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Politicians vs teachers, childrens future at stake

From Education Week

By Sean Cavanagh

State-level battles over changes in education policy have shifted in many places from legislative chambers to courthouses, as unions and other critics of new laws challenge them on the grounds that they violate state constitutions and worker contracts.

Republican governors and lawmakers—their ranks bolstered by the 2010 elections—won passage this year of ambitious measures in many states that often drew strong opposition from teachers’ unions. Points of dispute include changes in how teachers are evaluated and compensated and expansions of private school vouchers.

The strategy of challenging such laws in court, while not new, comes as GOP elected officials pursue agendas loaded with policies reviled by many unions.

“We’ve seen an uptick in [legal] activity because more programs are being passed all of a sudden,” said Dick Komer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a law firm in Arlington, Va., that has defended voucher programs. “We’ve had a small explosion of school choice programs,” he said, including those in “states that haven’t had much action in the past.”

Sweeping changes to school policy have been adopted in several states this year, and now new laws and policies are being challenged in court, in some cases by teachers' unions.

An INDIANA teachers' union is supporting a legal action to stop a law that provides private school vouchers to not only low-income, but also some middle-income families.

A pair of OKLAHOMA school districts are challenging a 2010 law, amended this year, that provides public funds to cover private school costs to students with disabilities, claiming it violates the state's constitution.

In FLORIDA, the state's largest teachers' union is opposing a measure, approved by the Republican-controlled legislature this year, to change the language in the state's constitution in a way that some say could lead to an expansion of school vouchers.

In COLORADO, a judge has blocked the Douglas County school system's implementation of a new voucher program. The district is appealing the decision.

• Pensions
FLORIDA's teachers' union is fighting a law that requires teachers and other public employees to contribute to their pension systems.

In NEW JERSEY, teachers' and other public employees' unions claim a new law violates existing contracts the state had made with workers.

• Merit Pay, Evaluation
The 600,000-member NEW YORK State United Teachers union sued the state this year, claiming that the board of regents' rules for teacher evaluation violated a 2010 law that served as part of the state's winning Race to the Top plan. A judge ruled in favor of the union on a number of points; state officials have said they will appeal.

In FLORIDA, a union is supporting a challenge to a new law that eliminates tenure for new hires and creates a merit-pay system.

In IDAHO, a union is opposing a law that phases out tenure, eliminates seniority preferences in layoff decisions, and ties teacher and principal evaluations to student achievement, claiming it violates existing contact rights.

In addition to legal actions challenging voucher programs, lawsuits filed in Florida and New Jersey seek to block the adoption of new laws that require teachers and other public employees to contribute more toward their pensions. A second suit in Florida attempts to block a new, far-reaching law that phases out tenure and implements merit pay for teachers. A legal action in Idaho takes aim at a similar law that phases out tenure and ties teacher evaluation to student performance.

Battleground Revisited

Florida has been a staging ground for past legal and political fights over vouchers. In 2006, the state supreme court ruled that a program that awarded tuition vouchers to students in struggling schools violated the state constitution. Two other voucher programs, which provide public money for private school costs to students with disabilities and those from low-income households, have continued.

The 140,000-member Florida Education Association is supporting this year’s pension and merit-pay lawsuits. It is also challenging the placement of a constitutional amendment before voters on the November 2012 ballot. Florida’s Republican-led legislature this year gave its blessing to that ballot item, which would delete language in the state constitution that prohibits public money from being used “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

The FEA, an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, believes the measure is meant to open the door to more voucher programs in the state.

FEA President Andy Ford said his union’s legal actions were a response to GOP efforts to “steamroll” the union, which he says have grown more intense since the election of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, last year.

“Everything changed” when Mr. Scott took office, Mr. Ford said.“There are three branches of government in Florida,” he added, and when the executive and legislative branches overstep their legal authority, “we go to the judicial branch.”

Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the governor, disputed the union’s contentions. She said the tenure and merit-pay policy will improve the state’s schools and its teacher corps.

“Regular working folks don’t have tenure,” she said in a statement. “Why should bad teachers? And why shouldn’t good teachers be rewarded with merit-based pay? By retaining the best teachers, weeding out the worst, and expanding school choice, we are creating a world-class education system.”

Popular Hoosier Program

One of the most closely watched legal battles is playing out in Indiana, where legislators this year approved a law to create one of the broadest voucher measures in the country. Most existing state voucher programs provide public support for private tuition to a relatively limited group of students, such as those from poor backgrounds and those with disabilities. By contrast, the Indiana law set relatively loose eligibility requirements for the state’s new program, so that students from both low- and some middle-income families could take part.

A group of parents and other state residents sued to stop the program, arguing that it violates the state constitution and improperly directs public money to religious schools. The Indiana State Teachers Association, which is affliated with the NEA, is supporting the lawsuit, though it is not a plaintiff.

“It means diminishing resources for public schools at a time when our educators and administrators are being asked to do much more,” Nate Schnellenberger, the president of the 48,000-member union, said of the voucher law.

The Indiana program has drawn strong interest so far. About 3,800 students have signed up, and 259 nonpublic schools have been approved to participate in the program that began this fall, according to state department of education spokesman Alex Damron. More than 80 percent of the participating students, he added, are from low-income households.

The state does not have an official count of how many participating schools are religious, though it believes a majority are, given that religious schools make up a relatively large share of the state’s nonpublic schools, Mr. Damron said. But Glenn Tebbe, the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the public-policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state, said Indiana has about 200 Catholic schools, and a majority of them are participating in the program.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, who supports the law, said that in addition to serving large numbers of impoverished students, early enrollees hail from a mix of urban and rural communities.

“Poverty has no geography to it,” Mr. Bennett said. “This was not a pro-private-school or anti-public-school piece of legislation.”

Clash Over Pensions

Many state leaders entered this year’s legislative sessions determined to tackle a financial issue that has a direct impact on teachers: the costs of state-run pension systems. And new pension laws have provoked lawsuits, too.

Some policymakers initially had shown an interest in shifting teachers and other public employees from defined-benefit systems—the norm in the public sector—to defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans, in which workers’ returns are more closely tied to the market. But ultimately, state officials focused on simply requiring teachers and other employees to contribute more to the existing plans, said Ron Snell, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a Denver-based research and policy organization.

Sixteen states have adopted such policies in 2011, and most of those changes will affect teacher pensions, according to the NCSL. Lawsuits in Florida and New Jersey, supported by teachers’ and other public employees’ unions, argue that new laws requiring new or increased employee contributions to pensions violate contract rights, among other legal claims.

The outcome of lawsuits over pension benefits often turns on the language in individual state constitutions, Mr. Snell said, and so it’s possible that the legal actions in Florida, New Jersey, and other states with ongoing lawsuits could produce very different results.

“We could very well see decisions that contradict each other,” Mr. Snell said.

Local Impact

Some lawsuits stemming from recently enacted state legislation are playing out in local communities.

In Oklahoma, two school systems, the 11,000-student Jenks public schools and the 15,000-student Union public schools, are suing to try to block a 2010 law, amended this year, that provides private school scholarships to students with disabilities. The districts argue that the law violates the state constitution.

“In the long term, a voucher system will destroy the system of public funding in the state,” said Cathy Burden, the superintendent of the Union school district.

But Eric N. Kniffin, a lawyer representing parents of students in the case, said the program gives families, many of them of limited means, a much richer array of learning environments and services than they could obtain through regular public schools. Mr. Kniffin works for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington law firm.

“They’re willing to make any sacrifice necessary to keep their kids in private schools,” Mr. Kniffin said.

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/09/28/05teachsuit_ep.h31.html?tkn=NUSFph6Cqn+D0dO+kfYSHSB4KWMFxFLAH5Qr&cmp=clp-edweek

Education reform has become higher risks, lower rewards for teachers

From the Shanker Blog

by Matt DiCarlo

One of the central policy ideas of market-based education reform is to increase both the risk and rewards of the teaching profession. The basic idea is to offer teachers additional compensation (increased rewards), but, in exchange, make employment and pay more contingent upon performance by implementing merit pay and weakening job protections such as tenure (increased risk). This trade-off, according to advocates, will not only force out low performers by paying them less and making them easier to fire, but it will also attract a “different type” of candidate to teaching – high-achievers who thrive in a high-stakes, high-reward system.

As I’ve said before, I’m skeptical as to whether less risk-averse individuals necessarily make better teachers, as I haven’t seen any evidence that this is the case. I’m also not convinced that personnel policies are necessarily the most effective lever when it comes to “attracting talent,” and I’m concerned that the sheer size of the teaching profession makes doing so a unique challenge. That said, I’m certainly receptive to trying new compensation/employment structures, and the “higher risk, higher reward” idea, though unproven in education, is not without its potential if done correctly. After all, teacher pay continues to lose ground to that offered by other professions, and the penalty teachers pay increases the longer they remain in the profession. At the same time, there is certainly a case for attracting more and better candidates through higher pay, and nobody would disagree that accountability mechanisms such as evaluations and tenure procedures could use improvement in many places, even if we disagree sharply on the details of what should be done.

There’s only one problem: States and districts all over the nation are increasing risk, but not rewards. In fact, in some places, risk is going up while compensation is being cut, sometimes due to the same legislation.

For example, Ohio’s controversial legislation (Senate Bill 5) eliminates tenure for new hires and guts collective bargaining rights, while simultaneously rolling back pay increases and increasing health care contributions (effectively a pay cut) for teachers and other public employees. Ohio Governor John Kasich actually promoted the bill as a cost-cutting measure, with the savings coming from public employee compensation, including that of teachers. In other words, more uncertainty in exchange for nothing or even less, all in the same bill.

Similarly, recent legislation in Florida severely weakened teachers’ collective bargaining rights, eliminated tenure for all new hires and instituted merit pay throughout the state. There is still little idea of where the money for performance bonuses will come from, but it’s doubtful they’ll make up for the fact that Governor Rick Scott has already said he will be closing the state’s $3.6 billion shortfall in part by cutting teachers’ benefits. Making things worse, Florida teachers’ base salaries have remained largely flat for the past four years. Again, higher risk, lower reward.

But these are just two examples that have gotten national attention. Tenure, job security and collective bargaining rights have been axed or weakened in many other states. There is, of course, Wisconsin, where teachers’ and other public employees’ bargaining rights were severely limited, while health and pension benefit contributions were increased (again, by the same piece of legislation). Bargaining was largely eliminated in Indiana several years ago – one result was a pay freeze in 2009 and 2010, along with higher health insurance payments (again, this is effectively a pay cut). Similar bills have also passed recently in states like Tennessee and Michigan, and we are sure to see more states, such as New Jersey, try to do the same.

I don’t know if the “higher risk, higher reward” model is a good idea for teachers – as always, it will probably depend on the design and implementation of the policies. But I do know that eroding job protections and rights without additional compensation, and especially with pay decreases, is unlikely to have anything but harmful effects on both current teachers as well as the supply of applicants. The fact that some people are presenting these bills as mechanisms for improving teacher quality suggests that they themselves may not completely understand the risks and rewards involved.

http://shankerblog.org/?p=3817

Jacksonville study shows poverty hurts more than effective instruction helps

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

The editors of the Florida-Times Union has published an informative list of conclusions that a national consultant made during a comprehensive study of Duval schools. The even-handed nature of the study is indicated by the fact that there are things that both sides of the school reform debate will not like. Nonetheless, one key statistical finding strengthens the assertion that experienced educators have been making regarding poverty. It matters; and even great teachers are often unable to overcome poverty’s massive burden on a child’s ability to achieve in the classroom.

Less-experienced teachers are overly assigned to high-poverty schools. The gap is the largest of all the districts studied by the consultants. The district invested $2.4 million in bonuses in 2009-2010, but just 11 percent of the teachers who received the bonuses transferred into the turnaround schools.

Even more important, the transferred teachers didn’t appear much more effective than the teachers they replaced.

It probably takes an entire team to turn around a school, the consultants said, starting with a super leader as principal, building a strong staff and engaging community support.

You don’t say.

With the report emphasizing “a super leader as principal” its fair to assert that this means just more than test scores. The Michelle Rhee way is to fire prinicipals whose schools did not test well. You cannot measure leadership through test scores. Principals who are educators know they cannot brow beat teachers – or students for that matter – into good test scores. The ability to lead inside any school is earned. A revolving door of principals doesn’t allow for relationship building with people inside the school – let alone in the surrounding community.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/duval-schools-study-finds-that-poverty-matters-in-florida/

Education Nations round table

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Duped: How Jacksonville's African American community was tricked out of a future

Generations of African Americans were robbed of their rights and a chance of a decent education here in Jacksonville and that’s not hyperbole that’s just how it was. Exacerbating matters, our cities leaders were resistant to change even as the writing appeared on the wall during the civil rights movement of the sixties. It was kicking and screaming that they agreed to bussing in 1971 when the best solution would have been to provide the proper resources to all the schools regardless of what side of town they were in. Though I can imagine any trepidation the leaders of the black community may have had if that promise would have come through after all they were the recipients of the systematic abuse and discrimination. Unfortunately bussing didn’t work as well as well as some would have hoped.

Children were forced to travel many miles from their homes to unfamiliar parts of town when there was often a neighborhood school close by. African American opponents believed it created problems with discipline and eroded away the cohesiveness of neighborhoods. White opponents claimed their children were being sent to dangerous neighborhoods. Both groups thought it hurt parental involvement and extra-curricular activities and some people think it worsened the problems of economic and racial segregation by encouraging white flight (white families moving to suburbs). It would be disingenuous of me to blame all these problems on the school district because bussing was the nations plan and like the rest of the nation Duval County gave it the old college try.

The next thing the Duval County School District tried was the creation of magnet schools to be located in predominantly African American areas of town. They thought specialized programs could recruit whites to voluntarily travel out of their neighborhoods and they were right. The magnet schools have been an amazing success that at the same time created a whole new set of problems.

They have created a two-tiered system of education of have and have not’s. And however the school board twists the facts they are basically glorified private schools financed by the tax payers dime. Where your students go to school in Jacksonville partly determines what type of education they receive and in a public school system that should be unacceptable. But worse than that the school board has come to believe the hype generated by the academic magnet schools and thinks they can duplicate that success at all the schools and the reality is they can’t, though the school board keeps on trying.

Which begs the question, why do we have academic magnet schools if the graduation requirements such as taking and passing algebra II are the same at all schools. Where preparing every student for college is a laudable goal, it’s also a completely unrealistic goal. Not every child is interested in going to college but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stimulate their growth, interests and needs too.

The county has practically eliminated the teaching of trades and skills despite the fact that’s a lot closer to what many students want to do and are interested in. Plumbers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, cosmetologists and day care workers will never be outsourced to India and many of those professions make as much if not more than professions that require college degrees. Furthermore many of the kids that do go to college will get liberal arts degrees and why don’t we cater to them as well instead of just catering to the math/science crowd.

Somewhere along the way the School Board also initiated an unwritten with a wink and a nod policy of social promotions. If you want proof of this look at the eleven of nineteen failing or turnaround high schools. Children didn’t arrive there and suddenly forget what they had learned. On the contrary they never learned it and were pushed along. I don’t blame elementary and middle school teachers for this. It’s gotten so difficult to fail children and often teachers are called to the mat if they try and do so. Because of this some teachers have told me the C is the new F. The thing is once they get to high school there is nowhere else to promote them to and they are forced to sink or swim with a lot of sinking going on. Social promotions have in effect dumbed down the district, unless of course you are attending one of the academic magnet schools.

If you don’t daily see the frustration on lost children’s faces you might be able to get a sense of the reasoning behind it. Children that fail are more prone to drop out, though what the powers-that-be didn’t take into account was children that have fallen behind don’t always catch up, in fact it’s often the opposite that happens and they fall farther and farther behind.

At the same time the school board started their push to prepare every student for college or what I like to call put every peg regardless of shape into a round hole, they also went soft with discipline too. Like with so many other things they have done I can recognize there may have been some noble reasoning behind it. There was a whole movement afoot for a while, which called for a kinder gentler approach to discipline that the county got behind, unfortunately the county got that wrong as well and have nearly gutted discipline as a result. Many teachers have stopped writing kids up preferring the toxic learning environment rather than being called to the mat for having dared written a referral or have the children receive no consequences for their actions. It’s a waste of my time they often say. Furthermore it doesn’t help that Principal’s evaluations are party determined by how many children they suspend. That effectively takes a tool out of their box when it comes to discipline.

Short of selling drugs or beating up a school board employee it is nearly impossible to remove a child from a school even if they are a constant discipline problem and are failing all their classes. These children often hijack the learning environment and not only stop teachers from doing their job but other students from learning as well. And if you were wondering where civility went to, well you won’t find it at most schools because it’s no longer required. Instead of just preparing children for college, I thought schools had a higher calling and that was to prepare children to be good and productive citizens.

Each of the School Boards quick fixes resulted in even more serious problems. And that’s the problem; they are trying to come up with quick fixes which in some cases are flat out unrealistic as well. They are doing this instead of sitting down and coming up with a cohesive plan that looks at the long term ramifications. Where there are so many students who have been successful despite the school board at the same time the school board has contributed to an ever growing band of students who lack manners and basic skills. Time after time the school board has been filled with good intentions that have gone awry and we all know what is paved with good intentions. I don’t think we as a city can take many more of them.

In Jacksonville there is more than enough blame to go around

You won’t find the right to a quality public education in the Bill of Rights but like the right to bear arms, worship how you please and to speak your mind, it has become one of the cornerstones of American society. Sadly there has been much debate whether all the children of Jacksonville are receiving a quality education.

Jacksonville has a long history of neglecting certain segments of our population, i.e. the African American community and even though we have been declared integrated for some time now, some people think now the city has just traded one form of segregation for another. They believe the school board just provides for the top students through academic magnet schools and other programs while neglecting the average or “special” student. But regardless if you believe that or not you must agree that the cities terrible graduation rates, our high dropout rates and the fact that 11-of the 19 area high schools are either failing or in a “turn-around” status are indicative that local public education is in big trouble.

There are many culprits, the school board in its various incarnations, the city and state governments and the citizens of Jacksonville to name a few. Instead of giving education the resources and nurturing it needs, often we have treated education and our children like a tree planted in the woods, that’s just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. There is another offender to add to that list and that’s the local teachers union.

Now I am not talking about them like the talking heads, Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh do. Where they do have the right to speak their minds it’s just unfortunate how they do so. Instead of using the truth they use random statistics as talking points to prove their point that the teachers unions are to blame for the problems in education, but what’s even more unfortunate is that some people listen to them and actually believe them. They to think the union’s only job is to protect bad teachers and of course like the reality often is when the three mentioned above speak; there is nothing further from the truth.

The waters of the education debate are muddied when people claim the unions’ only goal is to protect bad teachers from losing their jobs, when in truth the only thing the unions are protecting is all teachers’ right to due process. Here in Duval county teachers basically have a three year probation period where they can be let go for basically whatever reason. It’s only after they pass this three year point that they receive protections that can stop them from just being summarily fired. After that point the administration just needs to follow a set of guidelines before they fire a teacher. I remind you that most businesses, even non-union shops have similar procedures in place.

The talking heads often complain about the teachers unions protecting bad teachers but you never hear them saying the same thing about police and fire unions. Wouldn’t it stand to reason if it’s true about teachers it would be true about the police and firemen too? It’s especially ironic when the people of Jacksonville and in the state of Florida blame teachers unions for the woes in education because here they don’t have access to what is traditionally the most powerful weapon in labor disputes and that’s the power to strike.

Furthermore if teachers unions are so powerful then why as a profession are teachers some of the most underpaid, overworked and unappreciated workers around? Why when they shout, hey we need some help, are they often ignored?

Are there teachers that should be replaced? I wouldn’t doubt it but there are procedures in place to do so. And for every teacher that should be replaced there are dozens and dozens more that are underpaid and over worked, who have dedicated their lives and many of their own personal resources to teaching children. These teachers are routinely told to do more with less and suffer in anonymity. These are the people that the union represents; and as dedicated civil servants they are routinely disrespected when people ignorantly repeat the talking point that it’s the teacher’s unions fault when discussing the problems in education.

Though that’s not to say the local DTU doesn’t bear some of the responsibility for the problems in education that Jacksonville is facing.

Every day the union allows the school district to violate Article 4, provision E, clause 1, of the teachers contract which states, for the 180 student-contact days, the employee workday shall be seven and one-third hours, including lunch time on campus. If reports or other assignments are given to teachers, the scope shall be that they can reasonably be completed during the workday, about nine thousand times.

That’s to say today’s teachers are assigned more tasks than they can possibly do in a day. They arrive well before the children do and then leave well after. They take home papers to grade and lesson plans to write every night. They work on the weekend and on their days off rarely getting ahead just avoiding falling too far behind. They do all this for free and away from their families and loved ones. Over worked, burned out teachers aren’t the best to have but that’s what the DTU has allowed the school board to create by the thousands.

Furthermore the DTU has tolerated the school board to creating a two tiered system of education with the creation of the dedicated academic magnet schools and it’s not just two-tiered for students it’s two tiered for teachers as well. Teachers at the highly successful magnet schools don’t have to jump through the same hoops as the teachers at the failing or turn around schools. They also don’t have the same type of child who isn’t interested in learning and who thinks they are entitled and can act however they want.

Then the union has allowed the school board to tie principal’s evaluations to suspensions. This not only takes a tool out of their discipline tool box but it has the added detriment of eroding discipline. So many teachers no longer right referrals because they are questioned or nothing happens. Instead they and the student who does want to learn and there are so many of them have to endure a toxic learning environment.

Finally the school board has allowed an environment of fear to be fostered. Many teachers don’t like to openly talk about the problems in the district because they are afraid there will be repercussions and their careers will be hurt. A bad evaluation here, a disapproving phone call there and suddenly a teacher is no longer eligible for performance pay, can’t transfer, is assigned the planning period or teaching assignment they don’t want and/or has to endure a hostile working environment.

When looking around there are many people responsible for the state of education. There is the school board who seems to be in over their head and whose policies often seem counterintuitive to improving education. Theirs the state government who refuses to fund education at acceptable levels preferring to finance tax breaks for a select few and to try and get education on the cheap. Then there’s the citizens of Jacksonville many of who have turned a blind eye and allowed the problems to fester placing their faith in people who either can’t do the job or who don’t care to.
Then finally the local teachers union must share some of the responsibility as well though it’s not because like the talking heads would have you believe that they are protecting bad teachers, it’s because they aren’t protecting the good ones enough.

A few reasons to drop education funding law suits, we will need the money for public assistance and jail

Some concerned citizen groups and prominent citizens are suing the state of Florida to have the legislature fulfill its constitutional duty to properly fund education. I feel their frustration, and - in spirit - I am with them; but at the same time, let me say "Please, please drop the lawsuit - just in case you win". There is no reason for us to waste more of our money on public education and it is with great sadness I say 'waste'. Let us save it, instead, to spend on things we are really going to need more of...like more public assistance programs and prisons.

We could double or even triple the amount of money we spend on education. We could go from 'worst to first' in spending. We could turn our schools into high-tech palaces and give every child a top of the line laptop, too. We could double the salaries of our teachers and put Wal-Marts in the schools, full of supplies - and not one bit of it would make a difference as long as we kept doing things the same way we are doing them now.

Where money (or lack thereof) is a problem, it pales in comparison to the real problem, and that’s what education has been transformed into over the last decade. Somehow, up became down; black became white; left became right and it became allright to jump on the furniture - basically, none of what we’re doing makes sense anymore. Take the F-CAT for instance: we have a high-stakes test that drives our curriculum. All through time, tests were supposed to be a component of education, not the whole "kit and kaboodle" - and that’s what the F-CAT has become.

Then there is our curriculum. We have a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum, despite the fact that kids come in many different sizes (and by sizes, I mean they come with a wide variety of desires, interests, and abilities). We have all but eliminated the arts, trades and skills as we force kids into remedial academics so they can be ready for a post-secondary education - an education many do not want and for which they will not be prepared. Friends, if they are in remedial academics...well, maybe there is a better road they can travel. Is it any stretch of the imagination to think that if we make school unbearable or irrelevant to kids, then they won’t do well - or worse, that they will drop out?

Our legislation has also ratcheted up the graduation requirements, which might sound good on paper, but this has had the unintended consequence of "dumbing-down" education. Rigor is destroyed as teachers are put in the impossible position of either failing a kid who doesn’t have the skills they need (because they didn’t have a firm foundation to start with), or pushing them along. Pushing kids along has become standard procedure...how else do you explain that over half our kids get to high school and aren't able to read or do math on grade level (according to the F-CAT, that is)? It’s become nearly impossible, for numerous reasons, to fail a student; but perhaps chief among those reasons is that teachers are threatened with loss of merit pay - or even their jobs - if they do so. "Well, you must not be a good teacher if you fail so many [or any] kids", they are told, with a wink and a nod.

It’s not as if teachers can teach like they used to, anyway; many have their classrooms hijacked by an unruly kid or two. "Ignore behavior" has become the new mantra. Referrals aren’t always processed, and true consequences are rarely given when teachers dare to write children up. If a kid doesn’t respond to a teacher's "teacher voice" or "teacher look" and doesn’t care about what meager rewards (or consequences) a teacher has for them, then there has to be some back-up. Many of today’s schools have no back-up, and the teacher is forced to either risk their job or pay, or endure a toxic learning environment. Just like not everybody is going to go to college, despite the state's insistence that they all can, some kids aren’t suited for a regular teaching environment -and at some point, as contrary as we might feel about it, we should cut a few out to save the many. "No child left behind" should be changed to "we are leaving about five to ten percent behind until they learn how to behave". Though, if we had started with real consequences at school at an early age, that number could have been only one to two percent now.

Another reason not to fund education is that there is already way too much pressure on teachers. Teachers have become the scapegoats for the woes in education - can you imagine how bad it would be if we doubled the budget? There would be the occasional teacher lynching accompanying the weekly mass firings when teachers couldn’t meet what ever arbitrary number was in vogue. Teachers have all the responsibility but none of the authority to teach our state's children. They can’t discipline or fail kids, and they are put on schedules and given curriculums that rob them of creativity and initiative and practically ensure a new topic must be covered before an old topic is mastered. No thank you. I would rather keep my paycheck-to-paycheck existence than be put in that position.

It doesn’t matter to me that since 2001, only 37% of students taking the 10th-grade FCAT read on grade level. Florida ranks 47th in the nation in high school graduation rates with only 57.5% of the classes between 1996 and 2006 earning regular diplomas, that from 1997 to 2006, the white-black achievement gap among 10th-graders grew from 11% to 18%, and, that unsurprisingly, our state ranks 50th in total public education spending when compared to in-state wealth (statistics taken from http://jacksonville.com/opinion/letters-readers/2010-09-17/story/parents-are-demanding-florida-educate-its-children). None of that will change unless we change the way we do things. If we keep doing things the way we are then even if we threw an unlimited amount of money at education it will not improve.

I believe that education is woefully under funded. I believe that the citizens of Florida should be embarrassed that we value our children so little that we have allowed our leaders to fund education at such a meager level - we’re 50th out of 50, for goodness' sake. I also believe there is no greater duty than for the present generation to prepare the next. Furthermore it says it right in the Florida constitution that the paramount duty of the legislation is “to provide and fund a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools”. I also believe this is a paramount duty that has been ignored for quite some time.

Because the state of Florida has been shirking its duties for quite some time, some citizens groups of Florida (Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund education now.org) and other prominent citizens have become angry enough to take the state government to court in order to get them to do what they should have been doing all along. While I find this very admirable, I also believe they are wasting their time and I believe if they won it would just mean we were wasting more money. Finally I believe we would be better off saving our money for jails and public assistance, because we’re still going to need plenty of money for those things if we keep doing things the same way.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Why first hired first fired in education is almost a necessity

When I was in elementary school my third grade teacher was in her mid thirties and that was as young as I got. Back then most of my teachers were considerably older. They all had years if not decades of experience. You won’t find that now. It’s possible today for kids today to go all through school and not have a teacher who hasn’t been on the job for more than five years. Teaching isn’t a profession like it was just a generation ago, it’s a just a job and a job with a fairly high turnover rate at that and that is part of the problem.

Teaching is also a job that has tenure, which means if you do it fairly well it’s a job one can have for life. Teaching is a job that starts at a pretty decent wage and is also a job that has every holiday off. Despite all this, sadly this is a job that fewer and fewer people want to do, a job that fewer and fewer people stick with.

When John Thrasher and his ill-conceived senate bill six made the headlines a few months ago, one of his selling points was that a first year teacher could be as good as a tenth year teacher and where this is true it’s also highly unlikely. It takes years for teachers to hone their craft and I don’t know any teacher that thinks they were a better teacher when they started.

First year teachers even the ones with teaching degrees often don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what questions to ask. This is often compounded by the fact that most first year teachers are sent to the most struggling schools and are often inundated with extra paper work and tasks to do. The first few years of teaching is less about teaching and more about surviving. I have said it and it’s the same thing I heard my first year; “Just get though the first year kid, it will get better.”

In Jacksonville at the start of the 2009 school year 27 percent of teachers had less than four years experience. This matches up well with the fact that forty percent of teachers don’t last five years and this at a job that many say with a smirk gets summers off while they sit in front of their televisions and think to themselves I could do that.

Starting in year five and going through year 22 the amount of teachers in each subsequent year declines, 509 495 419 329 279 264 237 227 226 196 148 129 157 135 130 117 124 115. Over half of our teachers have less than nine years experience. Now nine years is a long time but as I stated above the teaching profession has changed.

Why do teachers leave? Well many feel overwhelmed, they are given more tasks than they can possibly accomplish or do well. If it was just teaching more would make it but sadly teaching today has less and less to do with teaching than many might think possible. Furthermore teachers are put in unattainable positions, every year the pressure on teachers seems to grow, while at the same time, parents, the community, the administration and the government seems to get a pass. Then others quickly grow weary of having to raise other people’s children. Teacher’s sighed up to teach and when they did so they knew some mentoring would go with the job. They didn’t know they would have to teach manners, basic rights from wrongs and how to be respectful as well. Others and I personally think this is the biggest reason that many have left the field is a lack of support.

The first year teacher shows up bright eyed and filled with optimism, ready to change the world, and this is an incredible feeling to have, though it is fleeting as many first year teachers have to go into survival mode. They try all sorts of methods to get the children to take care of their responsibilities, which are simple enough, come to class, listen and learn; First they come in as a strict disciplinarian, as this is the standard advice given to first year teachers. They are told to come in tough and then they can ease up as the year progresses. If this fails with some students, the first year teacher often reverts to being a social worker, trying to figure out why they act the way they do and tries to help solve their problems, then with some students they try to become their friend, figuring if they were friends, the students would treat them better, that's treat them with some with dignity and respect. They do this because it takes different strategies to get through to different students.

And for the most part with one of these strategies they are successful, as ninety percent of all students want to be there, they want to learn, or at worse are followers, which means if there ring leader isn't there they fall in line with the children who do want to learn. After a while it's just that ten percent of students that no matter what they try to do continue to cause them problems.

They talk to their mentors, as every first year teacher is assigned one, and their colleagues and department head as well. They ask what they can do to get these last few students in line. The first year teacher laments when the unruly students are absent, "it's dreamy, I can actually teach". They veterans look at the rookies with sympathetic eyes but they also have problems of their own. Just survive the first year; we tell them, it gets easier. But how do I get through to them they ask, we shrug our shoulders and suggest, try and get the parents involved maybe they can help somehow, but in our hearts we know they are fighting an unwinnable battle with some students.

So they call the parents trying to set up parent teacher conferences, to discuss the child's performance both academically and behaviorally, because often-poor performances in these areas go hand in hand. Some of the parents can't be bothered figuring it was the teacher’s problem once the child came to school, others report having the same difficulties at home where they to are at a loss. The two parties might get together and try a few interventions and some students might actually turn it around, but just as often many students don't.

Backed into a corner the first year teacher writes the student up, only to find them back in class before the period is over or at best the next day and angry that they were written up, the problem begins to worsen. You see most likely the child received no meaningful consequences for their behavior, and thus continues it. The teacher writes the child up again and again the child is back in class the next day, except this time the teacher is paid a visit by an administrator or called to the office. Why can't you control this child, they are asked, they explain all that they have done and how none of it has worked. The first year teacher is then told, that referrals are only to be written for the most extreme circumstances and then only after every alternative has been exhausted. Most likely they aren't given any new alternatives as they slump their shoulders and heads back to the classrooms. Because of this lack of support many won’t make it.

When school starts up I will meet twenty or so first time teachers. Of those twenty a few won’t last through the first semester. I say this with some assuredly because this has happened every year that I have been a teacher. They just don’t make it, preferring to get a job at the mall or waitressing instead of sticking with the job that many of them spent years preparing themselves for.

Forty percent of teaches won’t last five, over half won’t last ten and probably less than a quarter of all first year teachers make it a career.

Even numbered Star Trek movies don't suck, an education metaphor

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, puppies are cute and the combination of chocolate and peanut butter was masterful. These are irrefutable truths. Another irrefutable truth is even numbered Star Trek movies don’t suck.

Star Trek First Contact was the second film with the next generation cast and is no exception to the rule. In fact some people think before the latest film it was the best the series had to offer. It featured a sleek new enterprise traveling in time to fight the, you will be assimilated, Borg.

If you don’t know, the Borg are like locus descending on a lush green field. Then once they leave it’s barren, devoid of anything meaningful. Their goal is to assimilate everything into their collective and to make everything the same.

During one dramatic moment where things looked particularly grim, it was suggested to Captain Piccard that they give up and run away. He however chose not to saying; I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We've made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And *I* will make them pay for what they've done. It’s an awesome, memorable speech if you haven’t seen the movie and it make me wish we had a Captain Piccard in charge of education.

In education we to have made too have made many compromises. We have allowed behavior to become a secondary concern. We have practically eliminated the teaching of the trades, skills and arts to appease the “everybody most go to college and be an engineer or doctor crowd.” Those that think every child is suited for and wants to go college, that every child should be lumped into that one group are the Borg of this little narrative and they have been just as devastating to educating, as Captain Picard’s adversaries were to his ship and crew. We have retreated into a one size fits all curriculum that sees so many children fall through the cracks and we have made teachers the scapegoats for all that is wrong in education and like Captain Piccard said, a line must be drawn, and why can’t we draw it here in Jacksonville, Florida.

The powers-that-be have long touted how they are on the cutting edge of education, what with their magnet schools, magnet programs and advanced graduation requirements. The thing is despite these innovations the district and the city as a whole have languished in recent years. Our graduation and dropout rates are high and are reading rates are low. Many of our graduates that go to college have to take remedial classes and those that don’t have trouble finding jobs that are appropriate for their skills. We have created a generation of children that is capable of taking one test, the f-cat but not much else. Why doesn’t Jacksonville say enough is enough and become a real leader in education? Why doesn’t Jacksonville say we’re no longer going to do it the way the experts who have led us to the abyss say we need to do it, we’re drawing a line here and we’re going to start with behavior.

Kids need consequences for their behavior and remember or a consequence to be effective it must be meaningful. If we don’t give them consequences at school then how are they going to know how society works, because society will give them consequences for their behavior? Then not everybody is going to win a trophy either and kids must be allowed to fail so they can have a second opportunity to succeed to get the skills they need. Pushing them along hoping they will somehow these lost skills will miraculously appear, only serves to compound the problem and like not disciplining them will, this too will have grave consequences when they enter adult hood.

We also can’t keep putting kids and teachers in impossible situations and then wondering why they don’t succeed. High school is eight classes, many kids have no electives and they are tested nearly into a coma. Students are in classes many aren’t interested in or prepared for too is it any wonder they don’t do well? How would you do? Also teachers are overwhelmed with task after tasks that only have a peripheral relationship with education, and they have had their creativity, initiative and moral all but destroyed. They are also held responsible for how a child does, regardless of the lack of support and resources they receive, or the ability and desire that the kids in their classes have.

Friends we need to draw a line in the sand and go enough is enough? We have to say we will not stand to have education eroded any farther because quite frankly we can’t have education eroded any farther. Ask a long time teacher if they think it has changed for the better and then ask an employer if they think society has changed for the better too. Captain Piccard said he would make the Borg pay, well friends our children and our city are already paying a step price for the lines that we have allowed to be crossed. How much more of a price are we willing to pay?

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, puppies are cute and the combination of chocolate and peanut butter is masterful and even numbered Star Trek movies don’t suck, these are irrefutable truths. Another is we are headed on the road to ruin unless we say enough is enough, unless we draw a line. Why not here Jacksonville? Why not here?

When it comes to education, who is the smartest guy in the room (rough draft)

I spent ten years in college. I picked my degrees based on the math (well, make that the lack of math) I would have to take. My mother would lament that I would have to make it on my looks because making it with my brains was out of the question. And nobody - nobody - mistakes me for the smartest guy in the room; however, when I hear these so-called education experts talk about what education needs, I can’t help but think I just might be.

Experts yell about charter schools and merit pay, but study after study indicates that nothing makes a greater impact on children’s learning than your run-of-the-mill neighborhood school taught by your run-of-the-mill teacher. They also talk about mentors and early literacy programs and paying our best teachers to go to our worst schools - but the reality is that we have been doing these things (to no avail) for about a decade now.

They come up with the same tired old answers to the same problems as if suddenly, this time, they will work. Well, friends - they will never work as long as we ignore the elephant in the room which is not every kid is the same. As long as we insist on treating them that way, then nothing will change. We might not like it, (and for the powers-that-be, it’s hard to admit) but not every kid is cut out for (or interested in) going to college - and that should be okay. We should strive to help all our children be as successful as they can, whether that means college or not. The simple truth is that for some of our kids, we should celebrate them getting a job with room for advancement as much as we celebrate other kids getting into an Ivy League school.

So many kids don’t enjoy going to school. They only do so because they are required to...and here is some more honesty - why should they enjoy or like going to school? We push them along until high school, where there is nowhere else to push them to, and then we overwhelm them with classes they both aren’t prepared for and aren’t interested in. Often, their schedules are crammed with remedial this or intensive that and they don’t have a break from their academics with classes they like. Also, many are sitting next to kids who don’t care at all; who turn learning environments toxic; who have been pushed along, too, never having received a consequence for their behavior. I think it’s a tribute to our fine teachers that we are doing as well as we are.

Friends, we don’t need charter schools, and merit pay is one of those ideas that sound good on paper, but in reality it’s nearly impossible to apply. First, we need discipline; but then, we need multiple curriculums that service all our kids' needs - not just the ones who are going to college. We need to bring back the trade and skills programs and make the arts just as important as science and math. You want to know how to improve student's grades? Well, tell a sixteen-year-old that if they complete an apprenticeship program in carpentry, plumbing or some other skill, they can start making $20.00 an hour upon graduation. That will improve grades. Just pushing college has the opposite effect, as many of them know that college is just a mirage. I am not saying that college isn’t important; I am saying it’s not the be-all/end-all, and many of our students aren’t even remotely ready for college upon graduation from high school. What would be wrong if they worked at a good job for a while and then went to college when they were ready?

I have written before that we don’t need to bribe our best teachers to go to the worst schools because, quite frankly, many of them are already there - and they have chosen to be there. They have chosen to show up day after day and put in the work under the most trying conditions. Often, their reward is to be overwhelmed with task after task that, at best, has a peripheral relationship with education. Volumes of data are nice and all, but there are diminishing returns and most of the information they need they get from working with the children for a few weeks.

Mentors are also important, but buses to take kids home after they stay at school to receive extra help (or a consequence for bad behavior) and for legitimate summer school programs (where kids can either maintain skills or acquire new ones), are so much more important. If we are bound and determined to pass students through, let's at least make sure they get the skills they need, and for more than a few kids, that requires extra time. Though we have to make summer school fun, let's trick them into learning by giving them a P.E. and art class at the same time we give them academic classes.

Then, of course, we need early literacy programs - but we need to make sure they don’t lose their gains in middle school, which is what typically happens. Why do they lose the skills then? Well, it’s probably because about then, many students are having their love of school stripped from them as more and more assignments and classes are pushed on them. These are kids, for goodness' sake, and they shouldn’t have hours of homework every night. If we want them to do well in school, then it wouldn’t hurt if we made them like school, too. One way to make sure that happens is by providing them with classes they like.

We also have to take care of their needs when they are not at school. Academic coaches are such a fad right now, and where some are great, we have more pressing needs. Hey, I have an idea - let's let each department pick their best teacher and give them an extra planning period so they can help plan and develop lessons to help the other teachers. Then, let's take the money we saved and hire some social workers and counselors to provide wrap-around services and get to the meat of the problems that our most struggling students are having. So often, kids not trying at school or acting up at school has nothing to do with school. We’re never going to solve their school issues if we if we continue to ignore their other problems.

How do the powers-that-be (the policy makers and politicians) not get it,? Well, maybe it’s because they aren’t in the classroom and society has gotten to the point where everybody but teachers gets a pass for the problems we have in education.

I spent ten years in college. I picked my degrees based on the math (well, make that the lack of math) that I would have to take. My mother would lament that I would have to make it on my looks because making it with my brains was out of the question. And nobody - nobody - mistakes me for the smartest guy in the room; however, when I hear these so-called education experts talk about what education needs, I can't help but think I just might be.

Florida Legislature upsurps local control

From the North Florida Daily News

by Katie Tammen

The Okaloosa County School Board has pushed back the start date for the 2012-13 school year.

In a unanimous vote earlier this week, the board opted to change the start date to Aug. 20.

The board originally had approved a calendar that would have started classes Aug. 9 and ended them May 22, 2013.

The school district decided to change next year’s calendar, in part, to align it with this year, when classes began Aug. 22.

School officials had planned to begin the current school year Aug. 5, but had to change it last spring after the district failed to meet the state standards for starting classes early.

Under state law, only school districts who earn high performing status from the Department of Education can begin classes more than two weeks before Labor Day.

“It’s prudent to go to a later start that we know can be consistent every year,” Ryan Gore, who oversees the calendar committee for the district, told the School Board on Monday night.

Aside from the different start date, the new calendar also will alter several school breaks and have the first semester conclude after the Christmas break.

Students will be off Nov. 19-23 for Thanksgiving, Dec. 21-Jan. 4 for Christmas and March 25-29 for spring break in 2013.

The school year will end June 6.

Superintendent of Schools Alexis Tibbetts said she wasn’t pleased that the district had to make the change and hopes to see amendments to state laws regarding school start dates.

“I haven’t given up on this. I feel like the state legislators’ intrusion into when local school districts start school is overreaching,” Tibbetts said. “The legislators should not tell school districts when to start school.”

She said the earlier start date can be key to helping students in all grade levels. For high school students, starting school earlier makes dual-enrollment, AP courses and college applications easier. Elementary students get more in-class instruction before they have to take the FCAT, which determines in some grades levels whether or not a student gets promoted.

Tibbetts said she and other superintendents and school boards across Florida plan to lobby for a change to the law in the near future.

“This law is counter to what we should be doing,” Tibbetts said. “There’s all kinds of unintended consequences with this legislation.”

Read more: http://www.nwfdailynews.com/articles/school-43940-calendar-year.html#ixzz1ZIWqWOUw

Is it time to elect Florida's education commisioner?

Yes definitly. -cpg

From the St. Pertersburg Times Gradebook

by Jeff Solochek

Until Charlie Crist left the office, Florida's education commissioner was an elected post. Several prominent leaders, including Frank Brogan and Doug Jamerson, held the job.

Since Crist, though, the position has been an appointed one, first by the governor and then by the State Board of Education.

State Sen. Joe Negron has proposed returning the choice to the voters. And, according to a new poll by Lobbytools (subscription required), a majority of voters agree.

In the poll, 56 percent of respondents answered Yes to the statement "the commissioner of education should be of the same stature as the CFO, attorney general and the commissioner of agriculture, and voters should be able to choose the best candidate."

27 percent said, "No, it should be the governor's prerogative to select a commissioner who supports his goals, and elections for the position would bring unnecessary and potentially harmful politics into education."

17 percent said, "It doesn't matter, as long as the commissioner fulfills his duties it makes no difference how he gets the position."

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/should-florida-return-elected-education-commissioner

How to make your kid a great reader

From CNN.com

by James Paterson

Editor's note: James Patterson's most recent book, "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" is a No. 1 New York Times and No. 1 Indiebound best-seller. He is also the author of the award-winning "Maximum Ride," "Daniel X," and "Witch & Wizard" young adult series, and is the 2010 Children's Choice Book Awards author of the year. In 2008, Patterson created www.ReadKiddoRead.com, a site dedicated to helping parents find books that will get their kids reading.

CNN) -- You're reading CNN.com, so maybe this isn't a stress-inducing worry in your house, but for too many kids in this country, reading is a dirty word. Fortunately, we know exactly whom we have to talk to in order to start a much-needed intervention.

Sorry, moms and dads, but it's your job -- not the schools' -- to find books to get your kids reading and to make sure they read them.

Here's some good news: This can often be as easy as teaching children to ride a two-wheeler or to throw a baseball. Case in point: When our son, Jack, was 8, he wasn't a gung-ho reader. Now, I'm sure my wife, Sue, and I have made a half-million mistakes raising Jack, but during that eighth summer of our stewardship, we did something right: We told him he didn't have to mow the lawn (hooray!), but he was going to read every day (boo).

We then told Jack we were going to help him find books we promised he would like: the Mom-and-Dad "Reading Can Be a Joy" Guarantee. We picked out "The Lightning Thief," a book in the "Warriors" series, "A Wrinkle in Time," "Al Capone Does My Shirts," a novel from my own "Maximum Ride" series, and a few others. By the end of the summer, Jack had read half a dozen books that he loved, and his reading skills had improved dramatically.

Here's a simple but powerful truth that many parents and schools don't act on: The more kids read, the better readers they become.

The best way to get kids reading more is to give them books that they'll gobble up -- and that will make them ask for another. Yes, it's that simple. 1 + 1 = 2. Kids say the No. 1 reason they don't read more is that they can't find books they like. Freedom of choice is a key to getting them motivated and excited. Vampire sagas, comics, manga, books of sports statistics -- terrific! -- as long as kids are reading. Should they read on e-tablets? Sure, why not? How about rereading a book? Definitely. And don't tell them a book is too hard or too easy. "Great Expectations"? Absolutely. "Finnegans Wake"? Well, maybe not. And remember, books can be borrowed free at libraries.

Some schools and school systems are on top of the reading problem. Is yours?

Many schools around the country are successful at getting kids reading. That raises the obvious question: How come so many schools aren't?

There are terrific models for success with reluctant readers, but many school systems and state governments need to set aside their "not invented here" and "we have more important problems than education" attitudes.

The Drop Everything and Read program is a brilliant learning tool used by more than a thousand schools. Drop Everything and Read schools devote one period a day to kids -- and their teachers -- doing nothing but reading, and mostly reading what they want to. The results can be dramatic.

The Knowledge Is Power Program schools in Washington require students to read at least 20 books a year and to carry a book with them at all times. Hooray! The Sun Prairie public schools in Wisconsin stopped buying textbooks and used the money to buy children's trade books. Reading scores improved, because the kids wanted to read. P.S. 8 in the Bronx, New York, has a rotating library of student-published and student-illustrated books. Kids love books written by their peers. One Texas school librarian has a club for fourth- and fifth-grade boys called the BUBBAs. The kids read books such as "It's Disgusting-- and We Ate It!," "Holes," the "Time Warp Trio" series, and the "Joey Pigza" books. Silly, funny, and it works.

Speaking of boys, here's how to get reluctant readers -- er, boys -- reading and loving it.

First, try to understand that boys can be a little squirrelly when it comes to reading, and what's squirrelly about them needs to be praised and encouraged.

Boys should be made to feel all squishy inside about reading graphic novels, comics, pop-ups, joke books, and general-information tomes -- especially the last. GuysRead.com has categories such as "Robots," "How to Build Stuff," "Outer Space, but with Aliens," and "At Least One Explosion." It's a wonderful site for finding books that will turn boys on to reading.

Teachers and school administrators might want to consider this: in many schools, there's a tendency not to reward boys for reading books like "Guinness World Records" or "Sports Illustrated Almanac" or "The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll." Too often, boy-appealing books are disproportionately overlooked on recommended reading lists.

Big mistake. Tragic mistake. Avoidable mistake. It's all about attitude. If your kids' school library isn't a boy magnet, the school probably needs to check its attitude.

Where to find books your kids will gobble up.

ReadKiddoRead.com, GuysRead.com, and Oprah.com's Kids Reading List are excellent resources, and they're simpler to use than an iPhone. The American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association have recommendations for terrific books, easily found by searching "ALA reading lists." DropEverythingandRead.com has a "Favorite D.E.A.R. Books" tab on its home page.

Most libraries and bookstores are extremely generous with their time and help. Kids and parents should visit Scholastic and other book fairs. Free or low-cost books for schools are available (while supplies last) at ReadKiddoRead.com, FirstBook.org, and ReadertoReader.org.

Reading role models, please apply here.

Let's face it: Most of us don't realize it, but we are failing our kids as reading role models. The best role models are in the home: brothers, fathers, grandfathers; mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Moms and dads, it's important that your kids see you reading. Not just books -- reading the newspaper is good too.

The president and the first lady can be powerful role models if they are willing to pitch in and press the issue from their bully pulpit. In England, the entire country celebrates World Book Day. Every young lass and bloke gets a pound to buy a book of their choice, and most bookstores lower prices for the day. Cheers for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was an active role model for getting kids reading.

By showing more respect for books, kid-influential organizations such as ESPN, the NBA, and the NFL could help thousands of kids become better readers. I cringe when I hear college-educated sports announcers scoff at books during broadcasts because they're afraid to man up to being readers themselves.

Hollywood studios and stars could inspire kids to read, but often don't. Apparently, some film directors think it's their civic duty to teach kids how to smoke. Magazines and newspapers could call attention to the reluctant reader and literacy problems on a daily or weekly basis. Fast-food chains could put stories in their kids' meal boxes -- most publishers will work with them. Video-game makers could incorporate written stories in their games; maybe it ought to be the price of admission for selling to kids. Many publishers could do a much better job of supplying free or low-cost books to schools in need.

Now, this entire article probably took you only a few minutes to read. Please don't let your effort end here. While you're thinking about it, send your thoughts, or even this piece, to your school principal or librarian. Heck, send it to the White House. If you have the means, offer to buy your local school a few good books. But most important, take your kids or grandkids or students to a library or a bookstore or go online to search for some books right now. If you have better ideas than the ones suggested here, terrific -- please share them with your school, or in the comments section below, or at ReadKiddoRead.com.

Your taking action will speak louder than words to kids about the power and glory of reading: First you read, then you get up off your seat and do something to fix the problem.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/28/opinion/patterson-kids-reading/index.html

There is no epidemic of bad teachers

Often when I read a piece about teaching from the Times Union editorial staff I roll my eyes and sigh. I wonder to myself how they would feel if came in and told them how to edit a piece or that the way they wrote their editorials was all-wrong. I wonder what they would think if I said, the number one goal of the Times Union should be to improve its editorial staff. Now sometimes they get it right but they showed today was not one of those days when they wrote, The American people get it. Improving the quality of teaching should be the No. 1 goal of American education. The truth is the American people do not get it and neither does the editor who wrote the piece.

I do get it though. The public education system in the United States is failing and teachers are the ones on the front line. The last decade has seen education produce a generation of kids ill prepared for either college or the work force and seen the United State's standing in the world drop dramatically. Citizens, and rightfully so, are tired of crime in their streets and a lack of civility in our neighborhoods and in our stores, something that education needs to take at least some responsibility for. Likewise they look at the KIPP and other charter schools and see amazing things happening and wonder why that can’t be replicated at PS this or PS that. Then they hear about things like vouchers and merit pay and I admit in a vacuum they sound like good ideas and wonder why teachers as a whole are resistant. Furthermore there has been a well coordinated and I believe very misinformed campaign to improve teacher quality, waged by prominent Americans like Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg and even President Obama among others. I get it, Americans are tired of kids failing and dropping out, they are tired of kids that can’t read or do much more than play video games and the person standing in front of them with a “who me” look on their face isn’t Alfred E. Newman it’s a teacher. I understand their frustration, I feel their angst and I too worry about the future.

What the public doesn’t get and what the author of today’s editorial doesn’t get, is where teacher quality should always be an issue and we should always strive to put our best and brightest in the classroom, is the fact they have been hood winked, as we already have many of our best and brightest and perhaps just as important willing already in our schools. Sure there are bad teachers and we should do our best to remove them but nothing will improve as long as we continue to do things the way we are doing them now.

You ever wonder why the school district hasn’t just switched the faculty at Stanton one of the best schools in the whole country with one of the faculties at Ribault, Raines, Jackson or Forrest high schools, supposedly some of the worse that are about the same size. Why haven’t they done it, just pulled the trigger? Well it’s because they know it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. At the end of the day Stanton would still be one of the best schools in the nation and those others would still be struggling. Friends it’s not teachers that are destroying the American education system, it’s the policy makers, those in far off ivory towers many of who have never been in a classroom or if so it was in an era long past that are in the process of signing educations death warrant.

Teaching is the only profession I can think of run by non teachers and the only profession that anybody thinks they can do. Where is the man on the street when it comes to cancer, it’s been around for a while, shouldn’t doctors have cured it by now, you know what doctor quality must be a problem, lets replace all the doctors. Firemen and the police by-in-large, contractors, garbage workers, scientists, and engineers, and speaking of engineers where is my jet pack, if Gilligan had one in the seventies we should all have one now, the quality of our engineers must be abysmal, all get a pass from the man on the street and the editor typing away but teachers don’t.

Also if teaching is so easy, why do forty percent of teachers not last five years. If teaching is so easy why until the economy soured was there always a shortage, and if teaching is so easy, what were the five teachers who quit my school before the first nine weeks was over thinking? The truth is teaching is not easy, there are no summers off anymore and very few, despite the day for most starts well before nine, are home by five.

The system has put teachers in impossible situations and then told the public to point their fingers at them and demands their heads when they can’t succeed, well the system and editors of papers that is. Neither of who, actually get it.

Teachers did not decide to destroy discipline, I had a kid put his hands on me earlier this week and threaten to beat me up and because I was to slow getting the referal to the office they sent this charming young man back to his class and then when I asked a dean to come with me to confront another young man who refuses to come back to class after lunch, I was told she couldn’t be bothered.

Teachers did not put all kids into a one size fits all curriculum. Why are kids who want to work with their hands or who are interested in the liberal arts forced to take classes they aren’t only interested in but will never use. Not every kid is going to go to college and we need to start servicing their needs instead of sitting back and hoping somebody comes along with a magic wand and turns them into the kids we wish we had. Friends we have the kids we have, not the kids we wish we had and must plan accordingly.

Teachers did not systematically strip away the joy of learning from many children. Electives, the arts and trades have disappeared from many schools and we are forcing kids who we should be elated by if they read a comic book to read Ethan Frome or some other classic they neither want to nor can relate to.

Teachers did not decide that the massive volume of paper work that have very little to do with actual teaching is what they should be doing, nor did they decide to strip out their creativity and flexibility to adhere to learning schedules and pacing guides.

Teachers did not decide to institute high stakes testing, which is all education has become. They know a test should be a component of education not the end all be all that it is today.

Teachers did not put so many kids, influenced by their neighborhoods abandoned by their parents into yet one more no win situation, their schools. No friends, that was you man and woman on the street and editor of the paper, you did it by allowing special interests to hijack and people who have no business being anywhere near a school to be in charge of education, you did it, teachers are just playing the hand you dealt to them.

That’s not to say teachers haven’t done some things. Teachers did decide to enter the profession because they wanted to help children and because they wanted to make a difference, not to get rich or garner some authority or celebrity. Teachers also decided to sacrifice their precious time and money for the sake of their students often while their own children wait in extended day or go without and teachers by and large are doing the best they can with what they have been given, which sadly in many cases is not that much. It's should be a credit to the fine men and women who show up everyday, underappreciated and the targets of the uninformed that they are holding things together as well as they are. This is what the public and Times Union editors should get about teachers. This is what they should think about before they start talking about improving teacher quality.

Paraphrasing Lieutenant Colonel Martin Jessup: Friends we live in a country that has schools many of which are struggling and those schools have to be manned with teachers. You going to do it man on the street, you going to do it editor of the newspaper? Teachers have a greater responsibility than you can fathom. You might weep for those children left behind and fallen through the cracks, I weep too but you have a luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. Because you don’t know the truth, because you do not want to know the truth.

I hope you get me, because anybody who feels teacher quality is the problem, obviously doesn't get what is happening in our schools.

The deck is stacked against teachers at turn around schools

Not only do I work at one of these schools but I am also a stake holder in the community and am very concerned about the direction education is taking, as we all should be. The article was very revealing, reading between the line it talked about the plight of teachers and the absurdity of how things currently are in education.

Teachers as a group are nurturing, they have a need to give of themselves and a desire to be helpful. Unfortunately the powers-that-be know this and shamefully take advantage of those traits. The Times Union article, I think quite accidentally emphasized this point.

Trina Anderson the teacher profiled in the article mentioned how she works from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon every day, something that is more typical than you might think. But friends o you realize that is a ten hour day and Ms. Anderson is only getting paid for seven and a third hours of them. However it’s worse because she mentions even when home, she is constantly working on lesson plans, digging into data and working on her craft.

Vicki Reynolds the district’s director of human resources said, when talking about all the educators who have resigned, “I think the theme is, I didn’t know how much work this was going to be.” She might as well have said, the theme for teachers who stay should be to expect to be given more work than they can possibly do and not expect to get paid for a lot of it. They should also expect to give up time with their families, expect to do meaningless task after meaningless task, and expect to be taken advantage of by their employer.

I have a friend at an A school who has been teaching for nineteen years and she told me, it’s gotten so bad that if it was just her (she has two daughters) she would quit and get a job at the mall. I have another friend who has to take a break from writing lesson plans most nights so she can read and tuck in her sons, and then she is right back to it. These stories aren’t unusual they are in fact fairly typical of how things are. How is this right? Well the answer is it’s not, it’s embarrassing and wrong and the school district, the teachers union and the community as a whole should be ashamed of itself for letting it happen.

It’s also not vacancies that are preventing these turn around and intervening schools from improving, it’s the system. The teacher in the article has 31 children in her class, these are children at low performing schools with few economic resources and social safety nets, yet we cram them into classrooms like we do sardines into cans and then wonder why a few get left behind or underachieve.

Overwhelming teachers with task after task is no way to improve student performance either. The powers-that-be scream data, data, data, that they want data driven classrooms. If the state is so interested in collecting data why don’t they get statisticians to come in and do it? The answer is they don’t because they can force teachers to do it. Furthermore and sadly, all this data probably gives the teacher the same information they would have by merely working with their students for a few days.

And finally, where is the data that says posting standards, creating word walls, spending hours creating complicated lesson plans and inputting data help facilitate learning; the answer is there is none. If you want proof of this look at Ribault; the state has been there for years yet they are still failing. I do hear however that their bulletin boards are amazing. That is no dig at the fine staff of Ribault, I have no doubt that if the state would get out of their way they would improve.

Next, lesson plans; if the goal of the county is to turn teachers into drones or trained monkeys devoid of initiative, creativity and flexibility as they give teachers learning calendars, schedules and curriculums, instead of forcing teachers to spend hour after hour creating complicated lesson plans why don’t they just give lesson plans to teachers. Many teachers especially those that have been doing it for a while, use lesson plans just as a template, a list of thing s that they need to cover and rarely refer to them when they are actually teaching. Teachers differentiate their instruction to students not because it’s on a piece of paper but because they know that’s what their kids need.

Learning schedules are also a big part of the problem. Teachers are told continuously not to fall too far behind and after a while teachers are forced to move along regardless if the students have mastered the material or not. That is the reality of learning schedules. I teach a special education science class at a turnaround school and I recently had a student transfer into my class from a regular ed. science class that she had been failing. Before long she had an A and I asked her why she struggled in regular ed. and then was doing so well in my class especially since I follow the same standards. She told me that I went slow and drilled and made sure we knew the material before moving on to the next subject and in her other class they covered something and then moved on regardless of whether she got it or not. Kids learn at different rates and of Ms. Andersons thirty-one students; I wonder how many have been forced to move to the next subject even though they hadn’t mastered the last one, and this is through no fault of the teachers but because of leaning schedules?

You want education to improve, bring discipline back to the classroom, if a teacher spends ten percent of their time disciplining unruly or unmanageable students all of the other students lose out on 18 days of instructions. Teachers in big classrooms at turn around schools often spend far more than ten percent of their day instilling discipline. Then let teachers teach. The state should give teachers a (manageable) list of what they want covered and the materials to do so and then get out of their way.

Teachers don’t mind being held accountable, teachers don’t mind working hard and teachers don’t mind doing a little extra after all it is in their nature. They would however like to get paid a fair wage to so, be able to spend a decent amount of time with their families and not be taken advantage of. Right now that’s not how things are. The deck is stacked against teachers, and what the state doesn’t realize, is that if the deck is stacked against teachers it’s stacked against the children too, make that, they don’t realize or they don’t care.

Would you like a job as a teacher

Within minutes of meeting me I will often find some way to bring up the fact I am a teacher and I work with disabled children in a local public school. I used to love my job, it brought me such a great sense of pride, and where I still feel that, I often now feel frustration and angst too. One of the reasons for this is because teaching is one of the most misunderstood and quite frankly disrespected professions around.

I am sometimes asked aren't you just glad you have a job and isn’t it great to have summers off, and my answer is always "yes very, however after a second or so, I throw in a, “but”. Now let me ask you a few questions.

Would you work a job where your bosses expected you to put in hundreds of unpaid hours of overtime? The modern teacher is supposed to be data driven which requires untold hours of data entry, this despite the fact most teachers can get the same information about their students by working with them for a few days.

Would you work for a job where you had to spend your money not just for the basic necessities that you needed but also to buy supplies for other people’s children too? I was given one hundred and seventy-five dollars in money to out-fit my classroom. A pencil sharpener, class note books for my kids and a scanner later it was all gone. Many teachers routinely spin hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their students and classrooms.

Would you work at a job where the powers that be piled on arduous and unnecessary task that had nothing to do with your job? The state makes teachers follow learning standards, schedules and curriculums but then requires teachers to spend hours writing lesson plans, why can’t we just use the aforementioned items? A colleague in a neighboring county told me how she was complimented on her lesson plans by her principal and as she walked away she thought to herself, well I write them just for you, I don’t use them for teaching and the kids never see them.

Would you work at a job where you were often disrespected and belittled by those you were charged to help, and then your higher ups looked at you like you were the problem? For consequences to be effective they must be meaningful. What can I take away from someone in my science class that will make them behave, what can I offer. If it gets to the point where my teacher look and me raising my voice doesn’t work there is not a whole lot else I can do, to get the defiant, disrespectful and disruptive student to behave. If I am forced to send them out, I often don’t often have time to call their parents or write the referral right then, after all I have other students who are willing to learn and listen that I have to take care of.

Would you work at a job where the higher ups blamed you when the things they tried to implement, without consulting you failed? Teachers did not get together and decided to socially promote children, nor did they add algebra II to the curriculum, take away art and music, reduce physical education, eliminate must vocational and trade programs, ask for Americas Choice or for the F-Cat. Yet when graduation rates drop and dropout rates rise teachers are the first to be blamed.

Would you sacrifice time with your family for your job? I have to leave my kids in extended day because I have to finish up my work and I can’t help my own child with their homework because I have to grade papers are things I have heard recently. Lesson plans and graded papers do not magically appear and there is rarely time during the day to do them.

Would you work at a job where you were paycheck to paycheck? My first year of teaching my contract was for twenty-six thousand six hundred dollars. By that winter I had four thousand in the bank. Fast-forward ten years and with prices rising and my student loans due, I am little more than paycheck-to-paycheck. Teachers everywhere live in fear of them or a family member getting sick, pray they won’t need new tires and more than a few have second jobs.

Would you work at a job where you received little direction about important things? A colleague of mine feeling overwhelmed, asked his administration to prioritize all the things he had to do and was told they are all equally important. Really, creating a word wall and making sure your bulletin board is standards based is just as important as teaching and engaging your students?

Would you work at a job where you were micromanaged about minutia? I was asked where my essential question was the other day, when I pointed to it on the board; I was asked why it wasn’t labeled essential question. The powers that be seem obsessed with how we have our boards set up, how our seats are arranged and if our lesson plans follow a certain format. I was told that during the state walk though that these are the things that they would be looking for not if students are engaged and learning.

Would you do a job where you were held responsible for other people’s performances? I would say the vast majority of students want to learn and want to do well. Sadly however there is a persistent ten percent or so that has no interest in school or learning, who’s main aim when they come is to cause trouble, yet teachers are still held accountable for their lack of effort and achievement as well as their behavior.

Would you work at a job where the powers that be scrapped one failed experiment after another without asking you what you need? Teaching in Duval County is like the weather in Florida, if you don’t like the latest county wide education policy wait a while and someone will read an article while waiting for a flight and we will be off to the next one; America’s choice or sophomores declaring majors and a half dozen computer programs anyone?

Would you work at a job where you ended up hurting the people you were supposed to help? I got a note from a former math teacher telling me how frustrated and sad she would get as she watched students who just wanted to be a truck driver struggle as they took algebra II. I myself often feel like I am part of the problem. All my kids I teach are getting special diplomas which are basically worthless; they won’t be able to join the military, go to college or be eligible for many jobs. I know they should either be in regular education classes and I should be providing them accommodations and modifications or they should be working on their GEDs but still I show up every day. Feeling like you are part of the problem is not a good feeling to have.

Teachers don’t do the job because they think they will get rich, but is it unreasonable for them to want to be able to pay their bills, help their children out and be prepared if an emergency should come up.

Teachers don’t do the job because they get the summers off. The sad fact is many teachers have to work second jobs over the summer to make ends meet; they also have to take classes and workshops, work on certifications and find ways to improve their crafts. Furthermore technically teachers don’t get paid over the summer, they are unemployed.

Teachers don’t do the job just so they can say they are happy to have a job. They do it because they want to make a difference. They do it because they care about children and that’s more important to them than all of the other things they have to go through combined.

In case you were wondering about what my “but” from the beginning was , its life shouldn’t just be about being happy to have a job.

In education common sense is not all that common

I am a big believer in the law of parsimony, which is the principle that entities should not be multiplied needlessly; others however may prefer Ockham’s razor which is a rule in science that says the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known but actually both of those are just fancy ways of saying that good old common sense should prevail, which is something sadly currently missing from our education system.

You want schools to do better, instead of reinventing the wheel and taking away what precious little time teachers have to make an impact by forcing them to tedious and unnecessary things, why don’t we try giving teachers the resources they need and then bring discipline back to the classroom, those two things alone should be worth an extra letter grade. Instead of doing those two things teachers are told we must have our standards posted on our walls, something in my nine years of teaching no child has ever taken a look at, and we must have our classrooms uniform, with our classroom libraries labeled and our parent teacher logs and lesson plans easily accessible.

I teach at a “turn around school” a fancy way of saying mostly minority and poor and since I teach at a turn around school I was told all these things and a nearly endless list more had to be done. I was also told that I could expect routine visits from state representatives of the department of education and if they weren’t, I would get dinged or hit and a note would be put in my permanent file, my evaluation could suffer and I could even possibly loose my job, I wasn’t the only one told this as the same thing was said to the entire faculty. Presumably this same message was give to dozens of other “ under performing” schools.

I was also told that during these walk abouts they really wouldn’t be interested to see how I was teaching or to judge it’s effectiveness, no they just wanted to make sure I had my getting on the computer procedures posted or student work displayed, not that either of those things makes the first bit of difference in learning.

Furthermore say goodbye to innovation and creativity, as the department of education seems hell bent on eliminating those two things. They are replacing them with learning schedules, lesson plans and agendas that can’t be deviated from. Soon they may replace teachers with VCR’s and one trained chimp to hit play, after all that’s all education will need with this one schedule fits all system they are attempting to jam don our throats.

There was a palpable since of fear and trepidation at my school this past week during pre-planning as they were told about change after change that the state was requiring. When talking to other teachers, “how are things going” was answered at best with, “it is what it is” or “it’s going” but more often with, “I am afraid about what’s going to happen during the upcoming year” or “can’t talk need to go spend three hours creating a bulletin board”. Planning for the kids was replaced with getting the fore mentioned bulletin boards ready and making sure our desks were arranged in the state mandated way.

I can see how it started, someone in Tallahassee after reading an obscure article on education, shortly followed by a light bulb going off over their head, said to themselves, “I know how we can fix education, If only teachers would all have had word walls all these years then our state of affairs would be so much better”. Next thing you know it is in a bill and teachers are spending hours creating one.

Furthermore, today’s teacher is already sometimes a counselor, parent, big brother or big sister, guardian, friend, disciplinarian and ass kicker, but now we also now have to add statistician to the list as we were told the state is going to want lots and lots of data as well, we were actually told that they love graphs. This way they can see how effective our teaching it, strangely I thought that was what the almost universally reviled and discredited F-CAT was for. The F-CAT is so unimportant that they initially decided to eliminate the F-CAT writes section this year because they couldn’t afford to hire people to grade it, however flush with stimulus cash it may be back on.

When did they spring most of the changes that need to occur on teachers? If you guessed the Thursday of preplanning you have guessed correctly. Giving us two days to set up our classroom and plan accordingly for the upcoming school year.

People don’t become teachers to get rich or even acknowledgement. In fact in recent years because we have summers off, are often home by three or four and the state developed a grading system that called some schools successes and others failures there has been a bit of backlash against teachers, that they are under performing and part of the problem but nothing could be farther from the truth. Most people have no idea how much unpaid over time teachers work or how much of their own resources they pump int their classrooms. Furthermore, teachers today are better trained, more capable and experts at doing more with less than at anytime in history.

The problems in education here in Florida started when the state government began to siphon off money intended for education to give tax breaks to big businesses and people that owned second homes, and when they created a test, the F-CAT, which has become a pox on the whole education system. These things were further exacerbated here in Jacksonville with the creation of magnet schools which have created a two tiered education system, continuing, if you sprinkle in the fact that it is has become nearly impossible to get help for unruly students, then why things are such a mess becomes readily apparent. My question to you is, how are these things teachers’ faults.

Common sense should tell the powers that be the answer shouldn’t be to pile on tons of additional tasks on teachers already over burdened shoulders or worse to make them afraid for their jobs if all the new ducks dropped into their laps aren’t in the exact same row. Things would be much better if our elected officials looked up the law of parsimony in the dictionary and went with it, because it’s obvious they didn’t learn what it meant while they were in school.