the parents of third graders where he asks families to put their lives on hold, Superintendent Vitti of Jacksonville said the state will let the district know sometime in June what third graders will be retained, and yes that is some two months before the company offering to validate the tests say they will be done, 
Aren't you glad you finished your milk?
So let me sum up, the tests will only count if they are valid, we won't know if they are valid for months, but that's not going to stop the state from telling districts which fifth of kids to fail in the next couple weeks, apparently whether the tests are valid or not and for all of this we are paying a half million dollars. At this point I don't know whether to be more confused or outraged.
Commissioner Pam Stewart because of her insistence that everything was fine and districts were ready has created this convoluted mess and she received a good evaluation from the state board for it too.

Despite massive testing problems Duval may still fail third graders who don't do well on the tests.

Without comment.


Is the Duval County school board in disarray?

From the Times Union:

 “We knew they were beginning the school year under a deficit,” Couch wrote in an email to Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

“Do you think the Board should have been notified of the declining financial status of the school so we could make the determination how we wanted to proceed so as not to disrupt student academic learning during this pivotal time of the year? I am disturbed that we have been completely blind-sided by this when according to state statute the Charter School is required to provide an annual audit report and monthly financial statements.”

Years ago I had a student poop themselves, just go. I asked them, do you think you should have told me you needed to go? Even though I phrased it like a question, like Couch did, I already knew the answer and like her I was disturbed by what happened.

Also from the Times Union: Duval’s school district officials also sent a warning letter to Acclaim in April (weeks before they abruptly closed), the last step before a 90-day countdown to close the school.

Couch asked Vitti why, if the district knew of a significant deficit before the school year started, it did not start the closure process then?

Vitti said district staff acted as quickly as they could to ensure students were enrolled in other schools and that the charter school’s contract with the district gives it time to revise its budgets, correct spending and find the money to stay open.

He said he didn’t know that district staff had sent Acclaim the warning letter in April until afterward, but he trusts his staff’s judgment and feels they acted appropriately.

“Had the charter organization submitted a corrective action plan by May 15 that was inadequate, which we now know it would have been, then we would have likely made the recommendation to the board to close the school,” Couch said in an email to Vitti.

So let me recap the district knew at the beginning of the year the school didn’t have the enrollment to support its program, at the beginning of the year, but they let them proceed anyways. In April, weeks before it closed district officials sent a letter outlining their concerns, a letter, Vitti and the board had no idea about. I get it they are busy people but really come on, a school is on the brink of closing should make the cut list of things they should be told and know about.

After I typed above I stared at my computer my mouth open a little simply speechless. Does above seem like a district that is firing on all cylinders or that has its act together. Our board and super really appear clueless and ineffective and sadly this is not the first time either.

They need to sort their house out.  

The Duval County School Board simply did not want to know the Acclaim Charter School was going to fail.

They say there was no notice, they say there was no way they could have known, well the truth is they could have known had they wanted too.

Another Acclaim charter school in March was taken over by the Osceola County school board nearly six weeks before the school in Duval abruptly closed. Had the county been paying attention they could have had a heads up instead of the blindside they claim happened.

Furthermore the state DOE in today’s Times Union’s article said there is nothing to stop districts from asking prospective owners background questions, like, have you ever filed for bankruptcy (the owner of Acclaim had) or run a school before (he had not)?  Our board didn’t do so because quite frankly they aren’t very good at their job and because they didn’t want to know.

Even though the super and board constantly publicly bemoans the loss of resources to charter schools the truth is there is not a more accommodating board in the state and I believe it’s because both the super and many of the board members owe their positions to charter school owners and supporters.  

We have school board members currently serving who would dismantle public education if they could and it’s a shame because teachers and students will pay the price for their ideological and self serving interests.

So don’t believe for a second that the school board didn’t know or even as a group really cares, this was just a bump in the road on the way to them privatizing local public education.

Study says teachers at high poverty schools are worn out, um duh!

Florida and most of the nation treats poverty as if it is nothing but an excuse for not doing well in school, well when they aren't ignoring it that is. Poverty however is not an excuse, no, it is the number one measurable factor in education, those kids that live in it don't do as well as those that don't.

People can complain about it, point to this or that success story as some kids climbed their way out of it but that doesn't change the fact that many kids in poverty will never climb their ways out of it. Unless we decide to act.

There are numerous things we can do to mitigate poverty. We should have a longer school year so kids have more time to learn and less time in between grades to lose what they did. We should have smaller classes so kids get more individual attention and then social workers and mental health counselors to provide wrap around services because why a kid acts up or does poorly in school often has nothing to do with school. We should have more arts, trades and skills in our neediest schools so it doesn't become such drudgery for the kids while they are there and then they have options once they graduate too.  

Instead of addressing the number one problem leading to poor outcomes in schools, poverty, the powers-that-be instead focus on blame the teacher evaluations, high stakes tests, that excel at one thing and that's to show the socioeconomic status of neighborhoods and putting poorly trained teach for america teachers who stay for a couple ears only to be replaced by anther set or you know the exact opposite of what we know that our most challenged students need. 

Two recent articles detail just how bad it is. The first is in the Tampa Times and it tells about the plight of teachers who work in our poorest schools.

But the proof is in their own data: It's hard to teach at a high-poverty school.
There's less buy-in from parents. Kids don't follow the rules. There aren't even enough computers. And staff turnover is sky high.
"We have 32 new teachers on board," said Krystal Carson, principal of Potter Elementary School in east Tampa, which is struggling with behavior and other issues.
Instead of addressing working conditions in the high poverty schools and putting in behavior supports teachers are blamed and pushed out of the profession for not overcoming poverty.
Then an article in the Washington Post says teachers believe poverty is the number one problem in our schools, but since poverty is an excuse and teachers, you know the ones doing the actual educating are ignored nothing gets done about it.
From the Washington Post: There are many teachers across the country like Romero-Smith, who, day in and day out,work with students who come to class hungry or sick or homeless or traumatized or living in wretched conditions, and who aren’t fully able to concentrate on doing a close reading of a novel excerpt. They know that the conditions in which students live outside class are the biggest impediment to student progress.
These issues, however, have not been at the forefront of school reform efforts, which, under former president George W. Bush and now under President Obama, have concentrated on holding students, teachers and schools “accountable” for progress through the use of standardized test scores. School reform proponents say that they can’t fix poverty right away and that teachers too often use poverty as an excuse for a lack of student progress and fight reform efforts because they don’t want to be held accountable. Teachers have been shouting for years that for most of them, that simply isn’t true, but reformers have carried on anyway. Mental health issues get short shrift in school budgeting.
Yet research clearly shows the effects on student achievement by poverty-induced physical, sociological and psychological problems that children bring to school. David Berliner, regent’s professor emeritus at Arizona State University, a prominent researcher and educational psychologist who has studied the issue, cites six out-of-school factors that are common among the poor and that affect how children learn, but that reformers effectively say can be overcome without attacking them directly: (1) low birth weight and non-genetic prenatal influences; (2) inadequate medical, dental and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics.
Let me bottom line it for you. We can continue to blame teachers, we can continue testing kids to death, we can even outsource our kids education to for profit charters and unregulated private schools but none of that will help or fix our problems.  
We have to address poverty no matter how distasteful it is to some, that's the solution and that's what we should be doing,   

Parent question's Vitti's sincerity on ending extra hour of reading.

Superintendent Vitti wrote the state a letter requesting they end the mandatory extra hour of reading for children at poor performing schools and by poor performing I mean do bad on standardized tests, so take that for all its worth.

From a reader:

Vitti's comments echo those of the parents who fought him tooth and nail against the extra hour at 11 schools OUTSIDE of the State Mandate last summer. Something that has yet to be made clear in the media, Vitti doubled down on the extra hour last year and forced it on schools that were not even on the absurd "bottom 300" list. 

It's almost hilarious to see the same talking points that were used against him by parents being taken up verbatim in his comments for this story. Or it would be had he not wasted a year and turned the heat up even higher on teachers already roasting on the spit with this new test debacle on this bu!!shit. 

The data cited in this story is not new. There is no current data on this school year aside from CGA's, which should be enough but if they were we wouldn't have the aforementioned testing debacle. So the data in this article is (fanfare) the same data that was pored over and cited in the parent's argument against Vitti last summer. 

I know because I was one of the parents who gathered and dissected that data from numerous public records. He didn't listen then despite being widely known as all about the data. He could have and a real leader would have at least slowed his roll and taken a second look. He was playing politics then and he's playing them now that the wind is blowing in a different direction. 

With the opt out movement growing and the true devastation of this year's testing mess about to come to light he's trying very hard to change his image over to a champion for the parents. I hope that all the parents he rolled over last year remember whose side he ultimately is on. Nikolai Vitti's side.

It was a terrible week for Florida's Education system.

First a judge dismissed the lawsuit challenging Florida's voucher system saying the people bringing the suit did not have standing. Since, superintendents, school board members parents, teachers, students and community members, the people that brought the law suit  don't have standing the only people left, are politicians who want to privatize education. Next year Florida will divert nearly a half billion dollars from the state coffers and education to these largely unregulated private schools.

Then the head line says it all, "They studied, they took the test and the state said never mind". The state threw out a half dozen end of the year math tests for 550,000 students because there were concerns about their validity and yes that means Florida gave kids tests they weren't sure were valid.

Next, the extra school hating hour that the state required some readers to take has proved to be ineffective. Hmm imagine that if you make a kid do something they hate they won't do as well. From the Palm Beach Post: Learning gains for the bottom quarter of students at those elementary schools fell despite an investment of more than $20 million since 2012. Yet reading scores for students overall are improving slightly at the schools, suggesting that low-performing students are benefiting least from extra classes intended to help them most.

Finally despite a predictable botched roll that the states superintendents and school boards warned educator commissioner Pam Stewart about the state board of education praised her and gave her a solid review. The accountability system is in shambles and parents across the state are in open revolt but none of that seems to matter. It makes me wonder what she would have had to do to get a negative evaluation.

Privatization, incompetence and waste rule the day in Florida.

By calling for mentors to stem violenece, community leaders show they just don't get it.

Bishop John Guns joined a long list of local dignitaries in a call for mentors and like all the rest he got it wrong.

From the Times Union: Guns’ message Thursday night was clear:
“We need to remove the stigma that black men don’t care,” he said to the group, which was made up mostly of black men from the community.
He said the violence in Jacksonville is not only a problem in the black community but the goal of the new program is to get volunteers into several schools over the final two weeks of the semester to show the students there are other possibilities in life besides violence.
The volunteers will be sent into Ribault, Raines, Jackson, First Coast, Lee and Westside high schools as well as Matthew Gilbert, Ribault, Northwestern and Jeff Davis middle schools.
Men in attendance were strongly encouraged to sign up to be volunteers through the school system since there is a policy in place prohibiting people from being on campuses unless they are registered with Duval County.
Interested men can sign up by going to
The church Thursday was filled with members of the Duval County School Board, the City Council, fraternities and area ministers.
Mayor Alvin Brown was also in attendance two nights after losing the mayoral election to Lenny Curry.
“I’ve been engaged before I become mayor, working with the schools and working with young people so I will continue to always do that,” Brown said after the meeting. “That will be my life’s work.”
Wow members of so the school board and the mayor was there too!
How nice, by my unofficial count this is the umpteen millionth mentoring program started over the last few years here in Jacksonville.

Look I think mentoring programs are valuable and I wish we had a hundred thousand mentors for our students but the truth is mentors are pretty low on our list of needs and by constantly calling for more mentors the powers-that-be continue to show their complete lack of understanding, they aren’t trying to solve the problems in our schools and streets, instead they are paying lip service to them.

We need apprenticeships where kids can learn about jobs and if they do well have a foot in the door at companies.

We need busses to take kids home who stay after school for disciplinary reasons or for extra academic help (I was told at my last school we didn’t do after school detention because there was no way to get the kids home). Why isn’t extra help compulsorily? You know who usually stays after for tutoring? The good kids who want more and the desperate kids who let their problems snowball.

We need electives to school isn't complete drudgery for many. We need arts, skills and trade programs because not every kid is going to go to college and we need to provide for them as well. We need legitimate summer school opportunities not putting kids on computers or stuffing 25 in a class and we need school psychologists and social workers because so often why kids act up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school.

What do all these things have in common besides being more important than mentors? They cost money. 

Blue ribbon panels, politicians, editorial boards, bishops and business groups all say mentors are the way to go ignoring most of our real needs and I believe the main reason they do so is because mentors are cheap. Yes they are important and we need them but as a teacher in the school system let me thank you for putting a hello kitty band aid on a shot gun wound.

The two faces of Gary Chartrand

If you don't know Chartrand is the Jacksonville Grocer who parlayed campaign support to Rick Scott into a spot on the state bard of education. He is actively trying to privatize our schools and has often showed open disdain towards teachers.

He has also called for the state legislature to Pass Rick Scott's education budget.

From the Times Union:

Education has always been a passion of mine. And as a Florida taxpayer and parent, I applaud Gov. Rick Scott for proposing historic per-pupil funding in his “Keep Florida Working” budget.
The Florida Legislature will soon start a special session to develop the state’s 2015-2016 budget, and I implore them to make our state’s students a priority.

Florida is one of the largest states in the nation with 2.7 million students in more than 4,200 K-12 public schools, and I know that some of the best and brightest minds are sitting in classrooms throughout the state.

Unfortunately, I also know that without adequate support, many of these students will not reach their full potential or even set academic and career goals.

Educators, as well as school and district staff, can make all the difference in the life of a struggling student, but they must have the necessary resources.

Technological advances have given educators the ability to teach students in a way never before possible and have also created entire industries that expand career options for our students.
It is critical that we take this chance, while we have a budget surplus, to invest in our state’s education so that when our students graduate they are valuable assets to our workforce.

I am optimistic that our students’ tremendous success in recent years — which includes ranking seventh in the nation for student achievement with an all-time high graduation rate — will be evidence enough for the Florida Legislature to allocate record per-pupil funding.

Sounds great right? What can I complain about?  Well the truth is a lot.

First Rick Scott's budget is far from historic, it is an increase true but it does not match 2007's budget and furthermore how can any budget be thought of as historic as long as the three percent pay cut teachers took during the great recession is still in effect. Later he talks abut a budget surplus, a surplus which was built on the backs of teachers.

He also he talks about educators. These are the same people he gleefully helped strip of work protections. Every teacher hired since 2011 is an at will employee and can be fired at the end of the school year for any reason, or none as none has to be given. Gary Chartrand has zero concern for teachers and how can you really care about kids while at the same time hating those people charged with educating them?

Then he talks about taking a chance on technology.  Chartrand's entire education philosophy is based on taking chances, very few of which have paid off, Take a chance on charter schools well over 280 in Florida have failed. take a chance on vouchers, well they have practically zero accountability, both academically and financially and nobody truly knows how they are doing. But hey, lets roll the dice, its not his kids that will pay the price if it comes up snake eyes.    

Finally he talks about student achievement and graduation rates. Florida's teachers, despite the many obstacles put in their path and the state treating poverty like it is an excuse rather than the number one factor in student achievement, by Chartrand and Tallahassee are doing an amazing job. He got that part right but since that is the case, why is he one of the leading figures in the push to privatize our schools. If he thinks Florida is doing a great job, then why is he trying to outsource our kids futures to mercenaries, charlatans, and barely regulated private schools? Is he a crazy person or is he talking out of both sides of his mouth?

Chartand has what I believe is a pathological need to be liked and where it is true he has donated a lot of money to several worthy causes, at the end of the day he is not the hero of the story he is the villain.

Elementary school reading teachers feel set up to fail, not optimistic about future.

It started at the beginning of the year when curriculums in reading classes with little notice were shifted down a grade. What kids would have learned in third they were now going to now learn in second, in first, second and so on. The district claimed it would bring more rigor. People doing the actual teaching pointed out, harder and developmentally inappropriate does no equal rigor.

Furthermore the curriculums given to the teachers could be charitably described as jumbled messes. There were links to different articles over different grades to be carried out at different times. There didn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason but what was consistent was teachers were often required to make copies.  The state of copying in the district could be an entirely different post but let’s just suffice to say this was problematic for a whole host of reasons.

A lot of veteran teachers with years of experience knowing what does and doesn’t work were able to game the system so to speak and instead of following the poorly thought out mandates gave their students the instruction that they needed to the best of their ability. Newer teachers or teachers being micromanaged at the transformative schools however weren’t so lucky.

The district also promised additional training, help and resources but none of the teachers I have spoken to said any ever came and now the district has decided to scrap what they have going on now to go completely on-line next year. Maybe that will be better because it's hard to imagine things being worse.

I spoke with somebody close to the situation and the district contends that it is teachers who came to them pushing for the change and that it will save a lot of money though the teachers I have spoken to have their doubts.

I haven't heard of anyone being in a focus group. And I don't know a single Primary teacher that was happy with the curriculum this year. They are saying it is a savings over a two year period? A textbook adoption is 5-6 years. So no savings if you think about the amount of copies and materials printed over 5-6 years versus purchasing textbooks once. Also, the district doesn't make the copies for us. They send links. We print out copies on our own and then sometimes put in for copies at the school. BUT...we buy our own ink for the printers because the district does not provide it. Also, they aren't fixing or replacing printers that die out. We are told to share, and that eventually they want to go to a centralized printer in the main offices.

Young children K-2 still need to have books in their hands that are written in their level. We can't do everything on a projector screen or on copy paper. Some of the links/resources they send are long with no pictures. K and 1 are learning how to read. They need larger print and pictures to provide support. We don't need lessons written by former teachers who are now district level coaches, who have no researched based curriculum writing experience!! The textbook writers are specialists and professors who know how to help students learn to read!! The online reading and materials may be good for intermediate grades, middle, and high school. Primary students need researched based materials and lesson that build on one another. They can't tell me that Scott Foresman, HM, or Harcourt don't have common core aligned lessons that build in skills.” 

I guess the bottom line is, if the district and the people doing the actual teaching are not on the same page then we can’t be successful. Though the real problem might be that the district doesn't seem very interested in getting on the same page.