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Rocket Ships and Charter Schools why privatization sucks.

When the Antares Rocket, heading to take supplies to the international space station, built by Orbital Science Corp exploded it made me think about the privatization of those public institutions created to serve the public good.

When I was a kid my hero was Neil Armstrong and I had dreams of one day flying in space. I could name all the players and all the missions too. And even though my life has taken a dramatically different path I have always at least cursory followed NASA and the space program and felt great regret and trepidation as our leaders decided to outsource much of the space program to private businesses.

Now have there been failures and tragedies at NASA? Yes including the tragic death of Christa McAuliffe, who was supposed to be the first teacher in space but those were tragedies shared by us all and were tragedies that motivated us to do better.

Where the video of the rocket exploding was spectacular I doubt it stays in the public conscious for more than a day or two as Orbital Science Corp collects on its insurance policy.

There is a bigger tragedy here than the explosion and that is when we outsource our valued public institutions it does us all a disservice by pushing us farther apart as a society. Those institutions don’t bind us together any longer and instead they divide us apart.   

One could argue that the space program had lost some of its luster over the last few decades but nobody can argue how much it united the Country in the sixties and early seventies.

Public schools are the same. Arguably this is the institution that built the United States into the greatest country in the world. Now like with NASA there have been hiccups, things the system could have done better but like NASA it has seen unparalleled successes too.

So when we outsource our kids’ education to charter schools the majority of whom perform worse than public schools and many of which are little more than profit centers for their owners it diminishes and separates us all.

Superintendent (Charter School) Vitti is very popular with the pro privatization blogs

Sometimes it is hard to tell where Gary Chartrand ends and the superintendent begins. They both love charter schools, Teach for America and have often been disdainful of teachers. So it’s no wonder that Vitti has been a huge proponent of allowing Chartrand’s pet KIPP School to expand.

Superintendent Vitti in ReDefined Ed, the states pro-privatization blog:  “There are charter schools that have a track record of success, and particular charter schools that have failed, and failed in multiple areas,” he said. “Let’s not have an ideological conversation. Let’s have one based on data where we look at individual charter schools, individual traditional public schools, and ask the question: Who’s successful? Who’s not? And what’s the best situation for parents based on how they’re looking at it, and how the district as informed educators are looking at it.

His words make sense, his words are what we want to happen but unfortunately with this super his deeds and words don’t always match up.

Here are some things you should know about the KIPP School, the successful school he is pushing to expand.

The schools grades have been F, lowest grade in Northeast Florida, a miraculous B, it would have dropped to a D if the state didn’t have a schools can only drop one letter grade rule and then another B. Then according to the Times Union of the 88 students who started the first class at KIPP, only 64 finished, that’s about 30% who didn’t finish. KIPP also has a national reputation for counseling out poor performers and using kill and drill techniques instead of educating. They also spend about a third more per child and can require parents to be involved.

Maybe when compared to most Duval Charter schools this is considered a success but do you consider it one?

If public schools had a third more resources, could require parents to be involved and could council out poor performers how much better do you think they would be? They don’t and can’t and most are better than the KIPP schools anyway. 

I don’t know about you but I want a super who is willing to fight for our schools rather than one who says one thing and does another.

Rick Scott fails the test.

Patricia Levesque defends high stakes testing, will she defend kicking puppies next?

In the Gainesville Sun, Jeb Bush shill, Patricia Levesque defended the indefensible and said testing has improved Florida's schools, the thing is that she can't prove it and I think I can prove that. First it's like she has never heard of the class size amendment, the one citizen driven reform among all the corporate ones that has actual evidence that says it works. I would attribute any improvement to that and just ask any teacher if they think they would do a better job if they had five or ten more students.

Then states all throughout the nation have seen an increase in graduation rates and a shrinking of the achievement gap, even those that haven't embraced a testing culture like Florida has. Furthermore for every A.P. story she can tell I can tell one about the S.A.T.s which scores have stagnated in Florida under the testing regime. In fact I submit that this reliance on testing she is selling has held us back.

She then unbelievably says testing helps identify poor readers, which it may do unfortunately the results get back to teachers months later when nothing can be done. Finally as for state tests taking just one percent of the school year, I will just say ask a teacher which Levesque is not if she is right but I think you already know the answer.

We need serious people coming up with serious solutions. Levesque only offers a doubling down on a failed policy.

To read her piece click the link:

Vitti's Harvard says no to Teach for America

What you didn't know he went there for grad school? I feel like it's brought up more than math here in the county. Well he did and now the Harvard student body is pushing back against Teach for America.

From the Crimson: A dozen members of the Student Labor Action Movement assembled outside Massachusetts Hall on Friday afternoon to deliver a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, imploring Harvard to cut ties with Teach For America if it does not make several key changes to its program by Oct. 8.

The effort is part of a larger national movement started by United Students Against Sweatshops that criticizes Teach For America, a nation-wide program that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income communities for at least two years, for undermining the quality of public education.

“We’re calling on Harvard to support and provide the resources for people who want want to have lifelong careers in public education, not people who want to teach for a couple of years and then go to law school or business school,” said Blake A. McGhghy ’17, a SLAM member who spearheaded the Harvard branch of the campaign.

When America comes to its senses and decides to invest in its schools and teachers rather than blame them for our problems TFA and its supporters are going to be on the wrong side of the story. I find it ironic that Vitti's grad school has started the ball rolling. 

Marginalized, disrespected and over worked and under paid, welcome to the life of a teacher

From a reader about the attack on teachers by Time magazine's not like people are clamoring to become teachers. It took our school over a month to find someone to fill a core teacher position. At other schools, I have heard of multiple vacancies.

Why would new teachers want to stay when the conditions are life-sucking at times, when the stress is overwhelming, when people constantly demean teachers, etc?

It's not like we are getting paid the big money. To get to 40,000, you have to have 9 years of experience. To get to 50,000, you have to reach 20 years of experience.

No one in my department has that many years of teaching experience. In fact, no one is over 10 years.

Teacher says, Vitti doesn't want to hear from you

Below is from  a reader who is a teacher, they don't want to be identified because they are afraid of repercussions.

Vitti does not want to hear from you. 

He shut down Shared Decision Making Committees input into individual school budget making. 

He tells schools this is what you get. 

Later he admits ruefully that maybe his one size fits all approach needs refinement. But he doesn't listen. Anyone who emails him with concerns gets a terse "Follow protocol" response. All the surveys employees are asked to fill out--no where do they get an open comment box to tell him what they really want to say. 

Even the union with their FAME survey have stepped into this trap. He takes issue with a brave teacher who shows up to a Board meeting and uses the open/public comment period to talk about issues in the school. 

He says, "I don't mind his opinion, but he chose the wrong way to express it." But he gives us no other option. He says he meets weekly with employees drawn out of the ranks, but no one knows of anyone invited to meet with him.

 He plans a marketing campaign in which he will put students onto TV to talk about how great Duval schools are. Does he not realize another marketing campaign is going on and it has throughout his tenure? It is students going home and telling their parents how bad it is in their schools. And parents realizing that they need to get their kids out. That's why enrollment is collapsing. That's why we're down to 114,000 and likely to fall into 5 figures next year.

Rotten reporting: Time magazine joins the blame the teacher crowd.

Time  Magazine with their Bad Apple Cover, saying it's hard to fire bad teachers stopped being a news magazine and instead joined the blamed the teacher crowd. The article about silicon billionaires fighting against tenure missed the point entirely, because their cause is not about improving education by getting rid of tenure but instead it is about destroying labor and profiting off of education in the process.

This is the cover of the upcoming issue of Time magazine, slated for print publication November 3rd. (Time Magazine)

Please don’t think for a moment that the Vergera court case in California was about doing what is best for teachers. No, it was all about destroying labor as are most of the education reforms being implemented.
The plaintiffs backed by a silicon valley billionaire claimed that teacher work protections, including tenure, were detrimental and unfair to poor and mostly minority students. How the judge came to agree is an assault to the senses.

If first year or relatively new teachers are cut before more experienced teachers that is not only tragic but it is not the fault of teacher unions either. Unions do not set budgets nor do they let teachers go. Yet instead of blaming politicians who seem to always cut education first, they somehow blamed work protections for more experienced teachers and this judge either bought it or was bought.  
Education reformers would have you believe you can separate the relationship between teacher and student but the truth is you can’t. They are symbiotic, they depend on each other to exist. Policies like ignoring discipline and cutting budgets hurt both children and teachers alike as does destroying work protections for teachers. This hurts teachers for the obvious reasons but it also hurts students too because as the teaching profession becomes more and more unappealing fewer qualified people will enter and stay. Who will teach our kids when they make the profession so unappealing that professionals won't want to do it? 

We are all saddened when talented new teachers are cut but the truth is it often takes years for teachers to grow into being effective. Now are there some rookie teachers that hit the road running and some veteran teachers that have stayed to long? Of course but the truth is the numbers for each group are small.  Furthermore if there is a veteran teacher not doing their job then that isn’t the fault of unions or work protections either. That’s the fault of an administration that is not doing its job.
Does it take time and documentation and sometimes even money to get rid of an ineffective teacher? Again sure but that’s the way it is in any profession and I remind you that the procedures are mutually agreed upon between unions and administrations. Unions do not dictate to localities.

Ed Reformers will complain “but unions use their membership to drive those procedures” as if that is a bad thing. Shouldn’t we all want our teachers to have good pay and benefits and have procedures in place to make sure they are treated fairly? Is that to much to ask of society?
The Vegera case would have you believe so but how will kneecapping the teaching profession help kids? The answer is it won't but that was never the reason behind it in the first place instead it’s about destroying the power of labor. These billionaires want to be able to make decisions, many of which they will profit off unencumbered by groups banded together to look out for their interests even when those interests are entirely intertwined with the interests of children.  

In Florida there has been a similar court case making its way through the courts. The plaintiffs not backed by a billionaire took a different direction however. Instead of blaming teachers and unions they believe its inadequate resources that are holding our schools and children back.  If we're saddened by young teachers being cut then lets not cut budgets. If we think teachers have to many work protections, negotiate but be prepared to pay more to have them give up those rights. instead of doing what is right they would have you believe Mrs. Migilicutty at the top of the pay scale at PS this or that is to blame for all the woes in education

I would like to point out that unions do not create curriculum, establish budgets, set policy nor do they hire or fire teachers. All they do and all they can do is make sure the mutually agreed upon contract language is enforced and through their membership lobby for things they feel are important. In my home state of Florida sometimes they win like with the parent trigger but more often they lose like with senate bill 736 that ties pay to how students do on standardized tests, something testing experts say is ridiculous.
The ed reformers are always talking about the needs for children. If only this were about the needs of children, it’s not and people shouldn’t think for a second it is.

To learn more click the links:

Teachers bring up issues all the time in Duval County and are ignored.

From a reader:

We teachers bring up major issues all of the time and follow the chain of command. 

We talk to an AP, and nothing gets done. 

We talk to a principal, and nothing changes. 

We talk to specialists from the district, and they shrug their shoulders. 

We email Vitti, and he attempts to pacify. 

What is the point? 

ALL they need (crown Point Elementary) are some counselors. We have money, but Vitti wants to spend it on useless technology and people of little consequence. Schools also need more AP's, security guards, and teachers. Our average class sizes are enormous, way higher than I have ever seen them in 9 years. The truth is that Vitti doesn't want the actual truth to get out, as the truth would tarnish his public image that the Times Union so readily supports

Oy Vey of the week, Duval brings secret shoppers to our schools.

I have been a secret shopper accomplice before. I got a free meal out of it as I helped a pal observe our wait and bar staff. I have known secret shoppers too who visited a whole host of businesses, well friends we're now bringing secret shoppers to our schools.

I can imagine how it happened too, Duval's lord of schools Gary Chartrand quite out of the blue, probably after reading an article about them announces, you know what Duval needs. secret shopper to which the superintendent replied how high shall I jump, great idea sir, while teachers and school staff are already overworked and under resourced, lets spend fifty thousand dollars and put something new on their plates.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have good customer service and we really should be parent friendly and I imagine overall we already do a good job at it. In fact whenever somebody asks me about a school I always reply call them up, meet the principal and go visit but it just seems like there is something wrong with bringing secret shoppers in to the district, I am sure another gotcha tool as people are already over worked and on edge.

I feel like if we have gotten to this point, then we have completely missed the point.

Superintendent Vitti’s chilling warning to teacher and parents

From the Times Union: Earlier this month, Nussbaum and a parent volunteer, Debbie Kane, made an in-person plea for another counselor and other school staffers at the monthly School Board meeting.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said afterward he agrees with Nussbaum’s message, though not
his mode of delivery. Vitti said he has met with and emailed Nussbaum several times,
informing him he is working on solutions.

“I respect the fact that he is an advocate for his community and his students,” Vitti said. “But
there are always routes to communicate his concerns. ... We don’t need to create political
theater or to politicize the problem-solving process.”

First let me say the Superintendent has usually been pretty good with getting back to me, sometimes it takes a while but more often than not he does.

That being said, just because he reads and responds to a concern doesn’t mean anything productive is going to happen. Case in point multiple ESE teachers at a workshop last December informed the district about on-going violations. The districts response? Do nothing until the state came in and did an investigation and said, clean your house.

Vitti may very well have read the e-mail and responded something innocuous but was then off to other matters. It was last spring that he floated the open enrollment trial balloon and that sucked a lot of oxygen out of the room, plus he has been busy giving our schools away to the QEA initiative has dominated a lot of his time and focus. It’s not unimaginable to think the problems at a school that has been fairly successful have fallen through the cracks.

So what’s a counselor or teacher or parent who loves their school and has grave concerns to do? Well talk at a school board meeting is practically all they have left because there for those three minutes things have at least a chance of getting noticed.

You know what I never hear at school board meetings? Hey I just discovered/am having this problem so I thought I would come here wait in line and bring it up. You know what I always here, I have contacted the district a half dozen times, I have pleaded, I have begged, I have tried to be patient and nothing has happened.

I am sorry that Vitti thinks fiercely and publicly advocating for people’s schools and children is political theater because it’s not, it’s often the only recourse the district leaves people. 

If we are to take Vitti’s words seriously he would like to see even that go away.  

A Duval guidance counselor at a large school begs for help. The district's solution is to make things worse.

The first part of above is how the Tampa Times characterized the story of Crown Point Guidance Counselor Lou Nussbaum when he spoke at October’s school board meeting, unfortunately rather than help the district has plans to do the second part, to make the situation worse.

Last year he and seventy of his colleagues signed a letter asking the district for help that Nussbaum says went ignored. It got to the point where he felt there was no other recourse except to address the board at a school board meeting. This had to be at best a nerve wracking proposition but Mr. Nussbaum had a little more protection than most teachers and that’s he is retiring at the end of the year.  

The plight he described was not unique to Crown Point, many of our higher performing elementary schools have seen their performance slip over the last few years as the district has switched focus to the North and West sides of town and as more and more charter schools found easy pickings in the more affluent neighborhoods, siphoning away both some of the top students and resources.

Superintendent Vitti even addressed this point saying in the Times Union, “As revenues decline, our challenges are increasing ... to stretch our dollars to get to every corner and pocket of the district.” Here is the thing, he speaks so eloquently about declining revenues but at this November’s school board meeting he is going to actually endorse the loss of more.

He is recommending the district approve two more Charter Schools, as if 31 mostly low performing ones are not enough. One of those will be the River City Science academy at Mandarin.  By all accounts the River City Science academies are the right type of charter schools, innovative and successful except for one very important fact, Mandarin doesn’t need another charter school.

Charter schools as sold to Florida were supposed to rescue poor and mostly minority children from their failing public schools. Well who in Mandarin needs rescuing from all the great public schools already there? The Science Academy sees easy pickings and is just looking to take advantage of a charter friendly school board, in a charter friendly city, in a charter friendly state.

If it was going to be the Science Academy at Beaver Street or the Westside even I an opponent of charter schools could shrug my shoulders and look for the next wind mill to tilt at but it’s not and all it is going to do is to is further drain away resources from schools that are just barely making it as it is.

The other Charter school Vitti plans to recommend is an expansion of the KIPP School on the Westside of town. You may have heard about it as Vitti uses every opportunity he can to sing their praises, which is odd because the schools grades have been F, lowest grade in Northeast Florida, a miraculous B, it would have dropped to a D if the state didn’t have a schools can only drop one letter grade rule and then another B. Yo-Yos are envious of their performance and the praise really doesn’t seem warranted.    

However the problems don’t stop there.  According to the Times Union of the 88 students who started the first class at KIPP, only 64 finished, that’s about 30% who didn’t finish a program that the super, the Times Union and the city’s elite sing praises about. Doesn’t that seem to be a really high figure to you? I would probably chalk this up to kids just coming and going but KIPP has a national reputation for counseling out poor performers. They also spend about a third more per child and can require parents to be involved but I guess those things just makes them lucky.

You would think the superintendent of a public school district instead of constantly praising KIPP would say something like, they have done some nice things at KIPP but it shouldn’t be lost on anybody how their grades are up and down, they have about a third more resources per child and require parents to be active. In fact I submit that if any public school had the same resources and parental involvement as the KIPP School does there would be no yo-yoing of grades and the performance would be much, much better.  

Approving their expansion probably has as much to do with the Super and Boards cozy relation with Gary Chartrand the man who wrote a nine million dollar check to bring KIPP to town as anything. Gary Chartrand a grocer by trade is the Rick Scott appointed chair of the state board of education, and never worked in a school a day in his life, but his lack of experience and institutional knowledge is an entirely different story all together.

Chartrand and the Board of KIPP have pumped thousands of dollars into the campaigns of School Board members, Becki Couch, Jason Fischer. Ashley Smith-Juarez, Connie Hall, Martha Barrett and Fell Lee. The only person who they didn’t send money to was Paula Wright, they did however give her opponent in the recent school board race thousands and thousands of dollars including Chartrand giving five figures to a super pac, the Citizens for Florida Prosperity which basically made up things about her and her record.

Now the Board may think it is okay to take money from a millionaire and indulge his pet project, they after all are doing the same thing with Teach for America but does the public think it is okay? Should any of us be okay with it? Especially with so many questions lingering.

The truth is there may be some nice things going on at KIPP, we shouldn’t penalize them just because they have extra resources, which is something the once very successful schools in the richer parts of town are sadly learning. We don’t know however and the district and the Times Union who writes an annual puff piece about them don’t seem to be interested in finding out one way or another but either way what is the problem with waiting to let them expand until they have sustained success? History after all says this will be another down year.

This piece starter with a guidance counselor desperate for help, pleading for needed resources and with a superintendent saying they would do what they could. Unfortunately it turns out his plan boils down to siphoning even more resources out of the district to one charter school we don’t really need and another than is a vanity play for a big time donor. We have a super on one hand who says, I am here to help and on the other seems to be more than willing to exacerbate the problem.

In a way Lou Nussbaum wasn’t just speaking up for Crown Point, he was speaking for dozens of other schools that the district has allowed to erode. Schools that have been ignored and depleted of resources. Unfortunately the districts current plans will only make their problems worse.