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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Now that the testing EO has come out, the big question is what will DCPS do?

 If the past is prologue, the answer to that question is the opposite of what is right. They will still use the tests to bludgeon teachers and save money. Who wants to make a bet what they will do?

First, some random thoughts.

Executive orders from the state diminish the power of localities. They make Corcoran a de facto king of education. That wouldn't be a good thing even if we had a reasoned educator in charge instead of the jackbooted noneducator thug we currently have. 

We should all oppose high-stakes testing as it is currently done. Is there a need for an assessment? Sure, but what we have is punitive accountability on steroids that isn't meant to help. It's meant to harm. Greene and presumably the board's full-throated embrace of them is beyond troubling. 

Despite months of telegraphing waivers for the tests were coming, the district spent weeks cajoling families to return and watched up the stress level of students and staff alike, and for what? It's my thought Greene can taste that A grade and is willing to walk over the bodies of teachers and students to get it. Anybody paying attention could have told you this day was coming, but that didn't slow Greene's roll in the least.

Now that the executive order is here, the high stakes features for students and schools are waived, but the ones for teachers are not, sort of, kind of, it's a bit unclear. 

From WFLA.com

 The order also:

  • Allows local school districts to decide if and how they’ll use VAM data for student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

So, where districts are basically required to not use the tests for promotion graduation etc., they still have the option of using them to evaluate teachers, which makes less sense than normal. Kids all over the set are sighing in relief and rightfully so, great for them, but this also means the tests will become less of a priority which will, in turn, affect test scores more than they already would have. Let's not forget there is a pandemic raging, though Greene and the Board seemingly have.  

This means the big question is, what will DCPS do? Though if the past is prologue, we already know.

DCPS should immediately announce they will not use VAM scores to evaluate teachers. Taking that off their plates and doing the right thing. 



To read the executive order, click the link: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/19861/urlt/2021-EO-02.pdf

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Another failure in leadership

 The renaming of our schools is another failure of district leadership. 

For ten months, the process to change six of our schools named after confederate era figures has been going on. TEN MONTHS.  

Last June, after the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the nation had a reawakening of interests in civil rights, and protests erupted all over the nation, not just because of the deaths but because of generational and systematic racism too. Duval Couty Public schools decided to join in, just in their own slow, disorganized, and painfully awkward way. 

I spoke at the first meeting where the name changes were proposed by Board Member Warren Jones. The gist of my speech was we couldn’t have schools named after people who never did anything questionable because we could never find anyone, but we could have schools that weren’t named after slavers, racists, and traitors. That and sometimes we revere historical figures despite their flaws, see our founding fathers, but confederates were revered because of their flaws.  

This was the beginning of June, and I was optimistic that those schools would open in the fall with new names, but that has been far from the case. 

After months of little or no action, it became obvious that the district did not want to do anything until after the vote on the half-cent sales tax. I believe it is because the district didn’t want to risk offending or alienating anyone in what they expected to be a close vote. We can debate that matter, whether it is okay to send African American kids to schools named after people who thought they were subhuman in order to protect the referendum or not. Still, the thing is the referendum passed in November, 5 months ago. 

If the name changing wasn’t to be done by the end of the summer, then surely by the end of 2020. Sadly again, the district showed no real urgency to fixing this manifest wrong, and as we got farther away from the summer, the moment that America was having was losing steam.      

So a few more months pass, and Public meetings start up in earnest, something that could have just as easily happened last summer or fall, and the racists come out of the woodwork, saying things like if Robert. E. Lee high school wasn’t mostly black they wouldn’t be having these problems, and Jesus was pro-slavery. Maybe I should be thankful it only took ten months for the Jesus was pro-slavery people to come out, but I am not. I am angry, angry at this ridiculously wrong and long process. We had more meetings for this than we did the referendum and angry for our children attending the schools, 4 of which are majority-minority and at the repeated failure of leadership at the district level. 

Had the district wanted to, they could have voted on that hot summer day last June to change the schools' name, but they didn’t. Here we are ten months later, with black and brown children going to schools named after slavers and traitors, not to perversely honor those heinous men, but as a message to African Americans that they have better keep in their place.  

The school referendum was a great idea, but the district not fighting to get the issue on the 2019 ballot is ultimately going to cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars. Changing the schools' name is a great and long-overdue idea, but it should have been completed within months, not within a year. These are just two examples of recently failed leadership from the district though I could name several others, and I, for one, think we deserve better. 

As the name-changing controversy drags on for the next two months, just remember it didn’t have to be this way.   

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Parents opt your students out of Florida's high stakes tests

 I am finishing my 21st year teaching in Duval County Public schools. I have seen a lot, but without a doubt, the worst and what must go is the state's reliance on high-stakes testing, This is especially relevant as DCPS starts testing season. I call it a season because it will last for weeks. Students at private schools that accept vouchers paid for by the public already don't have to take these pernicious tests, and it's time public schools joined them. 

Testing and preparing for the tests take away weeks of instruction. They don't provide any value either because the results aren't made known for months until after the school year has ended, and they rob teachers of the ability to be flexible, reteach or do deep dives into subjects. On the other hand, these tests affect everything from teachers losing their jobs to housing values and to a city's ability to attract businesses. 

This is not to say we shouldn't have standards or accountability; we should, though, for some reason, the state spends billions on voucher schools without either. However, we must do so in a way that doesn't steal instructional time, assists instruction, and doesn't hurt housing values. 

Parents may also not know it, but they have the option of opting their children out. Only a handful of tests are for promotion, and most of those have workarounds. Now the district has been known to threaten families with placement into special programs or schools they choose if their children skip the tests, but that too is a problem we should address. For a century, grades were the barometer for success, not how a student did on a high-stakes test. Teachers have long known how hurtful these tests are, but the state never listens to educators, but they may listen to parents, and if enough parents opt their children out; this will send a loud message to the state. You can find out more about opting out at  https://theoptoutfloridanetwork.wordpress.com/ . Please consider it, the state, the school system and your children would be better off if you did.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Why does Greene struggle with race relations? (draft)

Why does our African American superintendent struggle so mightily with race relations? Well, the answer is simple, she doesn't see children as black, brown, or white, she sees them as test scores and she probably thinks everyone else should as well. 

On the heels of the districts disastrous mental health rollout, which sought to co-op black history month and led to several school walkouts, the district doubled down by allowing racists to spread their hate at meetings about changing the names of schools named after confederate era figures and then allowed a teacher to be targeted by them. Rather than stand up for the teacher, they inexplicably later suspended her. 

This change the name of schools named after slavers and traitors has just about reached the ten-month mark, which has done nobody any good. I believe it wasn't done last summer because the district didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the referendum. 

They reasoned it was okay with letting black and brown children continue to attend schools named after people who thought they were sub-human if ignoring it brought in extra revenue. But JC, the referendum vote was in November, 4 months ago; this should have been over before the end of last year. Yet it drags on and on, and still, there is no end in sight. 

When the district learned of the changes to CDC cutting the social distancing guidelines in half, their reaction was yay, it will be easier to test, and this was on the heels of cajoling families to come in to take practice tests. In my 20 years in the district, I have never seen an administration so obsessed. It's not a surprise that the district so singularly focused on testing doesn't know how to handle race problems.  

This should be easy. It is 2021; we shouldn't have schools named after slavers and traitors. 

This should be easy; it's a pandemic; there are many things we can stress about, testing should not be one of them.

These things should be easy, but they aren't because our district has things backward; to them, testing is important, and righting the wrongs of history isn't.  

DCPS has a total failure of leadership

 I have had many issues with district leaders over the years, but I never could have imagined one would be the distrct siding with a racist who said Jesus supported slavery over a teacher who fought for social justice.

From the Times Union,

Donofrio would live-stream the public comments at the school's community meetings. 

It showed mostly older white adults making questionable comments and shaking their heads as students spoke in support of the name change. In one segment, a white man was captured flipping the camera off during the meeting. 

Some of the footage went viral, including a portion from Joey Stevens — an alumnus who said Jesus supported slavery. 

As first reported by News4Jax, Stevens took to Facebook Monday night, attacking Donofrio with screenshots of Donofrio's classroom and her Black Lives Matter flag from her social media accounts and imploring his followers to contact Lee High School administrators about her. 

"This is the kind of teachers we have, pushing their political agenda on students," Stevens wrote on Facebook. "If this offends you, speak up." 

https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/education/2021/03/25/evac-movement-teacher-removed-jacksonvilles-lee-high-after-refusing-remove-black-lives-matters-flag/6999517002/

Um, but having a school named after a slaver and a racist doesn't offend you?

This process has been an utter failure of leadership by the superintendent and school board.

I spoke last June at a school board meeting, basically saying the standard for naming a school can't be somebody never did anything wrong, but it could be they aren't named after, slavers, racists, and traitors. How it is ten months later, and we are still fighting over this is an absolute failure of leadership.

Absolute versus utter, sigh.

The board could have made the decision on its own, or if they wanted to involve the community, they could have had several meetings last summer and cleaned it all up, but no, they decided to muddy the waters by adding Jackson High school and both Ribault schools to the conversation and to turn what should be a simple decision into a year-long ordeal.

 So fast forward to the last few weeks when the racists on parade have been willing to make their positions quite clear, and the district, instead of putting an end to the charade, doubles down on its ineptitude by suspending one of the most visual teachers for changing the names of the schools named after confederate era figures. 

Instead of sticking up for Ms. Donofrio against the parade of racists, it suspends her.

I have often written that when the district finds itself in a hole, its first instinct is to keep digging, and this isn't just more of the same, it's worse because it didn't have to be this way.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

CDC social distance rule change was not about keeping people safe, it was about a campaign promise

 The CDC changed its social distance guidelines, and I have no doubt the researchers found what they found. However, the reason they found it was more about keeping a campaign promise rather than keeping people safe.  

I like president Biden, but the only reason we are making this change is to keep his campaign promise to open more schools, and that with light finally at the end of the tunnel is inexcusable. 

The study sited has so many caveats you could drive a truck through it, and it is hardly representative of the country. They chose their set to study because they already had a conclusion they wanted to meet.  

This from the abstract,

Among 251 eligible school districts, 537,336 students and 99,390 staff attended in-person instruction during the 16-week study period, 

https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciab230/6167856

That might be impressive if it was from all across the country in districts big and small, rural and urban, but it wasn't. It was just from Massachusetts, and as you will see, it is only about half of this one state.

This is Massachuttes. 

954,773 students
The Massachusetts public school system (prekindergarten through grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards and superintendents. In 2013 Massachusetts had 954,773 students enrolled in a total of 1,854 schools in 404 school districts.
Another strange part is that it doesn't tell you if these students attend rural or urban schools, which makes a huge difference as urban locals because their population density was hit much harder by Covid than their rural counterparts. 
Then there are the caveats, it only applies to elementary schools, and it only applies if they wear their masks, all the time. Things that aren't always reported on or seen because many people don't read below the headline. 
In effect, they had a conclusion, and they did a study designed to find it.
This is so frustrating, not just because of its recklessness but also because we have light at the end of the tunnel with vaccinations. 90 percent of teachers said they would return if vaccinated, so why the %$@# don't we make that our priority instead of falling back on some dubious study? A study that will be used to bludgeon teachers back into schools.
The whole thing is dishonest and disingenuous and teachers who already give so much deserve better.
One last thing as far as I can tell, Biden's education policies have been basically the same as Trump's, and that is unacceptable. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Appeasement doesn't work, school board members should understand that.

 In the 1930s, Nevile Chamberlain pushed a policy of appeasement towards Germany. The reasoning was, if we let them do what they want to do to those other people, they will leave them alone, and it worked for a while. The problem is bullies and demagogues always circle back, and that's a lesson Florida's school boards should have learned.  

Every time DCPS's school board did not fight against an executive order, or a bad law, every time they ignored the powers and responsibilities given to them by the state constitution, which says.   "The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district " It emboldened Tallahassee to take and do more to harm our teachers, students, and schools.

First, Tallahassee came for teachers and their representatives, and the school board didn't do anything, then it came for our students and the school board didn't do anything, then it came for our schools looking to replace them with private and charter schools, and school boards didn't do anything, well now they are coming for school boards, and sad to say it was just a matter of time. 

Sam Garrison of Clay county is proposing a constitutional amendment that would strip school board members of salaries, making them the only constitutionally elected officers who would not receive compensation. This would ensure only the wealthy and often disconnected would run our schools. I have numerous issues with our current school board numerous, but them being paid is not one of them.

This isn't the first time a proposal like this has come down the pipe. Though in years past, they were thought to more of a threat, and if you fight back against our proposals to erode school board power or privatize the state's schools, we will come after you next. A constitutional amendment, however, takes these threats up to the next level. 

The state constitution is very clear who will run an area's schools, and Tallahassee may choose to ignore that part of the constitution like they have with the class size amendment, funding education, marijuana, and fellow voting rights, but that does not erase them. What does erase then, however, is what our school board has been doing for the last decade, and that's pretending they don't exist in an effort to appease Tallahassee. 

Appeasement does not work. We need a school board that will stand up for teachers, students, and schools, though if they won't stand up for them, it is hard to imagine they will even stand up for themselves.

To read more, click the link: https://floridapolitics.com/archives/407926-school-board-pay?fbclid=IwAR2z8NstNojm-PidqOOCuhDaKGgKJZ1yMBhVj7ro43pBn1MiI2JS_fpK52c



Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Tallahassee Republicans continue to attack schools, students and teachers

 Representative Dennis Baxley out of Ocala, whose day job is that of a mortician has proposed radically changing the Bright Futures scholarship program, a program that annually pays the college tuition for tens of thousands of high school graduates that attend Florida schools.  

He says some college degrees do not lead to employment and went as far as calling it an entitlement program, failing to understand the benefit that it provides to the many families that use is that is then paid forward by having students attend local schools and with them then in turn living and working in Florida. Bright Futures is also heavily financed by the Lottery, not the general fund. 

Teachers, colleges, parents, and as you can imagine student groups have fiercely opposed the proposed changes, but they do have one group that seems to overwhelmingly support it and that is republican legislators in Tallahassee. Which begs the question why? I believe it is because they do not understand the value of education and have a pathological dislike of public education and everything that comes from it. You see it is not just students and their scholarships that they are seeking to cripple but teachers and public education itself. 

There is currently a half dozen anti-teacher union bills working their way through Tallahassee including one by local representative Cord Byrd. He wants to make it more difficult to join and stay in unions by stopping automatic reduction withdraws. His proposal would only affect teachers, not police or firefighters which are also heavily unionized. He says it is because he wants to narrowly focus on education, but the reality is Byrd like his fellow local republican politicians, Yarbrough, and Fischer, routinely do all they can to marginalize and injure the teaching profession. It also costs next to nothing to set up the withdraws. 

Then senate bill 48 takes all the state’s education voucher programs, that already have little oversite into how the money is spent and turns them into education savings accounts with even less oversite. Originally sold as a way to save poor children from poor and failing schools, families with an income as high as 80k would be eligible. Worse however is it pays for schools that can pick who they take and keep, discriminate against whoever they want, hire, and teach anything, and most of whom will not even have to report how they spent the money they receive. Juxtapose that with public schools that have accountability on steroids. In Tallahassee, both systems paid for with public money are just fine.   

Voucher schools which enroll about 14 percent of all schools, also have an incredibly high turnover rate among children and most of the children come from schools with grades of C or higher, which begs the question of why the state spends so much time trying to expand them to the detriment of both accountability and public education. Florida through the general fund or through tax breaks annually spends billions on vouchers. 

Comedian Bill Maher does a segment called, I don’t know for a fact, but I know it is true. Well after witnessing the annual attacks from Tallahassee on teachers, students, and public education, I know the republican legislature's pathological hatred of public education is true and ongoing.  

There is one bright spot, since 86 percent of families with school-age children have chosen public schools, they could demand Tallahassee put a stop to the constant attacks, and instead support public education. All that would take was more people voting for what is best for schools, students, and teachers, rather than a little R next to a politician’s name.   

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

In Florida its trade scholarships for vouchers and everyone loses.

 Among many of the bad education bills making their way through Tallahassee perhaps the worst are SB 48, a bill expanding vouchers, and senate bill 86, curtailing bright futures. On the surface, it might seem like once you get past they both have to do with the education they are related to, but the truth is they are and that's because of money.

If Bright futures are curtailed for many kids, the state saves money, by expanding vouchers the state is losing money. That money has to come from somewhere so why not from our children's futures. 

From the Herald Tribune,

Imagine an education system modeled after Amazon.com where parents choose educational programming for their children from competing vendors listed on a Florida Department of Education online marketplace. This is what Florida state Sen. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) has in mind with Senate Bill 48 – the education scholarship programs proposal that was introduced last week.  

Diaz’s bill consolidates five of the six scholarship voucher programs into two programs: one for students with disabilities and the other for regular education students from low- and middle-income families. It switches out school vouchers for education savings accounts and funds these accounts directly from the Florida treasury. 

If this legislation passes, more than 220,000 of Florida’s students – or 8% of all students in the state – will receive education savings accounts. The leaders of Step Up for Students, the nonprofit that administers Florida’s scholarship programs, say that’s merely a starting point.

Diaz and the other supporters of Senate Bill 48 steadfastly ignore real solutions to the many problems that have historically plagued public education in Florida. Schools and communities, for example, have struggled for decades to achieve racial equity – and to close the achievement gap. Proven programs like full-service community schools and dual language programs are either underfunded or not funded at all. Meanwhile, vouchers to private schools have reached $1 billion.

Education saving accounts  are dangerous because they have all the bad features of school vouchers along with other troublesome features. While vouchers fund only private schools, education savings accounts can fund so much more. While vouchers have few regulations, education savings accounts have even fewer. 

In addition education savings accounts encourage homeschooling, learning pods, micro-schools and virtual schools; these are just some of the many options that parents can mix and match. The bottom line is that education savings accounts will create a 'free-for-all" atmosphere with "anything goes" curriculum – and with no general accountability and little transparency. 

https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/opinion/2021/02/04/proposal-fund-education-savings-accounts-would-hurt-florida-schools/4369445001/

No accountability and little transparency, in Florida that sounds about right, and for all this crap all we have to do is cut out college scholarships for thousands of Florida's children.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

DCPS jumps the shark with its prom announcements.

First, let me say I am all for these kids getting back to something normal and not missing out on any more milestones or events like prom. It is literally heartbreaking how much they have missed. That being said, the district's prom announcements are just bat-@%#$ crazy. 

In case you missed it, DCPS has announced that schools will have proms starting at the end of March, with one huge caveat, attendees will then have to quarantine themselves for the next ten days.    

Let me explain what Jump the Shark means before I continue. It’s when something reaches a point at which far-fetched events are included merely for the sake of novelty, indicative of a decline in quality. The saying gained popular appeal when the Fonz jumped a shark on an episode of Happy Days. Having a prom where kids then have to miss ten days during the school year is definitely prime jumping the shark territory, but it is made even worse when you consider all the other decisions DCPS has made throughout the year.   

This year with its borderline criminal contact tracing and its practically nonexistent social distancing, one wonders what makes prom so different? The district has packed them, racked them, and stacked them in classes, halls, and schools all year long. Them being students and staff.  

The district has also had sporting events and people in the stands to watch them. The district hasn’t cared one iota about safety and quarantining, and in fact, it has fought against quarantining students and staff by seceding authority to the Department of health, which either by hook, political influence, or crook just incompetence has done a terrible job. Yet prom, PROM is now where they draw the line with a spectacularly stupid idea. 

If we are going to have Proms, why don’t we have them on June 3rd, when people will then be out for the year, they don’t have to quarantine and miss weeks for schools? 

Or why didn’t we have them the first week of spring break and then just after 5 days require a negative COVID test to return? You know, so we can keep them learning. 

Wanting kids to have a prom is not the problem; the spectacularly stupid implementation and timing of it by the district is, and this comes on the heels of the district's Take off the Mask social media campaign that spectacularly flamed out. 

Is Greene sitting back and saying, gosh, these are great ideas, or is this $%@# just happening without her knowledge? But either way, which is worse? Please tell me.   

Sadly, with these two ideas coupled with the shameful treatment of teachers and the lack of safety concern, inexplicably until now when it is over the top, all just tells me we aren’t being led by our best and brightest. Checks notes, oh, the state is getting rid of that too. Well, isn’t that a kick in the…