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The good the bad and the ugly of the Student Success act.

Florida's VAM formula

VAM stands for Value Added Model and it is used to evaluate the state's teachers. Below is the formula.

y_i=μ+∑_(g=1)^M▒〖δ_g x_g 〗+∑_(j=1)^K▒〖β_j x_j+θ_(k)i+ω_(mk)i+ε_i; 〗

Rut Row!

The use of VAM by the way has been widely panned by both education and statistics experts. No other profession would be treated so shabbily.

To learn more about VAM quick the links:

Teaching Center by Key and Peele

Florida Alternative Assessment scores are up in Duval and that's a bad thing, Here is why. (rough draft)

Sometimes I feel like if the district said they liked puppies, I would be the guy who said, I don't, just because they did but the thing is, I love puppies and I love the district too. I just wish they would do things the right way.

News4Jax is reporting that the districts Florida Alternative Assessment (FAA) scores are way up. If you don't know this is  the test that is administered to severely and profoundly disabled children instead of the Florida Standards or what used to be the FCAT.

There is some controversy surrounding it because last year the state insisted it be given to a profoundly mentally handicapped child on their death bed and no I can't make that up. Plus a lot of special education teachers of profoundly handicapped children think it is a travesty and unsuited for testing them.

Now you might be thinking because our scores are up we must be doing something right, well no because at least part of the reason is as wrong as it gets.

It used to there were basically three levels of disabled children, ones that could be in the general ed setting, ones that were profoundly disabled and ones in between which were generally put in what were called Varying Exceptionality (VE) classes, which were watered down academic courses, that led to what was called a certificate of completion not a high school diploma. A couple generations ago a lot of these kids would have been our shop kids and would have graduated at least with a trade or some skills training.

The truth is at some point we started to do a lot of these VE kids wrong. I felt many with smaller classes, modified materials, extra time and a little bit of flexibility, many could pass the general education curriculum and I have a pretty good idea about this because I taught VE science for three years.

As usual the state went to far and phased out the VE classes and dumped what were the VE kids into regular education classes were more than a few swam but more than a few sunk too.

This brings us to the FAA. At Ed White High School and I have to believe if it has happened there it is happening elsewhere, instead of putting some of these former VE kids into the regular ed setting where sadly they would flounder and the chances of them passing the Florida Standards was low, they have been putting them into the intellectually disabled classrooms where they are grossly misplaced but there they don't hurt the stats of the school and actually help the FAA stats because that is the test they have been talking.

The FAA where to high and inappropriate for a lot of the profound kids is to low and just as inappropriate for these kids.

This by the way is not completely the districts fault. Tallahassee as it often does tied the district's hands by phasing out classes that were more appropriate for some of our kids but here is the thing, right is right and wrong is wrong and we did and continue to do some of these kids wrong. The very least we can do is not celebrate when the stats improve on a test that at least some of then should not be taking.

KIPP says college starts in Kindergarten (rough draft)

State board of education member Gary Chartrand said he would like to see as many as a dozen more KIPP schools in Jacksonville.

The reason might be because to KIPP college starts in Kindergarten. From LINKEDIN:

KIPP VOICE Elementary believes that college begins in Kindergarten. The cornerstones of our school are a caring and disciplined school community, culturally relevant curriculum, rigorous college-prep academics, and giving students the skills necessary to get to and through college. We strongly believe that a college education is vital to gaining opportunities in life, competing in today’s increasingly sophisticated global workforce, and fulfilling one’s potential. KIPP provides its students with a rigorous academic program and a school community built on the follow core values: Vision, Optimism, Imagination, Community, and Empowerment.

Though the reason might be he is clueless too.

Look I am a big fan and believe in college but in kindergarten my biggest concern was not wetting myself during nap time. Not worrying about where or if your kid goes to college when they are five does not make you a bad parent, though forcing them to go to a school that does might.

The whole ad also plays into many of the concerns people have about KIPP and that's they counsel out students who might not be interested in college or college material in their eyes and that the whole curriculum is based around kill and drill strategies so their students do well on standardized tests.

So if you want college to begin for your child at 5 maybe KIPP is for you but if you want your child to be a child and as they grow discover what they love and want to do, then it definitely is not. 

First Coast HS boundries

The ever expanding boundaries of First Coast high were a source of contention for the FC community. They felt a lot of students without neighborhood ties were attending the school and that was leading to a lot of friction and discipline problems. Please any member of the FC community correct me if I got that wrong.

At a community meeting to address that and numerous other problems Superintendent Vitti said he was going to tighten the boundaries to reflect the Ocenaway community.

A few days later however the Times Union ran a story which said the exact opposite and that the boundries were going to be expanded to take an influx of students whose neighborhood schools were converted to magnet or specialty schools. as you can imagine this generated a great deal of outrage in the FC community. I also wrote about Vitti's base betrayal of the FC community.

It turns out I wrote that prematurely as I decided to reach out to the Times Union writer to confirm what Vitti said, I am critical of the super but it doesn't do me or anybody any good for me to get things wrong and this is an important issue to a lot of people so I felt it deserved to be clarified.

 She replied and said, "Talked with him (Vitti) tonight and he hadn't noticed I used the word broadened. He says he plans to narrow boundaries for First Coast and Oceanway, sending future students to Ribault High and middle."

So it appears that the super is keeping his word to the FC community which is a good thing as in my opinion they are a neighborhood that has suffered greatly under his and his subordinates leadership. It is good that he is attempting to repair the damage done.

Now if only he would do something about the principal, then we might be cooking with gas.

Bobby Jindal's lame thanks to teachers

It's no secret that Louisiana has been tough on public schools and their teachers over the last few years. There are many teachers who spent their lives educating children in New Orleans who are now living hand to mouth thanks to Bobby Jindal's anti-public school policies throwing them out of their jobs.

Now two public school teachers from Jeanerette Sr High in Lafayette Louisiana are being hailed as heroes for saving lives during a movie theater shooting, that killed two and injured seven. This is far from the first time public school teachers have been recognized for their heroic efforts. 

Unfortunately teachers have become scapegoats for many of societies ills and ground zero for this has to be Bobby Jindal's Louisiana. 

Jindal however now that he is running for president was all to willing to give credit to public school teachers, a group he has regularly marginalized and demonized. This is what NPR is reporting he said:"One teacher literally jumping over her friend, potentially saving her life. Second teacher felt like that bullet would have hit her in the head if her friend hadn't jumped on her. The second teacher was shot anyway, in the leg — had the presence of mind to pull that fire alarm."
Thank you for acknowledging their efforts but Shame on you Bobby Jindal for only recognizing public school teachers when they get shot in a movie theater saving other people's lives and perhaps it's time you recognized the hard work they do and sacrifices they make on a daily basis.

It would be nice if Louisiana stepped up and helped with their medical bills but since that is unlikely here is a link to help.

The hypocrisy of Trey Csar and the Jacksonville Public Education Fund

I will just get right  to it, From the Times Union
What’s different are the teachers, said Trey Csar, president of Jacksonville Public Education Fund, which directs the Quality Education for All fund expenditures. The fund’s five-year goal is $50 million but it has raised $38 million for Duval schools, including the transformation schools.
“What really matters is high quality teachers and leaders,” Csar said. “How can we make sure these students get the best teachers and principals?”
He asks how do we make sure these students get the best teachers and principals? Well friends it is surely not by staffing the transformation schools with hundreds of untrained, non education majors which is what Teach for America does and the story doesn't mention it but 5 of the 38 million is going to put TFA in those schools.
Trey Csar joins the district in saying on one hand we need our best and brightest and on the other hand hey anybody can be a teacher and teach there. 

Is Iranetta Wright heartless or does she just come off that way?

Iranetta Wright is the admin in charge of the 36 transformation schools and she had an interesting comment in the Times Union when talking about the children in those schools
“This work is not for everybody,” Wright said. “Our work is tough. Many of our children come to school without their basic needs met. We don’t have a lot of time to empathize and sympathize with them.”
Instead, she said, teachers need to keep students focused on learning despite hardships.
Here is the thing I can keep my kids focused on learning while being sympathetic and empathetic, in fact being those two things make it easier for me to keep them focused because they allow me to build rapport. Teachers cannot ignore children’s circumstances and hardships and hope to be successful and it falls between ignorant and heartless for Mrs. Wright to imply that is what teachers should be doing.
How doesn’t Mrs. Wright understand that? I hope what she said was just in-artful and not indicative of how she really feels.
Having heart is a big part of being a teacher and to be honest it is something she has struggled with in the past.
So Mrs. Wright if you think kids are more than just numbers I would encourage you to encourage your teachers to get to know their children, to build relationships with them because doing that almost more than anything will lead to success.   

Subtle will soon be nonexistent in the Transformation schools (rough draft)

Words have power and for Duval County Public Schools which often makes huge deals out of incredibly small improvements to say the changes at the transformation schools have been subtle I can't help but think the changes they have made have been monumental failures.

A few weeks ago when the FSA scores came out Vitti said standing pat was actually an improvement and then earlier this year they made quite the fanfare over a Gallup poll which said students felt more engaged, the percentage increase was in the two percent range.

So to call what is happening at the schools SUBTLE!?! Oy vey.

Look I have no doubt things have improved at those schools to a degree and I have long advocated getting our best teachers in front of our neediest students, I just think bribing teachers and using VAM scores to determine who are best teachers were poor decisions. This is all compounded by the district inexplicably saying on one hand we need our best and on the other hand saying anybody can be a teacher and supplementing them with hundreds of Teach for America scabs, teachers.

The truth though is this is a gimmick. what's going to happen in two years when the money turns off. How many of those teachers are going to stay when they can go to other higher performing schools and get other bonuses? The answer is probably not many. The truth is we can't keep doing gimmicks that may or may not lead to short term gains and instead we need long term systemic solutions. The paper should have written district spends fifty million dollars to get right back where they started, that is what subtle really means.

To read an article about the transformation schools click the link: 

Rather than put a competent principal at First Coast High superintendent Vitti would rather...

Let me say some of these ideas are great and I think they should be implemented at all our high schools. 

Here is a list of what the super plans to put in First Coast in response to hundreds of parent complaints, massive staff turnover and a drop in overall performance. It was compiled by Erica Madson via Facebook. 

A dedicated SRO that will NOT be leaving the school to address the elementary as previously.
An additional security guard added to the team bringing the total to 6.
An ability to identify habitual troublemakers and arrange transfer to another school. A team has already been working on this and they plan to lock down on this unwanted behavior after 3-4 weeks of school. This gives the student a chance to turn things around, but it also enables them to track behavior.
Football games will continue as they are now with additional police support but Saturday afternoon games are a strong possibility for student and surrounding neighborhood safety
A new guidance counselor bringing the total to 5
A grad coach focused on Seniors needing additional support with graduation
A guidance counselor dedicated FB page for outreach which will included important deadlines and scholarship opportunities. This path was selected because it rapidly updates and is familiar in format to students and parents
A new appointment system for the guidance team available online for parents and students.
Accountability in the guidance department to a designated Administrator
An additional clerk dedicated to parent follow up in the office and guidance areas
This is being taken very seriously. Vitti has sought for approval to reduce FCHS and Oceanway MS boundaries to reflect what was historically used. This returns a large number of students to the Ribault area and Raines area. Andrew Jackson is still being considered for a dedicated magnet and he had no comment about where those students would be attending
Boundary change input is welcome and encouraged from FCHS PTA and SAC as well as OMS PTA and SAC. It is a lengthy process that won’t impact attendance area until a possible implementation for 2016-2017. Students will be grandfathered in. In general change won’t be realized for 3-4 years following implementation
MAJOR building and home construction as well as job growth is increasing population. A need for an additional middle and high is well known, but no plan is in place build a new school…yet. Vitti is hoping the boundary change process will provide data needed to take to the city council to push for new builds, but adds certain high schools and middle schools are very underutilized and is the reason for past blocking of building anything new. The push for boundaries along with the City of Jacksonville’s 2030 plan will be a significant push in the direction we need for new schools. Please plan to attend and voice your opinions at these meetings.
Faculty—still no answer about why we don’t have Dual enrollment teachers needed, but we will have a brand new dual enrollment certified math teacher Spring 2016. No others mentioned
The office of equity and inclusion will be attending the very first FCHS staff meeting to discuss past problems such as hostile workplace, bullying behavior, and intimidation. Mr. Wright, Dr. Vitti, and Mr. Davis plan to be at the first meeting and one or all three will be at subsequent meetings every 3 weeks.
A teacher appreciation committee has been formed
Focus this year from superintendent on down is trust. You are no longer alone. You have help that will be waiting for you, and the punitive behavior from Admin is to be ended.
Transparency. A quarterly meeting will be held at FCHS with Vitti, Wright, will be held for the community.
Twitter account that is school specific has been created. The purpose is to get factual information out to parents and students as rapidly as possible
Community Liaison….there will be someone official at the school that is dedicated to working to involve community partnerships and team building.
Discover Duval will visit FCHS and highlight the good things about our school 2x in the coming year, dates TBD
Code of conduct status
Still in review but likely to be official approved with changes end of August. Teachers and parents are encouraged to provide feedback with what’s working and what isn’t, citing specific examples is most helpful
It’s expected that the code of conduct will be upheld from day one…

Pretty impressive right? There is just one problem the person responsible for all the damage done to First Coast high school principal Al Brennan still has his job and in fact the super has referred to him as one of the city's best. Though to be honest if he was one of the city's best why would be Viti be on his third community meeting and implementing all of above.

After listening and talking to several First Coast community members I would categorize them as cautiously optimistic, just like I and many were when Vitti arrived, I hope their optimism isn't given cause to fade like many of ours has.

One out of four Jacksonville children don't attend public school

Following up our first place finish both for percentage and amount of kids being home schooled, Duval scores a fourth place finish in the percentage of kids attending private schools.

By the numbers, 24,187 or 15.8 percent of the kids attending school in Duval attend one of 168 private schools.

Then according to the district web site 10,662 students attend one of the districts 34 charter schools. At least for part of the year.

Counting home schooled children (6,106) that is 40,995 out of  155,497 or about twenty-six percent of the city's children whose families have said no to Duval County schools and that's not even counting the families that have moved to the surrounding communities.

And before you say charters are public schools, yada yada yada most are publicly funded private schools that as a group do a poor job, especially here in Jacksonville when compared to the city's public schools.

I believe as a whole Duval's public schools are the best thing going and there are great things going on at everyone of our public schools, great teachers teaching great kids. That being said the percentage of kids fleeing our public schools has gone up over the last few years.

I think it boils down to leadership, leadership which has not taken discipline and teacher moral and retention seriously. Where addressing those two problems won't solve all of the district's problems I believe it would go a long way to doing so. We can't ignore those two things and hope to be successful.

Discipline is hard and spoiler alert the district sucks at it. (rough draft)

The people who decided a child could be allowed four fights before they got a real consequence should now be out of a job and for the record that includes every school board member and the superintendent. The safety of our kids should be the systems upmost priority and this past year even if your child made it to and from school every day without a punch to the nose the district failed them.
The opening sentence in last week’s Times Union article on discipline read: It may soon be easier for educators to send kids who fight to alternative schools and to send other misbehaving students to detention.
That sentence may inspire hope in some but as a long time educator it doesn’t in me because nearly impossible is better than completely impossible and if past is prologue that is what we can expect.
Before I continue I don’t want to give you the impression that all of the district’s discipline problems fall at the feet of superintendent Vitti and the school board because discipline has been bad in the district for years. No, what falls at their feet is exacerbating the problem and endangering our children. As bad as things were before, fighting was still taken relatively seriously.
In the article talking about proposed changes to the code of conduct, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said some teachers feel students are getting too many chances.
“There was a perception that students were gaming the system,” he said. “The concern was that last year … it took an awfully long time for a repeat fighter to be sent to an alternative school unless they were in a melee.”
Listen to his words, there was a perception, like teachers don’t know what they are talking about like they are in some perception induced hysteria. Also when I worked at a comprehensive school sending kids to an alternative school was way down on my list. I figured if they would get consequences for their behavior there it would nip the problem in the bud but the problem was they very rarely received anything close to real consequences and often the behavior got worse.
Furthermore at least to some school board members even the new proposed changes offer plenty of wiggle room.  
In some ways, there is still too much wiggle room, said board member Ashley Smith Juarez, who pointed out that a student could strike another student or school staffer and cause bodily harm four times under the proposed changes before he would be automatically sent to Grand Park.
FOUR TIMES!!!!!! Friends if they hit a staff member once, heck I think even threaten to hit a staff member then that should be enough to get them sent to Grand Park and how about after the second fight especially if they are the aggressor. Do we need somebody to be seriously hurt before we address discipline and violence?
Then Board member Wright had a good idea too, said she wants more parental responsibility reflected in the code of conduct, perhaps a “parent court” where parents must meet with district staff after their student racks up a number of infractions. Vitti said he is considering the idea.
Vitti probably is just considering it because he didn’t come up with it, furthermore the idea mirrors my idea to liberally suspend kids for multiple days but to suspend the suspensions if a parent mirrors their son or daughter for a day. I know if Ruth Guerrieri would have had to follow me for a day it would only have had to happen once. I suggested that by the way, way back in 2007.
Then finally the article said, So far, most of the code of conduct’s recommendations came from a task force of about 30 people, Vitti said, including district and school staff, students, parents, police, school resource officers, nonprofit groups, the State Attorney’s Office and the local NAACP chapter.
Thirty people undoubtedly handpicked by Vitti. This guy needs a guy to tell him no more than the average five year old after cookies have just been freshly baked.
Discipline is hard but it is doable if the district has the will, something I have yet to see them seriously attempt to muster.
To read the article click the link:

Duval number 1! In Home school growth

Duval is number one in both the amount of kids being home schooled with 6,106 but also number one in percentage of kids overall being home schooled at 7.3%. This means bigger districts than us have fewer kids and a smaller percentage of children being home schooled The state over all saw a surge in home school growth this past year, thank you common core.

Duval is also one of the fastest growing charter school markets in the state and who doesn't know somebody who has said, yeah I am moving to St. Johns or Clay and it has nothing to do with the parks or fire department.

Superintendent Vitti will have been here three years in just a couple months. At what point, despite the Times Union's love affair with him, will he own these troubling stats, or since he has close ties to people like Gary Chartrand who would dismantle our school system given the chance, maybe this has been his plan all along.

To read more click the link:

Engage NY, Duval's new reading curriculum gets panned on the Diane Ravitch blog

From the Diane Ravitch blog
This post is a description of EngageNY, the scripted curriculum written for use in New York state and now migrating to other states. Ken Wagner, former deputy commissioner of the New York State Education Department, now Rhode Island state superintendent, promises to import them to Rhode Island. New York’s new state commissioner says she used the New York curriculum with great success in Florida. Read this post and decide for yourself. Be sure to read the comments.
Here is a sample:
The same people who gave us standardized testing have now given us standardized teaching, which goes directly to the information a student can get, how the student gets it, and what the student is supposed to get out of each and every class minute. It is 19th-century educational lockstep, pushed by the White House and institutionalized by the New York governor’s office.
If standardized testing dumbed down school and teacher evaluation, standardized teaching takes it a step further: It dumbs down the kids.
The project is called “Engage New York.” It does anything but.
If, say, you are a teacher of 11th-grade English in Buffalo, you get, every 10 weeks, a thick three-ring binder with instructions on what you are to do in every class. The copy I have of one of these runs 587 pages. The volume is excruciatingly boring to read. (I cheated: I skimmed most of the pages.) I cannot imagine what it is like to be a creative and imaginative teacher hamstrung by it. Worse: I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a student in classes that now have to be taught by teachers forced to deliver this drivel or be fired.
The book is divided into teaching “modules,” which list what questions the teachers should ask, what answers they should get, and how they should respond to them. They list what words students should learn each day.
There are regular pages headed “Unit-at-a-Glance Calendar,” telling the teacher the specific lines and paragraphs to be covered in each class. There are pages listing “Activity” items for each class; each named activity includes the percentage of class time to be devoted to it. One, for example has “Activity 1: Introduction of Lesson Agenda. 5%”; Activity 2: Homework Accountability. 10%”; “Activity 3: Masterful Reading. 5%”; “Activity 4: Hamlet Act 1.2, Lines 900-110 Reading and Discussion, 60%.”
Day after day of this, class after class, minute by minute.
The questions the teachers are ordered to ask are often so banal they read like a Monty Python parody. Here is an example. The teacher is told to ask the question, “What information do you gather from the full title of the play: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?” (All teacher questions are in bold type.)
Permissible student answers are:
—The play is about a person named Hamlet.
—This is a tragic or sad play.
—Hamlet is a prince.
—This play likely takes place in Denmark.
This is drivel. The book is full of things like that. It is also full of misinformation.