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Could House Speaker Will Weatherford be more disingenuous?

It’s all about helping poor people this legislative session Will Weatherford said. No longer will he be there just to help the rich. What republicans were only in Tallahassee to help the rich????

From the Tampa Times:  “I kind of woke up about eight or nine months ago, like last summer. And I just realized that -- I was trying to think: Has my party and have I done enough to advocate for the people are in the greatest need? And I kind of came to the conclusion I hadn’t. And I was kind of a little bit frustrated by that and kind of convicted by that so I just decided every speech I give I’m going to start talking about people that are stuck in generational poverty. And I’m going to start digging in and finding out what’s causing it, what helps people get out of it and what’s the state’s role. Not that we can flip a switch and pull people out. But I’ve really spent a lot of time on that and a lot of focus on that, and that’s probably a little outside the norm of maybe what people would have expected me to do. I’ll talk about it in the opening day of session next week.”

Weatherford said that in recent months he has ventured outside the “country club Republican circles” where he has spent a lot of time in the past and “tried to go into neighborhoods and environments that are folks who historically haven’t voted for me or are people who are living in a different economy from everybody else.”


How does he plan to help poor people, you know the ones he has callously ignored for so long? By kneecapping public education and funneling poor kids into the substandard options of charters and vouchers that is how.

He plans to dramatically expand vouchers including letting the less than poor use them and to make it easier to open charter schools despite the fact as a group they have been disastrous. I am reminded of the old saying with friends like these the poor really don’t need enemies.

Did you see what he did there? He basically admitted his entire tenure has been about helping the rich so you will forgive me if I am not completely buying his epiphany especially since it helps some rich people get richer and kneecaps public schools at the same time.

Also where is the plan to expand medicare allowing 700,000 poor Floridians to get health care? Oh I know that doesn't make his friends rich at the same time.

This man is repugnant and I ashamed that both of us call each other Floridians.

The real reason the FLDOE fought the release of VAM data.

Something seems really fishy with the Florida Department of Education or why did they fight to release the VAM data.

The FLDOE fought against the release of teacher VAM scores. They said they wouldn’t be fair and would only give part of the picture, well friends when has that stopped them before? It’s not like the FLDOE has held teachers in high esteem. When Pam Stewart talked about the increase in AP scores she said Florida’s policies were responsible and didn’t mention Florida’s teachers once. It is more likely they fought against the release because they realized the system they created was  a disaster and were afraid the citizens of Florida would learn that they were too.


Albert Carvalho the superintendent in Miami said: “At no point should anybody interpret that score as a true global reflection of a teacher or school’s effective performance, it’s just a small and in my opinion somewhat flawed reflection of an overall performance examination.”


Carvalho is the national superintendent of the year and where some might think he has a reason to be critical to protect his districts low numbers, Joseph Joyner of St. Johns county, the county with the highest scores in the state has no such reason and he said: I cannot express enough, my disappointment in the decision to publish VAM data, in any form. The push to create simplicity (test scores) out of an inherently complex process (teaching) is rooted, in my opinion, in the desire of media and policy makers to create lists with the ultimate goal of allowing for judgment In the end, we continue to treat teachers like sheep, being herded into a gate to have a number pinned to their ear. I question this treatment of professionals as we owe the success of our state and nation to great teachers, and the lack of respect and loss of dignity is appalling.


This criticism is not new, former undersecretary of education and champion of public schools Diane Ravitch has called VAM scores junk science and Valerie Strauss wrote, These formulas can’t determine a teacher’s value with any constant validity or reliability, and testing experts have urged policy makers not to use it for any high-stakes decisions about students, teachers, principals or anybody else. Unfortunately, Florida and many other states, encouraged by the Obama administration, have ignored this advice and now use this “value-added method” (VAM) of evaluation.


In fact responsible education policy makers and even mathematicians have been questioning the use of VAM since the day it was proposed but that didn’t deter the FLDOE one bit.  

Finally how could any reasonable education body think it was good policy to score teachers on subjects and or students they did not teach? It is unexplainable and indefensible but Florida’s depart of education did it anyway.  I believe that, not because they were concerned about the public only getting half the picture and not because they were concerned about destroying teachers morale is why they fought to keep VAM scores from the public.

When the scores were released at first I was outraged. I believe the FLDOE who is an operative of the privatization agenda wants people only to get half the picture and them to take things out of context and for some sadly they will be that case. But after a few days of reflection I am glad they released the scores because now it will show those paying attention how incompetent the FLDOE, the commissioner and the State Board of Education are.

Video, why VAM doesn't work!

The VAM formula



To read a summary of how it works in English (just barely) click the link:
 http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/how-does-floridas-vam-work-in-english/2167478

Owner of five Jacksonville charter schools won’t send his children to one of his schools

Jonathon Hage owner of Charter Schools USA who operates five Charter Schools in Jacksonville and 58 overall does not send his school age children to one of his schools. This is just another example of how these edu-mercenaries have different ideas when it comes to educating other people’s children.

From Coral Springs.com

Charter Schools USA operates 58 schools in several states, including Florida, for a combined 48,000 students, however, Charter Schools USA Founder Jonathan Hage along with his wife Sherry, Chief Academic Officer, send all four of their children to Pine Crest Schools – a private school

 Tuition for four children at Pine Crest Schools costs over $100,000 a year. In addition to the annual tuition, the Hages are big donors to the school and last year donated over $10,000 to their annual fund.

Broward County has “school choice” which means parents can choose to send their children to any public or charter schools they want as long as it has space and so long as the parents can provide the transportation. And the Hage’s certainly have the right. But what does that say about their own schools if they’re not good enough for their own children?

If driving is an issue from their $1.8 million home in Coral Ridge Country Club, rest assured. There are parents all over Broward County driving their children to schools, including theirs, that are even further.

Charters Schools USA runs seven schools in Broward County including: Coral Springs Charter School, Hollywood Academy of Arts & Science, North Broward Academy of Excellence and Renaissance Charter Schools in Coral Springs, Cooper City, Plantation and Tamarac.
Charters Schools USA receive $5,705 per student from the state of Florida. This doesn’t even include additional millions in facilities funding as well as advanced placement (AP) fees.
Let’s just do the math: With 8,600 students attending their seven schools in Broward County, this brings in over $49 million dollars annually for Charters Schools USA.
His schools not being good enough for his own kids coupled with the opulent lifestyle he has created off educating people’s children, you can bet our superintendent who oversees three times as many schools doesn’t live in a 1.8 million dollar home, should tell you all you need to know.

The other half of the story in Florida’s education scheme

When talking about the distress they knew the release of VAM scores (dubious test metrics) would have on teachers, the commissioner of education Pam Stewart and the chair of the state board of education Gary Chartrand both mentioned that VAM scores only show half the story. First what chutzpah on their part, these two helped manufacture the crisis by picking a measurement which is known to be wildly inaccurate and then used it in many cases to evaluate teachers on students they never taught or in some instances never even met.  Welcome to Florida.

They are right though in Florida you never get the entire picture.

Let’s look at the FCAT which has been used to grade our schools. Some people point to the low scores at schools and say look at them they are failing.  They don’t acknowledge all the teachers working in nearly impossible situations and they ignore poverty calling it an excuse; they want you to ignore all the hard work and dedication, all the love and sacrifice and instead look at one day to sum up a school.  They want you just to see the FCAT scores and make your entire judgment based upon them.  Talk about only getting part of the picture.

Then they use the FCAT scores to sell their school choice narrative, though if you have been paying attention you know school choice is just a gentler way of saying privatization. The swear charters and vouchers will elevate education while at the same time they want you to ignore the fact charter have basically been a disaster here in Florida, a third of all that have opened have failed, and that despite being able to pick who they take and keep private schools that take vouchers aren’t doing a better than their public school counterparts.  They don’t want you to have the entire picture about the school choice movement because if you did you would be outraged by the waste and subterfuge that has and is occurring.     

I suspect Chartrand and Stewart aren’t even all that concerned about the consternation they have inflicted on teachers already a pretty downtrodden group in Florida. This is just them trying to have their cake and eat it too. They can say they stood up for teachers,  from a system they helped create, but at the same time they are counting on people to take just half the story and run with it, after all that already worked with the FCAT and the school choice movement.   

It is time we got the entire story; unfortunately we won’t get it from either Stewart or Chartrand.

Chris Guerrieri, 
School teacher, 

Florida's VAM scores become the laughingstock of the nation

From the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss

If  ever there were a meaningless exercise in the annals of evaluation, it would be this one.

The Florida Times-Union newspaper sued the state Education Department to get access to what are called “value-added” scores of teachers that are used to make high-stakes decisions about their jobs. These scores come from student standardized test scores, which are then plugged into a complicated formula that supposedly can calculate the “value” a teacher adds to a student’s achievement. In Florida, half of a teacher’s evaluation comes from these scores and the other half from administrative observation; the ratios are different in different states.

The First District Court of Appeals granted the newspaper’s request, forcing the department to turn over the scores.

Here’s the thing: These formulas can’t determine a teacher’s value with any constant validity or reliability, and testing experts have urged policy makers not to use it for any high-stakes decisions about students, teachers, principals or anybody else. Unfortunately, Florida and many other states, encouraged by the Obama 
administration, have ignored this advice and now use this “value-added method” (VAM) of evaluation.

There are numerous problems with using VAM scores for high-stakes decisions, but in this particular release of data, the most obvious and perhaps the most egregious one is this: Some 70 percent of the Florida teachers received VAM scores based on test results from students they didn’t teach and/or in subjects they don’t teach.

Yes, you read that right: Teachers are being evaluated on students they didn’t teach and/or subjects they don’t teach. How can that be?

In subjects for which there are no standardized test — which is most of them — teachers are evaluated on school-wide averages. Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said that only about 30 percent of Florida public school teachers teach both students and subjects for which there are Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exams.

Last April, seven teachers, along with the National Education Association and the Florida Education Association, filed a lawsuit challenging that evaluation system, arguing that it was unfair and violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clause of the Constitution. One of the seven was Kim Cook of Alachua, Fla., who, as this post explained, was evaluated at Irby Elementary, a K-2 school where she works and was named Teacher of the Year last December. Forty percent of her evaluation was based on test scores of students at another elementary school whom she never taught.

Then in the summer, the state legislature passed a bill making it illegal to evaluate teachers on standardized test scores of students they never taught. But, Ford said, the bill still allows teachers to be evaluated on students they may have in one class, but in a different subject. That means a social studies teacher can be graded on the reading test scores of his/her students. If you are trying to find the sense in that, quit trying.
That, Ford said in an interview, makes all of the scores “meaningless.” He’s got that right.

The real problem here is not the release of the scores — which unfortunately will be viewed by many as reflective of a teacher’s effectiveness when they really aren’t — but rather that the Florida Education Department actually calculates these scores and uses them in evaluations under the mistaken notion that they are useful assessment tools.

If this kind of meaningless exercise doesn’t prove the meaning of meaningless, tell me what does.

Florida is attempting to systematically disable the teaching profession.

Joseph G. Joyner
Superintendent of Schools
St Johns County, FL
Dear Editor and Teachers:
As many of you are aware, The Florida Times-Union filed suit against the Florida Department of Education requesting the release of individual teacher’s Value-Added Model (VAM) scores. The school district views VAM data as part of a teacher’s performance evaluation, and thus, not public information for a year. Unfortunately, the First District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida has ruled in favor of the Times-Union and the data has been released today.
I feel compelled to express my personal feelings regarding this issue. These are my views and my views alone. My support for the work of teachers is unwavering and it is important that you know how I feel.
I cannot express enough, my disappointment in the decision to publish VAM data, in any form. The push to create simplicity (test scores) out of an inherently complex process (teaching) is rooted, in my opinion, in the desire of media and policy makers to create lists with the ultimate goal of allowing for judgment In the end, we continue to treat teachers like sheep, being herded into a gate to have a number pinned to their ear. I question this treatment of professionals as we owe the success of our state and nation to great teachers, and the lack of respect and loss of dignity is appalling.
It is important to understand that the problem is not the VAM data itself, but rather the inappropriate use of it. The VAM growth measurement is the best attempt to fairly and accurately measure the growth of a child I have seen in my career. It is, however, in the beginning stages of use. While the practice holds much promise, it is wrong to assume VAM alone is the single determinant in a teacher’s performance. However, I disagree with those who call the data “deeply flawed.” We have worked closely with teachers for three years to create a climate of trust during this transformational change. Sadly, partial and inappropriate use of a single element erodes that trust
The creation of lists/judgments of teachers by VAM data is inherently wrong in several areas. VAM was never created as the sole tool for evaluating the quality of a classroom teacher, and names or lists of teachers will, without question, lead to inaccurate assumptions. The confusion created by these natural assumptions made by parents and the general public will create chaos in scheduling and teacher assignments. Students are assigned to teachers based on what the principal believes will be the best chance of success for that child…not VAM scores.
The identification of a teacher’s VAM score comes dangerously close to identifying individual children and their scores, particularly in small classes. During the debate over Common Core curriculum, I recall the public concern over the potential release of individually identifiable data and the need to protect that data. However, there seems to be no such concern in protecting this data regarding teachers. It is a very small step to identifying the children based on their teacher.
Identifying a teacher, and judging the quality of that teacher based solely on a single piece of data is not only inappropriate, it is inherently unfair. In my opinion, publicly judging teachers on this number alone strips the individual dignity of a teacher and is no better than judging them on their race, hair color, income or religion.
I am concerned that only 56% of teachers in St. Johns County have FCAT VAM data released by the state. This means that 44% of our teachers are not included in this state provided data, so any conclusions are at best incomplete.
Almost everyone has a friend or family member in the teaching profession. How will they feel when they see their loved one at the bottom of the list? How many good teachers will quit when they see their name at the bottom of the list? This practice violates the very nature of respect and dignity. Also, is the bottom of the list in St. Johns comparable to the bottom of the list in other counties?
The desire for simplicity in the face of complexity is born out of an unwillingness to truly understand what great teaching entails, and an unquenchable desire to judge. In my 36 years of watching the work of teachers, I am convinced that successful teaching is grounded in love. No evaluation system will ever be able to quantify this most vital component. I am fortunate in that I see it every day, and yes, I know what good teaching looks like.
While it is painful for me to watch the systematic dismantling of a teachers worth, in the end it will not matter how the public chooses to judge us. The children will remember us…not for the number pinned on them, but for how we made them feel, how we encouraged them to grow, and how we loved them. Our search for that elusive test score will never fulfill our duty to our children, and I pray that adults realize this before it’s too late.
My respect for your work is immense, and I ask you to continue to trust in our support of your work in the classroom during this difficult time in our profession. You continue to have my greatest admiration, and I will continue to speak out on behalf of the monumental work that you are doing.

How bad is Teach for America and why does Vitti want to spend 600 thousands dollars to bring more to town?

From WJXT News: Duval County Public Schools has been recruiting teachers from TFA yearly since 2008. It currently employs just over 200 TFA members.


Just over 200! Friends the district has been bringing in TFA since 2008, first fifty a year but that number ballooned to a hundred a year over the last few years. That means if every teacher from last year and this year is still serving their two-year commitment then just a handful from the first 200 remain.

We need to be putting professional educators and people that might develop into life long teachers into our classrooms not these hobbyists and any justification that we could do it because it was free before has come to an end as the district will be on the hook for at least 600 thousand dollars (not counting professional development) a year if we keep bringing them in.  

This is a vanity play by Gary Chartrand, Vitti’s svengali who initially bought them to town because he has an irrational hatred of teacher unions, Jon Peyton’s paraphrased words, and has nothing to do with what’s best for our kids.

It’s time we followed the lead of Pittsburgh, Tampa and Minnesota and said no to Teach for America. 

Is the Times Union trying to make money off VAM scores?

For you conspiracy theorists out there, though in this day and age I think anything is possible.

The short of it is the Times Union sued to have teacher’s VAM scores released and controversy ensued. The FLDOE has decided not to put teacher’s VAM scores up on their web-sites though people can request them, the TU had no such compulsion and put up a data base where you could enter, district school and teacher to check on VAM scores.  

Here is the thing, unless you are a member of the TUs site, something you have to pay for and a rate that just went up recently you can’t access the data base.  Hmmm, I wonder how many subscriptions they will sell to people who just want to access the VAM data, my guess is more than a few.

Despite Frank Denton’s pleas that they were just doing their civic duty and informing the public, I have no doubt in my mind that this was all about them making money.  

The Sham of VAM and the shame of the Times Union

Frank Denton, editor of the Florida Times Union, when suing for teachers VAM scores, half their evaluations, swore they would present both sides of the education reform argument. He said so like there is a moral equivalency between the two camps, like it is just two cordial gentlemen having a disagreement and therein lies the problem because nothing could be farther from the truth.

One side doesn’t rely on facts or data because if they did they wouldn’t have chosen to use VAM scores. This is the same group that has spread misinformation about the quality of teachers for years and has run around like Chicken Little screaming teachers are failing our children. They rely on low information members of the public who have been programmed to think anything the government does is bad and who can’t be bothered with doing the research themselves

There is no moral equivalence between a side that exaggerates cherry picked stats or uses formulas like VAM that are often called junk science. This is just one more attempt to inflame peoples passions by saying our public schools are failing because of all the bad teachers, and now they can point to VAM scores which even if accurate would just present a small sliver of the story.

Education reformers were all smiles as the DOE at the assistance of the Times Union released teachers VAM scores, as they can use them to sell their “school choice” agenda but what they are actually selling is privatization and marginalizing teachers, a dedicated and hard working group that sacrifice so much, has been a successful strategy so far.

Then there is Denton, like an arms dealer who says to himself I just proved the weapons I don’t pull the trigger who is trying to imply there is some moral equivalency between corporate reformers and those fighting for true, evidence based reform, where teachers are treated like professionals. He can't hide behind Journalism with this one. He can't try and justify it away.

Is it too much to ask that teacher evaluations be based on legitimate measures? Is it to much to ask that people look at the totality of what they do?  The Times Union obviously thinks so as it rushes to print the scores.

This is just one more blow to the teaching profession which in recent years has had to endure low pay, attacks to their pensions and work protections, people who have never been in a classroom saying their experience and ability don’t matter as well as ratcheting up the demands. Already nearly half of all teachers don’t last 5 years and people and forget that just a few years ago we were recruiting in Canada, India and the corporate world because we couldn’t find enough teachers to staff our classrooms. What’s going to happen when teachers are even more marginalized by the release of VAM scores?

There is no moral equivalency between the two sides and to imply there is, is disingenuous at best but most likely it makes one complicit with the side that wants to outsource, not improve, our kids education and fundamentally change the teaching profession, changing teachers from professionals to the equivalent of Burger King Workers.

There is a saying making traction, “those that can teach, those that can’t make laws about teaching” and this is what’s happening in Florida to the detriment of our children schools and teachers and the Times Union has just put another nail in the coffin that the teaching profession has become. 

About a year ago a paper in New York printed the addresses of all the registered gun owners in their town and it was perfectly legal for them to do so. People though were rightfully outraged. The Times Union should have learned from their mistake that just because you can do something it doesn’t mean that they should.

When the Times Union decided to print the VAM scores of area teachers they said selling a few papers was worth selling out the regions teachers. VAM creates a prediction and then grades teachers on whether they made that prediction or not. I don’t know about you but I want to be evaluated on what I did do not on what some complicated mathematical formula says it thinks I should do, a formula by the way that have been known to generate scores off by several standard deviations.

Not only does VAM not take into account attendance, behavior, parental involvement, poverty and so many other factors but more than half the teachers evaluated are done so on students they have never seen in their classroom or on subjects they did not teach and that not the scores is what the Times Union should be telling the public. The TU is acting like a gun runner who tells them self I just provide the guns I don’t pull the trigger in an attempt to ease their conscious of the firestorm that this is going to create.

Parents have long had a remedy if they wanted to see their teachers past evaluations and that is to go to the school board building and to check out their files. Now the Times Union has just given them a contextless set of numbers that for the most part aren’t based on what is happening in the classroom.

Teachers already have a tough enough job and have already had to sacrifice so much in Florida over the last few years that they shouldn’t have to endure this indignation. The Times Union should be fighting to help the profession not to further harm it.

Teachers are not afraid of getting evaluated, they just want to be done so fairly and shame on the state of Florida for coming up with the VAM method that no respecting education policy maker or mathematician for that matter say should be used to evaluate teachers and shame on the Times Union for doubling down on this tragedy and making them available. Selling a few papers shouldn’t be more important than doing what is right.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Is the Times Union seeking the truth or to vilify teachers?

From a reader:

As a teacher who has received highly effective evaluations for 2 years in a row, I still did not want the VAM scores made public. They really are meaningless, and that will be lost on the general public who read them. It is despicable and truly saddening to know that a newspaper is so desperate they will forgo actual reporting on education issues that require investigative journalism and go for the easy scapegoat - teachers. Any amount of even casual research would have informed you that VAM data is meaningless yet the Times acted like they were on some crusade and valiantly seeking truth....they know otherwise and went for it anyway...SHAME ON YOU TIMES UNION I will never, ever patronize your paper again. You are an embarrassment to real journalists everywhere.

It is a good thing Times Union reporters don't get VAM scores!

From a reader: Reaction to VAM Publishing

Dear Times Union Dear Editor,

I have an idea. Since you’re so interested in publishing partial information about people’s job performance, let’s implement a new pay for performance system at the Times-Union. Effective today, reporters and editors for the T-U will only be assessed for the number of times that their stories are actually read. They will not be assessed on the quality of those daily stories, or for any quality whatsoever. We will not take into account the hours spent researching or preparing those stories. We will not take into account that their is no truly accurate way to measure this between internet, mobile, and print versions of the Times-Union.

We will ignore all other contributions you make to the community, or to the paper. We will only take that partial information, and at the end of a calendar year, use it to determine whether or not you deserve a raise next year. Then we will take that information about you, and publish a huge cover story highlighting your quality based solely on this one, rather inaccurate, and not at all fair, measurement.

Do you feel that is unfair? Do you feel like your dignity has been stripped from you in public? Do you feel like your worth in your job is miserable? Do you feel like your community doesn’t support you? Welcome to teaching in the state of Florida. Thanks for your “contribution” to making hard-working teachers feel that much more appreciated.

The shameful use of VAM scores by the Times Union

About a year ago a paper in New York printed the addresses of all the registered gun owners in their town and it was perfectly legal for them to do so. People though were rightfully outraged. The Times Union should have learned from their mistake that just because you can do something it doesn’t mean that they should.

When the Times Union decided to print the VAM scores of area teachers they said selling a few papers was worth selling out the regions teachers. VAM creates a prediction and then grades teachers on whether they made that prediction or not. I don’t know about you but I want to be evaluated on what I did do not on what some complicated mathematical formula says it thinks I should do, a formula by the way that have been known to generate scores off by several standard deviations.

Not only does VAM not take into account attendance, behavior, parental involvement, poverty and so many other factors but more than half the teachers evaluated are done so on students they have never seen in their classroom or on subjects they did not teach and that not the scores is what the Times Union should be telling the public. The TU is acting like a gun runner who tells them self I just provide the guns I don’t pull the trigger in an attempt to ease their conscious of the firestorm that this is going to create.

Parents have long had a remedy if they wanted to see their teachers past evaluations and that is to go to the school board building and to check out their files. Now the Times Union has just given them a contextless set of numbers that for the most part aren’t based on what is happening in the classroom.

Teachers already have a tough enough job and have already had to sacrifice so much in Florida over the last few years that they shouldn’t have to endure this indignation. The Times Union should be fighting to help the profession not to further harm it.

Teachers are not afraid of getting evaluated, they just want to be done so fairly and shame on the state of Florida for coming up with the VAM method that no respecting education policy maker or mathematician for that matter say should be used to evaluate teachers and shame on the Times Union for doubling down on this tragedy and making them available. Selling a few papers shouldn’t be more important than doing what is right.

The cognitive dissonance of Commissioner Pam Stewart

Pam Stewart doesn’t strike me as an opportunist working in education solely to get rich. Then when she became commissioner a position she had held twice before in an interim basis several superintendents applauded the choice calling her a pragmatist who is here for the children. If that is true then cognitive dissonance may be the least of her problems.

Cognitive dissonance is when you hold two diametrically opposed positions but somehow make then come together. Mrs. Stewart has to know Florida’s accountability system is broken, she has to know that the high stakes agenda only serves the mercenaries and opportunists looking to get rich, she has to know that common core does not address our real problem, that we don’t have a standards problem but a poverty problem instead but that hasn’t stopped her from moving forward.

Below is an excerpt from a letter she sent all the teachers in Florida letting them know the department of education is fighting for them. If losing tenure, 3 percent of our pay and having our salaries based on high stakes testing is fighting for us please for the love of God stop.   

And, that is what we as professional educators are all about: improving teaching and learning. Until every teacher in every child's classroom in every school has all the support and expertise necessary to add maximum value over the course of a year, we cannot rest.

Our work together on this will not be slowed. We do this work with the support of Governor Scott, whose budget proposal includes a record amount for Florida's schools including over $8 million for the express purpose of providing the professional development school leaders need to improve student achievement. And, we do so with the support of our State Board of Education that is constantly focused on the best policies to help teachers and students succeed.

Did she really compliment Rick Scott’s budget which is 167 dollars less per student than what we had before he arrived and that sends hundreds of millions to a few hundred charter schools for maintenance while forcing a few thousand public schools to share less. Also forgive me but 8 million to be split among 67 districts doesn’t seem all that much. Is that the governor she is talking about?

Did she really compliment the board of education who has ignored the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Florida Education Association, Florida PTA and numerous grassroots parent organizations, on accountability and common core? Is that the board she is talking about?

If she believes what she wrote, which seems unfathomable then Pam Stewart is really turning out to be a disaster. If she doesn’t believe it but said it anyway then she is even worse.

The slippery slope of vouchers, welfare for the well off

If vouchers were used to let poor students escape failing schools (there are more failing charter schools than public schools by the way), to attend schools with certified teachers (some pay their junior college grads 12 bucks an hour) with recognized curriculums (some 164 in Florida including 12 in Jacksonville teach creationism) who took the same accountability measure as their public school counterparts then maybe we could have a conversation, but they don’t.

\And now the real intention of vouchers has been revealed and that’s to create a welfare system for the well off.  A recent bill in the Florida legislature has just proposed it.

From Redefined Ed: Partial scholarships for higher-income students. The scholarship amount would be reduced in proportion to the size of the income. At the top, a student whose household income is 260 percent of poverty, or $62,010 for a household of four, would be eligible for a 50 percent scholarship.


Vouchers are not here to help students, they are here to kneecap unions, handicap schools, funnel public money to religious institutions and if we allow them to continue to provide welfare for the well off, which is what I think their original intent was all along. You want to talk vouchers? Go back to paragraph one and we can start there.

It is time to grade Superintendent Vitti. (rough draft)

Superintendent Vitti has been here for sixteen months now and it is time to evaluate his performance. When he arrived Duval County was nowhere close to where it should be and he was like a breath of fresh air. After years of stagnation finally many of us felt we could be optimistic again. However we shouldn’t let that initial feeling of euphoria stop us from examining the things that he is done because we have to know if things are truly different of if we are just getting more of the same.

He started a parent academy, which was solely needed because schools and teachers can only do so much and there has to be a partnership between parents and schools if we really want to be successful. I however have no idea how it is doing, if it’s a swing and a miss, home run or something in between. 

He brought back music and art to a lot of schools that had cut them. These important classes give kids a break from their academic courses and play to many of their strengths and likes too. A concern though is some of these teachers are seeing two classes at a time which makes things difficult for teachers and students a like.

He made discipline a priority and it had basically been ignored, under the previous administration. Middle schools and high schools now have deans and ISSP teachers’ positions that were also often cut in recent years. The problems I hear though is ISSP teachers and deans are often called to fill other positions and still kids don’t receive proper consequences or what we now call response cost for bad behavior. Furthermore I wonder why the administration, who knows there was a problem, if not why bring in so many deans and ISSP teachers, spent so much time arguing with Judge Davis when he brought up the problem of violence in our schools.

He has made over a hundred principal and administration moves. Chief concerns before he arrived were whom you know not your ability-determined promotions and the fact we had a lot of bullies masquerading as administrators wandering the halls of our schools. The problem however is if he replaces them with the same type of administrators or just moves them around then we will be right back where we started. We need leaders who can motivate and enthuse their staffs not ones who use fear and intimidation. 

He continues to put his support behind Teach for America even though his other actions seem to indicate he doesn't believe in thr program. If you didn’t know, Teach for America takes non-education majors puts them through a five week course and then into our neediest classrooms where they serve for two years or the exact opposite of what we now to be best for our children. We also don’t need them, it’s not like a few years ago when we were advertising in India, Canada and the business world for teachers. He has also told his personal people not to staff TFA teachers at John E. Ford in response to parents complaints about turnover and then with his experienced teacher initiative he admits we need our best and most experienced teachers at our neediest schools, the same places we have been shuffling TFA into for the last five years. At a recent board workshop he said he wanted to funnel them just into high schools going forward but how does that make sense as high school kids have to pass certain tests or they don’t graduate. I don’t understand why the districts number one priority isn’t putting experienced teachers or people who might grow into lifelong educators into our classrooms.

Speaking of his experienced teacher initiative his plan to pay teachers up to sixty thousand dollars over three years to work at our neediest schools on it’s face sounds amazing however when you look at it with a critical eye it kind of falls apart. First a plan like this has never worked and where the money being offered is a lot more than ever offered before it can still only be used to fill one hundred percent of the targeted positions.

The department of education did a study where they filled 88 percent of the targeted positions and where there were big gains in elementary schools, there were no gains in middle school and they didn’t even try it in high schools (where he wants to send TFA teachers). Then when the money turned off teachers began to leave in droves and I can't imagine things being any different here.

Furthermore what is this going to do to camaraderie and collaboration? This is my thought, it really takes a village to educate our children, we need art, music, history, p.e. English, math teachers and guidance counselors working together to be successful. The superintendent obviously thinks English, math and sometimes science teachers are much more important as they will be the only ones eligible for the bonus. I have grave concerns about what this huge influx of cash is going morale. In effect we are creating a two-tiered teacher system where one group of teachers is worth a lot more than the other. The short of it is he is making a very expensive gamble with zero evidence that backs it up, which makes me wonder where he got the idea.

I believe he got it from the chair of the state board of education, local businessman and education activist Gary Chartrand.  Some of you might think a cozy relationship with the chair of the state board of education is a good thing and if we had a competent chair I would probably agree with you even if I didn’t believe in everything they did. People are going to have legitimate disagreements. The thing is we don’t have a competent person running the board and I think I can make a case by looking at some of things he has said and done. He said we needed to stay away from controversial subjects that don’t reflect Florida’s values like homosexuality. He said we need a citrus grower on the state board of education and now we have one Andy Tuck, who has also disavowed evolution and promoted creationism. Under his watch we have had multiple commissioners of education, 4 if we count Stewart twice  and the accountability system has been changed so much that nobody believes it has credibility any more. He has said the class size amendment was a waste of money and he initiated Florida’s race based goals and here is a spoiler alert for you, we don’t have very high expectations for our African American students. Then just recently he arbitrarily cut public comments back at a BOE meeting from three minutes to two. Chartrand is a grocer who used his money to get on the board and it is showing and this is the person who seems to have Vitti’s ear as they have been seen together at conferences that promote charter schools and at education policy forums. One of the great things Vitti did when he first arrived was travel the city and listen to the people but now I wonder if that was just window dressing.

I can’t help but think it is because of this close relationship with Chartrand an advocate of the corporate reform movements (charters, vouchers, stepped up teacher evaluations, merit pay etc.) that Vitti is bringing in the New Teacher Project and ideology driven group supposedly here just to do our climate surveys, surveys that parents, teachers and school members take which hopefully reveal how schools are running.  The New Teacher Projects guiding principal is there are lots of bad teachers and if we can develop better evaluation tools we can replace them and things will improve. I was hoping our super’s position was we have lots of good teachers and if we can develop and support them things will improve. Why bring in this group? Why not go to the Jacksonville public Education Fund who already partners with the district on lots of projects and is known for their statistical analysis of data? I think we can all agree knowing how our schools are doing is a very important thing but I really question the use of this group to tell us.

I think the jury is still out. I like some of the things he has done or at least tried to do even if thus far the results have been mixed at best and some of the things he has done have caused me to scratch my head. But what scares me is the people of Jacksonville just seem so relieved that there has been a change they may not be paying attention and if we don’t pay attention we will be in trouble.   

Will Weatherford reveals his plan to destroy public education (rough draft)

I get that these guys hate the teacher unions, I think it’s irrational especially here in Florida where unions can’t strike but I understand that they do. What I don’t get though is why they would risk the future of millions of kids and heck the state itself to stick it to them.

Will Weatherford however is that guy and he has announced his plan to destroy public education through the use of vouchers. Now they aren’t going to be just for poor kids trapped in failing schools, his made up words, they are going to be for middle class and upper middle class kids too and now they also want to access sales taxes which pay for education, health care and a lot of other functions as well to pay for the vouchers.  

This friends is public money going to private institutions with very little oversight and if the states argument is they can do things without all the regulations that public schools have to endure then why don’t they get rid of those regulations?

You know I and others might feel better about vouchers if all the schools that took them were required to have certified teachers, recognized curriculums and took the same tests that public school kids did. And please forgive me if I don’t take the word of a group of schools that prefers to teach creationism instead of evolution and yes that’s not all the voucher schools but it is enough that we should all be concerned.
Voucher schools can pick who they take and keep, they can put requirements on parents and students alike that public schools can’t and as a group they take fewer disabled and ESOL kids and despite all that they don’t do better than public schools.

Weatherford and local school board member Jason Fischer who advocates for vouchers, how about that a school board member who has open distain for public schools both might say vouchers pay less money than the amount of money public schools get.  I would counter with nobody forces a school to take vouchers and one of the reasons we have them is the powers-that-be said the private sector could do things cheaper and more efficient.  

Bob Sykes from Scathing Purple musings pointed out some of Weatherford’s hypocrisy: first from Weatherford,  “I’d like to get to a place where there never has to be a waiting list,” said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “If there’s a single mom who’s got a son or a daughter who’s stuck in a failing school, and she wants to go into the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program to give her kid a better chance in life, I would never want to say, ‘Our door is shut to you because we hit the cap and we don’t have enough room for your child.’ ”

Weatherford false meme is deliberately misleading intended for the bleeding heart. Last year there were 107 failing Florida schools – many of them charter schools for which Weatherford also flacks. Florida’s current voucher system isn’t restricted to kids in “failing schools.” Weatherford knows that. And he also knows that his new bill promises a cash bonanza for the organization which manages the program.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/will-weatherfords-massive-expansion-of-vouchers-promises-cash-bonanza-for-step-up-for-students/

A cash bonanza for the people managing the program, and that should really tell you all you need to know about why it is happening. Education has stopped being about preparing children to be successful citizens and is instead about cash bonanza’s to friends of lawmakers and kneecapping unions.


Superintendent Vitti's letter to the state board of education criticizing proposed changes to Florida's accountability system.

Without comment

State Board Members,
Due to a scheduled committee meeting with my Board, I am unable to attend today’s State Board Meeting where the Commissioner plans to outline the proposed changes to the school grading system.  As a result, I want to take the time to express my deep concerns with the proposed changes. Please note that I have addressed these previously with the Commissioner and with Deputy Commissioner Juan Copa.  I present this letter not to represent the interests and opinions of other superintendents or organizations but to represent my community and those children who have properly benefited from a sensible accountability system that is now being dismantled at the high school level.  It is my responsibility as Jacksonville’s educational leader to restore balance to a weakening accountability system.   
Let me begin by stating that I support the need to simplify the grading system by removing triggers and bonus points.  These changes will provide much needed transparency to the public with a clear denominator and numerator system to calculate school grades without the misunderstood clauses that increase and decrease school grades.  However, based on my Florida experience with serving our most at risk students as a principal, state administrator, district administrator, and superintendent, I believe the currently proposed changes at the high school level reverses our state’s progress with advancing a “college going” culture among all of our schools and students, especially those from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds.
A state accountability system must hold all adults responsible for the betterment of the children and communities they serve; what is measured gets done. In any complex environment with limited resources and competing interests, the metrics defined in the accountability structure shifts the strategic plan to focus on those targets. Obviously, in the context of education, these targets cannot be shallow incentives to placate resistant stakeholders to reform but instead should challenge low expectations and faulty systems to produce meaningful results for ALL children.  The current high school accountability system has accomplished this goal by holding districts and high schools responsible to college readiness scores in reading and mathematics; an at risk graduation rate; and acceleration criteria for participation.  These areas are recommended for removal today despite the fact that they have transformed the lives of thousands of children.  Please find an explanation of each below:
· Removal of the College Readiness (Reading and Mathematics): 
These current accountability cells hold districts and high schools accountable to ensuring that their high school graduates are college ready as defined by the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT), American College Testing (ACT), and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  The college readiness standard eliminates the requirement for freshman to take a college remediation class in reading or mathematics.  Based on personal experience in Florida at multiple administrative levels, I can testify that these accountability measures have expanded the high school experience to one that is a bridge to college.  Students who normally do not consider college as a real option are encouraged (and sometimes pushed with tough love) to take the ACT/SAT where only a few years ago they did not.  Schools now offer PERT/ACT/SAT classes, bus students to take the exams, and educate parents on their importance.  For students who have struggled on state assessments, the ACT/SAT provides average students with the vehicle to transcend their experience and aspire to something they were not previously exposed to.  The ACT/SAT is an opportunity for college scholarships and more importantly college exploration. High school students in Florida, not only those who come from more privileged backgrounds, now talk to one another in a competitive way about being “college ready in reading but not math”.  This is the type of positive cultural change that has occurred in some of our previously lowest performing schools throughout the state only because the accountability system motivated organizations to focus on a clearer set of child-centric priorities that also resonated with young adults.  Why would we remove this criteria from how we measure success at the high school level, especially when we attempt to make the high school diploma more meaningful and rigorous?  Why would we remove this metric when the focus of the new standards is college ready standards? Is that not best defined through national exams such as the ACT/SAT?
· Removal of the At Risk Graduation Rate: 
The intent of at risk graduation metric was to hold districts and schools accountable to ensuring that ALL of their students graduated in four years, namely those who entered high school below grade level in reading and  mathematics.  Why would we remove this measure? This was specifically added to ensure that the lowest performing students were provided the additional intervention to graduate, even from traditionally high performing schools that routinely received “A” and “B” letter grades while achievement gaps continued.
· Removal of Acceleration Participation:
The current recommendation to include only performance and remove participation in the acceleration area will serve as a disincentive to high schools to place average performing students in Advanced Placement (AP), Dual Enrollment (DE), Industry Certification, Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. Schools are likely to place only those students who are near certain to pass the exam or course into accelerated courses to ensure that points are maximized.  The proposed change will have a devastating impact on continuing the work to provide greater access to accelerated coursework to disadvantaged and minority students.  The “diploma to nowhere” was directly addressed in the previous changes to high school grading to ensure that Florida high schools would provide students with a springboard to college, a career, and life.  Accelerated courses provide that opportunity.  Concerns regarding diluted acceleration options are somewhat valid based on the current grading system. Yet, proper rules and enforcement can be established to ensure students take the exam or receive a grade if they are enrolled in the course after a date certain; similar to a “drop” date for leaving a college class.  Additionally, every student enrolled in an accelerated course after a defined date should be added to the performance dominator, students taking multiple acceleration courses should each be counted once instead of a weighted amount.  The participation and performance denominator should, at the minimum, be no lower than all juniors and seniors at the high school.
The additional benefit of maintaining each of these four areas is the continuity, acceptance, and sustainability of the current high school grading framework.  The Department and the State Board will continue to lose credibility with stakeholders with significant changes to the current system. Instead, refinement is needed. Build off the current system.  When I have attended national meetings and various states and districts ask how we are able to create a strong “college going” cultures at our high schools, I immediately refer to the state’s accountability structure that holds us all responsible for developing that atmosphere.  By removing the four areas mentioned above, we will revert to a flawed high school accountability model that lacks the vision for student achievement beyond state assessments.  The high school experience should be more than state assessments but clear metrics linked to life after high school.
Aside from the deep concerns with the proposed changes to high school grades, the current proposed changes to all school grades do not capture the opportunity to evolve from one that continues to compare one set of students to another set unjustly.  In other words, comparing last year’s sixth graders to this year’s sixth graders is an outdated accountability model. Instead, as the Jacksonville Public Education Fund study suggested 

http://www.jaxpef.org/media/1551984/web_version_-_jaxpef_-

 we should hold ourselves accountable to ensuring that cohorts of children improve annually while emphasizing continual growth each year.  This reinforces the need to have quality teachers at every grade level and subject area while holding entire feeder patterns accountable to improvement. 
I would also be remised if I did not add that the current proposal does not clearly return our state to a better position regarding the performance of English Language Learners being measured for proficiency after two years of schooling, instead of one.  All research indicates that such an approach discriminates against newly arrived students.  Lastly, we must recognize our Special Diploma students as graduates, not as drop outs as the current four-year graduation rate establishes. 
I trust that you will consider this analysis closely.  As many of you know, I am willing to assist you in any way to improve our accountability system.  Despite reservations at times, I have supported Florida’s accountability system over the years, even enforcing it among various districts throughout the state as Deputy Chancellor when doing so was not popular.  I did that because I believed children benefited from those higher expectations. I remain one of the only superintendents in the state who supports the one year transition to new standards and assessments while having an evaluation tool where 50% of my performance is based on student achievement as is the case for our teachers statewide.
Today, based on the current proposals, I believe we would be taking a step backwards on behalf of the students who need us most.  Accountability matters, but defining the right areas to produce life changing results for children should be our focus. 
Sincerely, Nikolai P. Vitti, Ed.D. Superintendent of Schools