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Throwing money at the probem.

I saw an Internet meme, which asked the question, why is giving more money to public schools “throwing money” at the problem, but giving more money to charter schools and private schools “investing” in the future.

There are undoubtedly problems in public education but most of them have been created by starving schools of resources, attacking and marginalizing our teachers and by ignoring poverty. Getting rid of work protections for teachers and doubling down on the expensive and untested Common Core is not going to fix poverty my friends. Florida has in effect handicapped our public schools, ignored societies problems and then blamed our schools and teachers for not being able to fix those problems.

The solution should not be to outsource our children’s education to institutions that care more about the bottom line, charter schools or that resist accountability, private schools that take vouchers. The solution should be to address and fix our problems, many of which were created by individuals and politicians who now seek to privatize our schools and profit off our children.  

Charter Schools USA proves its all about the CASH!

Bob Sykes from Scathing Purple Musings did some reporting about my old friends at CUSA which flies in the face about their assertions that their schools always improve and hey it's the children they really care about and gosh I hope they don't threaten to sue me again.

Florida Law Firm Requests More Cash From Indiana for Florida-Based Charter Schools USA

Charter Schools USA executive Sherry Hage boasted last month about “opening schools in areas of highest need,” but all isn’t going so well in three Indiana schools she and her husband took over in 2012. From reporters Eric Weddle and Scott Elliott in theIndianapolis Star:
The four takeover schools in Indianapolis lost huge numbers of students — between 35 and 60 percent at each school — between the start of classes in 2011 and when the takeover operators took over in 2012. Schools are mostly funded on the basis of their enrollment, so the departures came at a steep cost for the private operators.
On top of that, the takeover schools saw their share of a pot of federal funds for low-performing schools that is controlled by the state shrink as more state schools became eligible to claim that money. Tindley lost $212,000, and Charter Schools USA’s three schools lost more than $601,110 because of across-the-board reductions.
Together, the cuts have left takeover operators with much higher costs than they anticipated.
Sherry Hage, CSUSA’s chief academic officer, says the operator is planning to stick with its schools despite the costs
This hasn’t stopped the Hage’s from asking Indiana taxpayers for more money and do so last month via a letter from its, get this, Florida law firm, Tripp Scott of Fort Lauderdale. On June 4, senior partner Edward J. Pozzuoli wrote to Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz on the Hage’s behalf:
The undersigned represents the Turnaround School Operator, Charter Schools USA. We write on behalf of the students of Emma Donnan Middle School (Donnan}, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School (Howe}, and Emmerich Manual High School (Manual). On behalf of our students and because of our commitment to them, we feel duty bound to express our grave concerns with the pending recommendation to the State Board of Education that significantly reduces School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding to Donnan, Howe and Manual (collectively he “Turnaround Schools” ) over the next two years.
There’s something creepy about and out-of-state law firm lobbying another state’s elected official, isn’t there? At any rate, the Hage’s Charter School USA adventure into Indiana hasn’t gone well from the start.
The three schools received an “F” in their first year of operation,  prompting Sherry Hage to outrageously claim that “while we may have received an ‘F,’ our schools are most definitely not failing any longer.” Moreover, a December 2012 story reported that the Hage’s received $6 million more than they should have from then Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett. Just six month after the Hage’s deal with Bennett for Charter Schools USA was revealed to have no profit limits nor minimum classroom expenditure levels, Red Apple Development, the real estate development arm of Charter Schools USAdonated $5000 to Bennett’s campaign.

Charter Schools USA Nets $2.9 Million Haul For Two Louisiana Schools

Small wonder the wife of Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage was touting their test scores in an Orlando Sentinel opinion piece last month. Sherry Hage and her husband take in a lot of taxpayer money to run schools. Consider this story from Marsha Sills inThe Advocate
LAFAYETTE — Two new charter schools opening on opposite sides of Lafayette Parish in two weeks together will pay nearly $1.2 million to their management company, Charter Schools USA, and more than $1.7 million in rent to a sister company for the new school buildings and the land they sit on.
As with most of CSUSA’s facilities, lines between controlling entities are, at best,  blurry. Sills indicates that both “sites eventually will be purchased by Charter Schools USA’s sister company, Red Apple Development” and will “become the schools’ landlord.” It’s also clear that the board foundations which oversee each school are CSUSA controlled entities as well. The Lafayette Charter Foundation utilizes CSUSA’s sales pitch format in its web site.

My random thoughts on the Davis promotion

First you should know I had a judgment from the state against me and I was on five years of probation. Two things, I really think I got hammered compared to other judgments I have seen and where I didn’t think it was fair after two years of wrangling with the state I just gave up and agreed. So when Davis says he just went along, I can see it, though at the same time, people go to jail and are forced to register as sex offenders for doing what he was accused of. I may have fought that a little harder

When Vitti points to his promotions as evidence that he did nothing wrong it makes me laugh a little. This is Florida and Jacksonville in particular, often promotions have nothing to do with ability and everything to do with whom you know. 

At the end of the day it’s Vitti on the line and not Davis. He obviously wanted somebody he likes and feels he can trust and Davis fits that bill. I still think many of his appointments are random and many don’t make sense but I guess that’s his bosses prerogative but think about this, if people were still infatuated with Vitti, then nobody would care about this transfer.

Vitti’s wearing thin with a lot of people. I thought Pratt-Dannals was terrible as super, though I hear he was a great guy at a party, and one of the reasons he lasted so long was he flew under the radar. Vitti on the other hand is out there constantly and usually at the center of a controversy. Maybe that’s a byproduct of so much being needed to be done but maybe it’s a byproduct of him not having a handle on how to do things. The fact his quotes in the media often deflect blame from himself and dump on teachers and principals probably doesn’t help either.

Teachers who vote for Rick Scott vote against their and their students interests.

From the Palm Beach Post

The latest Rick Scott television ad about his fondness for education and teachers surely is enough to motivate anyone who cares about children to act. This most recent commercial purports to have “teachers” praise some type of educational funding increase fantasy. Can they really be serious? Are they really teachers, or paid spokespersons?
There are two main reasons that people vote against their own best interests. Ignorance is the most common. People have not taken the time to thoroughly investigate the issue, or do not currently have the ability to fully understand the consequences or ramifications of complex problems. Education can cure both of these situations.
The other reason that people do not act in their own interest is poor self-esteem. Unfortunately, selling out for the proverbial 15 minutes of fame can be harmful to others. Who are these women praising the increase in state education dollars? Why are they using only their first names? Not only are they incapable of simple math, their faulty logic could be taught in our classrooms. That is, if they are even classroom teachers in Florida.
His first year in office, Gov. Rick Scott cut $1.3 billion (that’s “billion” with a “B”) from the state education budget. He also eliminated teacher tenure, implemented confusing and arbitrary merit pay that evaluates teachers on the performance of students they have never met, and imposed a 3 percent perpetual pay cut on teachers.
Florida remains in the bottom 10 states for per-pupil spending. Returning a billion dollars after removing a third more than that is not an increase in spending. We are still below the adjusted spending from the first year of the Crist administration. This year’s cutback in Bright Futures scholarship money is, of course, not even mentioned in this latest TV fairy tale.
In related actions, Scott decimated the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) that was an attractive option for teachers approaching retirement age. He is still trying to eliminate the entire Florida Retirement System for public employees, and force dedicated state and local government workers into risky investment fund options.
I do have empathy, however, for these women who will forever be linked to the Scott propaganda wagon. Maybe someday they can recoup their $10,000 (and climbing) pay cut and buy some legitimate television time, or a magazine advertisement that their family can point to with pride. In the interim, there is always Facebook, or Twitter or Instagram and myriad other social media sites available if you have a burning desire to embarrass yourself. Please, though, have mercy on our profession and don’t call yourselves teachers.

Vitti's rotating of admins wastes money and doesn't make a difference.

From a reader

In my 8 years in Duval, it never seems to matter who takes the "top" positions. They could put my cat in the position, and students would perform how they would with or without the cat. They don't care who is in charge. These obsolete positions are useless and a waste of millions of dollars. They will never solve the real problems, and if Vitti were smart, he would eliminate them. He should talk to the principals himself, or better yet, he should just let principals freedom to enact change within their schools without so much insignificant oversight. 

All of the "changes" he is making will not mitigate the issues many of our children face. Until he understands that the real issues are not school-based, he will continue to make decisions that mean nothing. Make some good changes.

1. Limit class size for the most struggling schools.
2. Allow teachers to be leaders in their own schools, not merely peons of the system.
3. Provide more counselors for the most struggling schools; most of our kids want an academic future, but they and their parents don't know the process. We have 4 counselors for 1800 students. That is 450 per counselor, which is insane!
4. Put a social worker and a psychologist in EACH struggling school.
5. Have a graduation coach for each grade level, not just 12th.
6. Revert 8 classes every other day to 4 per semester.
7. Encourage students to participate in after school clubs and provide some supplements for sponsorships.
8. Require every parent to complete OnCourse training, so they can help their children.
9. Take away ISSP and implement detention after school. We have after school buses; we may as well get our money's worth.
10. Provide more, not less security. 
11. Eliminate academic coaches and allow experienced teachers to have a planning period off to provide support to those teachers. It would be a fraction of the cost of an academic coach.
12. Eliminate ALL intensive reading classes, and allow ELA teachers to teach double-blocked classes, so ALL students have more time to practice their literacy skills.

Trust me, I have more, and guess what? They don't involve useless people who walk around as if they are actually doing something for students in some abstract way

Vitti’s excuses about the Davis promotion ring hollow.

Read Vitti’s words closely

"You certainly want a system of monitoring and tracking of a lot of the instances that were highlighted in the findings," he said.  "But at the end of the day, most of the findings were linked to what was properly or improperly done by principals; and those principals, A. Did not report directly to Mason Davis; and in many ways, it is humanly impossible to be in each of those schools looking at each of those situations."

So Davis gets a pass for the things that happened under his watch, its too much Vitti says, how can one guy be responsible for all those things. How can he be responsible for what other people do?

Well welcome to the world of a teacher.

Teachers are routinely given more tasks than they can possibly do if they want to have a life outside of school that is. Furthermore so many factors beside what happens in their classroom play an important role but you know what nobody cares if those tests scores dip. No then its time to hit the highway.

Crippling poverty, who cares, absentee parents, just an excuse, not enough support or resources, stop whining or we’ll get some TFAer in here to take your place. 

In Duval if you make six figures or are a personal friend of the super you get a pass, heck a promotion, teachers on the other hand are easily replaceable cogs. 

Did Vitti cover for Mason Davis, or did Davis keep him in the dark?

Either way I find his response to WJCT’s Rhema Thompson very troubling.

The news comes weeks after an investigation into the district’s ESE department by the Florida Department of Education determined that it violated federal and state laws pertaining to special instruction for students with disabilities in math and reading.

Vitti has said he brought Davis in as head of the special education department to help revamp the program which has had a history of issues.
When asked about his decision to promote Davis on the heels of the state department's investigation, Vitti said the findings weren't reflective of Davis' role in the district.
"You certainly want a system of monitoring and tracking of a lot of the instances that were highlighted in the findings," he said.  "But at the end of the day, most of the findings were linked to what was properly or improperly done by principals; and those principals, A. Did not report directly to Mason Davis; and in many ways, it is humanly impossible to be in each of those schools looking at each of those situations."
Oh boy.
I was at a district ESE meeting in December where teacher after teacher told Davis about the problems in the schools. How they were being called away from their children, told not to get subs and being given impossible schedules among other things.
Did Davis keep those complaints to himself? Did he do something to try and fix them? If he did it wasn’t enough because the state was investigating us five months later. 
I don’t know if he is qualified for his new job or not, it seems like anybody can be the director of curriculum the way we go through them and I do find Davis generally affable but to pass the buck like this and plead ignorance isn’t right and either Vitti is covering for him, Vitti was kept in the dark, or they either didn’t care or couldn’t fix the problems any of which should give us pause.
But to blame ESE problems on rogue principals is ridiculous. Some may not have been doing their job but I vote it was the director of ESE or the superintendent because they should have been making sure that they were. Where does the buck stop around here? 

A win for Vitti with Advanced Placement tests. Updated

For years Duval padded its AP stats by putting kids that had no business taking them in advanced placement classes.

This year the amount of kids taking the classes is down and the percentage of kids passing the tests is up. Imagine that. It's also a very good thing.

Where I think Vitti’s reasoning for fewer kids taking them this past year is a bit rosy, he says they are in alternate advance programs by hook or crook it’s a good thing and long over due. Chalk this up as a win for Vitti but Fischer had a different point of view.

In the Times Union Fischer said: But not everyone is cheering Duval’s AP results. Board member Jason Fischer said Duval should increase AP participation.
“All the data show that, in general, kids who take AP exams tend to do better academically,” he said. “I want to see more kids taking it and more kids passing. I wouldn’t celebrate (fewer) people taking it.”
Unfortunately he is wrong, kids do not do better just being in AP classes though in his defense that was the prevailing thought for quite some time. A thought that sadly stymied kids both who were in them legitimately and those who weren’t.

Fischer explains his comments: I received the following e-mail from Mr. Fischer.

We had a full conversation about acceleration programs and I voiced the need to match up more high school students with acceleration programs that work best for them. Whether that's AP, IB, early college, AICE, or coursework that leads to a certification. I could have been quoted just as easily as saying we need to encourage more students to pursue early college or industry certification.

They chose to use the AP comments only. AP is not something I necessarily favor. I favor whatever best needs the needs of a particular student.

The Times Union gets it wrong about Vouchers and High Stakes Testing... again!

For a moment I thought the Times Union’s editorial board stopped at Wall Greens on the way to work and picked up some common sense juice. You see they were rightfully critical of the passage of Senate Bill 850, the bill that expanded vouchers. In case you didn’t know they legislature used parliamentary tricks to pass it on the last day, folding the voucher parts into a popular bill providing extra resources to disabled kids.
Unfortunately the Times Union’s editorial board reverted to their broke clock like track record on education issues and regurgitated the talking points of the six figured executives of Step up for Students the organization that administers the states voucher program and is paid handsomely for doing so. One part they got especially wrong was the part about high stakes testing. 
The editor wrote, “It’s surprising that a test that is roundly criticized suddenly becomes essential.” This is “essentially” a dig at the people against vouchers, where he basically calls them and me since I am one of them, a hypocrite for railing against high stakes testing but then demanding the kids that take vouchers do so.
The thing is High Stakes Testing is the rule of the land, a rule created by the people who love and want to expand vouchers. I think they are bad for all kids but unfortunately I am not the one who makes the rule and for the state legislature to say HSTs are great for public schools but unnecessary for voucher schools is ridiculous but it doesn’t stop there.
The legislature also says STEM, teacher evaluations and certification, VAM, Common Core and accountability in general are important for public schools but then shrugs their shoulders when applying those things to private schools that accept vouchers and say, “ahh the free market will figure it out.”
I believe vouchers without accountability are a bad deal and I don’t think it is asking too much to make sure they are doing what they say they will do before being allowed to expand.
Finally I would like to address one more point, the editor wrote there is turmoil in public schools and parents are looking for more options. Well the turmoil was caused by the legislature who routinely deprives schools of proper funding, initiates experimental curriculums (common core) and takes every opportunity available to kneecap the teacher profession. They in effect have created the “turmoil” and said, hey check out vouchers. I find it repugnant that they have created this crisis and now seek to and benefit off of it at the expense of public schools.  

The Jacksonville Public Education Funds undeniable conflict of interest.

The JPEF has partnered with numerous non-profits and organizations to bring awareness about the upcoming school board races.

The School Board 2014 Coalition is a group of nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations. It is led by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and includes:
§                 100 Black Men of Jacksonville
§                 Beaches Watch
§                 Duval County Council of PTAs
§                 Jacksonville Kids Coalition
§                 Jacksonville Urban League
§                 JCCI
§                 Junior League of Jacksonville
§                 League of Women Voters of Jacksonville First Coast
§                 NAACP Jacksonville Branch
§                 National Panhellenic Council
§                 Northside Love
§                 Teen Leaders of America
§                 The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida
§                 United Way of Northeast Florida
§                 War on Poverty – Florida
§                 WJCT
All of these organizations have pledged not to support or endorse any candidate. Our goal is to educate the community about their choices and promote increased participation in school board elections.

Sounds great until we realize the board of the JPEF has picked out candidates they have both endorsed and supported.

Daryl Willie
Cindy Edelman and her husband 2,000 dollars.
John Baker, 1,000 dollars
Gary Chardrand, his wife Nancy and daughter Meredith, 2,500 dollars
Poppy Clements and her husband 2,000 dollars
Cleve Warren, 255 dollars
Deloris Weaver's husband and son, 1,500 dollars

Scott Shine
The Clements 500
The Weavers 1000
Baker 500
The Chartrands 500
The Edelmans 1000 
They just got on the Shine band wagon, more money is bound to come

Becky Couch (who doesn't even have an opponent) 
The Clements, 2000
The Weavers, 3000
Baker. 1000
The Chartrands 1500
The Edelmans 1000

Um what am I missing here? The JPEF should immediately recuse themselves from any forums; at the very least the appearance of impropriety is great. 

Duval's education policies don't address our problems.

By Greg Sampson

“In short: the 50-state equity strategy is to blame individual teachers. Or reward them. Blame individual teachers while blithely ignoring the real problem… a dysfunctional system that underdevelops and undersupports teachers, and does both with impunity when it comes to students in high-need communities. Reward individual teachers while ignoring the empirical evidence… which shows that working conditions are far more important than bonuses in persuading teachers to stay or leave their classrooms.”

Good article in Valerie Strauss’s WaPo blog, Answer Sheet. I highlight the above quote because it speaks to a new program in Duval County about which many of us are skeptical: Transformation schools (or as I learned yesterday are now called DTO schools. I’ll leave to readers to ponder why DCPS leaders changed the label for the program.)

For those desiring background knowledge, this is the program the superintendent has entered into with private donors and community organizations such as the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, in which teachers with high Value-Added Model scores (VAM) will receive $17,000 to 20,000 annual pay supplements for teaching in Jacksonville’s most struggling schools.

In summary, what the teachers told the President and Secretary of Education is that years of reward and punishment based upon identifying “good” and “bad” teachers will not work. Rather, they should be establishing and promoting policy that gives teachers the time and resources needed to improve their practice: collaboration time, job-embedded professional development, mentoring.

But one of the reasons students do well in China is the time teachers are given to learn. In China teaching is a learning profession and teachers study each other’s lessons and spend many hours crafting good lessons, teaching classes for many less hours per week than US teachers but spending more time learning, out of class (Stevenson, 1994; Stigler & Stevenson, 1991; quoted in a paper by Jo Boaler, Stanford University, co-founder: www.youcubed.orgDavid Foster, Executive Director, Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative).”

Teachers need less class time and more collaboration time. The loss of the 45 minute collaboration time, during which all teachers in secondary schools were not teaching classes, really hurt us this past school year. Work suffered. Scores tumbled. One year does not prove causation; one year cannot support correlation. But put these two together, and the pairing does raise questions that need answering.

Teachers are pushed all the time to collaborate, plan together, discuss data, design common assessments, on and on. But in our district, as in the US overall, teachers don’t receive enough time in their day to accomplish it all.

Perhaps that JPEF/DTO program money would have been better spent giving all teachers more non-student time to work together.

Andy Gardiner blames unions to distract from his own failures.

I found incoming senate president Andy Gardiner’s reflexive attack of teacher unions troubling. When the FEA filed suit against senate bill 850 (voucher expansion), he said the unions may have given up on these children, but I haven’t.

First that’s very arguable, this legislature has routinely slashed education budgets, attacked the teaching profession and made policy decisions, common core, high stakes standardized testing, vouchers, charter schools and merit pay that are not supported by evidence but which quite often benefit their campaign donors. Those things not protesting a hastily thrown together bill that violates the Constitutions single subject clauses have caused exponentially more harm to children.

I also want to remind everyone that unions don’t establish budgets, create curriculums, hire or fire teachers. All they do is try to make the mutually agreed upon contract language, the rules, are enforced. Furthermore because Florida is a right to work state, things like strikes the one truly effective tool that unions have has been taken out of their toolbox.

The truth is we have serious issues in education many caused by the policies Gardnier supports, unfortunately instead of trying to fix them Gardiner seems more interested in hyperbolic rhetoric and blaming one of the groups trying to do so